Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter Storm

We had a big storm in the wee hours of the morning. It was not a snow and ice storm (although they do happen often enough over the winter). After several days of freezing temperatures, we had a very warm day yesterday, which warmed things up enough for a winter thunderstorm. We had a humdinger of an electrical storm early this morning. I got up and went around the house powering down and unplugging computers before going back to my snug bed.

We obviously got more bluster than rain. We needed the rain; it has been very dry here. Although we didn't get near the amount of rain one would think from all of the noise, we did get some. Enough to fill up the bird bath anyway. That's good news for the birds, and they are taking advantage of it. All morning there has been a steady stream of little birds bathing. No sooner does one set of little birds get out, then the next set jump in. The way they all throw water around in their exuberance, I doubt the water will last more than a few hours.

Good birding!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Synchronized Swimming

Did you ever have a morning when you just knew it was going to be a great day? I went out this morning to warm weather, sunshine and damp.

When I went up to Wild Bird Rescue to check the carriers for new arrivals and to feed the few birds we currently have at the center, I noticed several water spouts shooting up from the small cove at the end of our parking lot. That can mean only one thing--pelicans fishing!

I walked quietly down to the middle of the lot, where I could see the birds down in the water, but they were unlikely to notice me (I didn't want them to take off!). Sure enough, there were over 100 pelicans in a big cluster, beating the water with their wings (thus the water spraying up into the air) and dipping for fish. The picture above was taken by Bob Lindsay at Wild Bird Rescue on another morning. You can't see the water flying, but you can see the large mass of birds in the small cove on Lake Wichita.

It is fascinating to watch the birds fish in this manner. They herd the fish with the wing flapping, then dip their bills into the water to scoop up the fish. Then the group turns and pushes the fish to another part of of the cove by flapping their wings into the water. They then eat that group, turn and start again in another direction.
Good birding!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas with friends and family this holiday. I let the dogs out this morning and had four blue jays at the sunflower feeders in the back yard--a nice start to the day.

Good birding!

Northern Harrier Out My Window

This morning I looked out my kitchen window to watch my birds and a bird of prey zipped past low over the ground in the vacant lot next to my house. It was a northern harrier hard after something on the ground. I saw the bird go to the ground, but didn't see it come up--it was in the tall grass. A few little birds flushed out of the area.

I sometimes have a sharp-shinned hawk or occasionally a merlin after the birds that frequent my feeders. I always hope they get the house sparrows and not the pretty or less common birds. In this case, I don't know what the harrier was after--maybe a mouse or rat from the field.

Good birding!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Bird Count

Yesterday, as noted in the previous post, was the Christmas Bird Count in Wichita Falls.

The morning was beautiful with a glorious pink and blue sky, no wind, and a reasonable temperature (about 40 degrees). My group had the area around Lake Wichita, largely a walking route. Our species (in the order the species were first sighted):

Ring-billed gull: 836
Great-tailed grackle: 14
Blue jay: 13
Double-crested cormorant: 860
Goldfinch: 27
Mockingbird: 12
Red-winged blackbird: 304
Northern cardinal: 11
Sharp-shinned hawk: 1
Fox sparrow: 1
Mourning dove: 12
Great blue heron: 9
Least sandpiper: 10
Eastern meadowlark: 2
Meadowlark species: 22
Great egret: 1
Sparrow species: 6
American coot: 10
Northern shoveler: 5
Snowy egret: 1
Pied-billed grebe: 9
Killdeer: 2
Ruddy duck: 26
Greater yellowlegs: 1
Bufflehead: 13
House finch: 5
Bewick's wren: 6
Downy woodpecker: 1
Woodpecker species: 1
White-crowned sparrow: 26
Eurasian collared dove: 5
Song sparrow: 1
Robin: 8
Canada geese: 29
White pelican: 108
Eastern towhee: 6
European starling: 420
Slate-colored junco: 17
Ruby-crowned kinglet: 2
Belted kingfisher: 3
Inca dove: 6
Franklin's gulls: 3
Wood pigeon: 48
Blue-winged teal: 20
Green-winged teal: 8
Gull species: 25
Loggerhead shrike: 2
American kestrel: 3
House sparrow: 3
Northern Harrier: 1
Red-tailed hawk: 1

By the end of our count, the wind had kicked up and the temperature was dropping with the cold front coming through (lo 20's this AM). We had some birds we expected but didn't get, especially among the ducks, but overall a decent day.

We met at Jimmy Hoover's home for our annual Christmas Count spaghetti dinner to compile the results of the three teams. We cheated this year and bought dinner from the Olive Garden, but Earl Anderson brought his rum cake and the Hoovers supplied hot wassail, so not all traditions were jettisoned. The other two groups had a few species we didn't see, as expected, since the habitats differed. However, overall the number of species (72) and the number of individuals were all down from the norm. The Lucy Park team noted a lack of birds in Lucy Park this year. The Iowa Park team noted a lackluster result from Chaparral, which is normally a productive stop. But the Iowa Park team did get Sandhill cranes at the Lake Buffalo middle lake (the rest of the lake is outside the count circle).

But the Lake Wichita group had a good time. After all, a good day's birding is better than most anything else we could have been doing.

Good birding!

To Be a Newbie...

Yesterday the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club participated in the annual Christmas Bird Count, helped by some of the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists. We divided our circle into 3 teams. My team had the Lake Wichita area. In addition to me, I had two new birders from the Texas Master Naturalists and one experienced but recently relocated birder.

I always enjoy birding with new people. When a person has been birding for a while, we sometimes don't pay as much attention to the common birds. But for a new birder, almost every bird is a lifer, which makes the bird exciting for them. Since they are also trying to learn field identification, you also have to think about what characteristics made you decide the bird you see a half mile away is a double-crested cormorant.

With a newly relocated birder, the joy is sharing the best birding spots. The Chat Trail...the tank...the spillway--these are all places local birders talk about, but when you are new to the area, you just don't know where to go. "What a neat place! I had no idea this was here!"

We walked a section of the City trail system and talked about future expansion plans (we can't wait!)

And we saw some birds--but that is for the next post. For the new birders in my group, the belted kingfisher was the favorite. We had one who posed for some time in between flights up and down the drainage ditch. The light was perfect for a good look and he called with each pass by, so they had a good chance to listen to his call. Another highlight was the flight of the white pelicans. We didn't get as close a look on those, but we had several sightings. They made it easy to count by flying in a long line past us. The masses of ring-billed gulls and double-crested cormorants right after sunrise were also impressive.

All in all a super day.

Good birding!

Monday, December 15, 2008

One Day, Sixty Degrees

Well, we certainly have had a change in the weather.

Yesterday the high was 85 degrees. Today, the high was in the mid-20's.

Needless to say, the birds cleaned out my feeders today.

Good birding!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I got up this morning to an overcast, calm, and cool morning. It felt a little like rain, although there was none in the forecast. However, by the time I left the house, the wind was blowing strongly. In fact, later in the day, we lost a dead tree in our front yard. At least it fell away from the house and not on the house.

Driving over to Lake Wichita, the wind was blowing strongly off the lake, pushing flocks of cormorants and black birds sideways. You wonder how the birds manage to get where they want to go when the wind is so strong. For the most part, the birds stay down low and stay in sheltered locations in shrubs, long grass and tree areas. There weren't a lot of flying birds today for the most part.

Good birding!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cold Snap

As frequently happens this time of year, the temperature can vary a lot in a short time. We had a cold front come through the other day, dropping the temperature 20+ degrees during the day.

At this time of the year, I feel sorry for the little birds. If you have ever had a small bird in hand, you know just how delicate they seem to be. Obviously, they aren't as delicate as they look, because they seem to do just fine. They do avoid the worst of the weather, but otherwise, seem to do very well. Feathers trap air and provide good insulation. But in order to maintain a high body temperature, they do need food--not always easily found in the winter.

We do have it better here than up north. What snow and ice we get usually don't last long, so food remains accessible. Insects may be active on warmer days. No wonder many birds from the far north travel here for their winter homes.

But because I wouldn't want to live outside in the winter cold, I feel compelled to put out food for the birds. And they do go through large amounts. Last Sunday I had 33 white-winged doves at one time. I need a part-time job.....

Good birding!