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!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hurricane Alex, Stay Away from My Nest!

This morning, as the first squall from approaching Hurricane Alex came through our yard, rain beating across the surface of  the arroyo and wind whistling at the windows, I watched a baby mockingbird, fresh out of its nest in the cenizo shrub, try to hold on to a branch as the wind whipped it to and fro.  A parent hovered close by.  I'm hoping the storm will not destroy nests and nestlings.  I'm hoping it won't destroy my own nest!

A couple of weeks ago I posted a sort of "state of the yard" piece, surveying the nesting activity around the house that week and comparing some of the birds to a restless wren questing for the perfect nest in a poem by Emily Dickinson (see "for every Bird a Nest").  My daughter Lori left a comment for me saying it reminded her of her favorite children's book, The Best Nest, by P.D. Eastman.

Now, Lori knows a lot about children and books, being both a teacher and a wonderful mother of five (my beautiful grandchildren who range in age from six months to fourteen years, birders all).  She pointed out that the mother bird of the book, who is unhappy with her nest,  learns in the end that it is not the location of the nest that matters, but the family in it. A good lesson for all of us, my wise daughter says.

I'd have to agree with her. She and her brother made our nest a very happy one before they fledged about twenty years ago.  We now visit their nests as often as we can (traveling to central Texas and Missouri), and in between those visits we continue to watch the  nests outside our own. So I guess you can say we don't suffer from "empty nest syndrome"--we've found a great way to take up our time, yard-watching!

Most of the backyard nesting this month has turned out well.  Bronzed Cowbirds still terrorize the neighborhood but even those parasitizing pests haven't prevented the baby boom.  Unwanted guests, they are nonetheless fascinating (and yes, beautiful) to watch.  If you had seen this guy with his ruffled mane and piercing red eye survey the sorghum field across the road, I think you'd be as stunned by his beauty as I was.

It's been a week of increase in the yard:   we have newly-fledged Green Jays eating from our feeders along with their parents,

Carolina Wrens flittering and singing everywhere,

and a family of Eastern Screech-owls screeching and trilling their strange songs as they perch in trees and on the outside stair railings at night.

I'm not sure where the little owls' nest was this year.  For years they chose a nest box in our yard, peeking out at us from the hole as we drove in the driveway.  But for the last two summers bees have taken up residence as soon as the owl family fledged--so we had to take the box down and we left it down this year. 

Brown-crested Flycatchers are very busy feeding chicks in their woodpecker-hole-nest-cavity nest in the dead cottonwood stump (they finally made the decision for the location of their second nest).  I love to hear their singing as they carry the insects to the hungry babies.  (Read "Let's Do Lunch" for a description of their first nest and "for every Bird a Nest" for photos of their search for this one.)

Here's a new nest and its inhabitant:  a White-winged Dove sitting on eggs in a flimsy nest in the small Brasil tree at the end of the driveway.  Isn't that blue-circled eye amazing?  I took this picture quickly as she was definitely eying me and my camera, even though I wasn't as close to her as my zoom lens makes it look.  I love to hear the incessant "who cooks for you?" queries of these beautiful doves. 

I discovered a very cleverly-placed nest last week in an unusual place: snuggled in the brain cavity of a cow's skull was a nest with several baby Black-crested Titmice!  Now if you are wondering where in the world the titmice would find such a nest site, remember this is Texas where citizens use dead animal heads as decor.  The skull, once bleached white in the Texas sun out in a Texas cow pasture, is now gracing (?) the wall of a neighbor's storage shed, clearly visible from our deck and an apparently enticing place for the titmouse family.

I've already mentioned the strange nesting habits of Black-crested Titmice in previous years when they nested inside the metal railings of our boat trailer and inside the metal arm of a satellite dish. This may just be the strangest place for a nest yet--though to Mrs. Titmouse it may be "The Best Nest" ever!  In P.D. Eastman's  The Best Nest,  the Wrens think they've found a great nest, a boot, until the foot it belongs to reclaims it.  That reminds me of the time one of my neighbors put on a pair of khaki pants he had hung to dry on the porch railing.  When he reached his hand in the pocket, he found a Carolina Wren's nest!

Kiskadees may have a second brood in their large spherical nest.  In this photo, you can clearly see the side entrance to the nest.  

I've seen only one more bird feeding a cowbird chick, a Northern Cardinal.  I don't know if it also raised cardinals. I hope so.  I'm just glad to see the pair of cardinals doing okay.  The female is one we saw at the feeders in the spring with a badly torn (or deformed) crest.  I didn't post this horrible photo then because I was afraid the bird had been attacked by one of the neighborhood cats and feared that it would not survive. Now the photo just reminds me of how resilient nature can be. That's something I want to hold on to with a hurricane bearing down on us so early in hurricane season and with oil still gushing in the gulf.   The bird is still strange looking, but she is seemingly healthy and has raised a brood of chicks.  Her image no longer horrifies me but gives me hope.

The Altamira Orioles have not returned to their nest, but I did hear them singing a few days ago.  I still have hopes that they will decide to use the beautifully constructed pendulous nest that they built and abandoned last March. 

Quick!  Is this an Altamira or a Hooded Oriole?  

You're right--it's the smaller but similar Hooded Oriole.  Hooded Orioles are still eating daily from the hummingbird nectar feeders and hanging out in the Washingtonian Palms.  I can't see their nests, but there appears to be one in a tree in the backyard and one in the front. 

I'm still frustrated that I can't find a Buff-bellied Hummingbird's nest.  I'm fairly certain there are new baby hummers among those at our feeders.  These are our resident hummers, quite beautiful birds. I like the photo above because the eponymous buff-colored belly shows clearly above those tiny feet.

Other birds whose numbers have increased greatly in the last two weeks are the Cave Swallows that nest under the roof of a neighbor's boat lift and the Purple Martins that live in another neighbor's martin house.  In this photo the young martin is the one with the grayish throat.

As I type this post, I am watching the Weather Channel.  We're playing that guessing game that people who live in hurricane land have to play.  Should we stay or should we leave?  Will the storm come straight up the arroyo  and the eye come over our house (as Hurricane Dolly did two years ago), or will we be lucky and get mostly just much-needed rain?  I hate to think that the storm will follow Dolly's path.  That storm was in August, past nesting time for the herons and spoonbills and pelicans on Green Island at the mouth of the Arroyo. This one, I'm reminded by the baby mockingbird clutching the cenizo shrub next to its nest, is early in the season when birds are still nesting.   Even the Best Nest doesn't offer protection when the very trees are in danger.

 Update on the storm:  So far, luck is with us.  The latest Tropical Update puts us at the top edge of the cone of danger in the hurricane's path instead of right in the middle as we were a few hours ago and it's saying the storm may be only a category one hurricane.

I think we'll be lucky.  And so will that little mockingbird whose parents built the Best Nest there in the cenizo bush.


troutbirder said...

First time visitor really enjoyed you bird pics and the poems to go with them. I can't imagine seeing so many species just in your back yard. Lucky for you!

Kay said...

Hi, troutbirder--so glad you stopped by.

eileeninmd said...

Great post and photos, Kay! I love all the closeups of the birds. You have the best yard for birding.

KaHolly said...

Delightful post, as always. You have raised a very wise daughter! I'll have to check the news this morning and discover how you fared in the hurricane! ~karen

Wanda said...

I love all the nesting spots you find! Carolina Wrens are my favorite little bird, one sleeps overnight in our blinds on the front porch...has for 3 years now!


The Early Birder said...

I do hope you and the birdies are safe from 'Alex'.
Interesting to read and see similar species seeting up homes in the most unlikely places. During my previous 'life' Wrens often nested in the planted hanging baskets...hell of job to stop customers wanting to buy with a sitting resident!

Kay said...

Thanks for your comments, FAB,Wanda, Eileen and Karen! We are safe and sound here, though the Kiskadees would not agree. They lost most of their nest and are sitting close by just looking stunned. Other nests have been blown down as well. Winds never exceeded tropical storm strength and plenty of nests remain intact--for the most part all looks pretty good around the yard. I've even seen Hooded Orioles and a squirrel rebuilding.


Joy K. said...

Oh, those wrens!

Some water spilled in my car, so I left it outside the garage with the back hatch up while it dried.

I just happened to look out the front window in time to see a Carolina wren, nesting material in beak, hop in and start investigating.