May 29, 2023

Walburg BBS 2023-05-28

On Sunday, May 28, 2023 I ran my USGS Breeding Bird Survey route starting in Walburg, TX and running east along 25 miles of back roads with 50 survey points northeast of Austin and going south of Granger Lake. Here's an overview of the route, which was first run in 1980:

Walburg BBS Route

This was the first year I've run the route in May instead of June, and it was much birdier than previous years, the weather was nicer, and I just had more fun. I think I'll try to run it in May from now on. Here are some highlights from yesterday morning.

Stop 5 was a hilly area with mixed woods and open land. After watching two Common Nighthawks calling and foraging in the sky, I watched ten more emerge from a patch of woods, all silent and flying in the same direction. This must have been a migrating group that roosted together in those woods the night before. What a cool sight!

At point 8 I got to see the sunrise and took this photo. During the count I heard a Swainson's Thrush singing, which turned out to be a species never before recorded on this route! (It's a migrant this time of year, not a breeder in the area, and this was noted as such in the data.)

IMG_2368.jpg

At point 13, near the end of the 3 minute observation time an Eastern Kingbird flew in and vocalized. Between there and the next point I saw half a dozen more, and then counted 3 more at point 14. It was cool to hear and see this group of migrating birds which have only been sporadically recorded in previous years on this route.

A single Tree Swallow at point 42 seen with a couple Barn Swallows, was only the third ever recorded on the route.

My favorite observation came at point 48. A bird sang only twice and I never saw it. During the observation period I couldn't remember what species this song was, although it was definitely familiar. After I finished the route I listened to Cassin's Sparrow songs in the Merlin app, and it matched perfectly. This was the first time for me to observe this species on the route, and it had only been detected 4 times before.

A few more reflections: I did not hear or see a single Northern Bobwhite or Horned Lark this year, but Dickcissels were all over the place. Eastern Meadowlarks were observed at 6 points. I'm always happy to observe them on this route, and saddened when I look at the historical data and see how much this grassland species has declined since 1980. At a couple points a Lark Sparrow flew in during the 3 minute observation period and hung around near me. It's always fun to see this species up close. And at point 34 a land owner spraying weeds at the border of his corn field in a UTV stopped to talk. It was a friendly interaction and was the first time anyone has asked what I was doing on this survey route.

After observing at point 50 I took this selfie, had some lunch, and drove back to Austin. I was happy to be able to collect data on this route another year.

IMG_2370.jpg

Posted on May 29, 2023 06:54 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 26, 2022

Nalle Bunny Run Group Walk 2022-06-26

Out of ten people who signed up, only four actually showed up for a group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife refuge this morning that I co-led with HCC staff member Carolyn Stephens. Here are some highlights.

We never know what we'll find when we open the lid covering the natural spring on the property. This morning there were half a dozen little snakes! All but one were these Western Ribbonsnakes. (I'd love to know if they are actually the Orange-striped Ribbonsnake subspecies!) My guess is that they were all siblings.

Orange-striped Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis proximus ssp. proximus)

The other snake was this stunning Black-necked Gartersnake, that we didn't even notice for a few minutes despite its bring colors!

Black-necked Gartersnake - 1 - 2

A few weeks ago Carolyn briefly saw a male Painted Bunting on the preserve, so I was keeping my eyes and ears open for one. On the sandy prairie area I started to hear one, and we briefly saw it and a female foraging low near the lake. But they both left the immediate area and seemed to ignore my playback of recorded songs trying to bring the male back into view. But a few minutes later when we'd moved on a bit, I started hearing the male singing again. I spotted it and we all got distant but fun binocular views of him singing at the top of a grape-vine-covered hackberry!

Painted Bunting

We got some good close looks at dragonflies this morning as well. My favorite was probably this female Checkered Setwing we saw while making our way across the sandy prairie before we headed back into the woods.

Checkered Setwing

I recorded 25 species of birds and here's my eBird checklist.

All my iNat observations are attached below, and here are the same photos on Flickr.

Posted on June 26, 2022 06:58 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 7 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 04, 2022

Nalle Bunny Run 2022-04-02

Yesterday I spent the morning on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve in west Austin. It was the first time I've visited the preserve this spring, and I had a great morning finding newly returned summer resident birds, winter resident species soon to head north, and a few migrants passing through. The most exciting bird was a female Eastern Towhee in the vine-covered fence near the northeast corner of the property. Unfortunately I only got two brief looks and could not photograph it. This eastern species is rare in Austin during the winter and during migration. Maybe it was the same female I found here back in March of 2019?

I was lucky to see and smell some of the Agarita and Mountain Laurels in bloom:

Agarita in Bloom

Mountain Laurel in Bloom - 1 - 2

This male Black-chinned Hummingbird was probably a newly returned summer resident observing his territory from an open perch:

Black-chinned Hummingbird Male

White-eyed Vireos and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were back in force. Here's one of the male gnatcatchers singing:

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

I detected two Northern Parulas singing near the northwest corner, and I faintly heard (only twice) a Yellow-throated Warbler singing in the cypress trees along the bank of the lake.

This morning I was most excited to find two new dragonfly species for the preserve. The first was this male Stream Cruiser. I didn't know what it was when I saw it, but it perched so cooperatively that after taking photos with my big camera I was able to get an iPhoto shot good enough to post on social media, and my friends ID'd it for me before I got home! It was a lifer for me:

Stream Cruiser - 1 - 2

The second new dragonfly for the preserve was this beautiful Springtime Darner which perched very briefly in some switchgrass near the bank of the lake. I was only able to get a few quick photos before it disappeared:

Springtime Darner - 1 - 2

Springtime Darners are infamous for continuous flight up and down a small stretch of water, making them extremely hard to photograph. I was lucky to get the above photo! And this was only the second time I've seen this species.

Here's my complete eBird checklist.

And here are the same photos and a few more on Flickr.

Posted on April 04, 2022 12:27 AM by mikaelb mikaelb | 8 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 21, 2021

Port Aransas CBC 2021-12-20

I was excited to participate another year in the Port Aransas Christmas Bird Count on 12/20/2021. I covered the Aransas Pass area again which includes parts of San Patricio and Aransas counties. This year for the first time I was happy to be joined by Aaron Evans, Aransas Pass resident and birder.

Highlights included seeing, all in the same couple minutes, 3 soaring Red-tailed Hawks, a migrating flock of American White Pelicans high in the sky, and 3 Crested Caracaras interacting in the air, clacking their bills, and even talon-grappling! Our bird of the day was this stunning Yellow-throated Warbler seen in a mixed-species flock near Prairie View Cemetery.

Yellow-throated Warbler - 1 - 1

See linked observations.

For this count I went totally eBird! Here's the Trip Report, a new feature they introduced recently for summarizing checklists.

Here are the photos on Flickr.

Posted on December 21, 2021 05:23 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 14 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

November 24, 2021

10 Best Bunny Run Photos for 2021

Hill Country Conservancy and the Nalle family jointly manage the Nalle Bunny Run, a 40 acre wildlife preserve in west Austin. I've been a longtime volunteer there and every year the Nalles ask for my 10 favorite photos of the year to include in their annual report. This year was especially challenging for me, losing my mother in February and my father in September. I spent a lot of time in Port Aransas helping them, and then dealing with the estate. But during my few trips to Austin I was able to visit the Bunny Run which always helped my state of mind. So this year I decided to share my top 10 photos here since they represent a few bright points in a dark year.

Golden-crowned Kinglet on Jan 3

The similar Golden-crowned Kinglets and Ruby-crowned Kinglets are winter residents in central Texas with Ruby-crowned's being much more common. Some winters we hardly see any Golden-crowns. But I can usually find a couple on the Bunny Run, and I was even able to photo one of these very active little birds there in early January. I hear that Golden-crowned's are significantly more common in the Austin area this winter so far!

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Yellow-rumped Warbler on Jan 9

The following weekend I met up with HCC staff Carolyn Stephens and Sarah Dean to make a nature walk video. (We had been making these videos in lieu of hosting in-person walks since the pandemic started.) The next three photos were taken during that walk, and you can watch the video here. It was a very cold morning, starting out just below freezing. This Yellow-rumped Warbler responded to my pishing and you can see how puffed out its feathers are to keep warm. There's just a hint of yellow on its shoulder.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Egyptian Goose on Jan 9

We had two exciting flyovers on the same cold morning. The first was this Egyptian Goose, a relative newcomer to central Texas. This exotic species seems to have an established small population around Lake Austin, mostly likely started from escaped captive birds. You can see from their striking appearance why it's a common species to own.

Egyptian Goose

Common Raven on Jan 9

The second flyover was a pair of Common Ravens, croaking to each other as they flew. Many people don't realize there are a few ravens in Austin, mostly west of Mopac. They can be told from crows by their lower voice, longer rounded tails, and their huge size which made an impression on us as they passed by right over our heads.

Common Raven

Travertine Pools on Feb 6

In early February, just a few weeks before the historic winter storm and my mom's passing, I finally photographed some limestone pools in a beautiful sometimes-waterfall area. I'd been wondering about these pools because I remembered similar pools on a conserved section of upper Bull Creek. They were pointed out during a guided hike there as being very sensitive and formed from dissolved limestone in the water. They were described as "travertine" pools. A few months ago I started to wonder if these were the same kinds of pools. I sent this photo to Zach Stark, the director of Environmental Stewardship for Concordia University which owns the preserved area of Bull Creek. (Zach led the hike that day.) He agreed these were the same kind of pool. Another discovery on the Bunny Run!

Limestone Pools - 1

Northern Cardinal on Feb 6

Just downstream from the travertine pools on the same morning, this female Northern Cardinal took a few drinks.

Northern Cardinal

Little Wood Satyr on April 10

Little Wood Satyr is one of the brush-footed butterflies that lives in shady wooded areas of central Texas. Its colors blend in with the dead leaves and branches of the forest floor and understory. I was excited that this photo showed some silvery spots on its wings!

Little Wood Satyr

Green Dragon on April 10

2021 was a great year for learning about plants on the Bunny Run. Texas botanist Bill Carr made several visits and on March 20 he found a patch of Green Dragon near a limestone outcropping on the shaded western edge of the preserve which slopes towards the lake. We found two more patches of this uncommon central Texas plant when Bill returned on April 10. Green Dragon is more of an eastern species. Here, it is a rare remnant from when central Texas was a wetter place. This photo shows its unique asymmetrical leaf whorls. It also happens to be the first species account in the venerable central Texas field guide, "Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country" by Marshall Enquist.

Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) - 3- 2

Southern Spreadwing on Oct 16

On October 16 I spent a beautiful cool fall morning on the Bunny Run during a Scout volunteer day. While scouts planted native grasses and cleared some prickly pear cactus, I spent most of the morning on my own, roaming the preserve. Just above the waterfall area which was flowing nicely, I found two new Odonate (damselflies and dragonflies) species for the preserve. The first was this Southern Spreadwing damselfly.

Southern Spreadwing Male

Blue-faced Meadowhawk on Oct 16

The second new Odonate I found on Oct 16 was a dragonfly. Just before I spotted the spreadwing, a small dragonfly with a blue head and red-and-black abdomen briefly hovered in front of me then disappeared. Wow, what was that!? Then I spotted and photographed the spreadwing, hoping the dragonfly was still around. Luckily it was, and I got several photos of my first Blue-faced Meadowhawk.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk - 1 - 4

These photos can also be viewed on Flickr here.

Posted on November 24, 2021 09:45 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 2 comments | Leave a comment

November 09, 2021

Four Winns Ranch 2021-10-23

In October I got to camp out for a night with Hill Country Conservancy's EPIC group on one of HCC's new conservation easement properties, the Four Winns Ranch in Hays County near the small town of Wimberley. I spent the afternoon exploring and was excited to find this beautiful little waterfall on a small creek running through the property:

Waterfall

Attached are some observations of plants and animals that caught my eye and that I was able to photograph. It was fun to see several Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies, a species I rarely see in my northwest Austin neighborhood. And there were a few beautiful patches of Lindheimer Muhly grass.

Here's my eBird list from Saturday afternoon.

And here are the same photos on Flickr.

Posted on November 09, 2021 02:40 AM by mikaelb mikaelb | 14 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

September 05, 2021

Banded Piping Plovers 8N2 and 60R and iNat

A few times per year when visiting my original hometown of Port Aransas on the Texas coast, I spend a morning driving the 7.4 mile Tony Amos beach and counting birds. This beach is named after a man who surveyed this beach every other day for several decades, counting birds, trash, people, and taking several other kinds of measurements. This important data set is now in the care of David Newstead with the Coastal Bays and Estuaries Program.

Occasionally I was able to ride with Tony on these surveys, and one of the highlights was documenting banded Piping Plovers during the fall and winter. A few organizations band Piping Plovers on their spring and summer breeding grounds with colored bands or labeled flags meant to be identifiable from good photographs or binocular views, without recapturing the bird. Tony photographed dozens of these banded birds over the years and meticulously recorded their locations and dates observed. He would report this data to the banding organizations annually. Sometimes he would tell me about individual plovers he had been documenting for years, and how faithful they were to their small winter ranges on the beach. When I count birds on this beach by myself, I always try to photograph banded Piping Plovers to post on iNat and to report to their banders.

Yesterday I was excited to find an example of Piping Plover winter territory fidelity in my own iNaturalist observations. Last weekend (8/29/2021) I drove the Tony Amos beach and kept an eBird list. (I stopped the list after about 4 miles.) I found and photographed three banded Piping Plovers. I finally processed my photos yesterday and posted them as iNat observations. Then I decided to search my iNat observations for the two labelled flags, "60R" and "8N2". The search for 8N2 found these 5 observations:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 11.21.37 AM

Look at the dates and the map on the screen shot above. I have photographed this same individual plover 5 times between November 2015 and August 2021, all in the same single mile of beach!

Here's the map zoomed out a bit to show Port Aransas to the north, and Padre Island to the south:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 11.22.44 AM

The search for 60R found only one additional observation:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 1.57.38 PM

I photographed plover 60R only once before, back in 2017, within 250 meters of where I found it last weekend! Here's the map a little zoomed out, showing 60R's winter territory is a little north of 8N2's territory:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 2.11.00 PM

I'd like to think Tony would be proud, even though he sometimes sneered at projects like eBird and iNaturalist. (I don't think he trusted the notion of citizen science, and I think he was sometimes resentful that these projects made tools and data easily available that he'd had to invent and collect on his own years before.)

iNat Idiosyncracies

A few years ago I experimented with making an iNaturalist Project for banded shorebirds. I was hoping that if we could encode the flag numbers and unique color combinations on each observation, users would be able to see maps of individual birds from observations contributed by anyone. Wouldn't it be cool to be able to submit an iNat observation of a banded Piping Plover observed during the winter, and maybe see observations of that same individual made on its breeding grounds or during migration? iNaturalist came oh-so-close to making this possible, but I ran into a couple idiosyncrasies that prevented it from working.

  • Piping Plovers have a conservation status of Vulnerable in iNaturalist, so their locations are obscured to everyone but the user who made the observation. This prevents the mapping I was hoping for.
  • Projects can be configured to show these obscured locations to project curators, but this is only makes the locations available for download or viewing of the raw GPS coordinates. They still do not display unobscured on the maps.

So that's why I had to share my observations of 8N2 and 60R as screen shots. Here's how my iNat search appears to everyone else:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 1.19.51 PM

See how the map shows the observations much more spread out, purposely obscured by iNat's rules about vulnerable and endangered species.

I wanted to attach all observations of 8N2 and 60R to this journal post, but another iNat idiosyncrasy is that attaching older observations to a journal post is very difficult or impossible, since it involves manually scrolling to each observation you want to attach. So I've only attached the observations I made on 8/29.

Here's the search link that will show you my 5 observations of 8N2, with obscured locations.

And here's a link to my 2 observations of plover 60R.

Photos of both along with these screenshots .

I'll update this post with information I hear back from the banders about these two birds.

Posted on September 05, 2021 07:32 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 2 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

July 01, 2021

Odolympics 2021-06

I was fortunate to be able to spend some time between June 19 and June 27, to participate in the Odolympics, a citizen science project to collect observations of Odonates (dragonflies and damselflies). Attached to this journal entry are all my iNat observations made during this period. The odonate observations are also officially part of checklists submitted to OdonoataCentral.org.

And here are some video highlights from Sunday afternoon, June 27, the last day:

Posted on July 01, 2021 12:30 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 28 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 08, 2021

Billig Ranch 2021-04

I was excited to be able to attend the Wild and Scenic film festival hosted by Pines and Prairies Land Trust on their Billig Ranch property last weekend. I'll add more information here as I have time.

Here are some video clips I finally put together. They include Stillwater Clubtail dragonfly, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Citrine Forktail Damselfly, and White-tailed Kite.

eBird checklists:
https://ebird.org/checklist/S84716629
https://ebird.org/checklist/S84743716
https://ebird.org/checklist/S85063637

Photos
https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikael_behrens/albums/72157718875123854

Posted on April 08, 2021 12:26 AM by mikaelb mikaelb | 11 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 02, 2021

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour with Bill Carr 2021-03-20

On March 20, we were privileged to have botanist Bill Carr visit Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run with us. He helped us create a new virtual tour with a focus on plants.

The most exciting observation of the morning was a northeastern plant called Green Dragon on the edge of its range, in a hidden canyon on the western edge of the preserve:

Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) - 1 - 5

Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) - 1 - 3

See the attached iNaturalist observation below.

I'll update this entry when the video is posted by Hill Country Conservancy.

Here's our eBird checklist.

And here's Bill Carr's plant list for the preserve, from just two visits.

Posted on April 02, 2021 06:27 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 20 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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