Monday, January 31, 2011

Rock Wren at Lake Wichita

Rock Wren, Photo by US National Park Service, Wikimedia Commons
Sunday was more typical of the weather in the winter, with a cold wind. Brady Surber and I went out for a final morning of birding with the Houston Audubon group. Lake Wichita let me down a little--usually there are many more birds. But windy conditions are never a good thing.
On Saturday we had spent a fair amount of time trying to entice a rock wren out at Miller Creek Reservoir with no success. Brady had records of the bird there, but Saturday was a different story. Sunday at Lake Wichita we were heading up to the spillway and Jennifer with the Houston group said it looked like good habitat for rock wrens. I told her I often saw sparrows in the rocks, but never a rock wren. As we were scoping birds at the top of the spillway, Jennifer said, "There's a rock wren." Sure enough, there it was, right out in the open. Everyone got good looks. That was the highlight of my morning.
We made a quick stop at Bridwell tank (Three Island Lake for non-area residents) to make sure the group members could see the tundra swans before they left.
Brady decided to spend the rest of the day working on his Wise County list. I have to admit I was more in the mood for hot tea and a book, so I headed home.
Overall, a very good birding weekend. My feeder birds were not happy with the neglect this weekend though--not a single bird at my feeders (that I saw) Sunday afternoon. I imagine there will be a crowd today though with the storm front/frigid weather moving in.
Good birding!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Great Day Birding (Again!)

A chilly morning at Lake Kickapoo with some super birds.

We continued the pursuit of good birds with the Houston Audubon Society group. We intended to start the morning at Lake Kickapoo, but on the way out, one of the group saw a hooded merganser on a roadside pond, and we all piled out to enjoy several birds--to include greater yellowlegs, pintails, etc. After a nice half hour there, we continued to Lake Kickapoo.

When we got out of our vehicles a flock of Franklin's gulls flew overhead, and we saw some Bonapart's gulls on the water. We saw eared grebes, horned grebes and pied billed grebes. We circled around the lake and stopped for some songbirds. We had the opportunity to watch a swamp sparrow for several minutes--these birds are normally pretty secretive, so this was a special treat. In the same area a little later, we saw a red-shouldered hawk.

Two other wonderful opportunities were a great horned owl and a golden-crowned kinglet up close.

I was able to get a lifer today; we came across some longspurs. These were target birds for our visitors, so we have been trying to find some. There was a mixed flock of McCowan's and chestnut-collared longspurs. Both would have been life birds for me, but I wasn't able to get a good look at the chestnut-collared, so I will have to be content with one new bird today.

While we were trying to get good views of the longspurs, a photographer from the Vernon Daily Record came by. Look for a photo of some of the group on the front page of the paper. I just pulled it up on line--since I stayed away from the photographer, I'm telling you about the short little article.

Tomorrow is this group's last day. Due to a lack of time, we'll have to skip Lucy Park. We're going to bird Lake Wichita and then head out to Lake Arrowhead to find the tundra swans before lunch so the members can get back to Houston at a decent hour.

Good birding!

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Great Day Birding--Even if a Lifer Slipped Through My Fingers

Members of the Houston Audubon Society with me and Vernon birder, Brady Surber, at Copper Breaks State Park.
Today was the first day birding with the Houston Audubon Society. Brady Surber from Vernon took us to some of his favorite birding spots while we tried to find some of the group's target species. We found a couple of the target birds, but we also had a great day with a lot of other good birds.
We left Wichita Falls in the dark and headed out for the Vernon area in Wilbarger county. Brady took us to a location known for good sparrows and the group was happy to see Harris's sparrows, which apparently are less common near Houston than they are here. Some also got a good view of American tree sparrows, which was one of their target species. We had a pretty good day for raptors to include a ferruginous hawk and prairie falcon, two of the target birds we were looking for. We also had a nice Harlan's red tailed hawk. A local rancher allowed us to bird his land as well where we picked up some brewer's blackbirds and lark buntings (a life bird for one of the group.) He has a nice body of water where we were very happy to see a canvasback and some red head ducks.
After lunch we headed to Copper Breaks State Park. There the group was excited to see a rufous crowned sparrow. I missed a pyrrhuloxia, which would have been a life bird for me. Several other people did get to see it, however.
This isn't a total accounting of the birds we saw today, but since we're getting up to do it all again tomorrow, I'm hitting the sack. I'll get around to a weekend list in a few days.
Good birding!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Buffalo Creek Reservoir

I went out to Buffalo Creek Reservoir yesterday to do a little advance scouting for the Houston Audubon Society. You just don't realize how noisy daily life is until you are out where there just aren't that many people. It was so quiet that the sounds of the double-crested cormorants flying overhead were very distinctive as were the quiet calls they sent to one another in flight. I had never heard those sounds before even though there are a lot of cormorants at Lake Wichita. The quiet also made it easier to find the sparrows in the grasses.

You also meet interesting people. I chatted for awhile with two sisters who were looking for a haunted bridge rumored to be in that area. I haven't heard the story, so I wasn't able to help them with directions, but I did recall hearing about someone in town who just started a business connected to local murders, so I gave them that contact information.

It was a relaxing afternoon, which led to me staying longer than I intended. I can't say I had a great outcome on my birding either--hope we do better with the out-of-towners. That's the thing with birding--some days you hit the jackpot and others you get skunked. I did get some nice views of American pipits on the Harmony Rd side of the reservoir though.

But as I always say, a bad day birding is still better than most anything else.

Good birding!


Some members of the Houston Audubon Society are coming up today to spend three days birding this area. I am going to spend the days with them. Another birder from the Vernon area is going to show us some birding spots in his area Friday and again on Saturday morning, and then I am showing the group around Wichita County and maybe Clay County on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning before they head back to Houston.

Three days of birding--life doesn't get better than this.

Good birding!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Do you remember a recent post concerning how non-birders sometimes see birders? A friend sent me a link to the Two-fisted Bird Watcher site, and I really like it. I am adding his blog to this blog roll. If you like reading about birds with a humorous and philosophical take on the hobby, consider taking a look.

Good birding!

Field Sparrows at My Feeder

Field sparrow photo from National Park Service, Wikimedia Commons
At last week's North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meeting we were talking about the birds we haven't seen this year (or have seen in fewer numbers), and I lamented that I hadn't had any field sparrows at my feeders so far. They tend to show up late in the winter, but I was getting a little worried.
Well, Thursday I saw my first and over the weekend had two at my feeders that cooperated with the Project Feederwatch count. Although field sparrows are one of the more drab species of sparrows, I like them because they are so delicate looking. They are smaller than the other feeder sparrows, and their pink legs and pale bill help identify them. Although some range maps show field sparrows as a year around resident of this area, I have only seen them in the winter. This is consistent with what the local North Texs Bird and Wildlife Club checklist shows: common from mid-December to early April and a few isolated sitings April - June.
I hope you are lucky enough to have some of these little guys show at your feeders this winter.
Good birding!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bird Migration Program

River Bend Nature Center is starting the next round of Adult Education programs. I was asked to do a bird-related topic so posted a query on Facebook for possible topics. The big winner was migration. Therefore, on Monday, March 7, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM, I will be presenting "Winged Journeys: Mysteries of Bird Migration."

If you're interested in this topic, please plan to attend. Historically, River Bend has had a small admission fee for non-members and members could attend at no charge. When I see the promotion for the event, I will post those additional particulars. For Texas Master Naturalists, the intent is the program will meet requirements for advanced training credit.

Good birding!

Friday, January 21, 2011

National Squirrel Appreciation Day

In honor of the day, I am using my squirrel mug for my morning tea.

When I wrote my I Love Squirrels some time back, I didn't realize there is a National Squirrel Appreciation Day. January 21 is the day. The National Wildlife Federation has some hints for celebrating the day and helping children appreciate them.

Many animals eat squirrels (where I grew up, that included a lot of people, although I haven't ever tried squirrel myself.) That's part of the reason that although fox squirrels (the species common in our area) can live 18 years, their average life span is much shorter. Most squirrels do not live to reach their first birthday. If they survive that long, then they can expect to reach 4 - 5 years of age in the wild.

Squirrels in our area have two breeding seasons and baby squirrels are being born now. Why any animal outdoors at this time of year would have babies to support is beyond me--this is also the time of year that in some parts of the country food is pretty scarce. Of course, looking at the squirrels who visit my feeders every day, you wouldn't suspect that--they are chubby.

Birders have mixed opinions on squirrels. Obviously, I enjoy their antics. Although we have lots of squirrels in our area, Texas Parks and Wildlife sees some problems for the little guys, especially in east Texas. For those who like squirrels, the paper has plans for squirrel dens.
For today at least, why not put out some food and enjoy the antics of the squirrels in your yard?
Good birding!


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Want to Learn More About Photographing Hummingbirds?

Want to learn more about photographing hummingbirds? The local photography club will be hosting a program on just that topic on Tuesday, February 8, 7 PM at the Kemp Center for the Arts. No RSVP is required; just show up. For more information, contact Terry McKee at

Good birding!

How Do Non-birders See Birders?

When I was growing up, Jane Hathaway on the Beverly Hillbillies was the quintessential birder. Not the persona most want to portray to the world. Although I haven't seen a birder parody on TV for some time, people who are not birders often have stereotypes of what birders are like. My husband went with me to look for the whooping crane on New Year's Eve for a little while and was amazed that there were male birders--in fact, men were the only other birders we saw that day. I don't know where he got the impression that only women watch birds. The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club is about an equal mix.

Non-birders just don't get the hobby. Case in point is an article that came out in Slate magazine last week, The Birder: The Ominous Rise of Amateur Ornithology. I may not agree with everything he says, but it's always interesting to get the perceptions of others.

Good birding!

Monday, January 17, 2011

OK! Got Twitter to Work

I had to get a twitter pro to help (Tina of Excuse Editor), but she figured out why the tweets were not coming over to this blog. As you can see to the left, they are coming over now. Guess it goes to show I can learn new things, albeit painfully.

I don't know if this will be a permanent feature, but we'll try it out and see how it goes. Let me know what you think.

Good birding!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Yes! Tundra Swans

Six tundra swans were still hanging out at the far end of Bridwell tank on this cool, wet and windy morning. They are big enough to get a reasonable look with a good pair of binoculars, but a scope would have been nice.

It was good to see them. In addition, there were a few other birds hanging around the tank or on the other side of the road in Lake Arrowhead: gadwall, mallard, Canada geese, double-crested cormorant, great blue heron, white-crowned sparrow, American kestrel, red-tailed hawk and American coots. I also drove around to the boat ramp on the west side of Lake Arrowhead and picked up a couple of white pelicans. On the drive out and back, also saw numerous meadowlarks, great-tailed grackle, mourning doves, as well as a couple of killdeer and a northern harrier.

I got back and had a Harris's sparrow cleaning up under my feeders at home. I have seen this bird a few times now in the yard, but it appears I have only one. Darn it! There was also a white-winged dove perching on a swinging suet feeder, pecking at the suet. I have never seen them try suet before, but I am beginning to think those birds will try anything.

Good birding!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Best Laid Plans

My intent this morning was to head out to Clay County to look for the tundra swans near Lake Arrowhead after I stopped in to care for my charges at Wild Bird Rescue. During the winter we don't have a lot of birds, but some good ones--currently, we have 2 screech owls, a barred owl, red-tailed hawk and of course, Missi, our educational Mississippi kite.

However, when I got up, the fog was thick--knowing the area the swans were reported is well back from the road, I knew there would be no chance of seeing the birds at that distance with this much fog, so a change in plans was needed.

When I got to Wild Bird Rescue, I decided to walk down to the little inlet and see just how bad the visibility was over the lake. I couldn't see more than about 15 yards with any clarity. In spite of that, the 5 minutes I spent there yielded some good birds, to include several hundred red-winged blackbirds coming up out of the reeds for the day, a Cooper's hawk, a couple of coots, a pied-billed grebe, a marsh wren, a belted kingfisher, and six great blue herons that were spaced every few yards along the bank.

I got very close to the Cooper's hawk. I think he was concentrating on the red-winged blackbirds and contemplating breakfast. He was fairly low in a tree along the bank, so I wasn't more than 5 yards from him and had a chance to get a good look before he decided to move to a taller tree across the inlet.

The marsh wren was a special treat. I hear them occasionally, but they tend to stay in the thick of the reeds and when they pop out, it is only for a second or two. This morning, the wren was scolding and hopping around on top of the reeds, then flew across the path, right in front of me, so I had the opportunity to get a good look.

All in all, a very fruitful 5-minute investment. Right now, I am keeping an eye out on my feeders for Project Feederwatch, waiting for the fog to burn off so I can head out on my swan quest. The little ruby-crowned kinglet as usual, cannot resist the suet cake.

Good birding!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Red-tailed Hawks

Red-tailed hawks are very common in this area, especially in winter. If you are interested in these birds, I suggest you check out the slide show on the Oklahoma State University Veterinary School website.

Good birding!

Experiment with Twitter

Well, I've been hearing so much about Twitter, I decided to play with it. I don't really see how it can be all that exciting, but I may not understand it. Anyway, decided giving it a try with a hobby is relatively low threat. If you have a twitter account and want to follow (not that I expect to make many tweets), then you can find me @birdwithpenny. If you're a tweeting birder (doesn't that sound strange?), let me know and I will follow you for a while.

Unfortunately, the name of my blog was already taken as a Twitter user name, so I had to come up with something else. I can't say the result was all that original, but it fits.

For now, I have the tweets posting to this blog. We'll see how it goes. It may turn out to be a real short experiment and it might turn out to be really cool.

Good birding!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Save the Date! Great Backyard Bird Count Coming!

I really enjoy the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) every year. This year's GBBC will be February 18 - 21.

Whether a new, novice birder or an old hand, the GBBC is a fun activity. You can participate for as little as 15 minutes, so is a good activity for parents/grandparents to do with their children. It would also be a great way to learn more about birds for scouts, school classrooms, or as a home school science activity. You do not have to be able to identify all of the birds you see, so even a person that knows only a handful of birds can take part.

Members of the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists will have a group count in conjunction with Wild Bird Rescue at some time during this count period--I'll post details when they become available.

I will be going to several locations during this 4-day period to make counts. If you want to go with me, email and we'll try to hook up.

Good birding!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Birding Big Year

I always tell myself that "one of these days" I am going to do a birding big year. It probably won't happen, but you can never tell. So I admire those folks who "just do it."

Matt Stenger is one of those people--2011 is his year, and he is out looking for birds. Due to the price of gas and his budget, he is sleeping in his vehicle during his quest. His goal is 716 birds--not a record, but an extremely good number.

I'll be watching Matt's blog to see how things are going.

Good birding!

New Local Birding Blog

A friend of mine has started a new birding blog, and I highly recommend it. Elizabeth is an excellent photographer and often posts her bird photos to her other travel blog and has been kind enough to occasionally allow me to use her photos to illustrate this blog.

However, she has LOTS of bird pictures, so we have a new outlet to enjoy them. Please join her over at "Feathers and Flight" and enjoy photos of local birds.

Good birding!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Whenever you have lots of prey in a small area, you are going to have predators. Anyone who has fed birds has had the occasional predation loss, whether to cats or birds of prey. I look at the predation losses to birds of prey as just part of the birdwatching experience.

I was sitting in the living room reading and heard a loud "wham!" on one of the windows in the kitchen area. I thought to myself, "Well, there goes one of my birds hitting the window." But the noise was exceptionally loud, and I go to lengths to make sure my windows are not shiny clean to reduce reflection and window strikes.

I went to investigate and found a good sized puddle of blood on my back covered porch with a few feathers and a Cooper's hawk struggling to fly away with a large burden in its talons. Although I didn't get a clear look at what the Cooper's hawk was carrying, my guess is one of the obese white-winged doves that hang out in my yard. The hawk should be able to eat off of one of those birds for a week, at least. I'm assuming that the dove hit the window at speed in an attempt to evade the Cooper's Hawk, was stunned, which gave the Cooper's hawk the opportunity to ensure the bird was dead and under control for carrying away to a convenient place to perch and eat.

Good birding!

Whooping Crane Photo

Many thanks to Wayne Holbert for allowing me to use his photo of the whooping crane out near Electra. There weren't many folks who were able to get a reasonably good photo.
Now I understand tundra swans have been seen in Clay county near Lake Arrowhead. There was a great hue and cry a few years ago when we had some tundra swans in Wichita County. I was able to see them and hope to have a chance to find the tundra swans this time as well.
Good birding!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Inca Doves

Photo of Inca Dove from Wikimedia Commons, taken by Clinton and Charles Robertson.

The tiny Inca dove is one of my favorites and I have been discouraged that I have been seeing so few of them lately. Bob Lindsay of Wild Bird Rescue tells me he has several that regularly come to the feeders there, but to me it seems we are seeing fewer in our area all the time.

I had a pair of Inca that were visiting the yard, but I hadn't seen them since last winter. Yesterday, I looked out the window to check my feeders, and there they were. On the ground, eating away. Of course, there is no way to know if these are the same birds, but I was thrilled to see them anyway.

I have rarely heard an Inca dove call and I have been able to find only one recording online. I usually hear them when they fly--their wings sound like dry leaves rustling. Although a pale gray when sitting, in flight they show russet colored feathers under the wing.

Good birding!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lifer! Birding New Year Starts with a Bang

Photo of sandhill cranes, Bryan Miller
Somehow over time the first bird sighting of the year has taken on some sort of significance in my brain. I have no idea why as the first bird is almost always one of the common yard birds and therefore, unlikely to be super special. But still, many yard birds are wonderful--last year, my first was a cardinal.

This year, my first bird sighting was a house sparrow, which was a let down. But fortunately the day went from mundane to spectacular before it was over.

For some days, there have been reports of a whooping crane near Electra--which is a major birding event for this area. I went out with my husband on New Year's Eve and found the flock of 20,000 sandhill cranes, but in spite of an hour looking, did not see the whooping crane. Several other birders also were out--none that I know of got a good look at the bird.

I decided to go back out on New Year's day. I again encountered several birders in the area, all of whom were looking for the same needle in a haystack. The sandhill cranes were spectacular. Just imagine 20,000 of these elegant birds in a small area. Even without the added bonus of a possible whooping crane sighting, this was worth the time and effort by itself.

I spent about 2 hours looking for the whooping crane, with no luck. I told Terry and June McKee (two other birders looking) that I was going to make one last pass and then head home to try again the next day. They were also about ready to pack it in. They went on down the road and I started looking again through various groups flying overhead and finally, there was the distinctive white whooping crane in a small group. Nothing like starting the new year with a lifer! Terry saw the bird a short time later when some hunters stirred up the flock again. I received an email from Bob at Wild Bird Rescue that he and his wife went out later in the day and Phyllis got a sighting. Bob is going out again for another attempt.

As more people look, I am sure there will be more sightings--I just hope some folks get a good photo. If anyone gets a photo they don't mind having posted, please send it to

Good birding!