Thursday, September 27, 2018

Book Review: How to Be an Urban Birder

I very much enjoyed the book, How to Be an Urban Birder by David Lindo, sent to me by Princeton University Press for review.

But before I even opened the book and read the first word, do you know what caught my eye? The author, David Lindo, is not white. That seems wrong to notice that first, but at least here in the U.S., birding is predominantly a hobby enjoyed by white people. I am not sure why that is as birding is one nature activity you can do anywhere, but it seems to be a hobby by those who can get out of town into the countryside. Which is unfortunate. Those of us who bird know how endlessly fascinating birds are, and I would love to see more people enjoy the hobby and gain a greater appreciation for the creatures that share our world.

This book is a celebration of birds and birding in places we don't think of as good birding locations--our urban environment. If you ask someone what birds you are likely to see in a city, the most likely responses are pigeons, starlings, house sparrows, and similar birds. But I have been in many large cities and seen some excellent birds. It's a matter of looking. Lots of photos of birds seen by the author in his urban environment show how much more is possible.

And that really is the point of this book. We can introduce people to birds and nature anywhere, building an appreciation of the environment they might not otherwise have. As more and more people live in urban areas, it becomes harder to connect people to nature. As David Lindo says, "If we can learn about the importance of wildlife conservation in our cities then we will understand the connection in the general web of life on this planet, enabling us to reach out and strive to protect the rest of the world's fauna and flora and ultimately, ourselves."

Mr. Lindo is based in England, and that was much of the fun for me. I lived in England for a few years, so it was fun to read some of the expressions I had forgotten and to see pictures of some of the birds that were so familiar when we lived there, but I haven't seen since we returned to the U.S.

This is a good book for a new birder. He writes about field guides, binoculars, telescopes, cameras and all of the other paraphernalia birders tend to accumulate. There is a chapter on creating a more bird-friendly yard. Scattered throughout are examples of the things many cities are doing to improve the urban environment for birds, wildlife, and people. Whether a new birder or one more experienced, this is an interesting read.

You can find this book on Amazon for $15.45 or from Princeton University Press for $18.95.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Yes, Fall Migration is Upon Us!

Blue-gray gnatcatchers are a treat
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, mauricholas
Tuesday night at the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club we discussed sightings, as we always do. I didn't have a lot to contribute (except a Hudsonian godwit at Lake Arrowhead SP I saw September 8.) I haven't been out much. I told everyone that with the front expected to come through with significantly cooler temps, I was going out this weekend. Today was the day, and I am very glad I went.

It has been raining since Thursday night. This morning has been a light drizzle on and off, but nothing of significance. I decided to hit the Chat Trail at Lake Wichita Park since it is usually a great spot for migrant warblers.

I was starting onto the trail and noted two raptors high up, circling. They reminded me of ospreys, but I couldn't get a good look so decided it was wishful thinking. Later, back by the borrow pit, an osprey flew low over my head with a fish clutched in his talons, so it seems very possible the birds I saw at the head of the trail were indeed osprey. Regardless, I know the one was.

As it turned out, the warblers are moving through. I saw several common yellowthroat, a Wilson's warbler, two blue-gray gnatcatchers, a mourning warbler, and others I didn't get a good enough look at to identify. There were also some interesting calls that I recorded. I also got a good look at a clay-colored sparrow. My favorite sparrow spot was an excellent spot for warblers today.

I saw a hummingbird zip by but didn't see enough to identify the species. But if you have a hummingbird feeder up, don't take it down yet.

Overall, a good hour of birding. Total list for this morning:

Great egret
Snowy egret
Killdeer
Eurasian collared dove
White-winged dove
Cardinal
Carolina chickadee
Blue Jay
Bewick's wren
Barn swallow
Scissor-tailed flycatcher
Blue-gray gnatcatcher
Common yellowthroat
Mourning warbler
Wilson's warbler
Robin
Red-winged blackbird
Clay-colored sparrow

Don't let a little rain keep you in the house now that migration has hit its stride. There are some great birds out there.

Good birding!


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Owl Serenade

I haven't been birding much over the summer. I hate hot weather, and the birds aren't thrilled with it either.

I finally decided I was going this morning. It was sprinkling and looked like the rain could get heavier, so I decided to go to the Chat Trail in Lake Wichita Park instead of the Nature Bluff section of the Circle Trail. The good thing about going birding when there is a little rain is you have the parks to yourself--Wichita Falls people don't go out in the rain.

The decision to go birding turned out to be a good one. I didn't see a lot of birds on the Chat Trail, but I saw some good ones.

When I got out of the car at the parking lot, I saw a large bird perched in some dead branches in the top of a tree a good way down the trail. It was a great horned owl, so things were starting out pretty nice. I am including a short video clip. I took it with my phone, so the picture is not the greatest. I also didn't do a very good job of holding the phone steady. If you listen carefully, you can hear him calling. But that wasn't the best part. I didn't catch it on video, but there was a second great horned owl in the wooded area behind me that occasionally called back.

Great horned owl
I was pretty stoked about this, but I walked further down the trail, near the bridge and heard another great horned owl in the wooded area over by the dam. Then heard another behind me again. All of a sudden, the one behind me flew over my head toward the owl calling by the dam. I got my binoculars on the one in flight and saw it fly into the trees and flush out the other owl.

That was four great horned owls. I don't think I have ever seen that many in one small area, ever. When I was coming back to the parking lot, the first great horned owl was still on the exposed branches, but he had been joined by an immature Mississippi kite and a Cooper's hawk. I was surprised by the Cooper's hawk, as it is a little early for them. The birds finally flushed the great horned owl and chased it back across the trail toward me, and there was a second Cooper's hawk in pursuit as well.

I didn't see a lot of birds this morning, but then I didn't stay out long--the rain did get a little heavier while I was out. I'm glad I decided to go. Here's the complete list.


Great egret
Green heron
Snowy egret
Canada goose
Double-crested cormorant
Black-necked stilt
Great horned owl
Mississippi kite
Cooper's hawk
Black-chinned hummingbird
Eurasian collared dove
Mourning dove
Rock pigeon
Belted kingfisher
Blue jay
Cardinal
Northern mockingbird
Barn swallow
American robin
Red-winged blackbird
House finch

Good birding!





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!