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!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Christmas Bird Count Coming Up

The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club will be hosting the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on Saturday, December 17. As usual, we will be dividing the count circle up into thirds to ensure good coverage. Team leaders are Terry McKee (Wichita Falls proper), Me (Lake Wichita/Holliday), and Warren King (Iowa Park area).

The CBC is the longest running citizen science project in the U.S. The first was held on Christmas Day, 1900. You can read more about the history of the CBC and the many interesting things we have learned at the Audubon Society's website.

You are invited to join any of the teams for part or all of the count. Most of the teams start around first light (7:30ish) and finish up around 3 or 4. We meet up in the evening for the count supper--a potluck, after which the team compiler, Debra Halter, takes the information from all of the teams to prepare the final report on the count.

All of the counts teams will spend some time walking and some driving, with some stationary watching at better locations. People may also watch at their feeders, if in the count circle, and send their information to the compiler.

My section of the count usually is about 4 - 5 miles walking and a fair amount of driving. All of the terrain is fairly flat. If you are interested in participating in any part of the count, contact me (txbirds@gmail.com/940-867-9761) or Terry (dgm59@aol.com). I haven't talked to Warren to get his permission to share his email or phone, but Terry or I will be happy to connect you with him, if you would like to participate in that area.

If my math is right, this is the 43rd year the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club has been conducting the count in our area--it has been a while. Feel free to take part in the count.

Good Birding!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

November Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park

Flock of pied-billed grebes
Photo courtesy of Debra Halter

Closer photo of pied-billed grebes
Photo courtesy of Debra Halter
Last Saturday was the monthly bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. We had a pretty good showing, with 6 people showing up, a couple of whom are new birders. It is nice to have new people because it helps me remember to enjoy the common birds that are not so common to the beginner. The walk doesn't get advertised very well, so it is unusual to have that many people come.

I'll lead with the good stuff. We had the largest flock of pied-billed grebes any of us had ever seen. I have seen as many as 5 or 6 at a time, but this group was more like 30 in number. Debra Halter was kind enough to take some pictures as I am sure there will be some push back from the eBird editor with a number that high.

The picture above is a good view of most of the flock (yes, the two birds in the foreground are coots, not grebes.) The picture to the right is a closer look at a few of the birds to show they are definitely pied-billed grebes. These are cute little birds--always nice to see them.

The weather Saturday was absolutely gorgeous, although a little more chilly than recent temperatures--upper 40's. The winter birds are definitely beginning to show up.

Here is a complete list of the birds we saw:

Great egret
Great blue heron
Double crested cormorant
Canada goose
American coot
Pied-billed grebe
Mallard
Gadwall
White pelican
Ring-billed gull
Tern species (we couldn't get a good enough look at them to positively identify, although best guess is Forster's)
Ladder-backed woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker
Yellow-shafted flicker
Red-tailed hawk
Turkey vulture
Mourning dove
Northern mockingbird
American robin
Northern cardinal
Bewick's wren
Cedar waxwing
Yellow-rumped warbler
Orange-crowned warbler
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Eastern phoebe
Harris' sparrow
White-crowned sparrow
Song sparrow
House finch
Great-tailed grackle
Meadowlark species (no song)

Driving home, still in Clay County, I had a very good view of a Swainson's hawk and a couple of American kestrels.

Why not join us in December? Our next walk is December 10 at 8 AM.

Good birding!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Project Feederwatch Starts This Weekend

Downy woodpecker.
Photo by Errol Taskin/Project Feederwatch
One of my favorite citizen science activities is Project Feederwatch. I have been participating for 18 seasons! Feederwatch is a good way to learn the common birds that regularly visit your backyard. It would be a great project to do with your kids or grandkids. I count birds every time I pass by my windows and keep a running tally for the two days. It only takes about 5 minutes to input the count data each week.

Although I feed birds all year, I put out additional feeders in the Feederwatch season. I started adding feeders last weekend and will have them all up by this weekend.

Project Feederwatch only costs $18 per year to participate ($15 if you are a member of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.) There is still time to sign up.

For more information about the program and what the data is used for, see the Project Feederwatch Project Overview.

You can watch the birds from the comfort of your warm, dry home; enjoy the birds; and contribute to our knowledge of these fascinating animals.

Good birding!