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Monday, 28 December 2015

Birding USA 2015

And another year is almost biting the dust! But before we close off this year I can just share some of my 2015 birding experiences, something that is long overdue. It'll be short though... It's been a very busy and demanding year and unfortunately most of that busy time did not involve any bird watching. That I am attempting to capture my 2015 bird watching in a single post probably says it all. Anyway, herewith a short flavor of this years avian encounters.

During the first months of the year my bird photography was mostly done casually around the house or in the parks close to our home. The  Edith L Moore sanctuary is a small park within walking distance that is managed by the Audubon society and this is a good place for a short stroll. I have seen quite a number of species here and it's nice to see the Eastern screech owls after dusk.
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis Cardinalis). 
The northern cardinal is one of the commoner and definitely one of the more conspicuous birds found in any brushy habitat. Frequently seen in our garden as well.
Green heron (Butorides virescens). 
There is a small pond in the Edith Moore park, where this small heron has been seen a few times.
Broad banded water snake (Nerodia fasciata confluens).
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens). 
This small woodpecker is common in the greener parts of town. They're often seen in pairs working their way up and down a tree.

Our street had some breeding night herons and we also had a nest in a tree next to our driveway. It's nice to see these birds surviving in large urban environments - though I did curse them the first time I took note of their presence because of the large white splashes that were spray-painted across my car! Below is a pic of one of four youngsters that were seen regularly in our driveway.
Yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctynassa violacea). 
On the rare occasion I had the luxury to spend some time a little further afield and I managed to visit a few parks with family and friends around Houston, a.o. Bear Creek, Brazos Bend, Baytown and the Gulf coast. Both brown and white pelicans can be seen around Baytown.
Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis).
The ruddy turnstone had always eluded me in Brunei. They're more common at the Gulf coast.
Ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres), Surfside beach.
Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens), Baytown (photo from 2014)
Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis), Bear Creek park.
No crocodiles, but the alligators can still reach impressive sizes, like this one in Brazos bend park.
American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), Brazos bend (photo from 2014).

In April I luckily did manage a day at High Island, which is renowned for it's spring migration birding, see High Island is about an hour and a half drive from where we live in Houston. For someone who spend the last five years in Brunei, where accidentally bumping into a fellow birder is as rare as finding a jambu fruit dove on your doorstep - I recall both happening to me once - birding in high island is quite the experience; besides birds there are birders everywhere, literally hundreds of them, all packed in a small patch of forest!

During spring migration all these birdwatchers don't seem to effect and scare away the birds. Most birds that can be seen during spring use High Island as a refueling station after having just crossed the Golf of Mexico and before moving further north. Drip feeders are set up strategically for the convenience of all the visitors, birds and humans.
The other surprise is the colors on the warblers. Compared to Asia the warblers in the new world are a bolt of colors! I did manage to rake up a good number of new birds, including more than 10 species of wood-warblers during just a single morning. Below a small sample of the warblers that were seen.
Black-and-white warbler (Mniotilta varia).
Bay-breasted warbler (Dendroica castanea).
Black-throated green warbler (Dendroica virens).
Yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia)
But there was more on show: catbirds, kingbirds, vireo's, brightly colored tanagers, orioles and the odd bunting and grosbeak.
Summer tanager (Piranga rubra).
And in High Island I also bumped into my first and only cuckoo this year, a new species for me nonetheless.
Yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus).
The Katy prairie is another reasonably good place to visit close to home. The draw back is that there are very few trails and these are only open to the public a few times per month. Tress passing is highly discouraged and I am not going to challenge that policy, especially when considering the Texas gunlaws! The prairie is good for raptors and I also did see a few Northern Bobwhites earlier in the year. Apparently this time of year should also be good for wintering ducks and geese, but the species variety in the ponds that I visited last week was rather low and had none of the hoped for species.
Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus).
We did have a few weekend trips this year, although none were dedicated birding trips. The most birdy was a long weekend in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and a few days in Moab, Utah during thanksgiving also brought up a few nice birds. And a spring trip to the California bay area was a good reminder to never forget my bins. But I did. I guess I just have to go back!

In Steamboat Springs I did connect to good number of new species, even though I hardly any pics to show for it.
Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)
Evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus)
Colorado chipmunk (Tamias quadrivittatus)
The landscape around Moab is truly spectacular and just driving around is fantastic. The dinosaur footprints made a big impression on my sons imagination.
Canyon-land park, Utah.
In Moab I hardly saw any new birds, but we were treated to a spectacular gathering of base jumpers that were all showing off there courage and skills. We hung around for a while and saw a lot of jumpers taking the plunge. Not a sport for the faint of heart!
Base jumping in Moab
Common raven (Corvus corax).
So, that was a short summary of my 2015 birding. I do have some good intentions for the next year; Costa Rica is taking shape on my calendar and I am planning a few other short trips as well. I'll make some effort to document some of it right here!

All the best for 2016!

Folkert, 28/12/2015