Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fall Migration Recap 2011

No year of fall migration in central Texas has been memorable. This year, however has been an exception

I first noticed fall migrants in late August, which is earlier than i can ever recall. Wilson Warbler's were the first bird i noticed, and saw a pair in my yard. Seeing the early arrival of warblers, i decided to go down to my local birding hotspot, Laguna Gloria. Over the years I have seen an astonishing 184 species of birds at Laguna, and 30 species of warbler. My first week of fall birding was relatively show, with Wilson's, Yellow, Mourning, and Black-and-White Warblers.

Wilson's Warbler

The second week i birded during fall migration was much more eventful. Highlights were two new birds for Laguna, Ringed Kingfisher and MacGillavry's Warbler. The MacGillavry's Warbler was a juvenile bird that stuck around for a few days, where as the Ringed Kingfisher showed itself sporadically for the whole month of September. Another good bird for fall was an Olive-sided Flycatcher.
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Baltimore Orioles also moved in in strong numbers, and Wilson's and Yellow Warblers were present by the dozens every day. Other warblers were Mourning, MacGillavry's, Black-and-White, Black-throated Green, Northern Parula, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush, and American Redstart

The week of 11-17 was my most exciting week, the most exciting birds being the continuing Ringed Kingfisher, Prothonotary Warbler, and Louisiana Waterthrush.

On Monday the 12th, the Prothonotary Warbler showed himself, along with a Northern Waterthrush.
Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Northern Waterthrush
Other birds of the week were several "Traill's Flycatchers" (unidentified Willow or Alder), one confirmed Willow, and a Least Flycatcher. Warbler included Yellow, Wilson's, Black-throated Green, American Redstart, Mourning, Canada, and Magnolia.

On Thursday the 15th, while in English class, I was going back and forth between Facebook and Texbirds. As my teacher was explaining the symbolism in Things Fall Apart, I was browsing Texabirds. Then I saw it: Red-neck Phalarope at Hornsby Bend. YESSSS!!!! Four times I've chased a Red-necked Phalarope and four times I failed. But this time I wasn't going to let that happen. I excused my self to the restroom, where I texted my mom.  She said she could take me Friday morning. Thank God for Faculty In-Service Days.
We got up early the next morning and drove out to Hornsby. I wanted to make it back with enough time to make it to Austin City Limits Music Festival, so we drove past Ponds 1E and 1W. We stopped on the dike road, bordering Pond 2 and Ponds 1 E and W where the phalarope was originally seen. No phalarope, but Yellow Warblers covered the willow and Palo Verde trees along the dike, I estimated 150. (other birders estimated into the 300s!). Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and Wilson's Warblers were present in smaller numbers as well.
Yellow Warbler

On the other side of the road in pond 1W were some close peeps. Most were Least Sandpipers, but I managed to pick out a western. Scanning with the scope yielded two Pectoral Sandpipers, a Baird's, and several Semipalmated Sandpipers, but the distance was to far for any pictures
From left to right: Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpipers and Kildeer (largest, brown bird)

Western Sandpiper (lowest) and Least Sandpiper (upper)

We drove down the road to the northwest corner of Pond 2, and found a very reassuring sight: other birders. After asking around, they has seen the bird, but haven't seen it in 30 minutes. Great. Repeat of last time. Walking down the road i saw 4 phalarope feeding. Good! The Red-necked had been seen with three Wilson's. "Got it!" One birder shouted. I then saw the smaller, stockier bird with a needle like bill and a black eye patch. Bingo. Lifer, ABA and World 502. Cha-ching!!! The group came closer to shore, and I got some photos. They really don't do justice of how great of looks the bird generously offered us.
Red-necked Phalarope (center) and Wilson's Phalarope

Red-necked and Wilson's Phalaropes

Wilson's and Red-necked Phalarope

Red-necked Phalarope

Red-necked (center) and Wilson's Phalarope

What a phenomenal bird! Just in time for ACL too. A life bird and live music, now that's what I call a damn good day! As we drove out, a Cave Swallows was a nice treat.
Cave Swallow (on wire) and Barn Swallow

The week of September 18th-24th yield more excitement, with one 12 warbler species day. Of course this is the day my camera runs out of battery. I'm sure the rage that followed scared off some birds as well.
My twelve warble day consisted of:
Nashville Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Mourning Warbler
Canada Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush
Magnolia Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
American Redstart
This is the one shot I was able to snap of a Mourning Warbler before my camera lost power.
Mourning Warbler 

Empids (Least, Willow, Yellow-bellied, and one calling Alder) were nice treat. Of course, most of the empids were unidentifiable.

The week of the 25th-31st yielded more of the same, sans the invasion of Clay-colored Sparrows upon Austin. But some how I didn't get a good shot of one. Go figure. Least Flycatchers outnumbered any other Empid. Another bird that descended in huge numbers into the Austin area where House Wrens.

House Wren

Some interesting reptile showed themselves at Laguna Gloria as well, including a Gulf Coast Toad, Blotched Water Snake, and a Texas Spiny Lizard.
Gulf Coast Toad, Anaxyrus nebulifer

Blotched Water Snake, Nerodia erythrogaster

Texas Spiny Lizard, Sceloporus olivaceous

Several Least Flycatcher's continued moving through.
Least Flycatcher

With fall migration slowly winding down, I decided against my normal daily birding at Laguna Gloria, and instead went to the Sunset Valley Retention Ponds. Quite a fancy name for two ponds behind a Petsmart. But this is a great spot, hosting two southern birds as nesters: Black-bellied Whistling Duck and Least Grebe. Both showed very well. 
Black-bellied Whistling Duck with chicks

Black-bellied Whistling Duck and Least Grebes

Juvenile Least Grebes

adult Least Grebe

juvenile Least Grebes

Black-bellied Whistling Duck 

adult Least Grebe

Least Grebe

Also, two fantastic dragonflies were at the ponds, a Blue-eyed Darner (rare in the Austin area) and a Thornbush Dasher
Blue-eyed Darner

Thornbush Dasher

October always represents the wind up of fall migration. Strong numbers of Common Grackles provided a nice relief from the ubiquitous Great-tailed Grackles. A Bewick's Wren at Laguna Gloria was a surprising find, as was a Sora. Nashville Warblers became the most prevalent, but a few lagging Mourning Warblers stuck around.  A linger Great-crested Flycatcher was also hanging out at Laguna. A Vesper's Sparrow and a kettle of Swainson's Hawks made for more October treats. 

Common Grackle

Bewick's Wren

Common Grackle

Great-crested Flycatcher


Vesper Sparrow

kettle of Swainson's Hawks

Nashville Warbler
Winter birding is coming up, and I can't wait to see what winter 2011-2012 holds in store!


  1. Sam,

    Great post. I enjoyed reading about it. Here is a link to my most recent post on my blog:

    Congrats on the RNPH!

    Nathan Goldberg

  2. thanks bro. yeah i saw you blog, good stuff.....gaaah sabines gull!!!!!