Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Cedar Waxwing

The cedar waxwing is found throughout the U.S., much of Canada and down into Central America. I've always wanted to see one because they have some unique visual characteristics. I got that opportunity at a bird blind in Caprock Canyons State Park in the Texas Panhandle. 
The cedar waxwing has a crest, a black mask bordered with white, a peachy brown head and chest, a pale yellow belly, a yellow tip on a dark tail, and red tips on the secondary feathers. 

Nutria - Texas

We've seen a nutria or coypu once before, in the Jordan River between Israel and Jordan. I've also cooked and eaten it once. We saw our second nutria recently in the Concho River which winds through San Angelo, Texas.  
I saw a large rodent swimming and was not sure if it was a beaver, a muskrat or even an otter. The thought of a nutria didn't even cross my mind. We followed it around a bend and found it standing on the edge of the river and it allowed us to get quite close to it. 
It did not have the paddle tail of a beaver, the shape of an otter and it was much too large for a muskrat. Judy announced it was a nutria. She was right. After we got some close-up photos, the nutria plunged back into the river and quickly swam across toward the far bank. 

Monday, March 29, 2021


While in San Angelo State Park, just west of the center of Texas, I saw a bird that I thought was a female cardinal. It had the same brown feathers with red highlights. 
Later, after spending time at an area with a number of different bird feeders, I set out for the car following the wrong trail (going the opposite direction). Then when the car didn't come, I realized I must have taken the wrong trail and self-corrected, going cross-country in a slightly different direction and going even further away from the car. To make a long story short, I finally got an idea of the correct direction and set out again. During that walk I saw two birds that were kind of stalky looking with a crest. I assumed they were Bohemian waxwings, a bird I'd never seen before. Only after getting home and looking at my photos did I learn that they were pyrrhuloxia, and that the birds I'd seen earlier and thought were female cardinals were pyrrhuloxia as well. 

The main visual differences between the pyrrhuloxia and female cardinal is that the pyrruloxia has a yellow bill, gray plumage and a more massive parrot-like bill (which Wikipedia says is "diagnositic"), while the female cardinal has a smaller red bill and a more brown plumage. 
This is a female northern cardinal I saw in Caprock Canyon.

This is a female pyrrhuloxia I saw in San Angelo SP while I was lost. 

This is a male pyrrhuloxia. 
Actually, the pyrrhuloxia is one of three different species of cardinal and is also known as the "desert cardinal" as it is found in the southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, as well as the woodland edges of Mexico (see the map below, from Wikipedia). In addition to the northern cardinal, the cardinal we think of by that term, there is a vermilion cardinal found in Colombia and Venezuela. 
The male pyrrhuloxia has a red face mask and a red belly stripe which the female lacks. The male below is stunningly beautiful. It appears that males vary in terms of how red the belly stripe and face mask are. The one below is very red while other photos I've seen of males have substantially less red and are identified as male. 

I'd seen the name "pyrrhuloxia" before, but didn't have any recollection of what it looked like. This was another fun find from our trip to Texas. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Northern Cardinal - Texas

I've previously posted on the Florida cardinal, one of 19 subspecies of the northern cardinal. We recently visited Texas which has two subspecies of the northern cardinal: (a) the Louisiana cardinal, found in south Texas north to central Oklahoma, east to southern Arkansas, and east and south to southwestern Mississippi and Louisiana; and (b) the gray-tailed cardinal, found in western Oklahoma, central and western Texas, south to central and eastern Mexico. I don't have enough information to determine which subspecies we saw. 
This partial distribution map of the northern cardinal is from Wikipedia (the range extends into South America). 
We saw quite a few cardinals on the trip. In Caprock Canyons State Park, near Quitaque, a spent some time at a bird feeder near a small lake and saw at least three cardinals. 
First I saw a female which is more subdued in its coloring, but still very beautiful. 

Next I saw a male with the bright red head, but a much more washed-out gray color on the back and tail (but as I look closer, particularly at one of the photos below, I'm wondering if it may be how the light is hitting the back).  

Finally, we saw a very bright male that took our breath away. Very beautiful. 

Near a bird feeder in San Angelo State Park outside San Angelo I saw another male cardinal. I got quite close to it and it flew to several trees very near me. 

We saw a male and female cardinal along the Concho River Walk in San Angelo. I need to work on my photos and insert them later. 

We also saw several male cardinals at Doeskin Ranch, part of Balcones Canyonlands NWR outside of Marble Falls. However, none of my photos are very good. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker

The golden-fronted woodpecker is found in portions of Texas and Oklahoma in the U.S., then south through portions of Mexico and into Central America. In the U.S. it is found in mesquite woodlands near water. 
Distribution from Wikipedia
Its back and wings are barred black and white and it has a tan breast. Males have a yellow spot in front of their eyes, a red crown and a yellow-orange nape. On northern birds the lower belly is yellow. 
This one, found in Caprock Canyons, has a yellow lower belly. 

This photo shows the black barring on the back and wings. 
There are four subspecies that differ in size, color of the nape, nasal tufts and belly. On southern birds the nape is red in the Yucatan and orange further south. 

They eat as much fruit and nuts as insects. In Texas, in the summer, the faces of some are stained purple from eating fruit of the prickly pear cactus. 

I saw my first one at Caprock Canyon State Park near a bird feeder. At first I thought it was a flicker, but then was confused by the yellow on the head. 

Later I saw another one at San Angelo State Park, also near a bird feeder. I first saw it in a tree, then it later flew to the bird feeder where it spent quite a bit of time feeding. 

This one also has yellow in the lower belly. 

This one in San Angelo State Park flew to the bird feeder and I got it in flight. Note the yellow in front of the eyes. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Northern Bobwhite

The northern bobwhite is also known as the bobwhite quail and Virginia quail. I recently saw my first one in San Angelo State Park outside of San Angelo, Texas and it about took my breath away. The bold white head with black eye stripe and black neck ring jumps right out at you, then the beautiful plump body consisting of very different patterns and variations of brown are striking. 

I was at an area with several bird feeders and was able to watch it quite awhile and get very close photos. 

The bobwhite is found in the eastern and mid-U.S., portions of Mexico and parts of the Caribbean. There are 23 subspecies, 3 of which are found in Texas and I can't find enough about the subspecies to help determine which subspecies I saw. 
While Judy and I were walking in Balcones Canyonlands NWR we flushed a covey of about 12 quail which may have been bobwhites, but I didn't get enough of a look at them to confirm. 

Blue Jay

I saw my first blue jay on Wednesday on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol Building in Austin. I was blown away by the size and the striking blues, compared to the scrub jays we have in California. 
I saw another one the next day in McKinney State Park outside of Austin near the Upper Falls, although my photos are not as clear. 

It is found in the eastern and central U.S. and up into southern Canada. According to Wikipedia it has a crest on its head which it can raise and lower.  The plumage is lavender-blue to mid-blue on the crest, back, wings and tail and the neck is necklaced with black which extends to the side of the head. The wing primaries are barred with black, sky-blue and white. 

I was particularly taken by the blues and whites on the wings.