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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!




Saturday, March 26, 2011

Homesteading Update


So much avian homesteading is going on in the yard  that I'm actually posting an update only a day after yesterday's post! ( I'll add the update to the  Saturday "Camera Critters" meme  posted by Misty Dawn over at her blog.   Be sure to check it out.)

One of the little Eastern Screech-owls above is probably the one I photographed giving the "stink eye" yesterday when I walked past the new owl box.  Looks to me like it's the guy on the right.  I say "guy" because in this species, as with most owls and raptors, the male is the smaller of the pair, sometimes 20% smaller than the female.  (The difference in posture in this photo might make it hard for me to tell for sure which owl is actually bigger.  I can tell which one is giving me a dirty look, however.) I looked up some information on screech-owls in   The Eastern Screech Owl: Life history, Ecology, and Behavior in the Suburbs and Countryside, by Frederick R. Gehlbach. He says the larger size helps the female to survive while nurturing young and also to defend her nest when the male is away hunting.  The male's sleeker size helps him catch the more abundant smaller prey and means he won't need as much food himself when his job is to provide food for his mate and the growing, hungry nestlings.

 The owl on the right in the picture of the duo had been in the box until I walked along the driveway.  When I stopped close-by to adjust a hose, it flew across the drive to a pine tree.  The Sabal Palm  frond in the background makes a little shelter for the owls, and it's a common place to find them resting. It's also a great background for a picture!

Because Eastern Screech-owls in South Texas can be nesting already in February, I was afraid that we might not get owls in a box that wasn't put up until March. Imagine my surprise when, in just a few days,  we started seeing an owl regularly peering out of the new box.  I'm still not convinced that there will actually be eggs and young.  These owls seem more skittish than others that have nested in the old box in the same location, owls that would peer at us patiently all day long without flying to the safety of the trees.  Perhaps these homesteaders are younger than previous residents.  But the appearance today of two screech owls makes me hopeful.

I don't know where the closest nest was last year. We had removed the old one because of a bee hive, but the nest was probably close by since I was able to photograph this adorable owl in the pine tree last August.  It was being mobbed by Green Jays and a Mockingbird that pecked it on the head. No wonder its feathers are ruffled!   I think from the feathers this must be a fledgling, but Gehlbach's book says that molting for all Eastern Screech-owls peaks in late July--- so maybe this is an adult that is molting.

(Bragging Alert!  What follows is relevant to discussion of these owl photos, perhaps, but is also unabashed boasting.

Our Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society had a photo contest open to members last November, voted on by visitors to our booth during the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. My little owl won 2nd place in the contest---apparently cuteness counted most!  The prize of a gift certificate at a local  framing store came in handy when I had my Ochre Oriole watercolor framed last month.  [Check out the RGV festival, one of the first and best in the nation, by clicking the link.  You can expect me to talk about it quite a bit this year since I've joined the planning committee.  I helped with it in the early years and am excited to be involved again.]

Owl photos are lucky for me.  Another one won a blue ribbon in last month's Laguna Vista Birding Festival amateur photo contest. It was of an owl that perched in our oak tree one night last June as I stood on the deck a few feet away.  I ran back into the house to get my camera.  Not sure how to take a night photo, I held a flashlight in one hand and the camera, flash on,  in the other.  Amazingly, the photo turned out well, capturing for my memory and blog one of several screech-owls, some of them fledglings just out of the nest, hunting and trilling in that June night.


The other photo that won a ribbon (3rd place) at the Laguna Vista festival is the one of a Cedar Waxwing with a dark blue berry in its mouth that I posted a few weeks ago,  just after a small flock of the birds visited the ripening berries on the ligustrum tree.   The Laguna Vista Birdfest was a really fun small festival held at the Laguna Vista golf course near South Padre Island, about 20 miles from here.  A very active group of birders who live there have the small festival every year and really outdo themselves with interesting speakers and activities.  It's a great example of what a small dedicated group of organizers can accomplish.)

Okay, enough about my ribbon-winning.  You can tell I'm not used to winning anything.  I'm just glad to be learning more about my point-and-shoot camera.  I always wanted to be able to take pictures of birds and now with relatively low-cost amazing cameras (mine's a Canon SX10IS), even I can take photos I want to keep and share.

Now on with the update on nesting and pre-nesting activity in the yard:


Here's a series of photos of Eurasian Collared Doves getting to know each other on top of the boat dock.  At least the male would like to get acquainted.  That's him in the back (I presume), pursuing the lovely lady in the lead. She is keeping an eye on him though she continues stepping out.


She walks on--- but knowing she's aware of him behind her, he begins a kind of nodding, bowing dance.  


Maybe he gets just too forward for her sense of propriety---and she flies away.

Eurasian Collared-doves are, as the name implies, not native to the United States, having been introduced from Europe---but their range here in South Texas is rapidly expanding.  I had never seen one before 2002 when I saw three near the high school parking lot where I taught in Rio Hondo (about 12 miles from here).  Since then, they have spread to Arroyo City and are now nesting in the neighborhood.  I will keep an eye on this couple and hope to find a nest.  This is just one of several species of doves that frequent the yard:  Inca Doves, Common Ground Doves, White-winged Doves, Mourning Doves, and White-tipped Doves are also common and year-round residents.

One more "couple" piqued my paparazzi-like interest today.  I put a few orange halves on the front deck this afternoon and immediately attracted a pair of  Golden-fronted Woodpeckers.  The male is on the left, distinguished by the red patch on his crown as well as gold on the nape and forehead.  The female on the right lacks the red on the crown.  They are similar to the Red-bellied Woodpeckers I remember from my Oklahoma childhood.



Golden-fronted Woodpeckers nest in the yard every year.  They are the excavators of about a dozen holes in two dead cottonwood trees that the former next-door neighbor cut down to about fifteen-twenty feet, forming condominiums for starlings, woodpeckers, and titmice.  Until the dead trees proved so enticing, the woodpeckers used to make holes in our house, pull out the insulation, and build nests in the walls.  We tried to discourage this, of course, but they were persistent.  For a few years we lured them to nest boxes.  Finally,  we patched the holes in our house, beat on the walls when we heard the birds, and hoped that they would stick to the cottonwoods.  So far it has worked.  Last week, for insurance,  we also put up a new nest box in the back yard where an old one had, like the owl box, been taken over by bees.

Now that I am retired, I can spend all the time I wish exploring the nature in  our yard and writing about what I see.  The yard is not really very big, just about a third of an acre,  deeper than it is wide, but it's a fascinating place.    Blogging gives me a chance to keep records of my observations.  Today, reading Thoreau's journals, I found this entry for April 7, 1853.  It says just what I've been thinking:

"If you make the least correct observation of nature this year, you will have occasion to repeat it with illustrations the next, and the season and life itself is prolonged."

I wonder what Thoreau would think of nature blogging.  He could take a laptop to his cabin at Walden pond, but I don't know where he'd plug it in.  

8 comments:

john said...

Great photos and great writing. I have a little folder in my computer called Stolen Photos. I added the top Screech Owl photo to the folder. I hope you don't mind.

LadyFi said...

Wow - fabulous owl photos!

Ai KaiRui Liu said...

visiting from Camera Critters...
and following you...
hope you'll follow me back

my entry's here
http://kc2009.blogspot.com/2011/03/snake-at-port-san-pedro.html

eileeninmd said...

WOW, you have fantastic owl photos. I just love any kind of owl sighting. They are so neat looking. Your photos are outstanding as usual.

Frank said...

Hi Kay. Very much enjoyed the update on your backyard bird pairings.

KaHolly said...

Oh, Kay, your owl photos and accompanying text are just marvelous. You've made such a haven there for your avian friends. Your prize winning photography is exquisite - congratulations!!

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi Kay, Thanks so much for visiting my blog. Come back anytime. IF you go to my sidebar, you can click on Bluebirds (sorted by the year I think), Woodpeckers, and Birds.. I have LOTS of great bird pictures of my backyard birds...

You have alot of different birds than we do here in TN. The Golden-fronted Woodpeckers look like our Red-bellied. We have Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, Red-headed, Northern Flickers and my fav, the huge Pileated here.

Love the Screech Owls. I have nesting Eastern Bluebirds in my backyard right now ---4 eggs.

Love your Cedar Waxwing picture. No wonder it won!!!!!

Thanks again.
Hugs,
Betsy

√ Honest Abe said...

You did present an interesting set of owl photos. I have had screech owls here, in the past but none lately. Also had an owl box with a four inch diameter hole that they would stand in the opening sometimes, more out than in, and stare at me. Then the box got taken over by a raccoon and later by squirrels until it fell apart. All of my bird photos are taken within my small city backyard. And my favorite among them would have to be the hawks that stop here from time to time to pick out a dinner from among those coming to eat the sunflower chips and pieces and the raw shelled peanuts.