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 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

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


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!


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 or Terry McKee at 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


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.

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!