Canvasback, Blue-headed Vireo and Vesper Sparrow, Hornsby Bend (Austin, TX), November 11th-13th

Continuing the recent theme of visiting waste treatment plants, I visited Hornsby Bend on three successive days while staying with friends in Austin. Lying to the east of the city near the airport, just 15 minutes from our lodgings, this site boasts the highest bird list of any location in the Austin area, with 336 species recorded within its boundaries.

Lying next to the Colorado River, Hornsby Bend offers the usual mix of habitats to be expected at such a site, including lakes, treatment ponds, scrub and woodland. It is open from dawk to dusk, and the security staff at the gate are well used to birders here – there are daily reports from this site on eBird, and usually other birders to be seen around the complex. It would make a great local patch for anyone living in Austin, one that is likely to turn up new birds almost daily especially at migration times.

Ducks are one of the main draws here in winter, with hundreds of Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, and Gadwall, interspersed with smaller numbers of Ruddy Duck, Redhead and Lesser Scaup. I also notched up Canvasback for the year list here, plus a few Blue-winged Teal, a pair of Ring-necked Ducks, and single American Wigeon and Black-bellied Whistling Duck. Two Cinnamon Teal had been recorded a few days previously, but unfortunately did not reveal themselves to me despite much searching.

Shorebirds were limited to a few Least Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers, Wilson’s Snipe and Killdeer, although earlier in the season many waders pass through on migration. Eared Grebe is a winter speciality of Hornsby Bend; my personal highest count was 3 on November 12th. I also logged one Least Grebe here.

Scrub and woodland bordering the Colorado River is rich in wintering passerines, and I recorded the following in mixed-species feeding flocks in the area: Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned Warbler, Myrtle Warbler (numerous), Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, and Blue-headed Vireo. More open areas held two Vesper Sparrows, which showed extremely well on the track just in front of my car – a lifer for me – as well as the much more common Savannah Sparrow and American Pipit. Several Scissor-tailed Flycatchers – late fall migrants – showed daily on power lines around the lakes, and this was also the place to see Loggerhead Shrike and Eastern Bluebird.

Interesting raptors included an Osprey, a Red-shouldered Hawk, a Crested Caracara, and a Merlin which zipped through the area – an early wintering arrival, or just a migrant passing through on its way south?

Lifers: Blue-headed Vireo, Vesper Sparrow (total 2,030).

2015 Year Ticks: Canvasback, Green-winged Teal, Red-shouldered Hawk, Merlin, Monk Parakeet, Orange-crowned Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet (total 1,044).

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