Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Funky Nest Contest

OK, so this isn't exactly a "funky" nest, but it's a nest.

Ever seen a bird build its nest in an odd place? Here's your chance to share your photo or video and perhaps win a prize. The deadline for entries is June 1. The rules are on their website.

This contest is part of the Lab's year around Celebrate Urban Birds citizen science program.

Good birding!

TOS Spring Meeting

The spring meeting of the Texas Ornithological Society (TOS) will be in Junction, TX, May 5 - 7. Once again, this meeting happens to be on a weekend I already have commitments. One of these days, I am once again going to make a TOS meeting. It has been a long time. However, if you can make it, this is an opportunity to meet a lot of nice people and see a lot of good birds. Dr. Kent Rylander, author of The Behavior of Texas Birds will be the keynote speaker on Saturday night. A variety of field trips provide the opportunity to see some rare birds and species unique to the area. For more information on the meeting and field trips, see the TOS website. The earlier you register, the more likely you will be able to get on the field trips you want. Good birding!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Foggy Morning

Sunday morning I went birding at Lake Wichita Park. The fog made for a damp morning, which was a pleasant change of pace. The morning was also much cooler than our recent weather--in the mid 40's and overcast.

I took the photo to the left to show the fog. However, if you didn't know the lake, you probably wouldn't think there was much. The lake is not that big, so the opposite shoreline is usually much more distinct.

What is obvious from the photo is the low lake level. If we don't get some good rains soon, it will be a miserable summer for people, plants and wildlife.

Perhaps because of the weather, the birding was adequate at best, although I did see my first scissor-tailed flycatchers of the year (yes, Bob, I realize you saw your first a week earlier...) and two eared grebes on the barrow pit. Other than that, it was a pretty lackluster morning for birds. The fog made up for the lack of birds though.

In Lake Wichita Park I saw: great blue heron, ring-billed gull, mallard, American coot, eaared grebe, pied-billed grebe, white pelican, double-crested cormorant, bufflehead, northern shoveler, ring-necked duck, pintail, ruddy duck, killdeer, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, white-winged dover, cardinal, red-winged blackbird, spotted towhee, robin, northern mockingbird, scissor-tailed flycatcher, yellow-rumped warbler (both myrtle and Audubon's), song sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, great-tailed grackle, European starling, dark-eyed junco, blue jay, and house sparrow.

I then took a quick pass at the spillway on the other side of the lake and added Wilson's snipe, blue-winged teal, greater yellowlegs, gadwall and barn swallow to my list for the morning.

So overall a decent morning.

Good birding!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Interesting Short Video on Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act

A short video on the impact of the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act on our birds.

Good birding!

Time to Get Your Hummingbird Feeders Ready

Tiny patient at Wild Bird Rescue (left)

Hummingbirds are moving back into Texas. The reports on TEXBIRDS have been getting closer by the day. This morning I saw a post of a black-chinned in Weatherford, so they should be arriving here within days. The ruby-throated hummingbirds are usually a couple of weeks behind.

Although plantings of native flowering plants is the best option for attracting these tiny birds, many of us also like to attract them to areas we can watch them with feeders. If that's the case for you, it's time to get your hummingbird feeders ready to go. Make sure they are clean. Plain soap and water works. I used to get really frustrated trying to make sure all the little crevices and tiny holes were clean until I happened upon this little trick--use Efferdent tablets. They are very helpful in cleaning tiny areas. You can also use vinegar and baking soda mix (just like unplugging your drains.)

Don't buy commercial nectar. It is expensive and has red dye. The red in the feeders is enough to attract the birds. They could care less what the nectar looks like--you don't see red nectar in flowers, do you? To make your own nectar much more cheaply, mix 1 c water and 1/4 c granulated sugar. You can stir until the sugar is dissolved--I usually boil the water, stir in the sugar and then let it cool. The sugar dissolves more quickly and thoroughly in hot water. If you make more nectar than your feeder holds, you can put the sugar water in a covered container and store it in the refrigerator for a few days.

You should dump any nectar in your feeder every few days. You will need to do it more often when it is hot than when the temperatures are moderate. Always clean out your feeders if you see any cloudiness.

When you place your feeders, hang them close to cover (trees and shrubs) but not under an overhang. Hummingbirds generally shoot up when startled by predators and prefer to see open sky above the feeders.

So get out your feeders and get ready to enjoy these beautiful and interesting birds.

Good birding!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Support Wild Bird Rescue This Saturday

Remember that you can support Wild Bird Rescue this Saturday at their first-ever volksmarch fundraiser. Volksmarching is a wonderful way for families and friends to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise in a non-competitive environment.

In addition to the volksmarch, Wild Bird Rescue will have a festival with beer and brats, live music and children's activities. The festival and volksmarch will be all day, between 8 AM and 6 PM. $5 for entry to the festival and $5 to participate in the volksmarch. Volksmarch participants will receive a patch.

The route runs through Lake Wichita Park and along the dam, so there is an opportunity for birdwatching for those who enjoy the activity.

Baby bird season is upon us--help raise money for this worthwhile organization while doing good things for yourself.

Hope to see you there.

Good birding!

Nice On-line ID Guide for Warblers

I enjoyed these photos and some of the ID tips from this online warbler ID posting, so I thought I would share. Thanks David McDonald for some beautiful photos.

Good birding!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Like Birds? Keep Your Cats Indoors

I got beat up on this topic once before on another blog, but just read another article so thought I would beat the drum some more. Not only are cats which are allowed to run loose more likely to be hit by a car, killed by a predator or be injured in other ways, they are the #1 threat to wild birds, and a significant hazard to other wildlife.

The American Bird Conservancy has launched a Cats Indoors campaign to make people aware of the threat cats pose to birds.

I understand the strong feelings people have on this issue. I am a cat owner and early in life allowed my cats freedom to go in and out. But no more. My 17-year-old cat has never been outside once we got her at the age of 6 weeks. Do your cats and the environment a favor and keep your pet cats in the house.

Good birding!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book review: Hawks at a Distance

I received a preview copy of Jerry Liguori's Hawks at a Distance from Princeton University Press and like it.

I have other identification guides specific for hawks: Peterson's Hawks of North America, Wheeler and Clark's A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors and Dunne, Sibley and Clark's Hawks in Flight. All are good resources and I use them regularly. So why another?

Hawks at a Distance focuses on hawks as we often see them: in the air and far away. There are numerous pictures for each species. One aspect I really like is a discussion in each species of hints to tell one species from another, not just in terms of their appearance, but in how they move. For example, in the species discussion for the sharp-shinned hawk, Ligouri remarks, "Sharp-shinned Hawks are small, bouyant and unsteady....The wing beats of Sharp-shinned Hawks are very quick and lack power..." It's details like this that can help differentiate between species.

There are lots of photos. Most are small, without fine detail, which is how we see the birds in the field. But similar species are shown side by side with text explaining the details to look for to tell one species from another similar species. The series of photos and explanations of the sharp-shinned versus the Cooper's this an example.

Another thing I liked was the Shapes section at the back of the book, showing several low contrast photos for each type of hawk at a variety of aspects.

Overall, this book has a lot to offer hawk watchers of all levels of experience.

The paperback version is $19.95 from Princeton University Press. I found it for $11.86 on Amazon. Remember, you can support Wild Bird Rescue by ordering from Amazon through their web site.

Good birding!

Pretty Spring Morning at Lake Wichita

Ruby-crowned kinglet. Photo courtesy of US National Park Service

Spring is definitely here, although I do wish we were getting the "spring showers" spoken of in the little ditty. However, the trees and shrubs are beginning to leaf out. This is the excellent time of year when the birds are singing their heads off and the nascent foliage allows you to get a good look at birds. Judging from the change in my yard from one day to the next, I would say, those good views will be gone in a week, even without rain.

Yesterday was a little overcast and breezy, but it was still a good morning for birds at Lake Wichita. One of my favorite sightings of the day was a ruby-crowned kinglet in one of the live oak trees at the corner or the football field. Although ruby-crowned kinglets are very common over the winter, this little guy was getting ready for mating season. He was singing his heart out, and I got an excellent view of his ruby crown--usually, the crown isn't visible.

I also had a flock of 25 -30 sandpiper-type birds fly over my head. I initially thought Wilson's snipe, but they seemed a little slender. Unfortunately, I didn't get a good look to be certain of their identification, but it was still an awesome site--I don't think they were much more than arm's length above my head.

There were still a number of different types of ducks on the barrow pit, although not large numbers of any particular species. The ducks will be heading back north soon, so I enjoy seeing them while I can. There were still several cinnamon teal on the water.

I then drove past Wild Bird Rescue and was pleased to see a purple martin on the wire--hopefully, they are moving into the popular marting house there.

Sightings Sunday included: American coot, ruddy duck, bufflehead, ring-necked duck, blue-winged teal, cinnamon teal, gadwall, northern pintail, mallard, northern soveler, Canada goose, ring-billed gull, killdeer, turkey vulture, northern harrier, hairy woodpecker, northern flicker, rock pigeon, mourning dove, white-winged dove, Eurasian collared dove, tufted titmouse, ruby-crowned kinglet, American goldfinch, cedar waxwing, American robin, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, blue jay, Eastern phoebe, Carolina wren, yellow-rumped warbler, red-winged blackbird, great-tailed grackle, brown-headed cowbird, white-crowned sparrow, song sparrow, savannah sparrow.

Good birding!

Great Blue Heron Meal Time

Saturday, I was at Lake Arrowhead State Park for a park clean up with the Friends of Lake Arrowhead State Park and the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists. After the cleanup, my husband, Bryan, came out to the park to check out the fishing. As we were leaving the boat ramp area, I saw a great blue heron in the shallows and joked to Bryan that the heron had caught a fish. However, when I put my binoculars on him, he had a snake.

My husband isn't much of a birdwatcher, but when he heard the bird had a snake, he had to stop and watch. He hates snakes, so got a charge out of watching the heron kill the snake and swallow it. It was an interesting interlude.

Good birding!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Book Review: The Crossley ID Guide, Eastern Birds

There has been a lot of hype in the birding community about The Crossley ID Guide. Newly published by Princeton University Press, the ID Guide is oversized (even larger than the Sibley guide.)

Obviously, this is not the best choice to take into the field, but the book is an excellent resource to supplement any birder's library. Most of us have several field guides to use when trying to make an identification. All have different photographs or artwork to illustrate field marks, and it seems sometimes I have to pull out 3 or 4 different field guides to find the information to help me make a decision on the bird's identification. The Crossley Guide attempts to overcome this by having several pictures of the birds, with various poses, at varying distances, making it more likely you'll see some clue that fits your observation. The pictures are superimposed on a background of likely habitat. I like the fact that many of the pictures are much larger than the pictures usually seen in field guides--especially now that my eyes are getting a little older. Which leads to the text portion. Because of the size and detail of the pictures, there is little room left on the page for text. Consequently, the text size is smaller than I would like.

A couple of things I particularly liked:
- the 4-letter alpha code for each species. Some birders use these codes when texting from the field as bird names tend to be long.
- the ID tip that highlights a particular tip to identifying the species.

In the introduction, the author indicates he isn't a fan of a lot of verbiage. I personally like a little more background on the birds, but that isn't the primary function of an ID guide, so this is not a major detractor.

There is an online supplement that adds some additional information and apparently, more will be coming to the online site.

The book is a hefty $35, but well worth the investment.

Good birding!

Herons on the Move

Saturday morning I stopped at Wild Bird Rescue and noticed several white pelicans heading into the small cove at the boat ramp. The pelicans seem to like this little cove to herd fish. It is not easy to get close to the pelicans--they are able to see you approach some distance away and take flight. However, I decided to give it a try and to see if I could get a reasonable picture with my little point and shoot camera. As usual, the birds toook flight before I was able to get very close, although I did get a reasonable picture.

What as a surprise was as the pelicans started to get agitated, 10 great blue herons (GBH) also flushed up out of the cove. Although the herons are frequent vsitors to the cove, 1o is a large number for this small an area. There was also a green heron, a frequent visitor to the cove.

I am thinking these are migrating great blue heron. Although the GBH is a year round resident of our area, they do migrate--they ddo leave the northernmost portion of their range in the winter. It has always been a question in my mind whether the birds we have here in the winter are the same birds we have in the summer. Do the birds from up north just shift southward, and then like a set of dominoes, the birds continue to shift south, or do the northern birds just go to the southernmost portion of their range. I don't think anyone has a clear answer to that question.

This morning, I stopped again. In addition to several GBH this morning, there was a small flock of 5 great egrets in the cove. Although I periodically saw a single great egret this winter, this larger group signals the return of our summer herons and egrets.

After checking out the cove, I headed over to the chat trail and the barrow pit. My favorite sighting of the morning was 2 white-throated sparrows. Although they are here in the winter, they tend to be somewhat secretive, you you don't see them much. In addition to these birds, today's sightings included: double-crested cormorant, killdeer, Canada goose, northern pintail, bufflehead, ring-necked duck, mallard, American coot, ruddy duck, Wilson's snipe, Eurasian collared dove, mourning dove, northern mockingbird, yellow-rumped warbler, robin, cedar waxwing, blue jay, cardinal, Carolina chickadee, Eastern phoebe, European starling, red-winged blackbird, great-tailed grackle, white-crowned sparrow, dark-eyed sparrow, and song sparrow.

Good birding!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spring Meetings for Birders

Every state has an ornithological society where birders meet to learn more about birds, take field trips in hopes of seeing new birds, and socialize with people of similar interests.

Both thee Oklahoma and Texas societies have meetings coming up in May.

The Texas Ornithological Society (TOS) has its spring meeting May 5 -7 in Junction, TX. I enjoy the TOS meetings, but this one (again) conflicts with another commitment--I am speaking at a conference in Oklahoma that same weekend. Bummer.

The Oklahoma Ornithological Society (OOS) has its spring meeting May 13 - 15 in Black Mesa, OK. I haven't yet had a chance to attend any of the OOS meetings, but I am sure they are well worth attending.

The state ornithological societies depend upon the help of volunteers and most of the attendees are budget conscious, so you will find you can get a lot of birding done for a reasonable price. Your hotel (and right now, gas) will probably be your biggest expense. I know the organizers do their best to negotiate good rates at decent hotels.

If you can make one of these events, please do and consider joining these organizations if you are able. In addition to these meetings, the organizations support education and conservation programs that benefit the birds. The TOS has several sanctuaries open to their members. It is unfortunate that all of them are on the Texas coast, but you can indeed see some nice birds--I have visited some of these sanctuaries on previous trips. I would be nice to have different ecological areas represented--just takes money and volunteer time.

Good birding!

Winged Migration Program Tonight

"Winged Migration: Mysteries of Bird Migration" is tonight at River Bend Nature Center, 7 - 9 PM. For Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists, this program counts for advanced training credit.

Admission is free for RBNC members; $3 for non-members.

Good birding!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cinnamon Teal on Lake Wichita Barrow Pit

Cinnamon teal by Dick Daniels, Wikimedia Commons

It was a gorgeous morning at Lake Wichita Park this morning. When I left the house, it was 35 degrees, but sunny with NO WIND.

I decided to take the Chat trail and walk around the barrow pit. It started out an average morning in terms of birds but soon improved.

When I got to the barrow pit, I walked around the perimeter. I was trying to get a better look at some ducks in the center of the pond. When I was on the far side some ducks flushed from the reeds. When they first came up and I saw the wing pattern, I thought "blue winged teal" although the birds seemed a little large. It's good I kept an eye on them as they circled and landed again on the opposite side, as they turned out to be cinnamon teal--much less common in our area and very beautiful ducks.

Overall it turned out to be a very nice walk, with the following birds seen:

Buffledhead, American coot, ring-necked duck, cinnamon teal, mallard, pintail, killdeer, common merganser, pied-billed grebe, great blue heron, ring-billed gull, white pelican, Eurasian collared dove, white-winged dove, northern flicker, downy woodpecker, red-tailed hawk, turkey vulture, American robin, northern cardinal, blue jay, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, ruby-crowned kinglet, American goldfinch, cedar waxwing, yellow-rumped warbler, mockingbird, Eastern phoebe, red-tailed blackbird, great-tailed grackle, dark-eyed junco, Harris's sparrow, savannah sparrow, song sparrow, and white-crowned sparrow.

Good birding!