Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Buff-bellied Hummingbirds breed along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, north to southern Texas and south to Belize and Guatemala. In Texas this species is common from March to August, becoming rare in the fall and winter. Like many hummingbirds, undoubtedly some post-breeding Buff-bellies migrate south. But, uniquely, a few disperse into the southeastern United States. Records exist from most southeastern states, from Arkansas to Florida and North Carolina. At least in Louisiana, winter records may be on the increase (Chavex-Ramirez and Moreno-Valdez 1999, Rubythroat.org).

Erika and I were delighted to photograph this Buff-bellied Hummingbird at the Estero Llano Grande State Park. Hummingbirds were not abundant during February, but patience in front of one the the park hummingbird feeders paid off. We listed this species during our March 2011 visit to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, but then we only saw one uncooperative individual.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Also at the hummingbird feeder at the Estero Llano Grande State Park, perched a bird I could not initially identify.  Turns out to be a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. This was late February, when, typically, Ruby-throats molt their body feathers. This molt begins towards the bird’s bottom end and proceeds towards the head. Thus this bird is molting in its bright throat feathers. Weidensaul et al. (2013) also note that, especially in the winter, males occasionally have orangey throats. The cause of this orange color is not well understood.

This spring in Northfield, Erika and I enjoyed seeing many Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in more typical plumage, such as the bird below.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbirds breed across much of western North America and central Mexico. In the United States, they winter north only into southeastern Texas—that is, until the 1980s, when they began to be reported across much of the southeastern United States. This change is not well understood—where they always there, but undetected? Have they moved in because of habitat change? Is it the result of more people keeping winter hummingbird feeders?

Erika and I photographed this male Black-chinned Hummingbird Hummingbird at the Estero Llano Grande State Park. The bird fed at a hummingbird feeder at the park headquarters, making visits about every 20 minutes. Fortunately a bench was strategically placed nearby.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

White-faced Ibis

Erika and I added the White-faced Ibis to our February trip list at the Estero Llano Grande State Park in south Texas. I have previously posted a note on how to differentiate between White-faced and Glossy ibis. The White-faced Ibis is the more likely species in most of Texas. The species breeds in the western United States and winters in Mexico, western Louisiana, and eastern Texas. Also note the red facial skin on this ibis. This area is dark or blue in Glossy Ibis.

The two ibis have interbred in captivity, but are not known to do so in the wild. Thus, for the time being anyway, they are considered to be distinct species (Ryder and Manry 1994).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

White Ibis

White Ibis inhabit coastal areas of the southeastern United States, Mexico and Central and South America. The birds inhabit both estuarine and freshwater swamps. These ibis shift their roosting and colony sites in response to water availability and to concentrations of crustaceans and small fish. Curiously young birds do not survive when fed crustaceans from salty water. Therefore, White Ibis depend on freshwater breeding sites (Heath et al. 2009). 

This aversion to brackish water crustaceans probably does not affect these White Ibis that Erika and I found on 22 February 2014 at Estero Llano Grande State Park. I have previously posted notes on this species.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

On 22 February, after we left Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and headed out towards Estero Llano State Park. Along the way we searched for Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, but all we found was a solitary Black-bellied Whistling-Duck. This odd duck appeared to have been asleep in a cultivated field.

In North America, this species breeds along the coasts of Mexico and in Southern Texas. The species’ range is expanding in the United States. Unlike birds further south, most, but obviously not all, of these ducks migrate to Mexico. As I have posted before, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks form life-long pair bonds but often lay their eggs in their neighbors' nests.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Northern Parula

A small denizen of the eastern North American forests is the Parula Warbler. This species winters in eastern Mexico and in the West Indies. This bird was named Blue Yellow-backed Warbler by early ornithologists, and Finch Creeper by its discoverer. Parula Warblers glean insects and spiders from the tree canopy. I found this one in the Cannon River Wilderness Area of Rice County this past May.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Clay-colored Robin

Throughout my birding career, I figured, since birds do not recognize international boundaries, why should I? So, if I saw a bird in Argentina that also occurs in the United States, I checked it off on my North American list. Now, however, I use eBird to keep track of my records—and this app only allows birds seen in North America (north of Mexico) to be counted as such. Thus my rather respectable North American list of 717 birds took a heavy hit with eBird’s advent, and now stands at 578.

This Clay-colored Robin is a case in point. It inhabits forests, other woodlands, orchards, and even city parks from northern South America through Mexico. It is usually a common bird, but this thrush is a scarce resident in southern Texas. Erika and I found this individual in trees above the bird feeder at the entrance of the Santa Ana Wildlife National Wildlife Refuge in the Rio Grande Valley. Thus I recovered one of my lost North America “ticks."

Curiously the Clay-colored Thrush is not covered in the AOU’s monumental Birds of North America.  The AOU checklist assures us that the species breeds casually in southernmost Texas. This thrush is, however, coveted as a cage songbird and has also been introduced to some parts of Mexico.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Blue-fronted vs Blue-tipped Dancers

I think I have a handle on identifying Blue-fronted and Blue-tipped dancers. These small damselflies are often very common on roadsides and forest paths. They are usually hardly noticed by casual hikers. I found both of these dancers along the road next to the river at the Cannon River Wilderness Area in Rice County, Minnesota.

Dancers are a large group of New World odonates. These two species are in the genus Argia. They are recognized by scientists by their long tibial spines.  I generally look for their habit of holding their wings high above their abdomens.

The top two photos are of Blue-fronted Dancers. On the blue male, note the very thin black stripe both on top and on the sides of the thorax. The last three abdominal segments are blue. Look closely at the eighth segment—it has a small black notch on it, a field mark often, but not always present on Blue-fronted Dancers. The female is harder to identify.  You may have to enlarge your view of the photo on your computer to note the pale tan stripe that runs across the sides of the last couple of abdominal segments.

The last two photos are of Blue-tipped Dancers. The male is “easily” identified by his broad purple thoracic stripes, whitish sides, and only having the last two abdominal segments blue. The female is tougher. Note that her last abdominal segment is pale.  Then look for a tiny tan triangle at the back of her dark thoracic stripe.

Just when a fellow thinks he has this identification riddle solved, along come blue-form females of both species. I will, for the time being, ignore those! In any case, both species fly for most of the summer, from June through August. Two good books for identifying damselflies are Bob Dubois’ Damselflies of the North Woods (if you can find it) and Ed Lam’s stunningly illustrated Damselflies of the Northeast.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Western Wood-Pewee

I discovered this photograph of a Western Wood-Pewee (and a couple of Northern Rough-winged Swallows) among my computer files. Erika and I took this photo years ago near Missoula in western Montana. As is the Eastern Wood-Pewee that I blogged about yesterday, the Western is found in woodlands. The two species can be separated by call and usually by range. Unlike the “Pee-a-wee” of the Eastern species, the Western’s call is described as “Pee-er” or “deer-me." Like the Eastern, populations of Western Wood-Pewees appear to be declining. Bemis and Rising (1969) suggest the lower numbers are due to cutting of western riparian habitat or other, unknown factors in their wintering range.