Friday, 24 February 2017

A spot of Texas birding

Local garden resident keeping an eye on his patch
Spending time right now with family who live in Houston, I like to make good use of my eyes and binoculars to see some of the local birds, both around the house, garden (back yard as it's known here) and neighbourhood, and in Brazos Bend State Park, a bit of a drive away. Well, in Houston almost everywhere is a bit of a drive away but it's possible to walk to the local shops and cafe in this part of town, although most people drive. Everywhere.

My favourite garden bird is the Northern Cardinal - the male is bright red, the female more subdued in shades of duller red/brown. The male sings with a distinctive "birdy birdy birdy" call. A pair of cardinals are investigating the bushes outside the window as a possible nest site. I may be watching them quite a lot during this visit.

Mourning dove
Mourning doves are a common sight and announce themselves with much loud cooing. More elusive to spot but easy to hear are the shrill squawks of the blue jays. High overhead, a turkey vulture might be  drifting by on a thermal, searching for carrion - probably a roadkill squirrel. I've seen a gang of 20 or more turkey vultures squabbling over a carcass in the middle of a suburban road. Drivers here are very courteous, always slowing and stopping for pedestrians waiting to cross. In this instance they slowed down to avoid the turkey vultures too!

Great Egret, Brazos Bend

Smaller birds are in evidence too and I've seen chickadees (what we call tits in the UK) in the garden trees and also several little brown jobs I've not been able to ID as they've either been too elusively hidden in the leaves, or because my pretty basic US bird book doesn't offer enough info. But I have seen house sparrows here, doing far better than I do in my own garden in the UK as they've all but disappeared. I saw a Solitary Vireo well-hidden in a tree by the nearby bayou (river). Captured on camera by husband and later ID'd using the bird book and on line. Seems like it was probably a migrant. We've also seen a large flock of Cedar Waxwings near the bayou - quite a treat.

Birding opportunities abound at Brazos Bend State Park. Coots, moorhens, anhingas and egrets share the extensive watery areas with turtles and the ever-present but not always visible alligators. Anhingas are also known as "Water Turkeys" and are a bit like cormorants. The first time I saw one I had no idea what it was and asked a park ranger for an ID on this striking-looking bird.

Once seen and learned about, never forgotten. I look forward to visiting Brazos Bend again during this visit for my annual fix; it's become a must-see Texas destination, because of the birds (OK, and the 'gators too!).

Anhinga, Brazos Bend

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