The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Spring is a Good Time to Add Yard-Birds
Ro Wauer, April 1, 2004, The Victoria Advocate, © 2004

March 2004 was a good month for yard-birds. I recorded far more warblers in my yard than usual. And one - a worm-eating warbler - represented a totally new yard species, making my yard bird list at 170 species. This warbler is a subtly beautiful little bird with a yellowish breast and head with black streaks running from the bill to the nape. It spent only a few minutes in my yard, drinking at a birdbath and hunting insects in my live oaks. I could not help but remember earlier sightings in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It nests there along rhododendron dominated streams. And, although my yard-bird was silent, I could not help but remember its high-pitched trilling song, arising out of the Smoky Mountains thicket.

March was also a good month for several other warblers. Northern Parulas were especially numerous, and their songs were evident throughout much of the daylight hours. This is a tiny little warbler with a yellow breast, crossed with a blackish and reddish band, and yellow-green back. Its song is very distinct, a rising trill, ending with an abrupt zip.

Yellow-throated warblers were more numerous this year than usual; one or two individuals were present almost every day during the last half of the month. Several of those warblers sang partial songs, enough for me to recognize them even as they searched for insects in the upper canopy of my large live oaks. Other warblers found in March included orange-crowned, black-and-white, Nashville, and yellow-rumped. A few additional March migrating songbirds in my yard included numerous ruby-throated hummingbirds, lone blue-headed and red-eyed vireos, a couple summer tanagers, and an indigo bunting.

A day before finding the worm-eating warbler I recorded an additional new yard-bird, an adult bald eagle. That is, one flew directly over the house, giving a short scream as it flew northward to where it, assumedly, will spend the summer months. Since this large raptor nests in the Coastal Bend, it can be expected to return to our area in September or October.

And speaking of raptors, a friend (John Gee from Alpine), while camping at the Riverside RV Park, discovered a swallow-tailed kite along the Guadalupe River on March 20. I would love to have seen this large, graceful raptor, as it is a very rare migrant in coastal Texas. It nests in East Texas in the southern portion of the Pineywoods. Swallow-tailed kites are huge black-and-white birds with a four-foot wingspan and long swallow-like tails. Even the most ardent birder cannot help but be impressed with this wonderful creature.

But nevertheless, finding two new yard-birds so close together is extra special, especially since I did not find a single new yard-bird in all of 2003. Four species - pileolated woodpecker, black-throated blue and yellow warblers, and ovenbird - were added in 2002.

Although I no longer keep a "life list," a list of all birds identified everywhere, it is rather fun to maintain a yard-list, just to see how many species occurs in one tiny area over the years. My yard list was started in 1989. The first few dozen were little more than the resident and common migrant species that can be expected. But it is the unexpected species that are most exciting, like a bald eagle and worm-eating warbler. And March is only the start of the spring migration.

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