Saturday, February 21, 2009

Jokesters of the Bird World

I find that people tend to love or hate blue jays. There doesn't seem to be a middle ground. Those that hate them do so because they are aggressive and sometimes predate the young of other birds. Those of us who love them do so because they are bright, brash and beautiful. They are curious and intelligent. They are also good mimics.

Yesterday the afternoon was gorgeous. Warm but not too warm; with bright sunshine and a light breeze. The cupboards were bare, so I decided to leave work a little early to go to the grocery and couldn't resist a short stop at River Bend Nature Center to walk the trails before going home. Although the afternoon isn't the best time to bird, I of course, carried my binoculars. You just never know.

I was walking the trail, enjoying the weather and the scenery when I heard an odd call. It was like an American Phoebe but with a different dialect--a little softer in tone and a the second tone a little lower. I decided it wasn't a phoebe, but I sure wanted to know what it was. I could hear two birds calling to one another--one several yards away, and the other nearby, above my head. You've probably guessed--it was a blue jay, and probably his friend, calling in a completely atypical call for them. I could watch the blue jay above my head make the call, so there is no doubt just who it was.

In the fall I had heard the call of a Mississippi Kite after the kites left for the winter and discovered a blue jay producing it. We also had a jay at Wild Bird Rescue this past year that would imitate the ringing of the phone in order to get one of the volunteers to go back into the room. When they left, he would make the ringing sound; when they came into the room, he would stop. Rather like a small child and the "uh-oh" game they all learn--dropping things off their high chair tray so we adults can retrieve them.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mockingbirds Beginning to Display

I posted earlier this week about the beginnings of the spring mating season. At that time, the mockingbirds were still quiet. The next afternoon I was going into Chase Bank Tower and a mockingbird flew by me and displayed in the tree in front of the building.

I love to listen to the mockingbirds. The males have to be exhausted by the end of the breeding season between the constant singing and displays, chasing intruders from their territory and fetching food.

Good birding!

Great Backyard Bird Count Underway

Yesterday was the first day of the GBBC. The weather was beautiful and I didn't get a chance to get out of the office. Bummer.

Today is cold, windy and we have a freezing rain watch. Figures.

I did go out for a little bit this morning when I went to Wild Bird Rescue and looked out over Lake Wichita. In a short 15-minutes, I saw well over 100 white pelicans, 20 ring-billed gulls, 2 pied-billed grebes, a bufflehead, 6 American coots, a flock of over 200 red-winged blackbirds, 5 lesser scaup, a raft of ducks on the far side I couldn't identify, a crow, a mourning dove, a great-tailed grackle, a cardinal, and a blue jay. Not bad.

I'll take another look around when I go back to WBR this afternoon--I am expecting an injured red-tailed hawk from Childress.

I put out extra seed in the back yard for Project Feederwatch today with the cold. The squirrels will also appreciate the sunflower seeds and I can watch birds in the warm.

Terry McKee has arranged for Channel 3 to do a story on the GBBC tomorrow morning. The Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists and the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club members will meet on the short of Lake Wichita to do a count. Lake Wichita is getting a workout on the count. I am going to try to get to Lucy Park tomorrow.

Good birding!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Spring Has Sprung!

I have noticed the past few days I am beginning to hear mating calls of the early nesting birds, especially doves. Wild Bird Rescue just received two newly hatched pigeons. These are usually the first birds that come in, followed soon by other dove species. I expect to hear the mockingbirds and cardinals very soon.

Good birding!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

CBC Results

I participate regularly in the Christmas Bird Count, but honestly never went to the Audubon Society count database. I won't make that mistake again. For Wichita Falls, the years from 1974 forward are posted and it is interesting to go back to see what was seen in previous years. I did go back to some of the counts that were part of the very first CBC and their information is not posted before 1984--I am not sure why ours is posted so much earlier. Perhpas we had a volunteer willing to update the information that other counts didn't have.

Thanks to Debra Halter who is the compiler for the Wichita Falls count, making sure all of the information is submitted and documentation put together for unusual species.

Good birding!

Prairie Dogs and Burrowing Owls

The burrowing owl is an interesting bird, nesting in the burrows of ground dwelling mammals like prairie dogs. The Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists are looking for prairie dog colonies to survey this year. As part of that process, they will also be looking for burrowing owls and birds of prey, especially Swainson's hawks.

Some chapter members went out to scout for prairie dog colonies--one of them is on a breeding bird survey route I run each year. In discussions with the owner, they are planning to plow up the field where the prairie dogs live, which will also prevent the burrowing owls from nesting. The prairie dog colony has expanded a little into the neighboring property--I hope that owner is willing to let them stay. A lot of property owners don't care to have prairie dogs on their property, but as a keystone species, the prairie dogs are so important to populations of other animals. It is true they can use other animal burrows (skunks, armadillos, and badgers, for example), I must say I have never seen a burrowing owl anywhere but near a prairie dog colony in this area. I did read in Birds of North America Online that experiments with artificial nesting boxes have been successful. The article also indicates breeding bird surveys from 1980 - 1989 showed a dramatic decline in areas of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. There was some increase in Arizona. I am surprised the information was not more current.

Hopefully the census information the Master Naturalists gather will help preserve prairie dogs, and by extension, burrowing owls.

Good birding!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Report of Wood Ducks and Townsend's Solitaire

After the Master Naturalist meeting tonight, I was talking to member Lisa Gunnell and she mentioned seeing some wood ducks in the creek behind American National Bank recently. Although wood ducks are in this area, I don't often see them so I will have to make it a point to stop by that area a few times over the next few days--it is only a few blocks from my office.

That reminded me that Terry McKee mentioned seeing a Townsend's Solitaire out near Lake Arrowhead State Park a few weeks back. This is much more uncommon and would be a life bird for me. I haven't had a chance to go out that way. We had the ice storm after the meeting and I haven't gotten to it yet. I will try to make a trip this weekend, if not before. Hope I haven't missed it.

Good birding!

Great Backyard Bird Count Coming 13 - 16 Feb

At tonight's Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist meeting, Terry McKee and Jane McGough gave a presentation about the Great Backyard Bird Count coming up February 13 - 16. I enjoy participating in the GBBC (it is an excuse to bird, after all). I usually try to do one local park each day of the count, depending upon the weather and other events. I am looking forward to getting out.
The GBBC is a great activity for parents/grandparents to do with children. With a minimum time investment of 15 minutes, even the youngest birder can stay focused. Jane issued a challenge tonight for all members of the chapter to get out and submit at least one checklist. I'll definintely step up to that challenge!
Good birding!