6th of December 2013.

Draycote Reservoir.

Species seen 25.

A very swift visit at lunch time with a hope of seeing the reported Great Northern Diver proved fruitful in seeing the immature bird just before the Farborough spit. While walking back I also had sightings of a distant Long Tailed Duck, Red Breasted Merganser, Goosanders, plus many Great Crested Grebes and three Little Grebes.

Upon leaving the car park the trees lining the country park were host to many Redwing. Today was by far my shortest visit, however a good one for year ticks!

26th of October 2013.

Pitsford Reservoir.

Following recent Twitter reports of Great White Egrets at Pitsford Reservoir, I decided to take an afternoon drive and managed a few hours before it began to get dark. Upon arriving at the causeway, I scanned the banks and quickly saw my first one in the good company of a Grey Heron and a Little Egret. A long record shot was my first instinct in case they decided to go their separate ways. As luck would have it the trio stayed together long enough for me to make my way to the fishing boats jetty area. With the fisherman's shed providing perfect cover between me and the birds (ensuring I did not disturb them) I simply stepped to the right and snapped the following record shots!

Later as the Great White Egret made its way to the far bank it was continuously mobbed by Carrion and when finally finding a bank away from the Crows, the bird was then assaulted by a Grey Heron!

As I scoped the area the following birds were also seen, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Wigeon, Mallard, Shoveler,Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Pheasant, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Buzzard, Moorhen, Coot, Lapwing, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Feral Pigeon, Wood pigeon, Jay, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Wren, Blackbird and Starling.

5th of October 2013.

Lundy Island.

Species seen 40.

Arriving at the Ilfracombe Landmark Shore Office at 09.00am I collected my ticket and soon boarded the MS Oldenburg on a beautiful warm and sunny Autumnal morning. Today I had the privilege to represent Marine Life as a Lundy Wildlife Officer for the trip. Black Headed and Herring Gulls, Pied Wagtails and a single Green Woodpecker were seen while the crew made ready for leaving.

We slipped our berth from Ilfracombe harbour and were soon out and heading westwards towards Lundy. The sea state was calm with a gentle breeze.
Once the ship was under way I made my way around the decks introducing myself to many of the passengers and offered assistance on passage for Marine and Bird species identification. I also let many know what they could expect to see on Lundy.

Sadly there were no Cetaceans seen during the outward and return journeys.

Birds during both sea crossings were Gannet, Great Skua, Oystercatcher, Great Black Backed Gull, Lesser Back Backed Gull, Black Headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Cormorant, Shag, Goldfinch, Linnet, Swallow, Curlew and Little Egret.

While walking on Lundy to half way wall gave sightings of hundreds of Swallows feeding over the fields. I spent some considerable time sea watching between “Needle Rock” and “Devils Chimney” a fabulous spot for lunch and to also watch for sea animals. Birds seen were Raven, Carrion Crow, House Sparrow, Starling, Linnet, Wheatear, Goldfinch, Robin, Spotted Flycatcher, Wren, Pied Wagtail, Goldcrest, Willow Warbler, Dunnock, Wren, Blue Tit, Kittiwake, Cormorant, Meadow Pipit and Skylark.

Animals encountered on the Island were Highland Cattle, Wild Goats and Lundy Ponies.

Marine animals were two Grey Seal pups resting on one of the beaches.This one was located while returning to the landing bay.

Due to the tide we returned and arrived in Bideford at 18.00 hours while sailing on the estuary species seen were Redshank, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Black Tailed Godwit, as well as the usual Gulls.

I thanked the Captain and crew of MS Oldenburg for their help and assistance while onboard, birding from the bridge of a ship is really a great way to spend the crossing and I look forward to being able to do it again next season.

Aranuac National Wildlife Refuge – Texas.

Species seen 72.

My last full day in Texas and a second visit to the Refuge was a very enjoyable one as we met up with Colin Shields a volunteer ranger from the UK whom I met at this year’s Birdfair at Rutland Water. We had an interesting day, with Colin sharing his local familiarity about the birds and the history of the area. It turned out to be a fantastic day with Colin’s knowledge and guiding us to good spots, plus with us providing the air conditioned transport, made for a brilliant days birding.

With my FiancĂ©e chauffeuring us around we all soon started to clock up the species very quickly. On one of the Galveston headlands is the Smiths Point Hawkwatch bird observatory tower. This is a 30 foot tower overlooking the sea and trees on the Gulf Coast. Here we met Tony Leukering a volunteer observer who’s knowledge of the hawks going through was very impressive. There is a link to here in my section of who I follow.

Hawks and Vultures seen here and in the area were Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Common Nighthawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Crested Caracara, Mississippi Kite, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk and White Tailed Kite.

Taking in the bay waterfronts we saw Black, Forster’s, Royal, and Sandwich Terns. Willet, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Magnificent Frigatebird, Green Heron,
Laughing Gull, Brown Pelican and American Oystercatcher.

Moving inland and stopping at numerous small pools gave us sightings of many other birds. American Coot, Anhinga, Baltimore Oriole, Bank Swallow, Bank/Sand Martin, Black Bellied Whistling Duck, Black crowned Night Heron, Black Necked stilt, Blue Gosbeak, Blue Jay, Blue-winged Teal, Brown-headed Cowbird, Carolina Chickadee, Cattle Egret,

Clapper Rail, Cliff Swallow, Common Grackle, Common Moorhen, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird, Eurasian Collared Dove, European Starling, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Great Blue Heron, Great White Egret, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Little Blue Heron, Loggerhead Shrike, Mourning Dove, Neotropic Cormorant, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Pied-billed Grebe (with chicks) Purple Gallinule, Purple Martin, Red-winged Blackbird, 

Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Snowy Egret, Spotted Sandpiper, Tricoloured Heron, White Ibis, White-winged Dove, Wood Stork and Yellow Crowned Night Heron.
Before leaving the refuge we went in search of Kingfishers as “Belted” was on my wish list. 

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any, however as with all the places visited, there is always a chance of seeing Alligators and here was no exception with two lying together on a bank.

On leaving to return to Houston we boarded the Galveston ferry for the last time and again saw Dolphins during the crossing along with Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull and Black Terns. The last bird 

of note was an Osprey, the perfect end to a memorable days birding. Sadly this was the end to our trip as we heading back to the UK the following day. I will certainly be planning another trip sometime in the future which will be around April time to see the many migrants that visit the Gulf Coast.

Hummingbirds from the Smiths Point Tower.

Brazos Bend State Park – West of Houston – Texas.

Species seen 20.

Possible severe weather warnings for today’s exploring kept us within 40m miles of the apartment.  Like the local Houstonians we’ve followed the Weather Channel on TV every day for updates of possible hurricanes, flash flooding and lightening warnings. We managed to visit Brazos Bend State Park before the rain started late in the afternoon.

Upon arriving a visit to the visitors                       centre was very interesting as they had live reptiles on show which included the two snakes that in Texas are to be avoided (Texas Coral and Copperhead). An exhibition on Alligators and what to do if you come across one proved invaluable later in the afternoon.

Leaving the centre we ventured out in to the park and walked a mile around a small lake, here were, Great White, Little and Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, Little Blue, Green, Tricolour, Great Blue Heron. Black Bellied Whistling Ducks and Moorhens had chicks in tow. American Coot is not so plentiful here as I only managed three in the whole park.

Walking through woodland gave up Downy Woodpecker, Common Grackle and Field Sparrow. Upon walking in the open park the sky above had five Turkey Vultures circling on thermals. A look at the surrounding tree tops also produced two Black Vultures.

As we approached a lily covered swamp many of the birds were very easy to spot, Wood Duck and Moorhen on the water, Little Egret, Tricoloured and Green Heron on the lily pads. Anhinga, Cormorant and White Ibis were all perched within the swamp trees. However lurking within the lilies were young alligators two were seen briefly before we moved off to walk around the large lake. Along the way were American Crow and a great many Common Grackles. Feeding on the grass were Fox Squirrels and Cattle Egrets patrolled the area looking out of sorts. While walking around the lake there was a small creek running parallel for about a quarter of a mile on one side, this was covered in vegetation with Black Bellied Whistling Ducks, Little Egrets and Moorhens, suddenly a huge splash and crash had me jumping out of my skin as a young Alligator jumped forward from under the lily pads towards one of the ducks, it missed and the duck didn’t become lunch for this small Gator.

Walking further and still a little twitchy due to the recent fright from the small gator, we noticed the bushes moving and from within in what appeared to be slow motion, a huge Alligator appeared and walked towards where we were! All the gators seen so far on this trip have been no longer that six feet long, the full adult was a lot bigger and this one may have been at least eight to nine feet long?

After the encounter trying to keep focused on the birds was almost impossible as my thoughts were very much on perhaps meeting another big gator!

A fantastic day and one I’ll not forget in a hurry.

Houston Audubon Society HQ – Edith L. Moore Sanctuary.

Species seen 14.

Visiting the main headquarters for the Houston Audubon Society was almost like going in to a furnace as the heat was very intense and therefore we stayed for only a few hours.

Following a chat with the staff in the office we proceeded to take a look around this small sanctuary. The location is set within a housing estate with a small creek running through and is right on the verge of a major road.

Birds of note seen were Mourning, White Tipped and Common Ground Doves.  All the trees and shrubs had many Red Cardinals as well as Blue Jays.

Three species of Woodpecker were easily located due to drumming and sometimes at just above head height! First was Red Bellied Woodpecker followed by Downy and Northern Flicker.

Also seen were American Robins in good numbers and after following a small wren like bird through the trees above the creek I soon had sight of a Marsh Wren.

Before leaving we spent half an hour sitting near the feeders which gave us Carolina Chickadee, House Sparrow, House Finch and many Ruby Throated Hummingbirds.

Also seen were Red Eared Slider Turtle, Coral Snake, Western Cottonmouth Snake, Common Skink, Green Anole, Fox Squirrel and Swamp Rabbit. As with many places we’ve visited there was a great deal of Gulf Fritillary Butterflies.

Bolivar Peninsular – Gulf of Mexico.

Species seen 14.

Taking a stop at the Bolivar Peninsular Wildlife Refuge was an interesting hours birding as at one end you have the beach and lots of people enjoying the beach and sea for the day and a little way inland there is grassed and marshland areas with plenty of birds on view.

The first birds of note were Willet and Reddish Egret taking fish from the sea.  High above and diving were Brown Pelicans and scattered along the beach were Laughing gulls. 

Moving back from the beach towards the marshes gave great views of Black Tailed Stilt, Least Sandpiper, Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs,Semipalmated Plover, Bar Tailed Godwit, Little Egret,Great White Egret, White Ibis, European Starling and American Black Ducks.

A brief time was spent here; however, I got two lifers which made the stop off even better! Here a few other shots from the visit.

Upon returning to our apartment this Ruby Throated Hummingbird visited our feeder, not great, but a record shot at least!