Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Report Out Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count was February 16 - February 19. I took part all four days, although I would have liked to have been able to get to more locations. But we do what we can, right?

The drought is obvious along the chat trail
 Day One

You don't often see the beavers, but you can see they've been busy!
The first day of the count was not promising. The temperature was in the low 80's the day before and the first day of the GBBC was low 40's with a bitterly cold north wind. I decided the Chat Trail in Lake Wichita Park would be my best bet as it has some shelter from the wind. But there wasn't much happening--the birds apparently had more sense than I. I only spent 45 minutes on the trail and at the end of the barrow pit.

Fourteen species:
Ring-billed gull
Canada goose
Gadwall
Downy woodpecker
Northern flicker
Red-tailed hawk
American robin
Northern cardinal
Blue jay
Fox sparrow
White-crowned sparrow
Spotted towhee
Dark-eyed junco
Song sparrow

I went home and did a quick, 15-minute count at my own feeders: white-winged dove, Eurasian collared dove, house finch, American goldfinch, orange-crowned warbler.

Day 2

We had a little rain overnight and it seemed to make all the difference. It was a little warmer and there wasn't a lot of wind. I went out to Lake Arrowhead State Park and had a great couple of hours. The birds were out enjoying the beautiful morning. This is really a good time of year to bird. Some of our local birds are beginning to sing (most notably cardinals, eastern bluebirds, and Bewick's wrens) and there aren't many leaves in the trees, making it easier to find the birds. I ran into Robert Mauk, a local wildlife photographer, and he told me he had seen a golden-crowned kinglet on the Dragonfly trail, so I added that to my area (and found it!)

Forty species:

Red-tailed hawk
Killdeer
Ring-billed gull
Great blue heron
Lesser yellowlegs
Canada goose
Double-crested cormorant
Mallard
Northern pintail
Blue-winged teal
Northern shoveler
American coot
Pied-billed grebe
White pelican
Red-bellied woodpecker
Ladder-backed woodpecker
Northern flicker
Northern cardinal
Northern mockingbird
Carolina chickadee
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Golden-crowned kinglet
Orange-crowned warbler
Yellow-rumped warbler
Common yellowthroat
Bewick's wren
Eastern phoebe
Eastern bluebird
American pipit
Harris's sparrow
Song sparrow
Field sparrow
Fox sparrow
Eastern meadowlark
Dark-eyed junco
White-crowned sparrow
Red-winged blackbird
Great-tailed grackle
European starling
House finch

Day 3

On Sunday, the Rolling Plains Chapter Texas Master Naturalist scheduled a public GBBC event. Apparently, those that went on the trip to Hackberry on Saturday were worn out. When I arrived, no one else was on the overlook behind Wild Bird Rescue. All I have to say is, "You snooze, you lose." I spent only 45 minutes there and had 21 species. I would have liked to stay longer, but it is the end of the semester for one of the universities I teach for, so duty called. My 21 species:

White pelican
Double-crested cormorant
Black-crowned night heron
Great blue heron
Killdeer
Ring-billed gull
Mallard
American coot
Canada goose
Pied-billed grebe
Sharp-shinned hawk
Eurasian collared dove
White-winged dove
Red-bellied woodpecker
Belted kingfisher
Northern cardinal
House wren
Red-winged blackbird
European starling
House finch
Goldfinch

Day 4

Overlooking the Wichita River
Construction of the next trail section underway
Monday was another beautiful morning. I didn't have President's Day off work, but did play hooky for a bit on the Wichita Falls Bluff Nature Park trail. This is my favorite park because it is intended to remain a nature area. I started out in a bit of a bad mood. When I parked, I noticed people are already trashing the park. I picked up beer bottles, a plastic water bottle, plastic shopping bag, and a hamburger wrapper before I even started my walk. I picked up napkins, a Whataburger bag and other assorted odds and ends when I returned to the lot at the end of my walk. Fortunately, the trail itself was clean. I spent an hour and a half enjoying this trail, which is not the level flat walk of most of the Circle Trail. They have started work on the next section of the trail, between the end of this one and Loop 11. Right now, it looks terrible, but when it is done, it should be another nice section along the river.

At the end of the current trail, where I took the pictures, there were a pair of red-tailed hawks on the other side of the river. It looked like they might be building a nest. I'll keep an eye on things.

Twenty species:

Canada goose
Turkey vulture
Red-tailed hawk
Rock pigeon
White-winged dove
Northern cardinal
Northern mockingbird
Blue jay
American robin
Bewick's wren
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Yellow-rumped warbler
Dark-eyed junco
Song sparrow
Field sparrow
Spotted towhee
American crow
Great-tailed grackle
Red-winged blackbird
House sparrow

All-in-all, a great Great Backyard Bird Count. I still need to upload my counts into the database, but that's happening in a few minutes. Put this event on your calendar for next President's Day weekend.

Good birding!




Sunday, February 11, 2018

Great Backyard Bird Count

The annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is coming up this week. I hope you are planning to take part sometime between Friday, 16 February and Monday, 19 February.

Thousands of people submit checklists of birds they see in their yards or other places around town during this 4-day event. This is a great project to do with your kids/grandkids, as any period of observation of 15 minutes or longer counts. This is great way to introduce kids and novice birdwatchers to the hobby.

For those in the Wichita Falls area, the Texas Master Naturalist Rolling Plains Chapter will be holding a public count behind Wild Bird Rescue, 4611 Lake Shore Dr, from 8 AM - 10 AM on Sunday, February 18. You can come for part or all of the count. There is usually a good breeze coming off the lake, so I suggest wearing layers.

For those who cannot make this event, you are invited to bird with me. Here are some days/times/locations I plan to bird:

Friday, February 16, 9:30 - 10:30 (I have an earlier appointment, so this is later than I normally go). Lake Wichita Park, Chat trail.

Saturday, February 17, 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM, Lake Arrowhead State Park ($4 entry fee applies). (I may also pick up a couple of other spots this day--weather and other commitments will determine)

Sunday, February 18, 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM, Wild Bird Rescue, with the Texas Master Naturalist (I may also pick up a couple of other spots this day--weather and other commitments will determine)

Monday, February 19, 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM, Nature Bluff Park segment of the Circle Trail (I may decide to do the trail section between Lucy Park and Williams Park, but time may be tight--work day!)

For more information, email me at txbirds@gmail.com or you can call 940-867-8761.

Good Birding!


Winter Birds

As long as it has been since I posted, you would think I gave up birding. Not true! I just haven't been good about sharing with others. I will say I haven't done as much as usual--between a never-ending respiratory infection and work, I haven't been out as much.

I thought I would give a summary to catch up though. I haven't seen a lot of birds, or unusual birds, but they have still been enjoyable. I continue to lead bird walks at Lake Arrowhead State Park on the second Saturday of each month. However, I have noticed that Texans are not fans of cold weather. In January, it was cold and windy and in February it was cold and there was some fog. Both months, I was the only person who showed. I birded anyway and saw some good birds--not a lot of birds, but some good ones.
Fog over Lake Arrowhead
View from the "swim beach" area

Yesterday, it was a little foggy and cold enough that I had a smattering of ice crystals on my glasses. That was not very helpful. The picture to the left is very poor, but you can see the fog laying over the lake, reducing visibility of the birds on the water or the opposite shore of the lake.

A group of about 20 white pelicans trying to stay warm
I didn't see a lot of species of birds, but I did see some of my favorites, so that was nice. I also managed to run a mesquite thorn through the bottom of my shoe and (somehow) slice my finger. I am just a walking accident. Here is a picture of one group of white pelicans that were gathered in a huddle to keep warm. It is amazing to me that my phone, at 4X magnification on the camera, still takes pictures that look further away than the birds were.  This is one of two groups that were in a sheltered inlet--around the group further away and not in this picture, was a raft of some 200 or more ring-billed gulls. It's possible there were a few other gulls mixed in, but very few took flight while I was observing them. I scared up two Wilson's snipe moving in to take this photo.

Yes, there is a deer in this picture!

I did see some white-tailed deer. It amazes me that these large animals can be standing in the open and unless they move, or you get lucky, we just don't see them. Take the picture below for example. You may not see anything, but if you look carefully right in the middle of the frame, a white-tailed deer is looking right at you. There was a group of four right there together.

There were an unusually large number of eastern bluebirds out and about this month. I saw nine. Here's a complete list of the birds I saw yesterday:

American coot
Gadwall
Northern shoveler
Northern pintail
Ruddy duck
Mallard
White pelican
Canada goose
Pied-billed grebe
Wison's snipe
Killdeer
Ring-billed gull
Great horned owl
Ladder-backed woodpecker
Northern mockingbird
Northen cardinal
Eastern bluebird
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Carolina chickadee
Dark-eyed junco
White-crowned sparrow
Harris' sparrow
Eastern meadowlark


I did take part in the Christmas Bird Count. There were three of us supposed to go in my group to bird the Lake Wichita segment of the CBC circle. I ended up the only one who went from my group and was sicker than a dog. One of the others was also sick and the third had never done the count before and didn't want what I had (and I don't blame her a bit.) Usually, I walk around 5 miles during the count, but not this time--I think I walked about 2 miles. It was cold and windy. Not a great day for birds. But the three teams turned in a respectable count. I think my favorite bird of the day was a white-throated sparrow.

Other than that, I have been taking part in Project Feederwatch. This is my 20th year taking part. I am finally starting to see a little payoff to the yard improvements I have been working on--there have been a few species this year I haven't had in this yard before--I have been watching an orange-crowned warbler on the suet block quite a bit. This is the first year I have had a ruby-crowned kinglet. I did have my first Bewick's wren in the yard, but he didn't check out the feeders, so I couldn't count him for this project. If I could get my neighbors to plant for the birds, it would be even better!

So,  you see, I have been birding--I just need to do a better job of sharing!

Good birding!


Monday, August 7, 2017

Purple Martin Roosts

Purple Martins. Photo from Wikimedia Commons
I haven't been here in a while--it's been one thing after another, so I have barely watched birds since my last post. The most recent sideliner has been a back injury--down for 3 weeks. I am finally near caught up at work, so I am planning a birding day for my birthday next Saturday.

In the meantime, I saw a Facebook post by a friend indicating the purple martins were beginning to form one of their large pre-migration roosts over in Lakeside City, so my husband was nice enough to swing by the location of our annual roost off location off Fairway Blvd to check the status there on our way home last night. Sure enough, the lines were covered with purple martins. Usually, these are very noisy birds, but it seems when they start preparing to migrate, they get much quieter. I was watching a couple of thousand birds, but didn't hear any of them calling while they were catching bugs just before sunset.

Purple martins are one of the first of our summer birds to arrive in our area and one of the first to head south. They winter in South America, primarily in Bolivia, but also in parts of Brazil and Argentina. Although popular folklore has them as the scourge of the mosquito population, they eat few, if any, mosquitoes. If you want to control those insects, think bats. Purple martins are active high in the air during the day; mosquitoes stay low to the ground, primarily at  night. However, martins eat large numbers of insects and bugs: beetles, flies, dragonflies, spiders, grasshoppers and crickets, among others. Think about this before spraying your yard with a lot of poisons to control the insects in your yard. In Texas they have even been seen with cicadas, although they are tough to swallow.

Many people in our area put up martin houses in hopes of attracting martins to their yards. I was reading an interesting section of the Birds of North America online species account on martins about the relative merits of various houses. Martins favor wooden boxes over aluminum (probably because of the tendency of the aluminum houses to get much hotter.) However, both seem to be equally good in terms of nesting success. They also prefer houses that are larger and deeper (distance from opening to floor of the nesting area) than most commercially available houses--the deeper houses also seem to provide for better nesting success. Gourd houses provide a deeper nesting site and are well-liked by the birds. They seem to prefer nest sites 3 - 5 m from the ground (approximately 10 - 16 ft.) We think of purple martins as being dependent upon the houses we put up, but they use natural cavities and single unit bird boxes as well as the "apartment complexes" we put up.

If you decide to put up a martin house, be sure to have it up by February and keep evicting the house sparrows and starlings that will attempt to move in before the martins arrive. Then enjoy their antics over the summer.

Good birding!

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!