Saturday, June 15, 2013

Home in the Yard

Backyard, June 15, 2013
Today has been a lazy day of slowly getting caught up on house and yard work.  In the past several months, I seem to spend little time at home as birding has consumed most my free time since the beginning of this year.  Fortunately the yard  has somewhat taken care of itself due to my prior preparations.  I mulched the beds throughout last year and spring was late this year, so weeds have been kept at a minimum.  It is nice to see after years of planting trees and perennials, the yard is really starting to fill in, no longer looking like a sterile manicured wasteland.
Backyard, May 2005, pre-occupancy
Days like today allow some time to observe the wildlife and plants in our little semi-urban yard.  One of my favorite visitors, who has been more of a resident for several years is this Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel.  He visits our feeders almost daily taking safflower from the ground.  Today we saw him getting a more balanced diet which included safflower seeds, broadleaf plantain leaves (I hate this weed, so eat up!) and earthworms.

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel enjoying an earthworm

Pondering what to eat next...

Being outside most the day also allows us to observe what birds visit or flyover the yard.  While I typically find our yard birds rather mundane, our proximity to the Bark River does provide some variety with raptors, geese, shorebirds and ducks making flights over the house.  We don't keep an official yard list.  However today we did have our first ever Osprey pass over.  Our house is also close to a sizable Chimney Swift roost and there appears to be a reliable small population of Common Nighthawks in the area. Both these species are usually present daily in the warmer months. I've even once come home to find a Common Nighthawk roosting on our dormer.

Common Nighthawk

An evening in the yard usually ends with Common Nighthawks heard or seen overhead.  Tonight was no exception with three Common Nighthawks performing aerial displays and calling over the house before I retired for the evening.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Early June's Progression at Spring Green Preserve

Today was my third visit in nine days to Spring Green Preserve.  While Spring Green always holds the allure of it's unique desert prairie wildflowers, reptiles and amphibians, I have been frequenting this natural area more in recent days in hopes of spotting the male Blue Grosbeak originally reported by Daryl Tessen on May 28, 2013.  After two failed half-hearted attempts to locate the Blue Grosbeak earlier this month and another birder reporting the bird yesterday morning, I declared I was going to hold a Texas-style bird stakeout and find the Blue Grosbeak.  By "Texas-style" I was referring to how I've seen rare bird chases unfold on numerous occasions in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  One basically goes to a relatively small defined area where a rare bird is reported and patiently waits for the bird to appear.

Spring Green panorama from my stakeout location

So early this morning despite predictions of severe weather, I set out for Spring Green Preserve (map) arriving at 0730 prepared to wait for several hours until the bird made an appearance.  I located myself in the center southwest corner of the preserve waiting and watching in the rain.  I decided to do without the camp chair I brought since sitting in a puddle of rain on a chair seemed like a bad idea.  About an hour into my quest, I became restless and decided to walk the west edge of the property in the recently cleared area.
Prairie Smoke
As I was poking around, the rain had subsided, so it seemed a good time to get out my macro lens and photograph the Prairie Smoke and Slender Penstemon I had noticed along the western perimeter.  I then spotted a uniquely colored white spiderwort and was moving along to photograph this when I heard the full-sounding warbling finch-like song of the BLUE GROSBEAK that stopped me my tracks!
1st Summer Male Blue Grosbeak

I fumbled with my optics, surprised at myself for recognizing the song and quickly located the bird at some distance via binoculars.  It was perched atop a small oak.  Fumbling some more, I change my camera lens from macro to zoom, then quickly moved to getting my scope on the bird which seemed like an eternity to accomplish since the bird was moving around from tree top to tree top every few minutes.  I managed some documentation quality photos, video and sound recordings.  At some point, once I secured proof of my sighting, my hands went up in a touch down signal and a big grin spread across my face.  This will surely be my favorite bird of the year. It's a Wisconsin lifer for me and just an all around appealing bird dressed in complimentary colors of blue with a hint of orange. I watched the bird for 30 minutes as it worked the circle of oaks, flew to a snag and a pine tree, all the while singing.  Then just like that, it disappeared back into the scattering of small oaks and went silent for the remainder of my 7+ hour visit to Spring Green Preserve.

Six-lined Racerunner
While the Blue Grosbeak was certainly the highlight of my trip, the encore of encounters with a Six-lined Racerunner, a Big Sand Tiger Beetle and a very cooperative Grasshopper Sparrow made for a fabulous day of nature study.

Big Sand Tiger Beetle

Grasshopper Sparrow carrying food

I was also eager to return to the preserve to further witness the progression of wild flower blooms that had sparked my curiosity during my June 4th and June 8th visits.  It's amazing how rapidly the landscape at the preserve has changed in a mere 9 nine days.  

Prairie False Dandelion

Among the many interesting flowers present during my June 4th visit, the uniquely arrayed  spent blooms of the Prairie False Dandelions stood out as fluffy dots across the landscape against the green and red palate of grasses and forbes.  Also accenting this scene were the purple and brilliant yellow of Common Spiderwort and Hoary Puccoon. 

On this first visit of the season, I had arrived during a light rain to find much the foliage and flowers brilliantly kissed with rain droplets. 
Rain-kissed Oak Leaf

Common Spiderwort
Hoary Frostweed
Also on this date, I found just one Penstemon grandiflorus starting to bloom. However by June 8th multiple plants were in peak bloom, and today spent blooms were starting to fall from the plants.

Large Penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus)
Similarly the Hoary Puccoon, while still brilliantly present in healthy florets, were now starting to senesce in small numbers.  

Hoary Puccoon

Lyre-leaved Rock-Cress
During my second visit on June 8th, the Lyre-leaved Rock-cress and Blue Toadflax appeared to be peaking with sprays of flowers creating white and purple washes across the sand prairie palate. However today, in just 4 days passing, I noticed the presence of these two species had diminished significantly.
Blue Toadflax

Most remarkable, during my June 8th visit, was the discovery of a stunning magenta flower I had never seen before, Venus'-Looking-Glass.  I quickly fell in love with this plant.  The Venus' were just starting to flower and were a great impetus in my desire to return and behold how the landscape would evolve with magenta washed across it. Since these flowers have yet to peak, I'm hoping to make another return trip to witness a scene I can only imagine.

Venus'-Looking Glass
Venus'-Looking Glass

Venus'-Looking Glass amid the grasses and forbes

Also on June 8th, I took note of the St. John's Wort that had just started to emerge.  By today's visit these yellow flowers were bursting in every direction I gazed. 
St. John's Wort, landscape view
St. John's Wort

And so it goes, as the blooms of one species senesce, other flowers take over like an ever-changing symphony of colors rendering my senses quite satisfied.  I look forward to my next trip in hopes of adding some new desert creatures to my list this season!

Greater Goat's Beard
Grasshopper Sparrow carrying food