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 and designate 0.5% to Wild Bird Rescue or other charity of your choice.

Good birding!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Moving to Summer Birdfeeding

I am writing this this morning while watching the rain--it is such a joy to see water. Those of you in this area know how severe our drought has been.

A few days ago I wrote about the end of this year's Project Feederwatch season. The end of the season also marks the end of winter bird feeding for me. It would be different if I lived further north--I would probably keep all of my feeders up another few weeks.

However, that doesn't mean I don't continue to feed the birds in the summer; I feed all year around. It does mean I don't have to spend as much money supporting my birds. I took down one suet feeder, one platform feeder and two tube feeders. That still leaves one suet, two platform (although I'll put only half the food out as usual) and one tube feeder. I also add a hummingbird feeder in the summer. After all, I still like to watch the birds and an easy  meal is never turned down by busy parents. I have been noticing fewer visitors to my feeders over the past couple of weeks. In part this is due to more insects being available and in part because breeding birds are beginning to lay out their territories.

Most importantly, especially in this drought, provide water. Although you cannot use treated water outside under our drought restrictions, if you collect rain water or use greywater (from your shower only,) you can continue to put out water for your birds.

People sometimes ask why reduce food when the birds have babies to feed in the summer? Most babies are fed insects. Baby birds grow at a phenomenal rate and insects are high in proteins and fat. Most adult birds also change the composition of their diet in the summer, switching to a higher proportion of insects as insects are usually plentiful at this time of year and parents need a quick meal on the go. Cardinals eat about 1/3 insects and 2/3 vegetation (including seeds) although they feed their young almost 95% insects.

That isn't true of all of our birds, of course. The diet of house finches seems to stay at 97% seeds and plants all year long. So they'll be regular visitors to my sunflower feeder all summer. And of course our doves eat seeds all year around. Not that the Eurasian collared doves and white-winged doves in my neighborhood couldn't afford to go on a diet.

The best bird feeding is what birds get from native plants and the insects that feed on them. I haven't put in as many plants as I have wanted to the last few years because of the drought. But I continue to put in one or two every year.

Please don't spray poisons in your yards. Not only does it reduce the number of insects, but those insects in your yards are full of poisons, and are then fed to baby birds. Lots of birds is a good way to keep insects under control. Besides, we are all going to be sorry when the pollinators are gone.

So continue to enjoy your birds as the summer approaches. If you put up some bird houses or provide other suitable habitat with trees, shrubs and vines, perhaps you'll have the good fortune to watch a brood grow up.

Good birding!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Project Feederwatch Season Ends

This past weekend was my last Project Feederwatch observation period for this season. I have participated for 16 seasons.

Overall, it was a pretty disappointing season for me. We moved a couple of years ago and our yard is not nearly as bird-friendly as previous years. With the drought, I have not been able to make the wildscape improvements as quickly as I would like. Hoping the drought breaks soon. This year, out of 22 observation periods I had a grand total of 17 species--mostly less desirable species like white-winged doves, Eurasian collared doves, house sparrows and European starlings. I just keep trying to remember that the data is important, even if not what we want.

I have already signed up for next year and am hoping for a good year. Why not sign up? It's a good way to commit yourself to take the time to watch the birds in your backyard. This would be an excellent project for home schooling or as an activity to do with your kids. My 2-year-old granddaughter loved to feed the birds and to watch the doves all trying to fit on the platform feeder. I am hoping to have better luck turning her into a birder than I did with my kids. It's only $15 if you are not a Lab of Ornithology member; $12 if you are.

Good birding!

An Hour in Lucy Park

Photo by Manjith Kainickjara, Wikimedia Commons
I haven't birded Lucy Park much over the past year or so. My favorite areas for birding have been cleared out for a flood control project, so the little dickie birds that used to be so plentiful there are not. However, there are still some areas with some good cover, so I decided to give Lucy Park an hour of my time on Sunday morning. I walked the front of the trail from the entrance to the park to the Falls and then back down to where the clearing out starts near the bridge to the RV park, and then some inside the RV park. Then I took a quick drive by the duck pond, in case the wood ducks were there again (they weren't.)

I can't say I had great luck, but I did better than I expected. I was especially happy to come across a pair of Carolina wrens. The male was singing his little heart out and his lady friend was scoping out a tangle of vines around a downed tree limb for a possible nesting site. Another special treat was a small flock of yellow-rumped warblers. I haven't seen them much this year, so that was a nice touch to the morning.

It was a beautiful morning--clear, sunny, very little breeze and about 60 degrees. It doesn't get much better than that. Here are the birds I saw: Canada goose, blue-winged teal, mallard, gadwall, northern shoveler, white-winged dove, rock pigeon, turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, red-bellied woodpecker, blue jay, cardinal, eastern phoebe, yellow-rumped warbler, northern mockingbird, Carolina chickadee, American robin, tufted titmouse, black-crested titmouse, Carolina wren, American goldfinch, dark-eyed junco, fox sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, great-tailed grackle, red-winged blackbird, European starling, and house finch.

All in all a nice little walk.

Good birding!

Monday, March 17, 2014

New Cornell University Programs

Barn Swallow by Walter Siegmund,
Wikimedia Commons
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is looking for people with nesting barn swallows to help in conducting a study on the effect of light on these birds. Although barn swallows haven't yet returned to our area, if you usually have nesting barn swallows, you can learn more from a recent newsletter article

I'm a little late bringing this to you, but Cornell is getting ready to launch their duck ID webinar series again, as well as the shorebird identification webinars. I have taken the shorebird series and learned a lot. I am going to sign up for the duck series this time, even though I am pretty good on ducks, and they're all getting ready to leave the area again until next winter. However, I can use some help on the non-duck swimming birds (grebes, etc.) I can't wait for the crow series to come back around. They are fascinating birds.  At $10 a webinar, these are within reach of most budgets, if you take one at a time.

Good birding!

Book Review: Ten Thousand Birds, Ornithology Since Darwin

I received Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology Since Darwin from Princeton University Press a couple of weeks ago. A large book, I admit I put off giving it an in-depth review just because of the size (544 pages.) It also doesn't have all of the pretty pictures most bird books have, although it does have several. One of the authors, Tim Birkhead, wrote Bird Sense, one of my favorite books about birds, so that caught my attention and gave me additional incentive to read the book.

So I made the plunge. The book delves into the rapid expansion in the study of birds since Darwin, but especially over the past few decades. It reviews our knowledge about bird evolution, classification, behavior, migration, ecology and conservation. The book takes a biographical approach, focusing on the major players in the field of ornithology and interweaving that information with their discoveries. What was especially interesting to me was how they went about making their discoveries--their thought processes and why they chose to study what they did.

Once I got into the book, there was a lot of fascinating information about birds tucked in throughout the book, so even if you are not necessarily excited about reading about science history and individual ornithologists, there is still a lot of attract a birder to the book. I found the book thoroughly entertaining and can see there is more than enough substance to have me returning to the book many times in the future.

This book is available from the publisher for $45.00 or  from for $32.12.

Good birding!