Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Save the Date! River Bend Lecture Series

On March 7, I will be presenting "Winged Journey: Mysteries of Bird Migration" at River Bend Nature Center. The program is scheduled for 7 - 9 PM. Admission is free for members; $3 for all others.

For my Texas Master Naturalist friends, this program will meet the requirements for advanced training.

Good birding!

Ready for Purple Martins?

Purple martin photo courtesy of Dori on Wikimedia Commons

If you have a purple martin house or plan to put up a purple martin house, now is the time.

According to the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club checklist, purple martins begin to arrive in mid-February. One was spotted Friday at Wild Bird Rescue, where they do maintain a martin house. A local purple martin expert, Mr. Ambrose, reported on the Purple Martin Conservation Association website a scout on February 20. Many other sightings in the last few days in north central Texas are also noted.

Although referred to as "scouts" the early returning birds are older birds, returning to their previous nesting sites.

Most people believe purple martins eat mosquitoes. Not so, despite what many of the boxes say that contain purple martin houses. Purple martins do eat flying insects; however, martins feed primarily during the day and mosquitoes are most active at night. Purple martins eat pretty much any flying insect, bug or spiders floating in the air.

If you want to encourage animals that eat mosquitos, put up a bat box. Bats eat a lot of mosquitoes.

Regardless of their diet, purple martins are beautiful birds that can add a lot of enjoyment to your yard.

Good birding!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Great Backyard Bird Count Wrap-up

Intrepid group of birdwatchers from the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club and the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists taking part in the GBBC at Lake Wichita behind Wild Bird Rescue on Feb 20, 2011. (Photo by EB Hawley)

Four days of birding--does life get any better? For most of my counts I was solo, but the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists decided to have a group count on Feburary 20 at Wild Bird Rescue. We counted for nearly 2 hours at that location and then we broke up, with some of us birding other locations. The day started calm and warm--probably the best weather we've had for a count at that location in years. By the end of the count however, the weather turned more seasonal with a brisk wind churning up the surface water and causing the birds to find sheltered areas.

Our count that morning was:

White pelican 42
Ring-billed gull 7
Great egret 1
Green heron 1
Great blue heron 2
American coot 9
Double-crested cormorant 29
Canada goose 300+
Mallard 4
Ring-necked duck 3
Gadwall 3
Pintail 10
Northern shoveler 2
Duck species 35 (too far across the lake to make positive ID)
Killdeer 2
Pied-billed grebe 5
Bewick's wren
Marsh wren
Cardinal 1
Blue jay 1
Mockingbird 1
Eurasian collared dove 3
White-winged dove 4
Robin 75
Red-winged blackbird 14
Great-tailed grackle 3
European starling 1
House finch 2
American goldfinch 1
House sparrow 1

After the group count, I walked down the chat trail in Lake Wichita Park and over to the barrow pit for an hour. My best sighting was right at the entrance to the trail--a ladder-backed woodpecker. The wind was keeping the birds down, but the temperature encourage the turtles to sun themselves. Although I have seen a few turtle heads popping up through the surface of the water lately, this is the first day I saw large numbers of turtles.

My count for that leg was:
Mallard 2
Bufflehead 22
Ruddy duck 3
Double-crested cormorant 9
Pied-billed grebe 1
American coot 7
Turkey vulture 1
Red-tailed hawk 1
White-winged dove 5
Eurasian collared dove 2
Mourning dove 2
Ring-billed gull 1
Ladder-backed woodpecker 1
Cardinal 3
Blue jay 1
Mockingbird 1
Robin 37
Yellow-rumped warbler 2
Cedar waxwing 15
Red-winged blackbird 1
European starling 8
Carolina wren 1
White-crowned sparrow 5
Song sparrow 3
American goldfinch 5

This morning I decided to finish my count at the Lake Wichita spillway, where I started the count. The weather was more typical for this time of year--45 degrees and a brisk wind.
The morning sun always make bird ID a challenge, but there are almost always good birds there first thing.
After checking the spillway area, I headed down the gravel area and drainage ditch where there is good cover for smaller birds. Although perhaps not as good morning as the first day, it was still a good count.
In an hour I saw:
Mallard 7
Green-winged teal 21
White pelican 67
American coot 48
Pied-billed grebe 1
Greater yellowlegs 1
Killdeer 2
Western sandpiper 8
Great blue heron 1
Ring-billed gull 3
Mourning dove 1
Red-winged blackbird 9
Great-tailed grackle 9
Eastern meadowlark 1
European starling 4
Cardinal 2
Blue jay 1
Yellow-rumped warbler 9
Eastern phoebe 1
Robin 16
Cedar waxwing 34
Dark-eyed junco 2
Field sparrow 3
Savannah sparrow 1
White-crowned sparrow 2
House sparrow 1
Overall, an enjoyable four days outside enjoying the birds.
Good birding!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Super Morning at Lucy Park

A little downy woodpecker that perched just above my head at Lucy Park (lower center of photo.)
This morning I headed out to Lucy Park for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) and spent two very enjoyable hours walking the trails and watching birds.
I took the circle trail and then cut back into the less visited areas of the park at the pagoda and followed the outside dirt trail around until it came out of the woods again on the circle trail near the canoe launch area. When I got back to where I started, I took the short trail to the Falls and back. So a total of about 3 miles.
Lucy Park is one of those places that tends toward one extreme or the other. You either have a great birding morning or it's a bust. I know several birders who tell me they seldom bird Lucy any more because they haven't gotten the birds they used to get. Well, it's mornings like today that keep Lucy Park high on my birding list.
There are always a lot of homeless people in the park, and I have never had a problem, but I am also careful, since I usually bird alone. I was coming up from the back side of the park when I heard a lot of noise off to the side in a large clump of giant reed. A homeless man came out of what appeared to be a good size camp in the middle of the reeds. There is no way to be quiet in dried reeds. Anyway, he didn's see me so I waited for him to head off before I set out again. However, when I got to the open field which is normally great for sparrows, there he was. He was carrying a makeshift bow. Normally, when one of the homeless see me, they immediately turn in the opposite direction and quickly head off. This one didn't, which was a little disconcerting. However, he did place his bow on the ground, stayed in the open and didn't move, so I could skirt the outside of the field to pass him at a good distance. I was disappointed that I wasn't able to spend time in the meadow as there was a lot of bird activity, but safety first. Like I said, I have never had any problems, but there is no sense in pushing my luck.
Although I was disappointed about the sparrows, this turned out to be a good thing because it led to one of my best sightings of the morning. Since I wasn't able to spend the time on meadow, I went down a brushy area I don't normally bird in the main area of the park to try to pick up those sparrows I missed. I didn't get the sparrows, but I did come across two golden-crowned kinglets--a good spot. While I was watching the golden-crowned kinglets, a ruby-crowned kinglet came down within arm's reach of me to check me out--pretty much eye-to-eye. I got a very good look sans binoculars at the curious little guy.
Shortly after this spot, I had the downy woodpecker perch just over my head and then a brown creeper at eye level in a tree not 6 feet in front of my face. Of course, by the time I got my little camera out, he was well out of range of a reasonable photo.
Here's my GBBC list for Lucy Park this morning. Remember the count is the highest number of a species seen at one time, not a cumulative count. For example, I saw 3 red-breasted nuthatches this AM, but I saw them one at a time, so the count was 1. The large robin flocks of a few weeks ago have broken up for nesting, so there were only one or two birds at a time counted, even though dozens were in the park.
Turkey vulture (the first in a while) 1
Red-tailed hawk 1
Cardinal 1
Blue jay 3
Carolina chickadee 4
Mallard 6 (I did not count the ducks or the geese at the duck pond as I consider them domestics, but did count ones seen on the river.)
Robin 3
Red-breasted nuthatch 1
Brown creeper 1
Red-shafter flicker 2
Red-bellied woodpecker 1
Downy woodpecker 1
Yellow-rumped warbler 7
Ruby-crowned kinglet 1
Golden-crowned kinglet 2
Carolina wren 1
Tufted titmouse 1
Black-crested titmouse 1
Eastern phoebe
Northern mockingbird 2
Rock pigeon 6
Mourning dove 1
Eurasian collared dove 2
White-winged dove 3
American goldfinch 17
Cedar waxwing 27
Brown-headed cowbird 2
Great-tailed grackle 2
Common grackle 300+
Dark-eyed junco 5
Fox sparrow 1
Brown thrasher
So a great morning.
Good birding!

GBBC Results River Bend Nature Center

View of the River Bend trails from just under the pavilion at the top of the switchback trail.
Since I have more places to bird than days of the Great Backyard Bird Count, some places get birded late in the day. As River Bend doesn't open as early as I like to bird, that means it is on the late list. Late birding is never as good as early morning, so I wasn't expecting a lot of birds, but it was a good short (1 hour) count anyway.
By far my best bird was a great horned owl that flushed from his roost when I passed too close. He was roosting fairly low in the tree. If I had seen him before he flushed, I would have gone around, but I didn't.
Overall a nice walk with a few good birds:
Great horned owl 1
Blue jay 2
Cardinal 2
Red-belllied woodpecker 1
House finch 1
Dark-eyed junco 6
Ruby-crowned kinglet 1
White-winged dove 4
Carolina chickadee 1
Black-tufted titmouse
Cedar waxwing 14
House sparrow 1
European starling 1
Good birding!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Great Kick-off for Great Backyard Bird Count

Vacated Cliff swallow nests being used by house sparrows under Kemp overpass at the Lake Wichita spillway trail.
I decided to kick-off my Great Backyard Bird Count at the Lake Wichita Spillway as it is one of my favorite birding spots in Wichita Falls. I wasn't disappointed.
For the GBBC you count the highest number of a particular species seen at one time during the count period. You don't accumulate the counts as you do for the Christmas Count. I had a good morning. I did a 40 minute count and saw:
Canada goose 2
White pelican 39
Ring-billed gull 7
Gull species 180 (probably predominantly or entirely ring-billed, but they were spread out all over the lake, so to far away to see clearly)
Mallard 4
Blue-winged teal 25
Red head duck 1
American coot 31
Common merganser 1
Killdeer 3
Pied-billed grebe 2
Great blue heron 1
Greater yellowlegs 1
Kestrel 1
Red-tailed hawk 2
Meadowlark species (probably eastern) 16
Eropean starling 4
Red-winged blackbird 3
Robin 7
Cedar waxwing 31
Eastern phoebe 1
Song sparrow 1
House sparrow 8
I walked down to the overpass because I heard a lot of house sparrows (there were many more than the 8 indicated, but this is the number visible at one time). They were again building nests in the abandoned cliff swallow nests under the overpass. I saw them doing that last year, but don't recall seeing any active nests once the cliff swallows returned, so I will watch this year. I wonder if the cliff swallows evict them and whether the house sparrows are able to fledge young before the cliff swallows return.
My favorite sighting of the morning was the common merganser as I don't see them often, although the redhead duck was also a treat. However, I was rewarded for being out early with a nice long view of a beaver heading out.
Overall, a great start to the GBBC weekend. I hopre you'll get out and enjoy the birds during the 4-day count.
Good birding!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Costa Rica Program a Hit

We had a nice turnout at the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meeting last night for a program on Birds of Costa Rica. It certainly made me jealous--this is my #1 birding wish list location.

Katherine Smith of Wild Birds Unlimited is planning another trip, possibly this fall. If you have a chance to go, do it.

Good birding!

Don't Forget the Great Backyard Bird Count

Don't forget the Great Backyard Bird Count starts this Friday. I am planning to bird some on all four days. Since I do have some work to do on Friday and Monday, I can't take the entire day off to bird, but I have blocked off time both mornings for a couple of hours and plan to bird a lot on Saturday and Sunday.

For those of you who participate in Project Feederwatch, you can upload your information into the GBBC as well. There are some differences, however. For GBBC each day would be a separate checklist submission. Also, for the GBBC you can count flyover birds, whereas for Project Feederwatch you can only count the birds in your yard using your feeders/water features.

If anyone wants to go with me on any GBBC counts, feel free to contact me at txbirds@gmail.com and we'll try to coordinate schedules. I will definitely be at the GBBC count at Wild Bird Rescue on Sunday, 20 February at 7:30 AM.

Good birding!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Spring Has Sprung

Photo of Northern Mockingbird by Ken Thomas, Wikimedia Commons

I noted a cardinal and an eastern meadowlark singing a few weeks ago before the big ice storm, but overall the birds have been fairly quiet. Not so this week. Yesterday I watched and listened to a mockingbird, and this morning the neighborhood is full of territorial songs. The spring competition for prime nesting sites and mates has definitely begun.

Good birding!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Follow up on Doves

In an earlier post on Eurasian collared doves, I linked an article on the expansion of Eurasian collared doves. I just received my Cardinal newsletter from the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club, and editor Terry McKee found an article from a 2000 Cardinal noting that Verna Pickren saw a Eurasian collared dove in Wichita Falls on January 14, 2000. What a difference a decade can make!

Good birding!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Birds of Costa Rica Presentation

Interested in learning more about the birds of Costa Rica? Katherine Smith of Wild Birds Unlimited will be speaking to the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club on Tuesday, February 15 about some of the birds seen on last fall's trip to Costa Rica. There will be a slide presentation and light refreshments, courtesy of club members.

The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meets Tuesday, Feb 15, at 7PM at the NALC Building on Southwest Parkway, next door to Wichita Valley Nursery.

Hope to see you there!

Good birding!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hate It When That Happens

Every birder makes errors in identification, for a lot of reasons. But nonetheless, I hate it when it happens to me, especially when I do it so everyone knows. In an earlier post I put up some pictures of an alleged hermit thrush. Well, now that I look, it is obvious the bird is a fox sparrow. Still a good bird, but I see them a lot more often than I do a hermit thrush.

All I can say is that it happens to every birder and sometimes the difference is sooooo obvious, I want to smack myself in the head. But I am in good company. We joke at Wild Bird Rescue about our shapeshifting birds on occasion. Sometimes a bird comes in and during intake we identify it as one bird. Later you walk by the cage and it's like you're looking at an entirely new bird, and we end up changing the ID. Of course babies are harder to identify--they sometimes change into a different bird as they grow up and more adult features show up. There just isn't much in the way of baby bird ID guides out there. But that's more understandable than some of the blatant field errors.

Why do we make mistakes? It could be a number of reasons.

  • Some birds just look a lot alike. Telling a western meadowlark from an eastern is iffy business if the bird is not singing.
  • Sometimes there just isn't a lot of time to make the identification. Trying to identify a sparrow in the nanosecond you see it go from one place to another is a challenge.
  • The lighting could be bad and you cannot see colors or identifying marks.
  • No bird looks exactly like the field guide shows. That's why many show different views of the bird and most birders have more than one field guide--they all show the bird a little differently.
  • Sometimes you "want" a bird and can pick out the field marks you want to see and not see the rest.
  • Plumages change throughout the year and sometimes from one year to another.
  • Some species have a lot of variation. Red-tailed hawks for example are notorious for the variation in their plumages.
  • We're human. We just get it wrong.

So I confess to being human, but I don't have to like it.

Good birding!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Great Backyard Bird Count Coming

Plan now to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), Feb 18 - 21. This is really a great outdoor activity for families and could be incorporated into science activities for home schools (or public schools, but that seems to be much tougher to achieve.)
You can take part for as little as 15 minutes and you don't have to be an expert on birds to take part. This is a count that allows you to indicate you weren't able to identify all birds, and it's perfectly OK.
For those who prefer to see what it's all about by taking part in a group activity, the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists will be hosting a count on Sunday, February 20, at 7:30 AM behind Wild Bird Rescue, 4611 Lake Shore Dr. With the wind off Lake Wichita, it can be chilly, so more layers than you may think you need that morning.
Good birding!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Dove News

Like everyone else, I had a passel of white-winged doves along with a couple of mourning doves at my feeders during the recent snow/ice storm. Surprisingly, I didn't get any Eurasian collared doves; I was disappointed to have no Inca doves come in. The Incas are not very cold tolerant, so I hope they did OK.

A fellow Texas Master Naturalist sent me a Facebook meesage that she had 9 dead mourning doves on her porch and a neighbor had 5. I wonder what's up with that? I didn't have any at my place. Someone also posted on OKBIRDS that they have had a lot of dove deaths, but they were related to the birds being lethargic, sheltering in a barn and being killed by cats and horses.

There was also a post on TEXBIRDS the other day about Eurasian collared doves that had some interesting information about the expansion of that species in the US. Fortunately, the author posted an article on the topic elsewhere I can share with you.

Good birding!

Snow Day Feeder Visitors

No surprise that the feeders in the yard have been busy. Although I don't have a good camera and an not a very good photographer, I thought I would share a few photos anyway.

In the first photo you can see some dark-eyed juncos and some house finches in the side area of the yard, picking up seed I scatter on the ground.

When open ground peeks through the snow and ice, there are often special birds coming to the feeders we rarely see. The best bird that showed at my place was a hermit thrush. He came every day, Tuesday - Friday morning. Of course, once the snow/ice started to melt on Friday afternoon, he was gone. I did get a couple of pictures. I wasn't that close and he was in a shady area, but I think if you look carefully you can still make out what he is. The hermit thrush is at the lower right of the next two photos. You might have to click on the photos to get an good enlargement to see well. You can just see the reddish tail in the photos, which was very distinctive.

He disappeared Friday afternoon once the snow and ice melted enough to give him access to the ground again. However, we are due for some more snow tonight and again later in the week, so perhaps he will be back.

Some other good birds not mentioned previously were yellow-rumped warblers and gold finches. Although I generally have some gold finches in the winter, this year they didn't come until the weather got bad.

I went through a lot of bird seed this round. I may have enough for the next front--since Wild Birds Unlimited is not open today, we'll hope so.

Good birding!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow and Ice Makes for Busy Bird Feeders

Yesterday (and so far today) has been excellent for watching feeder birds. I posted the photo of the spotted towhee yesterday morning. I looked out the window later and there were three towhees. The most I have had at one time before is two. I also had a brown thrasher yesterday and already this morning. The thrasher is a very rare visitor to my feeder. The juncos, cardinals and house finches are pretty thick as well as the ever present house sparrows and white-winged doves. I have had surprisingly few blue jays.

I need to "man up" this morning and get out to refill feeders, spread more seed on the ground and spread more bark butter on the tree trunks.

I hear we're due for rolling brown outs throughout the state today, and the roads are still a sheet of ice. Authorities are still asking people to stay home and off the roads unless it is an emergency, so try to stay warm and enjoy all the birds at your feeders.

Good birding!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Well, our annual winter storm has arrived. Heavy sleet started at around nightfall last night. This turned to snow overnight with some heavy winds. Cold, cold, cold!

I went out this morning to knock the ice off the bird feeders and to spread some seed on the ground for the juncos and other ground feeding birds (see photo, left.)

The birds didn't even wait for me to go back inside before coming out for the food. It will be a challenge for them today to keep warm. The squirrels are also braving the wind for the sunflower seeds.

You may not be able to see through the fence, the spotted towhee who showed up even before light to look for a handout. Since I don't have to go anywhere, I can spend the day watching the birds in my yard. I might also start working on my March 7 presentation at River Bend Nature Center on bird migration. (In between working on "real work" stuff.)

How much better can life be?

Good birding!

My List for the Houston Audubon Field Trip

Well, here is the list of birds that I saw/heard and recognized from the weekend birding with the Houston group mentioned in several previous posts. This list is not all inclusive of what we saw as several people saw birds that I missed. These are just the ones from my list.

You will see there are some birds that were not seen that are relatively common, but you get what you get when you go out. I tried to group the birds by type--I didn't try to stick with taxonomic order.

Sandhill crane
Great blue heron
Great egret

Long-billed curlew
Wilson's snipe
Least sandpiper
Western sandpiper
Greater yellowlegs

Ring-billed gull
Franklin's gull
Bonapart's gull

Tundra swan
White pelican
Canada goose
Hooded merganser
American coot
Double-crested cormorant
Pied billed grebe
Eared grebe
Horned grebe
Redhead duck
American wigeon
Green-winged teal
Ruddy duck
Ring-necked duck
Northern shoveler
Lesser scaup

Northern bobwhite

Flicker (both red and yellow-shafted)
Red-bellied woodpecker
Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Red-tailed hawk
Ferruginous hawk
Red-shouldered hawk
Sharp-shinned hawk
Northern harrier
American kestrel
Prairie falcon
Great horned owl

Rock pigeon
Mourning dove
White-winged dove
Eurasian collared dove

Belted kingfisher

Eastern meadowlark
Brewers blackbird
Brown-headed cowbird
Great-tailed grackle
Red-winged blackbird
European starling

Northern cardinal
Northern mockingbird
American robin
Cedar waxwing
Loggerhead shrike
Brown thrasher
Eastern phoebe
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Golden-crowned kinglet
House finch
Carolina chickadee
Black-crested titmouse
Yellow-rumped warbler
Lark bunting

Rock wren
Bewick's wren
Carolina wren

Horned lark
McCowan's longspur
Dark-eyed junco
White crowned sparrow
Harris' sparrow
Rufous-crowned sparrow
Vesper sparrow
Spotted towhee
House sparrow
Savannah sparrow
Song sparrow
Swamp sparrow

Not bad for a few days birding.

Good birding!