Saturday, March 18, 2023

Birding & Butterfly Watching in Houston Texas - Mid March 2023

Alternative Blog Post Title:  Everything is Bigger in Texas - Excluding Bird Lists    

Snowy Plovers in Galveston TX

Hey Y'all, 

I spent the last five days in Texas with my family. If you see me wearing a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and driving a large, diesel-powered pickup truck with modified suspension, and a giant exhaust pipe, ... just joking --- I'm still a Tree-Hugger from Ontario.  Birding was big on my priority list - but not the only Priority - we also did lots of other things such as rail fanning, hiking, visiting amusement parks and lots of great restaurants. 

In theory - could have had had as many 15-20 life birds. Some birds that I could have seen include:

Yellow Fronted Woodpecker
Golden cheeked warbler 
Least Grebe 
Neotropical Cormorant 
Seaside Sparrow
Lecontes Sparrow 
Snowy Plover
White Tailed Kite
Attwater Prairie Chicken
Black headed Vireo 
Black crested titmouse
Gull billed Tern
Least Tern
Huttons Vireo
Zone tailed Hawk
White tailed Hawk
Olive Sparrow

My trip to Texas involved small sub-trips--- We landed in Houston, went to Austin, San Marcos, San Antionio, then back to Houston (clear lake area - near Nasa Space Center). From Clear Lake, we were between Houston and Galveston. Galveston is a large barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico. 

Spring Lake Area - San Marcos
This was my first birding effort on this trip - and immediately as I got out of my car, I heard a yellow throated vireo singing. Northern Parula, Eastern Phoebe, Pied billed Grebe, Cormorants, White eyed Vireos were all easily seen within 100m walk from my car. Another trailhead in this area should have easily given me yellow-fronted woodpeckers, black crested titmouse and even Golden cheeked Warblers - but I had only heard the call of black crested titmouse. 

"The Caves" in San-Antonio

The birding and butterfly watching was surprisingly good here even thought its really a tourist attraction. There were tonnes of birds. Sadly, I was in the midst of a cave tour and I didn't want to make a scene birdwatching as our guide was talking about the local geology. I might have had Olive Sparrows there -- but I can't be certain. I did see Black crested Titmouse though which was really nice. A few nice butterflies were around as well.  I had found a tree near the parking lot crawling with butterflies (it was similar to button-bush). 

Black crested Titmouse!

Galveston Island State Park, East Beach, Bolivar Flats

I was really hoping to see Snowy Plovers at this location and sure enough, I had found a small group of about 5-10.  Lots of shorebirds were present. American Avocets, various sandpipers, Rudy Turnstones, Skimmers, Gulls, etc. Turns, Eastern Meadowlarks, Savanah Sparrows, Horned Larks, Grackles etc were seen.  I was hoping to see Least Terns - but I might have been a week early. Also, I did not really have time to see the bolivar flats even thought I visited the area. 

Snowy Plover - A long sought lifer.

My son --- would rather be rail-fanning.

White Tailed Kite. Lifer!

Neotropic Cormorant  (LIFER!) - I have missed this many, many times in Windsor/Essex. Not as common as I was expecting!

Clay Family Eastern Glades
This stunning park was a pleasant surprise. Ebird hinted that Least Grebes were present --- and sure enough, a small family? of three were present. 

Butterflies -  I was able to see Southern Dogface, Henry's Elfin - as well as many other species that I had seen previously such as Funeral Duskywing, Dainty Sulpher, Varigated and Gulf Fritillary, common buckey, red admiral, monarch, Giant Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger, Pipevine Swallowtail. I did see a reakirts blue but no other hairstreak like butterflies. (too early) 

Southern Dogface - Lifer!

Henry's Elfin - A butterfly Lifer!

Plants - I didn't make much efforts to see southern species --- but I did make some basic observations of some plants that were obvious to a casual observer. For example, many roadsides are covered in a blue flower --- and it was neat to followup on what that plant was - a local lupine called "Bluebonnet Lupine". Indian Paintbrush ? had a redish colour as well. I noted a yellow-flowering thistle plant, as well as many colourful daisy like species.

Astronomy - I was curious if I would be able to see one particular astronomical phenomena --- Omega Centauri --- it is one of the largest dense star clusters in our solar system. Dense star clusters are thought to be remnants of smaller elliptical galaxies that were absorbed by our milky way galaxy.  Its really best seen from the southern hemisphere, but can be seen low on the southern horizon from Texas. I made huge efforts to see this--- The light pollution is horrible. Every business, strip mall , hotel and car dealership is lit up like daylight at night. You are hard pressed to see a single star within an hours drive of downtown Houston. 

Omega Centauri [link]

So all in all - it was a great trip. I have never been to Texas, and I must say its a pretty interesting place. There is a huge oil-based economy and there seems to be great wealth there. The vast swaths of land are incredible. There is great development, yet, large swatchs of natural areas. There seems to be little effort to recycle glass, plastic, metal --- only garbages --- which is strange to me. 

I was hoping to cross paths with more like 15-20 birds, but --- I found 5 ... A little less than I would have liked.  Some birds might have been easier if I was there two weeks earlier, and others if I was there two weeks later.  Its all good. Someone told me once that you need to save some birds for retirement.  

Good Birding!

Last 15 Life Birds:

Western Screech Owl 453 (AZ)

 Scaled Quail 454  (AZ)
 Graces Warbler 455  (AZ)
 Painted Redstart 456  (AZ)
 Yellow Eyed Junco 457  (AZ)
 Blue throated Hummingbird 458 (AZ)
Elegant Trogon 459 (AZ)
King Rail 460
Red Phalarope 461
Scissor tailed Flycatcher 462
Hoary Redpoll  463
Cave Swallow 464
Harris' Sparrow 465

Black crested Titmouse (TX) 466
Snowy Plover (TX) 467 
Neotropical Cormorant (TX) 468
White tailed Kite (TX) 469
Least Grebe (TX) 470

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Conjunction of Venus & Jupiter (March 1st) + Woodcocks


American woodcocks can be heard and seen in this video. At around the 20 second mark, you can see them (a pair) rise up from the bottom right hand corner. Pretty cool! I consider myself pretty lucky to live close to the South Cameron Woodlot in Windsor which is a small island of forest, wetland and grassland. I get to see woodcocks display behind my house during early spring migration.

In the background sky of the video, you can see the two brightest planets in the solar system - Venus and Jupiter. They are surprisingly close to each other - a conjunction from our perspective.

I have heard Killdeers and even Robins staking out territory on neighborhood trees. Spring is on its way!


Sunday, February 26, 2023

Conjunction of Venus & Jupiter + Early Woodcock?


Back on Feb 19th, I was out on my back porch looking at the sky at about 6:30-6:45 and I heard my first-of-year peent of an american woodcock! Even today (feb 26th), others have seen some in Windsor along with Eastern Phoebes. Spring is on its way.

On Wed March 1st, there will be a conjunction of the two brightest "stars" (planets) in the sky (after the moon of course)- Venus and Jupiter!  The weather in Windsor predicts clouds for Wednesday  :-( ....  I had captured the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn a year or two ago - that can be found here: .These two planets (Venus and Jupiter) will be close all week though ---- easily seen above the western horizon after dusk.

Good birding and astronomizing!


Monday, February 20, 2023

Bird Watching with a Cell-phone? Samsung S23 Ultra is like having a telephoto lens in your pocket. + FOY Am. Woodcock

Bird Watching with a Cell-phone? Samsung S23 Ultra is like having a telephoto lens in your pocket. + FOY Am. Woodcock

This weekend, I had picked up a new phone - its a Samsung S23 Ultra. Its a Samsung "flagship" phone - which I have never really owned --- I had the mid-range Samsung A series phones.  The reason I chose this phone is because I heard the cameras that its sports are pretty amazing.   Of course, an SLR camera can be lugged around, and if you have several thousand dollars, you can buy a wide angle lens, regular zoom and telephoto lenses. 

It is capable of wide-angle shots to capture a nice landscape scene, a regular zoom with an ultra fast F1.8 aperture to have nice bokeh behind the subjects you are photographing, and a periscope style 30x optical zoom with up to a 100x "superzoom" for still photos.  In video, I think you are limited to 20 or 30x zooming. 

So after Church on Sunday morning , I pointed my cell phone up at the top of the bridge to see how good the zoom was,,, and I noticed a peregrine falcon sitting up there. I was about 400m from the bridge, plus the height of the towers might be 100m up --- so this raptor might have been 0.5km from me! 

This video shows the wide angle to 30x zoom.  It does not go higher than 30x for video.

See another demo here ... (cant embed!)

This cell phone also has some pretty amazing technology --- which includes astrophotography. Incredibly, it can do long exposure sky scenes without the use of a mechanical skytracker. It uses software to to counter act the star trailing effect from the rotation of the earth. So, you could take a 10 minute exposure of the milky way, with out any blur effect ... I can't wait to try this out!

So, can a cell phone replace a heavy DSLR camera with 20lbs worth of lenses?  Time will tell but I must say that its impressed me and my son so far just for its quality of photography and videography.

One last closing thought - I had an American Woodcock Peenting and Timberdoodling in South Cameron Woodlot --- My first of year on Feb 19th 2023 at about 6:45pm. This might be the earliest that I have seen one!

Good Birding


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