Birding at the Mud Hole


Near the Twin Buttes Reservoir, there is a low depression where water stands after we have had some rains.  Mudders, defined as immature adults that love to play in the mud with their pickup trucks, are always driving their vehicles through it and keeping it pretty well churned up.  The water will usually take three or four days to either soak in or evaporate.  The area is surrounded by five large mesquite trees.  The combination of the trees and convenient water makes it a very nice little birding oasis.   All one has to do is to park close by and watch.  That is, providing you do it on a week day, when the mudders are absent.

So, that is what Ann and I did the past two days.  First we stopped by early in the morning at a local Jack and Jill’s for take-out coffee, a roll and a burrito.  We took them with us to this mud hole, parked and set in for a few hours of birding and photography.  We spent two to three hours each morning.  We saw a total of 28 individual species for the two outings.  I will give you that list at the bottom of this post.  Here is a sampling of the birds that we saw.  Click on any image to see enlargements.

The Yellow Warbler is one of favorite of the warbler species.  It is always a joy to see this one in the trees.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

I missed a shot of a beautiful mature male Blue Grosbeak.  But this young one perched on a branch nearby.  Just as I got him in the view-finder and focused he decided to fly.  I punched the shutter just in time to catch him as he took off.

Blue Grosbeak - first year

Blue Grosbeak – first year

Another favorite summer bird is the Painted Bunting.  This is the first one that we saw this year as they are just starting to arrive.  Thae harsh early morning sunlight did me know favors but I got this acceptable image.

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

The Orchard Orioles are also new arrivals. The adult male stayed deep in the trees and I didn’t get an acceptable shot of him, but this first year male gave me an opportunity.

Bullock's Oriole - female

Orchard Oriole – first year male

I always admire the Canyon Towhees.  They are rather quiet and somewhat bland in color, but I still think they have a cerain beauty about them.

Canyon Towhee

Canyon Towhee

There were plenty of Lark Buntings around.  This is a female.  I had posted a photo of a beautiful male in my previous post.

Lark Bunting - female

Lark Bunting – female

I believe this one was named by a Mr. Richard Cissell.  Kidding!!  This weirdly named Dickcissell is another difficult bird to find.  I love the coloring.

Dickcissell

Dickcissell

Ann spotted this flash of yellow in the trees.  I was trying to spot it, too, and it finally lit on this branch only about ten feet away.  Only then, did I realize what it was.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  A Yellow-breasted Chat, although not rare, is usually pretty shy and most of the time, very difficult to find.  This is only the second time I have ever seen one and had the opportunity to photograph it.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat

This Cactus Wren was still around, working on it’s nest.

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

Here is the complete list of the birds we observed during those two days:

  1. White-winged Dove
  2. Great-tailed Grackle
  3. Northern Mockingbird
  4. Killdeer
  5. Lark Sparrow
  6. Cactus Wren
  7. Blue Grosbeak
  8. White-crowned Sparrow
  9. Vesper Sparrow
  10. Barn Swallow
  11. Brown-headed Cowbird
  12. Lark Bunting
  13. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  14. Pyrrhuloxia
  15. Painted Bunting
  16. Bullock’s Oriole
  17. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  18. Northern Bobwhite
  19. Bronzed Cowbird
  20. Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  21. Yellow Warbler
  22. Western Kingbird
  23. Yellow-breasted Chat
  24. Dickcissell
  25. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  26. Canyon Towhee
  27. Curve-billed Thrasher
  28. Orchard Oriole

Back after a brief rest……


I have been reminded that it has been about ten days since I last posted.  Sorry about that, folks.  It has been a somewhat traumatic ten days.  I was diagnosed with a severe urinary tract infection nearly two weeks ago.  An anti-biotic was prescribed.  It was the type that can have a nauseous side effect.  And it did.  We had previously made plans for a three-day trip to the Big Bend, leaving the 26th.  Up until that date, we were trying to decide if we had to cancel, as I was having some difficulty.  We decided not to cancel, and on the 26th we left, after Ann loaded the car.  I wasn’t feeling really great, but decided the worse that could happen would me spending a restful three days in a motel bed.

Well, that was not to be.  I started to have serious problems with light-headedness, nausea, and nearly passing out as soon as we arrived.  The EMTs were called to the motel, and after much discussion, we decided to return to San Angelo the following morning, with orders to see the doctor to have the meds changed.  We ended up going to the Emergency Room here in San Angelo.  By then, we were informed that the urinary tract infection was gone and to stop the meds.  To be brief, it was determined that the unsteadiness, headaches, etc., were caused by a serious sinus infection.  We had been thinking that the all the problems were caused by the prescribed antibiotics.

The sinus infections has improved although not completely gone, and I have been able to get back out the past few days and catch up on the avian populations in the San Angelo area.  We are now seeing returning grosbeaks, buntings, flycatchers and others.  All good signs of returning summer birds.

Here are a few images that I have captured since my last post.  These are from San Angelo State Park.  Please click on the images to see enlargements at their best.

Lark Bunting

Lark Bunting

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Bullock's Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

Blue Grosbeak - female

Blue Grosbeak – female

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

On Sunday, May 1, we ventured out to the Twin Buttes Reservoir.  I managed to get these photos although we were constantly near a bunch of noisy off-roaders in the vehicles.  Of course, the area is open to everybody, but I think a few of them were trying to make it uncomfortable for us.

Lark Spararow

Lark Spararow

Lark Bunting

Lark Bunting

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

Killdeer

Killdeer

By the way, lest I forget, during the few hours that we were in Big Bend National Park, I came away with the only photo of the short trip.  this Cassin’s Kingbird on an ocotillo branch in the desert.

Cassin's Kingbird

Cassin’s Kingbird

Another fun forty species day!


Note:  To get full enjoyment of viewing these eighteen photos, it is better to view this post on a computer or device where you can click the photos to see enlargements.

It’s always fun to go out and see a large number of species.  Along the gulf coast and down in the south Texas Rio Grande Valley, it is easy to do so, as birds fill the trees there.  However, out here in west Texas, we have to go on the hunt.  So on that note, Ann and I started out by checking out the owl’s nest at Spring Creek Park.  We failed to spot the owlets as they stay pretty much hidden down in the nest.  We did spot the male guardian in a nearby tree again.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

We didn’t spend too much time there but headed to San Angelo State Park.  We saw several more species and I got these images.

The Brown-headed Cowbird, like the infamous European Starling, is also a beautiful bird if you overlook it’s nasty reputation.

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

We spotted this female Northern Bobwhite in a small tree.  I think the wind blew up her skirt.

Northern Bobwhite - female

Northern Bobwhite – female

And then, of course, was this image of one of my favorite flycatchers.  He looks a little wind-blown, too.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Another flycatcher in large numbers during the summer months here in west Texas.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

From there we decided to head for the Twin Buttes Reservoir area.  The large lake is not large anymore.  The drought really took it’s toll.  In the park area, there are a few rutted areas where water is still standing from recent rains.  It was at one of these places where we found numerous birds having a real pool party, minus the hor’deurves.  We just parked nearby, turned off the engine, and just watched and waited and I was rewarded with numerous photo ops.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting - female

Painted Bunting – female

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Bronzed Cowbird

Bronzed Cowbird

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Killdeer- chick

Killdeer- chick

Bullock's Oriole - female

Bullock’s Oriole

Then watching from the cheap seats in the trees were these spectators.

Bullock's Oriole - male

Bullock’s Oriole – male

House Finch

House Finch

Summer Tanager - first spring male

Summer Tanager – first spring male

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Of course, these are just a portion of the birds that we saw.  I wish I could have photographed every specie that we observed, but of course that would be next to impossible.  For example, we saw a Yellow Warbler that would have made a nice image, but it stopped in a nearby shrub just for a few seconds, just long enough to start reaching for the camera, but gone before I could get it to my eye.

Ah, the fun of the hunt….


Before I start, I should mention that this post is best viewed on a computer or device where the photos can be clicked and enlarged.

Ann and I sometimes get tired of going to the bird blind at the San Angelo State Park.  No that it has no birds, but they are same ones that we see over and over on each visit.  The past couple of days we went a different way.  We did go to the park, but instead of visiting the blind, we just drove all of the different roads that lace this 7,000 acre area.  We saw many different species that we wouldn’t ordinarily see at the blind; the types that don’t frequent bird feeders.  Here are a few images from that visit.

Scaled Quail

Scaled Quail

Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

We saw several other species, of course, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get photographs of them all.  But after leaving the park, we continued with our adventure by going to a favorite spot of ours near Twin Buttes Reservoir.

Now, fishermen always have their favorite fishing holes that they call their honey holes.  Well, this place that we favor going to is our birding honey hole.  Guaranteed that we will see a variety of birds.  That is except for one thing.  This place in nothing but a large mud hole.  After rains, it is filled with water, but it takes several days for the water to dry up or evaporate.  It is several inches deep, thanks to the adult children that like to take their pickup trucks and play in it.  You know what I mean.

So this day it was rather large, about 25 feet long and about 15 feet wide.  There are three or four trees that surround it.  We parked in a good position, about eight feet away, so I could observe and photograph from my driver’s side window.  Voila!  My mobile bird blind.  We turned off the engine and waited.

The first we noticed was an adult Killdeer.  She was carefully watching over her chicks.  I was able to photograph the chicks from only about seven feet away.

Killdeer - adult

Killdeer – adult

The chicks are only about five inches tall, long legs and big eyes.  Real cuties.

Killdeer - chick

Killdeer – chick

Killdeer -chick

Killdeer -chick

Then other birds started to arrive.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

The bright background on the Grosbeak image gave me fits, but these others gave me no problems.

Lark Bunting

Lark Bunting

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Bullock's Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

White-crowned Sparrow ponders taking a drink.

White-crowned Sparrow ponders taking a drink.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

This above Vermilion Flycatcher was only about five feet away, on a branch near my car window.

Finally, when heading for home, we decided to check out the old K-Mart creek, a water-filled bar ditch near the location near location of that now missing store.  We saw a couple of Yellow-crowned Night Herons, but they flew before I could get photographs.  However, this Green Heron was content to stay feeding in the water.

Green Heron

Green Heron

We called it nice day for hunting.  We netted a total of 36 species, and had a fun time.

Fun birding with Bob and Ann – Chapter 2


If you haven’t read chapter one, click here.  Of course, it isn’t titled chapter one, because when I wrote it I didn’t know that someday there would be a chapter two.  Frankly, I don’t know where this post will lead until I start typing, AKA writing.  It may be a bunch of nonsense.  I do that on occasion, you know.

Anyway, we went out today to do a bit of birding, planning on hitting all of our usual haunts where we ususally find something to write about.  We stopped first at Twin Buttes reservoir, and would you know there were a few birds, but no water.  Yes, I will repeat, no water.  No wonder there were few birds.  We are in an extreme drought, so we are waiting patiently for some heavy rains.

Next we drove by the parks at Lake Nasworthy, namely Middle Concho Park, and Spring Creek Park.  Still plenty of water there, but the levels are dropping a little.  That is because Lake Nasworthy gets it water from the Twin Buttes Reservoir.  We did see several small birds, the usual ones that hang around, and four Red-tailed Hawks.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

When we go birding, (and photographing birds), Ann keeps a journal of what we see, like the one of little Angie’s that was pictured in my previous post.  Normally this time of year we can see about 30-35 species at a time.  Today I think we managed only about 25 today.   Something about the migration being off schedule, or they are passing by here and looking for more favorable places to spend the winter.  Today we saw, besides the four Red-tailed Hawks, some Eastern Bluebirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers and several species of sparrows, etc.

As we passed the gun club, we saw some Claybirds flying, but I imagine they were spooked by the gunfire there.  I told Ann we shouldn’t put them on the list.  They are hard to photograph in flight, too.

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention, we saw the first Ring-billed Gulls of the winter season.  Soon the little beach at Mary Lee Park will be overrun with them.  But we can also hope that sometimes there will be a Tern of some type, mixed in with them.

Well tomorow it is supposed to get really cold, a high of 47 is forcast, (but what do they know) so we’ll probably hang out at home.  Freeze for tomorrow night, too.  The change may bring in some of the winter ducks and other water fowl that we are used to.

Well, I am going to get out my winter jammies.  Stay warm, you guys.

Monday Morning Images


On Monday morning Ann and I decided that we would start the week with a little birding, and of course that sometimes leads to some photo ops.  We decided to check out the “honey hole” that I told you about before.  We headed out west on Highway 67 to the turnoff that goes to the parks around Twin Buttes Reservoir.  It is about a mile’s drive to the honey hole, or the mud puddle that it actually is.  Amazing.  By the time we had driven a half mile down the road, we had spotted a Northern Bobwhite (pictured below), Northern Mockingbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Mourning Dove, Lark Sparrow, Pyrrhuloxia, Bullock’s Oriole, Painted Bunting, and an Ash-throated Flycatcher.  Nine species, and we had just got started and had not even gotten to our destination.

At the water hole, which has dried up to a puddle about 5′ x 5′, we added a few more before leaving to drive around and over the Twin Buttes dam, reaching the Middle Concho and Spring Creek Parks, where we saw some wading birds.  In total we saw thirty-three different species.  Unfortunately I couldn’t possibly photograph them all.  Here are four of those of what I did get.

Northern Bobwhite is mesquite tree.

Northern Bobwhite is mesquite tree.

Canyon Towhee

Canyon Towhee

"Rats!!  Missed it!!

“Rats!! Missed it!!

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

I hope you enjoyed the photos.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.  To see more photos that I am proud of, click on the FLICKR logo on the right side of this page.  It may be another week before another post as we are taking a few days off before heading to Fredericksberg, Texas to join some close friends for the weekend.

Our Birding Honey Hole


First, it should be explained that in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, honey hole is defined as slang for a location that yields large quantities of valued commodities.  Quite often it is applied to great personal fishing spots.  In our case, it is a hot spot for birds.  We discovered it several days ago near Twin Buttes Reservoir near a park area.  It is nothing more than a puddle of standing water, about 50 feet by 15 feet, surrounded by about five Mesquite trees.  Until it dries up, which will happen in a few days under this hot Texas sun unless we get more showers to fill it up again, it will be our little birding mecca.

Ann and I, after getting some yard chores done, decided to run over there this morning, which is only a couple of miles from our house.  We spent one hour and thirty-five minutes.  We just parked about twenty feet from the puddle/pond, turned the engine off and just watched from the car.  I had my Canon 7D with a 500mm lens and 1.4 teleconverter at the ready.  We weren’t disappointed.  In that short period we saw and ID’d nineteen species, saw another that we couldn’t identify, then also heard a Common Nighthawk and a Northern Bobwhite.  A total of 21 identifiable.  Here are a few photos from our little trip.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Painted Bunting - female

Painted Bunting – female

There were several Bullock’s Orioles and one female was foraging in the bark of a mesquite for grubs.  This sequence of photos shows her success.

Bullock's Oriole - female, searching for grubs.

Bullock’s Oriole – female, searching for grubs.

Gotcha!!!

Gotcha!!!

Mmmmm  Good!!!

Mmm Good!!!

Here is a list of all 21 species that we encountered this morning in and hour and thirty-five minutes.

  1. Vermilion Flycatcher
  2. Canyon Towhee
  3. Bullock’s Oriole
  4. House Sparrow
  5. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  6. Curve-billed Thrasher
  7. Northern Mockingbird
  8. Black-throated Sparrow
  9. Painted Bunting
  10. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  11. Greater Roadrunner
  12. Brown-headed Cowbird
  13. Northern Cardinal
  14. House Finch
  15. Northern Bobwhite – heard
  16. White-winged Dove
  17. Pyrrhuloxia
  18. Common Nighthawk – heard
  19. Red-winged Blackbird
  20. Lark Sparrow
  21. Killdeer

We also saw an un-identified bird splashing in the water, that bore resemblance to a Yellow-rumped Warbler, but it was too wet and scrubby looking to make a definite ID.  Hope you enjoyed the photos.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.

Birding Twin Buttes Reservoir


Much has been said in my post about our birding at Spring Creek and Middle Concho Parks.  Most of my recent photos have been taken at one or both of these areas.  Such as the Great Blue Heron and Great Egret, both of which I took yesterday.

Great Egret - Spring Creek Park, San Angelo, Texas

Great Egret – Spring Creek Park, San Angelo, Texas

Great Blue Heron - Middle Concho Park

Great Blue Heron – Middle Concho Park, San Angelo, Texas

But another area that we have pretty much neglected to bird, is an area at Twin Buttes Reservoir.  This lake, with one of the longest earthern dams in the country, was built in the early ’60s as a flood control project.  As with most of the local lakes around here, it has almost dried up during our drought.  However, with a thunderstorm a couple of days ago, there are a few puddles of standing water.  Such is what we found when we decided to drive out there after spending time at the above mentioned parks.

It was hot by the time we got there, but this one spot among a dozen mesquite trees felt like a little oasis.  There was a low area about 50 feet long by about 15 feet wide filled with muddy water that hadn’t soaked into the ground yet.  There were numerous small birds flitting between the trees and the water.

Bullock's Oriole on mesquite branch.

Bullock’s Oriole on mesquite branch.

Western Kingbird on mesquite branch.

Western Kingbird on mesquite branch.

Blue Grosbeak - female - thinking about taking a bath.

Blue Grosbeak – female – thinking about taking a bath.

Greater Roadrunner - cooling off

Greater Roadrunner – cooling off

Besides the above birds, we also saw a Painted Bunting take a quick splash in the water, but was gone before I could get the camera to my eye.  We also spotted an Orchard Oriole on a nearby high wire.

This is the kind of birding that I really enjoy.  To find a nice birdy spot like this, sit and watch from our blind, a.k.a. our car.  The fun is not knowing what you are going to see.  We will be going back very soon, before the water dries up.

Click an any image to see an enlargement.

A Kingfisher, a Sandpiper, a Killdeer, and a Coopers Hawk….


All of them walked into a bar.

The bartender said, “What it this, a joke?”

Okay, so I have a hard time getting started on writing these posts.  I admit it.  But the above mentioned birds are the ones that Ann and I saw Friday morning on a drive around Middle Concho and Spring Creek Parks.  The water is still low there, down about 24 inches.  However there is hope that it will rise a bit soon, as water may flow again from Twin Buttes Reservoir.  Behind that dam, water is being pumped from the south pool, which is higher, to the lower south pool.  The south pool is where the gates are that release water downstream to Lake Nasworthy and these parks.

First up, we spotted a Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle torquatus) on a wire over the river, but before I could get set up for a shot, it flew to the other bank and perched in a tree. With the help of my Noodle on the window sill, I was able to train my Canon EOS 7D and 500mm lens with a 1.4 tele-converter on it.  As the bird was quite tiny anyway, from that distance, and I couldn’t crop it as tight as I would have liked..  This image is the result.

Belted Kingfisher in tree

Driving further on, we came upon a small inlet that was nearly dry, but there was a Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) grazing in it.

Solitary Sandpiper

Sandpipers are one of my least favorite shorebirds to try and identify.  When we first spotted it, my first immediate thought was Greater Yellowlegs.  But then after getting several images, and consulting my Stokes Guide to birds of North America, I felt comfortable IDing it as the Solitary Sandpiper.

In the same area were a couple of Killdeers (Charadrius vociferus).  One was an adult, the other a juvenile.  The adult was nearer the open water.

Killdeer – juvenile

Killdeer – adult

Just before we decided to call it a day, we glanced toward a grassy picnic area, and there was a hawk in the shadows, walking in the grass.  He was about seventy-five feet away.  I got the camera and 500mm lens up on the Noodle and window sill again and snapped a few images before it flew off.  As I mentioned, the bird was in the shadows, but there was a bright background making exposure difficult.  I really wasn’t able to get a true identification as a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) until I got it in the computer and was able to brighten the exposure.

Cooper’s Hawk

Click on any image to enjoy enlargements.

No Regrets for these Egrets


I have never regretted plying the lakes and waterways around San Angelo, Texas, as I have always managed to come up with photos of egrets, herons, etc.   Of course, the waterways now are more like dryways.   O. C. Fisher lake is completely dry,  Twin Buttes Reservoir is only 5% percent of capacity, and Lake Nasworthy has dropped two feet and counting.   It is getting more difficult to launch a boat there anymore.

But that is not what this post is about.   In trying to find a nice subject to write about I decided to show you my best of the best favorite photos of the Great Egret, (Ardea alba).  These images have been taken in and around San Angelo in recent years, during wetter and better times.

Great Egret in reeds.

Great Egret “Night Flight”

Great Egret browsing in the reeds.

Great Egret “Liftoff”

Great Egret

Great Egret

Enjoy, and click on any image to see an enlargement.