Posted by: jasonbojczyk | 6 September 2014

Return of the Gnatcatcher, the Kite Trifecta, and Awesome Shorebird Variety

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.

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