Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Grackle Graveyard

I know a lot of people don't like blackbirds of any kind. After all, you can have too much of a good thing. However, I have a soft spot for the Great-tailed Grackle. The males are such an elegant bird with their glossy feathers and huge, beautiful tail. At least until late August, when they lose their breeding plumage in molt. Then they just look goofy.

I started seeing them look scraggly last week, but with all the rain, I did not see any "Grackle Graveyards." Today I did. Driving down the road, I was admiring one of the nicely planted medians in Wichita Falls and saw my first one of the year. Hundreds of grackle tail feathers, sticking straight up out of the grass, looking like tombstones dotting a cemetery. The grackles will be walking around for the next few weeks with no tails. They don't make as much noise, nor do they strut like usual without their tails. It is like they know they don't look as dignified as usual.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Musseling We Will Go

Sunday was hot. It is of course, summer in Texas, so that should come as no surprise. Other than being at home, soaking up the air conditioning, there is no better place to be than in the water. Even when that water registers 90 degrees on the thermometer.

I had planned a Nature Trackers Mussel Watch for Sunday at Lake Arrowhead State Park. I usually like to get up early to go, but had set a later time of 10 AM since my husband doesn't like to get up so early (not that he was planning to go--he just babysits the critters while I am gone). The Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists conduct a number of Nature Tracker programs (www.tpwd.state.tx.us/learning/texas_nature_trackers) during the year. The primary one I am involved with is counting mussels in various waterways in our area. Sundays are not a good time to schedule these events as most of our members are dedicated church goers. However, between my schedule and the other chapter projects planned during the summer, there were few options left. And as it happened, I was the only one able to make it. But that was fine--it is easier to combine a mussel count with birdwatching by myself.

As it happened, it was a great day for mussels. There is one area at Lake Arrowhead that predictably had a high count and that is where I headed. Pink papershells, fragile papershells, giant floaters and Texas Lilliputs were in good number. Later, sorting shells on the tailgate of my pickup, where my thermometer was recording 120 degrees (who decided to make bed liners black, anyway?), I was less enthusiastic about the numbers to sort out.

I keep meaning to learn more of the freshwater invertebrates. There were a lot of them to see. But I had neglected to bring my freshwater invertebrate field guide (yes, they make them; yes, I am a geek for having one) and hand lens, so stuck to mussels and birds.

Birds were also good. The herons and egrets haven't yet headed south, so there were numbers of great egrets and snowy egrets. I also saw a green heron. But it is also obvious migration is underway. A few cormorant were sunning of the pier (soon there will be thousands). A few white-faced ibis and a reddish egret were wading near the shore, and a small flock of terns were fussing. Terns are difficult for me. I have the identification narrowed to two possibilities and need to get out my CD of bird calls to resolve the matter. A couple of peeps flew past, too fast for me to make a call on the little guys.

Overall, a great morning. My husband could tell I had a good time when I came home wet, covered with mud and with a red nose from the sun. Life just doesn't get any better.

Good birding!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Texas Birds Annual A Great Read

When I first joined the Texas Ornithological Society (TOS), I can say it wasn't for the publications. They were somewhat of a disappointment, when I got them. However, since Jack Eitnier took over as publications editor for TOS a couple of years ago, the quality has vastly improved.

I just received the newest copy of the Texas Birds Annual and it is a winner. Beautiful photos and a variety of interesting articles. I especially enjoyed "Swifts Over Houston" since I am a huge fan of chimney swifts and helped build a chimney swift tower at Wild Bird Rescue in Wichita Falls (OK, full disclosure: my husband actually did all of the actual construction--I just did some fetch and carry. My contribution was lobbying to get it built--hey, that's work!)

The article on the "Birder's Colony" brought back fond memories of my trip to the Rio Grande Birding Festival in November 2006, when I had a chance to visit the property, hosted by the Dewinds. Although the Dewinds no longer host the site, I was glad it remains open to visitors, maintained by the Valley Land Fund.

The publication is not yet available on the TOS website, but hopefully, some articles will be posted soon.

Good birding!

Texas Birds Annual Is Here

The Texas Ornithological Society (TOS) Texas Birds Annual came in the mail yesterday. Another great job by Jack Eitniear, the Editor. I can remember when I joined TOS some years ago that I was disappointed in the quality of the publications. Not so now. Since Mr. Eitniear took over publications, Texas Birds and the newsletter have improved vastly. Beautiful photos and clear articles by TOS members and others. The new Annual is not yet posted to the TOS website.

I love chimney swifts, so especially liked the "Swifts Over Houston" article. Also, the article on the "Birder's Colony" brought back good memories--I visited there during the Rio Grande Birding Festival in November 2006. As it turns out, this was the last year the Dewinds hosted visitors to this location. Although they no longer host visitors, I am glad the property is now maintained by the Valley Land Fund and remains open to visitors. A lot of other wonderful articles for casual or more dedicated birders.

Friday, August 22, 2008

More on the Green Pigeon

I got an email back from Cornell. Their first impression is that the bird was dyed (which was my first inclination, before I saw it in hand.) Looks like the only way to resolve this is to let the bird molt and see what color it is then. So we'll check in periodically on this puzzle.

Good birding!

Surprises Every Day

One just never knows what one may encounter in the world of birds from day to day.

I rehab wildlife at Wild Bird Rescue in Wichita Falls, TX. I got an email today from Bob, the Executive Director, with a picture of a green pigeon (shown left).
My initial thought was that someone had dyed the bird. However, I went to look and if it is a dye job, it is a very good one. The picture doesn't do the bird justice--it's coloring is beautiful. The underwings are white with a pale green near the leading edge of the wing, fading to a more pale color. We'll watch while the bird is recovering to see if any new feathers grow in and what color they are.
Cornell's Lab of Ornithology has a citizen science project on pigeon coloration (see http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pigeonwatch). So I sent them an email with a photo to see what they might think.
Good birding!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bulbats Mean Summer

I was coming out of the grocery after work and heard the distinctive call of the Common Nighthawk overhead. Since these crepuscular (fancy word for active at dawn and dusk) birds are only here in the summer, I always associate their calls with warm weather.

When I first moved here, I kept hearing people talk about "bulbats." I truly thought they were talking about big bats. But no, bulbat is the common name in this area for common nighthawks. Probably because many people think they fly like bats. Add that to the fact they are seen more at twilight, and one can understand where this name may have originated.

These birds feed on the wing; a bird that can't fly well is a dead bird. They cannot pick up food--they have a very delicate mouth that opens rather like seine which scoops insects out of the air. It is really interesting. The beak is so tiny, but when they open their mouths, the mouth looks bigger than their entire head. Although their common call is a scratchy screee noise, occasionally, you'll hear a louder "booming" noise when they dive. Although it is not extremely loud, this can be disconcerting when it is dark and you don't see the bird next to you.

Good birding!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Can You Ever Have Too Much Bird Stuff?

Last night was our local bird club meeting. Invariably, someone has a new book, new optics, new field gear, or a new article from one of the magazines he/she subscribes to. The conversations almost always include laments that we have too much of whatever. But we don't seem to be able to help ourselves.

It's relatively easy to justify another field guide. After all, there is so much information that can't be included in a given guide, that each of them has slightly different information that will lead to an identification on a tough bird. But do we need 5 or 6 bird magazines? Do we need to be members of half a dozen organizations devoted to our hobby? Evidently, we do. Because we put up the money.

I am a relatively low tech birder. Mostly because I can't afford to replace anything that costs more than $50--at least, as many times as I would have to do it. I can be absolutely depended upon to drop, bump, forget, or otherwise break whatever expensive piece of technology I have. For Christmas last year, my husband was determined that I buy a new pair of binoculars because one pair of mine was stolen and the other pair had been super glued multiple times and still only had one usable side. So I searched and compared and finally bought a pair on binoculars.com for half price. Still $300. Guess what? I had them 3 months and bumped them on something and they now have a little bit of a blur on one side. So I am back to a monocular.

I absolutely can resist bird "pretties." If it has to be dusted, I can usually resist. I'd rather be out in the field than cleaning. However, when a person finds out I like birds, they seem compelled to give me bird stuff. If it has a bird on it, I must like it, right? I have been on the receiving end of more ugly bird stuff than any person should have to accept.

But if there is a new bird book out there, I have to have it--after all, you can never have too many bird books.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Indoor Bird Activities

Any birds out today will need water wings. It poured all night long. Many local roads are closed. So I am doing "indoor birding." My subscription to Birds of North America online was to expire today, so I took care of renewing. If you haven't looked at this resource, you should.

BNA is an on-line resource which replaced a very expensive series of books a few years back. I use it when I am preparing to make a presentation about birds, write an article, or just want to listen to the calls of a bird for identification. You can sign up at bna.birds.cornell.edu. This is just one of the great resources available from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Since I am sure I will talk about other items at some point in the future, I won't now.

Today is also the monthly meeting of the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club. Although the group has programs on many nature-related topics, the favorite topic is birds. Tonight's program is on Birds on Coins. The group meets the third Tuesday of each month at 7 pm at the NALC building on Southwest Parkway in Wichita Falls, TX. Like many clubs, the group is small but dedicated. Guests are always welcome.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Seasons are 'a Changin'

There is something comforting about the regular passage of the seasons. The arrival and departure of the birds, the lengthening and shortening of daylight hours, and the blooming and passing of plants. Although the days have been shorter, the heat has been increasing. Why is that? I'm sure someone must have found an answer to that question before.

The dog days of summer have definitely been in full force the last few weeks. But last week we had some rain and the temperature moderated for a day or two. And it is raining again. Hi's today in the mid-80's! Hallelujah!

I think I have now been in this area too long. I was looking around yesterday, thinking things were looking nice and green. Ha! I can remember when I first moved here how washed out the greens looked. I am sure they still appear that way to someone who lives where green is really green. But where brown is the dominant color (especially in the summer), a little green can make quite the difference.

The birds are starting to move. The Purple Martins have gone. I haven't seen any Western Kingbirds in a few days, but I am sure that has been because I haven't been out much. They should still be hanging around for another few weeks.

I haven't seen any of the winter birds moving in yet, but it won't be long. This weekend I was puttering around and started thinking about cleaning out my feeders. Although I keep one or two up all year, it's a little early to put them all up, so I convinced myself to wait.

Good birding!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why A Charm of Finches?

I wanted to start a discussion of birds and birding for other fans of these interesting and beautiful creatures. However, the problem was coming up with a title. I am not all that original; everything I thought of had been taken. So I started looking at various bird-related websites and came across baltimorebirdclub.org/gnlist.html, which is a list of terms for groups of birds. Honestly, I just liked a "charm of finches," so there you have it.

I plan to use this space primarily to talk about birding in Texas. Birders know Texas is a hotspot for birds, but not all of us live in the tourist areas. I live in Wichita Falls, TX, which is almost on the Oklahoma border. When I moved here, I thought this was the worst place possible for birding. I was mistaken. So this blog will talk about the neat birds, overlooked birding spots, and the daily surprises and disappoinments of a regular birder. However, I do have the chance to travel around the state (and sometimes other places), so this won't be just about Wichita Falls. Hopefully, writing a blog will help get me out of the house and the office and in the field more often.

Good birding,