Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Vacation

Hubby and I took a road trip to Chicago, IL to spend Christmas with my son and his wife. My daughter and her husband were also able to come in from North Carolina. It was a very nice, albeit too short, trip.

We hit snow in Missouri, but otherwise, the road were good and the weather was nice. Chicago was typically cold, but it could have been much worse. My son and I took a walk to a local Hyde Park park soon after I arrived in Chicago and almost immediately saw a flock of monk parakeets. I was certainly surprised to see a flock of tropical birds in such a cold environment.

My daughter-in-law and I went the next day to a park on the shores of Lake Michigan. It was interesting to see such a large lake area covered with masses of floating ice. There was plenty of open water, but many of the gulls present were riding on the chunks of ice. However, the ducks and mergansers were submerging and feeding in the cold water.

On the trip to and from, I didn't see many birds--there is just little to see at 70+ mph along the highway. However, there were many red-tailed hawks. In Illinois, my husband and I saw one swoop down to the edge of the highway as we passed and pull up with a small fuzzy animal in its talons. I did see other hawks, but am not proficient at speed. Red-tails are relatively easy to ID, so that is the primary bird I noted. However, I did see one red-shouldered hawk and several kestrels as well.

Although the purpose of my trip wasn't to watch birds, part of the fun of birdwatching is that it can be done anywhere and anytime.

Good birding!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wichita Falls Christmas Bird Count

In spite of an inauspicious start with heavy fog, we had a pretty good Christmas Bird Count (CBC) yesterday. A serious birder in the Houston area posted today on his Facebook page that he had just finished the 3rd of 4 CBCs he is participating in this year and is tired. I can imagine--I am pooped and have only done the one.

Anyway, in the Wichita Falls CBC, we divide the area into three sections and a different group surveys each one. At the end of the day, we get together for a potluck spaghetti dinner and someone's home and compile all of the sightings into one report to turn in. Bob Lindsay joined me for the morning in the Lake Wichita section and my husband accompanied me in the afternoon. Normally, we do a lot more walking in the morning portion of the count, but the fog was so thick much of the morning that we did less walking as we would not have been able to see much on a large segment of the trail.

I don't have the official compiler's report yet, so am only reporting on what we saw in our section of the circle. Far and away the largest number of a single species was the Canada goose--we counted 829 on the day in our area. The other teams added a few in their sections. In addition, our group tallied: mallard, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, northern shoveler, northern pintail, canvasback, ring-necked duck, bufflehead, ruddy duck, wild turkey, pied-billed grebe, white pelican, double-crested cormorant, great blue heron, great egret, northern harrier, Swainson's hawk, red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, American coot, killdeer, greater yellowlegs, Wilson's snipe, ring-billed gull, rock pigeon, Eurasian collared dove, white-winged dove, mourning dove, ladder-backed woodpecker, yellow-shafted flicker, eastern phoebe, loggerhead shrike, blue jay, American crow, Bewick's wren, American robin, northern mockingbird, European starling, cedar waxwing, yellow-rumped warbler, spotted towhee, lark sparrow, savannah sparrow, fox sparrow, song sparrow, Harris' sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, dark-eyed junco, northern cardinal, red-winged blackbird, meadowlark species (since they don't sing this time of year, it is very difficult to tell the east from the west), comomn grackle, great-tailed grackle, brown-headed cowbird, house finch, American goldfinch, and house sparrow.

All in all a great day! Sure beats cleaning house....

Good birding!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Wichita Falls Christmas Bird Count Tomorrow

The Wichita Falls Christmas Bird Count is Saturday, December 18. There will be three teams (Lucy Park and City of Wichita Falls, Iowa Park, and Lake Wichita) covering the 25 mile circle around Wichita Falls. I have the Lake Wichita section.

Participation is $5 per person. My team will meet at the Lake Wichita spillway at 7:30 AM. Those who plan to participate with one of the other teams should know where and when to meet. If not, I gave contact information for the other routes in a previous post.

Good birding!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I Love Squirrels

I know a lot of people who feed birds don't like to have squirrels. After all, bird food is expensive and squirrels can be destructive. However, I love the fox squirrels. I enjoy watching their antics. As you can see in the photo to the left, they are very acrobatic, which makes it difficult to keep them out of your feeders. This is one of my resident squirrels casually hanging upside down and nibbling sunflower seeds that he removes from the wire basket to the right.
Baffles can help, feeders with cages outside of the feeders (providing the cage is more than "arms length" from the seeds) can help. Placing your feeders on a pole several feet from any structure a squirrel can stand on will also help (but most birds won't like being so far from cover either.) But as you can see in this famous You Tube video, squirrels are hard to discourage. Personally, I just plan to feed them so I can watch.
The squirrels love black oil sunflower seeds, as most of my favorite birds do. One sure way to reduce squirrel feasts at your feeder would be to stop feeding black oil sunflower, but be prepared for a drop in some nice birds as well. What fun would that be?
Squirrels often bury nuts to find later when the weather is bad and food is scarce. How do squirrels find their nuts again? There's a nice short video on YouTube on an experiment on nut finding behavior in squirrels you should find interesting. If you just want to watch something silly (people will do almost anything), then check out squirrel fishing. The squirrels aren't all that funny--it's the numbskulls in the tree.
Anyway, enjoy your squirrels--chances are you won't get rid of them.
Good birding!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Great Horned Owl and a Bobcat

This was quite the morning at Lake Wichita Park. Shortly after entering the chat trail, I briefly saw a large bird flying through the trees. I was 95% certain it was a great horned owl, but it seemed a little late in the morning (8:15) for one. Later, I saw the owl in a tree near the barrow pit and had a good chance to get a decent look at it, so confirming the sighting.

After the owl flew I checked out the ducks in the barrow pit and when I turned around, I could see a bike rider coming over the bridge as well as a bobcat emerge from the swampy area to the left and head toward the trail. It looked like the bobcat and the biker would arrive at the intersection of the trail at the same time. The bobcat paused, just short of the trail. The biker, focused on me and saying, "Good morning," did not see the bobcat just a few feet away from him. The rider went on and the bobcat walked up onto the trail and stopped. I had a good minute to watch the motionless bobcat before he walked off into the overgrowth near the beaver pond.

It was a good morning for birds as well. Other birds seen included: robin, blue jay, cardinal, white-crowned sparrow, song sparrow, fox sparrow, spotted towhee, goldfinch, eastern phobe, slate-colored junco, red-tailed hawk, mallard, American coot, pintail, bufflehead, double-crested cormorant, ring-billed gull, pied-billed grebe, American wigeon, ruddy duck, canvasback, and lesser scaup.

Good birding!

Cedar Waxwings

It has been a busy week and somehow I overlooked posting last week's cedar waxwings. I have posted a photo of one of our previous year's patients at Wild Bird Rescue so you can see just how elegant these birds are.
I thought I heard cedar waxwings at my house early the week of Thanksgiving, but couldn't find them. However, on 28 November I was in Lucy Park and heard the thready calls of waxwings and was able to find a flock of about a dozen in a nearby tree.
These beautiful birds spend the summer up north and are fruit eaters, so they come south for the winter. You can find them wherever you have trees and shrubs with berries.
Good birding!