Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Great Texas Birding Classic Underway



2016 Wichita Wingmen in front of the Jenny at the Wichita Falls airport
Chuck Thueson, Dianne Thueson, Penny Miller, Sue King, Warren King (L to R)
Last year I participated for the first time ever in the Great Texas Birding Classic with Sue and Warren King and Chuck Thueson as part of the Wichita Wingmen team. Dianne Thueson, was supposed to drive for us last year, but was unable to go. She is back in the driver's seat for tomorrow's event. We had a good day last year, but not great. However, we won 1st place in our region/event.

The Great Texas Birding Classis is a competitive birding event with different types of competitions. The event raises money for Texas Parks and Wildlife Conservation Grants.

This year, the Wichita Wingmen will be competing tomorrow, Wednesday, April 26. We are once again taking part in the big day portion of the competition. This is a 24-hour birding marathon, although truthfully, we are not going to be out the entire 24 hours.

There are four teams competing in our region this year. Locally, the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist chapter sponsored a team to compete against ours (although most of us are members of the chapter as well.) That team has already done their big day. They are keeping mum about their total count, but I know they got some good birds (like a bald eagle). One of the other teams competing is located in College Station (yes, that's in the same region).They have had excellent counts in the past (over 100), so I expect some problems from that quarter. It is expected to be a little cool and windy tomorrow, with a chance of rain. I am not overly concerned with the temperatures, but the wind could be a problem. The rain will be an issue only if it is a hard rain. But we are committed at this point, so we are going, no matter the weather.

You can keep up with us throughout the day. I will be making the occasional post about the birds seen on @birdwithpenny using the hashtag #gtbc17--they will feed to the twitter feed on this blog as well as to my personal Facebook page. I'll post an update later after I get the official species count from Sue. Last year we had a song sparrow that the GTBC wouldn't count because it wasn't "supposed" to be in our area in May. We didn't have a picture to prove it, so we didn't get to count it. Sparrows don't often sit still for a photo op. I saw a song sparrow just last weekend, do perhaps we'll get a picture this time.

Wish us luck!

Good birding!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Upcoming Art Exhibition Featuring Birds

I got a postcard (photo to the left) in the mail from the Wichita Falls Museum of Art about the upcoming exhibition "Birds in Art." The postcard indicates the exhibition runs from May 4 - June 24 (which is different than the dates on the museum's website.) I'll be sure to stop by to see it.

For those who may be interested, the opening reception is May 4, 6PM - 8PM.

For more information, contact the museum at 940-397-8900.

Good birding!

Monday, April 17, 2017

HItting the Chat Trail

Red Admiral
I haven't been on the Chat Trail in Lake Wichita Park for a while, so I decided to go on Sunday. The birding was average, but there were other attractions. There were a lot of butterflies--the red admirals were thick along the trail. The bullfrogs were all along the shore of the barrow pit. They make a funny noise when they jump in--a type of alarm call. Sounds a little like a squeaky toy.

Anyway, although I didn't come across any excellent birds, I did have a good outing. My favorite bird, the chimney swift, is back for the summer. There are still winter season bird in the area as well.

Birds that morning:

Mallard
American coot
Canada goose
Great blue heron
Killdeer
Red-bellied woodpecker
White-winged dove
Eurasian collared dove
Mourning dove
Chimney swift
Barn swallow
Northern cardinal
Northern mockingbird
Blue jay
Bewick's wren
Carolina wren
Eastern phoebe
Scissor-tailed flycatcher
American robin
Spotted towhee
White-crowned sparrow
Savannah sparrow
Song sparrow
Common yellowthroat
Yellow-rumped warbler
Orange-crowned warbler
Great-tailed grackle
Red-winged blackbird
Brown-headed cowbird

Since I wasn't really feeling the urge to clean house, I decided to head down Southwest Parkway to do a quick drive-by of a few other spots. There was a black vulture sitting on a light pole along Southwest Parkway. Nothing but mallards and Canada geese on Stone Lake. I made a quick pass through Crestview and picked up some gadwall and starlings (Whoopee!) There wasn't much on Sikes Lake either--some double-crested cormorants and pigeons were the only additions. There was a cute little clutch of 5 newly hatched Canada geese along the shore.

Alas! I really did need to get home and do some housework....bleh!...so headed back.

Good birding!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Turkey Day!

I picked up a new Breeding Bird Survey route in Archer County this year and wanted to scout the route. Most of the routes are in rural areas and the maps can be confusing. My husband agreed to go with me and drive while I tried to navigate. Road signs out on the county roads would be very helpful. There are poles where the signs used to be, but very few signs were on the poles. It took us three hours to drive out, map the route and drive home, but at least I am pretty sure of the route for the count.
Wild Turkey
Photo: Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren
Wikimedia Commons

You see very different birds in the county than you do in town. Although birdwatching was not the purpose of the morning, I did a little bit anyway in between trying to figure out where we were and where we should be going.  The roads were mostly gravel and dirt. A couple were a little more dirt tracks than actual roads--it was obvious they were not heavily traveled. I am very happy my husband was with me. He must have said at least a dozen times, "This route is not one you want to do by yourself. If you can't find someone to go with you, be sure to wake me up and I will go." (He is not a birder and he isn't a morning person, so it's very sweet of him to go with me, which is about half of the surveys I do.)

I put the picture of a wild turkey on this blog because turkeys were a frequent sighting. I saw an even dozen all told. One was a male showing off for the ladies--always impressive.

I also saw several roadrunners and loggerhead shrikes. I saw two what-appeared-to-be prairie falcons, but they should be gone. They generally leave in early March. But they were too light to be peregrines and too large and light to be kestrels. I can't think of anything else that look like and fly like these birds other than prairie falcons, so I am going to call them that. Of course, I don't have pictures.

Birds seen were:

Blue-winged teal
Killdeer
Turkey vulture
Black vulture
Prairie falcon
Red-tailed hawk
American kestrel
Mourning dove
Wild turkey
Northern mockingbird
Scissor-tailed flycatcher
Loggerhead shrike
Roadrunner
Eastern bluebird
Cliff swallow
European starling
American crow
Common grackle
Lark sparrow
Meadowlark (my bet is eastern, although they weren't singing)
House sparrow

I'll be looking forward to running the survey to see what birds I see when I am looking for them.

Good birding!

Saturday Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park

Lincoln's Sparrow
Photo courtesy: Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren
Wikimedia Commons
Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day to be out watching the birds. The only downside was the wind, which became increasingly blustery as the bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park progressed. By 9:00 AM, there were whitecaps on the lake. Windy days aren't the best for finding birds. Consequently, it wasn't the greatest birding morning ever, but it was still better than cleaning house.

On the way out to the park, it was obvious the scissor-tailed flycatchers are back. This was the first day I had seen any, and they were everywhere. I easily saw over a dozen along FM 1954 between Hwy 281 and the park entrance. When I was filling out my park entry paperwork, a Carolina chickadee was singing in the tree at the park entrance. That was the only chickadee I saw or heard all morning.

Debra Halter was the only other person to show that morning, so we took off on our usual route. There were a few times Debra said, "We haven't seen XXX bird this morning." No less than three times, we saw the bird right after she mentioned it. The first was the white pelicans. There are usually good number of pelicans on the lake, but this is right around the time they leave. Sure enough, right after we saw a group of around 15 across the lake. As we were leaving, a group around that size flew over our heads and joined up with another group to make about 50 birds, circling over our heads before flying off. Migrating? We've had a small group of 5 or 6 stay at Lake Arrowhead for the summer the last couple of years. No indication they are breeding.

Debra and I spent several minutes watching a couple of sparrows in the underbrush. We finally decided one was most likely a Lincoln's sparrow. Debra had her camera and loaded the picture into iNaturalist, where that ID was confirmed. I have included a clearer picture from Wikimedia Commons.

Overall, here is a list of the birds we saw on the bird walk inside the park:

Northern shoveler
Blue-winged teal
American coot
Double-crested cormorant
White pelican
Killdeer
Least sandpiper
Great egret
Dowitcher (couldn't determine long-billed or short-billed)
Turkey vulture
Mourning dove
Eurasian collared dove
White-winged dove
Red-bellied woodpecker
Carolina chickadee
Northern mockingbird
Northern cardinal
Eastern phoebe
Cliff swallow
Common grackle
Great-tailed grackle
Red-winged blackbird
Brown-headed cowbird
European starling
House finch
White-crowned sparrow
Harris' sparrow
Lincoln's sparrow
Song sparrow
Bewick's wren
Roadrunner

When I left the park, I decided to take a couple of detours on the way home. First, I drove down to a little marshy area on FM 1954 toward Hwy 287 just outside the park. Added a great blue heron and a northern harrier to my list. I turned around and took W. Arrowhead Rd down to the public boat ramp. I saw another northern harrier and added a loggerhead shrike and an eastern bluebird.

Overall, not a bad morning. Don't forget, the bird walk at Lake Arrowhead state park is the second Saturday every month, beginning at 8 AM. It is an easy walk, lasting about an hour and a half. If the weather is unpleasant, we may complete the route in an hour. If the birds are great, we may go two hours. Come out and join us! New birdwatchers are always welcome.

Good birding!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Project Feederwatch Season Nearly Over

I was updating my weekend Project Feederwatch data and noticed that next weekend is the last count for this season. Porject Feederwatch is a citizen science project, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It's a good, easy project for birders of any age and ability. For home schoolers, this would be a good project to incorporate into your curriculum. For the rest of us, it's just fun. My 5-year-old granddaughter loves to feed the birds and recognizes a few of the species that come to the yard. Maybe in another year or two, she can start taking care of the recordkeeping.

I am always a little saddened by the end of Feederwatch, although I have to admit that since I moved into this house a few years ago, it also lessens my frustration level.
Male house finch, a regular at my feeders
Photo: Maria Carcacas/Project Feederwatch

This was my 19th season counting birds at my feeders. My frustration has been the lack of diversity in the birds at my feeder. This year was a little better from the point of view that on a few non-count days, I did have some nice birds in my yard. But if it weren't for white-winged doves and Eurasian collared doves, it would be pretty sparse in the bird count arena.

I think a lot of my problem is that my neighbors don't have good habitat for a variety of birds, nor do they feed birds. The yards are not huge. I have been working on my yard, adding food plants for the birds, insects, and my family. It takes a while for all of those to take hold and grow, but we're getting there. That is probably why I am beginning to see a few nice birds, even if I can't record them for this project. So, I'll keep plugging along.

I have some birding friends that also participate in Project Feederwatch. They live in a different part of town, with neighbors who feed and watch birds--they have awesome sightings. I am always jealous. But we do what we can, where we can.

I renewed my Project Feederwatch for next season. Maybe my 20th anniversary year will be "the year" my gardening work will pay off.  Why not take part in Project Feederwatch at your house next season? The season runs from November 11 to April 6 and the registration is inexpensive.

Good birding!


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Leucistic House Finch

Leucistic finch at center of photo--note male further back to the left
I looked out my back door and saw a white bird on the ground under my feeders. Of course, I grabbed my binoculars and as luck would have it, the bird and its cohort stayed put (which generally is not how it works.) I grabbed my cell phone and snapped a quick picture. Not a great picture, but if you look closely, you can see the leucistic house finch on the ground.

Leucism is caused by a genetic mutation affecting pigmentation. The birds (and other animals) keep their dark eyes (unlike albinism), but have white patches or are white. Here is a short summary about leucism in birds.

Good birding!