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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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