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!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Sometimes it's hard to know when spring migration is over, when the birds in the yard are staying for the summer and the visitors have flown north.  Take, for example, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the photo above.  Is it a late migrant lingering for a few days into June or a summer resident setting up housekeeping?  I'm pretty sure it's here to stay, but only time (a few more days) will tell. 

And the buntings that took shower baths in the sprinklers yesterday -- are they already nesting close-by?  Or are they the tail-end of the bunting parade that comes through the yard every spring?  

Painted Buntings are the patchwork quilt of the bird world.  Red, green, blue for the male and a lovely green female--I am as excited each time I spot one as I was the first time.  

When I first spotted yesterday's Indigo Bunting sitting in shadows in the persimmon tree, I thought it was a female Painted, and I thought just maybe they were a nesting pair.    But when I look at the photo I took, the coloring looks more like a female Indigo Bunting.  If so, I would guess these to be migrants though it's late in the season.  

Again, only time will tell.  Sometimes I see both of these species late in the summer.  According to my favorite local reference book, Tim Brush's Nesting Birds of the Tropical Frontier,  Painted Buntings are uncommon breeders in the Rio Grande Valley. 
I've observed young Painted Buntings coming to bird baths in late afternoons during July and August-- though I've never found a nest. Hopefully, these are here to stay for the summer,  but probably they just late migrants. Anytime I see a bunting in the yard I count it a special day.

I didn't turn on the sprinkler yesterday specifically to draw the birds in--but it certainly worked to do just that.  

I seldom see Brown-crested Flycatchers in the bird baths but they certainly enjoy a shower bath.  This one prefers to sit in the persimmon tree letting the sprinkles refresh him.  

Across the yard, a male Lesser Goldfinch catches a shower bath from his perch in the bottlebrush tree.

Drops of water from the sprinklers shine in the sun and wash the dust of drought from the butterfly garden.   Lesser Goldfinches can often be seen at the baths and sprinklers on hot days when the temps climb near 100.

A Carolina Wren sings from the top of a feeder just out of reach of the water.  Now that their young have fledged, they are singing more than ever, and will probably be nesting again soon.

This week, in two different contexts, I encountered a phrase I hadn't heard before: patch birding.   Though I hadn't  heard of patch birding,  I certainly understand the concept:  knowing one patch of land well, which birds are there and when to expect them, knowing their songs and their nests.  That's what I do-- I'm a patch birder.   Who knew there was a term out there that describes me to a "T "?  

My patch, of course,  is my yard.  I know it well and  am obsessed with knowing it better.  It's not large, probably less than a third of an acre, only fifty feet across and several  times as long, bordering the Arroyo Colorado on the back (and beyond that thorny scrub and then farmland) and a cotton/sorghum field across the "farm-to-market" road in the front.  I bird my patch every day, walking the drive, sitting in the yard or on a deck or on the dock, peering in the trees and shrubs to see what nests have been constructed when I wasn't looking.  (Those birds can be very sneaky about building a nest, even when a patch birder has been patrolling the patch.)

So what else (besides shower baths from the sprinkler in our rainless yard) is going on in my patch this week?

Northern Kiskadees are still in their nest in the Ebony tree, busily going back and forth feeding  young that are getting bigger and bigger.  A week or two ago I found two dead hatchlings under the nest.  They looked like cowbirds to me, not kiskadees. 
If so, I'm proud of the parent kiskadees for ejecting the parasites that can end up starving the rightful nesters. I see kiskadees chasing cowbirds all the time, but I've never seen an adult kiskadee feeding a just-fledged cowbird, so maybe the bothersome Bronzed and Brown-headed Cowbirds are seldom if ever successful at parasitism of kiskadee nests.  (I wish I could say the same for their parisitism of  Hooded Orioles and Cardinals.)

Look closely at the photo on the right and you will see the tasty morsel--a large caterpillar or fuzzy moth--that the parent Northern Kiskadee has for the hungry babies.  

The baby Kiskadees are already quite large.  I'm looking for first flight this weekend.

Bronzed Cowbirds can look downright demonic sometimes.  

Northern Mockingbirds are not any more friendly to cowbirds than kiskadees.  They are fussy with almost all birds, but cowbirds, owls, and hawks in the yard really incur their wrath.  Above an irate mocker divebombs a Crested Caracara that sits across the road in a cotton field.  

Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Another bird that is often scolded by other birds in the yard is the European Starling.  They are beautiful birds but their tendancy to chase off other cavity nesters when competing for nest sites doesn't endear them to me. When we moved here 15 years ago there were no starlings but now two pairs have already nested in the dead cottonwood trees in the vacant lot next  door.  But since we already have Golden-fronted Woodpeckers mating for a second time and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers checking dead branches of the Royal Poinciana for insects, I guess we still have cavities to spare.  The GF Woodpeckers are usually the excavators of the holes in dead trees and the starlings move in later. 

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers

The yard is not large, but it's big enough for me.   I could never get to know a larger patch as well as I want to know this one.  

I'm reminded of what William Faulkner once said:   "I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it."  Postage stamp or patch, my yard is small but filled with drama.  It's a patchwork quilt of color, a crazy quilt of drama.  


Wanda..... said...

I love your 'Patchwork' post, your yard certainly is a 'patchwork quilt of color'...I guess I'm a patch birder too! The very graceful looking Yellow-billed Cuckoo has lovely tail feathers and the flying kiskadee makes a great photo!

texwisgirl said...

and we appreciate you sharing your patch with us! you have such a variety and some very different birds that never come this far to NE Texas that i enjoy seeing them.

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

Looks like your 'patch' is very productive with birds.Most of the ones you show are unfamiliar to me,except to see them in field guides.

Jules and Ken said...

I enjoyed your patchwork blog, so fun to see what's happening in your patch. We are quite envious of your patch. We are getting bored with our little patch of everyday robins, grackles,sparrows, cardinals and catbird that we are ready to hit the road. Looking forward to your next post.

john said...

The description of your verdant, little patch amidst a desert of agricultural fields reminds me of a lodge called Wasipunko in Peru.
It is also an oasis of green surrounded by agriculture, which is in turn surrounded by very barren desert near Nasca.
It recieves one eight an inch of rain a year. Wasipunko gets it's water from underground streams flowing down from the Andes Mountains. The lodge grounds are bursting with birdlife, like your patch.

Anonymous said...

Cool photography.

Larry said...

Wow! It's hard for me to get beyond the Yellow-billed Cuckoo in your post.I've seen a few of them but I've never been able to get a good photo of one.Your photo is awesome!

Anonymous said...

Love your photos. It is a shame we can't see them all.

You can go to Dashboard and click on Design and then Template Designer and then adjust width and you can change the width of the template so the pictures all fit.