Welcome back my friends, long time no see! (With sincere apologies)
With the weather a bit too cold and dreary to get any actual work done on the first day of 2016, we decided to start the year off by catching up on our birding and photography! Actually, we’ve decided to try our hand at setting a goal of 225 different species of birds for this years count. We absolutely love the native and migratory birds found here in Texas, many of which we often see at our feeders hanging near our front door and around our property. While 225 may be a bit lofty for us, we will keep the Nikon handy and see how it goes. We’ll also be sure to take plenty of shots of the native flora and fauna as well as the interesting and unique sights we encounter during our work and travel adventures this year! Of course goals are one thing, and actually having the time and discipline to accomplish them are two entirely different matters! We are hopeful we can complete this task among the many others that we must complete this year.
Our count began before we even left the house this morning with a surprise visit from a pair of Eastern Towhee’s (Pipilio erythrophthalmus) We usually see them here during the winter months but they arrived a bit late this year, probably due to the exceptionally warm weather we have had thus far. (it was 79 degrees here on Christmas Day followed by 3″ of snow on Sunday/Monday!) We are always happy to see these annual visitors to our humble home. All of the following photographs were shot with a Nikon D3200 using a Nikkor 55-200 mm telephoto lens.
(The first two shots were captured through the glass of a window so they’re a little frosty looking.)
We spent about 3 hours driving around the local area and were able to capture quite a few good shots, we ended up with over 30 species sighted but only managed to catch shots of 28 or so. I missed at least 2 great shots of exceptional birds including a beautiful Belted Kingfisher as well as a group of fine Mallard Ducks foraging in some flooded timber! It really hurt to miss such wonderful shots as I try not to include them in our total count unless we get the shot. (Although I may actually count both of these toward the total 😉 This was truly one of our best birding days ever! A resounding success!
Shot #2 was also taken before we left home, it’s difficult to say for sure but I’m guessing this is a juvenile or winter phase Chipping Sparrow. (Any ID help from those more well versed than I would be appreciated)
Shot # 3 also taken at home, a couple of pretty American Goldfinches with a Northern Cardinal thrown in for a dash of color.
Shot # 4 also taken at home, not the best shot but it’s a Black Crested Titmouse. A common native we often see at our feeders. (Hey, every shot counts! 😉
Shot # 5 was taken after we drifted over to the nearby lake shore. It’s a juvenile (near adult) Great Blue Heron.
We saw several Great Blue Herons today, here are a couple of shots of an adult that we took later in the day. All of the Herons are one of our favorite species to photograph.
Shot # 6. A pretty little Eastern Phoebe resting in a neighbors Red Oak Tree.
Shot # 7 is a Wake and a Volt of juvenile Turkey Vultures. A group of vultures is called a wake, committee, venue, kettle, or volt. The term kettle refers to vultures in flight, while committee, volt, and venue refer to vultures resting in trees or on the ground. Wake is reserved for a group of vultures that are feeding.
Shot # 8. Although this is a very poor photograph (I had adjusted the settings prior to this shot then forgot to reset) I included it because it does represent a confirmed sighting and it is exceptional because it is only a small part of the largest group of Dark Eyed Juncos we have ever seen. There were well over 100 birds in this group! Such a shame my rookie mistake cost us some of the most exceptional sightings we have ever seen! This is one mistake I will never repeat.
Shot # 9. More American Goldfinches. This too is an exceptional shot because it is a mere fraction of the largest group of Goldfinches we have ever seen. Seen in the same area as the Juncos, there were well over 400 birds in this group! The American Goldfinches are one of our all-time favorite species.
Shot # 10. Yet another amazing sighting of the largest group of Cedar Waxwings we have ever seen! Well over 100 birds split into two separate groups! These birds were also seen in the exact same area as the two previous species! I have no idea why so many large groups had gathered together in the same small lakeside area but we feel very privileged to have seen and photographed them all in one day! The Waxwings are such a beautiful and difficult to photograph species, another of our all time favorites!
Shot # 11. A great brace and flock of mixed Ducks including, Redheads, Ringnecks and another as yet unidentified species! (ID help again requested, the Drakes with the brown heads. Juvenile Redheads maybe?) A group of ducks can be called a flock, brace, raft, team or paddling. A group of ducks is referred to as a flock while they are in flight. They are more often referred to as a raft, team or paddling while the group is on water. Whatever one may call them, Ducks are some of the most beautiful and difficult species to photograph in our humble opinion, we love them all!
Shot # 12. A great shot of a not-so popular invasive species, the European Starling. I really don’t like any of the numerous invasive species as they come in very large numbers and often spread avian diseases to our native populations. But hey, it adds to our count! They are more appealing in winter plumage phase.
Shot # 13. The ever popular Texas Native Killdeer. Killdeer are upland shorebirds that are famous for their broken wing impression. By pretending to be injured they can draw predators away from their ground nest which is protected only by camouflage. Once they successfully draw the predator away from the nest, they then heartily fly away with a shrill insulting chirping which leaves the predator feeling both confused and humiliated. Ya gotta love ’em!
Another Texas favorite!
Shot # 14. Another full-time Texas resident species, the beautiful and flighty Eastern Bluebird. Another fav!
Shot # 15. The American Coot. Not one of my favorites, it is a common waterfowl seen throughout Texas and does still add to the count.
Shot # 16. American Robins. Yet another large group numbering around 100 birds! Captured this shot in a nearby Pecan Grove.
Shot # 17. A fantastic series of shots of an American Kestrel hovering in flight above a local field. We got lucky to catch this handsome fellow doing what he does best, at the end of these shots he swooped down on an unsuspecting mouse then flew to a perch on a fence post and enjoyed his snack.
Shot # 18. The elegant Great Egret is a shallow wetlands Texas Native that is now a protected species.
Shots # 19 and 20. A pair of as yet unidentified Ducks, a Drake and Hen. More ID help requested.
Shot # 21. A fantastic series of a completely new species for us! We caught this beautiful Say’s Phoebe in action hovering above a field while hunting. Our new favorite in the Flycatcher species!
Shot # 22. Another beautiful Northern Cardinal.
Shot # 23. One of the ugliest and most unappreciated waterbirds in Texas, the homely Double Crested Cormorant.
Shot # 24. CJ fired off this difficult shot of a well hidden and rarely seen during daylight hours Barred Owl. She did a great job of picking him out in the far distance while defying the many obstacles that interfere with the auto-focus on our Nikon. We really must buy a new long-range zoom lense! This is yet another new species to add to our growing list of sightings!
Shot # 25. We finished out the day with this shot of the meat-eating predator known as the Loggerhead Shrike. This unassuming lil’ killer looks like many of the local songbirds, but beware if you are a lizard or small snake…he waits patiently from high perches to pounce on his prey with swift and deadly efficiency!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this post as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you, many thanks for stopping by and please do stay tuned for more tales of adventure in the great Texas outdoors! 😉