Hawks 0, Pelicans 1

For a couple of days, I have been trying to figure out what species of hawk it is that we keep seeing on the power poles along the highway lately.  We have been seeing dozens of them, and we think it probably is the red-tailed hawk based on which species are migrating in this time of year, although it could be a Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned.  The ones we are seeing have red-brown feathers with a white breast.  I’ve been reading about winter hawks online, and although I have come across some interesting information, it seemed that in order to truly identify what we are seeing, we were going to have to get out there with the binoculars and the camera.

I thought we might do that today, in a planned morning trip to Brazos Bend, but the weather turned cold and nasty, so we didn’t go to that park.  We did, however, have to leave the house for an extended errand across town, and I thought we might see the hawks there.  We didn’t see a single one though! It is just as well, because we forgot to bring those two critical tools mentioned beforehand.

We did do a little bit of exploring, though, on our way to and from our errand.  We stopped in Kitty Hollow Park on the southwest side of town to see the improvements that have been made there.  I actually had never been to this park, and J hadn’t been in ten years, during which time they have added the dog park and many other embellishments.  We walked through a grassy field to find a cache near the forest line, and I spied some killdeer and a flock of small black or brown birds.  I am not sure what they were, because J walked right through them and they scattered before I could make out anything distinctive about them.  Probably they were nothing more than the common grackle, which we spied later in their more typical parking lot surroundings.

On the way home from our errand, we stopped at the retention ponds on the west side of Fiorenza Park, in between Highway 6 and Eldridge.  We headed for the dead end of Schiller Road from Highway 6, because we had seen huge white birds in the ponds.  We wanted to see if our guess was right about those being American White Pelicans.  Even without the binoculars, it is clear that is what we were looking at.  There were so many of them!  This species is a winter migrant, and by summer, will be out north and west in places like the Great Salt Lake.  If we stick to our vacation saving plan, maybe we will see them there on our next road trip ;-).

The pelicans surrounded a larger flock of smaller birds that were white and brown ringed with black accents.  We thought at first those were their babies, but I am learning some facts about pelicans that might change our minds.  They breed in March-April, and the young seem to resemble them or be gray with dark brown.  The family groups separate by the fall.  It might have been a species that has a symbiotic relationship with the pelicans.  The pelicans have a peculiar feeding technique that involves gathering in a circle and beating their wings to “herd” fish, making them easier to grab.  Smaller species, such as cormorants, tend to feed with them to grab the fish from the outside of the circle and as the fish rise to the top.   Interesting facts about the American White Pelican include their status as the longest of the North American birds, at 50-70 inches, and their wingspan of 95-120 inches, which is the second largest (only surpassed by the California Condor).  They are huge birds.

We discussed our desire to get kayaks, and get out there and explore this water more fully someday.  There is a new asphalt trail that goes around the series of connected ponds out here, and several new geocaches (hidden by our friend Jerry that we were hiking with last week at Brazos Bend), one of which we made the find on today.  We will be spending more time out in this area for sure this next year – be it on foot, on the water, or with birding books in hand.  We might have to go back out there this weekend to figure out what that other species of birds were.  We really couldn’t see them well enough to identify.

On the water’s edge in front of us, we watched two ibises feed- one the typical white, but then one that was white and brown.  Its bill identified it as an Ibis most certainly, but it was not the two other types of Ibises that are darker in color.  After much flipping through books and pictures, we decided it was the juvenile stage of the White Ibis that we were seeing.

Although we were cursing ourselves for not having a way to view any of the birds out there closer, we did mark some observed species down on our Katy Prairie Bird Checklist:  Black-Bellied Whistling Duck, American White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, White Ibis, and the Common Grackle (on the way home).  Some of these are repeats from last week, so that makes the total species count so far this year at 19.

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