Posted by: jasonbojczyk | 13 September 2014

ZONE-TAILED HAWK!!!!!!

Quickly getting through the last two days, there weren’t too many highlights. Between the 2 days, only 43 raptors were counted, with an hour eliminated yesterday due to rain/thunderstorms. After that massive swallow day, just around 1,000 were seen on the following day, and a little below that on the next. Yesterday had over 200 Anhingas, over 1,000 White Ibis, 136 Wood Storks, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, 9 Yellow Warblers, and 7 Dickcissels.

Today’s Count: 264

Broad-winged Hawk-100

Swainson’s Hawk-1

Sharp-shinned Hawk-1

Cooper’s Hawk-3

ZONE-TAILED HAWK-1

Mississippi Kite-152

American Kestrel-2

Merlin-2

Osprey-1

Northern Harrier-1

Additional Raptors Seen:

Black Vulture-1

Turkey Vulture-5

Osprey-1

White-tailed Kite-1 (post-count)

Red-shouldered Hawk-1

White-tailed Hawk-1

Red-tailed Hawk-1

Crested Caracara-1

I arrived on the tower at sunrise, not knowing how much of a cold front was actually going to hit here. Well, it was a nice 74 degrees upon arrival and didn’t get past 81 for the whole day. The NNE winds weren’t at the projected sustained 10-15 mph but instead at about half of that. Overcast the whole day. I expected an excellent passerine push this morning, but there isn’t even much worth mentioning in that department. The hope quickly shifted to raptors and by 8:30, Mississippi Kites were already moving. That number grew in the next hour, along with a lone Osprey. Anhinga started moving around this time as well. The flock started off at around 75 birds, but that number grew to 600 at once, at its peak today. They were very difficult to count as 1-4 flocks constantly went back and forth, both east and west and north and south. However, they provided an enjoyable show almost the whole day. Raptors followed this theme too as it was very difficult differentiating new kettles from old ones or migrants that were actually migrating. Just before noon a raptor with a dark, two-toned underwing flew in over the mottes and immediately drew my attention. I grabbed the camera and started shooting away as it started flying back north.

_MG_1366Fortunately, it circled back and I rattled off another set of photos before getting the bird in my scope to confirm by suspicion-A Zone-tailed Hawk!!!!!! It spent the next 10 minutes circling east of the tower, providing great views of this life bird, before eventually heading off to the northeast. This raptor is a first for Smith Point.

It’s hard to know how exactly this bird arrived here but maybe this jet stream forecast for today paves way for a theory.

Today's Jet Stream Forecast, courtesy of intellicast.com

Today’s Jet stream Forecast, courtesy of intellicast.com

As can be seen by the arrow near Austin, the line there that runs from west to east through some of the Zone-tailed’s breeding grounds. Perhaps the bird had already been moderately east of the breeding grounds, was affected by this jet stream (and yesterday’s), and then got pushed down through Smith Point from the north winds today. I’m definitely out of my league here though on this and just a possible way, among many, on how it got here.

Zone-tailed Hawk with Anhingas

Zone-tailed Hawk with Anhingas

Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk-not the yellow feet and cere, as well as the finely barred flight feathers

Zone-tailed Hawk-note the yellow feet and cere, as well as the finely barred flight feathers

 

Mississippi Kites increased over the next several hours and the first Merlins of the season were seen. Other highlights today included 17 raptor species for the day, over 100 Blue-winged Teal, over 600 White Ibis, a lone Wood Stork, 3 American Oystercatchers, 86 White-winged Doves, and a Great Horned Owl. An awesome day!

Tomorrows forecast looks excellent and could produce the best Mississippi Kite day of the season as well as several hundred Broad-wingeds. The Zone-tailed could very well make another appearance too. Passerines may be excellent too. No matter what, it should be another great day!

 

Posted by: jasonbojczyk | 10 September 2014

Over 60,000 Swallows!!!!!

September 8th (Monday)

Raptors Counted: 514

Broad-winged Hawk-69

Swainson’s Hawk-7

Red-shouldered Hawk-1

Sharp-shinned Hawk-2

Cooper’s Hawk-3

Mississippi Kite-426

Swallow-tailed Kite-2

Osprey-2

Northern Harrier-1

Crested Caracara-1

Monday saw us get some more raptor action, with our first countable Caracara and the first Harrier of the season. Most of the raptors came in the afternoon. Other highlights included the first excellent Anhinga flight of the season, with 1,348 counted, over 1,000 White Ibis, over 8,000 swallows, over 500 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, 27 Baltimore Orioles, and a Bobcat. The Anhinga were pretty amazing with flock after flock coming through, the largest of which was about 400 birds.

September 9th (Tuesday)

Raptors Counted: 26

Broad-winged Hawk-12

Cooper’s Hawk-3

Unknown Accipiter-1

Mississippi Kite-7

American Kestrel-1

Peregrine Falcon-1

Northern Harrier-1

Yesterday’s light south winds didn’t bring much in terms of raptors. Nine Crested Caracaras perched at one time in the mottes was pretty amazing though. Highlights included just under 250 Anhinga, over 700 White Ibis, 44 Eastern Kingbirds, over 5,000 swallows, nearly 500 Gnatcatchers, and the season’s first Lark Sparrow.  Robbins Park was the quietest it’s been all season.

September 10th (Wednesday)

Today’s Count: 11

Mississippi Kite-11

Additional Raptors Seen:

Turkey Vulture-5

Cooper’s Hawk-2

Crested Caracara-1

Strong southeast winds brought little raptor movement today. A daylight Chuck-will’s-widow and Marbled Godwit were the main species of interest besides the swallows.

Swallows didn’t move too heavily for the first half of the count, with ‘only’ around 2,300 counted. However, they started pouring through around 12:30. In the next hour over 8,000 swallows passed the tower! The flight line was excellent as it was right by the tower. In the next 4 hours there were over 50,000 swallows for the day, with ~48,000 seen between 12:30 and 5:30. In other terms, averaging 9,600 swallows an hour or 160 swallows a minute for 5 hours!!!! It reached 500 swallows a minute a fair number of times and peaked at around 750 swallows a minute for the day. I remained on the tower the rest of the day. Just before the sun was setting I finally had about a 10 minute window to add up the swallows tallied thus far: 59,745. I really didn’t think there was going to be another push to reach 60,000, but sure enough, as the sun was setting, another 460 swallows went by, resulting in an astounding 60,205 swallows passing the tower today!!!! A couple thousand swallow days here may seem to some to not be that outstanding, nor perhaps the many thousands seen earlier this season. The best way to put the number seen today into context is that the number of swallows seen today exceeds the 10-year average number of raptors seen at Smith Point each year (a 3-3.5 month time period)!!! An unforgettable day and the biggest day of migration I’ve ever had. In addition to the very satisfying flight line, the breakdown of swallows was almost 100% Cliff, making counting relatively straightforward. Early in the day I tried unsuccessfully to pull out a Cave in several hundred Cliff Swallows and throughout the remainder of the day Barn and Bank Swallows were very tough to pull out of the constant Cliff Swallow stream. Therefore the ‘non-cliff’ swallows are somewhat estimates as the focus was on counting the swallows.

Purple Martin-20+

Bank Swallow-75+

Cliff Swallow-60,010

Barn Swallow-100+

Not quite all of the day's Cliff Swallows, but the majority. The left 4 clickers were those individually tallied (35,697 clicks of 35,697 birds) and the right 2 clickers are of clicks pushed when 100 Cliff Swallows went by (191 clicks of 19,100 birds)

Not quite all of the day’s Cliff Swallows, but the majority. The left 4 clickers were those individually tallied (35,697 clicks of 35,697 birds) and the right 2 clickers are of when 100 Cliff Swallows went by at a time (191 clicks of 19,100 birds)

Posted by: jasonbojczyk | 7 September 2014

Mega Gnatcatcher Day, Huge Dickcissel Day

Yesterday’s Count: 6

Broad-winged Hawk-2

Mississippi Kite-2

Swallow-tailed Kite-2

Additional Raptors Seen:

Black Vulture-6

Turkey Vulture-4

Cooper’s Hawk-1

Swainson’s Hawk-1

Red-tailed Hawk-1

Yesterday had light to non-existent winds and brought a few raptors with it. Given that there was plenty of other coverage for hawks, and my day off, I focused almost my entire time with the Gnatcatcher show. I got up on the tower at sunrise but only 25 Gnatcatchers were seen before 8 am. After 8, they really turned it on. Many times it was impossible to click off the Gnatcatchers and you just simply wrote down a number that went by, looked up, counted, wrote a number down, repeat. A few words were mumbled to myself during this time if you know what I mean. Here’s just one line of Gnatcatcher flocks that I wrote down: 40, 60, 78, 62, 20, 36. It was one of the most amazing spectacles I have ever witnessed. Over 2,200 were tallied between 8 and 9 and then the rain started to hit, just as a heavy drizzle. I stayed out there though, as they were still moving by slowly in the drizzle. The drizzle had me concerned that the show was over, but after it stopped, things opened up again immediately. Over 150 Gnatcacther were in the air at once and this show lasted in amazing numbers for another 2 hours, before winding down to ‘just’ ~500 in the last 4 hours. The day resulted in……..

4,526 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is very likely one of the biggest, if not the biggest, one day, one site documentation of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers ever recorded in North America. This will certainly be the highlight of the season unless Gnatcatchers somehow top this day, or there is an absolute mega rarity. A legendary day.

There were several other highlights as well, including the most Yellowlegs I’ve ever seen actively migrating in flight. A total of 278 Yellowlegs were seen: 29 Greater, 21 Lesser, 228 Yellowleg species ignored due to distance or Gnatcatchers. Other highlights included 78 Anhinga, nearly 500 White Ibis, 31 Plegadis Species, 3 Upland Sandpiper, 49 Black Terns, 7 Black Skimmers, nearly 100 White-winged Doves, 2 Eastern Wood-Pewee, over 3,000 swallows, a Brown Thrasher, 22 Yellow Warblers, a Yellow-breasted Chat, 9 Blue Grosbeaks, 16 Orchard Orioles, and the season’s first 10 Baltimore Orioles.

Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite

Shorebirds at Robbins Park later included tho Short-billled Dowitcher and 3 Least Sandpipers

Shorebirds at Robbins Park later included this Short-billled Dowitcher and 3 Least Sandpipers

 

Today’s Count: 30

Broad-winged Hawk-20

Cooper’s Hawk-3

Mississippi Kite-4

Swallow-tailed Kite-2

Osprey-1

Additional Raptors Seen:

Black Vulture-6

Turkey Vulture-4

Osprey-2

White-tailed Kite-1

Swainson’s Hawk-2

Red-tailed Hawk-2

Another Kite trifecta was nice, but passerines yet again stole the show. I didn’t manage to get out to the tower until 7:25 despite an early wake-up. Dickcissels were immediately on the move. The main push happened from then until about 9:15. Large flock after flock was being written down: 41, 90, 88, 110, 50, 90, 46, etc. If I didn’t take a birding trip before coming out here, today’s total would’ve been more than I’ve ever seen in my life previously, but probably comes very close. A total of 1,318 Dickcissels flew by today!!!

Additional highlights included a Marbled Godwit as one of the day’s first birds, 72 Blue-winged Teal, 37 White Pelicans, 115 Anhinga, over 250 White Ibis, 45 Avocets, 74 Greater Yellowlegs, 2 Long-billed Curlews,3 Dowitchers, 50 Plegadis Species, a Chuck-will’s-widow, 4 Great Crested Flycatchers, 150 Eastern Kingbirds, a Gull-billed Tern, over 3,000 swallows, over 400 Gnatcatchers, 56 Yellow Warblers, a Yellow-breasted Chat, 5 Blue Grosbeaks, and at least 30 Orioles.

I just

I just missed getting all of them in this photo but from left to right is a Baltimore Oriole (next to that was a female Orchard Oriole that isn’t in the picture), 2 Blue Grosbeaks, and an Eastern Kingbird. What a binocular view full of color that was!

It looks like we’re going to be in some more awesome migration throughout this week. Tomorrow looks like it’ll be another excellent passerine day and I’ll be there at sunrise on the tower. While I’d like to continue to do daily posts, it is going to be hard to do that this week as migration starts picking up. I’ll post regular updates when I can.

Yep, I’m a bit behind but here’s a recap of the past 4 days, including today.

 

September 2nd (Tuesday)

Not a single countable raptor was seen on this day, with strong S/SE winds. To make up for the lack of raptors, there’s 3 ‘hidden’ birds in this photo that aren’t in flight. See if you can find them.

3 perhaps not so obvious birds. Click to enlarge.

3 perhaps not so obvious birds. Click to enlarge.

The main highlights from the tower this day were 2 Northern Shovelers, 2 Whimbrel, over 4,000 swallows, and the start of a good series of Eastern Kingbird days, with 60.

One of 2 Shovelers that passed in the early morning

One of 2 Shovelers that passed in the early morning

At this point in the day White Ibis had passed by in 'flocks' of 5, then 4, then 3, and I was like you've got to be kidding me when I saw these 2 birds coming. Well, the birds were, as it wasn't 2 Ibis approaching, but 2 Whimbrel instead.

At this point in the day White Ibis had passed by in ‘flocks’ of 5, then 4, then 3, and I was like you’ve got to be kidding me when I saw these 2 birds coming. Well, the birds were, as it wasn’t 2 Ibis approaching, but 2 Whimbrel instead.

 

The three birds are 2 Brown Pelicans near the front of the boat and a Magnificent Frigatebird on top of the mast. What a view that must be! There was a great view at Robbins Park though.

The three birds are 2 Brown Pelicans near the front of the boat and a Magnificent Frigatebird on top of the mast. What a view that must be! There was a great view at Robbins Park later that day though.

Once again, there was a great number of Frigatebirds on, above, or around Smith Point Island, with at least 140 birds in the air at once. Other highlights were the photo ops.

Black Skimmers have been common in recent days

Black Skimmers have been common in recent days

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

A few Reddish Egrets have been hanging around

A few Reddish Egrets have been hanging around

 

September 3rd (Wednesday)

Another day without a single countable raptor, despite really light winds at times. However, in the non-countable department there were some highlights. In the distance, a Frigatebird chased an Osprey that had presumably caught a fish, and 5 Crested Caracaras, the most I’ve ever seen at one time, flew nicely over the tower.

The most I could get at one time were these 3 Caracaras

The most I could get at one time were these 3 Caracaras

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

Non-raptor tower highlight included over 500 White Ibis, 8 Avocets, 94 White-winged Doves, and an Olive-sided Flycatcher. The star was the number of Eastern Kingbirds though, with 148 passing the tower. It’s the most I’ve personally seen before.

Robbins Park had mud of the same as the previous few days.

More Black Skimmers

More Black Skimmers

These 2 American White Pelicans have been present for some time

These 2 American White Pelicans have been present for some time

Least Sandpipers

Least Sandpipers

 

September 4th (Thursday)

Counted Raptors: 6

Mississippi Kite-5

Swallow-tailed Kite-1

At least there was a little bit of movement on yesterday’s southeast winds. The Swallow-tailed came in the last 5 minutes of the count as I was starting to pack things up-a great way to end the day. Non-raptor highlights from the tower included 10 Mottled Ducks, 52 Frigatebirds, just under 200 White Ibis, over 100 White-winged Doves, 54 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (39 of which passed by in the morning flight), 140 Eastern Kingbirds, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, 51 Dickcissels (best day of the season so far), and 23 Orchard Orioles (2nd best day this season). Gnatcatchers were very much welcomed to see again, with a solid 723 for the day.

This Pectoral Sandpiper was a great way to start the morning

This Pectoral Sandpiper was a great way to start the morning

The tower's first Mottled Ducks this season

The tower’s first Mottled Ducks this season

This Semipalmated Plover took its time heading the wrong way past the tower

This Semipalmated Plover took its time heading the wrong way past the tower

Osprey

Osprey

After the count is was time to quickly pick up some year birds that’d be harder to get as things get even busier at Smith Point. I spent a quick 15 minutes at Shoveler Pond at Anahuac NWR and managed to get the bird I was looking for, Gull-billed Tern.

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

After this I met up with Anahuac NWR volunteer, and friend, Colin Shields to do some evening birding. We first stopped at Boy Scout Woods where I managed to get 2 lifers within 10 minutes-A Worm-eating Warbler and a Kentucky Warbler. Both of these I missed during the severe drought year in 2011 at Smith Point, as well as the recent sightings at Smith Point this past weekend. While far from good photos, they at least give a sense of the amazing, prolonged views we had of both species. Additionally, photography will always be secondary to birding for me.

Worm-eating Warbler

Worm-eating Warbler

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler

Rollover Pass had Wilson’s Plover right as we drove in and the usual great variety of shorebirds and terns. At least 9 Marbled Godwits were present. A fast haul down to Bolivar Flats before sunset resulted in picking up a single Snowy Plover before complete darkness. An array of shorebirds here as well. On the way back between Bolivar Flats and Smith Point, in various, random spots were a few unexpected surprises in the form of owls-a few probable Great Horned and Barn Owls, as well as great views of one Barn Owl capped off an excellent day of birding.

September 5th (Friday)

Today’s Count: 21

Broad-winged Hawk-1

Swainson’s Hawk-3

Mississippi Kite-14

Swallow-tailed Kite-3

Additional Raptors Seen: 

Black Vulture-7

Turkey Vulture-3

White-tailed Kite-1

Accipiter-1

Red-tailed Hawk-2

We finally got a little bit of raptor action, the obvious highlight being the trifecta of kites. Non-raptor highlights included nearly 100 White Ibis, 226 White-winged Doves, 26 Hummingbirds, 2 Eastern Wood-Pewees, a Great Crested Flycatcher, 41 Eastern Kingbirds, over 3,500 Swallows, 17 Orchard Orioles, and shorebirds. Gnatcatchers were amazing again today with over 1,000 passing by.

Shorebirds are what I’ll focus on today. An impressive 21 species have been seen at Smith Point the past 4 days, but even more impressive is that 19 species were seen today alone. There really isn’t too much habitat for them here, for a variety of species, including no sandy beaches. Fortunately, it rained for about 45 minutes today, allowing me to check up on the Robbins Park area, where I encountered this wonderful shorebird:

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted shaking off the rain

Buff-breasted shaking off the rain

One of the great views-Swallow-tailed Kite with Mississippi Kites

One of the great views-Swallow-tailed Kite with Mississippi Kites

A young White-tailed Kite

A young White-tailed Kite

Immature Mississippi Kite

Immature Mississippi Kite

Last second Swallow-tailed photo

Last second Swallow-tailed photo

After the count I was scanning the shorebirds in the field at Robbins Park when these Marbled Godwits were kind enough to drop in

After the count I was scanning the shorebirds in the field at Robbins Park when these Marbled Godwits were kind enough to drop in

Though I've never been on Marbled Godwits breeding grounds, I imagine this photo is fairly representative of their habitat

Though I’ve never been on Marbled Godwits breeding grounds, I imagine this photo is fairly representative of their habitat there

The Godwits were snatching dragonflies, like the one on the right, from mid-air. Ok, ok, I'm kidding, but they were feeding on ~1 cm black bugs throughout the grasses

The Godwits were snatching dragonflies, like the one on the right, from mid-air. Ok, ok, I’m kidding, but they were feeding on ~1 cm black bugs throughout the grasses

Hard to get enough of these guys...until you realize you're at 19 species of shorebird for the day at the point. Jeri's pond failed me, among other areas, in that regard but still produced a few things, including 19 American Avocets

Hard to get enough of these guys…until you realize you’re at 19 species of shorebird for the day at the point and could potentially hit 20. Jeri’s pond failed me, among other areas, in that regard but still produced a few things, including 19 American Avocets

 

Today’s Shorebird Numbers: 590

Black-bellied Plover-28

Semipalmated Plover-18

Killdeer-9

American Oystercatcher-23

Black-necked Stilt-10

American Avocet-21

Spotted Sandpiper-1

Solitary Sandpiper-1

Greater Yellowlegs-8

Lesser Yellowlegs-1

Yellowlegs Species-21

Willet-17

Upland Sandpiper-5

Marbled Godwit-2

Ruddy Turnstone-88

Sanderling-8

Semi/Western-1

Least Sandpiper-126+

Buff-breasted Sandpiper-1

Dowitcher Species-1

 

Woods Update: Mosquitoes are currently horrible and impossible to bird the woods the past 2 days.

Overall Raptor Number Update: If it seems that it’s been an unusually slow start for raptors this year, you’d be right. If you take out the best day from every season since 1997, (including this year) up until this point in the season (August 1st/15th-September 5th) and do the number of raptors observed per hour, this year is by far the lowest in the history of the count at 1.2 raptors per hour observed. Grant it, the count has had a new start date since 2011, but those first 14 days of August this year help raise the number of raptors observed per hour this year, rather than hurt the average number. While raptors have been slow, they certainly will be picking up soon and there still are many other species and spectacles to enjoy at Smith Point in the meantime.

Posted by: jasonbojczyk | 1 September 2014

Unique Encounters With Birds

Today’s Count: 2

Mississippi Kite-1

Cooper’s Hawk-1

Additional Raptors Seen:

Black Vulture-5

Turkey Vulture-5

Cooper’s Hawk-1

Swainson’s Hawk-1

Crested Caracara-2

Today was mostly sunny with light to moderate southeast winds. There was surprisingly little raptor activity.

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

There wasn’t too much noteworthy with non-raptors today. The main highlights were 115 Kingbirds and a flock of 6 Solitary Sandpipers. I think I’ve only seen 3 or more Solitary Sandpipers in one flock only once or twice before. Other interesting sightings for the day included 3 Reddish Egrets together, 6 American White Pelicans, 50 White Ibis, 17 Avocets, 86 White-winged Doves, over 1,000 Barn Swallows, over 150 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, 7 Yellow Warblers, a Blue Grosbeak and 8 Orchard Orioles. The woods were extremely quiet today, with the best birds being Yellow-billed Cuckoos and an Olive-sided Flycatcher.

Three Reddish Egrets

Three Reddish Egrets flying together isn’t something I’ve seen much of.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

I'd never seen a Yellow-billed Cuckoo perch high in a Pine before

I’d never seen a Yellow-billed Cuckoo perch high in a Pine before

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Robbins Park continues to be entertaining. From left to right: Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs

Robbins Park continues to be entertaining. From left to right: Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs

I didn't see this gorgeously plumaged underside until viewing photos of this bird. One photo alone can be tough for identifying shorebirds. This is a Short-billed Dowitcher

I didn’t see this gorgeously plumaged underside until viewing the photos of this bird. One photo alone can be tough for identifying shorebirds.  In a fair number of aspects, other than bill, this photo may scream Red Knot, but it is a Short-billed Dowitcher.

Tomorrow look like strong southeast winds with a decent chance of rain/thunderstorms.

 

Posted by: jasonbojczyk | 31 August 2014

August Review

Today’s Count: 1

Osprey-1

Additional Raptors Seen:

Turkey Vulture-4

Swallow-tailed Kite-1 (post-count)

Cooper’s Hawk-1

Swainson’s Hawk-1

It was another day like the past few, with rain showers all around the tower and eventually hitting for an hour. A lone Osprey was the only countable raptor seen today.

There weren’t many passerines moving by the tower early, but the highlight of them were the 65 Eastern Kingbirds milling around the tower. Avocets have been on the move the past few days and were again today, with at least 61 passing the tower. A handful of White Ibis, Solitary, Upland, and Semipalmated Sandpipers, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, and over 1,000 Barn Swallows were most of the remaining highlights from the tower. The best bird from the tower was a Long-billed Curlew that came out of nowhere from the west.

Only a few Long-billed Curlews are usually seen each fall at Smith Point

Only a few Long-billed Curlews are usually seen each fall at Smith Point

 

The woods received great coverage today with highlights being a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 2 Great Horned Owls, a Chuck-will’s-widow, 3 Olive-sided Flycatcher, 5 Pewees, 3 Least Flycatchers, a Great Crested Flycatcher, 5 Red-eyed Vireos, 3 Black-and-white Warblers, 1 Worm-eating, at least 2 Kentucky Warblers, and singles of Hooded and Wilson’s Warblers. I encourage anyone who comes to visit to gear-up with some anti-mosquito measures (they haven’t been horrendous yet) and bird the woods, as they can be absolutely fantastic some days, particularly in the upcoming months. Thanks to everyone that helped and came out today.

August Recap

Number of raptors counted: 1,738

Osprey-9

Sharp-shinned Hawk-8

Cooper’s Hawk-22

Red-shouldered Hawk-1

Broad-winged Hawk-157

Red-tailed Hawk-3

Swainson’s Hawk-46

White-tailed Hawk-2

American Kestrel-2

Peregrine Falcon-1

Mississippi Kite-1,460

Swallow-tailed Kite-21

White-tailed Kite-3

Unknown Accipiter-1

Unknown Falcon-1

Unknown Raptor-1

Number of raptor species, including residents: 16

Number of bird species detected at Smith Point: 134

Number of bird species detected from tower: 111 

Main Highlights by Date

8-1: Nine raptor species on the first day was very good. Most notable was a Red-tailed Hawk.

8-4: Ninety-seven American White Pelicans was a good early August number.

8-8: At least 130 Magnificent Frigatebirds.

8-11: A Marbled Godwit at Robbins Park.

8-12: The earliest fall Peregrine Falcon for Smith Point, 13 raptor species, a Whimbrel, over 7,000 swallows.

8:13 Over 2,600 White Ibis.

8-14: A Prairie Warbler and selasphorus hummingbird.

8-20: Just under 2,800 birds in the morning flight, most notably 420 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.

8-21: At least 24,677 swallows.

8-22: Over 2,000 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and over 4,000 swallows.

8-23: Over 2,000 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.

8-24: At least 3,103 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and over 4,000 swallows.

8-25: A total of 8 Swallow-tailed Kites and 1,427 Mississippi Kites. Also 811 Gnatcatchers and at least 16,000 swallows.

8-29: A Piping Plover and Boat-tailed Grackle

8-31: A Long-billed Curlew

So there you have it, the best bits of August. As you can see, nearly half the days in August (15/31) had something quite noteworthy happen. September is even better for most species and more species so it’ll be exciting to see what’s ahead. The first week continues to look like these past several days, so that may halt the extreme awesomeness of Smith Point for just a bit.

Posted by: jasonbojczyk | 30 August 2014

Rainy Recap

Today’s Count: 1

Osprey-1

Additional Raptors Seen:

Black Vulture-4

Turkey Vulture-7

Cooper’s Hawk-1

While these last 4 days (including today) have been slow for raptors with just 6 birds, that hasn’t been the reason for a lack of posts.  Errand-running has been a part of it, but mainly it’s been the lack of a solid internet connection until today.  I’ll provide some of the highlights of each day.

8-27 (Wednesday)

Raptors were quite slow with the strong east winds.  There was a lot of free time to scan the bay hoping something would get blown in from the storm cells all up and down the coast.  An early jaeger would have been quite nice.  The closest I got to that was a distant Black Tern but it’s nice to know that at least something did turn up from this-a Brown Booby in Matagorda Bay.  Cattle Egrets were in similar numbers as the day before and all of the flycatchers from the day before, save Alder, were seen this day.  The highlight of the day came in the form of a mammal:

Bobcat

Bobcat

Bobcat

Bobcat

Bobcat

Bobcat

 

8-28 (Thursday)

It rained the whole day, resulting in no count being conducted. So that just resulted in more time being spent in other areas at Smith Point, mainly Robbins Park.  The rains brought in a fair number of species in numbers this day, which have been present here ever since. This included 15 Black-bellied Plovers, 10 Semipalmated Plovers, 26 American Oystercatchers, at least 80 Ruddy Turnstones, 12 Sanderlings, at least 60 Least Sandpipers, and 24 Black Skimmers. The highlight of the day for me was seeing my first Mottled Duck at Smith Point.

Mottled Duck

Mottled Duck

Nine of the day's twenty-six American Oystercatchers

Nine of the day’s twenty-six American Oystercatchers

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

Always a stunner-Black-bellied Plover

Always a stunner-Black-bellied Plover (with Ruddy Turnstone in background)

Lots of shorebirds were bathing, including this Ruddy Turnstone. It was a good day to observe birds closely and interesting to see how the Turnstone split its toes, one above and below the bill, to itch

Lots of shorebirds were bathing, including this Ruddy Turnstone. It was a good day to observe birds closely and interesting to see how the Turnstone split its toes, one above and below the bill, to itch

A typical seen at Robbins Park right now-Forster's Tern (far left), White Ibis, Laughing Gulls, and Black Skimmers

A typical seen at Robbins Park right now-Forster’s Tern (far left), White Ibis, Laughing Gulls, and Black Skimmers

 

8-29 (Friday)

Another day with poor weather for raptors. Weather measurements are taken on the half-hour and so I wanted to get the first weather measurements at 8:30 before I went down the tower to avoid the rain that was coming on the radar. It was 8:27. Big mistake! I could see and hear the rain hit hard in the bay and knew I was in for a wet time. It was more than that though. I made it down to the lower level in the least rainy spot, but still getting drenched. Very strong winds were blowing the rain near horizontal at times and the deck was just flooding with water. Then came the lightning. Stories like these are easily over-exaggerated, but I kid you not when I say that I am very surprised that neither the tower, nor the nearby mottes, got struck by lightning. It was so close and vertical, with the thunder the same exact time as the lightning. The rumbles could be felt rippling up the tower and into your chest. Pretty crazy. I didn’t care about getting soaked but I didn’t leave for 30 minutes because the lightning was so close. Eventually it just got too close that I had to run out and and get in my car as fast as I could. Of course, I was caught with my gear up there, but was fortunate to have my camera survive (in my slightly rain-resistant bag) and only have a minor circuit malfunction which has now been fixed. After the storm it was more rain for the next 45 minutes so I headed on over to Robbins Park, hoping for a rarity to drop in.

Gearin' up for a rarity hunt!

Gearin’ up for a rarity hunt!

Sure enough, a Piping Plover (pretty good Smith Point bird in the fall) dropped in, only to be trounced 15 minutes later by a single Boat-tailed Grackle. While it’s hard to tell for sure, there may be less than 10 days with this species documented at Smith Point. As with most days with heavy rains, Clapper Rails became even more obvious, with many throughout the area.

This Piping Plover was likely dropped in from the storms and wasn't seen today

This Piping Plover was likely dropped in from the storms and wasn’t seen today

This Boat-tailed Grackle was a nice bird for the point

This Boat-tailed Grackle was a nice bird for the point

Clapper Rail preening

Clapper Rail preening

 

It was among the most flooded I’ver ever seen Robbins Park, but all of this water had amazingly receded when I went back there after the count.

Flooding at RP

Flooding at RP

Flooding at RP

Flooding at RP

This part of the park had 3 feet of water and you can see that those large 'pipes' are well under water. Amazing that they were well visible just 5 hours later

This part of the park had 3 feet of water and you can see that those large ‘pipes’ are well under water. Amazing that they were well visible just 5 hours later

More thunderstorms approaching

More thunderstorms approaching

The high water levels at Jeri's Pond reduces the amount of birds present, but this doesn't help either and is the first time I've seen one there this fall. Watch out young BB Whistling Ducks!

The high water levels at Jeri’s Pond reduces the amount of birds present, but this doesn’t help either and is the first time I’ve seen one there this fall. Watch out young BB Whistling Ducks!

 

8-30 (Saturday)

Rain and storms threatened for most of the day but didn’t hit until 2 hours left in the count. Highlights from the tower included some Spoonbills, 41 Avocets, Upland Sandpipers, Gnatcatchers, a possible Selasphorus Hummingbird, 8 Cowbirds and a House Finch. The mottes were pretty active today with the highlights being 3 Great Crested Flycatchers, 2 Olive-sided Flycatchers, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, a Chuck-will’s-widow, 8 Mottled Ducks, 4 seemingly early Northern Shovelers, and at least 17 Red-eyed Vireos. The other interesting sighting from the tower were groups of ~140 and ~60 birds swirling on the horizon. At first they seemed like Laughing Gulls, then it seemed like Nighthawks as they got closer, but they ended up being Black Terns flycatching! It was very interesting, with wingbeats just like Nighthawks, and is something I’ve never seen before.

Robbins Park had continued great diversity with similar species as the past 2 days. Between the park and the tower both yesterday and today have resulted in every (regular) tern species but Gull-billed. Fifteen shorebird species were present yesterday and 16 today, with today’s highlight being the first 2 Semi/Western Sandpipers of the fall.

Non-avian highlights included this Common Buckeye and what appears to be a male Goatweed Leafwing.

Common Buckeye

Common Buckeye

Perhaps a Goatweed Leafwing

Perhaps a Goatweed Leafwing

Tomorrow and the rest of the week are looking similar to these past 4 days-a fair to good chance of rain or thunderstorms. Hopefully it’ll bring a rarity along with it as the raptors are likely to be low in numbers. However, they could open up in some breaks between this weather system, particularly if the winds are light. Thanks to all the wonderful visitors that have come out these past several days.

Posted by: jasonbojczyk | 26 August 2014

Raptor Diversity

Today’s Count: 31

Osprey-1

Swallow-tailed Kite-2

Mississippi Kite-9

Broad-winged Hawk-18

Unknown Raptor-1

Additional Raptors Seen:

Black Vulture-3

Turkey Vulture-5

Cooper’s Hawk-1

Red-shouldered Hawk-1

Swainson’s Hawk-1

White-tailed Hawk-1

Red-tailed Hawk-1

Crested Caracara-1

Unknown Falcon-1

The weather was pretty funky today. Things started off relatively cool and with light north winds. The rest of the day was a mix of temperatures and wind directions, eventually cutting the count just a tad short due to lightning. While numbers were expected to be a bit higher for raptors, 13 species is the best diversity so far this season. A great way to start the day, and probably my earliest in the day ever, were 2 Swallow-tailed Kites.

My morning coffee

My morning coffee

Apart from the first few hours, raptors were pretty slow. Cattle Egrets were certainly a theme today with at least 175 near the tower this morning.

Some of today's Cattle Egrets

Some of today’s Cattle Egrets

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Non-raptor highlights included 9 Black-bellied WD, 5 White Pelicans, over 350 White Ibis, 2 Roseate Spoonbills, a Solitary Sandpiper, 14 Upland Sandpipers, Flycatchers represented by Olive-sided, Alder, Yellow-bellied, and Great-crested, a few Kingbirds, just under 400 Gnatcatchers, a few Yellow Warblers, and a few Blue Grosbeaks.

Roseate Spoonbills

Roseate Spoonbills

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher flight started in the afternoon today

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher flight started in the afternoon today

Tomorrow looks like it’ll be 10-15 mph NE winds. This has produced the biggest White Ibis days earlier this season.

 

Posted by: jasonbojczyk | 25 August 2014

Kites Arrive in Numbers!

Today’s Count: 1,512

Osprey-2

Swallow-tailed Kite-7

Mississippi Kite-1,427

Sharp-shinned Hawk-1

Cooper’s Hawk-4

Broad-winged Hawk-60

Swainson’s Hawk-11

Additional Raptors Seen:

Black Vulture-14

Turkey Vulture-3

Swallow-tailed Kite-1 (post-count)

Red-shouldered Hawk-1

White-tailed Hawk-1

Red-tailed Hawk-2

The predicted weather forecast for today barely turned out to be true. I arrived at the tower just before 7 and the winds should’ve been NNW, but they were WSW. Then it went to W for a few hours, then N for an hour and a half, and then SW. Irregardless it was an excellent day, with the raptors finally the obvious highlight of the day! We had our best day in terms of both numbers and diversity (12 species). For the first few hours there wasn’t too much, but a few Swallow-tailed Kites arrived before any Mississippi Kites did.

The first Swallow-tailed Kite of the day

The first Swallow-tailed Kite of the day

Swainson’s did put on a good showing early and there was another small kettle of Broad-wingeds, but once the winds started switching to the north this started happening:

One of my favorite views annually seen from the tower. Swallow-tailed Kite (center) surrounded by Mississippi Kites

One of my favorite views annually seen from the tower. Swallow-tailed Kite (center) surrounded by Mississippi Kites

And this:

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

And this:

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

And this again:

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

And this:

One of today's 4 Wood Storks

One of today’s 4 Wood Storks

And this:

What????

What????

Still confused?

Still confused?

Well, that's exactly what I was when I saw this-very confused! So I just took a bunch of pictures. It came in looking very small and with that neck and split tail, very weird. More tomorrow.

Well, that’s exactly what I was when I saw this-very confused! So I just took a bunch of pictures. It came in looking very small and with that neck and split tail, very weird. More tomorrow on this bird.

The Kite show was pretty incredible, and adding even more to an enjoyable day was how easy they were to count. Finding where the reliable and consistent flight line(s) is/are makes things much more pleasant, especially when they head west and out of sight for good. Today’s flight line of Mississppis came from the ENE and they all headed west rather quickly, most of them streaming by, but occasionally briefly kettling. The largest stream was 264 Mississippi Kites.

 

Today’s morning flight was pretty great too with highlights being 1 Solitary Sandpiper, over 150 White-winged Doves, 15 Hummingbirds, 17 Eastern Kingbirds, 41 Yellow Warblers, 1 Blue Grosbeak, 26 Dickcissels, 8 Great-tailed Grackles, and 13 Orchard Orioles.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

 

Gnatcatchers started late and peaked from 9:30-10:30. The day ended with a very respectable 811. White Ibis reached over 400 and Anhinga hit around 180. Another amazing swallow show that was mostly high throughout the day, with over 16,000 for the day, but probably several thousand more.

Tomorrow’s forecast is looking like winds somewhere between NE and E, and likely showers at some point. Perhaps it’ll be another great day before the rain hits.

This Swallow-tailed came not too long after the official count ended. It'd be distinctive if seen again or somewhere else because of its missing and/or bent primaries

This Swallow-tailed came not too long after the official count ended. It’d be distinctive if seen again or somewhere else because of its missing and/or bent primaries

It was a very hot evening and I felt bad for the 30+ Common Nighthawks that were dealing with this heat.

It was a very hot evening and I felt bad for the 30+ Common Nighthawks that were dealing with this heat

Posted by: jasonbojczyk | 24 August 2014

Massive Gnatcatcher Day!!!

Today’s Count: 25

Sharp-shinned Hawk-2

Cooper’s Hawk-5

Broad-winged Hawk-15

Swainson’s Hawk-3

Additional Raptors Seen:

Black Vulture-10+

Turkey Vulture-10+

Cooper’s Hawk-1

Swainson’s Hawk-1

Red-tailed Hawk-1

Today brought something that hasn’t been seen in weeks…another double-digit Broad-winged kettle!  Today also tied our best day this season so far. The forecast was pretty much true with very light NW winds, gradually switching to light variable winds, eventually from the south. With these conditions, raptors were quite high, other than some vultures.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Non-raptor highlights today included 85 American White Pelicans, 238 Anhinga, 438 White Ibis, 11 Dark Ibis, 18 Wood Storks, 9 Lesser Yellowlegs, 9 Upland Sandpipers, at least 150 White-winged Doves, 2 Olive-sided Flycatchers, a Least Flycatcher, 13 Eastern Kingbirds, at least 4,000 swallows, 5 Yellow Warblers, 10 Dickcissels, and 29 Orchard Orioles.

A few Blue Jays came in to  the feeders today, including this banded one

A few Blue Jays came in to the feeders today, including this banded one

One of the Anhinga kettles today

One of the Anhinga kettles today

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher

The Wood Storks have been lovely, but I think something is missing here....in fact, there's a perfect gap for something to be right in there with them...

The Wood Storks have been lovely, but I think something is missing here….in fact, there’s a perfect gap for something to be right in there with them…

 

Alright, on to today’s amazement. Gnatcatchers. A total of…………

3,103 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers!!!!!!!!!!

Despite some good effort, I didn’t arrive on the tower at sunrise, but I did get there at 7:15. I grabbed my binoculars, scope, and camera and quickly made my way up the tower. In view was perhaps the most amazing passerine movement I have ever witnessed. So many gnatcatchers were moving around the tower all at once! You couldn’t scan for higher gnatcatchers to count because if you did you would certainly miss the naked eye ones. In fact, there were so many naked eye ones that I had to say ok, there’s too many swallows to deal with in that stream of gnatcatchers, I’ll count the other stream that’s moving with less swallows! The day’s biggest push was when at least 1,100 passed the tower in just under 20 minutes-between 7:20 and 7:38.  That’s just over a bird a second! At that rate other passerines were pretty much ignored unless they flew right in view, and there was some awesome coloration on the Orchard Orioles that went by. There was a brief rest after this wave for about 10 minutes and it actually seemed like they were done for the day, with hundreds less than yesterday. I hoped and hoped for a second wave, and sure enough it came! This wave was more protracted with some pulses, but nothing like the first one. The gnatcatchers shut off around noon.

If you missed these last 3 shows, you might have another chance at it tomorrow. Tomorrow is forecast to be winds with a northerly component for half of the day. With favorable winds, it could be the biggest gnatcatcher day yet, with perhaps 4,000 even possible. We should have the best raptor day of the season too, with triple digits very likely. August is hard to predict, particularly for kite numbers, but I’ll throw out a prediction for tomorrow. I think the day will start off with another huge gnatcatcher movement, similar to today’s, and a relatively similar number. I think Orchard Orioles, Dickcissels, Yellow Warblers, and Kingbirds will all have their best days of the season so far, with at least 25 of each (yes, that’s not a peak number for some species this season). I think there will be over 1,000 White Ibis tomorrow, along with fairly good numbers of Anhinga, White Pelican, and Wood Storks. Finally, I think kites will be similar to 2010’s numbers around this time-250-300 Mississippi Kites, but I think more Swallow-taileds will come through, with 8 (peak kite hours look like they’ll be between 10 and 12 tomorrow). Of course, this is just a prediction, so I could very well be wrong on all accounts, but they’re fun to make! One thing that is near certain though is that it’ll be a great day to be on the tower (but when isn’t it?)

This Bobwhite capped off an excellent day

This Bobwhite capped off an excellent day

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