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

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!