Sunday, July 29, 2007

House Wren Eggs Hatch

Earlier this spring, I posted several photos (see chickadee, then scroll down) of the Carolina Chickadee young in the bird box. I also posted that another bird had taken over the bird box after the chickadee young had departed and I had cleaned out the nest. Even with a distinct nest structure, this bird was unidentified. Additionally, as the nest was built completely to the inside top of the box, I was never able to see a parent on the nest when I opened the box.
Yesterday (July 28), I decided that, as I had never in my life seen young still in the nest during the last week of July, it was safe to clean out pile of twigs deposited in the box in preparation of next year. What a surprise I had! When I pulled out the nest, I found three new hatchlings and one unhatched egg.
All three of the hatchlings were alive, moving, and raised their heads for 2-3 seconds. Each were dry with only wisps of down. Acting quickly, I photographed (what’s another 3 minutes) the new hatchlings, rebuilt the nest in the box, and prayed that a parent would return.
Within a few minutes of rebuilding the nest (to extract the nest from the box I actually had to pull the nest apart and out in three sections – I rebuilt the nest in reverse order), the mother returned and entered the box (see the fourth photo). She has returned several times today as well.
I spent several hours on the Web looking for a nest with a similar structure. I found one site that nailed the nest and the bird down as the house wren. Another site also described the house wren as a not so friendly bird that will evict our bird’s eggs and hatchlings, and then build over the existing nest. Basically, the male builds the nest of twigs and then attracts a female that completes the nest lining of feathers, lays and incubates the eggs, then raises the young.
I went back to photos from about 20 days ago and found these photos of a house wren singing on top of the bird box and perching in a tree. At the time, I did not identify this bird as a house wren.
Given that the time to lay (one egg per day) and incubate (9 to 16 days) the eggs and that the young that I discovered probably hatched less than a day ago, the reason I never saw a bird on this nest was this all happened in the last 20 days while I was in Texas.
The new hatchlings will fledge in 15-17 days. I hope to get some additional photos then, as I certainly will not distribute the next again.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

On the Road in Texas - Last Report

Before I show some last photos, there is one photo that I missed. While in Austin, I came face-to-face with what I believe was a great kiskadee. Wish I had gotten the photo, as from my references, finding this bird as far north as Austin is rare.
I am filing my last report of my 2007 trip to Texas.
Just a few last, but I think interesting, photos - all taken in the Lake Travis area near Austin.
The first four photos show two different butterflies. They will remain unidentified until one of you help out with an identification.
Also unidentified is this insect that was enjoying his lunch of another insert.
The butterflies and this insert were willing to pose regardless of how close I got.
And I cannot resist showing this cactus I found among the junipers (what Texans call cedars) and grass of the Hill Country.
Of course, when visiting Texas, you must take some photos of a longhorn. So here are my required photos of one Texas longhorn.
I would like to thank my hosts - friends and family - in Ft. Worth, Frisco (including the new Henderson Drive Habitat), Austin, and San Antonio for their hospitality.
In the next post, we return to Virginia and the Colvin Run Habitat. I have some interesting photos of late season, just hatched young .

Friday, July 27, 2007

On the Road in Texas - Mexican Free-tailed Bats

Texans like to say that they do everything big. So, it is no surprise that in the Texas state capital of Austin you will find the largest urban colony of bats in the world.
Nearly 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats live under the Congress Ave. Bridge that crosses the Colorado River in downtown Austin.
Each day as the sun fades on the western horizon, the bats come out to travel as much as 125 miles and to consume 20,000 pounds of insects. Initially viewed as pests by the residents of Austin, the bats later became recognized for their ability to help farmers by consuming their nightly load of insects. Still later, Texas named these Mexican free-tailed bats as the state mammal.
These photos are of minimal quality - basically I got directly under the bridge, pointed the camera straight up, and let the flash and auto focus do the rest. The strobe flash allowed us to actually see the bats while we where there.
The bats spend their days tucked away in the 1-2 inch spaces between the concrete parts of the bridge (note the dark stains from the bats). Each bat is about the size of typical field mouse. As you can see from the first three photos, every 15 seconds or so nearly a dozen bats drop out of the spaces and begin to fly away.
If you look closely at the fourth photo, you'll see the flash reflection from the flying bat's eyes. If you look very closely (click on the photo to get an enlarged view), you'll see at least another dozen bats still tucked in the space with the flash reflected in their eyes as well.
In this last photo, you can see that on the night we visited the bat colony, it was quite dark when the the bats emerged. This last photo was taken across the river with the bridge in the lower, foreground.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On the Road in Texas - Bees and Butterflies

I am now back in Virginia, but still publishing photos taken on my just completed visit to Texas. When I took this first photo, I was only interested in the sunflower, the bee arrival was simply an accident.
These two butterflies were taken in the Henderson Drive Habitat. The first butterfly is a Pearl Crescent Butterfly, the small butterfly type photographed earlier in the Colvin Run Habitat. There is clearly some significant wear and tear seen in the trailing edges of this one's wings.
I am unable to identify the second butterfly, whose most interesting features are that when it lands on a branch, it brings its wings together as one and the underside visible when the two wings are together are tan. The result is a fully camouflaged butterfly - can you see it on the branch? Hint: it is hanging upside down, below and to the right of the green leaves (as always click to get an enlarged photo).

Monday, July 23, 2007

On the Road in Texas - Young Grackle Poses

Anytime that I come across a bird that allows be to closely approach, I suspect that it is a young bird not quite old enough to appreciate danger or not sure enough of itself to just fly away.
So when visiting the Water Gardens in downtown Ft. Worth, that was my first thought as we cam across this bird. After a few minutes of observation, it was clear that this was a young grackle.
This young bird allowed me to get within 8 feet before flying to the next branch. This young one was clearly more developed than yesterday's killdeer young who could not yet fly.
Of, and yes, the Water Gardens are worth the visit if you are in Ft. Worth.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

On the Road in Texas - Great Egret

While walking along the Water Walk in San Antonio, I came across this great egret who was walking back and forth on a bridge foundation clearly looking for a meal. He walked around for about 5 minutes, then gave up and flew down the Water Way.
A large white heron, the Great Egret is found across much of the world, from southern Canada southward to Argentina, and in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. It's the largest egret in the Old World, and thus has garnered the name Great White Egret. But in the Americas, the white form of the Great Blue Heron is larger and warrants that name. In the United States, the Great Egret used to be called the American Egret but that was hardly appropriate, since the species range extends beyond America and indeed farther than other herons.
Plume hunters in the late 1800s and early 1900s reduced North American populations by more than 95 percent. The populations recovered after the birds were protected by law. No population is considered threatened, but the species is vulnerable to the loss of wetlands.
>The Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, one of the oldest environmental organizations in North America. Audubon was founded to protect birds from being killed for their feathers.
>Not all young that hatch survive the nestling period. Aggression among nestlings is common and large chicks frequently kill their smaller siblings.
>Not all young that hatch survive the nestling period. Aggression among nestlings is common and large chicks frequently kill their smaller siblings.
>The longevity record for a wild Great Egret is nearly 23 years.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

On the Road in Texas - Killdeer Chicks On the Wing

In the last two postings, we showed killdeer parents and two of their four young. The older two of the four chicks are pictured here.
The first four photographs show one of the more developed young. This first one, walked around in a field of moved grass - seemingly to draw my attention. When I came over to him, he slowly flapped his little wings.
From the photos, you can see that the primary flight feathers have developed well, but were not able yet to support flight.
Given the heat of the day, perhaps the wing motion was an attempt to cool off.
The last three photos show the second of the more developed pair, which stayed under and in a nearby small tree.
I never saw this guy actually fly, but he hopped and glided from branch to branch. The last photos shows this chick with his wings extended. After about 30 minutes photographing the four young killdeers, I followed the parents as they 'led' me away from the young.
Later in the day at about an hour after sundown, I walked across a field of mixed gravel and grass. And, from the clear squawking of at least one killdeer, I suspect I stumbled across another set of killdeer young. I never saw the killdeer in the dark. What an interesting day full of killdeer.

Friday, July 20, 2007

On the Road in Texas - Killdeer Chicks

These are the little ones that the two killdeer parents were working so hard to hide from me. Actually, there were four of them. The two pictured here were clearly the last two to hatch, as they are the least developed (the more developed two will be presented in the next posting).
When I first spotted these chicks, I thought that they might be mockingbird young, as there were mockingbirds in the area and what appeared to be mockingbird nests in several of the adjacent trees. However, given the amount of attention I was getting from the killdeer parents, I figured these young must be killdeers. I later went to this site with photos of killdeer chicks; there is a close enough resemblance for me to believe that these are killdeers.
Killdeer nest on the ground; the nest is little more than a scratched depression, sometimes with a bit of lining, often white objects. The killdeer young are active as soon as they dry out after hatching - in stark contrast to many other chicks that can barely hold their heads up when they hatch. As soon as the killdeer young are dry, they are moving (hopping) to protect themselves from predators. The parents, of course, keep a close eye out, distracting would be predators from the still developing young by way of making noise, feinting injury, and flopping on the ground. These two young stayed in the shade and cover of a singular tree.
In the next posting, we'll meet their siblings who clearly interested in flying.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

On the Road in Texas - Killdeer on the Run and in Flight

The birds at the Colvin Run Habitat in Northern Virginia are always willing to come and perch - which is not always good for the photography skills.
So, whenever I visit the Henderson Drive Habitat in Frisco, Texas, I hike to a nearby field and refresh my quick shoot skills with the killdeer.
You can find the killdeer wherever there is a flat field with a little gravel and some grass. Although they are part of the plover shorebird family, the killdeer does not require the shore to thrive.
Killdeer spend most of their day on the ground or flying just a few feet off the ground. They make lots of noise, so I typically hear them well before I see them. It is rare that I can get closer than 40 feet to them.
I spent an hour photographing these two killdeer. But, they exceeded their normal level of squawking when I came to specific location in a field of mowed grass (adjacent to the rough field of gravel and grass where I found them).
When I was near this specific spot, they squawked loudly, and would run and fly just far enough to make me interested in following them.
After they would ran a bit or flew a bit, they simply laid down in the grass (last photo). After about 15 minutes of this wild goose (or is that killdeer) chase, I finally figured out the purpose of the display.
So what did I discover? Stay tuned for the next posting.