Welcome to my world!

Backyard Birding in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas:
Surrounded by great birding destinations, our favorite patch is still the backyard (or the front), where we've seen more than 270 species of birds. Sit awhile, and watch the river and yard with us!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Command Performance

This was another "no sooner said than done" day.  I've written about them before:   I get up in the morning, announce what birds I want to see in the yard--and before the day is over, there they are!   When I said this morning that today we'd have buntings and Hooded Orioles, my husband just rolled his eyes. But before the day was over, that's exactly what we had. 
First thing this morning, I walked up the drive to start the  drippers on the bird baths.  We've been out of town for the last week, so I knew I needed to complete that task early.   Moving water is our number one bird magnet.

In the backyard, the river's brackish water attracts egrets, herons, kingfishers, gulls, terns, pelicans, whistling ducks and myriad other water-loving birds.

In the front yard, water drips continually from a quarter-inch black hose into one of the baths, the deepest one where we've seen hawks, Chachalacas, and even a Wild Turkey bathing.   (Last week I  put an adjustable valve on the hose, which hangs above the bath from a shepherd's hook, so that I wouldn't have to crawl through thorny brush  every time I needed to  turn it off and on.)  In another bath across the drive,  water drips from a plastic bottle (actually from a big plastic container that once held kitty litter!).   This shallow bath is favored by smaller birds like the Lesser Goldfinches and Painted Buntings that are especially drawn to dripping water on hot summer afternoons. There are two other baths that we fill daily from a garden hose, but that's okay because it gives me a chance to walk the drive and see what  birds hide in the brush, not visible from the deck unless they dart out to the driveway.

On the walk up the drive this morning, I saw a Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler and a Blue-headed Vireo, both in a Live Oak tree.  Green Jays, Altamira Orioles, and Kiskadees  flew noisily through the yard, calling out as they checked out feeders and baths.  A Ladder-backed Woodpecker squeaked like a dog toy as it climbed up and down the oak trees. A Couch's  Kingbird  flew its up-and-then-down-again dance from the tiptop of an Ash tree and sang out loudly in the still morning, a song that distinguishes it from the otherwise identical Tropical Kingbird.

When my neighbor called "Come here! Hurry!"  I rushed over to her drive in time to watch a 4- to 5-foot Indigo Snake slither away into the grass and then under a fence to another yard.  It was a deep blue-black in the morning sun, a really beautiful snake.   Though classified as threatened, they seem to do well in our area which has lots of native plants and patches of thick brush.  We have had them living in our yard every year and see them often around dripping water faucets and the neighbor's sprinkler. ( I didn't have my camera outside with me, but I'm determined to get a good picture soon. When I do, I'll write a little more about these beautiful snakes.)

And that's not the only Indigo I saw today:  the asked-for Indigo Bunting made its first-of-season appearance in the late afternoon.  I saw it on the bird bath  that's made from a down-turned terra cotta planter and an up-turned saucer, but it was there only  for a moment.  Just after I spotted the deep blue bird through binoculars, and  juggled them awkwardly as I tried to quickly raise my camera, the bunting  flew away, spooked by another bird making a command performance at the same bath---the brightly-colored male Hooded Oriole!  (You can see from the understandably fuzzy picture above that the Hooded Oriole is similar to the Altamira. One  distinction is the lack of the gold/orange epaulet or shoulder patch at the top of the Hooded's wing. I'll get a clearer picture on another day and post a side-by-side comparison for those who are not familiar with both birds. )

Today was also a great day for hummingbirds.  We had at least three Rufous Hummingbirds --two bright males were  at the same feeder at once and at least one other female was there off and on all day.  More and more Ruby-throated hummers are coming each day.  We had the first adult male of the season show up last week.
My favorite hummingbird of the day was a resident Buff-bellied Hummingbird that perched in a fiddlewood shrub and sang.  I could see its throat moving as it sang a short but rather complex song of descending notes. I'd never been lucky enough to hear that song before. Its usual calls are buzzing clicks and ticks, some possibly made with its tail, but this was a definite and surprising little song.

We had put several orange-halves out to attract orioles and weren't disappointed.  The Baltimore Oriole hasn't shown for a couple of weeks now,  but the Altamira pair were here all day and finally, at about five this evening, the male aforementioned Hooded Oriole flew in--just what I'd asked for!  We have had as many as three pairs of these orioles nesting in various Palm trees at the same time (not the same tree, of course).  They weave lovely little purse-like nests on the undersides of the palm fronds. Once a pair nested in a neighbor's potted ficus tree on a second story porch.

Perhaps this fellow will stay and nest. I know the same Hooded Orioles return year after year because we used to have one that had a very distinctive broken beak allowing us to identify him as he returned to our yard in the spring.  The lower mandible, bent and pointed straight down, was ugly and looked disfunctional.  I worried the first year I saw him that he would not be able to survive, but he did for at least two more seasons, and I watched him eat, build nests, and feed young even with that handicap.  I was always thrilled to see him return in the spring. (There's no way for me to know what caused the disfigured bill.  One oriole had slammed into a window that spring, hitting very hard and being stunned for some time.  Maybe it was that oriole.  Or maybe it was just a birth defect.) 

Also eating an orange half in the yard was a Gray Catbird, one of my favorite birds, and an Orange-crowned Warbler.  The eponymous orange crown was actually visible on this particular bird though it is usually hidden.  I think the only other times I've been able to see the crown was when one was wet in a bird bath and once when I was helping a bander.  The photo here is fuzzy, but I think you'll be able to see the orange on the  crown.  (For other photos of Orange-crowned Warblers, read this post and this one.)

So all-in-all, it was a good day for watching birds in our yard on the Arroyo Colorado.  New yard birds for 2010 were the Hooded Warbler, Indigo Bunting, and Cedar Waxwings that zigzagged past in the late afternoon. I'll add them to the list I'm keeping in this  blog's sidebar.   A weak front is expected to cross the valley tomorrow and it may stop some migrants for a visit. The wind may gust to 50 mph the weatherman says.  I'll keep you posted!

I'm always thrilled when readers leave comments--hope you'll tell me what  you are seeing  in your yards.  Or what you want to see.  (Just make the announcement first thing in the morning.  It works for me!)


KaHolly said...

Kay, I am so envious of your bird population!! We're still awaiting arrivals. Most of my FOY birds are in the harbor, and as exciting as it is for me, it's pretty dull compared to your daily yard list!! Have a great weekend! ~karen

Kay said...

No FOY lacks excitement! I'm just so glad to see the birds return. I'd love to be strolling by your harbor.

Joy K. said...

The hand-drawn illustrations of Orange-Crowned Warblers always make me laugh: they always draw in that orange patch as though it's really there, sparkling in the sunlight. HA!!!

Kay said...

You're right, Joy! For a long time after we moved here I wondered what that little nondescript bird was but chalked it up to something I couldn't figure out right now--like Peterson's "confusing fall warblers" that used to terrify me!