Last week I suggested that spring had sprung both from birds and native plant perspectives and in just a week it now appears that most of the actors are in participation. Even the normally late-joining members of the pecan tree family are bursting out in leaf and bloom. On a trip to Kerrville this week I had a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and a male Painted Bunting fly by my car; both were first sightings for me this year. I have not heard a Chuck-Wills-Widow or seen any of the migrating flycatchers, so a few more bird announcements are still in the offing.
I suspect most of you have your hummingbirds in place by now. One evening I checked my hummingbird feeders, and the perching ring around the feeder was at full capacity. The birds were sitting shoulder to shoulder, a sight I cannot ever recall seeing before here. Normally the aggressive birds are fighting for a place at the “table,” but at that moment peace and harmony reigned. Even more surprising was seeing two birds taking turns feeding out of the same hole. I am sure one or two will soon “take charge” and the fight will be on.
I was pleased to learn that a Lazuli Bunting was reported in Kerrville. Lazuli Buntings are one of the real treats for Hill Country birders. The colorful western bird is an irregular visitor here most springs. This bird winters in western Mexico and summers in the western states, mostly west of the Rocky Mountains. For some unexplained reason a few of these buntings take the long migratory path through the Hill Country. I am attaching one of my favorite photos showing an Indigo, Painted and Lazuli sharing the same feeder. Keep an eye out for a bunting with a blue head and a red breast – you might get lucky and have one or more visit your feeders.
You might also look for some of the difficult to identify flycatchers belonging to the Empidonax family. The empid flycatchers are among the most difficult to sort out identities of any bird family in North America. Eye rings and wing bars, or the lack thereof, are the main markers to separate the species. Songs and calls are also useful in identifying the species. Another subtle marker is the length of the primary (wing) feather extensions. Only one species breeds in the Hill Country – the Acadian Flycatcher. Look for them in the river bottom at South Llano State Park in Junction.
If you would like to learn about bird identification in the field, I would suggest taking a half day beginning birder course offered at the Wings Over the Hills Nature Festival in Fredericksburg next weekend. The mentioned birding trip is to Enchanted Rock on Sunday morning – no rock climbing will be involved, only pointers on how to tell the birds apart. Short introductory courses on butterflies and dragonflies will be offered on Friday and Saturday.
If you have an interest in learning how to be a better photographer, I would suggest you consider taking a half day nature photography course given by Ruth Hoyt. Hoyt is an outstanding nature photographer from the Lower Rio Grande Valley with many awards and published photo credits. In addition, Wings Over the Hills Nature Festival offers nature talks, birding field trips, hummingbird banding and flying raptor demonstrations, children’s activities, nature related venders, and a talk by Greg Miller of The Big Year book and movie fame. The movie will be shown on Sunday (April 19) at 1:00PM and Tuesday (April 21) at 6:00PM at the Fritztown Cinema in Fredericksburg. The movie will be shown free, courtesy of Fritztown Cinema and the Friends of the Fredericksburg Nature Center, sponsors of the festival. Go to the website (www.wingstx.org) for details and schedules. Hope to see many of you there.