Spoonbills in Milam County

by Sue Ann Kendall

I still get the feeling sometimes that I live in an aviary. I can’t believe how many interesting birds drop by my property and let me observe them. Yesterday was a particularly good day, because in addition to the storks who’ve been visiting for a couple of weeks, I found something different, a roseate spoonbill!

There you go, three storks, one very pink spoonbill, a great blue heron, and a great egret!

It was especially good to see the spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) in person and watch it eating up close through my binoculars, since I had seen some specimens when we went to the Texas A&M Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections last month. Oops, I just realized that I hadn’t written up that event, so darn it! You can go read about it in my personal blog post, So Many Dead Things. Below are the specimens I looked at.

Linda Jo Conn investigates the spoon-shaped bill as Dr. Gary Voelker looks on. Heather Prestridge, who gave us our tour, is holding the specimen.
You can see the variety of shades of pink they have, depending on what they’ve been eating.

The spoonbills are coastal birds, which is why you don’t see too many of them here in the middle of Texas. I’ve seen them one other time, though. According to Wikipedia as reproduced on the iNaturalist site, many were seen outside their usual range in 2021, so perhaps this behavior is continuing this year.

They’d just finished feeding, so I don’t have a good photo of that.

They are fun to watch as they eat, swinging their bills from side to side to catch delicious (and hopefully pink, to keep their feathers pretty) foods. The one I saw was parading alongside three storks on the shore of the tank behind my house, which appears to be a hotbed of small edible items these days.

I wonder if this one got separated from his or her buddies and took up with the storks, which also hang around in small groups. They were getting along just fine and didn’t seem to be bothering my resident shore birds at all.

Here’s some more about their eating habits:

This species feeds in shallow fresh or coastal waters by swinging its bill from side to side as it steadily walks through the water, often in groups. The spoon-shaped bill allows it to sift easily through mud. It feeds on crustaceansaquatic insects, frogs, newts and very small fish ignored by larger waders… Roseate spoonbills must compete for food with snowy egretsgreat egretstricolored herons and American white pelicans.

Roseate Spoonbill, iNaturalist
These guys fly with outstretched necks, like the storks, and unlike herons.

I’m wondering if I’m seeing so many interesting shore birds here lately because other shallow waters have dried up from the drought. I’ve also been enjoying a tricolored heron and a kingfisher. I’ve seen the resident green heron more and more recently, as well.

Keep your eyes open as you drive through Milam County, especially as migration time approaches. You’ll be seeing snow geese, sandhill cranes, ducks, and other interesting birds. Admittedly, you will probably find many of those by also listening. Those geese and cranes make quite a racket as they fly by. Look for the dark wing areas on the geese and listen for the clacking sounds of cranes.

I hope you enjoyed learning about a fascinating visitor. Here are some more of my photos of the spoonbill and friends.

Who Needs Water?

by Donna Lewis

Well, we all know that every living thing needs water.

We are really experiencing a very hot and dry time right now.

This is when you can help the wildlife. Birdseed and other things we put out so we can watch and help our wildlife is a good thing, but water is the number one thing they need to survive.

I have 10 birdbaths out and I put out the sprinkler every evening around 5:00 pm.

The birds are waiting for me. I move the sprinkler about three times, so I don’t waste any water. I use it for my plants as I give the birds their cool and happy time in the refreshing raindrops the sprinklers provide. I am sure I would see them smiling if they could. Yesterday I slowly approached my garden about 10 minutes after I turned the first round of water on. They scatter if they see me and that’s OK, it keeps them safe.

This is what I saw through my fence around the garden.

  • 25 Cardinals
  • 1 Mockingbird
  • 4 young Titmice
  • 5 Bluebirds
  • 6 Chickadees
  • 2 unknowns
  • 1 Red-bellied woodpecker.   

What a photo that would have been.  I also have lots of bees getting water from the birdbaths.

So, remember to put out lots of water features and keep them full.

The birds like a perch when bathing, so a fence or trellis is good, but is also a good hiding place for cats. Most are there for the water, but the kitties are there for the birds…. 

Just a thought.

Remember who you are gardening for…

Spotting a Kinglet

by Pamela Neeley

I spotted a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet in the window feeder this morning around 10:00 am.  With the metal screen in the window, I can get within two feet of birds if I am extremely quiet.

A photo of a website image of the crown

This is the second time I have identified this bird. The first time he was flashing his psychedelic ruby crown, a few years ago. 

Female, photo of a web page

Today, this male was enjoying the sunflower seeds. They winter in Texas but do not nest here.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo. Here are a couple from the web.

More about the Ruby Crowned Kinglet

Signs of Spring: Herons

More and more of the native wildflowers are blooming, but the other sign of spring here in northern Milam County are birds working hard to make new birds. This morning, I looked out at the pond behind our house and saw a Great Blue Heron in breeding plumage.

Look closely

I realized he had a big stick in his mouth. He’s making a nest! I think the nest is over by the creek. I do look forward to seeing the family.

Off to the nest.

I spot lots more little flowers on my walks. I often have to memorize where I see them when I’m horseback so I can come back and get pictures. Here are some recent arrivals.

Butterflies are everywhere, too. They are enjoying the dandelion blossoms mostly. I still haven’t gotten a red admiral to sit still, but they are also here.

It’s so much fun to watch the seasons unfold. It’s also fun to listen. Cardinals are calling loudly this morning, but they have competition from a woodpecker who’s giving a concert by pecking on different parts of a tree and varying the tone of its pecks. What fun. Barn swallows are swiping and chirping.

And the heron is chiming in, along with the crows. I miss the flock of starlings that descended yesterday and really made things loud!

The source of morning concerts at the Hermits’ Rest Ranch.

But wait! Late addition! Just now I found Snappy, or more likely child of Snappy, one of our big snapping turtles. The original Snappy is much larger.

If you want Latin names for my observations or to see more, visit the Hermits’ Rest Ranch Flora and Fauna project on iNaturalist!