Sometimes I feel like the osprey in this photo--not the one with the fish, but the one chasing ineffectually. I'm not flying as gracefully as this bird, of course, but I'm trying to catch up. The last time I posted was the day before St. Valentine's Day and here it is St. Patrick's Day! This post won't have a real theme--it'll just be catch-up time.
When I started blogging at the beginning of 2010, my objective was to write something that would help me keep track of a year in the life of the yard. I had already tried that with various journals and lists, but found they were too easy to misplace--and you can't keep track of details if the list you keep them on is lost. Even though I don't post as often as I had intended, my blog is always "there" (somewhere in cyberspace) and I'm finding it really fun to look back over last year's posts. Today, as I read over last year's posts for February and March, I was reminded of some interesting observations and found myself comparing them to this year's.
For example, a couple of weeks ago, I took a photo of pelicans fishing out back in the Arroyo. One of them was the red-pouched form of the Brown Pelican, a subspecies usually found in California. As I browsed the blog's posts from a year ago, I saw that I was speculating then about how many of our Texas pelicans are this form, but I couldn't find an answer anywhere. Trying to figure it out for myself, I counted pelicans as we took a boat trip up the river. Today I read in the TOS Handbook of Texas Birds (a book I didn't have last year) that about 10-15 percent have the red gular pouch. I think that's an overestimation as far as the birds here on the South Texas coast--or at least in the Arroyo--are concerned. Last year's effort to count pelicans and note the ones with the red rather than the grayish pouch made me conclude that more like 2% were the California subspecies.
Another thing I noticed after looking at last year's posts (see the links here and here) is that there are not nearly as many Brown Pelicans on the river as there were a year ago. I hope that has nothing to do with the oil spill in the gulf. The TOS handbook says Brown Pelicans are not known to breed along the lower Texas Coast. I think they actually do breed on some of the spoil banks in the Laguna Madre. If it's not windy tomorrow maybe we can retrace the boat trip we took looking for and counting pelicans last March. It isn't scientific, but it is interesting to compare one year's observations with another, and thanks to my Arroyo Colorado Riverblog, it's easy to do that.
Continuing with my catch-up post: I'm on the lookout for our migrant Hooded Orioles. Checking the blog for the date of last year's first appearance, I see it's March 18--that's tomorrow. I can't wait! The bottlebrush tree is starting to bloom, ready for the nectar-loving birds. Today three Altamira Orioles flew across the yard and into the tree. For a second I thought maybe the Hoodeds were back. By non-scientific observation, I know that the same birds migrate back to our yard year-after-year: we once had a male Hooded Oriole with a deformed beak, easy to recognize as it returned for at least three summers. (I was especially glad to see it each spring, as I feared the deformity would make survival difficult-- but apparently it didn't, or at least not for those three years.)
A Fuertes's Oriole ( formerly Ochre Oriole) also returned to the yard two summers. I'm sure it was the same bird since it had been seen in the United States only once before (late 1800s)--and what are the chances two different Fuertes Orioles would show up in the same yard two years in a row? Every spring I look for the beautiful Ochre Oriole, but it did not return for a third year and hasn't been seen north of the Mexican border since. This year, though, I have something almost as good--a lovely watercolor by bird artist F.P. (Tony) Bennett, who saw it in our yard and has painted it for us. We just got the watercolor back from the framer's today. Tony's depiction does the bird justice--a really beautiful creature. (To see some of Tony's other paintings, see this link: http://www.fpbennett.com/ )
Speaking of orioles, I'm looking forward to the Altamira Oriole's yearly magnificent feat of nest-building. Looking back over the blog, I see it was mid April of last year that they built their first nest. Unfortunately, they abandoned that one in our Oak tree and built another in a Tepeguahee tree three doors to the west of us. That nesting was apparently successful--two first-year Altamiras joined two adults all winter in the yard, eating oranges, sipping hummingbird nectar, feeding on aloe blooms, and even eating seeds from the feeders. Above is one of the young birds. Note the pale back and tail, and contrast it with the black of the adult below. Male and female look similar in this species of oriole, unlike the Hooded Orioles whose female is much like the female Ochre Oriole in Tony's watercolor.
Since I'm trying to catch up with a whole month of yard activities, I've got lots more to show and tell. I also want to tell about a couple of really neat experiences I had away from the yard. But for now I'll close this post and continue writing tomorrow. I want to get up early in the morning for some backyard birding.
Will the Hooded Orioles show up tomorrow? I'll be watching.