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 ( or Terry ( 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
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!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Birdy Weekend Coming Up!

It's October and a weather front passed through last night, so it should be an awesome weekend for birding. It's a happy coincidence there are multiple bird events happening.

The monthly bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park will be Saturday morning, October 8, starting  at 8:00 AM. We start at the firewood shed. Take the second left inside the park, then the first right. There is a firewood shed and dump station on your left. Look for a black pick up--that will be me. We usually take about an hour to an hour and a half walk. It is an easy, slow walk of about 1/2 mile total.

A line of pelicans flying over Lake Wichita during a previous
Big Sit (taken with my cell phone, so not a great picture.)
Another option this weekend is the Big Sit. On Sunday morning, beginning at sunrise, members of the local North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club will be hosting a sedentary bird watching event on Lake Wichita on the little area behind Wild Bird Rescue (4611 Lake Shore Dr.) You'll be able to see cars parked at the back side of the parking area. Dress in layers and bring a lawn chair. You may also want to bring something warm in a thermos. Generally, we bird until around 10:00 - 10:30, depending upon the birds and the weather. You don't have to stay for the entire event--it is come and go.

Both of these are fun for both new birdwatchers and experienced birders. I hope to see you at one or both of these activities.

Good birding!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Book Review: Bird Brain--An Exploration of Avian Intelligence

Princeton University Press sent me another winner for review.  Nathan Emery's Bird Brain: An Exploration of Avian Intelligence is thoroughly enjoyable throughout.

Historically, when someone calls us a "birdbrain," they are not being complimentary. We may need to rethink that, at least for some birds.

This book is a fascinating exploration of how birds learn, think and feel. The book looks at the structure of the avian brain and the abilities it provides to our feathered neighbors. It does this without being stuffy or beyond the reach of the general public with an interest in birds. Short essays on each topic allow a person to explore the book in snippets or to skip around the book to read whatever catches your eye.

For me, the geek, I really enjoyed reading how the experiments were structured to give us insight on how birds "think." I might have liked a little more detail on that, but I can always look that up. For most people, what is presented is enough. Beautiful photography and interesting illustrations add to the overall appeal of the book.

Any bird lover would love to have this book in his/her library. $29.95 from Princeton University Press or $23.32 on Amazon.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Wichita Wingmen Take Flight May 2

L to R: Chuck and Dianne Theuson, Penny Miller, Sue and Warren King
The Wichita Wingmen will take flight on Monday, May 2, competing in the Great Texas Birding Classic. This competitive event raises money for Texas Parks and Wildlife Conservation Grants.

It's probably fairly obvious where the name came from. We wanted to acknowledge both Wichita Falls and Sheppard AFB, while sounding "birdy." Since this is a Texas event, we don't have to worry about people confusing us for Wichita, Kansas. I am not sure why the locals call Wichita Falls, "Wichita," but they do.

Here we are, at the Wichita Falls Regional Airport, in front of the Jenny. We also had a photo in front of the trainer aircraft from Sheppard AFB.

The area we are competing in is the Prairie and Pineywoods West. We have 24 hours to locate as many species of birds as possible, from midnight to midnight, May 2. We cannot possibly cover this entire region (bordered by Wilbarger county to the west, Grayson to the east and Fayette to the south) thoroughly in this 24 hours, so we have chosen some specific areas with a few alternates that we feel we can do in that time. We have tried to choose different habitat types in the attempt to get as many birds as possible. We'll be sticking primarily to the northern half of our region.

I'll be tweeting throughout the day. You can follow at @birdwithpenny or watch the Twitter feed on this blog. Posts will also filter to my personal Facebook page for those who are connected. If you want to get updates on all of the teams, search for #GTBC16 on Twitter. The competition runs a month. As always, our goal is 100 species. If the weather cooperates, we may be able to hit that number. It is migration season and since we are including Hagerman NWR in our day, there are some distinctly different species there than here. We're hoping for little to no wind, which is an iffy proposition in our area. But if the weather forecast holds, we should have a great day.

Good birding!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Help Out New Birdwatchers

The Rolling Plains Chapter Texas Master Naturalist is holding its spring training for new wannabe Master Naturalists or for those who just want to learn more about nature and the environment in our area. I have the opportunity to teach the class on birds and we also have a field trip to teach the fundamentals of bird identification and get to know some of the common birds in our area. This year, the field trip was held at Lake Arrowhead State Park. Terry McKee and Debra Halter also helped the class members identify birds. It's always good to have more eyes and more knowledge when trying to explain, "Why did you say that bird is a .....?"

We didn't have any exciting birds, but we had several of the common ones for our new birdwatchers to cut their teeth. Birds found Saturday morning included: American coot, pied-billed grebe, gadwall, green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, Canada goose, killdeer, least sandpiper, ring-billed gull, ladder-backed woodpecker, barn swallow, Bewick's wren, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal. eastern phoebe, Carolina chickadee, savannah sparrow, song sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, dark-eyed junco, brown-headed cowbird, red-winged blackbird, common grackle, great-tailed grackle, European starling, and house sparrow.

I enjoy working with new birdwatchers. It helps keep the fun in finding a common bird, but seeing it through the eyes of someone who never recognized the birds before.

Good birding!