Birding at Hornsby Bend

Working in astronomy comes with a fair bit of travel. Now that birding has turned into a full-fledged madness hobby for me, whenever I’m on the road, I’d like to take the opportunity to explore the local avifauna. It’s a good way to unwind after a few days of conference or a few nights of observing. Birding away from home also offers excellent opportunities to see new species.

This week I was in Austin, Texas as an invited speaker at BashFest 2013. With a return flight at 5pm the day after the symposium, I had plenty of time to go out to see what I could find. I took an early taxi from my hotel to the airport, picked up a rental car, and found myself at the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant just as the sun was rising. Located in a loop of the Colorado River, Hornsby Bend is where sewage and compostable trash from Austin are recycled into dirt. The facility’s 1200 acres of mixed habitat (ponds, woods, mudflats, fields, …) are so attractive for birds that Hornsby Bend offers the largest numbers and widest variety of any location in or near Austin. On top of that, it’s right next to the airport.

Hornsby Bend: a great place to watch birds and planes.
Hornsby Bend: a great place to watch birds and planes.

In a good seven hours of birdwatching, I was able to find 35 different species and 2800 or so individual birds. Most of these came in a large flock of about 2500 brown-headed cowbirds, strung out along power lines and dotting the fields near the plant entrance. Other numerous species were rock pigeons (50), blue-winged teal (40), great-tailed grackles (30), scissor-tailed flycatchers (25), black vultures (20), and killdeer (15). The scissor-tailed flycatchers were a first for me, and a spectacular first at that. Look at those colors and those looooong tail feathers!

Adult scissor-tailed flycatcher (zwaluwstaartkoningstiran).

Scissor-tailed flycatcher. Scissor-tailed flycatchers.

Two other new species for my life list were a loggerhead shrike and a crested caracara, of which I wasn’t able to get good pictures. Actually, I was so busy watching birds through my binoculars that I didn’t take many pictures at all. If you want to see the few that I did take, head over to my Picasa Web Album.

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