Birds of the Texas Gulf Coat – Laughing Gull

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Laughing Gull – Galveston Ferry Crossing, TX

When traveling to a new location it is always interesting to see what gull species is the local equivalent to our Ring-billed Gull.  In the case of the Texas gulf coast, that is definitely the Laughing Gull.  We found that a really great place to see hundreds at great distance is the ferry ride between the Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston.  Be sure to check the water as well as the skies if you take this 20 minute boat ride.  Steve and I were able to spot a bottlenose dolphin or two during the crossing.

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Laughing Gull – Anahuac NWR, TX

After hearing their vocalizations for quite a long period, we can say this species is quite aptly named!

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Laughing Gull, Anahuac NWR, TX

In summer plumage, this is obviously one of the easier gulls to identify.  Largest of the hooded gulls, with red bill, legs and feet, slate-colored back and black primaries.

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Laughing Gulls, East End Lagoon Preserve, TX
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Birds of the Texas Gulf Coast – Black Skimmer

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Black Skimmer – Skimming – East End Lagoon Preserve, Texas

Coastal bird photographers, particularly those who have access to areas highly trafficked by humans, have really got things easy.  We were consistently surprised at how much luck we had getting close enough to our subjects – and this was with visiting these locations for the first time.  I can’t imagine the fun to be had with some time, experience and practice.

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Black Skimmer – Houston Audubon Society – Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary, Texas

The Black Skimmer just may be one of the perfect targets for the bird photographer.  The species is colorful and contrasty, which is so nice for autofocus.  This species is rather large.  It prefers to spend time in groups that enable the photographer to capture interesting social behaviors.  If you are lucky enough to be at the right time and place, the chicks are unbelievably cute.  And, if that isn’t enough, they of course have their namesake feeding behavior that can be seen in the image at the top of this post.

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Black Skimmer – Houston Audubon Society – Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary, Texas

Closely related to the gulls, auks and waders, the skimmers are in the small family – Rynchopidae (roughly translated to beak-faced).

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Black Skimmer – Houston Audubon Society – Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary, Texas

If you inadvertently flush a group, don’t give up or chase.  Skimmers have favorite resting places and will often settle to the same stretch from which they flushed.

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Black Skimmer – Houston Audubon Society – Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary, Texas

Until next time…
-OZB

Birds of the Texas Gulf Coast – White-tailed Hawk

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White-tailed Hawk – Fort Bend County, TX

This stunning and large buteo is often seen with the last Texas gulf coast bird featured, the White-tailed Kite.  This was one of the birds that Steve and I got a big kick out of finding.  Although common and abundant over much of its range in the Americas, the White-tailed Hawk can only be found along the Texas coast and the Rio Grande Valley within the United States.  I was doubly fortunate to be able to find another perched in a tree in Fort Bend County when my New-Englander friend, Sam, and I came across it during a few precious hours birding following several hectic days on the job.

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White-tailed Hawk, San Bernard NWR, TX

White-tailed Hawks are birds of the air.  Pete Dunne (Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion) suggests that the species is most often spotted in the air.  Steve and I first located a pair at San Bernard NWR on an island of trees within coastal prairie.  I paid the price by taking a number of fire ant bites by wading through the prairie trying to get a bit closer.  We watched as the pair eventual flushed and rose higher and higher on the coastal thermals, eventually rising to a height where they were almost invisible to the naked eye.  Once spotted in the air, there is no mistaking this species with any other bird, with contrasting white body with black-edged wings and striped tail.

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White-tailed Hawk – Fort Bend County, TX

Until next time…
-OZB

Birds of the Texas Gulf Coast – White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite - Accipitridae - Elanus leucurus - Surfside Beach, Texas
White-tailed Kite – Accipitridae – Elanus leucurus – Surfside Beach, Texas

A lifer for both Steve and me, we found this White-tailed Kite along a depressingly narrow strip of native habitat that stretched between private beaches and housing/commercial development.

 

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White-tailed Kite – Accipitridae – Elanus leucurus – Surfside Beach, Texas

 

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White-tailed Kite – Accipitridae – Elanus leucurus – Surfside Beach, Texas

Birds of the Texas Gulf Coast – Cowbirds

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Bronzed Cowbird – Icteridae – Molothrus  aeneus – Anahuac NWR, TX.

Of course, going to a new region for birding is great for finding those species that you have long-anticipated being able to see.  In the Texas gulf coast region the Roseate Spoonbill, the Tri-colored Heron, the Crested Caracara and quite a few others can be fit into this category.  I have done enough of this type of birding now to get just as excited by the surprises – finding the species I wasn’t expecting, or had not even heard of.  The Bronzed Cowbird was one such species during our trip in May.

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Bronzed Cowbird – Icteridae – Molothrus aeneus – Anahuac NWR, TX.

And the way we got to see this bird for the first time, by performing this hovering display for the ladies, was quite memorable.  He kept this position – not moving his head from the chain-link section seen  here for several seconds.  Check out the bright red iris on these guys.

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Still Performing – Bronzed Cowbird – Icteridae – Molothrus aeneus – Anahuac NWR, TX.

We also saw a few of the more common Brown-headed Cowbirds.  It was nice seeing them in open habitat where they actually belonged and not reeking havoc in the fragmented forests back home.

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Brown-headed Cowbird – Icteridae – Molothrus ater – Anahuac NWR, TX.

-OZB

Birds of the Texas Gulf Coast – Common Nighthawk

The Nighthawks were abundant and cooperative during our visit to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

Common Nighthawk - Caprimulgidae - Chordeiles minor - Anahuac NWR, TX.
Common Nighthawk – Caprimulgidae – Chordeiles minor – Anahuac NWR, TX.

 

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Common Nighthawk – Caprimulgidae – Chordeiles minor – Anahuac NWR, TX.

 

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Common Nighthawk – Caprimulgidae – Chordeiles minor – Anahuac NWR, TX.

Birds of the Texas Gulf Coast

A few birds from our birding trip to the Texas gulf coast during May 2016.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Tyrannidae - Tyrannus forficatus. East End Lagoon Preserve, Galveston TX.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – Tyrannidae – Tyrannus forficatus. East End Lagoon Preserve, Galveston TX.

 

Swainsons Hawk - Accipitridae - Buteo swainsoni. Anahuac NWR, TX.
Swainsons Hawk – Accipitridae – Buteo swainsoni. Anahuac NWR, TX.

 

Purple Gallinule - Rallidae - Porphyrio martinica. Anahuac NWR, TX.
Purple Gallinule – Rallidae – Porphyrio martinica. Anahuac NWR, TX.