Monday, December 28, 2009

Project Feederwatch Reports

I have mentioned before that I participate in Project Feederwatch, a citizen science project of Lab of Ornithology of Cornell University.

The report from last year's season were included in the Autumn 2009 Living Bird mailing. We are part of the Southeast and South-Central region. There were 1204 sites reported on. The report includes the Top 25 birds for each region--these are the birds reported in the largest number of sites, not in the largest numbers.

See how many of these birds you recognize from your backyard feeder. In my case, the list here doesn't reflect two of the most common birds at my feeder: House Sparrows and White-winged Doves.

Northern Cardinal
Mourning Dove
American Goldfinch
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Blue Jay
Carolina Wren
Red-bellied Woodpecker
House Finch
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Mockingbird
Dark-eyed Junco
American Robin
White-throated Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Pine Siskin
Eastern Bluebird
American Crow
White-breated Nuthatch
Common Grackle
Red-winged Blackbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Brown-headed Cowbird
Rufous-sided Towhee
Brown Thrasher

Good birding!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Blizzard of '09


We have to name everything, don't we? Wichita Falls had a record-breaking snowfall yesterday, and there is already a Facebook group called "I Survived the Blizzard of '09."
I am glad I don't have to be outside for any length of time today, although it is supposed to be sunny and no more snow. However, it is cold. Right now it is 18 degrees.
The birds gobbled down the seed yesterday. I had to refill most of the feeders this AM. The snow was over the top of my boots.
Later I am going to get out some fresh water, although I imagine there will be a little bit out there once the sun hits the icicles.
The snow yesterday brought my first Harris' sparrows to my feeders. I also had a red-winged blackbird. I do occasionally have one or two when the weather is especially bad.
It should be a good day for bird watching out my windows.
Merry Christmas and Good Birding!


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Winter Wonderland


This is the view out my back door to one of my feeders. The birds are swarming all of the feeders and the ground under them this morning. The snow will make it increasingly difficult for the little guys to find food while the temperatures will mean food is more important. Although I feed the birds mostly for my benefit, because I love to watch them, at times like this, I am sure the birds welcome the handout.
Looks like more snow today, and a white Christmas.
Good birding!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Bird Count (Unofficial) Report

The Wichita Falls CBC was yesterday, with three teams scouring the area for birds. The teams met up at the Hoover residence for the traditional pot luck spaghetti dinner to compile the results, where we all ate entirely too much food.

The weather was clear and cool and overall, we had a good count. As in any year, there were birds that we expected to count and didn't, and those we didn't expect to find, and did. The count week continues through Tuesday, so the number of species may change. I am not the compiler, so I did not attempt to track the numbers, but I did try to keep track of the species as each team presented their information. However, once the official results are published, I'll provide a follow-up.

The list below is preliminary, unofficial, list of the specifies seen for the count. I marked with an asterisk the species that we seen by my team, which counted the area around Lake Wichita, including Lakeside City and Holliday. My group started with 4 people in the AM, and did the Lake Wichita Park area, and then I continued on to complete the remainder of the area (so those in my group who see species you don't recall--they were seen in other areas later in the day.)

I was glad to see a few people who attended the bird ID workshop last week came on the count this week.

The list is in the order of the CBC checklist.

Snow Goose*
Canada Goose*
Wood Duck
Gadwall*
American Wigeon*
Mallard*
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler*
Northen Pintail
Green-winged Teal*
Canvasback*
Redhead
Ring-necked Duck
Bufflehead*
Common Goldeneye*
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck*
Wild Turkey
Pied-billed Grebe*
American White Pelican*
Double-crested Cormorant*
Great Blue Heron*
Northern Harrier*
Bald Eagle
Swainson's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk*
American Kestrel*
Virginia Rail*
American Coot*
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer*
Least Sandpiper*
Wilson's Snipe*
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull*
Rock Pigeon*
Eurasian Collared Dove*
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove*
Inca Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker*
Red-bellied Woodpecker*
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Northern Flicker*
Eastern Phoebe*
Loggerhead Shrike*
Blue Jay*
American Crow*
Horned Lark
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
Bewick's Wren*
House Wren
Marsh Wren*
Ruby-crowned Kinglet*
Eastern Bluebird*
American Robin*
Northern Mockingbird*
European Starling*
American Pipit*
Cedar Waxwing*
Orange-crowned Warbler*
Yellow-rumped Warbler*
Spotted Towhee*
Savannah Sparrow*
Harris' Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow*
Song Sparrow*
Dark-eyed Junco*
Lapland's Londspur
Northern Cardinal*
Red-winged Blackbird*
Meadowlark (species)*
Common Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle*
Brown-headed Cowbird*
House Finch*
American Goldfinch*
House Sparrow*

Good birding!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Reminder: Wichita Falls Christmas Bird Count Saturday

Just a quick reminder that the Wichita Falls Christmas Bird Count is Saturday, December 19. We have three teams counting our circle. If you haven't signed up and want to attend, you can still call one of the three team leaders today or you can just show up in the morning for 2 of the 3 teams. You don't have to know anything about birds--just want to learn. You can bird all day or just part. There is a $5 charge per person, which is sent to Audubon to pay for maintaining the database. Dress warmly in layers. Bring binoculars, a field guide, water and snacks if you need them. The teams may stop for a quick lunch, depending upon the desires of the group. Groups usually conclude by 2 or 3 PM so members who plan to attend the count supper can clean up and prepare their contribution to the pot luck.

Here is the information:

- Lake Wichita area: includes Lake Wichita, Holliday, and a portion of Archer Co. Lots of walking, especially early and then driving. Contact: Penny Miller, txbirds@gmail.com or 940-867-9761. Meeting at the Lake Wichita spillway (off Kemp) at 7:30 AM.
- Lucy Park area: includes Lucy Park and much of the city of Wichita Falls. There will be some walking early, and then driving with short walks intermittently. Contact Terry McKee, dgm59@aol.com or 940-766-4097. Meet at the Log Cabin parking lot in Lucy Park at 7:30 AM.
- Iowa Park: mostly driving with a few walking areas. Contact: Jimmy Hoover, 940-692-4975. Jimmy is picking up his team so you must call.

Jimmy and Janette Hoover are hosting the count supper, where the teams will compile their data for submission to Audubon. This is a pot luck spaghetti dinner and all team members and North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club members are invited.

Good birding!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Feeder Tragedy


One of the hazards of feeding birds is that predators sometimes snatch one of the birds you've been fattening up.
I went out to refill feeders and found evidence of at least an attempt to catch one of my doves. I did not find a carcass and dove feathers pull out very easily, so I cannot say for sure this guy is a goner. However, judging from the number of feathers in this area, if he wasn't a casualty, he's darn cold.
Since I didn't find evidence of a carcass, I would assume one of the feral cats that live in the field next to my house probably got lucky. If the cat caught one of the white-winged doves, he should be stuffed for a week.
Good birding!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Texas Ornithological Society Expands Magic Ridge Sanctuary

The Texas Ornithological Society (TOS) recently added 5 acres to its Magic Ridge sanctuary near Indianola, TX. The local North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club made a donation to honor one of our previous members a few years back--it is good to see the sanctuary continue to grow.

The TOS maintains five sanctuaries in east Texas which are important to migrating birds. I was able to visit two of these sanctuaries (Sabine Woods and Hooks Woods) during a TOS meeting in the area a couple of years ago. Some of the sanctuaries were hit hard during Hurricanes Katrina and Ike and the TOS has put in a lot of work to clean up and maintain these sites for the birds and TOS members who visit to observe them.

To learn more about TOS sanctuaries, visit the TOS website.

Good birding!

North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club Meets Tonight

The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meets tonight at 7PM at the NALC Building on Southwest Parkway (next to Wichita Valley Landscaping.) This is the Christmas meeting, so finger foods are welcome. If you are interested in participating in the gift exchange, bring a wrapped gift under $10.

Along with food and games, we'll be finalizing plans for the Christmas Bird Count on the 19th.

Good birding!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lake Wichita Park on Sunday

I hope the weather is as clear as it was on Sunday for the Chirstmas Bird Count next week. The morning was bright and sunny. A heavy frost covered the ground and trees when I started down the chat trail, but soon burned off.

At the entrance to the chat trail were seven white-tailed deer who stood for a few minutes checking me out before they ran into the wooded area to the right.

I only walked down to the the barrow pit and across the birdge up to the dam, so not a long walk at all. I saw Canada geese, cardinals, double-crested cormorants, white-winged doves, robins, red-winged balckbirds, bufflehead, song sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, great blue heron, coots, ruddy ducks, ring-billed gulls, canvasback, downy woodpecker, meadowlark sp, mourning dove, white pelicans, killdeer, gold finches, and house finches.

Good birding!

December 12 at River Bend

We had a nice bird ID workshop Saturday. We had some new Wichita Falls residents come. One couple had lived near San Franscisco for many years, so this habitat is new. Two others just moved from Nebraska. After the indoor workshop, we walked the trail at River Bend. Even though it was rather late for a bird walk, we did see a few good birds: white-winged doves, goldfinch, house finch, slate colored juncos, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, tufted titmouse, cardinal, Carolina chickadee, Eastern phoebe, and blue jay.

Many thanks to Wild Birds Unlimited at Smith's Gardentown for donating door prizes.

Good birding!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Don't Forget!


Don't forget bird identification workshop tomorrow at River Bend Nature Works, 2200 Third Street, Wichita Falls, TX. 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM. Free to River Bend members/Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists; $3 all others. At the conclusion of the presentation, those interested can walk the trails to practice.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club Meets December 15

The monthly North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meets Tuesday, December 15 at 7 PM at the NALC Building on Southwest Parkway (next to Wichita Valley Nursery near the corner of SW Parkway and Barnett.)

This is the annual Christmas meeting, with food, games and presents. We will also be finalizing plans for the Christmas Bird Count the following weekend.

Come meet a few of the local birders and learn more about the organization.

Good Birding!

Big News of the Retail Variety

Katherine Smith of Smith's Gardentown told me she is adding a Wild Birds Unlimited store to her nursery. I am excited--there will now be a place in Wichita Falls I can find good quality bird seed. Of course, there will also be a place where I will be tempted to blow much of my discretionary income, which I am sure will please Katherine.

Katherine tells me she hopes to have some products in the store before Christmas (see the previous post on gifts for birders) with a grand opening to coincide with the Home and Garden Show on 27, 28 Fenruary 2010. She is bringing in a speaker from Wild Birds Unlimited for the event, so watch for that.

This will be a nice complement to the nursery. Good luck, Katherine!

Good birding!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Brrrrrr!

My blood is thinning out since moving to Texas. I am cold! And today it felt like the temperature dropped during the day.

The birds and the squirrels are cold too. I have had a full house at the feeders today while everyone tries to top off for the night. I had 4 squirrels at once this morning and have had dozens of birds eating their heads off pretty much the entire day. We're at the edge of a winter storm moving this way. It appears all we will get it the added cold and none of the snow and ice, but it appears the birds aren't taking any chances.

Most of the birds have been white-winged doves and house sparrows, but I have seen the cardinals, blue jays, spotted towhees, juncos, house finches, Inca doves and chickadees as well.

Good birding!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cold Weather Means Feeder Overflow


Cedar waxwing in rehab. Photo courtesy of Wild Bird Rescue.
We have some cold, wet weather coming through, with some snow possible overnight. Even if I didn't hear it on the news, I would know it by the numbers of birds at the feeders today--the birds are absolutely mobbing them. This is normal behavior before a cold front.
Usually, I don't see cedar waxwings at the feeders. Technically, I didn't today, but I did have one at the bird bath near the feeders. The bird bath was also full of birds bathing. You have to wonder about getting wet when it's cold, but bathing keeps feathers in good condition and good feathers are absolutely essential to survival.
I don't usually see just one cedar waxwing either--there is usually a flock. So I did look out front in the tops of my trees and there was a small flock of 7 in the oaks. When it started raining, the cedar waxwings were enthusiastically showering and preening.
Good birding!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Predators at the Feeders this Morning

I got up this morning and looked out to check the feeders--no birds. But there were two of the large feral cats camped out under the feeders at the side of the house waiting for breakfast. They didn't flinch when I let the dogs out into the back yard for their morning constitutional, so they obviously knew the fence was an effective barrier.

I went to Lucy Park for a walk this morning and when I returned home and checked the feeders, again there were no birds. However, there was a sharp-shinned hawk staking out a tree in the back yard, waiting for the chance to pounce.

Hopefully the birds will have a chance to eat later as the weather is turning more wintry.

Good birding!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Phantom Gluttons

I haven't been seeing all that many birds at my feeders, as my Project Feederwatch reports will attest, but I am certainly going through the food, especially the mixed seed. I bought 50 lbs of mixed seed just a couple of weeks ago and put out the last of it this morning.

Either I have some phantoms that like bird seed or some birds are visiting when I am not watching. Since the windows to the back and side of the house are not on the side where I have my office and require a trip to look out, that is entirely possible. Judging from the number of white-winged doves sitting on the wires and in the trees when I went out to fill up the feeders, my money is on them.

I can remember when I first moved to Wichita Falls, white-winged and Eurasian collared doves were not uncommon, but neither did one see them every day. How times have changed! Most birders consider both of these doves more pests than not. They travel in large flocks and can eat a LOT of bird seed.

The white-winged dove comes from Mexico and used to be seen almost entirely in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas, However, the birds have expended their trange northward, seemingly following the I-35 corridor.

There is some speculation that these birds are out competing the mourning doves and Inca doves. I have great doubt about the Incas as I am sure they tend to eat smaller seed than the much larger White-winged and Eurasian doves. I could see an argument for mourning doves. But I don't have any factual evidence to back that up. The local chapter of Texas Master Naturalists sent in some data on the two populations a few years ago, but we weren't informed of any results of the study, which is unfortunate. There is an interesting set of papers from a Dove Symposium in 2004 that discusses this briefly but comes to no conclusions.

I can remember seeing many more mourning doves in town in years past, but perhaps it merely seemed that way because I wasn't seeing the hordes of white-winged and Eurasian, as I do today. Once you are in the county, the birds are primarily mourning doves.

Good birding!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Brisk Thanksgiving Morning

Since it is just me and my husband for Thanksgiving this year, I didn't have as much cooking to do, so went to Lucy Park birding when I got up. It was a brisk morning, with a heavy layer of frost on my windshield. But there was little or no wind and bright sunshine, so the weather was perfect for a good bird walk.

Lucy Park was wonderful this morning. I followed the sound of dozens of robins flying from tree to tree and then noticed some smaller birds. I followed them over to the river and had the rare pleasure of finding myself in the middle of a flock of approximately 70 Cedar Waxwings. They were bathing in the river, so were perched low and were taking turns going to the shore, splashing in the water and back to the lower branches. I stood just a few feet away and was able to see them clearly, even without binoculars. These are the first cedar waxwings I have seen this season.

Another treat was having the chance to watch a red-bellied woodpecker cache acorns. He would fly to the trunk of an oak tree midway between the lowest branches and the ground, scooch down the trunk backwards to just a few inches above the ground, jump down, grab an acorn, then fly right over my head to a tree across the river to hide them away in a high branch. He made a good half dozen trips with me watching him--he was still busily working when I walked on.

It was a great morning for woodpeckers overall. In addition to the red-bellied woodpecker, I saw an immature red-headed woodpecker by the duck pond, a downy woodpecker and a flicker. I heard several red-belllied woodpeckers throughout the park.

Other sitings this morning included: cardinal, blue jay, great-tailed grackle, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, yellow-rumped warbler, white-throated sparrow, house sparrow, house finch, white-winged dove, Eurasian collared dove, starling, pigeon, junco, spotted towhee, fox sparrow, mockingbird, song sparrow, great blue heron, ruby-crowned kinglet, Canada goose, and mallard.

A great start to Thanksgiving--I hope everyone has a wonderful day with family and friends. There's nothing like the smell of pumplin pie baking (like mine is now). Soon it will be the smell of the turkey.

Good birding!

Monday, November 23, 2009

For the Birder on Your Gift List

Family and friends sometimes despair finding an appropriate gift for the bird mad. I don't know why as it seems a fairly straightforward proposition to me. But for those who struggle in this area, here are some ideas (and if you're a birder with family members who tell you you're hard to shop for, feel free to leave a copy of this blog laying about.)

Let me say first that just because your gift has a bird on it, doesn't mean your birding friend will like it. I have been on the receiving end of some truly ugly bird stuff that the giver has been convinced I would love because a bird was on the item somewhere. Although your friend will appreciate the thought, but if you think it's ugly, the chances are he/she will too.

Next you need to consider what type of birder your friend is. Whether your birding friend is a casual birder or obsessive. New to the hobby or been doing it for years. Someone who enjoys watching birds in their backyard or likes to tromp the fields in search of a lifer. Whatever category they fall into, there is something on the following list they'll enjoy.

Here are some ideas almost any bird lover would like:
- Subscription to a birding magazine (be careful here--they are likely to have some subsciptions already, but no one is likely to subscribe to them all. Too much money involved in that. Do a little snooping and see which magazines they get and choose another--some popular choices include: Birds and Blooms, Birdwatchers Digest, and Birder's World.)
- A new field guide. No one has enough field guides. Your friend probably has at least 3 already. If you think they have several, you might consider a specialty guide, covering one species or family (Hawks, sparrows, shorebirds, etc.) in detail. If you think they may have every bird field guide known to mankind, consider a subscription to Birds of North America Online. It contains a lot of information not in field guides and includes video and sound clips.
- Audio CDs and DVDs: A CD of bird songs or a DVD about birds (David Attenborough's The Life of Birds is a great choice.) If they have an iphone, the bird sound app would be appreciated.
- Field gear: hiking boots, rain gear, a hat, walking stick, backpack or a vest would all be warmly received by the field birder.
- Bird feeders, bird baths, and bird food. For the birder who likes to watch birds through the window, feeders and feed can be expensive.
- Bird books and classes. Most of us like to learn more about our feathered friends and a good book on a yucky cold day is wonderful. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a couple of bird courses many birders would love to take. They're a little pricey, but worth every penny.
- Membership to a birding related organization like Audubon or the Cornell Lab or Ornithology. They'll know they are helping birds and receive a magazine and other interesting items. Or membership in an organization of birders--the local bird club or the Texas Ornithological Society.
- For the person who doesn't want any more stuff: they would appreciate a donation to a birding related organization made on their behalf. You might consider Wild Bird Rescue if you're looking for a local organization (or a similar organization in your area) or perhaps to preserve habitat for birds (an example would be the sanctuary fund of the Texas Ornithological Society.)
- Bird friendly plants for the yard to attract more birds.
- Bird art, stationery, etc are also much appreciated.
- Camera equipment for those who enjoy photography.
- Optical equipment. This is at the high end of the price range and birders tend to be picky about their binoculars and spotting scopes, so it might be better to offer a gift certificate. But if you want to take the plunge, try Binoculars.com for great prices. For the average birder, a good pair of 8 x 42 binoculars will work. Consider the person you're buying for. My husband bought me a nice pair of 10 x 50 binoculars one year on the theory that more is better. The problem was that the binoculars were heavy, and I couldn't hold them steady enough to get a clear image. Also, as much as I might love a real nice pair of binoculars, the fact is that I am a klutz and drop or bump my binoculars on a regular basis--not good for a delicate instrument. I need sturdy and serviceable. He let me pick my last pair, so we were both happy.
- Birding trips or events. Again this can be pricey, depending upon where you go, but you can swing travel, food, field trips and hotel for one of the TOS meetings for a few hundred dollars.

I hope this gives you lots of ideas for that not-so-hard-to-shop-for birding enthusiast on your list.

Good birding!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

RBNC Bird ID Course December 12


As promised, here is the official flyer for the bird ID course on December 12.
Good birding!

A Tiny Surprise at Lake Wichita This Morning

A cool morning at Lake Wichita Park today. I was watching the ducks on the tank and saw a little bird zip by me. My first thought was, "swallow;" my second, "not possible." Fortunately for me, the little guy stayed in my area, circling over and around me for several minutes. It was definitely a lone barn swallow. According to the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club checklist, barn swallows are common through the end of October. No sitings are listed for November (but I have an older checklist.) I hope the little guy was finding some bugs--there weren't many moving at ground level.

I also saw my first buffleheads of the winter. Such an ugly name for such beautiful ducks.

Also seen this morning at Lake Wichita: American Coot, Spotted Towhee, Cardinal, American Goldfinch, Mockingbird, House Finch, American Widgeon, Canvasback, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, White Pelican, Ring-billed Gull, Great-blue Heron, Red-winged Blackbird, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Yellow-rumped warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Phoebe, Mallard, and Killdeer.

I also continued to scout my CBC route. Not repeating sitings I had at Lake Wichita, I stopped in Rosemont Cemetery and saw a large flock of Blue Jays and three Wild Turkeys. I also went to the spillway and saw several Green-winged Teal, a Kestrel, meadowlarks, and a small flock of peeps (that's little shorebirds that you can't identify.)

Overall, a good morning.

Good birding!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

TOS Happenings

There was an email today on TEXBIRDS concerning upcoming Texas Ornithological Society (TOS) meetings. Here is the information posted for those who might not subscribe to TEXBIRDS or be members of TOS:


January 14 - 17, 2010 Westaco
April 15 - 17, 2010, Rockport
January 13 - 16, 2011 Ft Worth

I will not be able to make either of the 2010 meetings, but I am going to put the January 2011 meeting on my calendar now. Being in Ft Worth it is very convenient. Detailed information on the meetings will be posted to the TOS website as it becomes available.

I also received the most recent Texas Birds Annual from TOS today. Jack Eitniear and Bron Rorex did a super job on this publication. The picture of 3 species of buntings (indigo, painted and lazuli) at a feeder at the same time is beautiful, as you'd expect. And there are articles on a number of Texas birds (purple martins, reddish egrets and the northern Aplomado falcon for example.) A good read.

Good birding!

Basic Bird ID Course

River Bend Nature Center will be hosting a basic bird ID class from 10:00 - 11:00 AM on Saturday, December 12. This will be both an advanced training for the Texas Master Naturalists and an adult education course for River Bend. We'll talk about the process of identifying birds and go over some of the more common birds people are likely to see at their feeders and on the Christmas Bird Count.

Although not part of the class, anyone interested in a bird walk following is welcome (Any excuse to bird is a good excuse.) Although late morning is not the absolute best time for birding, in the winter it won't be bad at all.

I believe River Bend will be charging $3 for non-members; adult education courses have traditionally been free for members. When I get the official ad from River Bend I will post.

Good birding!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Digital Pictures Needed

I am working on a basic bird ID class for the Texas Master Naturalists and others who might be interested. In part, this is an advanced training for Master Naturalists. However, it is also to help prepare participants who aren't experienced birders for the Christmas Bird Count. If you have digital pictures of local winter birds you would be willing to let me borrow (with attribution of course), please send an email to txbirds@gmail.com.

Thanks so much. We are planning this class for December 12, so I need photos before December 5 to be sure I can integrate them into the presentation.

Good birding!

North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club Meets Tonight

I really need to get it in gear to post these meetings earlier. But if you're interested in coming, the meeting is open to anyone with an interest in birds and other flora and fauna in the area.

7 PM, National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Building on Southwest Parkway (next to Wichita Valley Nursery, near Barnett.) We have a very information meeting with snacks. We'll have a short program and a planning session for the Christmas Bird Count.

Godd birding!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nests




During my walk at Lake Wichita this morning, I saw a vacated nest in a tree, about 3.5 - 4 ft off the ground. I am not good at nest ID, so I can't say what it is for sure. If anyone else has a thought, post it.
Good birding!

LBJs

I woke up this AM and thought I would go to Lucy Park, but decided instead to start scouting my Christmas Bird Count area more thoroughly in preparation for that event so went to Lake Wichita Park instead.

Every birding outing results in the siting of several LBJ's. For the non-birder, that's a "Little Brown Job", a little brown bird that can't be identified before it disappears. Most (but not all) of the time, it is some sort of sparrow.

A few years ago I decided to devote myself to learning the sparrows. I can't say I am an expert on sparrows yet, but I am getting better. If there were more species of sparrows here in the summer, I would get better faster.

Sparrows are a challenge not so much because they are all little brown birds, but because they frequently dive into cover about the same time as you catch sight of them. So you're frequently trying to make a call without a lot of information--that makes the quick identification of field marks and songs very important (not that you hear many songs in the winter.)

Today was a good sparrow day at Lake Wichita. The highlight of my morning was a small flock of Swamp Sparrows that were kind enough to stay visible for about 5 minutes, so I had plenty of time to look at them and catalog their field marks. Other sparrows: song sparrow, savannah sparrow and white-crowned sparrow. There were probably others, if I was faster. I thought I saw a lark sparrow, but wasn't able to be positive, so it's just a LBJ.

Another special bird this morning was the redhead duck (3) on the tank at Lake Wichita Park.

Other birds: White Pelican, American Coot, Great Blue Heron, Red-winged Blackbird, American Widgeon, Northern Cardinal, Pied-billed Grebe, Common Yellowthroat, Mourning Dove, White-winged Dove, Robin, House Finch, Double-crested Cormorant, Ring-billed Gull, Bewick's Wren, Goldfinch, Pigeon, Northern Harrier, Eurpean Starling, Great-tailed Grackle, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Blue Jay.

Good birding!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Filling the Larder

I went out shopping for bird food today, stocking the larder in preparation for Project Feederwatch that starts tomorrow.

As always, the only place I could find shelled peanuts was Atwood's. $8.39 for a 5-lb bag. They had both the whole nuts and the broken pieces for the same price. Since this is about the most expensive thing I buy, I prefer the birds have to do a little work for it, so I get the whole nuts.

Wal-Mart and Atwoods had the best prices on suet cakes. The year around suet at Wal-Mart was $1.19 and the premium mixtures $1.48. Atwood's basic price was $1.29.

I went to Berend Brothers to get my black oil sunflower and mixed seed. Partly because 100 lb of bird seed is more than I can handle and they are always very nice about loading it in the truck for me (hubby gets the joy of unloading)but mostly because I have always found the best quality mixed seed at Berend Brothers and THOUGHT I was getting the right kind today. Either Purina changed their mixture, Berend's is stocking a different mixure, or I picked up the wrong bag (looks the same to me though) because when I got home and opened the bag, I was very disappointed at the quality of the mix. I noticed that the amount of bird feeding food and accessories has dwindled at Berend Brothers, although I did find an item for the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club gift exchange (sorry, can't tell what it is--I want it to be a surprise for the receipient.)

There was a premium mix I almost bought at Atwood's but it had quite a bit of safflower in it and very little millet. Although safflower is supposed to be preferred by cardinals, mine turn their beaks up at it.

I'll be cleaning out and hanging some of my additional feeders this afternoon.

Good birding!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Bird Course from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Several years ago I took the basic Bird Biology course from Cornell by correspondence and loved it. It has changed a lot since then. I talked to someone else who took the newest version of the course, and they were learning a lot.

I recently received an email from Cornell concerning their newest on-line course, "Investigating Behavior--Courtship and Rivalry in Birds." It looks great, but at $255 for Lab members ($295 for non-members) it is probably a little steep for me right now. But as soon as I can put my fingers on that amount of $$$, you can bet I'll be signed up. If any of you take the course, let me know what you think (although it will probably just make me jealous.)

Good birding!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Save the Date! Christmas Bird Count

The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club will host the Wichita Falls area Christmas Bird Count on December 19. This is the 110th CBC. I am not sure how long Wichita Falls has been participating. The counters are primarily members of the club, although we had a few Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists participate last year. You do not have to be an experienced or expert birder to take part. Extra eyes and someone to help keep up with recording the birds is very important on every team. However, if you want to improve your skills identifying birds in the field, this is a good way to do it. Every group will have one or more experienced birders in it.

During the CBC, birders canvass a 25-mile circle and count every bird they see. This information is then entered into the Audubon Society CBC database for use by researchers.

Participants pay $5 each to take part. This money is sent to Audubon to support the work of entering and maintaining the information.

We divide our 25-mile circle into three areas to make it easier to cover in one day. We start at sunrise and continue until mid-afternoon, then break up and meet for our traditonal potluck spaghetti dinner at a member's home to eat and compile the data from all three teams. Our compiler, Debra McKee, inputs the data for the group.

The three areas are:
Lucy Park: the park and much of the city. This is primarily a driving route.
Lake Wichita: The lake, a small area of the city, and the county surrounding the lake. Although there is a fair amount of driving, there is several miles of walking (along the dam and the hiking trails in Lake Wichita Park.)
Iowa Park: which comprises primarily the county between Wichita Falls and Iowa Park. It unfortunately skirts Lake Buffalo. This is primarily a driving route due to the large area to be covered, although there is some walking.

In addition, those who cannot (or don't wish to) get out, can participate by watching birds at their feeders and recording the numbers.

It is within the rules to include birds seen in the count week that may not have been counted during the count day for one reason or another. I am not sure what we are considering the count week yet.

If you would like to take part in the count, you can contact me at txbirds@gmail.com or Terry McKee at dgm59@aol.com. I will have the Lake Wichita team and Terry the Lucy Park team. I am not sure who will be overseeing the Iowa Park area yet.

Good birding!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Smorgasboard

When you put up feeders and attract small birds, you have to expect predators to come to the smorgasboard. Thursday I saw a fast-moving larger bird shooting past my kitchen window. When I looked out, a sharp-shinned hawk was perched in the tree. Due to the size, I believe the hawk was likely a female (the female sharp-shinned hawk is twice the size of the male.) She then circled a few times and went from tree to tree in hopes of a meal. I wish there was a way to direct the birds they take--I have plenty of house sparrows. I didn't see her catch any birds Thursday, but I am sure she'll be back.

Good birding!

Super Sunday Morning on the Chat Trail


I went out the Lake Wichita Park and walked the chat trail (picture left), around the tank and back. What a beautiful morning! The weather was just about perfect when I got out of the truck. I almost decided I didn't need to take my long-sleeved shirt with me. I'm glad I did as soon after I started down the chat trail, a front moved through, bringing clouds, a breeze and the threat of rain. However, the front passed through in about 2o minutes and the bright sunshine came back.


There were several highlights to the morning. First, at the entrance to the chat trail was a ladder-backed woodpecker I had a chance to watch for some time. He flew from the willow to a live oak. When I followed him there, I was able to watch him break open a gall and clean out the inside.

I also had some first of season birds: gold finch, yellow-rumped warbler, and a white-crowned sparrow. I was also lucky enough to watch a song sparrow singing as well as several others along the walk. In addition to these birds, I saw large flocks of house finch, starlings, and red-winged blackbirds. Other birds included: ring-billed gull, Canada goose, mockingbird, great-tailed grackle, eastern phoebe, cardinal, spotted towhee, American coot, American widgeon, pied-billed grebe, ruddy duck, killdeer, pigeon, great blue heron, robin, and double-crested cormorant.
Good birding!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sandhill Cranes

Almost every time I have walked out of my house during the past couple of days, I have heard sandhill cranes. They have a very distinctive call. However, I haven't seen them yet.

Bob at Wild Bird Rescue had the wonderful experience of seeing A LOT of sandhill cranes today--see his blog entry for more information.

I'm jealous.

Good birding!

Super Film Clip of Hummingbird

OK, this is not a bird in/around Wichita Falls, TX, but it is so neat, I had to share. I love David Attenborough's programs on the BBC. This looks like it will be another hit.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8338000/8338728.stm

Good birding!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Project Feederwatch Starts Soon

One of my favorite activities is Project Feederwatch, a citizen science project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The season starts the second Saturday in November (November 14). Although I have some feeders up year around, I have several others to clean in preparation for bird feeding season. It's also time to visit Berend Brothers and Atwoods to stock up on seed and suet.

I have participated in varying degrees for many years and enjoy reading the reports at the end of the year.

If you enjoy watching birds at your feeders, this is a fun and low cost ($15/$12 Lab members) activity for the entire family. This would be an educational activity for home schoolers and classrooms.

Good birding!

Two Good Birds in Lucy Park This Morning

It was a beautiful morning in Lucy Park this morning. Bright sunshine and cool weather made a super combination for my walk.

I didn't see a lot of birds, but did see a couple of good ones. My first spotted towhees of the season were sorting through the leaves of the ground for their breakfast. Both appeared to be males. As I was walking along the path by the duck pond, a red-headed woodpecker was on a snag in clear view. I used to see red-headed woodpeckers in Lucy Park fairly often, but haven't for 2 or 3 years. Some of the other members of the bird club have mentioned the same thing, so it was a pleasant surprise to see one this morning.

In addition to these treats, I saw the following: Carolina chickadee, blue jay, house finch, cardinal, robin, red-bellied woodpecker, mallard, Canada goose, commong grackle, house sparrow, mockingbird, mourning dove, slate-colored junco, white-winged dove, starling, pigeon, and ring-billed gull.

Good birding!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Northern Harriers

Today I saw my first northern harriers of the season on my way back from Ardmore, OK, just north of the Red River. I saw one in a field just north of Waurika on 79 and a group of 4 just south of Waurika on 79.

These graceful birds are very distinctive with a very obvious white patch on the rump.

Good birding!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Birding Lane

I am convinced for reasons of safety, there needs to be a birding lane on the highways (or nature-watching lane.)

I was going to Iowa Park late last week and saw hawks about every half mile--vultures, kestrels, red-tailed hawks, and Swainson's were ones I could quickly identify at 70 mph. There were some I just couldn't get a good enough look at.

I was driving to Vernon yesterday and was checking out the wildlife on the way. There should be plenty of deer for the hunters this year--I saw several along the highway between 8 and 8:30 AM.

I also saw a large V of geese high in the sky. I was trying to get a good look to determine the species, but wasn't able to make them out well enough at 70 mph. Fortunately, there wasn't a lot of traffic (not that it would have mattered much to me, but probably a good thing for other drivers on the highway.) At 70 mph by the time you can safely stop on the shoulder of the road, the birds are long gone.

Yep, we need a lane of the highway you can go much slower and stop to check out the birds, deer, and other neat critters (had a bobcat pass in front of me the other morning.)

I can just hear the response of Rep Thornberry, and Sen Hutchison/Cornyn on that idea!

Good birding!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Robin Morning

I decided to walk a portion of the Falls Trail from the entrance to Lucy Park to the pedestrian bridge behind the MPEC/Coliseum this morning and document some invasives while birding (I wrote about the invasives in Living Green in Wichita Falls this AM.) It was a relatively quiet morning birding wise, but the one bird that was definitely noticeable was the robin.

The robins were very active this morning, flying along the trails like they were tracking me and telling everyone exactly where I was. Dozens of robins flew from tree to tree along the thrail.

Robins form large flocks in the fall and winter and seem to me to be more boisterous once the babies have all fledged. Robins do migrate southward in the winter from the northernmost portion of their range, so we seem to have more robins in the winter than the summer.

Other birds noted included: Eastern phoebe, blue jay, Eurasian collared dove, cardinal, Carolina chickadee, yellow-shafted flicker, killdeer, mockingbird, common grackle, house finch, great-tailed grackle, and European starling.

Good birding!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bird Sounds

Birders often identify birds entirely or in part by sound. Although we tend to think of bird sounds as bird songs, there are other sounds which are distinctive to some species of birds that are not songs.

One sound I associate with fall is the sound of Inca Dove wings when they fly. It sounds like dry leaves rustling and is very distinctive. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any sound libraries that have captured this sound--they focus on calls. The Birds of North America Online (access available by subscription only) mentions this sound, but doesn't provide a recording. However, it does say the sound is produced by elongated 6th and 7th primary feathers and that immature birds produce less sound because only one primary is longer. If you're interested in a subscription to BNA, it is $40 a year; $25 a year if you are a member of the Texas Ornithological Society (TOS.) The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has the online Macaulay Library of sounds, but I haven't taken the time to listen to all of the available recordings to see if any capture the wing sound.

One non-song sound that these libraries do contain is of woodpeckers drumming. Different species of woodpeckers drum in differing rythyms, which can be used to identify woodpeckers in the field.

Speaking of sounds....Bob Lindsay of Wild Bird Rescue reports in his blog that he heard the distinctive calls of sandhill cranes at Lake Wichita this week.

Good birding!

Owl Calling Cancelled

Unfortunately I was out of town last week, so didn't get the word that the owl calling at Lake Arrowhead State Park was cancelled until I got back. The leader for this event came down with pneumonia. Get well, Greg!

The Sierra Club will reschedule this event once he is better. I hope no one made the trip in vain.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Snipe Hunting at Lake Wichita


When I was growing up in Indiana, "snipe hunting" was a euphemism among teenagers for parking on a dark country road. Although I was a hobby birdwatcher even then, I didn't know there really was a snipe (and yes, their distribution includes Indiana, although I doubt one would see them at night.)

So, when I moved to Texas I was a little skeptical of reports of snipes. But sure enough, there is such a thing as a snipe. In Texas, the Wilson's snipe. They are here in the winter and are one of the birds I especially enjoy seeing. Although fairly common, you don't see them everyday. I often see them on the east end of the tank at Lake Wichita park (pictured above). I saw my first of the season today. I cut around the end of the tank where I normally will find them if they are present, and stopped to watch a pair of White Pelicans take off and fly over my head. If I had not stopped for that minute, I would have missed my first of season (FOS) snipe coming out of the reeds as I it would have passed behind me. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. A lot of ducks on the tank this morning.

Another special treat today was a small flock of 3 wild turkeys at the entrance to the chat trail.

In addition to the birds noted already, sightings this morning included: European starling, great-tailed grackle, Eurasian collared dove, blue jay, sharp-shinned hawk, northern cardinal, killdeer, great blue heron, green-winged teal, coot, white pelican, American wigeon, pied-billed grebe, red-winged blackbird, brown-headed cowbird, and song sparrow.

Good birding!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Owl Calling at Lake Arrowhead Tuesday, Oct 13

I posted this event on my other blog, Living Green in Wichita Falls some time ago, but I don't see that I posted it here. I don't know what I was thinking.

Anyway, the Red River group of the Sierra Club is hosting an owl calling event at Lake Arrowhead State Park beginning at 6:30 pm at the Equestrian Center. You don't have to be a member of the Sierra Club to participate. The gate fee to the park is $2 per person. There is no other fee to take part.

If you have never had a chance to see owls reasonably close, then you'll enjoy this. You never know what you'll see.

For more information, contact Joanna Bonnheim at hirschikiss@sbcglobal.com.

Good birding!

Big Sit October 11


The Wichita Falls Big Sit, was as usual, chilly. Before sunrise, there was no wind and it wasn't bad at 45 degrees. However, once the sun came up, the wind picked up, which made it feel colder. Although it was overcast, we didn't get any rain. I took the picture to the left with my point-and-shoot camera over Lake Wichita when a line of pelicans was flying past.


I had to leave early so I don't have a final tally (I'll post it when I get it from the official recordkeeper, Terry McKee.) When I left about 8:45. we had seen: Northern mockingbird, scissor-tailed flycatcher, mourning dove, Winter wren (we spent a lot of time searching for this little guy in the reeds in front of our circle), great-tailed grackle, mallard duck, great egret, white pelican, barn swallow, ring-billed gull, Canada goose, great blue heron, white-winged dove, red-winged blackbird, double-crested cormorant, belted kingfisher, yellow-throated warbler, northern cardinal, ketrel, Eastern phoebe, blue jay, and killdeer. I am sure the group saw more birds before disbanding for the day.

A special treat was the pelicans. They winter in this area. Just as the sky was lightening, a long line of pelicans flew across the lake. Although awkward looking when you see them standing on the rocks and piers, they are very elegant in flight. Later a large flock of well over 100 pelicans rose up from the water. It is always surprising to me that a large flock of these distinctive birds can be floating on the lake and you hardly notice them agains the water unless they are herding fish or take wing.
Good birding!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Nix the Red Milo

As soon as it starts getting a little cold, I start thinking about feeding the birds. Although I feed a little all year around, the little gluttons don't get a smorgasboard until November when Project Feederwatch gets underway (unless the weather gets really nasty.)

In this month's issue of National Wildlife, there was an article titled, "For the Birds: Which Seeds are Best?" Not surprisingly, the article states that studies have shown most backyard birds prefer black oil sunflower, white proso millet, nyger, and sunflower chips. You'll note that the seed that seems to represent the major portion of most bird seed sold in the stores (especially the more inexpensive seed) is red milo, not anything most of our birds eat. We have found at Wild Bird Rescue that all birds will leave the red milo until last and eat it only when all the other seed is gone from the bowl. So why is such a high percentage of commercial mixed bird seed made up of red milo? Easy answer, it is cheap and relatively light. When people are shopping for seed, they tend to buy cheap.

An article in Birdscope way back in 1995 documents that red milo is more popular with western birds and ground-feeding birds than others, but you can see even there it isn't preferred above all other seeds. Our birds are easterners.

When I shop for seed, I buy black-oil sunflower and a premium birdseed mix, like Purina. I buy mine at Berend Brothers, because that's where I can find large bags at a decent price. Although more expensive when I buy it, I figure that more of it is going into the birds and less going on the ground to rot, so I am coming out even, or ahead. Another favorite with the birds not mentioned in the article is shelled peanuts. Those I have to buy at Atwoods. And of course, suet cakes, which I usually buy in bulk at Wal-Mart when they have a sale and put them in the freezer until needed.

In the next couple of weeks, I'll be pulling out feeders and cleaning them up in preparation for Project Feederwatch. More about that citizen science project later.

Good birding!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Rainy Day in North Texas

It's a rainy morning and it looks like there will be more of the same the rest of the week. However, I did go out for a short time this morning, but the birds were smarter than I, so I didn't see much beyond a few mourning doves and scissor-tailed flycatchers on the telephone wires.

I did manage to take some pictures of invasive plants for the Invaders program. Since it was not a great birding morning, I thought I would share a good listserv for Texas birders, TEXBIRDS. It is not a general discussion listserv; it is purely a place to post sitings, get ID help, and share interesting observations of behavior. I have generally found most of the participants to be very helpful. If you might be interested in signing up, you can learn more at the TEXBIRDS Reference Page.

Good birding!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

White Pelicans Return

Bob Lindsay at Wild Bird Rescue posted in his blog he had seen the White Pelicans return for the winter on Lake Wichita. I finally saw a small flock yesterday while at Wild Bird Rescue and some this morning while birding Lake Wichita Park.

It was a pretty morning in the park. The winter ducks are coming back. I saw American widgeon, coots and ring-necked ducks with the mallard and the pied-billed grebes on the tank. In addition to the ducks, other birds included northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, eastern phoebe, chimney swift, barn swallow, great egret, snowy egret, Canada goose, great-tailed grackle, red-winged blackbird, robin, double-crested cormorant. killdeer, scissor-tailed flycatcher, belted kingfisher, blue jay, brown-headed cowbird, mourning dove, and Eurasian collared dove.

As frequently happens, there was a bird I wasn't able to identify. In this case, two of them, flying over the tank. A larger sandpiper type bird, with a decurved bill, a white rump, feet that extended beyond the end of the tail in flight and what appeared to be blue legs/feet. They were flying and unfortunately the sun was at an awkward angle. What I was able to see doesn't fit anything exactly. It is possible the leg color was off due to the sun, but they sure looked blue to me. I did not notice any distinguishing wing markings, which are common among the shorebirds. If anyone has ideas, let me know.

Good birding!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Big Sit October 11

The annual Big Sit will be held Sunday, October 11, from sunrise until we get tired and go home (usually by noon.) We gather behind Wild Bird Rescue on what we optimistically call "the peninsula."

The Big Sit is a nationwide event--so groups all sit on the same day. This is a lazy birder event as the rules require that participants have to sit inside a 17-ft circle and count birds from inside that area. Groups compete for having the birdiest site. Most groups are a little more competitive than we are and start in the dark; end in the dark. We are out for the portion of the day that yields the most birds.

This event is sponsored by the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club. It is free and open to the public. You don't have to know anything about birds to take part--there are plenty of experienced birders on hand. This is a come and go, so if you are not inclined to be up and functional at sunrise, come a little later in the morning (although you will miss some great sights.)

Dress appropriately (there is almost always a breeze off the water.) I advise layers as you will likely shed them as the morning warms. Also bring a lawn chair, your binoculars, a field guide, bug spray if you need it, and whatever you want to drink.

We have had some excellent birding mornings in the past, so come on down! By the way, check out the video on the BirdWatchers' Digest website about the event.

Good birding!

Another Local Bird Blog

I have mentioned Bob Lindsay's blog before. Bob is the Executive Director of Wild Bird Rescue. During the summer, he is really too busy to blog much, except for an occasional update in the number of birds (over 1000 this year so far.) However, things are beginning to slow down, so he is starting to pick back up. He just posted a couple of items that I enjoyed. Check out the blog at http://www.wildbirdrescueinc.org/?cat=3.

I'd be interested to find other area blogs on this topic. I'll be happy to post in my blog roll if they are kept up.

Good birding!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Flocks of Blackbirds

One of the most noticeable bird behaviors in the fall is the formation of large flocks of birds, especially blackbirds.

Today I came across several large flocks of mixed blackbirds. One, at the corner of FM 369 and 277 was a mixed flock of a few hundred starlings and brown-headed cowbirds. Although you may find flocks of blackbirds year around, the flocks become very large after the breeding season ends.

However, other birds also form flocks. It is not uncommon to get fairly significant numbers of cardinals and blue jays in the winter. Not the hundreds seen with blackbirds, but significantly more than the 2 or 3 seen in the summer.

In the summer, most birds tend to disperse in order to reduce the demand on food. Many birds defend territories from others of their own kind in order to ensure offspring belong to them (keep out poachers) and to ensure a good food supply for their young. However, it takes a lot of energy to defend territory. So in the winter, it just isn't worth the effort. In addition, flocks of birds have better defense from predators in a more open environment. So flocking behavior makes more sense outside of the breeding season.

In addition to many blackbirds, I did see two eastern bluebirds on FM367 just outside Iowa Park city limits.

Good birding!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Owl Calling Event with the Sierra Club

The Red River group of the Sierra Club is hosting an owl-calling event on October 13 at 6:30 PM at Lake Arrowhead State Park.

Greg Mucciolo is a local expert on owls and other wildlife in the park. He presents these programs three or four times a year for different groups. I have been to previous programs with the Master Naturalists and the bird club.

This will be the regular Sierra Club meeting. I am sure there will be food and plenty of camaraderie before dark, when the owl calling begins. You do not need to be a member of the Sierra Club to attend.

As soon as I get more details, I will post. For now, if you're interested in seeing some owls up close, then plan to attend. The last time I attended, we had two or three screech owls show inside the park and a couple of barred owls elsewhere. I know other groups have had great horned owls. You never know what you will see.

The entry fee to the park is $2 per person (over 13.) Come early and walk the nature trails or go fishing. Fishing from the shoreline doesn't require a fishing license and the park loans out fishing tackle.

Joanna Bonnheim, President of the local Sierra Club, can be reached at hirschikiss@sbcglobal.net for more information.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club

I had an email query this morning about whether there was a birding group in Wichita Falls. It has been a while since I mentioned the group, and I definitely want to encourage birders (novice and experienced) to find us, so here's the scoop.

North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club
Meeting: 3rd Tuesday of each month, 7:00 PM, NALC Building (Southwest Parkway)
Point of Contact: Terry McKee, dgm59@aol.com

Membership is only $10, which supports the monthly newsletter.

Everyone is welcome.

Good birding!

Beautiful Morning in Lucy Park

It was clear, in the mid 60's and wet in Lucy Park this morning. With the recent rains, new plants are sprouting everywhere--you would think it was spring time.

Anyway, between the blue jays and the fox squirrels, I wasn't going through the park unnoticed this morning; however, I still saw a few good birds. On my list this morning were: blue jay, rock pigeon, northern cardinal, tufted titmouse, Carolina chickadee, European starling, great egret, common grackle, great-tailed grackle, red-bellied woodpecker (several), white-winged dove (over 50 in one flock), downy woodpecker, mourning dove, Carolina wren, Mississippi kite, great crested flycatcher, scissor-tailed flycatcher, house finch, great blue heron, mallard duck, and Canada goose.

It looks like there will be a few more pecans this year than last (which wouldn't take much as last year's crop was nearly a complete bust.) The squirrels were everywhere harvesting acorns and the first of the pecans. I was scolded away from their trees all along my walk.

One interesting thing: a gentleman was sitting on one of the benches at the duck pond throwing bread to the domestics there and the great blue heron was standing just a few feet away in the open. I have never seen one allow anyone to get so close, but it seemed unfazed. I would imagine the man makes a regular routine of visiting, and the heron has become used to his visits.

Good birding!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Good Morning for Orioles on the Chat Trail

I had another good morning on the Chat Trail at Lake Wichita Park. The morning was a little muggy with no breeze, but the birds didn't seem to care.

There were several orchard and Bullock's orioles today; I was able to watch them for several minutes. I also had a very nice view of a warbling vireo gleaning catepillars off the undersides of leaves. Another treat for me was a great-crested flycatcher.

Other birds this morning included: northern cardinal (several young ones), blue jay, red-winged blackbird, chimney swift, robin, Mississippi kite, Canada goose, flicker sp, coot, pied-billed grebe, killdeer, mallard, blue-winged teal, mockingbird, mourning dove, great egret, little blue heron, white-winged dove, and barn swallow.

Good birding!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wonderful Morning at Lake Wichita

I suppose the morning could have been more perfect, but this morning at Lake Wichita between 7 AM and 9AM was wonderful. The weather was pleasant and there were some good birds. I walked the Chat trail, around the tank and took the trail to Murphy's Mound and then came back.

There are still one or two birds I am researching, in hopes of finding a recording of their sounds, since I didn't get a good look at the birds themselves, but here are the birds I am sure of: American kestrel, great egret, snowy egret, Canada geese, scissor-tailed flycatcher, northern cardinal, Carolina chickadee, ruby-throated hummingbird, black-chinned hummingbird, mallard ducks, blue-winged teal, red-winged balckbird, European starling, Eurasian collared dove, mourning dove, white-winged dove, pied-billed grebe, barn swallow, yellow warbler (somewhat early for this one), orchard oriole, Bullock's oriole, great-tailed grackle, killdeer, robin, and blue jay.

On my way home, I saw a flock of pigeons and some common grackles.

The poor blackbirds are looking bedraggled. Most have lost their tails to the fall molt and others have only one or two feathers sticking out at odd angles.

It appears there will be plenty of food for birds passing through or staying the winter. There are lots of sunflowers, thistles and other grasses, fruit trees, etc. The red-winged blackbirds were going crazy with the sunflowers today.

All in all, a super morning.

Good birding!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fronts and Migration

Migration takes a lot of energy, so when possible, birds use weather fronts to give them a tail wind and help them along the way. Earlier this week we had a small front come through bringing a little rain (1/4 inch) and a cool front (100's before, low 90's after). When I drove into Midwestern State University, I saw a kettle of turkey vultures (TV) forming overhead, probably 25 or so when I first saw it, gathering more as it moved away. Turkey vultures are usually here in large numbers until late September--this could have been the first of our locals heading out or a group from further north passing through. I was reading up on Birds of North America Online and noted that TV migration is not well studied. It always amazes me what we don't know about fairly common birds.

Later that afternoon, I saw a group of about 30 common nighthawks forming up. This is about the time the vast majority leave the area--they are mostly gone by mid-September, although a few linger to the beginning of October. We received a newly hatched common nighthawk this week at Wild Bird Rescue, so I hope at least some adults linger longer--adults have to feed on the wing and handfeeding a bird for months over the winter is not a pleasant prospect.

Good birding!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fall Migration Underway

There is no doubt the birds are beginning to move. There are very few Western Kingbirds left--I saw my last one over the past weekend. There may well be a few left in the area, but not many.

The purple martins are not gone, but the ones that nested around Wild Bird Rescue have dispersed. Usually someone finds the roost where the birds are staging before departure, but not so this year. It was a very poor nesting year for many of the colonies in the area, judging from the number of emaciated birds brought in to WBR this season.

One of my favorite birds is the chimney swift. It is time again for the "Swift Night Out," sponsored by the Driftwood Association, taking a census of chimney swifts congregating for migration. Instructions are on their web site.

Good birding!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Morning in Lucy Park

I haven't gone birding in Lucy Park in a while. Lucy Park is closer to my house than Lake Wichita Park, but when I leave the driveway, I turn more often to the lake and the Chat Trail, where it seems there are more birds. The last several times I have been to Lucy Park, the birding has been average, and comments from other bird club members makes me think they are having little luck there as well.

However, seeing the Northern Waterthrush yesterday got me excited about the possibility of seeing warblers on their fall migration, although it is a little early. Lucy Park should be perfect as it is a riparian woodlands habitat. I was obviously too early as I didn't see any warblers. Unfortunately, I didn't see much of anything. I used to bird Lucy Park almost every weekend and often saw good birds (which infers other birds are bad, which isn't the case, but fellow birders will know what I mean.)

Anyway, today I walked the circle trail and also the path to the waterfall. I didn't take the pathway to Williams Park today as it was getting just too hot for that long of a walk. What struck me was how quiet the woods were--there were not many birds singing this morning, with the exception of an exuberant Carolina wren.

I followed his call and of course, when I was close, he stopped singing. I sat down on one of the large flat rocks along the trail to drink some water and wait for him to sing again to get a look. A few minutes later, a little brown bird flew out of the cedar tree to another tree about 10 yards aways. I moved down the trail and was able to watch the wren sing away. When the wren moved, he must have crossed the line into another wren's territory, because less than a minute after he started singing, another Carolina wren came flying from the other direction and lighted on the same tree. He was obviously agitated and was giving the singing wren a piece of his mind.

Besides the wren, my walk was uneventful. I saw the following birds: mourning dove, white-winged dove, Eurasian collared dove, blue jay, cardinal, Mississippi kite, purple martin, pigeon, Carolina chickadee, mockingbird, European starling, robin, tufted titmouse, red-winged blackbird, house finch, and cattle egret.

There were lots of butterflies and dragonflies/damselflies. If I had been looking for those, it would have been a great morning. But it was nice to get out and get a little exercise before settling down to work on the computer the rest of the day.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Northern Waterthrush

When I came in to Wild Bird Rescue this morning, Bob told me he had heard a bird singing in the mulberry tree and couldn't ID the bird.

This afternoon, I went out to feed the Mississippi Kites in the outdoor aviary and saw a little warbler in the mulberry, so I stopped to watch in hopes that I could see it well enough for long enough to figure out what it was. Lo and behold, it was a northern waterthrush, bobbing his tail.

Although this is in their migratory pathway, they are not often seen, so I consider myself very lucky. Whether this is Bob's songster, I can't say, but they do have a pretty song, so it's possible.

Good birding!

Article on Roadrunners

There was an interesting article on roadrunners on the MSNBC website, posted to Facebook. Thought I would share. I also posted the link to a species account (click on "roadrunners" in the previous sentence.)

Good birding!

Harrison Apartment Cattle Egrets

You'll recall earlier posts about the cattle egret rookery at Harrison Apartments. The babies are beginning to fall from the nests and showing up at Wild Bird Rescue. A large number die from impact with the concrete under the trees or the heat before they are brought in. Some have had to be euthanized because of severe injuries. A few have died from dehydration/emaciation soon after arrival. But others are recovering and will likely be able to be released in a few weeks. All of them seem to be well underweight--the parent birds are having to travel quite a ways into town to bring food. I hope they remember the trek next year and find a more suitable nesting location.

Egrets are pretty aggressive birds; fortunately for my fingers, most are beginning to self feed. Once we can release the birds in one of the outdoor aviaries, these guys can go outside and practice catching bugs.

Good birding!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Next North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club Meeting

The next meeting of the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club is Tuesday, August 18, 7 PM at the NALC Building on Southwest Parkway (next to Wichita Valley Landscaoing.)

I will be doing the program on pollinators. We will (briefly) talk about birds as pollinators, but the majority of the time, we'll be talking bees and other insect pollinators and their conservation. I will have a list of plants and other information about helping these important critters. I also have the food detail--I am thinking of testing a few of the recipes we'll be including in the EcoFair Meat-less Cookbook by the Sierra Club.

Hope to see you on Tuesday!

Good birding!

The Life of Birds

Many years ago the BBC created a series of documentaries on The Life of Birds with David Attenborough. I have always liked those programs that I have been able to catch on TV. For my birthday, my husband bought me the entire series of 10 programs. Last night I watched the first three. Although the series is now several years old, the photography is beautiful and there is a lot of fascinating information. I won't lack for entertainment for some time!

Good birding!

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Weekend Outside

It was a hot weekend, but the Master Naturalists had two events--fortunately in the morning. We went out in search of horned lizards in Saturday morning out near Dean. We were skunked on horned lizards, but were able to document a box turtle and took some pictures of a walking stick bug. On Sunday, I had a mussel watch at Lake Wichita and Lake Arrowhead. I did find some mussels at Arrowhead, to include a live yellow sandshell, but it wasn't the best day I've had for mussels.

But as in all outdoor events, there was an opportunity to do a little bit of birding. On Saturday, I thought my best birds were lark sparrows. They have a pretty song and although they are fairly common in the county, I don't see them in town.

On Sunday I saw a lot of birds. There was a belted kingfisher fishing at the Lake Wichita spillway. There was also a small flock of snowy egrets. One of the birds was still in breeding plumage and he was giving all of the others a tough time--chasing them around, jumping on them and squawking. He is a little confused--it's time to start getting ready to leave. Breeding season is over. I was waiting for the others to gang up on him, but they were just trying to stay away from him. My other highlight was a singing Bewick's wren in the bottom of a bush. He was just pouring his heart out. I watched him for several minutes.

Good birding!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Next Meeting North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club

The next meeting of the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club will be 7:00 PM, August 18 at the NALC building on Southwest Parkway (next to Wichita Valley Landscaping.)

I will be speaking about pollinators--their importance and conservation. Although we normally think of bees as pollinators (and they are), birds also act as pollinators for some plants.

Good birding!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bluebird Program

Jane McGough gave a nice presentation on bluebirds at the Texas Master Naturalists meeting tonight, based upon a slide program put together by the Texas Bluebird Society. All three species of bluebirds have been sited in our local area; however, the Eastern Bluebird is the only regularly occuring species.

An interesting tidbit that I found on the TBS website I wish I had known during the meeting is:
Audubon unpublished data shows a 19% decrease in the population of Eastern Bluebirds in Texas (1966 – 2005,) as compared to a 311% increase nationwide and a northward shift of 115 miles, according to Rob Fergus, Senior Scientist for Urban Bird Conservation, National Audubon Society.

The Rolling Plains Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists meet the 1st Tuesday of the month at 7:00 PM at River Bend Nature Center.

Good birding!

Economic Impact of Birders

Birders buy stuff. Feeders, bird seed, binoculars and other optics, bird books, magazines, outdoor clothing, etc. We travel to see birds, staying at hotels, eating in restaurants, and supporting convenience stores with bathrooms. We visit local, state and federal parks.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a report on July 15, 2009, with the Press Release titled, "Birdwatchers No Featherweights in Contributions to the Economy," which documents the $36B economic impact of the birdwatching hobby in the US. In addition to the demographics on birdwatching, there is a report on other wildlife watching. Hopefully, these reports will give impetus to preserving these fascinating creatures.

What I don't get is why TX is not in one of the top 5 states for the percentage of birdwatchers when we have such a bonanza of birds here.

Good birding!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Sunday at Lake Arrowhead State Park

I didn't post after my Mussel Watch at Lake Arrowhead State Park last Sunday. It was a very pleasant morning, but soon escalated to muggy and hot.

I did find a few mussels and had a fairly good birding morning. Birds sited included:

Mourning dove
Pigeon
Great blue heron
Snowy egret
Great egret
Turkey vulture
Red-winged blackbird
Western sandpiper (2)
Great-tailed grackle
Neotropical cormorant
Green heron
Scissor-tailed flycatcher
House finch
Barn swallow
Mockingbird

Good birding!

Responses to Mystery Bird

I had six responses to my mystery bird TEXBIRDS post, evenly divided between Mississippi Kite and Swainson's hawk. I guess we will just have to give the little guy more time. I will see him again tomorrow and see if an ID is possible yet.

Good birding!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mystery Baby
















Some weeks ago (June 15) we had a newly hatched raptor come in to Wild Bird Rescue. Due to its small size and it being just a tad early for Mississippi Kites, it was tentatively identified as a kestrel. It developed slooooowly. Once baby kites started coming in and the little guys started to get some feathers, there began to be discussion about it possibly being a baby kite.

I am not convinced it is either a kite or a kestrel, but I don't know what it is. It is now too big and solid for a kestrel. It is slightly more solid than a kite. But a kite after 5 weeks would be ready to fly--this one is not. Also, when a kite's feathers start to come in, they are distinctly brownish with some grey tones. This little guy's feathers appear more of a steel gray, although there are one or two hints of brown. Also, a kite's downy feathers have a hint of buff to them, this one does not. It's beak is slightly more yellow than the other immature kites. Compared to a kite of approximately the same stage of development, he is slightly more heavy, his head is rounder and he seems to stand more horizontal than the more vertical aspect of the baby kites. He also doesn't make a kite sound--more of a hissy sigh.

Ideas? I am going to post a link to TEXBIRDS--there are a lot of experienced birders there.
We'll know in a few days or weeks probaby as he continues to feather out, but this makes an interesting challenge.

Good birding!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Iowa Park

I was driving to Iowa Park today for business and saw a sign on Business Hwy 287 (Old Iowa Park Road) a sign proclaiming Iowa Park a Bird Sanctuary. I have seen this sign before (although it isn't very conspicuous) and was wondering if this is an official city declaration. I know there is some good birding in the area, but I don't know what if anything the city is doing to promote birding.

I sent an email to the city and will let you know what I find out.

In the meantime, I did see a red-tailed hawk and a roadrunner in the area today. Unfortunately, I was on business and didn't have time to look around.

Good Birding!

Bird Club Tonight

I don't know why I never post before the day of the meeting, but that's the way it is.

The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meets tonight at 7:00 PM at the NALC Building on Southwest Parkway (next to Wichita Valley Nursery, between Cypress and Barnett.) Terry McKee will give a program on hummingbird migration.

Good birding!

Sunday at Lake Wichita

Sunday morning I decided to take a walk down the chat trail, around the tank and to Murphy's Mound in Lake Wichita Park. Although warm, the weather was better than it has been, although by the time I left (9:00), it was getting too warm for comfort.

Here are the birds I saw:

Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Great-tailed grackle, Mourning dove, White-winged dove, Eurasian collared dove, Northern Cardinal, Mallard duck, Mississippi Kite (both parents and a fledgling), Barn swallow, Cliff swallow, Chimney swift, Yellow-crowned night heron, Yellow-billed cuckoo, Red-winged blackbird, Bown-headed cowbird, Bullock's oriole, Western Kingbird, Scissor-tailed flycatcher, Killdeer, Turkey Vulture.

There were as always, a couple of birds I heard I couldn't identify and one atypical bird. When I first saw it, I thought "Coot," but it is much too early for coots. However, the latest National Geographic puts coots here year 'round, so perhaps I have just been unobservant the past few summers (which is possible.) I gave a thought to a moorhen, but the bill and the forehead shield were definitely white, not red.

Good birding!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Interesting Scissortail Story

I haven't read the local paper in a few days since I've been out of town and haven't taken the time to catch up, but Tami Davis from the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists sent me a link to an article about a study being done on local scissor-tailed flycatcher populations.

http://www.timesrecordnews.com/news/2009/jul/17/researchers-look-at-scissortails-love-lives-n-is/

I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

Good birding!

It's Not Always the Birds

There wasn't much in the way of birds to see on my trip to San Antonio. It wasn't intended as a birding trip, but one likes to think we'd still see some good birds on the way, especially as I didn't have to drive.

The trip down was done in the heat of the day, which makes birds less likely to be out and about. However, I did see one black vulture around Mineral Wells and a Swainson's hawk in Jack County.

We went out to eat in Lytle, TX (outside San Antonio). I saw a black-bellied whistling duck jump up into a tree and then, better, started seeing bats pouring out from behind a sign on the front of a small store across the street. There were easily a couple of hundred bats. That was exciting.

We left San Antonio before light on Thursday, July 16 to head back to Wichita Falls. Going through the hill country was beautiful, and I have not seen more deer in my life. They were in every field and often yards. It was a bit harrowing driving the narrow roads with so many deer on either side of the road. But my best siting was at 7:24 AM. A cougar was in the field just off HWY 16, just north of Kerrville. This was the first cougar I have ever seen in the wild, and was I excited (still am for that matter.) I was fortunate to have a siting as clear as day.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, with few birds other than turkey vultures, which were abundant. But with bats and a cougar, I am not complaining!

Good birding!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Baby Killdeer

Yesterday I had to go out to the Clinics of North Texas on Midwestern Parkway. Not the best way to start the day, but as I was getting out of the car, there were two parent killdeer herding a group of 4 babies along the edge of the parking lot. The little ones were trying to get up the curb into the grass with their parents and the parents were calling continuously to encourage them.

I saw one get up before I had to go into the clinic; when I came out 20 min later, all were gone.

I love baby killdeer--they are the cutest things. They look like a colorful cotton ball sitting on top of the thinnest legs imaginable.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mussel Watch at Gordon Lake

I went out to Gordon Lake in Iowa Park to look for mussels. I got skunked on mussels, but it was as good an excuse as any to go birdwatching as well.

I got out a little late. I set the time at 9 AM for the mussel watch so others wouldn't have to get up so early, since I have been fussed at about the time in the past. Since no one else came (for the second time in as many watches), I am thinking after the next one in July, I am going to suit myself and go earlier in the day. Less hot and better birding.

Anyway, there were no extra special birds, but I did see the following in addition to the domestic ducks in the park: Canada geese (at least 50), great blue heron, chimney swift, barn swallows, cliff swallows, killdeer, scissor-tailed flycatcher, mallard ducks, Western kingbird, great-tailed grackles, mourning doves, white-winged doves, Eurasian collared doves, rock pigeons, red-winged blackbirds, purple martins, and house sparrows.

There were two baby barn swallows on a barn branch overlooking the lake being fed by their parents. There were also a couple of fledgling purple martins on a wire.

It should be a good year for the dove hunters. There were hundreds of doves (mostly white-winged) in the fields around the lake.

Good birding!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Baby Chimney Swifts in the Tower at Wild Bird Rescue

Photo courtesy of Wild Bird Rescue
When I was coming back into the building at Wild Bird Rescue after checking the outdoor aviaries, I heard the distinctive sound of baby chimney swifts in the tower--hurray!
My husband built the tower at WBR a couple of years ago. I went to a Texas Master Naturalist annual conference where we learned to build them, taught by Paul and Georgeann Kyle and nothing would do but we had to have one on site at WBR. I am not too handy with anything that involves tools, so that meant I had to recruit someone who was--which as usual, meant my husband was recruited. We found a donor for the material--he "just" had to work out in the hot sun to put it up. The tower has had a nest for the past two seasons.
Although a tower may house many chimney swifts, only one pair builds a nest and lays eggs. Although Bob had seen chiminey swifts leaving the tower in the morning and entering at night (the birds fly all day, eating on the wing), he wasn't sure if there was a nest. But after today, I can say for sure there is. Now we hope the babies all fledge successfully.
Good birding!

Breeding Bird Survey--Charlie/Byers Area

Yesterday I dragged my husband out for the breeding bird survey of the route that begins in Charlie, TX. He's not a real morning person, but he will go with me if I am short a partner as the routes are somewhat remote.

Nothing extra special on this route, although it was still a good day. I was glad to note that the property with the prairie dog town on it had not yet plowed the field--the owner had indicated they were going to do so, and I was hoping they would hold off until after the burrowing owl nesting. It appears they did and we did see a couple of burrowing owls as a consequence--always a treat.

As with the Beaver Creek route, there were a lot of painted buntings--most heard, but several seen.

Another great morning of birding--now all I have to do is get the reports done (sigh...)

Good birding!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mockingbird Fledglings

Once you have fed several hundred baby birds for several years, as I have, you get to know the calls of most of the common birds in this area. When I go for a walk, I can hear the babies calling to the parents for food.

This year, we've had several species of birds nesting on our property. A couple of weeks ago, the cardinals fledged. This morning, while I was in the kitchen fixing breakfast, I heard the unmistakable "fingernails-on-a-chalkboard" call of two baby mockingbirds. The parents may have a beautiful song, but the babies just have a one-note, high-pitched call that just grates on my nerves. Sure enough, I looked out the window over the sink and two fledged mockers were nagging mom and dad for breakfast. As this point they are out of the nest and can flutter short distances. They were following their parents, just so they wouldn't forget they were hungry. Like they could forget!

Soon the babies will be self-sufficient and on their own, and my ears will get a rest.

Good birding!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Beaver Creek Breeding Bird Survey

Every year I say I won't wait until the last minute to run my breeding bird surveys and it seems every year, I do it. I had to have the Beaver Creek survey done by the 30th. That left today as the only non-workday to get it done.

My husband got up to go with me (early mornings are not his favorite time of day.) When I went out, I knew it was going to be absolutely miserable--already in the low 80's, very humid, and no breeze. Thankfully, Mother Nature helped us out. By the time we got out to the starting point at 5:45 AM, a weak cool front was coming through. It dropped the temperature down to 81 and kept it there the entire survey, stirred up a breeze, provided a couple of short, light showers and most importantly, got rid of a lot of the oppressive humidity. It's getting hot again this afternoon, but the survey was pleasant enough.

We saw a great horned owl early and later, the best siting of the day was a flock of orchard orioles. I have never seen a group of 7 at once before, but there they were. I was excited.

We didn't see any unusual birds, nor much other wildlife (except wild pigs and far off in the distance at one stop, some calling coyotes.)

After the end of the route, saw a couple of Swainson's hawks, a kestrel and turkey vultures (which were NOT seen during the survey.)

All in all, a great morning of birding. And happy 29th anniversary to my husband.

Good birding!