Monday, May 30, 2011

A Morning at the New House

I took a little while to sit outside on my patio enjoying the morning before moving more stuff between the old house and the new. The white-winged doves are thick; I counted 25 on my garage roof. I also heard a mourning dove and Eurasian collared dove. So far, the birds have been the common yard birds--blue jays, robins, cardinals, house sparrows, starlings, chimney swifts, weatern kingbirds and common grackles. As you can tell, there is much to be done in improving the yard habitat for the birds. But at least there are birds. It's a start.

Good birding!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Why Birds?

Left: Ruby-throated hummingbird patient at Wild Bird Rescue.

Last night I was at a dinner and someone asked me, "What is interesting about birdwatching?" I did a poor job of answering the question, in part because I did not want to get cranked up and talk too long, as I can be prone to do on one of my favorite topics.

I like to use the ruby-throated hummingbird as an example of why birds are so interesting. If you will hold in your hand 4 cotton balls, you can feel the approximate weight of a full-grown hummingbird. The bird itself is about the size of one of those cotton balls. Now that you have an idea of how small and delicate one of these little guys is, imagine that bird flying 600 miles non-stop over the Gulf of Mexico on migration--18 hours.

We think of flight when we think of birds, although not all birds fly. There are a number of physiological adaptations in addition to the anatomical ones that make flight possible. Flying uses a lot of energy and the muscles have to be well oxygenated. Consequently, oxygen has to be carried by the blood in large amounts. A hummingbird at rest has a heart rate of about 250 beats per minutes, which can rise to 1200 beats per minute in flight--the aveerage heart rate for humans is 70 beats per minute.

Not only does the heart beat fast but the heart empties entirely with each heartbeat. Our heart always has some blood in it. The amount of pressire required to empty the heart is substantial--therefore, birds have high blood pressure, making them susceptible to heart attacks. In rehab, we have to be careful about stress on birds that already have health issues when they are brought in. It is common for birds to "faint," and occasionally die from a heart attack when stressed.

This is just one example of the thousands why birdwatching is constantly interesting. Although all of nature provides similar fascinating stories, birds can be watched anywhere, anytime, by anyone, making it an accessible and low cost hobby--well, low cost if you can avoid all the cool gadgets, interesting books, trips and other fun things that you can get to help you enjoy the hobby more.

Good birding!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Starting Over

Today my husband and I closed on a new house. With the kids grown, the house we have lived in for the past 14 years was just too big. Our new house is smaller. It also doesn't have (at least on the surface) the best habitat for birds. So, I'm starting over on developing a more bird-friendly yard. Even a small yard can be a good place for birds (and butterflies.)

I'll try to catalog the journey periodically. I wouldn't look for much to happen before fall since we are getting into the heat of the summer, but we can plan!

The new house is closer to Wild Bird Rescue where I volunteer and closer to my favorite city park for birding (Lake Wichita Park) so those are good things.

Good birding!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

2011 State of the Birds Report

The new State of the Birds report is out and emphasizes how important public lands are to the birds we love to watch.

Good birding!

Good Birds for Mother's Day

Treated myself to birding at Lake Wichita for Mother's Day and had a very nice bunch of birds. I went down the chat trail to the barrow pit and then stopped for a short time by the playground and main pavilion at the south end of the park.

It's getting to the time of year when you have to start early in order not to melt into a puddle after an hour or two. We're not quite there, but it was close to 80 degrees when I got up at 6 AM. But it isn't yet miserable weather in the morning. But with predictions of temps returning to the 100 degree mark in the afternoons, it won't be long.

So far this spring there haven't been many mosquitoes, but with the recent rains, they are back. Not horrible, but you can definitely tell they're around.

Left: yellow warbler photo by Dori, Wikimedia Commons.

It's warbler migration season and I am sure I missed several with the heavy foliage along the chat trail, but I did see and hear a number of yellow warblers. I also saw a common yellowthroat along the drainage ditch along the chat trail. I know I saw a vireo I couldn't quite identify. I know some species it wasn't, but not certain about what species it was. The story of my birding life.

One of the morning's highlights was watching a black-chinned hummingbird pluck an insect out of a spider's web. It may have caught the spider itself, but I couldn't tell for sure, but whether a spider or insect, it was a plump morsel.

When I got to the barrow pit, I was surprised at the number of water birds still present. Not a lot of them, but several types, to include: mallard, ruddy duck, blue-winged teal, cinnamon teal, gadwall, northern shoveler, redhead, American coot, and pied-billed grebe. There were also a number of Wilson's phalarope on the water. These are such a slender, elegant bird, I enjoy seeing them when they pass through on migration. I did not realize until I read the species account I linked to the name above, I didn't realize that in this species the female is the more colorful bird and the male incubates the eggs.

Photo left, eastern kingbird by Dori, Wikimedia Commons

One of my best sitings of the morning were Eastern kingbirds. I have very occasionally seen one here in the past. I saw two near the bridge from the chat trail to the dam and then another near the entrance to the chat trail on the way out.

I then decided to make a quick stop at the inlet adjacent to Wild Bird Rescue, but was thwarted by a swarm of bees. It seems there is a swarm in that area around the willows every spring.

Overall a very nice morning with some good migrants. There are still cedar waxwings in large numbers--they should be gone in the next week or two, so I am enjoying these pretty birds while I can. My birds this morning included: killdeer, Wilson's phalarope, great blue heron, green heron, Canada goose, American coot, cinnamon teal, blue-winged teal, northern shoveler, redhead, ruddy duck, gadwall, pied-billed grebe, mallard, turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, Swainson's hawk, Mississippi kite, Eurasian collared dove, white-winged dove, mourning dove, American robin, brown thrasher,black-chinned hummingbird, northern mockingbird, blue jay, cardinal, scissor-tailed flycatcher, eastern kingbird, western kingbird, cedar waxwing, chimeny swift, barn swallow, purple martin, house wren, red-winged blackbird, common grackle, great-tailed grackle, brown-headed cowbird, yellow warbler, common yellowthroat, chipping sparrow, clay-colored sparrow, and house sparrow.

Happy Mother's Day and good birding!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Life in Photos

Photo: American robin feeding chicks, by DDima, Wikimedia Commons

Most who read this blog know I am a volunteer bird rehabilitator with Wild Bird Rescue and in the summer it seems like it is a never-ending cycle of clean, feed, clean, feed for the 12+ hours shift. A friend sent me a link to a video of robins raising a brood of 4 babies that just shows my life at this time of year.

As always, Wild Bird Rescue can use your support during this busy time of year.

Good birding!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Incidental Birding While Traveling

I was in Tyler, TX for a conference Thursday evening through Saturday morning. The meeting left precious little time for birding, but since this was my first time there, I did have to make some attempt to see what I could see. I received several suggestions of good places to go from individuals on the TEXBIRDS listserv. However, I didn't have more than an hour to spend and since Tyler is known for its roses, I ignored all of the good advice and headed to the city Rose Garden.

The roses were a little past their prime, but were still very pretty. Even better, they actually smelled like roses (have you noticed that the roses you get from the florists no longer have a smell--what's up with that?)

In the more formal part of the gardens with the roses, I didn't see many birds, but in the areas with more trees and other sorts of plantings I did see some good birds. A woodpecker flew past my head and from the yellow on the head, my best guess would be a golden-fronted woodpecker. Seems a little too far east to me, but then, the birds could care less about the range maps generally. In addition, I had a chance to watch a brown thrasher carrying nesting materials (primarily leaves from the ground) into an arbor covered with coral honeysuckle. At the same arbor, a female ruby-throated hummingbird was very cooperative in allowing some good looks.

It is about a 4.5 hr drive from Tyler to Wichita Falls and I am not good about driving that long without stops. By the time I got to Denton, TX, my hip and leg were more than sore, so I decided to stop at one of the parks there. I had seen the sign for North Lakes Park before, but have never stopped. I decided a nice half hour walk would be just the thing to work out the kinks before finishing my trip.

Left: Photo of Lake at North Lakes Park from Model plane area.

When I pulled into the entrance with the recycling bins, I was initially a little disappointed. I could see the pond (OK, in Texas, it's called a lake) and walked over. I didn't see much so headed back to the truck. Fortunately for me, there was a runner who went past my truck and around a bend onto a trail that wasn't very obvious from the main parking lot. What a great discovery! The Wildflower Prairie trail turned out to be a nice walk with some pretty wildflowers and nice birds. I saw my first common yellowthroat of the year and a flock of clay-colored sparrows that were vocalizing. There were also several dickcissel calling.

Left: Entrance to the wildflower prairie trail. Check it out!

There was a young person taking pictures along the trail of another person among the flowers. I am sure she got some nice photos.

If you're ever in Denton, check out this little park.

Good birding!