Friday, December 30, 2011

Big Day for Wild Bird Rescue

On January 1, I'll be out with other birders in Wichita and Archer counties looking for birds in a Big Day fundraiser to support Wild Bird Rescue. If you would like to donate, you can contact me at or donate on line at the Wild Bird Rescue website. Just indicate "Big Day" in the "purpose" block.

You can follow the team's progress on Sunday by following me on Twitter (@birdwithpenny) or watching the feed on the home page of this blog.

Good birding!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Know Any Young Birders?

If you know any passionate young birders (high school age) who are thinking of a career in ornithology, they should check out the Young Birders Event at Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology. A week-long educational event held in August each year, this is a chance of a lifetime for young birders to see research in action.

If interested, contact Jessie Berry at

Good birding!

Bird Brain?

The more we learn about birds, the more we find they are not a dumb as the expression, "bird brain" infers. A new study shows that pigeons can not only count, but understand some abstract math concepts. Interesting article here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Quanah CBC January 2

For those who would like to take part in a Christmas Bird Count but weren't able to make it to the Wichita Falls count, the Quanah CBC will be January 2. This CBC includes much of Hardeman Co and part of Jackson Co, OK. If you are interested in taking part, contact Steve Welborn at or Kurt Meizenzahl at

Good birding!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Bird Count December 17

Picture of me checking a sparrow ID during the CBC by E.B. Hawley.

We had a good day on the Christmas Bird Count yesterday. It started out a little chilly with temperatures in the uppers 20's, but since there was no wind, it was a nice morning. It warmed into the low 50's by the afternoon.

We divide our count circle into thirds and have different groups cover each one in order to get good coverage of the area. I have the Lake Wichita area. Sue and Warren King and Elizabeth Hawley started the day with me, covering the area on foot from the spillway, along the dam, around the barrow pit and down the chat trail in Lake Wichita Park.  The highlights from this section of the count were 3 rock wrens (I think the first rock wrens of a Christmas Bird Count in our area, although they have been sighted in the area before) and 10 wood ducks.

My chat trail and barrow pit let me down during the count. I have been having excellent results lately at both places. On the day of the count, although we had some decent birds, we didn't get the variety of ducks I  have been seeing lately on the barrow pit, and we didn't get the numbers of species or birds I sometimes get on the trail. Oh well, if the birds were a sure thing, there wouldn't be nearly the challenge. We did see an albino Canada goose in a flock that flew overhead. Elizabeth Hawley got a good picture (see below.)

They then left for other activities, and I conducted the driving portion of the count, as well as Camp Stonewall Jackson near Holliday, TX. Stonewall Jackson is normally a great place for woodpeckers and the little birds like brown creepers, nuthatches, titmice and sparrows. It was pretty much a bust yesterday, except for some eastern bluebirds, which are very common there.

After 7 1/2 hours of birding, I went  home to make dessert for the count supper. Jimmy and Jeannette Hoover were once again kind enough to open their home for a pot luck spaghetti dinner and compiling the count numbers from the three teams into one report. Katherine Smith of Smith's Gardentown Wild Birds Unlimited store donated goodie bags for the count participants--always nice to have more feeders to fill up (good marketing, Katherine!)

I am waiting for the official count results--I'll post them when I get them from the count compiler, Debra Halter. I imagine that will be later in the week.

Good birding!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Attention Photographers!

The Clay County Pioneer Sentinel is running an outdoor photography contest. The deadline for entry is December 31. More information can be found here. I am sure some readers of this blog have some great photos to enter.

Good birding!

Tundra Swans in Wichita County

Photo (left) courtesy of E.B. Hawley.

I reported earlier today there was a TEXBIRDS report of a large flock of tundra swans out near Kamay. E.B.Hawley went in search of the birds and found them with several other neat birds. She sent me some pictures and gave me permission to post one of her photos here. Thanks, Elizabeth!

I am happy to know some people who are much better photographers than I (not that it would take much!) to help spice up this blog a little. I plan to try to get out to see them late this week. It will probably be Friday, so I hope they are still there.

Good birding!

Interesting Nest

I was at Lake Arrowhead State Park a couple of weeks ago and John Ferguson, Park Superintendent, took me to see some oriole nests in a tree near the fishing pier. One had fallen down; he let me take a picture of it. The nest is made primarily from fishing line. Birds are ingenious.

Good birding!

New Year's Big Day Planning Continues

Well, we are moving forward with plans for the Wild Bird Rescue Big Day fundraiser. We have a small team and some pledges, so the day will be a good one.

You can follow the team through the Wild Bird Rescue page on Facebook or by following the Twitter feed through @birdwithpenny, #WBRBigDay. If you don't have a Twitter account, no worries, as the feed is shown on the home page of this blog.

TEXBIRDS reported tundra swans out near Kamay this past weekend--hope they are still there when the Big Day comes around. For those who may wish to see these beautiful birds for themselves, they were reported to be on the west side of FM 2846, near the intersection with FM 1180. The observers counted 32 birds, which is a large number--they should be noticeable.

Good birding!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"You're So Hard to Shop For!"

My family always says, "You're so hard to shop for!" at Christmas time. They are getting better over time (and an Amazon wish list helps). However, for those of you who have birders on your Christmas list and just don't have a clue what to get them, let me give you a hand. I tackled this topic in a 2009 post and that one is still valid, but let me update it here.

First of all, just because the item has a bird on it, doesn't make it the perfect gift. I have received some truly horrid items because of this thought process. Your friend will appreciate the thought, but probably regift the item at the next Chinese gift exchange.

Next, consider the type of birder they are. How old are they? How long have they been birding? Are they a casual birdwatcher or a hard-core birder? There is something for everyone. I don't want to repeat the entire list from the previous year--you can click and read that--but here are some ideas.

Bird people love books and magazines. Even though we can find a lot of information on line and there are a lot of e-zines and blogs, most of us still love a good book and our favorite magazines, especially if they have lots of pretty pictures. I reviewed three good books earlier this year I would recommend: The Atlas of Birds, The Crossley ID Guide and Avian Architecture. If your birder is a more casual backyard birder, consider giving Birds and Blooms or Birdwatcher's Digest.

Consider purchasing a membership in some birding organizations. Some that have magazines associated with the membership include Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the American Birding Association. The ABA used to be rather snooty, but seems to be trying to reconnect with "regular" birders. These organizations do great things and at the same time, have magazines and programs that appeal to the more serious birder (Audubon reaches across the divide and has articles of interest to birders of all stripes.)

For the person who has everything, consider donating to a bird-related cause. Locally, Wild Bird Rescue would appreciate the support. Your friend may appreciate being a sponsor for one of the Avian Ambassadors, used for educational programs in the community. The Texas Ornithological Society (TOS) continues to expand its preserve network and a donation to the sanctuaries account would be appreciated. Unfortunately, they don't have any sanctuaries in our area, but I have visited some of the ones in east Texas and they truly are birding hot spots. In addition, our state parks are severely underfunded--many are wonderful birding spots. You might consider a donation to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation or to our own local Friends of Lake Arrowhead State Park.

This year I am on a kick to redo my new yard with more drought-resistant plantings attractive to birds. Consider a gift certificate from a local nursery or a bird-friendly, native plant. Winter is an excellent time to plant trees and shrubs.

Between this post and the previous one linked above, you should be able to find lots of birding ideas for your birding friend that will fit any price range.

Good birding!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Year's Big Day Fundraiser for Wild Bird Rescue

A group of birders will be holding a Big Day event for Wichita and Archer Counties on January 1 as a fundraiser for Wild Bird Rescue. I will be one of the birders that day.

A team of local birders will be out from 7 AM to 7 PM to find as many bird species as possible. If the weather is good, expect a total count of between 70 - 80 species. A really excellent day could reach 90 species, but that would be truly exceptional. If the weather is bad, the totals may only be in the 40 - 50 species range. An ice storm event making the event unsafe, will cause the day to be moved to January 8. Otherwise, we go on New Year's Day.

Please support Wild Bird Rescue's rehabilitation and education programs by donating. You may choose to donate a flat amount or pledge an amount per species. You can call Wild Bird Rescue at 940-691-0828, drop off or mail a check to 4611 Lake Shore Dr., Wichita Falls, TX 76310 or donate online (indicate purpose as "Big Day") at

You'll be able to follow the progress of the team on the Big Day by following me on Twitter, @birdwithpenny or searching hashtag #WBRBigDay.

Wild Bird Rescue helped over 1100 birds last year, returning nearly 70% to the wild for our enjoyment. In addition, they provide educational programs to schools, the community and local groups at no charge. Help them by donating through this fundraiser.

Good birding!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Take Part in the Wichita Falls Christmas Bird Count

The Wichita Falls Christmas Bird Count is scheduled for December 17. This is probably the longest-running citizen science project in the world. This is the 112th CBC. I looked up the data for the Wichita Falls CBC on the Audubon site, and it appears the 1st CBC for our area was conducted in 1973-1974, although no species data is available on line. On-line species data doesn't show up until the 1990-1991 count. The highest species count is 91. Historically, last year was a pretty good year with 85 species reported. Every bird is counted.

The CBC's are conducted within a 35-mile circle. For the Wichita Falls CBC the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club divides the circle into 3 parts, with a separate group birding each section. At the last club meeting, team leaders were assigned. Individuals volunteer to participate on the teams.

I will be coordinating the Lake Wichita area team. Terry McKee will organize the Lucy Park/Wichita Falls area and Jimmy Hoover will lead the group working the area near Iowa Park. In our count area, the teams go out around sunrise (usually around 7:30 AM) and bird until they feel they have canvassed their area thoroughly. The count is followed by the count spaghetti supper at a member's house where the teams report their species totals for a total count. Debra McKee is the official compiler for the count; she forwards all of the information to the Audubon Society, which maintains the database.

Anyone may participate in the count. You do not need to be an expert birder. Assistance with record keeping or sighting birds is always needed. There is a cost of $5 for participants 19 years old and older. The $5 is a donation to the Audubon Society to maintain the database. In addition to the teams, individuals may choose to watch the feeders in their backyard and forward their numbers to the team coordinator for their area. People may choose to take part all day or any portion of the day. The count supper is a pot luck, and everyone is invited to attend.

If you would like to take part in the CBC, contact me at, and I will put you in touch with the team coordinator for your area.

Good birding!

Palo Pinto County Birding

Left, Lake Tucker near Strawn, TX.

Saturday I went birding with fellow birder Brady Surber from Vernon. Brady is active in the Texas Ornithological Society (TOS) Texas Century Club. This is a project to encourage birders to visit and record their observations in more Texas areas. There are many hot spots in Texas that are visited regularly, so we have a good understanding of the birds that inhabit those areas. However, there are many counties in Texas for which records are sparse. Hence, the Century Club, which is a challenge for birders to find at least 100 birds species in at least 100 counties. Brady has completed 40-some counties, and Saturday he wanted to work on Pal Pinto county. He already had 66 species.

Saturday was not the best day to bird in our region of Texas. The misty rain wasn't an issue, but the high winds were. Birds don't really like to expose themselves to a lot of wind any more than we do. We thought our best bet would be ducks, but we had only minimal luck with those, although we did add a few waterfowl to Brady's county list. As you can see in the photo of Lake Tucker above, the birds were not sitting on any open water. We found some ducks on small, sheltered tanks along the roadsides, but that was it.

One phenomenal sight was a kettle of hundreds of migrating turkey vultures passing over Strawn, TX. There were a few black vultures mixed in, but the turkey vultures stretched for miles. It was an impressive sight.

My own favorite bird of the day was the hooded merganser (see photo left, from Malcolm on Wikimedia Commons.) These are just beautiful, elegant birds. We came across a small tank and counted 10 birds in the small flock.

Although it wasn't a great birding day, I had a great time. Even a poor day birding is better than a good day doing anything else. We drove about 320 miles on this trip.

My list for the day included: mallard, gadwall, green-winged teal, ring-necked duck, hooded merganser, western grebe (I didn't get the greatest look at this one, but Brady was able to identify it,) pied-billed grebe, turkey vulture, black vulture, red-tailed hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, American kestrel, northern harrier, mourning dove, rock pigeon, northern cardinal, Carolina chickadee, Bewick's wren, yellow-rumped warbler, American crow, eastern bluebird, northern cardinal, ruby-crowned kinglet, field sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, Harris' sparrow, white-throated sparrow, European starling, and American goldfinch.

Good birding!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Good Weekend for New Winter Birds

Left: Fox sparrow

I birded both Saturday and Sunday mornings this weekend. Yesterday was warm and sunny; today very cool and overcast.

Yesterday, I walked the chat trail back to the barrow pit in Lake Wichita Park. Today I did the same and then drove over to the Lake Wichita spillway.

I've worked hard to learn the sparrows better over the past few years, and we definitely have a lot of sparrows in our area during the winter. These "LBJ's" (little brown jobs) are often ignored by most beginning birders as they often appear for just brief seconds before diving into the grass or shrubs. You have to know what field marks to look for and you have to see them quickly.

Yesterday, along the chat trail I did see my first two fox sparrows of the year. Fortunately, they attracted my attention by calling. Then it was a matter of continuing to watch the ground in a sheltered area, waiting for them to start scratching around. Today, I saw my first three field sparrows along the chat trail. These delicate little birds are among my favorites. Then over at the spillway, I saw one Harris's sparrow mixed with a flock of white-crowned sparrows. White-crowned sparrows are ubiquitous and it is tempting to go on to something else as soon as you see the first one, but anytime you see a flock of sparrows, do a quick scan of the group as there may be more than one species mixed together.

My bird list for Saturday: mallard, ruddy duck, bufflehead, northern shoveler, green-winged teal, northern pintail, greater yellowlegs, killdeer, ring-billed gull, double-crested cormorant, Cooper's hawk, American coot, pied-billed grebe, northern harrier, downy woodpecker, northern flicker (yellow-shafted), Eurasian collared dove, brown thrasher, northern mockingbird, Carolina chickadee, ruby-crowned kinglet, blue jay, cardinal, yellow-rumped warbler, song sparrow, fox sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, red-winged blackbird, and American goldfinch.

For Sunday: great blue heron, bufflehead, ruddy duck, northern shoveler, redhead duck, green-winged teal, double-crested cormorant, pied-billed grebe, American coot, killdeer, common snipe, ring-billed gull, rock pigeon, Eurasian collared dove, blue jay, cardinal, northern mockingbird, American robin, American goldfinch, red-winged blackbird, great-tailed grackle, common grackle, European starling, spotted towhee, Harris's sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, song sparrow, field sparrow.

This is also the second weekend of Project Feederwatch. Although the count isn't over for the weekend, so far I've had white-winged dove, Eurasian collared dove and Inca dove, as well as house sparrows, juncos, house finches and gold finches. One odd note. I had two white-winged doves were much darker than the others. There were a couple of other different things about them as well. It was the first time I have seen them. It would be nice if I could get a decent picture.

Good birding!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Economic Impact of Nature Tourism (Especially Birding) in Texas

A great blog post by American Birding Association (ABA) President Ted Lee Eubanks on how nature tourism creates jobs here in the state of Texas. I hope everyone will send a copy to our state legislators. I would have preferred to see the point made without the stick in the eye of conservatives, but the point about the economic impact of nature tourism is still valid.

Good birding!

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Bad Year for Bluebirds

The November issue of The Cardinal, the monthly newsletter of the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club, shared bad news from Greg Mucciolo, who monitors a number of bluebird boxes in various locations.

This year was not a good one for eastern bluebirds in our area. Between the heat, the drought, and the general lack of bugs, very few birds were able to fledge young. Greg counted a total of 12 eastern bluebird fledglings as well as 8 ash-throated flycatcher fledglings in his boxes. He also discovered a young dead screech owl in one of the boxes.

Here's hoping next year will be better.

Consider putting up nest boxes in your yard.

Good birding!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Couple of Neat Blogs by People Doing Neat Things

I posted before about a Big Year blog I was following. Matt Stenger has been doing is low-budget big year and is up to 670 species of his 716 goal. It has been really neat to follow Matt's big year adventure and to read how he has worked through some of the issues in his personal life on this journey. I'm rooting for Matt to hit his birding goal before the end of the year. Even if he doesn't, I dare say it's an adventure he wouldn't trade. He's a great photographer so his blog is loaded with pictures of the birds he has seen along the way.

Bird Man Walking is another blog I just discovered due to Twitter. Brad Storey is walking with his dog across the US to bring attention to bird conservation and support the Important Bird Areas program. He is over 600 miles now. Audubon is accepting donations. This blog doesn't have pictures--it is all text. It appears his daughter is posting what he calls in. He posts his cell phone number regularly and accepts calls. He is trying to figure out how he will make his way across Texas. I hope the Texas Ornithological Society (TOS) gets involved in helping him, especially in west Texas.

Good birding!

Beautiful Day

Yesterday morning was definitely fall, with dark clouds and a nip in the air. Today was spring--bright sunshine and that mellow, slightly damp feeling the air has at that time of year.

I have been gone for a couple of weeks, so was looking forward to getting back to Lake Wichita, one of my favorite local birding spots. I took the chat trail to the barrow pit. Not a long walk, but far enough to be certain our winter birds are back.

The birding wasn't the best this morning, but since there were a few first of season birds, that is OK in my book. Here's a list of the birds seen today: cardinal, spotted towhee, American goldfinch, blue jay, great blue heron, double-crested cormorant, American wigeon, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, bufflehead, northern shoveler, American coot, pied-billed grebe, ruddy duck, redhead duck, mallard, great blue heron, ring-billed gull, yellow-shafted flicker, song sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, slate-colored junco, European starling, red-winged blackbird, great-tailed grackle, northern harrier, Cooper's hawk.

Surprisingly, no doves--but I think all of those are at my backyard feeders. :)

Good birding!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Review: Birds of North America and Greenland

Princeton University Press was once again nice enough to send me a new birding book for review. I have been out of town for a few weeks, so am just now getting the chance to take a careful look at the book, published November 2.

Birds of North America and Greenland, by Norman Arlott is a relatively inexpensive, compact volume. My first thought was, "North America and Greenland?" But it makes sense, as Greenland shares its birds with Canada and the northeastern United States. The book covers 900 species on 102 color plates. The paintings are beautiful and accompanied by short notes and thumbnail range maps.

The book is listed as an illustrated checklist, but has some basic elements of a field guide. As long as you remember the book is not intended to be a field guide, you'll be happy with the book. It would definitely be easier to carry in the field than your Sibley or Crossley. You should be able to narrow down the possibilities for your bird until you can take the time to cross reference your field guides later.

If I were looking for a book for a new birder, this would not be it, but it would be a worthy supplement to a birder's library--easy to tuck into a suitcase on a trip when a larger, more detailed field guide may be more than you want to carry. Priced at $15.95/$10.63 on Amazon, it would be an appreciated stocking stuffer for Christmas.

Good birding!

North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club Meeting

The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meets this coming Tuesday, November 15, at 7:00 PM at the National Association of Letter Carriers building, 5310 Southwest Parkway (next to Wichita Valley Nursery.)

I don't know the topic of the program as it wasn't announced in the newsletter, but I do know we will be finalizing plans for the Christmas Bird Count and count spaghetti supper, scheduled for December 17.

Visitors are welcome and light refreshments will be served.

Good birding!

Project Feederwatch Starts Tomorrow!

One of my favorite winter activities, Project Feederwatch, starts tomorrow. I have been cleaning additional feeders this morning and need to make my pilgrimage to Wild Birds Unlimited later today to stock up on food. I just received my November coupon and another 10 Bird Bucks in the mail so the hit on my checkbook won't be quite as bad.

I keep up 2 platform feeders all summer with a nectar feeder for the hummingbirds. This morning I cleaned a tube feeder, a peanut feeder, a suet feeder and a hopper feeder. I am taking down the nectar feeder--I haven't had anyone local mention having hummingbirds for a few weeks now, so I am assuming they are all south of us now. If any show, I do have some blooming plants still.

I did say last year I would let you all know if the Wild Birds Unlimited Daily Saver's Card actually saved me any money, and it appears it did. I don't care to pay a membership fee for savings cards, but decided to check it out. I saved about $60 over and above the price of the membership with the card, so will renew it. Of course, whether the investment is worth it depends upon how much you buy. Today, I get a free suet cake. One can never have too many of those!

Whether you participate in Project Feederwatch or not (and I hope you do), now is the time to clean your feeders and get them ready for the colder weather if you haven't done so already.

Good birding!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

YardMap Coming Soon

Have I said recently how much I love the Cornell Lab of Ornithology? Recently, I received an invitation to help test a new project soon to be announced from the Lab: YardMap. They picked a good person to help test because if there is anyone who can mess up something, it is me.

I have just started playing with the website, which isn't yet open to everyone, but I think it will be a fun way for those of us who are trying to improve our backyard habitat for birds to interact with others with similar interests. It will allow participants to see what others are doing and to learn from one another. I'll be sure to let you know when the application becomes available for general use.

Good birding!

YardMap Coming Soon

Have I said recently how much I love the Cornell Lab of Ornithology? Recently, I received an invitation to help test a new project soon to be announced from the Lab: YardMap. They picked a good person to help test because if there is anyone who can mess up something, it is me.

I have just started playing with the website, which isn't yet open to everyone, but I think it will be a fun way for those of us who are trying to improve our backyard habitat for birds to interact with others with similar interests to see what others are doing and to learn from one another. I'll be sure to let you know when the application becomes available for general use.

Good birding!

Leave Nest Boxes Up

Although nesting season is over for this year, birds will still appreciate you leaving up your nest box over winter.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology NestWatch newsletter in October, nest boxes can provide winter shelter for cavity nesters. Be sure to clean out your nest box first. Although the newsletter suggests insulating the boxes for the cold weather, that is seldom necessary in our area, although if we have a severe cold snap as we did last year, I am sure some extra protection from the elements would be welcome.

If you put up nest boxes, you should consider signing up to participate in the NestWatch program next year and contribute data to help us learn more about birds.

Good birding!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Save the Date: Great Backyard Bird Count

We've got lots of opportunities to watch birds this winter: Project Feederwatch, the Christmas Bird Count and the Great Backyard Bird Count. The 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is scheduled for February 17 - 20. I'll post more as the event draws near. Usually the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club and the Rolling Plains Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist plan one group birding event during the GBBC. I'll be sure to post when that happens.

Good birding!

More Feederwatchers Needed

One birding activity I have participated in for many years is Project Feederwatch. I wrote about this in a previous post.

I have signed up, got my feeder pole up and when I get home from my trip to North Carolina (visiting my daughter and her husband and waiting for new granddaughter, Amelia, to make her appearance,) will clean and put up more feeders in anticipation of the Feederwatch season, which starts on November 12th.

I always have fun with Project Feederwatch. I pay more attention to my birds on days that I am counting and have the added enjoyment of knowing my data is helping us learn more about birds. You don't have to be an expert; you just have to put up a feeder, watch the birds that visit, and update your data.

More than 50,000 people take part in Project Feederwatch each year. This is the 25th year for Project Feederwatch--a great time to get involved. Cornell University is actively recruiting new observers, so get involved.

Good birding!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It Pays (Kinda) To Be Self-Employed

One of the things I really like about working for myself is having the flexibility to take time to bird. Of course, there's always a trade off. Bird or eat?

Audubon's Birding the Net has taken on a life of its own. Although I am getting the "have to do" work done, I am spending probably too much time birding in the virtual world. The only exercise there has been is my fingers hitting the keys on the keyboard. However, I have found some interesting web sites I wouldn't likely come across any other way such as

Audubon seems to be trying to capitalize on the release of The Big Year movie with a social media game to encourage people to get interested in birding and to join the Audubon Society. Finding birds pretty much requires a twitter account, although there have been some bloggers consolidating the clues and putting them on their website, so that is another avenue. However, I don't know that this would allow a person to be timely enough getting the word to stay high in the rankings.

The game can be frustrating, but I have expanded the contacts in my "twitterverse," so it hasn't been a bad thing in that respect either.

I hold out little hope of finishing in the top 200 in the game, but one never knows--I've been up there once or twice. In the meantime, whether you play seriously or not, check it out. It's interesting to see another approach to introducing people to the world of birding.

Good birding!

Birding the Net

I've added some birds to the blog for Audubon's Birding the Net!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Winter Warblers Back

Today I decided to bird Lucy Park. I haven't been there in a while and it is a good habitat for warblers and sparrows. Although the woods were a little empty today, it was a great morning. The weather was clear and in the 60's.

It is a little hard to bird Lucy Park because it is adjacent to Hwy 287 and there is constant traffic, that makes it difficult to hear small birds in the underbrush. If you aren't right next to a bird, you aren't likely to hear it; you have to see it. I am sure if it was a little quieter, I would get lots more birds. But that's just the way it is.

I saw my first of the season brown thrasher. He was scolding up a storm--one bird I did hear. Two winter warblers back in good numbers in the park were yellow-rumped and orange-crowned. As usual there were several ruby-crowned kinglets--they will practically get in your face. Two special sparrows migrating through that were present in fairly large numbers were clay-colored sparrows and chipping sparrows.

Lucy Park is a good place to look for cavity nesters. Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice and woodpeckers are normally easy to find and that was the case today. Downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers and flickers were all over the park. If you haven't birded Lucy Park in a while, you're due for a visit.

Good birding!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Save the Date: Wichita Falls CBC

The Wichita Falls area Christmas Bird Count will be December 17 this year. More information to follow, but plan now to attend.

Good birding!

Movie Review: The Big Year

Well, today was the opening of The Big Year, a movie about three birders and their quest to rack up the highest tally of bird species in a calendar year. Starring Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black, I expected more of a slapstick comedy (and Ebert's review I read before going to the theater reinforced that expectation.) Fortunately, the movie was more substantial than that. Although a comedy, the movie was more in the vein of humorous than riotously funny--which made for a better movie in my opinion. One place I had to laugh was when a birder brought his new non-birding wife on a honeymoon trip to Attu. It was NOT what she was expecting. The funny part was how oblivious he was to what she would think of this trip of a lifetime. (A little similar to my conversation with my husband today about why I would want to go to the Galapagos Islands--see grand prize in Audubon's Birding the Net.)

The few reviews posted by birders so far seemed, as you would expect, to be looking for technical errors. All loved the movie. I was expecting to enjoy the movie and did, but was interested in finding out what non-birders would think.

My husband agreed to go to the movie with me, which was a surprise as he is not a birder and he doesn't like going to movies in a theater. He had a little trouble giving credence to the central plot of the movie. He is still not convinced about the whole Big Year concept. He doesn't think any birders would be obsessive enough to race after a rarity, even though he encountered people in January here out looking for the Whooping Crane from all over the state. He was also put off by the thought that any competitive event could be run on the honor system. It will be a sad day when we think we have to verify sightings.

A lot of beautiful scenery shots and some pictures of some pretty birds. I would have liked more of both. But still a good movie I would recommend, and one you can take the entire family to. Although rated PG, I didn't notice any profanity, although I imagine there may have been some low key curse words that went over my head, and there was nothing else offensive I could see. I enjoyed the movie completely and will probably buy it when it comes out to revisit again.

Wonder if my boss will let me take off for a Big Year. Probably not.....

Good birding!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Birds on the Net

I got an email on a promotion from Audubon. It looks like it might be fun, so thought I would pass on the information.

The National Audubon Society is having a Birding the Net contest through November 7. Some cool prizes. You have to sign up through Facebook. Go to their page and "like" it to start the contest. Obviously this is a social media promotion. It also seems you have a better shot if you are on Twitter. I am not sure. I am going to play with it a little and will let you know how it goes.

So far, I have 2 of the 34 cards.

Good birding!

Big Sit 2011

Well, it was me, myself and I for the Big Sit on Sunday. Texans don't have a high tolerance for rain or cool weather (cool being pretty much anything below 75 degrees.) Thankfully, I was raised in a more well-rounded climate and don't melt in the rain, so I was there in my rain gear, binoculars at the ready.

Sunday was a glorious day. In the 60's, a light breeze off of Lake Wichita and a steady, light rain. It was very muddy and slippery accessing the Big Sit site, but once out on the overlook, it wasn't bad at all, although I did get wet.

When I bird, I tend to walk, so the Big Sit is a study in patience for me. When there is a group, it isn't too bad, as you can pass the time talking to the other birders between birds. Although I generally prefer birding alone because I can hear the birds better without people talking to me, the Big Sit is not one of those times. So I only made it an hour being confined to the 17-ft circle. But during that hour, I did see some pretty good birds, starting with an American white pelican flying across the lake just after daybreak. My last birds of the morning were a small flock of American avocets flying low over the water.

The species seen were:

American white pelican
Great egret
Scissor-tailed flycatcher
Great blue heron
Red-winged blackbird
Blue jay
Blue-winged teal
Chimney swift
Great-tailed grackle
Eurasian collared dove
Rock pigeon
Barn swallow
Mourning dove
American avocet

Overall, not a bad return on the 1-hour investment. In addition to the birds, I saw a beaver and a raccoon.

Good birding!

Friday, October 7, 2011

New Photo Contest from Cornell

The Lab of Ornithology is having another photo contest through their Celebrate Urban Birds program. For more information, see the news release.

Good birding!

Don't Forget the Big Sit on Sunday!

The lazy birder's event is this Sunday as birders throughout North America sit in their lawn chairs and count the birds they see from a 17-foot circle.

Birders in the Wichita Falls, TX area will be meeting up at 7:30 AM, Sunday, October 9, on the shore of Lake Wichita behind Wild Bird Rescue at 4611 Lake Shore Dr. One can usually count on a cold, rainy blustery day for the Big Sit, and this year you can bet no one will complain about it. I would be ecstatic to have to wear a sweatshirt and rain gear.

Feel free to come out. Although the Big Sit is officially a 24-hour event, we're a little more laid back. As a rule we're out for 2 or 3 hours, depending upon the weather and the birds. Bring a lawn chair and binoculars and dress in layers. There is usually a wind off the water--you can count on it feeling colder there than at your house. Feel free to bring drinks and snacks. Wild Bird Rescue has always been gracious enough to let us use their restroom facilities during the Sit.

This is a great way to meet other people who enjoy birding and to learn more about the birds in our area in a leisurely way.

Good birding!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Winter Birds Returning

Went out to Lake Wichita Park this morning as it is on my way to Wild Bird Rescue, where I volunteer on Sundays. Fall migration is well underway and the winter sparrows are beginning to show up as are other winter residents.

Some of the winter birds I saw this morning for the first time included several northern flickers (some red-shafted, some yellow and a few I couldn't tell for sure), a ruby-crowned kinglet, savannah sparrows, a song sparrow and some green-winged teal.

I noted some migrant mourning warblers as well as another pretty warbler that unfortunately didn't stay in place long enough for me to make a positive ID.

Many summer birds are still around: barn swallows, chimney swifts and scissor-tailed flycatchers for example. The scissor-tails are beginning to mass in good numbers. I watched a couple of dozen hawking the area between the barrow pit and Lake Wichita. Hopefully, they will still be around for the Big Sit next weekend.

Overall, it was a good hour. In addition to some good birds, the beavers were pretty active along the chat trail. A list of birds seen: great blue heron, greater yellowlegs, killdeer, American wigeon, green-winged teal, mallard, redhead, American coot, Red-tailed hawk, Eurasian collared dove, rock pigeon, downy woodpecker, northern flicker, barn swallow, chimney swift, mockingbird, blue jay, robin, cardinal, scissor-tailed flycatcher, phoebe, ruby-crowned kinglet, Carolina chickadee, great-tailed grackle, red-winged blackbird, mourning warbler, song sparrow, savannah sparrow, and house sparrow.

This is a great time to bird this area.

Good birding!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Last Week to Sign Up for Costa Rica Tour

This is the last week to sign up for the Wild Birds Unlimited (Smith's Gardentown) Costa Rica tour. I didn't make the tour last year since I had already taken a big trip in 2010, but I heard about it from some other folks and was jealous. They saw some great birds. This year the trip is scheduled during the time my first grand baby is due. As much as I love birdwatching, the grand baby comes first. Maybe next time.

But if you are interested in making the trip, the deadline to sign up is September 30.

Good birding!

Inca Dove

Inca Dove photo courtesy of Clinton and Charles Robertson.

Overall, the yard at our new house isn't very birdy--there isn't much in the way of understory right now. However, one of the nice surprises has been the pair of Inca dove that appear in my yard regularly. I usually don't see them, just hear the distinctive sound of their wings as they take off when I come out of the house. This morning though as I was sipping my tea on the back porch, I was able to watch the doves during the breakfast feeding frenzy at the feeder. The Inca's seem to come in before and after the masses of white-winged dove.

We in Wichita Falls, TX are just about as far north as the dove occurs--they are very sensitive to cold weather. Although the doves don't seem as common here as they used to be (purely anecdotal), they are expanding their range, according to Birds of North America Online. They seem to prefer to live around people. The species account in BNA (available only with a subscription) tells a lot of interesting facts about these doves. I was aware of their pyramid roosting to combat cold, but I did not know their metabolic rate is about 20% less than most passerines, which seems to help them cope with the hot environments in which they live and would indicate why they might be more sensitive to cold.

Such a sweet little dove--I hope you are able to enjoy them in your yard too.

Good birding!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Birding Organizations

Many birders belong to one or more organizations devoted to the conservation and/or enjoyment of birds. I came across a column through a twitter post that has some good pointers for deciding which birding organizations to join. After all, we all only have so much discretionary income. Birding organizations not only support the study and conservation of birds but are a good source of interesting information about birds and connections with other birders, who can help us learn to be a better birder.

I agree with many of the points made in the article and realize no article can list every worthwhile organization. Personally, I have been a member of both the Audubon Society and of the American Birding Association. They have fallen by the wayside as part of budget tightening. However, I do have a lifetime membership in the Texas Ornithological Society (TOS) and have been a member of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for many years. I like the TOS because of its local focus and the sanctuaries (although over focused in east Texas). I like Cornell primarily because of all of the citizen science projects. For regular readers, you know I am involved with Wild Bird Rescue and the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club in Wichita Falls.

What birding organizations do you belong to and why?

Good birding!

Could Use Some Help with Bird ID

This small hawk came into Wild Bird Rescue as a newly hatched chick and I haven't been confident enough to ID him. Anyone have any ideas?

Good birding!

Winter Waterfowl Coming In

With cooler weather and a little rain, plants are starting to bloom and the insects are coming out. I haven't been bitten by a mosquito but once the entire summer until this past week, and they have been making up for lost time. Fortunately, the cooler mornings do keep the mosquitoes down to tolerable level. The monarch butterflies are migrating through and seem to enjoy the sunflowers.

This morning I saw my first white pelicans on Lake Wichita--two rafts of approximately 50 birds altogether. I also saw some American coots and American wigeon on the barrow pit, in addition to some northern pintails that have been there most of the time for the past couple of weeks. A pied-billed grebe was also grooming itself along the reeds. I am glad to see a little more water in the barrow pit; hopefully that will mean more ducks.

I ran across a small flock of clay-colored sparrows in the weedy area on the south side, between the barrow pit and Lake Wichita. A belted kingfisher flew over my head on the chat trail. Overall a good morning.

Good birding!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Signed Up for Project Feederwatch?

Project Feederwatch season starts November 12. I have been participating for several years. The Lab of Ornithology is getting ready to mail out the participation kits, so if you want to take part, sign up now. If you wait, you may not get your kit until after the beginning of the season.

Project Feederwatch is a good way to combine your birdwatching hobby with contributing to the knowledge of birds. It doesn't require a lot of time and you don't have to be an expert birder. You just watch the birds at your feeder and update the information.

Check out the website. If you want to ask questions, feel free to post here in the comments section or email

Good birding!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Roadrunner Song

Went out birding for a little while this morning. There were about 30 greater yellowlegs on the barrow pit. My best sighting was a yellow-billed cuckoo, although the Loggerhead shrike was also nice. Otherwise uneventful. However, Burr Williams of the Sibley Nature Center shared a short little video of a roadrunner singing on Facebook. I thought others might enjoy it.

Roadrunners sometimes sound like a little puppy whining to me.

Good birding!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Big Sit--October 9

The annual Wichita Falls Big Sit is scheduled for October 9 on "the penninsula" overlooking Lake Wichita behind Wild Bird Rescue, 4611 Lake Shore Drive. Although traditionally the Big Sit is a 24-hour event, the Wichita Falls birders are far more laid back about the whole thing and usually bird for 2 - 4 hours, depending upon the weather and the birds.

The Big Sit is ideal for those who can't (or just don't want to) walk far or for novice birders who would like to meet some more experienced birders and learn more about the birds in our area in a more relaxed environment. Bring a lawn chair, binoculars and drinks/snacks if you want them. You are welcome to bring your field guide although there will probably be a few there. Dress for the weather. Although it has been extremely hot and dry this year, the Big Sit has traditionally been cold, windy and wet in our location--and we will welcome that type of weather this year! Since we are on an exposed point on the shore, the wind is usually more brisk and the weather colder than it is at the house when you leave, so bring a jacket, even if you don't think you need one and dress in layers.

We meet shortly after sunrise and bird until we feel like stopping. People come and go, so there is no requirement to stay the entire time. This is as much a social event as a birding event. If you would like more information, contact Terry McKee at or you're welcome to contact me at

The Hawk and the Owl

Saturday morning I decided to see what the chat trail and barrow pit at Lake Wichita Park would turn up with migration underway. The weather was a muggy but bearable mid 80's, ahead of a cold front and cooler weather (hallelujah!)

I was very happy to see a little blue-gray gnatcatcher along the chat trail. I haven't seen a lot of these little guys in town, but when I do come across one, it is almost always along the chat trail. A little further along the trail, seven white-faced ibis flew over my head, calling, on their way to the barrow pit.

The barrow pit still has some pools of water, so there were birds, to include the usual peeps I couldn't positively identify. But as I was watching the white-faced ibis and black-necked stilts, a small flock of 11 American avocets circled the barrow pit and landed. They stayed for all of maybe two minutes before heading out to Lake Wichita. They are very pretty birds that migrate through in the spring and fall. In addition to the mallards, blue-winged teal and the redhead ducks that are usually there, a small group of 8 northen pintails were dabbling in one of the pools. It is a little bit earlier than usual to see these ducks, but not by a lot. They are such an elegant duck--one of my favorites.

Throughout my time in park, I kept hearing a red-tailed hawk in several locations. I didn't see him, but periodically heard him calling. On my way back to my truck I heard him again near the chat trail, so looked into some nearby trees to see if I could locate him. I checked out a tree based upon where it sounded like the call was coming from and saw what sure looked like a great horned owl. I couldn't see the head clearly, but the stocky build of the great horned owl is distinctive and not at all like the sleeker build of the red-tailed hawk. But I could hear the red-tailed hawk cry right in the same area. While I was trying to decide if I was trying to turn a red-tailed hawk into a great horned owl, the owl (seemingly irritated by the constant calling of the red-tail) flushed from the tree. A couple of seconds later, the red-tailed hawk flew in pursuit. All I have to say after being around both is that the red-tailed hawk had better hope the great horned owl didn't turn on him--he'd be toast.

The warblers are coming through with a few black-and-white warblers and several yellow warblers along the chat trail. I was also fortunate to get some good views of a hairy woodpecker (I've always wondered, why "hairy?"). There was also a single purple martin soaring overhead--I haven't seen any purple martins in a couple of weeks.

Before going home, I drove to the other side of Lake Wichita to the spillway to see if there was anything special there. With no water going over the spillway, I didn't expect much and didn't get it. A few snowy egret and a greater yellowlegs was about it, although there was a fairly good bunch of killdeer as well.

When I got back to the house, I was pleased to see some black-chinned hummingbirds at the feeder. I think anyone who has a stocked hummingbird feeder is going to see hummingbirds this fall.

Overall a good morning. I am looking forward to the Labor Day holiday. The weather is supposed to be much cooler with a cold front coming through. Fronts usually bring along a good bunch of migrants, so I plan to be out looking for them.

Good birding!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Help Migrating Hummingbirds

Hummingbird migration has started and with the drought, the little guys will depend even more on our feeders than usual.Photo above is of a patient at Wild Bird Rescue, so you can see how tiny they are.

I had the opportunity to do a short interview for Channel 6 today to talk about the impact of the drought on hummingbirds in migration. The segment may air tomorrow, depending upon other news. If you get a chance to watch, don't tell me. I try never to watch myself on TV.

Anyway, that made me think this would be an ideal time to talk about hummingbirds. We have black-chinned hummingbirds and ruby-throated hummingbirds here in the summer. During migration in September and October, other species of hummingbird may pass through, although not in large numbers.

All birds use a lot of energy in migration--hummingbirds are no exception. They consume a lot of food to keep their energy levels high for the trip to central America. They eat primarily nectar in flowering plants as well as small insects. With the severe drought there is a scarcity of flowering plants and the insects have not been plentiful either. This year more than most, hummingbirds will need the extra food provided by those of us who hang out hummingbird feeders.

If you don't already have feeders out, this would be a good time. You can make your own sugar water cheaply by mixing 1 part cane sugar with 4 parts water and boiling. Let the sugar water cool and pour it into a clean feeder. It is important to keep the nectar clean. Usually, you should clean out the feeder every 3 days, but in this heat, you may need to change the sugar water daily. If you see any cloudiness then change the water right away.

Hang the feeder out of the sun and preferably where the birds have a view of the sky. For best results, place your feeder near other flowering plants (if you have any.)

Let's help these wonderful birds have a safe trip.

Good birding!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Donations for Wild Bird Rescue Garage Sale Being Taken Saturday

Wild Bird Rescue has taken in over 1000 wild birds so far this year. The drought has really hit wildlife hard. This year the center took in over 50 purple martins and over 80 Mississippi kites due to the heat and the lack of insects. Most of those birds have been released back into the wild, with many still in care. A dozen newly released Mississippi kites were circling over Wild Bird Rescue last weekend.

Needless to say, operating expenses have been high. Insectivores and predatory birds are expensive to raise and Wild Bird Rescue is planning a garage sale to help raise funds. Volunteers will be taking donations this Saturday at 9:30 AM at the National Association of Letter Carriers building at 5310 Southwest Parkway. No clothing please.

The sale itself is September 17. So, please help the birds by donating items this weekend and by stopping by on the 17th and shopping.

For more information, call Wild Bird Rescue at 940-691-0828.

Good birding!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Big Year Movie Out October 14

OK, a movie about birders on a Big Year. Bound to be a comedy of course, with Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black. I am probably going to have to go see it. If we can't laugh at ourselves....

Good birding!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sandpiper Migration Underway

Although we are still in the height of summer in terms of heat, fall migration has started and sandpipers are passing through on their way south. I decided to try to beat the heat yesterday morning and got out at 7:00 AM--84 degrees--to the chat trail in Lake Wichita Park. I walked to the barrow pit in hopes there would still be some water, and consequently some birds.

I make no bones about the fact that I find shorebird identification difficult. I have to have a good view for a long time to be sure of any but the most distinctive shorebirds, especially the peeps (the smallest of the sandpipers.) Fortunately, I got both.

The first was a spotted sandpiper, easily told by the distintive bobbing motion it makes as it walks along the shore line. The photo below (courtesy of Mike Baird, Wikimedia Commons) doesn't show the spots on the underside. I has a lot more difficulty with the two small peeps. I easily spent 20 minutes watching them and working with my field guide to identify the Baird's sandpiper. (Photo below courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.)

The black-necked stilts are still present in decent numbers and easy to identify. There were also some blue-winged teal on the barrow pit.

Warblers are also beginning to come through on migration. I saw several yellow warblers along the trail and around the barrow pit (photo below from Wikimedia Commons.)

I was sitting on one of the benches along the trail looking over the barrow pit. The stilts were unusually quiet. Then all of a sudden all of the birds starting making noise. When I looked up, there was a Cooper's Hawk flying over the water, probably looking for breakfast. A couple of killdeer flew up and mobbed him into the trees. I don't recall seeing shorebirds mob predators before, but obviously they do.

A little later, I was trying to identify a little Empid (no luck there) when I had the chance to watch two black-chinned hummingbirds chasing each other all over the area.

On the way back to my truck, I watched a pair of orchard orioles searching through the willows for bugs. All in all, a good morning.

Good birding!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Daily Savings Club at Wild Bird Unlimited

I'm not into selling things on this blog, but I know some of the readers are members of the Daily Savings Club at Wild Birds Unlimited, Smith's Gardentown. Well, this week they have double points for Savings Club members. If like me, you need to stock up on some seed, this would be a good week to go.

I was just thinking this AM that I was going to have to go get some food--the gluttons are going through the seed. Even though I only have one feeder going right now, I have lots of visitors.

Good birding!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Victor Emanuel Story in Texas Monthly

Texas Monthly has a very interesting profile on Austin bird lover Victor Emanuel that those who like to watch birds will enjoy.

Good birding!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Review: The Atlas of Birds

I have been reading The Atlas of Birds: Diversity, Behavior and Conservation, by Mike Unwin and published by Princeton University Press. Another "must have" bird book.

I admit, the book was not exactly what I expected when I ordered it--it's better. A compendium of interesting and useful information about birds throughout the world, with an emphasis on their conservation. Yes, there is lots of information about where the birds are--and in the illustrations it is easy to see why the rain forests of South America are so vital. You can also see at a glance those countries that have birds found no where else and see the areas identified as Important Bird Areas for conservation purposes.

The book also has information about the various bird families--what makes them unique. Especially interesting to me are the small vignettes of various species. Just two of the interesting facts in this book:

  • A Ruppell's vulture was recorded over West Africa at a height of 7 miles, which makes it the high-altitude record holder for birds

  • Swifts are almost entirely aerial, feeding, mating and even sleeping on the wing. A newly fledged swift will not reach breeding maturity for 3 years and may spend all of that time exclusively on wing.

In addition to a lot of interesting and useful facts and dozens of maps, the book is full of eye-catching photos.

This book is a winner for any birdwatching enthusiast. The price (softcover) is $22.95, although I did see you can get it from Amazon for $15.35.

Good birding!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Swift Night Out

The Driftwood Wildlife Association hosts A Swift Night Out each year. The August Swift Night Out is scheduled for August 5, 6 and 7. Just locate a chimney swift roost, count the number of birds that enter at dusk and email the number to the Driftwood Wildlife Association.

A Swift Night Out is also scheduled for September 9, 10, 11.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Parrots Name Their Chicks

We humans think we are special, but as we study birds and other wildlife, we find that many of the behaviors that we think are distinctly human are not. Here is a short piece on parrotlets naming their young.

Good birding!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Feather Our Nest Garage Sale

Wild Bird Rescue will hold a garage sale to raise money for the organization. Please consider donating items and come spend money on the treasures others no longer want/need. Wild Bird Rescue is accepting donations of items for the sale (except adult clothing) at their 4611 Lake Shore Drive address the week prior to the sale. They are asking donors to pre-price the items they donate.

Feather Our Nest Garage Sale
Saturday, September 17
8:00 AM - 2:00 PM
NALC Building, 5310 Southwest Parkway

This has been a big year for the organization. So far they have taken in over 800 birds and the year is barely half over. For more information about making a donation, please call 940-691-0828.

Good birding!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club Meeting

The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meets Tuesday, 7:00 PM at the National Association of Letter Carriers Building at 5310 Southwest Parkway (adjacent to Wichita Valley Nursery).

Eldon Sund will present a short program on loons. Light refreshments will be served. The meeting is free and open to the public. As always, members will share their sightings and other items of interest with the group.

Good birding!

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Couple of Nice Birds

Saturday morning I took a short stroll down the chat trail to the barrow pit in Lake Wichita Park. The drought is hitting the trees hard as you can see by the photo. Usually the trees are not this stressed for another month. As you can see, the tress are growing right next to the water, so it is not a matter of a lack of water to the roots, but the heat and water loss through the leaves. The leaves are dropping off many of the trees as they try to conserve water.

I did see a couple of nice birds: a blue-gray gnatcatcher and a Bullock's oriole.

Photo: blue gray gnatcatcher from Wikimedia Commons, Photographer: mauricholas.

The little gnatcatchers are often difficult to see as they tend to skulk around in heavily wooded areas and they are constantly on the move. They remind me in general shape of a tiny mockingbird and the white outer tail feathers on the tail are very helpful in identification of this fast-moving little bird. The Bullock's oriole was another matter--the male was making plenty of noise fussing at something in the reeds along the water. Between his loud scolding and bright colors, there was no way he was going to go unnoticed.

The barrow pit is nearly dry, although a very shallow pool remains in the center. A few black-necked stilts were still arounds as well as three greater yellowlegs and some killdeer. It won't be long before the pond is completely dry if we don't get rain soon. Tonight there have been some thunderstorms to the west of us, but none for us--again.

Good birding!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Living Green Blog Post

I also write another blog, Living Green in Wichita Falls. Once I posted this AM, I thought to myself that the post was equally germane to Charm of Finches since I was talking about attracting wildlife to the yard. Some people read both of my blogs, but not everyone.

Anyway, check out the post as I begin the effort to transform our new yard from standard suburbia to a wildlife-friendly landscape.

Good birding!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Keep the Water Coming!

The drought continues to beat down the people and the wildlife in our area. I am filling my backyard bird bath at least 3 times a day--sometimes more. Since plants aren't doing well either, my feeder is also getting a workout. The seeds don't help the parents trying to feed babies as most (other than doves) need protein food sources, but it helps the adults stay alive.

If you don't have a water source for wildlife in your yard, please consider adding some sort of water feature to your yard. If you can't spend the money on a pond or birdbath, a shallow pan will work fine. If you have some sort of water feature in your yard, please keep it full. You'll be doing wildlife a favor and bringing the birds in so you can have the pleasure of watching them.

Good birding!

Learning the Birds

People often say, "I don't know how you can identify birds so fast." And I tell them it is like anything else--practice. The people who are best at bird identification (and there are LOTS of people better than I) are those who spend the most time birding and who study in between their birding trips.

I came across a great blog post, "The Brain and Birds," by Richard Crossley, the author of The Crossley ID Guide. I posted a review of this book a few months back. As we bird more, we tend to pick up patterns we use to identify the birds and through repetition (whether seeing the bird in the field or reviewing birds in the field guides and reading articles about them) we help our brain make the information readily accessible.

Anyway, I thought is was an interesting post and wanted to share.

Good birding!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Crows are Great

Most of us have probably seen the YouTube videos showing crows using tools to get food. Apparently they have pretty phenomenal memories as well, remembering the faces of dangerous people for a long time and sharing the word with other crows.

When I first moved to Wichita Falls, there was a flock of crows that I saw most of the time near the entrance to the Tanglewood subdivision, but when the West Nile virus first began, the flock disappeared. I recently saw a few birds there again, so that is reassuring.

Crows are fascinating birds, more common in the county than the city.

Good birding!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

White-faced Ibis at Barrow Pit

White-faced ibis at barrow pit in Lake Wichita Park 06/24/11.

I had such good sightings on Friday, I decided to go back to the barrow pit on Saturday morning. As I was getting out of my truck, I heard a belted kingfisher and was fortunate to be able to watch him fish successfully before he carried off two good sized minnows.

When I arrived at the barrow pit, I saw pretty much the same birds as the day before, which was good. But I didn't see anything different.

I was walking back down the chat trail when I saw a small group of ibis fly over. It appeared they were heading for the barrow pit. I very nearly kept walking to the truck, but convinced myself that if I missed a good look at the birds because I was lazy, it would be a sad day indeed. So I turned around and walked back to the barrow pit. Sure enough, there was a group of 4 white-faced ibis.

I realize you can't really tell which ibis these are from the photo--my little point and shoot camera doesn't zoom in too closely. However, it is easy to see by the shape and color they are ibis. Generally, most of the ibis seen in this area are the white-faced, although I rarely see the distinctive white at the base of the bill that all of the field guides show. I think they touch up the photos.

Overall, a nice morning sighting. The drought does seem to be concentrating the water birds as the ponds dry up. Although the sightings are nice, let's hope for some rain soon.

Good birding!

Purple Martins and the Drought

One of several groups of purple martin babies currently in the care of Wild Bird Rescue.

This has been a horrible year for purple martins in north Texas. The drought has had a severe effect on insect populations; consequently, birds that depend upon the insects for food are having a tough time of it. Especially noticeable is the impact upon purple martins.

I volunteer at Wild Bird Rescue and the purple martins have been brought in by the droves--most of which are emaciated and dehydrated. A friend brought in the last of her purple martin babies when the parents abandoned the colony. I haven't gone back to count, but literally dozens of baby martins were brought in over one weekend. We easily have 50 that have survived and are eating us out of house and home now. Purple martins are very expensive to raise because of their insect diet. They go through the mealworms. But at least they are fattening up and are looking much healthier than previously. Now if we can get them raised in time for them to leave with the older birds.

I noticed yesterday that the martin house at Wild Bird Rescue was very busy--today, there isn't a purple martin to be found. They usually mass here before taking off south, but it doesn't appear to be the case this year. Although it is a little early for the martins to leave, the food is scarce, so who knows? Have you been seeing the martins massing?

I hope our nest of chimney swifts are doing OK. I have been seeing one of the parents diving into the tower periodically. That's a good sign. I was talking to a couple recently, and they had a nest in their chimney and could hear the babies. But I imagine the lack of insects is having a similar effect on them.

Good birding!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Drought and Unusual Birds

Barrow Pit at Lake Wichita Park, showing how far the water has receded.

This morning I went down the chat trail to the barrow pit at Lake Wichita Park. I didn't see or hear much on the trail--not unusual at this time of the year. The barrow pit has evaporated to mostly a mud flat with some shallow pools. Ducks can wade in most of the water--there are just a few deeper pools in which they can swim.

Black-necked stilts at the barrow pit.
I was surprised by some of the water birds I found. First there were about 2 dozen black-necked stilts. Although they are not unknown at this time of year, they are not common.

What was more unusual to me were the redhead ducks and canvasbacks. These are definitely winter ducks and although there are records here in late May/early June, this is definitely late for them.

Redhead ducks

Little blue heron

Other birds seen this morning included: blue jay, white-winged dove, rock pigeon, mockingbird, cardinal, brown-headed cowbird, robin, Carolina wren, snowy egret, great blue heron, Mississippi kite, American coot, chimney swift, barn swallow, purple martin, mallard, scissor-tailed flycatcher, and western kingbird.

Good birding!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Another Chance to Visit Costa Rica

Last year, Wild Birds Unlimited arranged a birding trip to Costa Rica. Since I had just taken a long vacation, I had to pass it up. Well, they are going again and this time I am having my first grandbaby right at the time the trip starts, so I will miss it AGAIN! Seems I am snake bit.

I saw the pictures from the last trip and talked to some of the folks who went, and it sounds like the birding trip of a lifetime.

Here's a link to the flyer with more information. You can also contact Katherine Smith at Wish I was going.

Good Birding!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

20 Common Birds in Decline

Once again, Audubon has published their list of birds in severe decline. The information is based upon citizen science projects such as the Christmas Bird Count and the Breeding Bird Survey. I have participated in both many times.

Most of us around Wichita Falls find it hard to believe the Eastern meadowlark would be on the list as it is one of the most common birds found on our counts. Apparently, we are lucky.

But members of the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club have talked several times about the loss of the Loggerhead shrike and Bobwhite quail.

Personally I am sorry to hear of the decline of the elegant pintail duck (see photo) and the small sparrows. And who would believe grackles are having a problem?

None of these birds is in serious trouble yet. The point is their populations are going south precipitously and it is important to act early, before their populations reach a critical level. If these birds are losing ground, what about those birds with small populations?

Audubon has a "What You Can Do" page with thoughts on how each of us can help preserve bird populations.

Good birding!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dog Days of Summer--Already!

It sure is hot and dry! The drought has taken hold and doesn't appear to be letting up anytime soon. It has been pretty humid for our area, but no rain.

Consequently, everything is turning brown, and you can see the leaves on the trees wilting in some cases--it won't be long before many trees begin dropping their leaves to conserve moisture.

The birds have also been laying low. Yes, parent birds are gathering food, but they are far less active than just a few weeks ago. By midafternoon, you hardly see any birds. I can't blame them; I don't want to be outside then either.

This is a miserable time of year to birdwatch. It has been 80 degrees at 6:00 am when it's time to walk with a friend and doesn't take long to hit 90 and later, 100 degrees. My husband set up my bird bath in our new yard and we've had some visitors. However, since there isn't a lot of cover yet around it, there haven't been as many birds as I would have thought with the hot weather. It will be fall before I can plant much and have any hope the plants will survive. For now, I'll keep the bird bath filled with water and plan for fall planting.

Good birding!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Book Review: Avian Architecture

Left: One of the many illustrations in Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer & Build.

I recently received a new publication from Princeton University Press, Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer & Build, by Peter Goodfellow.

I have been taking pictures of bird nests when I am out birding, although I am not very good at identifying the various nests yet. However, it is fascinating to watch birds build their nests.

Peter Goodfellow is a retired English teacher and a lifelong birdwatcher. His previous books include Birds as Builders and A Naturalists Guide to Birds of Britain and Northern Europe. Avian Architecture is a beautiful book with lots of pictures and illustrations of the many styles of nests birds build. In addition, there are interesting insights into birds around the world.

Chapters are arranged by nest type (platform, cup-shaped, cavities, mounds, etc.) and include blueprints, descriptions of materials and features, case studies and beautiful illustrations and photographs. The pages I've included with this post are of the Common Wood Pigeon nest. I remember wood pigeons from my time in England. Dove and pigeon make such flimsy nests--it is surprising so many hold together.

One account I was taken with was the Edible-Nest Swiflet Nest account. I have heard of bird's-nest soup, although I can't quite get up enough curiosity to try it. However, I was fascinated with the fact that nest farming is becoming a huge industry in Indonesia. How would have thought?

Anyway, the book is not only beautiful to look at, but interesting to read. Priced at $27.95, this is a book to buy.

Good birding!