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Saturday, January 4, 2014

A new year of birding

I like to start each new year with a day of birding. For the past several years, it has been our family tradition to visit Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on New Year's Day - or as close to New Year's Day as we can manage. This year, we decided to stay a bit closer to home with a trip to Katy Prairie and particularly to Paul D. Rushing Park on the prairie.

Hubby and I had planned to go on New Year's Day, but a minor household emergency caused us to postpone the trip. We finally managed to get out there yesterday and spent a good part of the day looking for birds. It was a fairly successful adventure. The photography was a bit less successful.

Most of our time was spent at Rushing Park, which is a marvelous facility. If you live anywhere in the area and have not visited the park to see its birds, you really should make the effort to do so this year. You will be well-rewarded.

While following the Chain of Lakes around the park, we took over 200 photographs, but most of them, frankly, were crap. We had the bright early morning and mid-morning sun in our eyes everywhere we walked and it was hard to get a good angle on the birds with our cameras. Here are some of our better efforts.

 The first bird to greet us at the parking lot was the ubiquitous Northern Mockingbird.

In the meadows, the Eastern Meadowlark was plentiful.

And at the edges of the lakes and waterways, the little Killdeer was ever-present.

This somewhat backlit Loggerhead Shrike was perusing the short grass beneath this barbed wire, looking for a likely meal.

 I always have trouble identifying sparrows, especially those from the genus Melospiza or Passerculus. But this one, I think, is a Savannah, based on its yellow lores.

 After some consideration, I decided this one was a Song Sparrow.

 And this one? A Lincoln's, maybe?

Telling a Greater Yellowlegs from a Lesser Yellowlegs can also be problematic, but I think this is the Greater, based on the proportions of the bill. Both were present in the park this day.

 These may not look like White Ibises but in a few months, they will be snowy white.

No doubt about this identification. It's a Great Egret. There were plenty of Snowies around as well, and we saw three Great Blue Herons but I was unable to get a usable picture of them.

We saw both the American Pipit and the Sprague's Pipit at the park. The ones with the plain backs are the Americans and the ones with the striped backs are the Sprague's. This high stepper is an American.

 As always, there were plenty of American Coots around. Definitely not an endangered species!

 There were also lots of Mallards.

The male American Widgeon is one of the prettier ducks, I think.

 And the Gadwall is definitely one of the plainer ones.

 We saw plenty of Northern Pintails.

 And lots of Canvasbacks.

 Here are a couple of Canvasbacks having their nap.

I watched an American Kestrel hunting above a meadow on Longenbaugh Road. The bird hovered for what seemed like minutes, hanging above the field. Then it dropped like a stone to the the grass below and rose with some small creature in its talons - most likely a mouse or vole. It carried its meal to the top of this utility pole where it proceeded to dismember it. The kestrel is a deadly hunter and also one of the prettiest members of the falcon family.

After several hours on the prairie on a cold, cold but brilliantly sunny winter day, we decided to call it quits even though I hadn't seen all the birds that I had hoped to see. It was a good start and there will be other days of birding. Maybe even a trip to Anahuac sometime soon.

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