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2011-07-30

South Africa (ZA)   Two and a half days in Texas - Part 2  -  Categories: USA  -  @ 04:39:08 pm

Bear Creek, Paul Rushing Park, Katy Prairie, Warren Ranch Lake, Kleb Woods and W G Jones State Forest - Houston, Texas - 03 July 2011

Glen had prior committments and was unable to guide me today. However, he had arranged that Greg Page also a very knowledgable local birder guide me for the last day and this worked out really well. Greg was great company, had a good ear for calls and had stakeouts for some of my target birds. Images by Mike Pope


Again a pre-sunrise pickup as we headed to our first stop pretty close to the hotel called Bear Creek (no bears in this park though?). Driving to the parking area, we briefly saw a Possum - we turned round to photograph it and it had disappeared. As we we were back into forest, I had to use flash. First bird up was an Acadian Flycatcher carrying food - so it had young nearby

Acadian Flycatcher

Another Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

Followed by an elusive White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

and then the male Summer Tanager, which really stood out in the green foliage

Summer Tanager

We managed to entice a calling Barred Owl to show itself, but before I could get my camera up it was mobbed by American Crows and retreated. I was more fortunate with a first year Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

An Orb Spiders web backlit by the morning sun and the front side showing it preparing it's breakfast

Orb Spider

Orb Spider

On the way into the trail, there was a park sign warning visitors of the snakes in this park, particulary the venomous Cottonmouth. So not easy to do canopy birding whilst watching where you put your feet. Fortunately, I spotted this non-venomous Broad-banded Water Snake before it saw me

Broad-banded Water Snake

By now the light had improved and we checked some of the more open parks - finding Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

A calling Pine Warbler took some time to locate high in one of the tall pines

Pine Warbler

A few more Summer Tanagers - a male in transition and a female

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

and a bird we had looked for earlier - Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

back at the car before leaving, we had a juvenile Tufted Titmouse wrestling with a rather large grasshopper

Tufted Titmouse

We headed to Paul Rushing Park - an open area with walkways and large ponds where a Black-necked Stilt was feeding in the shallows

Black-necked Stilt

We noted two Semipalmated Sandpipers on the banks of the pond - early autumn arrivals

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Paul Rushing Park is the location for Cave Swallow which nest underneath the raised walkways. This species is very similar to the Cliff Swallow seen on Friday

Cave Swallow

Cave Swallow

An Eastern Meadowlark trying to seek shelter from the heat of the sun which also had us wilting a little

Eastern Meadowlark

In amongst the lilies, we picked out a diminutive Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

I had been a bit crisped by the sun when we departed for Greg's stake out at Herbert Road, Katy Prairie. Even in less than ideal light conditions, the male Painted Bunting certainly does it's name justice

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

Driving out of Katy Prarie we had a Red-tailed Hawk fly by - not the White-tailed we were looking for. For the White-tailed we needed to have been in this area much earlier in the morning - always a toss up of where to go first

Red-tailed Hawk

Next stop was Warren Ranch Viewing Platform that overlooked a large pan where a scope was required. No new birds here, but we did find a Killdeer nesting almost in the middle of the parking area

Killdeer

As time was passing, we grabbed a McDonalds and headed Kleb Woods - the only site close to Houston where Roadrunner had been recorded. Unfortunately for us we had no luck (wrong time of day and year), so we drove to our final site - W G Jones State Forest. This is THE site for endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, the only north american woodpecker that excavates it's cavity in living Pine Trees

W G Jones

Walking slowly though the open forest, we located Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch

We heard Pileated Woodpecker and then saw a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers

Red-headed Woodpecker

followed by a tatty looking Indigo Bunting. In breeding plumage, the male is a spectacular bird

Indigo Bunting

Although it was feeding young a week ago, we did not find the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker which is at the southern limit of its range at WG Jones. Time was up and Greg dropped me off at the airport, where I had to freshen up and change in the mens washroom before checking in. I had a great 2.5 days birding with Glen and Greg, saw most of the prime birding sites and with a 110 birds I was pretty pleased given that I had missed migration and breeding season. As always, there are birds missed and the iconic Roadrunner will be high on my list when I next visit Texas.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

2011-07-29

South Africa (ZA)   Two and a half days in Texas - Part 1  -  Categories: USA  -  @ 09:41:19 pm

Anahuac National Wildlife Reserve, High Island, Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston - Houston, Texas - 02 July 2011

I was ready and waiting in the hotel lobby when Glen arrived just after sun up. Glen had planned a trip to the coast with a few stops on route. However, this was the 4th of July weekend which meant more people than usual at some of the coastal stops, so some species would be absent. Images by Mike Pope


On route to Anahuac, Glen made a stop at a backup site for a bird that I might miss the following day. It was a good site, with some forest and pines and gave us Blue Jay

Blue Jay

After Kuwait's desert birds it was great to have birds with colour and an Eastern Bluebird didnt disappoint in that department

Eastern Bluebird

We were lucky to see a pair of Inca Doves, a species that used to be much more abundant but has been displaced by the arrival of White-winged Doves

Inca Dove

Finally the bird we had made this stop for, showed itself and is the best looking Woodpecker I saw in Houston - the stunning Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Just before Anahuac, we stopped at a farm alongside the road where we had a Common Nighthawk overhead - very distinctive in flight with the white wing windows

Common Nighthawk

Good numbers of Red-winged Blackbird - males and females

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

An Eastern Kingbird on autumn passage

Eastern Kingbird

A displaying male Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

and a less impressive female Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Over the fields in the distance, a Fulvous Whistling Duck

Fulvous Whistling Duck

and a White-faced Ibis

White-faced Ibis

Finally we reached Anahuac where water levels were really low, as Texas was experiencing a really bad drought and this affected bird numbers. Driving slowly around this big wildlife refuge we added some new birds - Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Glen was thrilled with an unexpected and the more difficult to find King Rail along the dried out and exposed canal bank

King Rail

King Rail

At one stop, the Black-necked Stilts were very vocal flying around us, as they had some young nearby

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Anahuac is the place to find Seaside Sparrow and we worked hard to find a bird that sat up long enough for a photograph

Seaside Sparrow

Seaside Sparrow

by now it was time to push on to the next location and on the way out we added a bird with a very strange name - Dickcissel

Dickcissel

and many more Common Nighthawks roosting on the fence

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

our next stop was the legendary migration site called High Island not very far from the Gulf of Mexico coastline. It has good habitat and since it is elevated is a natural stop for many passage migrants, which I had unfortunately missed by a few weeks. I donated my fair share of blood to the local mosquitoes before we could coat ourselves in insect repellant - not easy in the heat and high humidity. However High Islant is also a breeding area for Herons, Egrets and Spoonbills. We found Snowy Egret feeding a ravenous brood

Snowy Egret

and another trying to shelter it's young from the intense heat

Snowy Egret

a Neotropic Cormorant coming in to land

Neotropic Cormorant

Tricoloured Heron also had young that werent going to win any baby beauty contest just yet

Tricoloured Heron

Look at the colours on this Tricoloured Heron when it catches the light

Tricoloured Heron

However, the main attraction are the powdery pink Roseatte Spoonbills - not ideal light at noon, but not much I could do about that

Roseatte Spoonbill

A few pairs still had young birds

Roseatte Spoonbill

Roseatte Spoonbill

As we had yesterday, another Wood Stork came drifting in

Wood Stork

Walking to another pan, we flushed a Black Vulture

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

Leaving High Island we stopped for a flock of Purple Martins on the overhead lines

Purple Martin

We then headed to Bolivar Peninsula on the Gulf of Mexico, stopping at a few sites. However, the numbers of beach visitors did restrict bird numbers to some degree. We found a Horned Lark perched atop a fence.

Horned Lark

Glen found a site, that although was very busy the birds seemed pretty tolerant and we added many coastal species to the days list. Laughing Gulls were the most numerous

Laughing Gull

A Forsters Tern roosting in the shallows

Forsters Tern

A few larger Royal Terns flew by

Royal Tern

A Magnificent Frigatebird was an unexpected bonus for me, even though it never quite came close enough

Magnificent Frigatebird

Many Brown Pelicans

Brown Pelican

A few Willet flying by and feeding in the shallows

Willet

Willet

And a small flock of Marbled Godwits came in to feed

Marbled Godwit

The Black Skimmers never did come close, but I caught this flying past a Wilsons Plover

Black Skimmer and Wilsons Plover

We found the white morph Reddish Egret

White morph Reddish Egret

as well as the proper Reddish Egret - also a good looking Egret

Reddish Egret

We left this beach site to explore another pond that had some cover and short reeds. We stopped to look at another Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

and got a bonus in the form a Clapper Rail, the bird we had expected to see at Anahuac

Clapper Rail

Clapper Rail

and another Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

after a quick bite to eat, we headed to the ferry for the crossing to Galveston, finding a Mottled Duck. The heat haze and humidity playing havoc with my camera's autofocus

Mottled Duck

waiting for the ferry to depart, gave the opportunity for closer views of Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

as well as roosting and preening Brown Pelicans

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

once underway, a few birds flew alongside the ferry for most of the crossing - another Royal Tern

Royal Tern

a Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

coming in to dock, a few of the smaller Black Terns

Black Tern

and more Laughing Gulls dwarfed against a giant containership leaving Galveston

Laughing Gull

We explored some coastal dunes on the Galveston side and found a Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

and finally a flock of Short-billed Dowitchers before we called it a day and headed back to my hotel in Houston

Short-billed Dowitcher

2011-07-27

South Africa (ZA)   Two and a half days in Texas - Part 1/2  -  Categories: USA  -  @ 11:51:57 pm

Brazos Bend State Park , Houston, Texas - 01 July 2011

Through BirdingPal and Houston Audobon Society I had made contact with Glen Olsen (h.glenn.olsen@gmail.com) a professional and local guide to make the best out of my weekend's focussed birding. As mentioned before, 4th July weekend was not ideal but Glen was able to put together an itienary to maximise the bird count without having to spend too much time travelling. We finished our last training day at 2pm and Glen suggested we use the late afternoon and early evening to explore the really great Brazos Bend State Park, which was not too far from the hotel. Images by Mike Pope


On the way to Brazos Bend we stopped at a bridge to check out the nesting Cliff Swallows

Cliff Swallow

Here an adult returning to it's nest

Cliff Swallow

Brazos Bend has a mix of fresh water pans and some fantastic mature woodland and the best way to see it was to park and walk. As quite a bit of birding was inside the mature woodland, I needed to use some flash again to boost the light. First bird up was a Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

Next was a family of Red-bellied Woodpeckers

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Once out of the woodland, we walked the path next to one of the large pans where we added many more species to the growing list - a Great Blue Heron looking quite regal

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

We did quite well on the Heron's - finding a skulking Green Heron

Green Heron

A showy Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

A hunting Tricoloured Heron - going from looking for prey into stealth mode

Tricoloured Heron

Tricoloured Heron

Tricoloured Heron

as well as good numbers of Yellow-crowned Night Herons feeding during the day, whihc I thought was quite unusual for this species, considering we didnt see any Black-crowned Night Herons doing the same

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

A Snowy Egret hunting quietly in a small pool

Snowy Egret

A White Ibis perched above us, whilst many others shared the pan with the Egrets and Herons

White Ibis

A distant Wood Stork (an early Autumn migrant) dropped in

Wood Stork

Again I was surprised at the number of Alligators there were in even small patches of water - so you certainly had to keep your distance on some of the banks

Alligator

The pans also held numbers of Moorhen

Moorhen

Here a Moorhen squaring up to an American Coot - the Moorhen did back down, obvious I guess!

Moorhen and American Coot

I missed a picture of a skulking Purple Swamphen, but did get the Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

A Boat-tailed Grackle, separated from Great-tailed by a dark eye

Boat-tailed Grackle

A small bird flying in gave us Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

In the tree next door, a male Northern Cardinal followed by the female

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Glen suggested we move to a different part of the Park, to try for new species. Here there were some magnificent old trees along the water body. An inquisitive Anhinga watched us before departing to roost in a tree

Anhinga

It must have spooked a Red-shouldered Hawk that was roosting quietly in the shade of one of the trees - here being bombarded by a Red-winged Blackbird as it makes it's getaway

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Not long after this great show, another raptor overhead was a Mississippi Kite - one of those on my want list

Mississippi Kite

By this time, we needed to start heading back to the hotel and got a pair of roosting Black Vultures

Black Vulture

Driving along some quiet farm roads produced Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

I picked up two small fast moving birds in one field that turned out to be Northern Bobwhite in the fading light, which Glen was thrilled to see. My camera was on the wrong setting, but I still like the feel of this image as they make their getaway

Northern Bobwhite

I had attached my flash for this Killdeer

Killdeer

Our final bird of the day was this magnificent Great Horned Owl - taken from the opposite side of the road at ISO 1000 and lens wide open - I was very satisfied with the result as well as the great birds seen today, with many lifers. Tomorrow would be a full day's birding with Glen and an early start, that I was already looking forward to.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

2011-07-24

South Africa (ZA)   Birding Houston, Texas  -  Categories: USA  -  @ 08:42:35 pm

Westchase Holiday Inn, Houston, Texas - June 2011

My project team and I were required to attend product training in Houston, ahead of the start of a new project here in Kuwait. It was a 5-day course based in Westchase on the outskirts of Houston city center. We chose the Holiday Inns in Westchase for convenience and was pretty much located in suburbia. I hadnt been back to the USA since 1984 when birding was a much lower priority. It was not the best time of year, with migration over and breeding season just about a thing of the past, but as birders we make the most of what we can get, wherever we may be. Images by Mike Pope


It was mid-summer and temps were around 100 F, but with added humidty of 85% which I was not used to. However, on the plus side sunset was only 8:30pm, so that gave enough time to explore around the hotel after the course and before dinner. Arriving at George Bush Intercontinental Airport after a 15-hour flight from Doha via Greenland the first birds seen at the airport were Great-tailed Grackles and these were common all around the city and the hotel. Here a striking male bird

Great-tailed Grackle

and the more drabbler female on the way to feed her brood

Great-tailed Grackle

One of the other very common species seen at all locations is the master mimic and songster, the Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

On a few occassions, I noted that after an extended variety of calls, it gave an aerial display before continuing it's calls elsewhere

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

I found a large vacant piece of land over the road from the hotel and most days explored this patch. Over the next few days a variety of species were seen around this plot in suburbia - Mourning Doves were the most common dove

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

White-winged Dove are much more striking, but were less common. Later I found out that this species has now displaced the Inca Dove which used to be very common in suburbia

White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove

Interspersed with these smaller doves were some of the larger Eurasian Collared Doves

Eurasian Collared Dove

A pair of Red-tailed Hawks were always present in the high pylons alongside the freeway. It is this birds call you hear in all the movies where wide open plains are shown, so the call was almost already familiar and thats what alerted me to look up the first time to see it overhead

Red-tailed Hawk

Along the fence line of the vacant plot, I found a number of Loggerhead Shrikes

Loggerhead Shrike

This one was a little agitated

Loggerhead Shrike

I forfeited breakfast one morning and although the light was soft, I did get some good birds. Chimney Swifts were hawking along with Barn Swallows over the vacant plot

Chimney Swift

Chimney Swift

I flushed a few Cottontails walking along the hedgeline

Cottontail

A male Brown-headed Cowbird was calling from the overhead lines. This must have been a regular spot, as I saw it on a few occassions

Brown-headed Cowbird

Sadly, European Starlings have also invaded Houston

European Starling

I later found out that Common Grackles are not so common, but I did find two on one of the morning walks. Here two of them with a Mourning Dove for size comparison

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

A few Sparrow sized birds were seen and with patience I was able to get close enough for a photograph which I identified later from the Sibley Guide on my iTouch, as a House Finch

House Finch

A raptor passing by overhead turned out to be a Crested Caracara and the best view I would have of this odd looking raptor

Crested Caracara

On the way back from training, I noticed that we crossed a drainage canal that ran through the suburb and this seemed a good place to explore but was a longer walk from the hotel in the humidity. I took a water bottle and headed to and along the waterway, first finding Great Egret

Great Egret

A little further along I flushed a few Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. These ducks nest in tree cavities

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

In the same spot I had an obliging Green Heron; a striking looking small Heron

Green Heron

Green Heron

Green Heron

A bird I really wanted to see, was surprisingly easy to find - the magnificent looking Yellow-crowned Night Heron. The first one I found was a juvenile that didnt quite know what to make of me, so it froze

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

The adult is a lot more aloof and regal

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Initially I thought this was a young Alligator, but Greg who guided me later on the weekend has confirmed the id as a Softshell Turtle which was very wary of me

Softshell Turtle

Satisfied with birds I had seen along this waterway, I headed back to the hotel finding a Turkey Vulture overhead. My next few trips after training completion would be focussed birding together with a local and knowledgable guide which I was really looking forward to

Turkey Vulture

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