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!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Christmas in April

Yesterday, and again today, migrating birds decorated the yard as though for Christmas. The weather could not have been worse for people or birds (hot, dry, windy), but trees were adorned with the most colorful of spring migrants:  orioles, buntings (like the bright male Painted Bunting above), grosbeaks, tanagers, warblers--we had multiple species of them all.

All day yesterday I walked the driveway snapping pictures and hid behind bushes to get closer to bird baths.  I took so many photos I  may never get them all posted.   (I think I took almost as many pictures of birds yesterday morning as I take of my grandchildren at Christmas.)

Most photos, of course, were taken at the watering places around the yard: at drippers, baths, saucers, and fountains. The most decorated trees were ones near the water where birds in the sunshine looked like sparkling ornaments adorning branches.

Hidden among bright berries of the ripening fiddlewood at left are a Scarlet Tanager and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  Just as I snapped the photo, a Baltimore Oriole moved out of view, dropping down to a feeder to take a bite of orange!     I wish I could have gotten the trio together, but the two who remained illustrate my comparison to a Christmas tree with bright ornaments.

Stay tuned:  over the next few days I'll be proving my claims with my photos--not always the best photographically speaking, but exciting for me as they recall how in awe I've been this April at the beauty of the visitors to the yard.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Water Works

Whoever wrote that little ditty about April showers didn't live in South Texas.  We do have the spring flowers (those that require little moisture), but we haven't had a drop of rain.  And a drop is about all we had in March.  Add to that temperatures already approaching 100 (and at least once this week exceeding) and winds of about 30 mph day and night (gusting to 60), and you get really dry conditions.

That's why all the avian action is staying pretty close to water sources these days--- like this  Northern Kiskadee drinking from a bird bath that's just across the driveway from the Ebony tree where its nest is under construction.  A copper dripping tube keeps water moving in this bath and attracts birds by sound as well as sight.  (Moving water is key to busy baths.  Some of our dripper systems are as simple a plastic jug with a hole in it suspended over a saucer.)

Green Jays also stay close to baths, dipping in several times a day.

I've been a little worried that the Screech-owls' nesting in a box very close to this particular bird bath might deter the bathing, but it apparently hasn't.  One bird or several are almost always there.

Except for a while yesterday morning when this bather took his turn: 
 A Cooper's Hawk always clears baths and feeders for awhile.  Not long after his drink, the hawk managed to snag a Red-winged Blackbird out of the air,  leaving only a feather or two settling in the dust of the driveway.   

I actually don't begrudge the hawk a blackbird or two--we still have hundreds!  I know many backyard watchers up north are still awaiting the Red-winged grain-devourers as early harbingers of spring, but I am really tired of them here.  One or two seem always to be scouting for the moment I fill the feeders, and before I get back to the garage, a few hundred are in the yard.  Their numbers are decreasing but not quick enough for me.  I love them for their beauty and I love them two at a time, but I just can't afford to keep feeding the hordes.  The third bird with the two red-winged raiders in the photo to the right is a Bronzed Cowbird.  They have shown up in the yard this week, ready to pester the orioles as soon as nest-building begins. 

The main water feature of the backyard is of course the Arroyo Colorado, a smaller river when it flows through Harlingen and a larger dredged shipping channel when its mixture of salt water and fresh water rises and falls with the tides as it passes our back yard.  Herons, egrets, terns, night-herons, gulls, ospreys, pelicans, cormorants, and many other water birds follow the arroyo, wading along the edge and resting in the trees along the banks. 

One of my favorite river birds is the Black-bellied Whistling Duck, the guy in the photo on the left.  Early this morning a group of eighteen Black-bellied Whistling Ducks landed on our dock and the roof of our neighbor's, waiting to share a feeder with the blackbirds. They'll do this each morning and evening for a while.  Then we'll have fewer at a time until the nearest nesting pair start bringing their large families back to the feeders.  

Another favorite bird that is always on the arroyo is the Night Heron, mostly Black-crowned but sometimes Yellow-crowned.  

The bright red eye of the Black-crowned Night-Heron is sometimes the first thing I spot when the bird hides in the oak tree.
First year night-herons are brown with large white spots. 
The long neck of this young night-heron makes me think it might be a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron rather than a Black-crowned one, though I'm not sure.  It just struck me as different, I took a photo, and later it occurred to me that maybe it was different,  I think the spots are a little smaller, also, another field mark of the very similar BCNH. 

Last week an adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron fished across the river.  Adults are easy to tell apart, even when the YCNH is scrunching its neck down in a posture more like the BCNH.

So that's the news of the week from our dry, hot, windy yard.  I'll keep filling up the baths and turning on the drippers in the front yard and the river will keep flowing past the back.  That will bring in the birds and all of us will be happy.  Unless a hungry Cooper's Hawk snags another black bird.  In the natural world not everybird  can live happily everafter.