Sunday, August 10, 2014

Blue Grosbeaks at Lake Arrowhead State Park

Male blue grosbeak, Wikimedia Commons, Dick Daniels
Saturday was the monthly bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. June, one of the regular participants showed at 7 AM, so it was just the two of us for the walk this time.

Those of you who thought about coming to the bird walk, but decided it was too early, missed a treat. June and I were walking along and I heard an unfamiliar call from the mesquites near the dining hall. We followed the call in to the trees and I noticed a bird at the top of the tree that looked to be in about the location the call was coming from. Of course, as often happens, the bird was between me and the sun, so we had to circle around to get a better view. The first thing I noticed other than the general shape was blue. I knew it wasn't a blue bird, so my first thought was an indigo bunting, which I see in the Lake Arrowhead area now and again. But when I was able to get a good look, it was obvious that is not what we had. The cardinal-like beak is the first clue. The russet stripes on the wings another. We had a male blue grosbeak! Another grosbeak flew in. I thought it was a female, but upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an immature grosbeak. Dad took him a big fat insect for breakfast. I saw the male again later singing in a tree across the parking lot.

This was our best bird, but by no means the only good bird of the morning. Apparently, the egrets/herons are getting ready to migrate. We saw several flocks of snowy egrets (one flock was between 25 and 30 birds) and great egrets. We also saw parent bluebirds feeding their fledglings in the camping area.

June left about 8:30. She had asked me about dickcissel and I told  her I have heard them in the park--they tend to start calling a little later in the morning though. We didn't hear one before she left. I had a mussel watch for the Texas Master Naturalists, so stayed for that and added a couple of other bird species she wasn't with me to see--one of them being a dickcissel about 9 AM. Other birds that morning included: Canada goose, white pelican, great egret, great blue heron, snowy egret, greater yellowlegs, killdeer, turkey vulture, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, white-winged dove, golden-fronted woodpecker, ladder-backed woodpecker, barn swallow, cliff swallow, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird, orchard oriole, red-winged blackbird, American robin, scissor-tailed flycatcher, dickcissel, eastern bluebird, common grackle, European starling, and house finch. I also saw a peep that I was not able to identify.

Overall, a nice morning bird walk. Next month, the bird walk reverts back to 8 AM, for all of you who like to sleep in a little bit on the weekend.

Good birding!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Clean Those Feeders and Baths!

Many of us feed birds during the summer. Almost all of us have a bird bath. Although we all know it is important to keep our feeders and bird baths clean, sometimes we're not as diligent as we should be. But these cleaning tasks are vital to the health of the birds we enjoy.

In the summer, the stress on the birds, especially in our drought-ridden area, means they have lowered immune systems. One disease that often takes hold is trichomoniasis (trich)--most commonly in pigeons and doves, which are very susceptible to this disease. The raptors that feed on these birds also tend to get trich. This is not the same trichomoniasis as found in people.

Trichomoniasis is very contagious and highly fatal in birds. It progresses very rapidly. If you find a dove on the ground that is extremely emaciated, even though it has been eating, it is very possible trich is the culprit. Often you can see a yellowish, curd-like growth inside their mouths. If you see this, you know you have trich. A large number of extremely emaciated doves with no visible signs of injury are coming in to Wild Bird Rescue, suspicious for trich.

If you find a dead dove or pigeon in your yard that may have contracted trich, take down your feeders immediately and empty your bird bath. Leave everything down for 10 days. What you are doing here is dispersing the birds from your yard at least and allowing time for the infected birds to die. Before you refill your bird bath and feeders, clean them thoroughly and disinfect with a 1:10 bleach solution. I am not a big chlorine bleach fan, but it works well as a disinfectant.

Watching these birds waste away is heartbreaking. Clean your feeders regularly and watch for signs of trich in your backyard birds. You didn't cause the disease, but you can help prevent it from spreading.

Good birding!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Good Birding on the Circle Trail

I have been out of town (another post on that later), so haven't had a chance to bird much lately but decided if I was going to do any birding in May I had better get out this morning. I decided to bird the section of the Circle Trail between Lucy Park and Williams Park. It runs along the Wichita River and is one of the prettier sections of the trail completed so far. It isn't very long, but is nicely wooded. I spent about an hour and a half walking the path, enjoying the birds.

Although the water in the river was very low, there were some good birds, to include the only belted kingfisher I have seen for a while--this drought is not kind to a lot of bird species. I watched this one for a while. He left his perch to hover above the water several times, but I never saw him dive to catch anything. I hope he is finding some fish.

I also came across a robin's nest out in the open where it is easily seen. One of the parents had just come back to feed the nestlings when I passed by--two little heads were up above the edge of the nest, begging for food.

Altogether a good little walk. The birds seen included: mallard, green heron, snowy egret, great egret, white-winged dove, Eurasian collared dove, mourning dove, rock pigeon, Mississippi kite, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, chimney swift, belted kingfisher, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, blue jay, western kingbird, tufted titmouse, black-crested titmouse, Carolina chickadee, robin, eastern phoebe, red-winged blackbird, European starling, great-tailed grackle, common grackle, house finch, and house sparrow.

Good birding!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Photo Big Day

I know some of the people who read this blog like to photograph the birds they see. Here's a new competition for you--a photographic big day! Although this is another one of those events I didn't learn about until it was in progress, it appears you can make a team any time!
 
Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, co-authors of The Warbler Guide, are collaborating with the ABA and NYC Audubon on a race to see and photograph as many bird species as possible 24 hours. Most of us are familiar with the “Big Day,” where teams race to see and hear as many birds as possible in a single day, but these teams are made up of elite birders and many of the “sightings” are actually made by ear.

The Photo Big Day is an attempt to level the playing the field by reducing the reliance on ear-birding and limiting species counts to actual photo-documented sightings. Tom and Scott will be part of Team Warbler and their inaugural Photo Big Day will be held on April 22 in Southeastern Texas. You can read more about the Photo Big Day, join the fun, or support a team at this site: http://www.photobigday.org/

There are a number of questions not answered on the website (or at least I didn't find the answers.) For example: What are the criteria to determine whether your photo counts? Although this team birded in southeastern Texas on April 22, it appears teams may choose a location and date different from the team mentioned in the above paragraph.

This might be a fun event for our local photographers and birdwatchers.

Good birding!

Pledge to Fledge

As some of you know, I support Pledge to Fledge, which is really nothing more than helping new birdwatchers learn more about birds. However, every year the Global Birding Initiative designates the last weekend in April for an international event. I did it last year and did meet up with a new birder--had a great time.

This year I am going to be in Austin attending a convention over the Pledge to Fledge weekend. But just know that if you're a new birder and want to learn to identify birds, contact me at txbirds@gmail.com and we'll find a mutually agreeable time to get out and watch the birds. No special event required.

In the meantime, don't forget the Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park on the second Saturday of each month. Usually I lead the walk. When I cannot, Terry McKee has been kind enough to step up.

People are often intimidated by the number of birds and feel overwhelmed at first. But all of us learn our birds one at a time. Whether you can identify one bird or hundreds, it is more important to enjoy and appreciate them than it is to know their names.

Feel free to contact me any time to meet-up to bird.

Good birding!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Nice Morning at Lake Arrowhead State Park

I am just now getting around to writing a summary of our morning at Lake Arrowhead State Park. Saturday, April 12, was the monthly bird walk at the park. A beautiful morning, although a little cool and nippy. One of my regular walk attendees, June, came as well as Karen, one of the new class of the Rolling Plains chapter Texas Master Naturalist. Robert Mauk with Inland Fisheries stopped by for a few minutes, although he was in the park primarily to take some nature photos.

On my way to the park, I noticed my first flock cattle egret of the year in Archer county and then came across a small flock of black vultures around a carcass on FM 1954 in Clay county.  That was a good start for what turned out to be a decent birding morning. Several summer birds have arrived--both snowy and great egrets were around the lake and everyone's favorite, scissor-tailed flycatchers, were everywhere. The highlight was probably the large group (probably easily 300 birds) of white pelicans massing over the park. A front was moving into the area, so perhaps the birds were preparing to head north. No sign of any gulls, so they have apparently all left--I haven't seen any around Lake Wichita for several days now. Some winter birds are still around--most noticeably the white-crowned sparrow.

We spent two hours birding. The birds cited included: Canada goose, white pelican, double crested cormorant,  killdeer, great egret, snowy egret, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, Carolina chickadee, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, eastern phoebe, eastern bluebird, red-bellied woodpecker, ladder-backed woodpecker, cliff swallow, scissor-tailed flycatcher, Bewick's wren, red-winged blackbird, eastern meadowlark, brown-headed cowbird, common grackle, lark sparrow, savannah sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, and house finch.

Overall a pleasurable couple of hours.

Good birding!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Book Review: The Thing with Feathers

The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human, by Noah Strycker is a must-have for bird enthusiasts. Enough science for those so inclined, enough history for those who enjoy that, and lots of fascinating information about the birds around us.

The book is laid out in short chapters focused on something interesting about a particular bird--the long-debated topic of the sense of smell in vultures, for example. It is apparent Mr. Stryker has a great love and fascination for birds--it comes across in every page. He also has a great sense of humor. I laughed out loud when he described picking up a deer carcass along the side of the road to bait vultures--in part because it sounds like something I would do. However, maybe it is my age, but I think I would have thought to put a plastic garbage bag under the dead animal in my car.....

Overall, a fun, fascinating, wide-ranging book. I highly recommend it. I bought my copy from Amazon. Don't forget to log in through smile.amazon.com and designate 0.5% to Wild Bird Rescue or other charity of your choice.

Good birding!