Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On the (Chat) Trail After a Chat!

Yellow-breasted chat. Photo courtesy of Jim Conrad, Wikimedia
This afternoon I was heading back to the house with the very serious intention of shoveling some work off my desk so I can leave for the Rockport Hummingbird Festival tomorrow morning with a clear conscience. I was just a few blocks from my house and sitting at the red light on the corner of Fairway Blvd and Southwest Parkway when I get a text from fellow birder, Rick Folkening. He said he had stopped at the Chat Trail in Lake Wichita Park that morning and had seen some good birds, to include a yellow-breasted chat. What to do?

One could argue that I should have been responsible and headed home, but that's not what happened. I convinced myself that a short detour wouldn't be a horrible thing. After all, Lake Wichita Park is just off Fairway Blvd, right?

Yes, I know the Chat Trail is "closed" due to the temporary water reuse project, but there is no better place to bird in Wichita Falls during migration season. It was hot and humid and not the best time of day for birding (11:45 AM), but I decided to go for it. I spent about 45 minutes walking down to the bridge and back on the trail and did indeed pick up some good birds to include the yellow-breasted chat, which was cooperative enough to sit right out in the open for a couple of minutes to give me a very good view.

I didn't see all of the birds Rick saw, but I did see three 1st winter blue grosbeaks, which were a complete surprise. As noted in another blog post, I saw two blue grosbeaks at Lake Arrowhead last month and was very excited. I definitely did not expect to see any on the chat trail, although it is great habitat for them. I tried to turn them into house finches, which I frequently see along this trail, but it didn't work.

Other birds seen in this short stop: red-tailed hawk, mourning dove, downy woodpecker, chimney swift, barn swallow, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird, blue jay, yellow warbler, Baltimore oriole, Carolina wren, robin, eastern kingbird and eastern phoebe. Well worth the stop.

So yes, tonight I am stressing about what I didn't get done today, but I did see some extremely good birds, so I'll get over it. After all, it was "only" 45 minutes.

Thanks, Rick! Appreciate the text.

Good birding!

Book Review: The Passenger Pigeon

I recently received "The Passenger Pigeon" by Errol Fuller from Princeton University Press. September 1, 2014 was the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha the passenger pigeon, the last of her species, so it is a timely reminder of just how tenuous life can be for a species, regardless of how numerous they might be.
This hardback book is beautifully illustrated. Mr. Fuller has put together a complete natural history of the passenger pigeon drawing upon historical illustrations, photographs, specimens, poems, ornithological journal articles and historical accounts. Do you know where the term "stool pigeon" originated? You'll know after reading the sad story in this book.

Many of the same factors that affect birds today were part of the reasons for the demise of the passenger pigeon, so the story resonates.  

Not a joyful book by any means but nonetheless, an important story for anyone who cares about birds and their future.

The Passenger Pigeon is available from Princeton University Press for $29.95. It is also available from for $22.15 (and don't forget, you can help Wild Bird Rescue, Inc., by logging in to Amazon through the URL and designating Wild Bird Rescue as your charity.)

Good birding!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Saturday at Lake Arrowhead

On Saturday I attended the Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. We had some out of town guests (David, Jonathon, Eilene) from New Mexico and Arizona as well as Terry, June and Paula.

It was unseasonably cool for mid September, which I was very happy about. I expected a lot of shorebirds, considering the numbers of shorebirds at Lake Wichita that past couple of weeks. Other than a few killdeer, the shorebirds were not to be found on Saturday. However, we did have some decent birds.

When you go on a bird walk, the expectation most people have is the "leader" is going to be an expert and be able to identify every bird seen. I am very conservative. If I am not absolutely positive about the ID, I don't make one. I do take note of field marks and try to research the bird later for a positive identification. We had three mystery birds when we stopped the walk--two of which I feel comfortable making an identification call.

The first was a small group of dickcissel that perched out in the open for a long time. When I initially
Dickcissel at LASP. Photo courtesy of Paula Savage
got a good look at them, I identified them as dickcissel and then for some reason, talked myself out of the ID. Paula Savage took the photo accompanying this post and as soon as I opened her email, the dickcissel identification was obvious. Thank goodness for a photographer among us.

The second mystery bird remains unidentified. It looked a lot like an oriole. One of the members of our group leaned toward a Bullock's oriole. I was reluctant to go there, as there was no white patch on the wing--it was more like a pair of wing bars. Really, it looked more like a tanager, but they tanager it looked most like hasn't been recorded anywhere close to our area. That doesn't mean it is impossible, just not likely. We did not get a photo of this bird, so it remains unidentified--those that were there can decide to record it as they wish.

The third mystery bird was an Empidonax flycatcher. These birds are notoriously difficult to identify without a song clue, which we didn't get. The most noticeable field mark was the olive tint to the plumage, to include the wing bars,which were obvious, but not sharply distinct. I also wrote down a bi-colored bill and some very light streaking on the throat and upper breast. Based upon those notes and comparing all of the species accounts, my best guess is an Acadian flycatcher.

One of the best birds of the morning was an adult male red-headed woodpecker. We don't get to see these as often as we used to, so it is always a treat. This was a lifer for Paula. We had another lifer for one of our out-of-town visitors--a scissor-tailed flycatcher. We took time to really look at and enjoy these birds. It's a fact that we see so many of common birds such as the scissor-tailed flycatcher that we don't take the time to really look at and appreciate just how beautiful they are.

The birds seen in the park Saturday were: killdeer, great egret, great blue heron, snowy egret, Canada goose, double-crested cormorant, turkey vulture, Eurasian collared dove, white-winged dove, Bewick's wren, red-headed woodpecker, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, scissor-tailed flycatcher, Acadian flycatcher, dickcissel, orchard oriole, lark sparrow, and yellow warbler.

On the way home, I stopped at the Chat Trail in Lake Wichita Park in hopes of catching sight of the redstart seen and photographed a few days before by Paula Savage. No dice on that. In fact, it was very quiet on the Chat Trail for this time of year.  We were there for just about 20 minutes and saw the following birds: Eurasian collared dove, white-winged dove, chimney swift, hummingbird sp., scissor-tailed flycatcher, great-crested flycatcher, blue jay, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird, robin, eastern phoebe, house finch, savannah sparrow, and house sparrow.

Overall, a nice morning of birding.

Good birding!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Local Bird Events Coming Up

I received an email this morning from Katherine Smith of Wild Birds Unlimited of Wichita Falls with some upcoming bird-related events happening in the local area, reminding me I needed to get the word out. You wouldn't think I need that reminder as I am involved with most of them, but apparently that's the case.

Saturday, September 13, 8:00 AM: Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. Meet at the firewood shed in the middle of the first campground on your left. There is a $3 entry fee to the park. Shorebird migration is in full swing, so I would expect us to see some good birds.

Saturday, September 13, 10:00 AM: Bird Program at Wild Bird Rescue, 4611 Lake Shore Drive. There is no admission, although donations are always appreciated. Chris will have either hawks or owls and will give an informative talk on their beautiful birds. This is the first of a continuing series of programs at  Wild Bird Rescue. Here is a list of the programs scheduled so far, as well as one or two special events happening at the Center:

Sat., Sept. 13, 10 a.m.
Sun., Sept. 14, 1 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 11, 10 a.m.
Sun., Oct. 12, 7:30 – 10:30 a.m. – The Big Sit Bird Count
       1 p.m. – Feeding your Winter Birds
Sat., Nov. 8, 10 a.m.
Sun., Nov. 9, 1 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 13, 10 a.m.
Sun., Dec. 14, 1 p.m. – Birds in Christmas Traditions
Thurs., Jan. 1 – Big Day for Wild Bird Rescue team birding competition and fund raiser
Sat., Jan. 10, 10 a.m.
Sun., Jan. 11, 1 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 14, 10 a.m.
Sun., Feb. 15, 1 p.m. – Birds in Love; Interesting Mating Behavior in Birds
Sat., March 14, 10 a.m.
Sun., March 15, 1 p.m.
Sat., April 11, 10 a.m.
Sun., April 12, 1 p.m. – Wildscaping your Yard to Benefit the Birds
Sat., May 9, 10 a.m.

Sun., May 10, 1 p.m.

Saturday, September 13, Noon, Wild Birds Unlimited Store: This is the one year anniversary of the Wild Birds Unlimited store opening in its Market Street location. There will be a big sale Friday - Sunday, but on Saturday, beginning at approximately noon, I will have some birds from Wild Bird Rescue to meet the customers. I expect to be there for about 2 hours.

The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club will have their meeting at the Wild Birds Unlimited store at 7 PM on Tuesday, September 16. Katherine Smith will be showing pictures from her recent birdwatching trip to Peru.

Don't forget the trip to the Hummingbird Festival in Rockport, TX, September 17 - 21. Some people have dropped out at the last minute, so you can probably still get a seat on the bus, departing Thursday morning. I for one, am looking forward to the trip.

On Tuesday, September 23, 6:00 PM - 8:30 PM, there will be a Pollinator Workshop at River Bend Nature Center. Did you know that some bird species pollinate wildflowers? Well, they do. Come learn about providing good habitat for the birds and other pollinator species. Free.

If you would prefer to just get out and go birding, Lake Wichita has had some awesome numbers of shorebirds passing through on migration. Since I am taking part in almost all of the programs listed here, I plan to take a couple of hours Friday morning to head out to the spillway with a scope to check out the shorebirds.

Good birding!

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!