Friday, March 29, 2013

Texas Birds at the Tanks

If you are ever in the El Paso area, I would highly recommend checking out Hueco Tanks State Park. This "island in the desert" is made up of massive piles of rocks, boulders and rock formations situated around the Chihuahuan Desert.  The park has a rich historical background as it has been the home of many different cultural groups, some of which date back to over several thousands of years ago. The park contains several archaeological sites and numerous pictographs in various places throughout the park. 

Birding, rock climbing, and hiking are the most popular activities at the park. The park implements stringent regulations as an effort to preserve and protect (and restore from overuse) the delicate cultural remnants of the park. Entrance to the park is tightly controlled (only a small number of people are let in each day) and reservations should be made well in advance. The park offers guided tours for all the activities, which allow access to a significantly larger portion of the park. The area known as "North Mountain" is the only portion open to those exploring on their own.  This is the area we explored on our visit.

My husband, son, and I  met up with a group of friends from home for a few days of bouldering (which is a form of rock climbing). I spent most of the time exploring with the tot, looking for birds. Hiking with the tot turned out to be a bit difficult due to the terrain, so I spent a lot of time looking for for birds in the trees along the bases of the rocks.

Verdin (lifer)

The park is known to be attractive to birds as it contains trees (oak-juniper woodlands), large rocks that provide shelter, and often times water that collects in the "huecos" (a spanish word meaning hollow) that have formed in the rocks. The park was heavily populated with feathered friends and there was always one species or another close by for me to observe. I was happy to have the opportunity to see many new western species (please feel free to let me know if I misidentified any of these:)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Kinglets were everywhere and seemed rather friendly. They frequently came within just a few feet of me and didn't seem bothered by my presence.

Say's Phoebe (lifer)

This Say's Phoebe was holding on tight to some sort of creature that it may have found swimming in a hueco.

Chipping Sparrow (lifer)

Sparrows were also everywhere. I'm not very good at identifying sparrows, but I believe most of the ones I saw were Chipping Sparrows.

House Finch

I encountered this Scaled Quail meandering through the brush. I also saw a beautiful Gambel's Quail but was unable to get a photo of the loud, but elusive little fellow. Trying to find the boisterous quail brought back memories of playing Marco-Polo as a child.

Scaled Quail (lifer)

This small nest looked really interesting as it had the shed skin of a long snake woven through out it.

White-throated Swifts, one of the fast flying birds in North America, are commonly seen here.

White-throated Swift (lifer)

I saw a number of Canyon Towhees at the park as well. This one was hoping for a cool drink, or even just a drip.

Canyon Towhee (lifer)

Each afternoon I had a peaceful retreat to this boulder as the tired tot took his siesta.

As I sat motionless, enjoying the beautiful scenery, quite a few birds stopped by.

Canyon Towhee

House Finch

I've read that there are several different subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco and thought this may be a Pink-sided (it had pink sides)...

Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided???) (lifer)

Black-throated Sparrows are sharp looking birds with their distinctive black and white patterns.

Black-throated Sparrow (lifer)

Turns out I was sitting near one of the few huecos that contained a small amount of water.

Seemed fitting that Rock Wrens were a common sight on the rocks.

Rock Wren (lifer)

I think my favorite experience was hearing the song the Canyon Wren echoing through the rock canyons. On our first day, we heard this novel sound blasting from the enormous rock structures; I was eager to learn who sang this interesting song.

Canyon Wren (lifer)

The next day, as I sat in my quiet spot on the boulder, the now familiar song blared from a crevice directly behind me. I turned to find this small fellow singing his big song.

Canyon Wren

For more info on Hueco Tanks...check out

Next up, Franklin Mountain State Park!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Viera Wetlands 3/18/13

Monday morning I had an early morning training near the Viera Wetlands, so I made a very quick trip over there. Heavy cloud cover stalled the arrival of the morning light, so I had to take what I could get.

The sounds of these early morning calls are unmistakable to anyone who has spent any time around a Limpkin. I came across  the top one first who seemed  to be mimicking a rooster and trying to wake the place up.

Just around the corner, I encountered another Limpkin; this was obviously the recipient of the first Limpkin's calls. She alternated some preening with some calls of her own.

This pair of Caspian Terns was engaging in some early morning squabbling. The tern on the left looked somewhat annoyed by the other terns nagging.

Soon after, the terns took flight and seconds later this Crested Caracara swooped in to retrieve a fish the terns must have left behind.

The tern quickly came back to try and get the fish back.

The Caracara took off and the tern went after it. I was very surprised to see how aggressive the normally docile tern was toward the Caracara as it attempted a midair strike.

Soon I'll be heading to the Texas (El Paso)/New Mexico region. Any birding tips for this region would be greatly appreciated!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Coming & Going

Traffic at Click Ponds can be quite minimal at times. A handful of common herons and egrets and Coots are always a guarantee  Yet, I find myself  there each week as it's quiet and peaceful and there's always a chance of finding something out of the ordinary. For the past two weeks, though, the ponds have been packed; I've probably seen more species in these past two weeks than I have over the past two years.

The White Pelicans have definitely been a highlight for me. With the ponds being so small, I've had a chance to watch these huge birds in action at close range. These migrating groups are most likely passing through as they make their way north. The first day I saw about 35 of them, a few mornings later there were over 150. By that same afternoon, they were just about gone. I arrived early on this past Sunday morning to find just this low key trio. I did wonder why they didn't leave with the large group.

No sooner did I look up to see a new group arriving. They flew past me to the west.

Then made the turn back towards the ponds...

and down they came.

I often saw the pelicans paired up with their fishing partners, Double-crested Cormorants. Check out the size difference in the bills of these two species below.

I'm pretty sure the White Pelicans wiped the ponds clean of all fish!

Many different species of ducks have also stopped by.

Mottled Duck and ducklings

male Ruddy Duck

Ring-necked Duck

American Wigeon pair & Coot


The lower water levels have attracted some long legged friends.

Black-necked Stilt & Lesser Yellowlegs

Thanks to this Stilt I was able to see just how shallow these ponds are.

There was even a pair of Bonaparte's Gulls hanging around. They seemed to be struggling to "fit in". They first to try to join this group of ducks, but that didn't go so well. Where did everyone go? Was it something we said??

Bonaparte's Gulls

The gulls thought maybe they would fit in better with the pelicans.

Many species are now displaying their breeding plumage.

Great Egret in breeding plumage

Tricolored Heron in breeding plumage

Anhinga in breeding plumage