Memorial Park Birding

“It’s not what you tell your children, but in how you show them how to live life.” ~ Jada Pinckett Smith

There are quite a few parks scattered throughout the populated south part of Houston where we live. Memorial Park in Sugar Land (MPSL) is tucked into what once was a great wide open prairie and scrubby fields, snuggled up to the Brazos River flood plain. Because of its location and due to the large shallow lake in the middle, you can practically bird right from the car while whizzing past at 45 mph.

MPSL is a favorite spot for diving ducks and grebes to both congregate and pair up before moving on to breed up north. Whenever we happen to be driving by, we slow down on the adjacent road just enough to get a good overall look at all the bobbing bottoms that might be there, to see if it’s worth an impromptu pull-over.

The kids always like to get out and get their feet wet in the trickling windmill water. Come April, we will be back regularly to pick buckets of wild blackberries only — hopefully — without the chigger panties party that usually comes from the process. However it is, it’s always good to be outside where (we feel) we belong.

Most people we pass on the carefully manicured crushed granite path are walkers, bikers, joggers, and dog-walkers. It’s good to see people outside for a change!

However, we prefer to walk along the fringes where habitats meet not only to maximize bird sightings but to better listen for them away from the hubbub of the beaten path. Walking through grass is decidedly more quiet than crushed gravel, even if we must occasionally look down to avoid stepping on coiled up serpents which may be hoping to go undetected as we walk past.

It’s always good to have your wits about you when you share spaces with other beings, in particular not invading their personal space…hence, the 600mm lens.

On this unseasonably warm winter’s day, we added a few new birds to our annual count in addition to a couple dozen others (see the checklist below):

eBird Checklist 2/20/2016
There are more photos embedded in the list.

  • Mute Swan (129)
  • Lesser Scaup (130)
  • Ring-necked Duck (131)
  • Canvasback (132)
  • Least Sandpiper (133)
  • Redhead (134)

My favorite of the day was this guy who was more intent upon getting breakfast than watching out for the chick with the lens.

Canvasback

Here’s Mud In Your Eye
Canvasback

The mockingbirds, cardinals, and shrikes all seemed to be quite busy setting up territorial boundaries with their songs. It’s difficult to believe that we are in the dead of winter in southeast Texas.

Lesser Scaup vs. Ring-necked Duck

It’s easy for birders to confuse the Lesser and Greater Scaup, but we don’t generally see Greater Scaup inland from the coast as they are salt water birds, according to Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It’s the Lesser of the two Scaups predominately in our area.

However, the Lesser Scaup males who frequent this park in the winter can get mistaken with the Ring-necked Ducks. On this day, I was able to shoot both of them.

On-the-fly Snip-it crops notwithstanding…

Lesser_Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Ring_Necked_Duck

Ring-necked Duck

I still have no time for fiddling with photo post-processing. The LS is missing the defining ‘ringed’ marks on the bill and has more white on his back and a richer, blacker head over all. The RND should have been called ‘Ring-billed Duck’ as often as I have called him that very thing in the field, saying what I see rather than the name of the species. Stating the obvious wins over every time.

The two are similar at a distance with the naked eye; once field lenses are brought up, details can be called out while viewing and the species distinction become clear.

The females of both species — lacking the brilliance of the males — look similar to others as well. It wasn’t until I was pouring over photos taken later that the female Redhead came into clear view on my desktop, forcing me to edit the checklist. I thought her to just be another bobbing Ring-billed-necked Duck.

When in doubt, pour over your field guides and don’t be afraid to make mistakes!  Every experienced birder had to learn too.

Happy Winter Birding!

5 thoughts on “Memorial Park Birding

  1. So much fun catching up all your posts. Your blog is a honey-run for this sloth bear.

    Your duckies pose with such panache. The ones I spotted our winter showed me their posteriors most of the time.

    Like

    1. ‘Bobbing bottoms’ is usually what I get with the dabblers. Too fun to watch, if they’re somewhat shy to the camera. Everyone’s gotta breathe though, so I just stalk ’em until they do, then politely back away.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. We have LOTS of adventures right here in Houston! Most residents (that I know) just have no clue as to what a bird heaven it is here, right in the middle of several migratory flyways. If they only knew…

      Thanks for coming, Ginny. We hope you will join on all of our future adventures. We plan to have many, many more. 😀

      Like

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