The great spring movement of birds from Mexico, Central and South America to various parts of North America is well underway. In my own garden, I began noticing a few visiting birds as early as the latter part of March, just a few weeks after I realized that my two regular winter warblers had left. Texas is a main migration flyway between the two continents and even though visits are brief, it’s always exciting to see unusual, non-resident birds in my garden.
This Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus, has been around the neighborhood for a few weeks. He has a lovely call and I hear him more often than I see him. Before he settled in to munch my peanut offerings, a group of female Red-wings worked the sunflower seeds that fell to the ground. They only stayed a day or two and I wish I’d snagged photos while they were here. In the past, I’ve enjoyed visits from other Red-winged Blackbirds well into June. I wonder if this guy will hang around that long?
I only see American Goldfinches, Spinus tristis, during late winter and spring. This year, it’s mostly males that I’ve observed, though few females have been in the mix. They visit sunflower seeds, but mostly they like to bathe and splash in the water features.
Migratory clockwork right on schedule, Summer Tanagers, Piranga rubra, show up every spring for a few days in late April. The gloriously golden females are adorable.
The scarlet males catch bird watchers’ eyes. How could you miss this head-turner of a bird?
Along with a mature male and female, an immature male accompanied the adults.
Oh, those splotchy, awkward teenage months!
I’d like to think that they come for the peanuts I provide or the garden delights that I offer. But these bee and wasp eaters come to my garden for the baths and the bees–not necessarily in that order. Tanagers are great bee and wasp hunters, catching their prey as they swoop through the garden. According to the maps, Summer Tanagers breed in this area, but I’ve only ever seen these stunners in spring. They should hang around longer, there are always bees in my garden.
A common winter warbler in my garden are Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata. Typically, my winter yellow-rumps are females. Non-breeding males visit from time-to-time, but it’s a rare treat for me to observe a Yellow-rump in his breeding colors. Look at this guy! He knows he’s a pretty boy and that he won’t have any trouble finding a mate and raising a family of other darling yellow rumps!
A flash of orange in the trees and I knew immediately what was flitting about. This Baltimore Oriole, Icterus galbula, was only in my garden for a few minutes (that I saw), but he was certainly a bright spot, even if was a spot hard to document with a photo. Clear shots were tricky because he was skittish and stayed mostly in a neighbor’s small tree and was always a branch between the camera and the bird.
This is probably the clearest of the photos, but, it is a bum.
I also had a brief glimpse of a female Orchard Oriole a few days later; I was too slow with the camera for that lovely bird. I don’t see the orioles every year, so I’m thrilled when they’re around.
I’ve observed several type of sparrows this spring. This male White-crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys, spent a Sunday afternoon in my garden and I’ve seen him, or another male, since.
Larger than some of other sparrows, that bright white-crown is a feature that allows for easy identification of this sparrows, or at the very least, the id of the male of the sparrows.
The same day I saw the White-crowned Sparrow, I observe another sparrow that I haven’t seen before. Lifer! This is a Clay-colored Sparrow, Spizella pallida. The name is rather drab and not descriptive of the bird at all; I think the sparrow is fetching. I especially like its almost-a-mohawk top!
It’s possible that I’ve seen this bird before and didn’t realize that it was something different from the ubiquitous House Sparrow. With sparrows, identification is sometimes difficult. They all wear the same family of colors–brown, beige, cream–but with seemingly infinite combos of those related colors. As well, there are lots of native sparrows in North America, so there’s plenty of room for confusion. Birders often refer to sparrows hard to id as ‘little brown jobs’. I think I like that name better than ‘Clay-colored’.
I’ve enjoyed the antics of a couple of small Song Sparrows, too, but their zoomies through the garden, chasing off other birds, made a photographic record impossible.
Another migrant who spent lots of time chasing birds around “his” pond was this Nashville Warbler, Leiothlypis ruficapilla. I finally caught a couple of shots of the cheeky cutey.
He dipped his head just so, showing his rusty smudge topping, demonstrating his masculinity. Considering how possessive he was about my garden and pond, I’d already figured out that he was male.
Lesser Goldfinches, Spinus psaltria, come and go in my garden, depending on what seeds are available to nosh. They are considered migratory and these two dabs of sunshine opted for the birdbath, rather than the pond. I’ve witnessed others feeding on the seeds of Four-nerve Daisies.
A new bird for me is this Kentucky Warbler, Geothlypis formosa, who made a quick visit near sundown one evening.
It took me a while to identify him. To identify birds, I typically use the Merlin app of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, but I couldn’t find an exact match for this gorgeous fella. Eventually, the Hub and I grabbed our old copy of Peterson’s Guide to the Birds of Texas–an actual book–and after some perusal, we found our guy. Central Texas is barely in Kentucky Warblers’ migration path and I feel fortunate to have observed this beauty.
Like the Yellow-rumped Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers spend the winter months here. But after my winter warblers leave, there are always a few Orange-crowns who come through to rest and bathe. I miss them when they’re gone.
My favorite sparrow is the Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii. They’re shy, but fun to watch as they bop through the garden, looking for insects to eat. The ones who visit are big fans of the waterfall and bog sections of my pond.
Elegantly colored and marked, I think they’re such pretty little birds. Central Texas is in their non-breeding area, but I only see them in spring and fall. I’ve never had the pleasure of hosting them for winter, but here’s hoping for the future.
Migratory season is still in full swing and it’s likely I’ll see travelers coming through to rest and eat well into June. I hope you’re able to witness something of the remarkable process of the world’s birds as they make one of their two annual treks on ancient aerial pathways. Install some native plants and trees to provide cover and food, and add one–or more–water features to your garden space. Then, look out the window, they will be there, enriching your garden experience.
I imagine the concentration of birds coming through your area must be vast. Your trees and shrubs must be filled with birdsong, lucky you! By the time they reach New England, the flocks have become individuals.
It’s impressive at times. On one of the days that I watched I saw several of these new birds and plenty of individuals of species I’ve seen before. My pond is a real draw for them and because I have lots of cover in the back garden, they can forage in safety.
As for birdsong, well, I live in the middle of a big city, so city sounds sometimes drown out the peeps and cheeps, but yes, I do hear some and have learned some of the calls, which is nice.
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What a wonderful collection you have. I rarely see the pretty migratory birds. I suppose part of it’s that I don’t go to the spots where ‘real birders’ gather, where there are drips and cover and such. I’ve never seen a tanager, and only once have glimpsed an Oriole on the wing. The big surprise here was the Lesser Goldfinch; I’ve always assumed that ‘Goldfinch’ was a single species.
On the other hand, I do have cardinals around this year, along with bluejays, doves, and newly arrived house finches. Well, and there are the Mallards, but none of those are migratory. I did have some sort of sparrow-like bird last fall; then, they disappeared. I think they might have come back just in the last week. I need to look more closely at them, and see what they are. I certainly love your photos! You’re lucky to have such a well-appointed garden; it certainly appeals to the birds.
The garden and pond are big pluses in attracting the birds. I don’t live in a neighborhood that has all that many native plants gardens, a few, but not that many. But we have some nice big trees and the canopy must beckon the birds for rest.
Have you ever been to High Island? My SIL is going there very soon for several days. It’s a huge birding spot. I’d like to go sometime, but it won’t be this year.
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I’ve been to High Island, but not during the height of the migrations. I know that plenty of people go there — so many, in fact, that it lessens the attractiveness to me. Huge groups of birders, all outfitted with enormous lenses and chirping to one another about their last trips to Pago Pago to see the Elusive Whatever isn’t my idea of a good time; I have just enough experience to know that for sure. (That may sound grumpier than I mean it!)
Haha! I think that’s hilarious. “Serious” birders can be pretty obnoxious and I’ve never participated in that kind of group think. I’m a bit of a loner and appreciate a few close friends and no crowds. Honestly, I was made for a pandemic. I’m happy as a backyard birder and appreciate that they like my gardens. Recently, during these cooler months, the Hub and I do some hiking at various Austin urban trails. There are a couple of places to go to see/hear the Golden-cheeked Warbler. Well, we don’t get out as early as “real” birders, so I was satisfied with hearing and not seeing 3 different calls during our last hike. We’ll still try to go early some morning (before the birds are gone for the year) and it’s not all that far to drive (west of where I live), but I’ll have to tolerate those snobby birders with their fancy cameras and binoculars.
On the other hand! One of those ‘serious birders’ lives in my area, and she maintains a wonderful blog. Here’s an entry from one of her trips to High Island. Her blog would be a wonderful resource for your SIL; it’s filled with information about various spots, the birds themselves, her photographic techniques, etc.
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So many visitors. I have not seen any so far this year. In the past, I have had entire flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds. You were lucky to get a photo of the Summer Tanager. They usually stay up in the trees here, but I can hear them.
I’ve never had flocks, but in years past I’ve had several, both male and female. The crew of females that I mention had about 6 individuals and were here for a day or 2. I don’t know why I didn’t get their photos! I saw another juvenile Summer Tanager today in my oak tree. He was more mature, less splotchy, than the juvenile of the photo. But he definitely wasn’t a bright red mature male.
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What a fun post! The first two species are here in S. Wisconsin, too. I haven’t seen any Tanagers or Orioles yet, but people have reported seeing them in the state. Usually, we have a few days here when the Orioles congregate in larger numbers. They’re all beautiful birds!
That must be quite a sight to see orioles in large numbers. I’ve only seen one or two at a time.
I love your blog, Tina!! Thankyou for sharing all your wonderful photos!!!! I retired recentlly so now I have more time to watch the birds and play in the dirt!!!
Thanks so much, Michele! Congrats on retirement—get to digging and watching! 🙂
Brilliant (literally) selection. There is so much variety in your visitors. Love that shot of the adolescent summer tanagers.
Thanks, Allison. It’s been a nice spring for migration. I wish I could bird watch everyday, but life happens.
Thanks are due!
Your blog posts have become my ad hoc guide to local birds (and native wildflowers, and pollinators). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something here in rural Hays county that I was able to identify because I saw one or more of your beautiful photos of it with the name supplied.
Sidebar: My daughter is using the obvious attraction(s) of your water feature to lobby hard for something similar in our spaces. Do you have a post where you document your process? I will shamelessly benefit from your experiences!
We built our pond before I started blogging, so while I have the occasional post about my pond, I don’t have any how-tos. I’d recommend several things: on-line general information about pond building (style you want, size, depth, etc.), attending some local pond society meetings (Austin has (or had, I assume they’re still active) a Pond Society), and maybe a trip to Hill Country Gardens. They’re far from you, but might be worth a day-trip. You could call them, too; they’re pretty good about answering questions on the phone, though I’d probably wait until summer’s heat has settled in. Nurseries are not fun to visit right now–too busy! There are also books about all things related to ponds. You certainly would have lots of wonderful things visiting if you had at least one water feature. The big expense will be an electrician and it’s worth hiring one. But y’all can dig and do the rest of the work yourself. Good luck with it; sorry I don’t have specifics on ours, other than I started to dig, told Steven he had to finish, then we gathered rock, equipment and got to it!
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For being as difficult to capture digitally as they are, you always do a remarkable job catching them in interesting poses, Tina. I added a bowl with moisture-loving Sarracenias to my garden, and guess what I got? Two mating raccoons! Not exactly what I was hoping for…. sigh!
Thank you, Anna, but I really do have a very nice, easy to use camera and trust me, I take lots of bad shots–that you don’t see. 🙂 Mating raccoons! I think that’s probably something no one tries to get in the garden!
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Ha! No kidding… I kind of dread seeing what they’ll do…
Beautiful photos ad descriptions, Tina. I especially love your Summer Tanagers. Haven’t seen them here since 2001. Would like to think they’re around here somewhere though.
Thanks! The tanagers are such a treat, I wish they were around longer; it’s just a few days in late April/early May, so I keep a keen eye out for them.
That’s quite an open-air aviary for one yard.
Any idea why an American goldfinch is deemed sad (tristis)?
Yes, they look pretty cheery to me. I wonder if it’s the black markings above the eyes? Maybe it’s the birds’ version of a furrowed brow (which doesn’t necessarily mean sad, of course).
You must live on the avian version of Route 66. Lucky you to have so many visit your yard.