July 01, 2021

Odolympics 2021-06

I was fortunate to be able to spend some time between June 19 and June 27, to participate in the Odolympics, a citizen science project to collect observations of Odonates (dragonflies and damselflies). Attached to this journal entry are all my iNat observations made during this period. The odonate observations are also officially part of checklists submitted to OdonoataCentral.org.

And here are some video highlights from Sunday afternoon, June 27, the last day:

Posted on July 01, 2021 12:30 by mikaelb mikaelb | 28 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 08, 2021

Billig Ranch 2021-04

I was excited to be able to attend the Wild and Scenic film festival hosted by Pines and Prairies Land Trust on their Billig Ranch property last weekend. I'll add more information here as I have time.

Here are some video clips I finally put together. They include Stillwater Clubtail dragonfly, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Citrine Forktail Damselfly, and White-tailed Kite.

eBird checklists:


Posted on April 08, 2021 00:26 by mikaelb mikaelb | 11 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 02, 2021

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour with Bill Carr 2021-03-20

On March 20, we were privileged to have botanist Bill Carr visit Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run with us. He helped us create a new virtual tour with a focus on plants.

The most exciting observation of the morning was a northeastern plant called Green Dragon on the edge of its range, in a hidden canyon on the western edge of the preserve:

Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) - 1 - 5

Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) - 1 - 3

See the attached iNaturalist observation below.

I'll update this entry when the video is posted by Hill Country Conservancy.

Here's our eBird checklist.

And here's Bill Carr's plant list for the preserve, from just two visits.

Posted on April 02, 2021 18:27 by mikaelb mikaelb | 20 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 11, 2021

Greg Lasley

I was very sad to hear from @ericisley via Facebook that @greglasley passed away at 6:30pm January 30 2021, much sooner than he should have. iNaturalist posted a blog entry about Greg here, where you can get an idea of what a great member of the Texas naturalist community he was.

Before iNaturalist, I knew of Greg but never had any contact with him, except for an email he sent me in 2008 about a Red-naped Sapsucker I had posted on the venerable old email listserv, Texbirds. It was so encouraging to get a compliment on my bad-but-identifiable photo from such a renowned nature photographer and birder. In 2012 I started using iNaturalist and our online paths started crossing now and then. I remember spending break time at work for a few days identifying bird observations, including several of Greg's hawk photos. I got this nice email:

Thanks Mikael for going through some of my raptor shots and confirming the ID. I don't think there are a lot of knowledgeable raptor folks on iNat as yet, so many shots do not get "confirmed" when I think they are fairly straightforward. Anyway, thanks.


Soon after this I guess Greg added me to his short email distribution list for local bird sightings, and it was fun to hear about things like the Cape May Warbler he found at Hornsby Bend in early 2014. Occasionally I'd email him a question and I always got a kind and thoughtful response.

In 2015 I had to migrate my photo library from Apple's iPhoto (which was being deprecated) to Adobe's Lightroom, and I experienced some of the generosity in time and attitude that Greg was famous for. I posted on iNaturalist about moving to Lightroom and Greg commented:

Mikael, I have used Lightroom since it came out. I've never used iPhoto or Aperture. I am pretty experienced with Lightroom, but have never tried to migrate other things into it, but it should not be a huge issue to start from scratch and move your images into Lightroom. You are welcome to come out to Dripping anytime and I can show you how I use it if you like, my workflow, etc. I also use Mac.

Wow! Was this for real? It sure was. One Saturday afternoon in September 2015 I drove down to his home in Dripping Springs and sat with him for 3 hours while he showed me his Lightroom workflow. (Greg's workflow was very much a direct translation of his film workflow, with some entertainingly luddite aspects. For example, he didn't geotag his photos. Whenever he stopped driving, he took a photo of his dashboard GPS display, and used that photo to manually set the location of all his iNat observations at that stop.)

Later that year Greg hosted a central Texas iNat user gathering, and it was so great to be invited and meet the people behind so many iNat usernames I was familiar with. (I even got to meet @kueda!) We took a group photo, which will always be my favorite Homo sapien observation on iNat.

After that whenever I saw Greg at a Travis Audubon event or something similar, he always called out to me and said hi, and he usually commented on some recent iNat activity of mine. He made me feel included rather than out-of-my-league. I never got to spend any time in the field with him.

Posted on February 11, 2021 01:04 by mikaelb mikaelb | 4 comments | Leave a comment

January 18, 2021

Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper's Hawk

Over the past couple weeks I happened to get a couple decent in-flight photos of two species of hawk very difficult to distinguish: Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper's Hawk. The first photo is a Sharp-shinned Hawk I photographed flying over Nalle Bunny Run Wildlife Preserve on 1/9/2021. The second is a Cooper's Hawk flying over Lake Creek Trail in northwest Austin on 1/16/2021. The main differences these photos show are the angle of the wings and size of the heads. The Sharp-shinned often holds its wings pitched just a little bit forward and has a smaller head, protruding out in front of the wings less. The Cooper's usually has wings held more straightly out to the sides and has a larger head protruding out in front of the wings more.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

So why are these two species so similar?

I can only speculate. They have similar ecological niches, both specializing in hunting other birds in the woods. So they both have broad, rounded wings and long tails. Why such similar plumage? They may have also had a common ancestor, and speciated as two different populations found slightly different specialization.

Posted on January 18, 2021 15:56 by mikaelb mikaelb | 2 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

November 01, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run with Bill Carr 2020-10-31

Last weekend on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve I noticed that a certain plant on the sandy prairie area was blooming, covered in tiny white flowers. Over the years of leading group walks here, this plant would catch people's eyes since it's growing in a tight bunch with nothing else similar around. They'd ask me what it was, and I didn't know. Since plants are often much easier to identify when they're blooming, I took some photos. Here's one:

Yankeeweed (Eupatorium compositifolium) - 1 - 2

Back at home I posted it to iNaturalist and to the Texas Flora Facebook group. Pretty quickly Floyd Waller identified it as Yankeeweed (Eupatorium compositifolium). And pretty soon after that, Bill Dodd (@billdodd) realized it might be a new plant record for Travis County. He contacted Bill Carr, longtime Texas botanist who as been tracking plant species in Travis County since the 1980s. Bill Carr confirmed that yep, it was new for his county list! Here's part of the context he emailed us:

To cut to the chase, sandy-loving species are uncommon in our area simply because they don't grow on the limestones and clays that cover 95 percent of our landscape. Eupatorium compositifolium is one such species. It's common as dirt on the Eocene Sands in Bastrop County (and elsewhere in the southeastern US), but hasn't been reported here because of the paucity of sand. It will be really interesting to document its occurrence at Bunny Run and to find out what other sand-loving species might grow with it. Well, interesting to me, at least!

Well it was interesting to me, Bill Dodd, and Hill Country Conservancy too! So we made plans to visit the Bunny Run the following Saturday. We enjoyed a beautiful cool morning, starting at about 40 degrees at 9:00 AM and ending up in the mid-60s when we were done at noon. Bill Carr was impressed with the botanical diversity of the Bunny Run, and I can't wait to see his list and comments for the morning. I tried recording a few of the plants he pointed out, and they are attached to this journal entry below.

And of course we enjoyed seeing the Yankeeweed, which was still in bloom. Here are a few video highlights from the morning:

I kept an eBird list as well:

And below are more attached observations, mostly plants that Bill Carr pointed out.

Posted on November 01, 2020 18:48 by mikaelb mikaelb | 25 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

October 25, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run 2020-10-24

Today I enjoyed a cool morning in the 50s with a north wind blowing on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. Bird activity was a little slow to start but I enjoyed two mixed-species foraging flocks in the denser areas of the parkland habitat area. On windy days little songbirds find areas sheltered from the wind, so that's where I went. Returning winter residents included Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Orange-crowned Warblers, a heard-only Northern Flicker, and a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I got this photo of the sapsucker while I was playing an Eastern Screech-Owl recording to attract one of the flocks:

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The two flocks included several Nashville Warbler too, which are just passing through on their way further south, but I was unable to get a photo of one.

Down on the sandy prairie I was excited to discover that the croton (dove weed) was full of sparrows! Lincoln's Sparrows were most numerous but there were also Savannah Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, and a few White-throated Sparrows. The sandy prairie area is great habitat for these sparrows. They forage on the ground and in the low mix of native plants like croton and Camphorweed. But there are plenty of scattered trees and shrubs around that they can fly into when alarmed. A few winter-resident House Wrens were also using this habitat.

Here's one o the Savannah Sparrows, a species I don't have many records of for the Bunny Run:

Savannah Sparrow - 1

Another much larger returning winter resident flew over me as I looked for sparrows, this Osprey:


Near the northeast corner of the preserve, still on the sandy prairie, I noticed an interesting plant. People have asked me about it before but I've never been able to tell them what it is. Today it was flowering, so I took some photos and later got it identified as Yakeeweed (Eupatorium compositifolium). It might be the first record of it in Travis County!

Unknown Plant - 1 - 2

On my way back up the hill I spent some time in the sometimes waterfall that the spring drains into. In the last large pool at the bottom I was surprised to find a dead floating Red-tailed Hawk! I made a video of the experience. Be warned it contains footage of the dead carcass that some might not like to see:

Here's my complete eBird list.

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

And see my attached observations.

Posted on October 25, 2020 16:59 by mikaelb mikaelb | 11 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 16, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour 2020-10-10

Here's the latest virtual tour of Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve:

Here's our complete eBird checklist:

Here are photos on Flickr:

And attached are the same photos as iNaturalist observations.

Posted on October 16, 2020 21:33 by mikaelb mikaelb | 13 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 26, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour 2020-09-19

Here's the latest virtual tour of Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run Wildlife Preserve. We recorded it last weekend and we're learning more and more each month. Love the way this one turned out!

Here's my complete eBird list:

Here are the same photos and videos on Flickr:

And attached are some observations.

Posted on September 26, 2020 13:22 by mikaelb mikaelb | 8 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 13, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour 2020-07-12

Hill Country Conservancy staffers Sarah Dean and Carolyn Stephens met me on their Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve Sunday morning to record our fifth virtual tour of the property. Here are some highlights from this very warm and humid morning. (I'll update this post when the video is posted.)

Near the gate we heard a Painted Bunting singing. We waited a bit and the bird flew into view, and then a second Painted Bunting joined it. This was surprising because both were mature males, who normally would be chasing each other off each other's territories. But they seemed to coexist just find and even flew away still loosely associated and going in the same direction. Maybe it's late enough in the season that they've stopped being territorial until next year? Here's one of them:

Painted Bunting - 1 - 2

On the sandy prairie near the northeast corner of the preserve, we had just finished photographing a Neon Skimmer dragonfly when another large insect flew in and landed on a grape vine. While it flew we were stunned by its metallic green and blue colors. After it landed we saw it also had orange legs and incredibly long antennae. It looked like a member of the Long-horned Beetle family (Cerambycidae) but I had never seen one like this! It turned out to be a Bumelia Borer and I can't wait to learn more about this dazzling animal. Here's one of my photos:

Bumelia Borer - 1 - 4

One of the prevalent plants on the sandy prairie area is croton, and it was in bloom and being pollinated by a variety of insects including bees, flies, and wasps. Many people don't realize that many wasps feed on nectar and pollen as adults, and thus are important pollinators. Here's one I photographed that the iNaturalist community has tentatively identified as a Five-banded Thynnid Wasp:

Wasp on Croton - 2

The most exciting part of the morning came on the west side of the preserve in the deciduous woods habitat area. Carolyn and I were looking at an empty cicada shell when Sarah spotted a large bird flying through the woods. I was too late to see it but then we all saw a second bird fly in the same direction. It was a juvenile Great Horned Owl. We went into the woods to see if we could find these birds and we were lucky to find one, awkwardly perched on a tree trunk and nervously watching us. In the middle of the photo, you can just barely see one of its massive talons!

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owls are amazingly adaptable birds of prey that can live in urban and suburban habitats as well as more natural areas. Juvenile birds are seen more often because they haven't learned how to be as sneaky and wary of people yet.

In addition to the owls, I ended up recording 27 species of birds.
Here's our complete list on eBird.

Here are these photos and more from the morning posted on Flickr.

And attached are most of these same photos as iNaturalist observations.

Update 2020/07/17: Here's the video:

Posted on July 13, 2020 20:27 by mikaelb mikaelb | 18 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment