Friday, May 1, 2009

Texas: birding the Riverwalk and Hemisfair Park

Still in San Antonio here and the conference has been great.  During conference downtime I have continued birding around the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the Riverwalk. The riverwalk is quite green as is the Hemisfair Park; both with tall and mature trees and, after all, it is migration here, too.

Yesterday afternoon I was seeking lunch along the riverwalk and I didn't have my camera.  I was completely stunned when I saw a medium-sized wading bird hunting on a "waterfall," of sorts on the other side of the riverwalk - a bird I have not seen since leaving Maryland.  Now I was torn; lunch or return to hotel for camera.  The camera trip won out, but the bird was not at the waterfall when I returned.  I left to attend another conference session.  Later I returned to the riverwalk for dinner and found the bird again, this time hunting from the edge on the opposite side. 
Peering into the murky waters of the river.  
Hmmm, let me get a closer look.
Giving it another look.
This bird actually did catch something here, although it is entirely unclear what.  From across the river it appeared to be something black.
In this photo the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) is choking down his meal.  Why he selected the riverwalk for his meal search is unclear.  The water is completely filthy and visually impenetrable.  From the Sibley range map this bird appeared to be slightly too far west on its migration path.  After he found this meal, whatever it was, he flew off down the river and I did not see him again. Later I emailed Mark Lockwood, Secretary of the Texas Bird Records Committee, and he told me that Yellow-crowned Night-Herons nest in San Antonio and can be quite common in some places like Breckenridge Park near the zoo. 
The White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica), a beautiful bird, is possibly even more common here than is our Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) in Michigan.  In flight the bird is very attractive when its white wing patches flash and its tail spreads out revealing its wide white band with central rust spot.

This morning I attended a 6:00 am breakfast meeting on multiple myeloma.  Following this I headed over to Hemisfair Park.  It was quite birdy with migrants.  I saw a couple of empidonax flycatchers and several warblers that I'll see again when I return home but which were all first of the year for me here in Texas.  Possibly the best of these was Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens.)  Additionally, I found a couple of Clay-colored Sparrows (Spizella pallida).
One of the two Clay-colored Sparrows I saw this morning.  Texas is exactly in the middle of their migration path and I saw several this trip. One of my favorite sparrows;  I love how they reveal themselves with their buzzy vocalization. These guys still have a way to go before reaching their breeding grounds.
During migration Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas) can be found in the unlikeliest of places.  This is probably the only Common Yellowthroat I will ever see on a park bench.

Even though Hemisfair Park has a large central flower garden, butterflies were scant.  Less than scant.  It was cloudy this morning, (as it has been every morning thus far) but very warm and it still seems like there should be more butterflies.
This Texan Crescent (Phyciodes texana) is a beautiful butterfly but its beauty is not revealed in this photo.  The straight line of spots along both hind wings were yellow as were the edges of both wings. Unfortunately, all that color is lost here possibly because of the glare of the gray, overcast sky.  The white blob at the edge of the lower hind wing is the flower the butterfly is nectoring on.
Another image of the Texan Crescent with the same color problems, but with the flower in view. 
In flight this fast-flying butterfly superficially looked like a Viceroy. When it landed to nector it did not open its wings and then revealed itself to be a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae).
It was sunny, hot and humid this afternoon and when I could not find more butterflies I did find a couple of other birds to photograph.
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), first of the year for me.
Readers of this blog know I am fond of this common bird, Inca Dove (Columbina inca), a small and cute dove.  Earlier in the morning I heard their plaintive no hope call and saw two copulating on the windowsill of the convention center.  I wonder if anyone else noticed?
I took about 50 photos to get the following three of this Black-throated Green Warber (Dendroica virens), cousin of my target bird Golden-Cheeked Warbler, busily feeding. 
 Too bad the photos are not in better focus., but any warbler is much faster than my camera shutter.  The bird's bill looks funny in this photo because a leaf is obscuring it.
Tomorrow is another day in Texas.


Randy said...

I was at a conference in The Woodlands, just north of Houston, a couple of years ago. As I was walking across an enclosed bridge from one building to the next, I also looked down to see a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron in a human-made "waterfall". I then looked up to see Black Vultures sunning themselves on the roof. I pointed it out to my fellow conferencees, but as you would expect, noone but me was interested.

BackhoeHeiress said...

thank you for this personal and informative post. heading to SA and looking for Riverwalk birds at the end of April.

Cathy Carroll said...

Hi BackhoeHeiress.

I hope you'll have a terrific time in San Antonio. It's been many years since my visit, but I remember it well. And, Hemisfair Park is within easy walking distance, so get over there too, if you can. This is a great time of year to be visiting.