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!