Friday, May 26, 2006

Okay, I'm Obsessing Now...

But I had to go over and see if the screech owl was in the neighbor's tree again today (about 8:45 a.m.) He was! I got a bunch of new shots of him. Check this one out! No pellets though. I really want to dissect one now!

By the way, I replaced some stock photos with some I took myself in previous posts. I'll try to point out the ones I took myself for clarity's sake.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Seen 'em again!

Barbara waved me over to her yard yesterday around 9 a.m. to see two Eastern Screech Owls sitting in her front yard pecan tree. Not only did I get pictures this time, I also got a shot of an owl pellet. (An owl pellet is the remains of a meal. The owl eats a mouse, digests the good parts and regurgitates the fur and bones in a little pellet that looks a lot like a furball. Here's a link to a cool owl pellet site.)

The first pic shows both owls and the second is a closeup of the adult. These guys can sometimes appear Red or brown but these guys are the gray morph variety. We still don't know where they nest, but they obviously live in or near Barbara's and Mike's yard. See this site of a screech owl nest box. (Barbara finds owl pellets frequently.) They were quite aware we were staring at them, but quite unconcerned. I still don't know if the smaller one was simply a female, or a juvenile. I'm thinking juvenile cuz nesting time ended in mid-May (according to the nest-box guy named Chris).

Here's the pellet shot I took. I wan't smart enough to collect it for further examination. I went back in he afternoon and it was gone.

By the way, the raptor I saw the other day may have been a Mississippi Kite. It's description most closely fits what I saw. They migrate through here, but generally don't hang around. Eats large insects, mainly.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Eastern Screech Owl seen

I've heard these guys in the neighborhood for at least a year now, but I've never seen them. My across-the-street neighbors have seen them frequently in the twilight in their front yard pecan tree and mine. Finally, last night, Barbara from across the street invited me over to see the gray morph Eastern Screech Owl (this is a photo I took later) sitting on a lower branch of their tree. It calmly stared at us as we stared back. I saw him very well with my binoculars, but when I went to get my camera, he flew off. Although, they blend in very well and are very hard to see because they sit stock still, Barbara knows to look for them when she hears birds squawk as though they are being murdered.

I happened to look up as I went back to my house and I saw a very beautiful raptor flying over head. Pointed wings and lots of white underneath, but I haven't narrowed it down yet. I'll post my guess when I have a chance to study the bird book.

Monday, May 15, 2006


European starlings are not popular birds with birders. The are an invasive and extremely successful species that steals nesting sites and fight agressively wth popular native species like blue birds and woodpeckers. I get this now.

I used to have a Red Bellied Woobpecker in my front yard tree. After a storm destroyed the trunk his old hole was in, he built a new one. But a starling displaced him. See the juvenile poking his head out.

Here's a close up.

Here's the displaced woodpecker at my feeder during better times. ;-)

Fledgling care

If you have enough trees and birds, you'll find fledglings on the ground. Unless they are about to be eaten by your cat or dog, leave them. The parent bird is nearby and will come by to feed them.

I say this because my neighbor Barbara has a kitty that's quite the huntress. She started stalking something in my yard and Barbara followed her only to find a fledgling dove. She brought the bird to me to care for and I agreed, even though my own inclination is to set the bird in the nearest tree and leave it to nature. I plunked the little guy is a box with lots of shredded paper and it sat there happily all night.

In the morning, I scooped him up and set bird and paper in an Easter basket. Then the basket went onto a tree limb by my house. He was still sitting there when I left. Mom and Dad will come get him or he'll soon try striking off on his own again. All the websites said this was best. Here he was as I left him

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Barn Swallows

Must be fledging time for Barn Swallows. I went to my car in the parking structure yesterday evening (5:30) on the second floor and there was an adult and an immature bird sitting on a ledge in front of my car. Immature birds are often fluffy from pin feathers and have slightly different coloring from their parents. You can really tell the difference when the parents are there attending them. Don't know where the nest was, but this little fellow was obviously a fledgling and both parents were attending it. One was sitting next to the little guy, while the other flew around nearby noisily to attract my attention. I stayed just far enough away so that they fledgling would fly away, but I had trouble identifying them because the sun was washing out their color and features. I had to circle around them to an outdoor portion of the garage to seem them with a light angle that revealed what they were. Wings longer then their tails. Only 5 inches or so. I realized they were swallows. The flying parent showed a scissored tail and I recognized them as Barn swallows. They often use man made concrete structures to hide their nests.

When I had seen enough I circled back to my car and approached the driver-side door. That put me within 3 feet of them, which was too close for comfort. They flew off, fledgling and all. (This is a stock photo of an adult. I had no camera with me.)

Strange Flock-fellows

Mike and Barbara across the street from me have a cat. The cat snagged a fledgling grackle that apparently didn't successfully fledge. Such is life. However, the grackles were not pleased. A family group of about 8 to 12 harassed that cat anytime it was outside and for days, (at least 3) after the incident. They made noise and surrounded the cat, dive bombing it from behind.

Oddly, though, a lone male Cardinal seemed to be with the grackles. I thought this odd, but Mike and Barbara both swear up and down that every time the flock harassed the cat, the Cardinal was there with the grackles, looking on, but never taking part. A couple of days ago, what I assumed was Mike and Barbara's flock of grackles, flew as a group from my yard to theirs. Moments later I heard the chip, chip sound of a Cardinal and sure enough, there was a male Cardinal with the flock.

Also Monday...

Forgot to mention another incident Monday. As I was walking from the 3 story parking structure to my building that morning, I saw a mocking bird hard on the tail of a male Great Tailed Grackle, like something out of a war movie. Don't know what the grackle did, but the mocker was maybe a foot behind the furiously flying grackle and gaining. They were about five feet off the ground and headed right at me. So I stopped to have a look. That bastard grackle came right at me as if he was using me as interference. He flew just to the left of my head and the mocker was on a collision course. I threw up my hands to protect my face just as the mocker gracefully pulled up and looped back to a small tree just in front of me. I turned to find the grackle landing in a tree about 30 yards beyond me. The mocker saw it too and took off after that grackle. Their chase continued. I went inside.

Don't mess with a nesting mocker, man. And they are nesting right now. I took this shot of a mocker nest last year in a small oak tree on the grounds of the Siemens building in North Austin.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Outside the back yard

I don't go looking for birds. I'm not that kind of bird-nerd. Instead, I just pay attention to the ones around my home or where ever I happen to be. I was way down south checking out a facility for my mom's care when I realized I was next door to the Wildflower Center. I'm a member, so I popped over and hit the Restoration trail. To see what I could see. Plenty of Mocking Birds were out. First bird I saw loudly and rapidly went through the calls of about 10 species of birds. Had to be a mocker. I think they show off to get a mate. This one was at the top of a young live oak singing and occasionally hopping from branch to branch to show off his wings.

I moved on through the various research plots, taking snaps of butterflies as I saw them and listening to birds. I only saw one for every 10 or so I heard. It was about 3 and they were staying well covered, for the most part. I would have seen more had I stayed in one place for a while, but I was just there for a quick visit. I did see a Painted Bunting for the first time. I also took snaps of what I think is a flycatcher and what may be a warbler. Even with my zoom, their images are small and hard to identify. Gotta go back soon with more time to kill and just sit and wait for them next time.

Here are stock pics of a Painted Bunting and a Mocker, the two I know I saw.

Here is the shot I took of the elusive bird I had trouble identifying. Wouldn't stay still and hard to get a good shot of. I think it's the Eastern Wood Peewee (a flycatcher.)

Here's a good stock shot of one. What do you think?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

New visitors

We had another strong storm starting about 3:55 a.m. Saturday. It's rolling thunder woke me up and Elvis, the 100 pound scaredy Lab kept me up. It subsided after a while and all calmed down after a while, but it was still raining when I got up at 7. Got 1.2 inches. I mention that only because I don't fill my bird cake feeder when it storms. So the bully birds didn't come by in droves. So when I got back from demoing Spiceburst product, just in time for the Kentucky Derby, there were only occasional visitors to my bird bath. I got a treat when I looked up and saw a bright yellow bird timidly approach it and then perch above it in the Juniper tree. Then there was a similarly sized bird with black wings, a large white patch and red body.

Never seen these guys in my yard before, so I got the binocs out to get a better look. Sho-nuff, the yellow bird was a male Yellow Warbler. I had seen these 2 summers ago flocking in an old hackberry tree between Avenue H and Duval on 49th. He finally felt safe enough to bathe, but I never saw the other guy again, to my disappointment. Two separate male Yellows came by though. (stock photo)

I looked through my bird book (the highly recommended Birds of North America by Kenn Kaufman) for the other fellow and came across the Painted Redstart. It's the only bird that's warbler sized with red breast and large white wing patches, so I'm thinking it was him. Problem is, he doesn't normally come around here. He's a Mexican bird whose range barely pokes up into southwest canyonlands west of here. However, the storm blew in from the west, so maybe he was blow in here. I'm told that happens frequently. (stock photo)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Big Storm Last night!

Was at Trudy's with the boys (Omid, Tim, Brian) when the big storm of ought 6 hit. Okay, it wasn't big enough for the old-timer lingo, but it did knock out power at the bar and give the trees a good lashing. My car was in a 8 inch pool when I got to it. Drove very carefully back up Speedway wary of trees in the street and sure enough, one had fallen to block the north-bound half of Speedway between 42nd and 43rd. When I got Avenue G, the damage was less severe, just limbs. But one was in the street at 46th and a few were on the curb.

Creeping up the street I scanned right and left for damage, and the worst was on my block. 4803 has a large exotic in the front yard and it lost 3 limbs, two pretty high up so I wonder how the tree will respond. But the worst damage was across the street from me. An old elm that had crotched at about 5 and half feet into 3 massive limbs sits in the middle of the front yard. The north most branch cracked at about 10 feet and was lost. One of the southerly branches lost a sub branch at about 20 feet or so. The front duplex was spared, through the ends of the big limb is tangled in the cable company lines to the back duplex. But the canopy of that elm is forever changed.

This had to happen, because the crotch was showing serious splitting last summer. The owner had cabled the three branches together with half inch steel cable, but it did no good in the storm as the branch that fell was about at least 28 inched in diameter and weighed several tons.

Amazingly, none of my 5 Pecan trees had anything more that dead branch windfall. I lost a big branch off my largest three last year so maybe the branches were better balanced.

Anyway, the trees were loud with bird song today. Much more than usual. I wonder if the birds do this to announce they are still alive to others in their species.

My favorite dove, the Inca was grazing in a group of four under my generalized bird feeder this morning. The feeder is empty and the aggressive parakeets, White-Winged Doves and grackles were not around, so these smaller, gentler birds could search in peace for some seed. Here's a couple of Inca I got a good shot of May 6th when I got home from the Wildflower Center.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

New bird feeding strategy

I guess this happens to all backyard birders, but my one, general bird feeder has become over run by bully birds and many of the interesting ones that used to come by, don't.

I miss the Cardinals and Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice.

Ever since the Monk Parakeets of the IM Fields at 51st and Guadalupe found my feeder a few years back, the little birds won't come by even though they are still in the neighborhood.

Now the feeder attracts the 'keets and White-Winged Doves, intrepid House Sparrows and Great Tailed Grackles.

Occasionally, I see a Blue Jay, Cardinal or Brown Headed Cowbird, but generally, the aggressive birds keep them away.

So, I will now separate the black oil sunflowers from the millet and milo and have separate feeders for peanuts too. Plus, I'm employing different feeders that are suited to different birds. Tube feeders with small perches and feeding holes for smaller birds, a suet feeder for woodpeckers, a peanut feeder for titmice and chickadees, a table feeder for fruit eaters. We'll see how it works. (stock photos)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hummers are Back

No not the obnoxious GMstrocities that block out the sun on street near you, but the tiny little nectar suckers that are attracted to red. I've had a small family of Ruby Throated Hummers at my house as guests the last Few years and I finally saw one Saturday, the 30th. I was too close to the feeder for her comfort, so she went to the nearby honeysuckles instead. Good to have them back! (stock photo)