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!


Reporting Out Great Backyard Bird Count

Last week concluded this year's Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) event. I was happy to once again be able to schedule work around participating in this event, so I got to bird four days in a row! Life doesn't get much better than that.

I have finished filing all of the GBBC checklists into eBird, so I can finally report to all of you how it went. Overall, it was pretty good weekend.

On Friday, February 17, a group of us birded the chat trail and barrow pit in Lake Wichita Park. One of our group is fairly new to birding. I enjoy having new birders in a group--it really helps to go with others when you're first learning. Sue got a lifer marsh wren. One of the highlights was a hairy woodpecker. Although you don't see one every day, I don't think most of the regular birders in the area think of them as rare, but eBird does. Several of the group independently identified the bird, but no one thought to take a picture of it, so we'll see whether they accept the sighting. We had a good morning for woodpeckers overall, with the hairy, a couple of downy woodpeckers, a northern flicker, a ladder-backed woodpecker, a northern flicker, and a red-bellied woodpecker. We didn't do as well on the duck side of the house, but a quick sighting of a great-horned owl in flight made up for the lack of ducks.
Foggy morning at Lake Arrowhead SP
Disputed sandpiper


On Saturday, a few of us tackled Lake Arrowhead State Park. Thick soupy fog made visibility poor and prevented being able to scan the lake and opposite shore for birds. Since the picture to the left was taken with my cell phone, if you haven't been to Lake Arrowhead SP, you probably don't recognize how foggy it was. From this spot, we should be able to see over the lake, but there is just a wall of white. We saw some good birds regardless. The long-eared owls were still on site. There were a lot of people who traveled from elsewhere in the state to get a good look at the owls. One is remarkably mellow about all of the coming and going. Sue King, who had the lifer marsh wren on Friday, picked up another lifer with a golden-crowned kinglet here. We spent a great deal of time studying a flock of sandpipers. To all of us the legs appeared dark and we made an identification of semipalmated sandpiper. The editor for eBird thinks the legs are yellow in the photo. We are still in discussion at this point. The list at the end of this post is accepting the sandpiper as we identified it because the legs were definitely not yellow. But the editor has only the photo and range maps to go by, and semipalmated are not supposed to be here right now. But, as the saying goes, the birds can't read the field guides. However, it is possible the sandpiper is something else, so we will see. I sent out a call to those who were there to forward any clear pictures they might have.

On Sunday, several of us met out back of Wild Bird Rescue for a GBBC in a Big Sit format. It was pretty disappointing in terms of numbers, although James got a lifer with a yellow-rumped warbler. A Bonaparte's gull and a couple of Forster's terns were highlights for me.

River up in Lucy Park
Recent rains mean quishy areas in Lucy Park
On Monday, I birded the Circle trail from the entrance of Lucy Park on Sunset Drive to Williams Park. Lucy Park is not the bird mecca it was before, but there is still some good habitat on this stretch of trail for little dickie birds. As you can see in the photos, the recent rain made much of the park pretty quishy and the river was up and moving fast. I enjoyed seeing a white-throated sparrow--the first I have seen in Lucy Park since they tore out much of the understory. However, there is still a good stand of trees and vines near the footbridge, behind the sanitation building. Down the trail some, Lynn and I saw two brown creepers, which are always a highlight for me. A surprising find in town was the pair of eastern bluebirds behind the MPEC. I have seen bluebirds a couple of times over the past 20 years in Lake Wichita Park, but never here. A belted kingfisher flying up and down the river was also nice.

I am hoping by next year's, GBBC the Nature Bluff area will be ready for visitors.

So what did we see? I am hoping I don't inadvertently leave a bird out, but here goes:

Canada goose
Double-crested cormorant
Mallard
Northern shoveler
Ruddy duck
American wigeon
American coot
Pied-billed grebe
Ring-billed gull
Bonaparte's gull
Forster's tern
White pelican
Great blue heron
Killdeer
Semipalmated sandpiper
Belted kingfisher
Great horned owl
Long-eared owl
Turkey vulture
Red-tailed hawk
Northern flicker
Ladder-backed woodpecker
Downy woodpecker
Hairy woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker
Inca dove
Mourning dove
Eurasian collared dove
White-winged dove
Rock pigeon
Northern cardinal
Northern mockingbird
Blue jay
Tufted titmouse (both regular and black-crested)
Eastern phoebe
Eastern bluebird
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Golden-crowned kinglet
Orange-crowned warbler
Yellow-rumped warbler
Common yellowthroat
American robin
Great-tailed grackle
Red-winged blackbird
European starling
House finch
American goldfinch
Cedar waxwing
Song sparrow
White-thrated sparrow
White-crowned sparrow
Field sparrow
Dark-eyed junco
Harris's sparrow
Brown creeper
Marsh wren
Carolina wren
Bewick's wren

If my count is correct, that's 58 species.

Good birding!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Lifer! Long-eared Owl

Long-eared owl at Lake Arrowhead SP
I have been offline for awhile. A car accident, a new grandbaby and then getting sick kept me barely keeping up with work--and not too well, at that.

But I wanted to catch up with some good birding. As you know, I usually lead the bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park on the second Saturday of each month. February 11 was a very good day--I got a lifer! But not during the bird walk.

After the bird walk, several of us stuck around to work on the butterfly garden near the ranger station  at the entrance to the part. We noticed some owl pellets under a live oak tree adjacent to the garden, but we didn't see an owl in the tree at that spot. A little later, Debra McKee found a long-eared owl on the other side of the tree. My photo is to the left. I took it with my cell phone, so it isn't the greatest, although it is clear enough to identify. This was a life bird for me, so I was excited. In fact, it was a life bird for most of us who saw it that day. It is continuing to draw many visitors to the park. As many as 5 owls have been seen at one time. If you decide to go to the park to look for it, please be quiet and as unobtrusive as possible to keep the birds from being stressed.

Like I said, overall, it was a very good day for the bird walk. Here are the other birds we saw the same day:

Great egret
Great blue heron
Ring-billed gull
Double-crested cormorant
Canada goose
White pelican
American coot
Gadwall
Northern pintail
Mallard
Pied-billed grebe
Wilson's snipe
Killdeer
Least sandpiper
Greater yellowlegs
Black vulture
Northern harrier
Long-eared owl
Eurasian collared dove
Mourning dove
Rock pigeon
Ladder-backed woodpecker
Yellow-shafted flicker
Northern cardinal
Northern mockingbird
Eastern phoebe
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Bewick's wren
Meadowlark species
Savannah sparrow
Song sparrow
House finch
Red-wingred blackbird
Great-tailed grackle
Brown-headed cowbird
European starling

The next bird walk is scheduled for March 11, at 8:00 AM.

Good birding!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Lifer!!

Pyrrhuloxia, Lake Arrowhead SP, 12/23/2016
Photo courtesy of Debra Halter
There are few things more exciting to a birder than adding a life bird to their list. I had a chance to do that this past week.

Debra Halter and June McKee were birding at Lake Arrowhead SP and saw this pyrruhloxia. It looks much like a female cardinal, but it is more of a grayish color and is dark gray/black around the beak and eyes. Debra kindly posted her photo to the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club Facebook page, with a good description of where they saw the bird.

It was late in the day when I saw the post, so I decided I would give it a try to find the bird the next day. I had an previous opportunity to get this bird when I was showing a group of birders from Houston around the area, and we were at Copper Breaks State Park a few years ago. Several of them saw the pyrruhloxia--I did not. I heard it, but I don't count a first-time bird unless I see it well enough to be able to identify it.

I told my husband I was going out to try to find a lifer. The last time he went with me was a couple of years ago when he went with me on New Year's Eve (when we didn't find) and New Year's Day (when we did find) a whooping crane that had been sighted out around Electra. He didn't know about a lifer, and he didn't think people would actually spend time out beating the bushes for one--until he saw how many people were out trying to get a glimpse of the whooping crane.

Even though this bird wasn't in an isolated area, he decided he would go with me, so Christmas Eve found us at Lake Arrowhead State Park, trying to find this bird. Birds will often stay in one area for awhile, if they find the type of habitat they like. We walked all through the general area Debra had described, with no luck. I finally spied what I thought would be perfect habitat for this bird and decided to give it a thorough look. And, there it was! My husband didn't see it, but he was on the opposite side of the area. I got a good look, but couldn't find it again for him. He's not a birder, so he wasn't heartbroken. But it would have been nice for him to see it too. Overall, it took us about 45 minutes to find the bird, so not bad at all. We did see a few other birds during our walk: eastern phoebe, European starling, Northern mockingbird, American coot, pied-billed grebe, double-crested cormorant, red-winged blackbird, ladder-backed woodpecker, yellow-shafted northern flicker, ruby-crowned kinglet, northern cardinal, Cooper's hawk, northern harrier, black vukture. Not bad for 45 minutes.

Good birding!

Christmas Bird Count

I am catching up on happenings. It is hard enough to find time to bird over the holidays, let alone follow-up writing about it. But I did want to catch up.

The Wichita Falls Christmas Bird Count  (CBC) was December 17, sponsored by the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club. The weather was absolutely beautiful on December 16. Not so much on count day. I was naively thinking the cold front might not come through until afternoon, but the temperatures started dropping early in the morning. That would have been okay, except for the wind, which makes the weather seem so much colder and keeps the birds down. Consequently, the count was lower than usual, both in number of species and numbers of individual birds. We worked hard for these birds.

I started the count on the Lake Wichita dam, where it is always windy and can be downright miserable when it is cold. I was joined by Fred Koberg, from Graham, joining me for his first CBC. We birded from 7:30 AM to around 3:00 PM in our area. We walked about 5.3 miles and drove 82 miles. We later met the other teams for the count supper at Sue and Warren King's home.

My favorite birds of the day were the Wilson's snipe, prairie falcon, and white-throated sparrow.

I am including only the birds seen by me and Fred in our area, which is the southwest section of the circle. Debra Halter is the official compiler for our count and submitted final totals for the count after the count week.

Canada goose, 88
Gadwall, 76
American wigeon, 6
Mallard, 67
Northern shoveler, 53
Ring-necked duck, 29
Bufflehead, 1
Duck sp, 54
Pied-billed grebe, 5
American white pelican, 77
Double-crested cormorant, 100
Great blue heron, 5
Turkey vulture, 1
Northern harrier, 2
Sharp-shinned hawk, 1
Cooper's hawk, 1
Red-tailed hawk, 5
Buteo sp, 3
American kestrel, 8
Prairie falcon, 1
American coot, 41
Killdeer, 10
Wilson's snipe, 4
Ring-billed gull, 144
Rock pigeon, 21
Eurasian collared dove, 70
White-winged dove, 6
Mourning dove, 4
Belted kingfisher, 3
Red-bellied woodpecker, 1
Ladder-backed woodpecker, 2
Downy wooodpecker, 2
Northern (yellow-shafted) flicker, 1
Eastern phoebe, 4
Loggerhead shrike, 1
Blue jay, 4
American crow, 1
Tufted titmouse, 1
Ruby-crowned kinglet, 3
Eastern bluebird, 1
American robin, 3
Northern mockingbird, 5
Brown thrasher, 1
European starling, 287
Orange-crowned warbler, 1
Spotted towhee, 1
Fox sparrow, 1
Song sparrow, 2
White-throated sparrow, 1
Harris' sparrow, 6
White-crowned sparrow, 18
Sparrow sp, 13
Dark-eyed junco, 5
Northern cardinal, 32
Red-winged balckbird, 218
Meadowlark sp, 23
Common grackle, 4
Great-tailed grackle, 108
Blackbird sp, 230
American goldfinch, 10
House sparrow, 1

Although this wasn't one of the better counts in terms of numbers or weather, it was a great time. After all, I could have been cleaning house.....

Good birding!


Friday, December 9, 2016

Some Weekend Bird Events

Two things coming up this weekend.

Saturday, 10 December, 8 AM - 9:00 (or 9:30, if we're seeing good birds). Lake Arrowhead State Park Bird Walk. Park entry fees apply. Meet at the firewood shed/dump station in the first campground on your left. (Take second left, first right, on left--look for the black pick up). I suggest you dress warm.

Saturday, 10 December,  11:00 AM - 2:00 PM. Owl Be Home for Christmas. At Wild Birds Unlimited. Meet the some of the educational birds from Wild Bird Rescue. A $30 donation to Wild Bird Rescue will get you a $15 gift certificate to Wild Birds Unlimited. A win-win!

Just as a reminder, don't forget the Christmas Bird Count on December 17.

Good birding!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Great Fall Birding!

Fall colors at Lake Wichita Park
I decided to make a stop at the Chat Trail in Lake Wichita Park after my Sunday morning grocery run. Honestly, I wasn't in a good mood, and almost decided to go straight home. However, I had no freezer items, and I haven't been out in a while, so thought I would take a quick little walk and get a little exercise, at least. I am so glad I went! I came home in a much better frame of mind and saw some great birds too! I hope I can find many of these again on the Christmas Bird Count on December 17.

Fall has finally arrived in our area. The temperature was in the 40s and it was a little overcast, but no wind, so a great day to be outside birding. We have a little color in the trees now.

Common yellowthroat. Photo by M. Nazelrod. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons
When I pulled into the park, hundreds of cormorants and white pelicans were making their pilgramage to the settling pond on Fairway--I am sure some of them proceeded on, but I didn't stick around to watch. One of the highlights this morning was the common yellowthroat. If I see one, it is almost always along the chat trail or in the reeds around the barrow pit. I don't see them often. When I do, it is just one. This morning, I saw five! Three males and two females.  They are such pretty little birds.

Anotther favorite was the marsh wren. It is not uncommon to have one in the winter. However, I was able to see a total of four, and I am pretty sure there were others in the reeds, because they were chattering up a storm.

A large raft of 20 pied-billed grebes was on the barrow pit. I don't usually see that many together. And a Wilson's snipe rounded out the day. There were a lot of sparrows in the brushy areas--I hope they all turn up again in a couple of weeks.

Here is a complete list from this morning:

White pelican
Double-crested cormorant
Ring-billed gull
Great blue heron
Northern shoveler
Bufflehead
Mallard
American coot
Pied-billed grebe
Wilson's snipe
Downy woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker
Cooper's hawk
Northern harrier
Eurasian collared dove
Belted kingfisher
Marsh wren
Blue jay
Northern cardinal
Northern mockingbird
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Common yellowthroat
Yellow-rumped warbler
Orange-crowned warbler
Eastern phoebe
White-crowned sparrow
Lincoln's sparrow
Song sparrow
Savannah sparrow
American goldfinch
House finch
Cedar waxwing
Red-winged blackbird
American robin

All-in-all, a great hour and a half on the Chat Trail.

Good birding!