Saturday, May 29, 2010

Raffle to Support Wild Bird Rescue

Wild Bird Rescue is raffling at 2009 Honda Rebel Motorcycle (MSRP $3999) to raise money. Tickets are $10--ONLY 500 will be sold. The drawing will be at United Market Street on June 5 (you do not have to be present to win) in conjunction with the baby shower.

Last year, Wild Bird Rescue cared for over 1000 injured and orphaned wild birds and provided education programs on birds to a host of audiences. Like all non-profits, Wild Bird Rescue is operating on a very thin budget and this is another attempt to raise funds to care for our local wild birds, like the four baby mockingbirds in the photo (courtesy of Wild Bird Rescue.)

If you would like a ticket, stop by Wild Bird Rescue at 4611 Lake Shore Drive or call 940-691-0828.

Good birding!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I Love NPR

Great documentary on hummingbirds you can watch online. If you have a spare 50 minutes, learn more about these fascinating little birds.

Good birding!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Summer Birding

Sunday morning was very warm and muggy. When I went to Lake Wichita Park, the mosquitos were waiting. Fortunately, the breeze came up about 7:30, which helped keep the little bloodsuckers at bay for a little while. Then the wind died out and they were back with a vengence. Since I try not to wear bug spray too much (somehow spraying poison all over your body seems like a bad plan to me), I got a few bites. But most of my skin was covered. I do need to get a new supply of the non-DEET spray soon though.

The vegetation has really filled out, giving the birds lots of places to hide. If it weren't for the males singing to establish territories and attract mates, it would be very difficult to find the birds. Fortunately, they do.

In the summer, it is much more important to know the bird calls. The birds are easier to see in the winter and birds don't vocalize as much, so I tend to forget many of the calls and have to brush up every spring. But once you know the calls of at least some of the birds, a walk, even through areas of dense vegetation, can be a great birding morning. It is also fun to pick out the calls of baby birds--their calls are often quite different than the adults and very distinctive. Volunteering at Wild Bird Rescue in the summer provides a great opportunity to learn those calls.

Another good way to get better visibility on birds is by pishing. That is where birders stand and make silly noises to draw out the birds. I know there is at least one renowned birder who says this only works because birders actually stand still long enough for the birds to make an appearance, which they would have done without the pishing. I think that is Pete Dunne, but I wouldn't swear to it. While I agree pishing doesn't work for a lot of birds, I have found there are a few birds species that seem to find pishing irresistable--cardinals, spotted towhees, many sparrows, wrens, and a few others seem to pop out to see the goofy birders almost immediately. Sunday I managed to pull out a white-eyed vireo along the chat trail in Lake Wichita Park.

I heard a lot of yellow-billed cuckoos in the park yesterday. I saw one in flight--the rest were calling from the vegetation.

So to get the most out of your summer birding experience, learn the songs of the most common birds. You'll gradually expand your knowledge and enjoy birding even more.

Good birding!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Need Bird Pictures

American tree sparrow, From Wikipedia Commons, Dominic Sherony

I am finishing up my presentation about sparrows today for Tuesday's North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meeting. I always have trouble finding good photos, since I am not a photographer myself.

I have been finding small caches of public domain photos, or photos that can be used with attribution (which of course, I would do), but some of the lesser known (or better termed, less spectacular) birds are difficult to find. I should have guessed wikipedia would have an answer. In the wikipedia commons, there are thousands of photos, free for use. That is where I found the photo above.

I also found today an open source of bird song recordings through a post on the OKBIRDS listserv. Thanks to all of those who share their work. I hope these photos will make this blog more interesting going forward. Who wouldn't want to be able to see the beautiful birds we're talking about?

Good birding!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Come Learn About Sparrows

I will be speaking on the topic of "Sparrows" at the next North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meeting, Tuesday, May 18, 7:00 PM at the NALC Building on Southwest Parkway (next to Wichita Valley Nursery).

When we say "sparrow," most people assume we're talking about the ubiquitous House sparrow. We have many sparrow species that reside in this area at various times of the year. We'll learn more about the habits of various sparrow species as well as hints on identification during this presentation.

As always, the public is welcome. Light refreshments will be served.

Good birding!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Get Out the Snorkle!

It has been raining on and off all week. In the Wichita Falls area, it hasn't been too bad, although tornadoes and strong storms have been pounding our neighbors to the north in OK. In fact, a tornado destroyed the home of Debby Kaspari, one of the regular contributors to the OKBIRDS listserv. Listserv members are collecting money to help her out.

However, we in the Wichita Falls area have been catching more severe weather since yesterday. Consequently, there is a lot of standing water and the authorities are beginning to close the roads in some low lying areas. The watch is on the Wichita River--it is rising rapidly. This is the river that caused flooding and evacuation of much of our neighborhood in 2007 (we were one of the lucky ones that didn't have to leave.) At present, the water is not nearly that high. Weather forecasts are for storms all weekend, into next week.

I am glad we are having cool weather and rain, but it would be nice to spread it out throughout the summer.

The birds are laying low. Although there are some branches down around town, it didn't look to bad when I was out earlier today. Storms are often followed by a huge influx of birds at Wild Bird Rescue, but so far, that hasn't been the case. We are getting the normal run of babies (right now, running heavily to blue jays) but not yet any large numbers of additional birds from the storms. We have had over 100 birds come in after major storms in the past; we'll continue to hope for continued good fortune in that respect.

Cedar waxwings are still in the area--I heard them in the front yard at lunch today. I guess they aren't convinced there will be fruit up north yet.

Good birding!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hackberry Trip

Our group of Texas Master Naturalists had a good day at Hackberry Flat yesterday. I am terrible at shorebirds--just haven't had enough practice--so I know I missed a lot of birds on ID. I need good views and lots of time to come up with identifications.

The buzz when we got there was a red-necked phalarope. No luck finding that bird, but we did see hundreds, if not thousands of Wilson's phalaropes.

The highlight of my day was 2 peregrine falcons in the field as we were preparing to leave. We had earlier seen a falcon-like bird pursuing flocks of shorebirds but hadn't been able to get a good look at the bird to make an ID due to the distance. We were vacillating between merlin and peregrine falcon and finally had to let it go when the bird flew out of sight. Perhaps it was one of the same birds on the ground later.

In addition to the many shorebirds we weren't able to identify, I had the following: dickcissel, killdeer, lark sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, eastern meadowlark, great-tailed grackle, mourning dove, black-necked stilt, American avocet, red-winged blackbird, comomn grackle, semi-palmated sandpiper, common nighthawk, blue-winged teal, northern shoveler, gadwall, mallard, great egret, red-tailed hawk, whimbrel, white-faced ibis, and snowy egret.

Terry McKee identified a Baird's sandpiper, but I didn't see it. Going to and from Hackberry we saw numerous cattle egret, although not much else.

So it was a very good day--I'd like to get out there more often to become better at shorebird ID.

Good birding!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hackberry Field Trip

The Texas Master Naturalists are going on a field trip to Hackberry Flats tomorrow, Saturday, May 8. Members are meeting at 8:00 AM at Atwoods at the intersection of Hwy 287 and Loop 11 to carpool. Usually we bird for a few hours and then find a place to eat before heading home. This is a good time of year for shorebirds. I will post sightings this weekend.

Good birding!

Local Bird Checklists for Texas

The TEXBIRDS listserv today had reference to a website with copies of local bird checklists for Texas. If you're planning a trip to bird, this may be a good way to determine what birds you might see in various locations.

Good birding!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Brillant Morning at Lake Wichita

It was a gorgeous morning on Lake Wichita and a great day for birding. I decided to start at the spillway, cross the dam and then bird the chat trail and the barrow pit.

When I got out of the car at the spillway, I knew it was going to be a great morning, even if I didn't see another bird. I heard dozens of clay-colored sparrows as soon as I got out of the car and as soon as I looked into Holliday creek, there were 12 snowy egrets. Things continued to get better with a flock of yellow-headed blackbirds at the top of the dam.

Even a poor day birding is a good day, but some days you remember for a long time. Today was one of those days. The thistle plants were all going to seed along the dam and there were hundreds (and probably thousands) of chipping and clay-colored sparrows rising up all around me as I walked. In fact, sparrows were good all the way around: in addition to chipping and clay-colored sparrow, I saw house sparrow, song sparrow, lark sparrow, savannah sparrow, and white-crowned sparrow.

A couple of first of season birds: yellow-billed cuckoo and male orchard oriole.

Here's my bird list for the two hours this morning (51 species): common grackle, great-tailed grackle, European starling, mourning dove, house sparrow, cliff swallow, killdeer, great egret, red-winged blackbird, snowy egret, great blue heron, Canada goose, eastern meadowlark, scissor-tailed flycatcher, yellow-headed blackbird, white pelican, chipping sparrow, song sparrow, Western kingbird, Savannah sparrow, American coot, yellow warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, barn swallow, chimney swift, double-crested cormorant, cedar waxwing, mallard, cardinal, turkey vulture, robin, house finch, blue-winged teal, ruddy duck, brown-headed cowbird, white-crowned sparrow, mockingbird, eared grebe, spotted sandpiper, red-tailed hawk, white-winged dove, blue jay, rock pigeon, American pipit, white-faced ibis, Eurasian collared dove, Carolina wren, orchard oriole, American goldfinch, yellow-billed cuckoo, and lark sparrow.

Good birding!

Vera, TX

I had to go to Lubbock, TX for a conference. The trip down Thursday evening wasn't very eventful--the wind was horrible and I was just trying to get there. Coming home on Saturday was better. I'm not much on car birding, because you can't see much at 70+ mph (hey, it's west TX--there is NOTHING out there) and I know I missed a lot of little birds that were gone before I could get a decent look at them.

As I was leaving Lubbock Saturday afternoon, I saw some avocets in a flooded field. Along the way, I did manage to ID a few birds that are easy to identify on the fly: European starling (yippee), great-tailed grackle, American coot, Swainson's hawk, crow, rock pigeon, mourning dove, American kestrel, cattle egret, cliff swallow, eastern meadowlark (heard at roadside park), house sparrow, turkey vulture, scissor-tailed flycatcher, mockingbird, red-tailed hawk, red-winged blackbird, barn swallow, mallard, brown-headed cowbird, lark sparrow, great egret, Eurasian collared dove, and killdeer.

Fortunately for me, I had to slow down in Vera, TX. As I was coming out of town, I noticed a flooded area that had some shorebirds on it. Since I wasn't going as fast, I could see they would be interesting and stopped. Seven Wilson's phalaropes, 5 blue-winged teal and 6 long-billed dowitchers made for a great stop.

Good birding!