Friday, March 26, 2010

Polyphemus Moth Outbreak, March 25 '10, Utley

This big crisp Polyphemus Moth was one of three that I found fluttering around the front porch light yesterday evening. All 3 were fresh males suggesting a female(s) was likely nearby. Perhaps they were merely distracted by the light which I turned off just after taking this photo.

I will be away from Utley for some time in south Texas so unfortunately will not be able to do any follow up.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Finally 2 weeks late my first 2010 Scissortial

And another photo of the "famous" Snapping Turtle before I released her
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Maybe I'm famous or at least a turtle might be.

I drove my loop to pick up cowbirds this morning. I visited the largest provider first as I had only 3 ice chests. Arrived and found a note on the door of the shed where the freezer was apologizing to me for not being able to meet me as they had to run into town, but for me to just go ahead and get the birds from the freezer. The problem was they forgot to unlock the shed for me! The next two stops went on as usual and I picked up around 320 birds.

  On one of the properties, as I was talking with the owner, there were about 10 Eastern Kingbirds "trilling" in his still bare pecan trees. I mentioned that to him him and he said , yes that he knew them well, and that they nested on his property AND they appeared just this very morning for the first time this spring ! He was quite happy to have them back.

As I returned back toward La Grange on "Interstate" 71, I noticed a huge Snapping Turtle heading out on to the highway.   I knew it would be dead meat if it went more than a few more yards out on to this death trap. So I pulled the truck over as quickly as I could which, was still a good 60-70 yards down the road, turned on the blinkers, and backed up at least 20-30 yards but saw the turtle making quick headway out toward the traffic.  Fearing the worst happening before my eyes, I  jumped out of the truck, grabbed a sharp-shooter shovel out of the bed and raced as fast as I could back toward the turtle. A guy in a semi honked at me. I stopped the turtle, which withdrew into it's shell somewhat and by distracting it with the handle of the shovel, was able to grab it's long tail and start walking back to the truck with this snapping, hissing, kicking animal held out as far as I could hold it from my body. Not an easy feat as she likely weighed 20-25 pounds I would guess....Try holding that much weight with an out stretched arm for very long. She was like holding a cinder block out there, but she was pissed and snapping and I was too afraid of those jaws to bring her in much closer.
   Ok, so I am about 15 yards from the truck carrying this big turtle by the tail and the shovel, when a black SUV came screeching to a halt just ahead of my truck and out jumped a young tattooed couple followed soon afterwards by two other young ladies. (They had passed me and turned around at the next cross-over and sped back thinking I was going to kill it with the shovel, something they did not cotton to.)  Oh My Gawd! Oh My Gawd! was about all those girls could say.  The guy was real excited and wanted to take some pictures so I said OK.
    He wanted for me to put it back on the gravel and show how I caught it.   So I put it on the shoulder of the road behind my truck.  Meanwhile a smaller white car with another chubby guy stops to see what's going on.
  I just figured the young guy, I think his name was Damon or Darin, just wanted to pull out a little digital camera for a few shots but then I turn around and there is this guy setting up a freaking tripod and little movie camera with this like big shade around the lens!!  Then he told the girls to move back so their shadows were not in the way.  He piddled around a bit with buttons and dials and what-not on his camera and then said can you catch it again now?   I said Ok and I put the shovel handle to the the front of the turtle to distract it .  The turtle lunged at the handle and I grabbed it's tail...No big deal, but the shrieks and the "OH MY GAWDs" were just incredible.. One would have thought these girls were looking at a compound bone fracture or something.
  Just as I was lifting the animal the girl with the purple hair got her shadow on the turtle and the young guy got really pissed about that.  He apologized and asked me PLEASE to do it again.   By now the turtle was played out and pretty much had given up on trying to bite or intimidate anything.  But finally it did manage one more half-assed lunge at the handle and I grabbed it's tail again.  "OH MY GAWD,  OH MY GAWD" and shreiks as I lifted it by it's tail were just classic.
   By now another car had stopped in the line and traffic on 71 had slowed to 35-45 MPH to see what was going on though I doubt anyone understood really what was happening...!...I felt like an idiot!  The young guy is constantly filming this entire thing and a couple of others were taking snapshots.   Hanging by the tail the turtle really did look huge, I must confess.   I said "OK now it is going into the truck"..It did not like being held by the tail and was lungeing backwards over it's carapace and over towards me my body trying to get a piece of me....The girls, especially the one with purple hair were just nothing but shrieks and screams each  time the turtle lunged out to bite as though I was being snake bit.

   About this time I saw a DPS trooper slowing down on the southbound lane before crossing  right over the meidum strip to see what was going on....Remember this young guy is filming all of this stuff, but the camera is off the tripod now..  The officer was very nice and wanted to know if there was a problem and I explained the whole situ.  The only thing he said was that we were creating a traffic hazard and distraction, which we were, and we would have to do this somewhere else.  He also asked if I thought he needed to call a game warden and I said no as I was going to let it go in the river just ahead at La Grange and that I was a biologist just trying to keep a female turtle from getting killed on the highway , explaining it was a big female just looking for somewhere on land to lay her eggs. Remember also that I had almost 3 full ice chests full of dead cowbirds and even with a permit to have them, dealing with game wardens can be arduous.

The young guy films all of this including me putting  the turtle in the back of the truck.  Thanked me profusely and asked at least half a dozen times if he could use this video.   I said no problem but asked for what and he said he did not know but he would "damn sure find something".   I gave him a business card, cell number and mailing address which he asked for and he promised me that he would send me anything that he used this video for in the future.  He said they lived in Houston but spent a lot of time in Austin where they were heading at the time for the weekend.

   I took the turtle to La Grange and released it in the river just as promised, I even asked the young man if he wanted to film that but he did'nt really seem interested in that part of the story.

  So if you see a film somewhere with a goofy looking guy catching a huge snapping turtle with a sharp-shooter shovel as a lure in one hand and the monster in the other, walking on the side of a busy highway, you are likely seeing me at my best or at least my strangest....Seemed like a win, win all the way around for everyone at the time though.  We all stood around the bed of the truck for a couple of minutes admiring the beast before the officer said we needed to move on...The chubby guy in the little white car was the last to leave and up to that point had not said a word, but as he walked away with his super-sized 64 oz. soft drink, he said to me "You got a lot of balls to pick that thing up"

  Well there you go....Its always something.  By the way PH, I was wearing those damn jeans you say should fit so good but always seem to fall off my butt so if there is any cheek in this video, I am not responsible as I could barely keep them up and was in short of a bow-legged walk just to do so....My hands being full of turtle and shovel!!


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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Return of the Ruby-throats

   Lots of irons in the fire,  but returned home this afternoon to find the property abuzz with both sexes of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.  In the blink of of an eye, they are not only back but busy fighting over the feeders!   Did not see a single one yesterday.   I hung out 3 feeders, all I have, which will have to last them for some time.  I need some new ones as the plastic on a couple has faded from red to sort of a powdery pink due to the hot sun.   That darn hard 13F degree night back in January, blew up the good feeders that were out while I was away.  One of the male Ruby-throats that arrived out there today is already displaying to females.They just don't mess around.
   Several Gnatcatchers were in the yard as well but I did not have time to look for anything else today though did see the Spotted Towhee.....Dang,  I hear thunder to the west and I didn't even know there was rain forecasted.(?)
   This is the date I sometimes hear my first Whip-poor-will of the year, but will likely miss that event this spring.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Late Brown Creeper!

    The TAS Birds of the Austin, Texas Region Checklist states that Brown Creeper is "Very Rare" the last third of March.
    This photo was taken this morning March 23 at my Utley residence as I was having coffee. It is is amazing that I  heard or saw it at all given the scores of Chipping Sparrows on the property nibbling at the oak blooms. Actually at my age it is amazing that I could even hear then find this bird period. It is considered to be one of the most difficult of all North American birds to detect by call alone, especially as one ages. But that thin "seeee" call is just what drew my attention to it and it was heard it several times thereafter. I would not have expected to see one this late in the season.
  The towhee sang a bit early on and finally after a long absence a Hermit Thrush has appeared the property after being nearly absent all winter.   Just animals all north bound I guess.  A small stream of Broad-winged Hawks sailed over earlier. There will likely be more of those as the day wears on for the conditions here are perfect for such a movement today.  A Swallow-tailed Kite would be nice, and right on time.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

March 22, 2010 Bastrop Co

After two lousy days of weather, one rainy and one very windy, this morning was just right. Went out to dump the coffee grounds in the flower bed and there was Mr. Parula singing and the Towhee man calling for chow. Threw out the seed and withing minutes there were 6-70 birds, as usual Chipping Sparrows.
Walked in to the woods behind the house very carefully to see if I could find down Mrs. Woodcock again and see the nest , but she was no where to be seen even though I walked around the area to a diameter of at least 30 yards. I hope she had chicks that could move vs. a predator following my trail and finding them. Two mornings ago we had a hard downpour that may have had a negative impact as well. An inch of rain in a very short span of time.

From there I had a bit more coffee then drove over to Betty's (turf farm) and as usual there was nothing of note. Earhardt Rd. had little to offer expect for yellowlegs and a few other shorebirds down where the flooded areas are. Wilbarger Bend Road produced my Bastrop Co. Eastern Kingbirds and a Long-billed Curlew as well a numerous Brewer's Blackbirds.
At the little Colorado River Chapel Cemetery there were the usual birds however looking up did see my first Broad-winged Hawks of the year. BTW, Petra Hockey had a BWHA in Port O'Connor yesterday....A very rare bird there at anytime.

Not much else going on. Mr. Parula is busy singing out there as I write and I planted a fig tree.. Saw one of the roadrunners with a stick so I guess they are nest building. The big female red wasps have finally all settled down and I don't see as many now that they over-wintering queens have all presumably found a place to construct a nest.

Oh and I finally had my first clear looks at a Cliff Swallow for 2010 though I know they have been around for weeks now. Usually what I see when I try is a Cave Swallow.

Webberville Park was actually nice this morning and there was NO mowing while I was there, but there were also no unusual birds.

Today is my last full day to piddle about here. Off to San Saba Co. tomorrow, Round Top & Burton the next day then to the coast and south Texas for what I hope is a lot of work. May be gone a good while this time around.... I am sure I will miss a lot of changes


Saturday, March 20, 2010

A New Giant Silkworm Moth for Central Texas

Update: Charles Bordelon with TEXAS LEPIDOPTERA SURVEY has confirmed this as a new Central Texas Record.

Or at least no one has told me otherwise to date nor I can not find any reference to it being near the Edwards Plateau. It is one of the Giant Silkworm or Royal Moths, being in the same family as Imperial, Buckmoths and the Luna Moths etc. This animal is known as the Honey Locust Moth ( Sphingicampa Bicolor). The larvae feed on Honey Locust and the Kentucky Coffee Tree, neither of which I am aware grow in this region of Texas, for sure not the Coffee Tree. At the minimum it may be a new Travis County insect as it was found on the side of the little Webberville Grocery store in the far eastern edge of that county on March 19, 2010. Here are a couple of my photos. BrushFreeman/ SphingicampaBicolorHoneyLocust Moth#

The insect has beautiful salmon pink hind wings and is one of the smaller of the Silkworm Moths. Here also is another image of the moth from off the web. They are definitely not common, perhaps even quite rare this far west as it is considered an eastern insect.

Here also is an image pulled from the web of this gorgeous animal.

Since I have had no meaningful feed back, I will let the statements above stand until corrected at which time an addendum or correction will likely be in order.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Citations from Lytle Blankenship on nesting Woodcock Behavior

Lytle Blankenship, one of our resident Texas experts on Woodcocks sent me the following which pretty much confirms a breeding bird as most of this behavior was seen or heard today including that described in the last 2-3 paragraphs. I may return if I can relocate the exact spot, though I would very much hate to draw predators to the location with my scent. From what Lytle sent I may well have been standing on the birds.

Here is what Lytle sent: Wow!.........................................

You may not have Dr. Sheldon's book "The American Woodcock" so thought I would copy some comments. I vaguely remembered some of these comments from a much earlier time in my life and some similar actions I noted by the Woodcock.

Page 72: "The hen flew 20 feet with her tail depressed and legs hanging. She alighted on a nearby road and feigned injury, crying not unlike a Ruffed Grouse hen disturbed with a brood. I left the scene and returned an hour later; the hen had returned to the nest, where I flushed her again. .......Concealing myself, I watched her return to the nest; she walked across a dirt road in front of me. Her gait was measured, with the waltzing and bobbing motion usual when a woodcock is nervous or disturbed. When she reached cover across the road, she sneaked to the nest, reoccupying it 20 minutes after I had flushed her."

Page 75: "The mother woodcock is very solicitous of her offspring (Figure 28). A hen brooding her chicks can be caught with a hand net, so reluctant is she to move. When flushed from her brood she makes a labored flight with her legs hanging and her tail depressed (Figure 29). I have seen her lead a dog away, keeping just ahead of him. When she has lured an enemy 100 yards or more from her chicks, she resumes rapid flight, rising swiftly. Then quickly circling around, she lights within a few feet of her brood. If the chicks are a week or more old and off the nest, she calls them with a low chur-chur."

Similar comments were made by Dr. Andy Ammann in "A Guide to Capturing and Banding American Woodcock."
Page 11: "If nothing happens or a bird flushes practically under your feet, you've probably got yourself a brood or a nest. If the bird's flight (assuming it flushed) is slow and laborious, with legs and tail dangling and it flies only a short distance (10 to 15 yards), you can be sure of it. Then, after alighting, the hen may go through elaborate injury-feigning tactics which will sorely tempt your dog to chase her (but don't let him). A hen flushed from a nest may also exhibit such decoying behaviour, but to a lesser degree, and will usually fly farther."

If you bear with me, I have one more author's comments (Henry Marion Hall - "Woodcock Ways"). Pp 22-23: "When I stepped within a foot of her treasures, this brave little bird fluttered up and made off in a ludicrous manner, her tail only just topping the weeds, her bill and body nearly vertical, and the beat of her wings simulating helplessness. Woodcock and grouse will often roll over or scuffle, pretending to trail a broken wing, to lure an intruder away from her chicks, but this is the only case in which I have seen a bird show such solicitude concerning mere eggs............Suddenly a woodcock faltered up at my feet without making the usual twitter. Instead, it hovered within a foot of my face, buzzing its pinions like a hummingbird, and whirling as if held back by the encompassing branches. This bird may have been tempting me to snatch at it in mid-air. When I failed to budge, it presently dropped into the undergrowth, still registering helplessness and flapping spasmodically. As she retreated I glanced down and discovered four young, not quite half grown...................."

Not sure if these are of any value but here they are anyway. Thanks for your records and descriptions.

Lytle (

Breeding Woodcock, Golden Plovers, loving that mowing!

Got up early to beat the breeze. Drank my 3-4 cups of java and without anything better to do hopped the fence to the ranch behind the house and to the pond back there a bit. I had not been back there in well over a year and the flowers, especially the Bluebonnets were nice though not at their prime just yet. There were none last year due to the drought. Had several early butterflies and lots of swallows going overhead. I was was surprised at the numbers of Falcated Orange-tipped Butterflies there were after last year's drought.

I heard a pick-up coming from the south through the pasture so instead of being found on the property and running through that explanation, I cut off into the woods on the old over grown pasture road. I have the OK to be on the property but just was not in the mood for a surprise conversation with whomever was in the truck be it the landowner so someone else. Not a problem. So I was meandering my way back toward the house , zig-zaging through the woods as there is no direct path anymore, when suddenly there was a violent commotion in the brush and leaf litter of the understory a mere 15 feet or so to my left. All I could see was an animal thrashing about , quivering and making the strangest call notes. It took me a moment but I realized it was a Woodcock! A Woodcock and it was trying to distract me from a nest nor young birds!....I have never seen this behavior in my life but it is really no so different than that of a plover, say a Killdeer . She held out one wing and had her tail spread out broadly and was shaking and quivering to beat the band. She was making a sound I have never heard coming from a Woodcock either. It had sort of towhee, Hermit Thrush "moan" to it...I can not really describe it.

I knew within an area of 10' X 10' of where the bird started this display, (though she may have moved there before I got to the location) and despite squinting at every damn inch of ground and leaf clutter, I could find no sign of eggs or cryptic young. Nothing. By now calmed a little but she still remained off in the thicket quivering and occasionally spreading tail or wing to keep my attention. There was no way I could have followed her anyway unless I was an Armadillo given the dense brush and brier there. I very carefully backed out of the area watching my every step so as not to step on any eggs or young and circumvented the area widely. This is my first encounter with a nesting woodcock in Bastrop county and all less than 125 yards of my back fence!

The Blue-headed Vireo continues to sing in the mornings....I wonderful sound and I could hear the Black-and White Warblers singing from the canyon along with a parula.

I came back to the house drank some more coffee and decided to give Betty's grass farm a shot as the roads should have been dry enough by now. The place was a dead as a sheet of glass, I don't understand it. I recall a time (maybe Glenn does as well) when this was shorebirdville this time of year. No more. Ever since the King Ranch took this place over it has been nothing but an industrial complex with rarely a single Killdeer to be seen. I drove the entire place which is about 750 acres and almost got excited when a Savannah Sparrow flew up. I know why this place is so sterile now. There are for sure no fire ants anymore, and there are no fire ants because the soil has been saturated with potent pesticides the likes of which must be akin to Agent Orange.
I can remember after a good rain there would be 700 acres of earthworm castings covering the surface. The place had billions of earthworms. Now after the good rain of two days ago I could not find a single pile of castings.

I can tell you there is not a "weed" , a fire ant mound or a blade of grass 1/2 taller than the
others. It is as sterile, lifeless as the Sahara except for the grass, constantly mowed and manicured. It sucks compared to the old days before the King Ranch took it over. And far more busy. I counted 19 workers out there today and far busier than it used to be with constant mowing and spraying. And the King Ranch always claims to be so concerned about our migrant bird species. I wonder how many have died from the pesticides on this turf farm alone.

Still in one tiny corner , near a leaky pipe where a few Killdeer had congregated there were 8 Am. Golden Plovers. My FOS Bastrop Co. birds. Off 969 in the huge hayfields where some allow the new airport will be were far more, maybe 28 birds but they were so far out I am not sure all were Goldens, though they flew a couple of times and none looked like Killdeer. I don't have access to this property.

Tried Riverside Terrace road again. This would make such a great walk in the mornings but when one gets right down to the very best part, there is a mobile home with 5 football (punting) sized dogs, that just drive you insane with their barking, while the owner just looks slack-jawed at you as though it was perfectly normal to be an asshole with his moronic kick toys. I need a dart gun. But despite these damn animals I could hear the Prothonotary Warbler just belting it out behind the trailer house in the trees along the river...Maybe he will move up stream to Webberville Park and the special houses erected there for the species, but I sure would not blame him if he didn't.

Ok, turn the dial now if you wish, as I am gonna really get grumpy.....Speaking of Webberville Park, I figured that after 3 days of senseless, stupid and moronic mowing at Big Webberville park, by 1:00PM today it should be quiet. Perhaps a nice quiet Friday afternoon to bird the park, despite that the wind was up and I very rarely bird in the afternoons, I went over there anyway.... The BIG full blown tractors were weaving in and out of the trees still. In God's name
how can one mow the same damn grass day after day as though trying to clip the antennae off of any chigger that dares to stand up. I just do not get it. It drives me crazy. They are idiots and are destroying the sod in the park and knocking the bark off all the trees with their mowers and weedeaters. Can't take it anymore. I am going to call the county, even though I don't pay Travis Co. property taxes. It is a complete waste of time, this endless mowing . The rest of the guys were doing the mopping up there with Q-tips and tweezers. Sure, I bet they will take the weekend off, but then here come the masses and the hundreds of soccer players on Sunday morning ....Not fit for a birder to be there then for sure......And by gum, it will be Monday again with two whole days of grass growing wildly!....That mowing panic will set in and the gas tanks will fill and the mowing will start again. I especially likely the Monday pressure washing. 5 guys and all this....All on about ~35 acres that two guys could cover well.

I am back home, don't know what to do around here anymore. Birding spots are getting fewer and fewer....I thought about going over to East or Southeast Metropolitan Park, Hornsby Bend or even stepping on a nail but none of that seems like much fun and those places are far away and on a weekend not something that likely would be a wise choice. Is this not Spring Break? Is this not the W/e of the Southwest Music thingy in Austin?

Someone down the road just fired up a chainsaw...Sigh.

I have a really cool moth I found so maybe more later. I hope like heck this blog works as it was a lot of typing for me. I think I have the comment thing partially fixed as I got yours Ladd.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

March 18 corrections and highlights

Could not figure how to get/edit these photos into yesterday's blog and ran out of steam trying and patience trying so here are the photos that should have gone with that blog entry. If these don't show then I don't know what to say. Dial-up is a wondrous tool.

Just hung around the place all day piddling. In 24 hours managed 36 species of birds. Not bad for this little property. Best was seeing two parulas at the bird bath at once. Having a Blue-headed Vireo singing around the house most of the morning and finally hearing a Common Ground-Dove in the woods. I don't get them much anymore and they used to be so common around here....I am not sure why they left. Maybe the habitat has matured to the point they don't care for it anymore. Or maybe the fire ants have taken their toll on these birds as well.

Anyway the top picture is not "Old Indian Spring" but the septic tank that over flowed after I was gone a few days and the float in the commode was left in the open position. The blackened area is where I burned off the San Augustine again. I do it every time I can and the patch is getting smaller and smaller. Then the Texas native plum I spoke of previously.

But Geeeeez! I really got to go now, I think my neighbor is still mowing and it is almost dark. I don't want to miss hearing a lick of that :-)

That's about it....B

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Recent Spring "Joys"

I have lacked either the time, energy or desire to update this blog on a regular basis, indeed on many days there is just nothing to say.. Spent the last couple of days either working or on the road. Went to Round Top yesterday that ate up pretty much of that rainy day. Still rain is good and keep it coming. After last spring's horrendous drought I am glad to see so much greenery and bloom.

If you live in a rural areas make very sure that your water or well is turned off before you leave for a few days. I returned to find my front "yard" looking like this. No it is not an old "Indian Spring", but it is my septic tank boiling over and running down into the woods to the "creek"...Look close and you'll see Mouso the cat standing stream side down the hill. I had no idea what was going on as all the faucets were off but then found the float in the commode was stuck on so the well just ran all the time I was gone. The black area has nothing to do with this event . It is merely where I have continued to burn off the last remaining remnants of disgusting San Augustine grass that I fight so hard to get rid of. Was I ever a dumb ass for putting that stuff in, and even back then it was just two squares I found that had fallen off a truck.! Now after almost an inch of rain yesterday the yard is almost a swamp.

See the little 30.00 birdhouse I put up on the top right. The titmice people have taken it over and are nesting there now.

Next a photo of one of my "Mexican" Plums blooming. Last year it barely made a flower. This is a Texas endemic and grows nowhere else naturally. They smell so good and fill the property with that rich smell of spring. Already it is beginning to fade in bloom. Odd because the ones just 30 miles to the west and 400-500 ft. higher have just barely started to even bud. every thing down here is earlier, even our Redbuds are beginning to play out.

The next two shots are just of the budding/blooming Bradford Pear which is about done blooming and the Post Oaks which are just beginning to bloom. While I was home today with the door open, I could hear all day the White-eyed Vireos and Chipping Sparrows sing and often the Field Sparrows and a Blue-headed Vireo. Occasionally a Black-and-white Warbler, but no Yellow-throated Warblers yet. Just a couple of days to early for those but I have had them before this date.

Went birding a bit this morning but my mood/heart was not really into it despite the beauty of the morning. I went by a plant nursery east of Bastrop to look for a specific plant but they were not open so hit some local birding spots. Heard my first Hooded and Prothonotary Warblers today plus the usual suspects. No Waterthrush or Yellow-throated Vireo though I made no real effort to find them. And by chance as I was driving on Harmon Road, heard then saw a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers.

I actually had the Prothonotary on the Travis/Bastrop Co. line off of Lazy River Rd. Had planned to bird in Big Webberville Park but there were 3 mowers and a pressure washer doing make work on the Tax dollar, cutting grass that needed cutting about as much as my bathroom stall door needs a booger. Senseless mindless activity as it was mowed just last week.....Tried to go to the private turf farm of a friend's here near utley but the roads were just way to muddy after yesterday's rains and I could see the ruts from the tractors were deep and sliding all over.. Went to the little Utley cemetery where the White-throated Sparrows were singing and the spiderwort was blooming only to be scolded by House Wrens. I see saw that another one of the Sutton family had just been planted in the this mostly Black Cemetery. There are are many Suttons and Bells here in this pre-Civil War cemetery, mostly in unmarked graves.

Still in that funky mood I just went home. Was sad to hear that Pansy Espy had passed on at the age of 94. What stories I am sure she could have told about Ft. Davis, in the old days.
I never knew her well, having only met her a few times, but I did see her Mountain Plovers and it was on the Espy Ranch that I got my lifer Band-tailed Pigeon many years ago.

Another old friend passed this past weekend. A friend I will indeed very much miss. Max. Max was Steve and Susie's big gentle German Shepard that lived next door in Port O'Connor. So gentle even the Hockey's cats had not the slightest concern about him. Max and I did the birding "walkabout" in POC hundreds of times. He always lagging behind to visit the other dogs or read the "newspapers". Never ever did he get in the way of my birding and when we came to the corner of 7th and Jefferson, 9 blocks in from the beach, he would always stop and look at me . I knew it was his boundary and his eyes told me so., but I never understood why, so as I continued on to 8th street and beyond I would look back and see him heading back home via unpaved alleys, I will never be able to go to this intersection again in my life without thinking of Max....Why is it good animals like Max only get 11-12 years? He died peacefully under the Bell's porch sometime after Ladd and Petra took the boat out that morning. He too had a good life but I will really miss him.

I just Winston's "Black Dog" would go the same route. I guess some of us will always be cursed with his hound in our shadow.

I noted the Toadflax, beginning to bloom as are the Bluebonnets. That means the White Bass and Stripers are running. I can very well remember the endless hours we spent in the 70's and 80's fishing those Bluebonnet days off the gravelly Paradise Point on the west side of Lk. Buchanan, wading far out into the shallows, often tripping over stumps in the early morning darkness only to get soaked and almost freeze, but one after another we would would haul those fish in on silver spoons. Sometimes we even got into runs of 3-4 lb. Channel Cats. We were young and cold meant nothing nor did getting up at midnight or staying awake 36-48 hours at a whack. Fishing at night working by day.

I hope tomorrow is sunny as I need it. I am to tired and lazy to proof this so here it is in raw form.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Great Horned Owl with Striped Skunk

One thing I forgot to mention from the 11th was seeing a large bird in on the limb of a large pecan tree as I was driving down near Ganado/ Lk. Texana. This was broad daylight. I turned around to see a Great-horned Owl with most of the remains of a dead Striped Skunk in it's grasp. It was a big item even for the owl. I have no way of knowing if the owl actually caught the skunk or scavenged it off a road.....Still it was an impressive thing to see..


Bird changes March 10-13...Bye-bye Winter

There is an old saying in Texas that winter is not over until you see the Mesquite budding. Well if that is thecase we have seen the last of old man frost as I actually had two budding Mesquite AND the buckeye is budding to bloom (the Redbud is already in full bloom).

Lot of driving and a few surveys past few days. Picked-up about 200 cowbirds. Not a great deal to report. The survey stuff , not the driving, is the fun part now there are many hours of data going back into Feb. to input. Not fun but that is work.
Galveston Co. highlight.....A male Ladder-backed Woodpecker on March 11 as well as Swallow-tailed Kite not far north of Lake Jackson on 35 that evening. My first of the year. My last visit to the same area on Feb 28 produced 21 EAPHs, on the 10th there was only one on the same route. They have moved on. Gosh that is ugly country down there on the coast after Ike killed all the trees....I have no interest in seeing the High Island area for quite a while.......
Lots of Swallows coming in. In fact today I was was in Webberville and a BARS was already investigating a nest site that has a couple of nests every year. Heard a Black-and-white in the yard this morning.

Made what I thought would be a 10 min. visit to Big Webberville around 9:45 only to find the gate locked ?? That never happens and there were 2 big passenger vans and a car full of UT Bio/Birding students at the gate waiting to get in. Maybe about 30. I ask them if they knew why the gates were locked and they had no clue. Asked them if they were there to see the eagles and that was a jolt for them . They had no clue about the eagles so all got very excited and of course had to see that.... I decided to chance, it so we all just parked off the road outside the gate and walked in across the soccer fields, showing them the GHOW pair along the way. Finally showed them the eagle nest with an eagle on it and of course it was a major hit for them, it just floored a couple of young ladies. I did not want to take over the instructor's trip so sort of hung back after that to let them do their thing as I mainly wanted to see if maybe the Hairy Woodpeckers were still around. I did not find them and was about to leave when I ran into Ed Fair who was there to look for the HAWOs too, but while I was with him we had no luck. However I did show him the eagle nest which provided him with a new Travis Co. bird.

Came back home to find a Black-chinned Hummingbird in the yard. A rare bird this far east in the spring. Sandhill Cranes have been coming over in numbers. A Field Sparrow is singing and the Titmice are busy nest building in the box I put up for bluebirds. A big Southwest music thing in Austin this w/e seems to have the roads extra crowded and the park, once it finally did open, soon had far more than the normal numbers of people. All of the E. Phoebes are gone from here too. Expecting a Prothon or YTWA any day/moment but have no plans to go searching until maybe some weekday morning.

In the butterfly department , had two Tiger (?) Swallow-tails and 1 Falcated Orange-tip this morn. Maybe I will have a short nap before I start that data after all.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New Utley/Webberville Spring birds

After yesterday's excitement at the park with the guys and the eagle nest, today was much sunnier and a bit more up beat. I took laundry to Webberville to wash (dried at home) and no sooner had I turned on the machine that several Mexican/Latino ladies came in with literally tons of clothes to wash, I mean sheets rolled up with clothes so heavy they had to drag them in. 5 minutes later and I would have been out of luck on getting a couple of whashing machines for the day there. Instead of waiting there with the c12-13 screaming/playing kids, I went to Little Webberville park while the clothes washed. There I had my FOS Travis County PUMA and BARS also a singing parula. Little else though the trees area all budding or blooming nicely.
After picking up my washed clothes, I stopped by Big Webberville Park finding nothing of note except new nesting birds including a Downy Woodpecker nest site. It is that dead time of year when a lot of stuff has left to go further north or south back into Mexico. Indeed the fence row on the west side of the park was without White-crowned Sparrows for the first time I have noticed since Nov. The Harris's Sparrows of course are long gone now, nor could I stir up a Song Sparrow or Winter Wren.
Back home as I was hanging out the wash to dry, 3 Sandhills flew over, and the White-eyed Vireo that has been here for over a week now has some competition that appeared just today so the the place just rocks with WEVI vocal battlings. I like WEVIs just fine.
At dusk two Barred Owls took it up for a while nearby as did a Pileated just before heading to roost.
Will be heading out of town to make make my cowbird pick-ups round ups ...BTW if your trapping and have dead cowbirds/house sparrows or starlings in say numbers of 10+, please please freeze and let me know as I will gladly take them off your hands or will have someone at hand that can. We need them badly and have all the permits etc. We will not resale or redistribute, that is a promise. These are used as controls in in the detection of avian strikes at Radio Towers, wind farms, transmission lines , highly illuminated industrial sites etc. We can use can as many as can be provided/obtained. While the cowbird trapping season is usually done only in the spring, we actually need them just as badly for fall migration as well as the rest of the year.. Just drop me a line.
The next day (Thurs.) I will be on a property on the UTC "birding" but hope to be back here on Friday (maybe Sat.)....My cell, 361-655-7641


Monday, March 8, 2010

Finally one of the Longspur feeders

Some how when I wrote the Bell/Williamson Co. note the other day I could not get this picture to upload. This is where all the sparrows and the 5 Chestnut-collared Longspurs were. On the corner of CR 360 and 363. It does not appear in this photo that there are any birds but believe me there were well over 100 birds in the general areal of this corn feeder, just not many blackbirds, except meadowlarks. Savannah Sparrows ruled the place. The CCLOs males were perhaps the most gorgeous I have ever seen in the state and were still there 2 days ago..... I did not photo the feeders on 352 as there were so many blackbirds and cows.

Yep all of that yellow stuff seen under the right side of the feeder here is crushed corn! Boy, I bet this was place was hopping with birds during the cold spell in January especially when that ice/snow came.! Anyway just wanted to share the feeder shot with you finally. I figured out what I was doing wrong.
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Webberville Park Eagles etc.

A rainy sort of day, but I forced myself out of the house to at least go to Webberville Park to get shed of some small amounts of trash and check the laundromat in Webberville to see if it was still useable. I drove thru the park slowly. There were just hundreds of robins and blackbirds on the ground. But I was just in no mood for birding for some reason and had even almost left the camera at home. When I got down to the boat ramp loop, I checked the eagle nest out with the bins and saw both adults nearby. One was on the nest so I thought I would get some photos for proof and took the scope the short distance over to the fence to digiscope a few shots. You know how it is at the fence. You kinda have to wade thru the weeds and vines to get right up next to it for the closest shots. I did that even though my pants got soaked. I took several photos (one on the right here) but could not get a picture with both adults due to the distance between them.
The nest is extremely easy to see right now and there are chicks in it. You don't even need a scope but for good details you do. The trees are still bare enough that the new nest is quite obvious..You do not not even need bins to see the nest.

Now here is the strange part. I should not even mention it it in the blog perhaps, but it was just so strange and troublesome....I think the word I am looking for is bewildering. As I was trying to get the camera lined up with the scope, someone yelled at me from a truck from the paved loop behind me . I turned around and there was a pick-up with at least three people in it. Maybe more as the back windows were too dark to see in. A guy yelled at me, "What are you taking pictures of?" and without wading back out of the weeds I yelled back. "A Bald Eagle nest and there are Bald Eagles on it. You can come over and see if you like through this scope". The guy in the truck then turned to speak to the others inside but I could not hear them , then he yelled at me again..."What are taking pictures of?!" and I yelled again...."There is a Eagle nest here with eagles on it and I am trying to take photos of them." He looked at me for a moment and then turned to talk to the people in the truck again and then suddenly pushed his head out of the window as if mad as hell and yelled, "Fuck you old man!! then screeched off in the truck yelling something in Spanish I didn't understand......I was completely dumbfounded! Shocked!. They pulled up to the bathroom and parked and I was starting to worry. One guy got out of the back and went inside, I guess for a piss and came right back out and got in. We were the only people in the park but then fortunately they left the park!

Needless to say, I was floored and completely puzzled. Obviously I said something that they misinterpreted in Spanish but I have no idea as to what that could be. Does anyone fluent in Spanish have a clue??

I was sure in no mood for any more birding after that episode so just went back home. The male and female Pine Warbler that sang so vigorously right up until late afternoon on the 4th vanished completely the next morning not to be seen again. Just instantly almost. They had been here all winter but some internal clock went off and they were gone just like that!! I have more goldfinches now than I have had all winter.

The crab apple, pear, Mexican plum and Bradford pear trees here are in full bloom as are most of the peaches. A decade or more ago a neighbor from up north told me he was going to plant a cherry orchard. I told him flatly he had a better chance of raising Musk Ox than cherries in south Texas and that they just were an impossible to fruit here. Still he planted them. He has never made a single cherry but boy, are those trees beautiful when they bloom.

Some of you have asked/told me that they have made comments and replies to my posts but they do not appear (nor do I see them) to some of what I write...I have no idea at all why that is but if anyone does know what the fix is I will attempt it.. Oh well so much for the highlights of the day so far....Now for another lousy cup of tea.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Last winter birding visit to Williamson/Bell Co.

I went to Elgin early this morn to go to the feed store but on a sudden whim decided to make a quick run up to Bell Co. again as I just could not get those cattle feeders out of my mind from my visit there a few days back. Man what a difference a few days make, things are changing so fast. but the cattle feeders were still oozing crushed corn and there were still tons of birds around them.

Before I get to that, I will mention that a stop at the dam and Friendship Park produced two Bonaparte's Gulls and that same darn loon. I tried real hard to make the gulls into something else but could not manage. There was a distant flock of Redheads. The loon was in a mirror calm cove preening so intently it took me a while to be 100% it was a Common. In a long south to north stream on the surface of the water there was a long line of small breast feathers etc. it had plucked from it's body. Just slowly drifting away.

I wonder if the birds pull the feathers because they can feel they need to be pulled, as in itching, or if they just go thru and sample each feather for it's individual adhesive strength? I mean is there any discomfort that drives them to preen so vigorously?

There was a flock of 31 Sandhill Cranes on 360 just north of 971 that took off and headed north as I drove by.

Now for the goods. I went back to that same cattle feeder oozing the corn on the corner of 360 and 363 and while there were far fewer cowbirds there were tons of others. I parked down the road and took the scope getting very close studied the birds in grand fashion. % Chestnut-collared Longspurs were still in the area! Two males in near if not perfect 100% alternate plumage. I am not sure I have ever seen them in such grandeur in Texas ever. Simply gorgeous things that were not in the least overly timid or shy. Both meadowlarks were here too and both sang....Fantastic close-up comparisons. The Brewer's Blackbirds were just stunning and then there were the zillions of Sparrows, 95% Savannahs but also Vesper and least a few. I sure wish I had known of this feeder back in January as already many things are leaving. Just in the last 10-12 days most of the Kestrels and Western Meadowlarks have booked it. After 30-40 minutes here I drove the Alligator Loop finding nothing of note and then to the Mega Field where there was also nothing of note.

However I turned off on 353 to those corn feeders and was in luck again!! Boy were there birds and more birds. The very first one on the corner with 352 had at least 22 of the most perfect Common Grackles one you imagine. They were just jewels. Lots of sparrows and meadowlarks but nothing new. Further down the road I hit the rest of the feeders and really lucked out. 3 McCown's Longspurs with a male in full alternate as best as I could tell, and 2 Lark Buntings, both males which were rapidly approaching alternate, all sharing in the same grain spillage. I poured through zillions of Brewer's and Brown-headeds looking for something like a Shiny Cowbird but no go there. Other wise the birds here were much the same as at the other feeders. Not far down the road from there were 2 Common Ground-doves near the house. Some of the ponds had wigeons but most were devoid of ducks.

Tractors were tilling and planting and I watched a few for a bit as I had birds following tractors down in Jim Wells Co. the other day. There was one tractor with a planter just east of Granger that had plovers behind it but they were so far out I could not make them out in the heat waves.

A short stop at Mary's Lake in Granger produced 2 Wood Ducks, 1 Song Sparrow and a BAWW but nothing else of note. By now I was out of time....I had squandered away the morning.

Returning to the house I had Sandhills flyover and still do. A pair of Pine Warblers remain which is getting very late as they are usually long gone by now. Surely my neighbor's 4 surviving pines are not enough to give them cause to take up territory? I can only hope so. Ok that is it. Got 'Maters to plant now. I had some pictures to post here for you but every time I tried it just locked up everything. Still learning this Blog stuff.

BTW....When I went off of all the lists I told David I that I thought that was where all the spam was coming from. He did not really think so, but I can promise this. I am am not on a single list now and I have not had but 2-3 spam notes now in almost 3 weeks, whereas I was getting sometimes 20+ a day when I was on the various lists.....Just FYI.

Have a good day.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lifer...The Flower Center, The Government Box works

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

One of the reasons I had to hustle back yesterday was to make a meeting in Austin at this Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on some items pertaining to my Federal permits. I have never been there before so decided that by gum this was a grand opportunity to educate myself, see the place The last time I was at the Wildflower Center was when it was under the radio towers just north of Platt's Road at Hornsby, so let's see , hmm, ....that's been like 5-6 years ago :-) Even met Lady Bird there !

I greatly feared the drive into Austin, but got the directions off Google and with white knuckles made my way into town. I might as well have been in Denver for all I could tell. Nothing looked like anything I could remember and Slaughter @ Brodie Lane totally toasted my mind. It was a 42 mile drive to the center but I got there alive. I am VERY glad that they call it the Wildflower CENTER, for it was 100% completely different than anything I expected. For all these years I have heard about this place, I had painted up a picture of it in my head. A huge tract of land devoted to wildflowers and native plants. A deep limestone canyon or something draped with Maiden Hair Fern, a rambling brook all sorts of fancy trails towered over by Texas Oak and ancient Ashe Juniper etc.

Heck I wore my hiking boots, wore my camera, brought my water bottle and figured I had just as good a chance as anyone else out there to find the FOS Golden-cheeked Warbler! In short I had in my mind a place that was a bit like Turkey Creek with a parking lot and a place that sold potted plants and T-Shirts next to rows of Port-o-potties or something......I am not sure what I thought but it sure as hell was not what I expected .....For sure I saw no Golden-cheekeds. I remember dropping of Dan Brooks near the entrance off of Loop 1 years ago when that road was under construction as his wife worked there but I did not go in.

Don't get me wrong here now, I think the place is wonderful. I found it delightful and interesting. There were none of the small fields of planted wildflowers that I thought there would be like out there near Fredricksberg but there was a lot of neat sculpture and turtles so tame I thought they were fake until I tossed a tiny pebble on one. Noticed that their Mexican Plum is not even budding whilst mine is in damn near full bloom....Elevational thing I guess. Everything mostly was dead and shrivelled up there, I suspect from that real cold weather a few weeks back. But there is some pretty rock work and art and they sell all sorts of stuff if you want it, and way more than I had a chance to look at. Was glad I went and finally saw it but can never be be what I always imagined it was again. And while I would never have made it there without this meeting, I would recommend a visit to anyone going into that part of town for sure.

That is the other thing, somehow I had it in my mind this was way out somewhere. At least a few miles out of town. Shucks it will soon be a downtown park it appears the way Austin is growing. San Antonio has it's Brackenridge Park and Zoo. Austin needs it's Hornsby and Wildflower Center. I can very much appreciate all of the many 100'000's of dollars and volunteer hours it must have taken to put the wildflower center together Would not mind seeing it when the flowers there are in bloom. It was a very busy place today though I was in the auditorium most of the afternoon. I went 3-4 hours early, lots of kiddos. Should have researched it better and would have better known what to expect..

Ladd, I finally put that little old TV up on a table thingy and hooked up the government converter box. After piddling with it a while it came on. All it seems to have though is low budget Latino comedies and soap operas and I don't speak Spainish so those ain't fun, and there is Foxx...But I can't understand stupid. Oh well there is a damn TV here at least for a few days. Hope these posts come out right, I'm tired and hurrying. Just catching up.


Webb Co. Amish, Home

Piddled around Webb Co. some more, finding some fair things but nothing of great note The deer somehow sense that season is over as they were obvious and everywhere. All the San Antonio and Houston Bubbas sure missed some trophies or decided to let them alone as breeding stock. I saw some grand bucks.

Looked one more time for the Cassin's Vireo briefly in Freer but still missed it, though a Sedge Wren was a big surprise. Migrant? I would have never have expected one of those in a patch of hackberries. An opossum was curled up in a ball in a portion of some old nest to sleep away the day. Hardly an animal of this country either.

Nothing else occurred and I drove up 59 toward home. Came to 796 and decided to stop by and see if John was home (John the Wheatear guy). I drove up to the enterence but saw several birders aimlesssly milling around down there so passed on that and went over to the store where David said John and the other boys were down in Tyman building a fertilizer barn anyway. I bought a quart of honey and a big tub of fresh churned butter. What was cool was that out there by where they shoe horses were two of the biggest turnips I have ever seen in my life. You think you seen big turnips?! These two were larger than basketballs and they likely weighed 12-14 lb.s ea. We talked a while then some folks came in with eggs so I left.

Down that same road that the store is on but a mile or so north, were a couple of birders that were out walking along the road. I guess they had already scored on the Wheatear and were looking for Lincoln's Sparrows or something. The lady with the brilliant red and blue coat looked like she knew what she was doing. Or maybe they were faking it, just waiting for me to drive past far enough so he/she could potty....Hey I do that sometimes :-)I got back to Utley a bit before dark tired, but in time to have 8 Sandhill Cranes say good evening.

Feb.27 through March 1
Within moments of finishing my note of Feb. 17., I received a key in the mail that provided me access to properties I needed to access the next day, the last of February, in the mail. The problem is the area was 200 miles away in one of my least favorite regions of the state, but nonetheless I threw a few things in the truck and was gone within minutes .....leaving the poor cat behind with minimal chow (I forgot).

I arrived near Liverpool 4 hours later in the dark and completely worn out. Had a restless night and extremely early morning. Blurry eyed the next morning, I was trying to relocate some properties with poorly marked gates not only in the dark but also a dense fog.I finally found the place(s) I wanted then after many problems with gates, got into some old farming areas....Sugar cane field many years ago...Rice mostly today. I birded there nearly all day and saw a lot of nice things in an area I can only describe as an utter maze of new and very, very old irrigation ditches and canals. I drove many a mile birding here , often just trying to get from point A to point B.

As I said, when I arrived it was very foggy but as I was on sort of a dike road, if it could be called that, I looked ahead with my bins and saw 3 Short-eared Owls perched on the road in the dim light. Early on SEOWs were just all over the place to be be replaced shortly after wards by harriers as the morning got brighter. I even flushed a couple of owls during the day! They must be in migration.

Twice I got stuck, but only once seriously. So seriously that I thought I would have to walk for miles for help as there was no possible way to describe my physical location or how to get to where I was except by GPS which was worthless for that purpose with canals every 200 yards........After an hour and the loss of 2 nice 2 X 10" boards brought along especially for this purpose, my shovel and several cords of found dead wood under the truck I managed to get out by some miracle. I was completely muddy and exhausted but still had the rest of the birding day to finish. The rest of the day was uneventful except for the frustration of locks and the endless back tracking because of some of them. I did see a single Cassin's Sparrow which really caught me off guard for Brazoria Co. and there was a single Couch's and Vermilion Flycatcher too. I am no expert on the UTC but a CASP in this country at this time of year has to be a pretty damn good bird.

I must have just missed clouds of geese/ducks it seemed.. I did not see or hear a single one but found closely cropped fields where 1000's or 10'000's must have been given the fact that there was poop everywhere...It looked like hail stones in one field. What grand fertilizer that would be in a garden. Some of it seemed still mushy as though left just yesterday. But when geese decide to go, they get.

Finally, I finished my birding day late in the afternoon and wanted to get on the road. I wanted to try to get to Rockport, but just could not stay awake during the drive, so called Petra who let me stay downstairs so I could avoid a lousy motel. Passed out asleep almost immediately after getting there. It rained that night lightly. Remember that I got stuck so bad the day before? A hell of a lot of that mud came off in her drive with that rain. She sent me "Thank You" Photo the next day. I left so early the next morning I did not notice it.

Yes I left there at dawn the next morning and birded the CTC down to Kleberg Co. before I decided a visit over to Freer might be fun. It was very windy. I was surprised to find a new location for Mountain Plovers off 665 in Jim Wells Co. 14-15 of them. I looked for the Cassin's Vireo in Freer but did not find it, but north of town in the cemetery I found two Ground Doves. One so bright red and with so little white in the tail, that you know I thought it had to be a male, a male, ah maybe hum, a male Santa Claus? :-)

The next morning bright and early I headed way on down to Webb Co. for some fun birding ....Working on my "List" you know :-) What was utterly desolate and bare ground just 2 months ago is now a carpet of yellow and pink flowers everywhere. Everything in bloom and gorgeous. I did not find much of note except a large rattlesnake, Rock Wren, and 2 Sandhill Cranes in a very odd location. Cassin's Sparrows were singing everywhere. The Lark Buntings are thinning out and the males are beginning to look real sharp. The Verdin's are singing and nest building.....I have still to hear or see a single quail of any species in this country.......Last time I was here the ground doves were all courting. It was hard to find a single one this time around as I assume they are now breeding (?).....Great Horned Owls are just everywhere and the Harris's Hawks are all gone off to nests . Things happen fast.....So much change in just a matter of a few days. There is so much more I could write about this country.....Maybe someday. Found a nice arrowhead.