Friday, November 27, 2015

Rare kingbird hanging around by Jefferson Playground

Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to find a rare kingbird along River Road in Old Jefferson.  It was still there this morning. It is either a Couch's Kingbird or Tropical Kingbird, both species from Mexico or southernmost Texas.  The two species are bright yellow below and dull olive/tan above with pearly gray heads that bear the semblance of a dark mask.  They are inseparable except by voice, and this one has yet to utter anything in the presence of myself of other birders.

Although a vagrant, this bird is not unheard of here- in fact, Tropical/Couch's Kingbirds show up somewhere in the state annually, or nearly so.

As vagrants go, this individual has been relatively easy to locate- perching on wires and conspicuous bare stems near the tops of trees.  Any bird on such a perch in this location that is conspicuously yellow below will very probably be this bird.  It has been making long flights from its perches to snatch insects from the air.

The bird has been most commonly seen along the batture edge, but this morning was on the roadside wire next to the FLEA MARKET sign across from Jefferson Playground. 

Good birding,


PS- upon seeing its attraction to the FLEA MARKET sign, I immediately went home, pulled out some plywood and paint, and stuck a BUGS FOR SALE sign on my roof.  Thinking further, I added BLACK FRIDAY SALE.  Now I'm waiting for the parade of insectivores to appear in my back yard. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ten more days of fall migration- more or less

This afternoon as I stepped out my front door, I heard the pleasantly mellow note of an Eastern Bluebird- a species that I have never detected in or from my urban yard before, and which only occurs in my part of the city in passage.  

Shortly thereafter, a White-throated Sparrow chimed a series of its distinctive peek notes from behind my neighbor's house- another one that normally graces my 'hood only when passing through.

It's probably not coincidence that these birds showed up on a day of north winds following a frontal passage- such conditions provide a nice tailwind for migration.  It may be late November, but their migrations are still in swing for the next ten days or so.  Various fall migrants continue to arrive through November- but the pace drops off precipitously in the first week of December.  After that, among land birds, only a few atypical species continue to arrive.

So enjoy these last few days of southbound arrivals- and wait for the first northbound Purple Martins, just around the corner at the end of January!


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tricks of the Trade # 5: identifying Savannah Sparrows by habitat and behavior

This morning as I was walking the levee in Old Jefferson, a small brown sparrow flushed from the short grass (lawn) that carpets the embankment, and flitted back and forth a bit before settling again back onto the lawn.  I knew immediately what it was, even though I do not normally see the species there:  Savannah Sparrow.

Savannahs are migrating in this time of year, and will spend the winter in nearby areas outside town.  They are infrequent this far into the city, so this bird was probably a new arrival that was still searching for a good wintering spot and found itself (for the moment) in the city.

Savannah is our only common sparrow (besides the familiar House Sparrow) that normally ventures more than a quick jump from cover.    The only other expected species that does so regularly is Vesper, which is much less common in our area, and looks quite different from the small, short-tailed Savannah:  noticeably larger, with a longer tail with conspicuous white outer feathers. 

Good birding,