DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS — By the time I found my second Sora, I was feeling pretty good. I watched the bird as it walked gingerly along submerged cattail leaves, picking at the duckweed on the surface of the pool. Marsh Wrens and yellowthroats flitted higher in the cattails, offering brief views and snatches of song in the case of the wrens.
By the time I’d seen four Soras and heard a fifth, I was pretty amazed. But I still couldn’t imagine what was to come.
By the time I left Village Creek yesterday afternoon, I had seen 16 Soras and heard two others! Sixteen! They seemed to appear nearly everywhere I looked, sometimes in loose family (?) groups of three to four birds.
The juvenile Sora should be fairly obvious in this image, but can you spot the adult bird? You will probably need to click the image for a larger view.
I keep dreaming of cool, crisp fall weather, but Dallas is still hot, sticky, and stale. It’s a disappointment I feel every autumn that I spend in Texas. In college, my poem called “Protesto” began with the line, “It’s November, for crying out loud.”
But regardless of the weather, there are subtle signs that it’s autumn. The high number of Soras I observed is likely due to a push of migrants moving through. Coots are starting to return in good numbers — I saw at least a couple hundred yesterday. More Northern Shovelers have joined the flocks of Blue-winged Teal, and the males are starting to get their bright colors back. Yesterday, I had one drake pintail too.
Summer residents like Painted Buntings have either disappeared or become so inconspicuous as not to be noticeable. I haven’t seen one in several weeks. Other breeders — and post-breeding wanderers — are still around. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Barn Swallows are still here, of course.
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks remain numerous and conspicuous at Village Creek. Yesterday, one juvenile White Ibis joined about 20 of its White-faced cousins in the grassy edges of the pools. (OK, yes, there could have been a Glossy tossed in there too, but if there was, I sure couldn’t tell. Fall is not the time to be trifling with the dark ibises.)
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) tend to stick close together. It’s not difficult to spot one red-billed adult among the 10 or so juvies in this huddle. Juveniles lack most of the distinctive marks of the adult (black belly, red bill, white eye ring…), but they do have the bold white wing stripe, as you can see in this image. I wonder how often they get misidentified as Fulvous Whistling-Ducks?
Shorebirds are still moving through. Most of the water at Village Creek is too deep for shorebirds, but in small patches of habitat I found several species:
- Solitary Sandpiper – 1
- Least Sandpiper – 30-50
- Long-billed Dowitcher (I think. I guess. I’m confident! Err, yes.)
- Wilson’s Snipe – 1 (Gorgeous, orangey plumage. Wow.)
- Killdeer – ubiquitous
- Stilt Sandpiper – 1 (Much easier to identify than sometimes believed.)
- Lesser Yellowlegs – 2 (Killdeer-sized — a handy comparison if Killdeer are present.)
- American Avocet – 8 (Best shorebird ever! Gorgeous.)
I was so caught up with the avocets and other shorebirds that I didn’t even see the houses peeking through the trees across the street.