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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, 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.


10 comments:

texwisgirl said...

Great shots - all of them! We've had the pleasure of seeing a few night herons here but not for a while. And we LOVE our black-bellied whistlers! They arrive every year and stay around thru fall. They've been making it up here to NE Tx for 8 yrs now. The first year I even reported them to the TX ornithological society since they hadn't logged them for our county at that time yet.

We need rain here too this spring - not quite as badly as areas further south, but it's been dry here and the pond is not near where it should be for this pre-summer phase... :)

dAwN said...

We birded your area for the first time last winter and early spring and loved it. Hope to get back there soon.

Kay said...

texwisgirl,
thanks! It's nice to hear from you. We have a chance of rain tomorrow and we are hoping for the best. Yes, the BB Whistling Ducks are great fun to watch. Today they were on the top of the boat lift before dawn, waiting for food.
Kay

Kay said...

Dawn,
Glad you liked the valley. Winter is my favorite season here. You should come back for the Harlingen birding festival in November! Maybe we could meet.
Kay

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi Kay, I LOVE seeing some of your birds. You have alot of different birds than I have here in TN... We do have the Red-winged Blackbirds --but they never get close enough for me to get their picture...

Great pictures... Thanks.
Hugs,
Betsy

Kay said...

Hi, Betsy!
Yes, the birds here are different than the ones in TN--or in OK where I grew up, or even from most places in TX. I love that but I miss those birds of my childhood: Blue Jays, Chickadees, American Robins in the summer.
I could never get close enough until I got my zoom camera. I'm glad the price got low enough (and easy enough) for me to get one.
Kay

Edwin J. Cook said...

I found your blog this weekend, and I'm glad I did. I look forward to following it in the future. I can attest that we have indeed experienced some severe dry weather -- since September of last year -- apparently with no relief in sight. Keep up the good work.

Dave said...

I'm sold. Going to come down in November for the festival. Thanks,

Kay said...

Hi, Edwin. Glad you dropped by my blog. So much happens in the Valley at this time of year that I definitely need to post more often. I enjoyed the photos at your blog.
Yes, we need rain--maybe May will "bring spring showers."
Kay

Kay said...

Hi, Dave. You'll really like the festival. Check out the blog (click the image in the sidebar) for updates. It would be fun to meet blogging friends at the festival.
Kay