Sunday, November 27, 2011

Take Part in the Wichita Falls Christmas Bird Count

The Wichita Falls Christmas Bird Count is scheduled for December 17. This is probably the longest-running citizen science project in the world. This is the 112th CBC. I looked up the data for the Wichita Falls CBC on the Audubon site, and it appears the 1st CBC for our area was conducted in 1973-1974, although no species data is available on line. On-line species data doesn't show up until the 1990-1991 count. The highest species count is 91. Historically, last year was a pretty good year with 85 species reported. Every bird is counted.

The CBC's are conducted within a 35-mile circle. For the Wichita Falls CBC the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club divides the circle into 3 parts, with a separate group birding each section. At the last club meeting, team leaders were assigned. Individuals volunteer to participate on the teams.

I will be coordinating the Lake Wichita area team. Terry McKee will organize the Lucy Park/Wichita Falls area and Jimmy Hoover will lead the group working the area near Iowa Park. In our count area, the teams go out around sunrise (usually around 7:30 AM) and bird until they feel they have canvassed their area thoroughly. The count is followed by the count spaghetti supper at a member's house where the teams report their species totals for a total count. Debra McKee is the official compiler for the count; she forwards all of the information to the Audubon Society, which maintains the database.

Anyone may participate in the count. You do not need to be an expert birder. Assistance with record keeping or sighting birds is always needed. There is a cost of $5 for participants 19 years old and older. The $5 is a donation to the Audubon Society to maintain the database. In addition to the teams, individuals may choose to watch the feeders in their backyard and forward their numbers to the team coordinator for their area. People may choose to take part all day or any portion of the day. The count supper is a pot luck, and everyone is invited to attend.

If you would like to take part in the CBC, contact me at, and I will put you in touch with the team coordinator for your area.

Good birding!

Palo Pinto County Birding

Left, Lake Tucker near Strawn, TX.

Saturday I went birding with fellow birder Brady Surber from Vernon. Brady is active in the Texas Ornithological Society (TOS) Texas Century Club. This is a project to encourage birders to visit and record their observations in more Texas areas. There are many hot spots in Texas that are visited regularly, so we have a good understanding of the birds that inhabit those areas. However, there are many counties in Texas for which records are sparse. Hence, the Century Club, which is a challenge for birders to find at least 100 birds species in at least 100 counties. Brady has completed 40-some counties, and Saturday he wanted to work on Pal Pinto county. He already had 66 species.

Saturday was not the best day to bird in our region of Texas. The misty rain wasn't an issue, but the high winds were. Birds don't really like to expose themselves to a lot of wind any more than we do. We thought our best bet would be ducks, but we had only minimal luck with those, although we did add a few waterfowl to Brady's county list. As you can see in the photo of Lake Tucker above, the birds were not sitting on any open water. We found some ducks on small, sheltered tanks along the roadsides, but that was it.

One phenomenal sight was a kettle of hundreds of migrating turkey vultures passing over Strawn, TX. There were a few black vultures mixed in, but the turkey vultures stretched for miles. It was an impressive sight.

My own favorite bird of the day was the hooded merganser (see photo left, from Malcolm on Wikimedia Commons.) These are just beautiful, elegant birds. We came across a small tank and counted 10 birds in the small flock.

Although it wasn't a great birding day, I had a great time. Even a poor day birding is better than a good day doing anything else. We drove about 320 miles on this trip.

My list for the day included: mallard, gadwall, green-winged teal, ring-necked duck, hooded merganser, western grebe (I didn't get the greatest look at this one, but Brady was able to identify it,) pied-billed grebe, turkey vulture, black vulture, red-tailed hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, American kestrel, northern harrier, mourning dove, rock pigeon, northern cardinal, Carolina chickadee, Bewick's wren, yellow-rumped warbler, American crow, eastern bluebird, northern cardinal, ruby-crowned kinglet, field sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, Harris' sparrow, white-throated sparrow, European starling, and American goldfinch.

Good birding!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Good Weekend for New Winter Birds

Left: Fox sparrow

I birded both Saturday and Sunday mornings this weekend. Yesterday was warm and sunny; today very cool and overcast.

Yesterday, I walked the chat trail back to the barrow pit in Lake Wichita Park. Today I did the same and then drove over to the Lake Wichita spillway.

I've worked hard to learn the sparrows better over the past few years, and we definitely have a lot of sparrows in our area during the winter. These "LBJ's" (little brown jobs) are often ignored by most beginning birders as they often appear for just brief seconds before diving into the grass or shrubs. You have to know what field marks to look for and you have to see them quickly.

Yesterday, along the chat trail I did see my first two fox sparrows of the year. Fortunately, they attracted my attention by calling. Then it was a matter of continuing to watch the ground in a sheltered area, waiting for them to start scratching around. Today, I saw my first three field sparrows along the chat trail. These delicate little birds are among my favorites. Then over at the spillway, I saw one Harris's sparrow mixed with a flock of white-crowned sparrows. White-crowned sparrows are ubiquitous and it is tempting to go on to something else as soon as you see the first one, but anytime you see a flock of sparrows, do a quick scan of the group as there may be more than one species mixed together.

My bird list for Saturday: mallard, ruddy duck, bufflehead, northern shoveler, green-winged teal, northern pintail, greater yellowlegs, killdeer, ring-billed gull, double-crested cormorant, Cooper's hawk, American coot, pied-billed grebe, northern harrier, downy woodpecker, northern flicker (yellow-shafted), Eurasian collared dove, brown thrasher, northern mockingbird, Carolina chickadee, ruby-crowned kinglet, blue jay, cardinal, yellow-rumped warbler, song sparrow, fox sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, red-winged blackbird, and American goldfinch.

For Sunday: great blue heron, bufflehead, ruddy duck, northern shoveler, redhead duck, green-winged teal, double-crested cormorant, pied-billed grebe, American coot, killdeer, common snipe, ring-billed gull, rock pigeon, Eurasian collared dove, blue jay, cardinal, northern mockingbird, American robin, American goldfinch, red-winged blackbird, great-tailed grackle, common grackle, European starling, spotted towhee, Harris's sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, song sparrow, field sparrow.

This is also the second weekend of Project Feederwatch. Although the count isn't over for the weekend, so far I've had white-winged dove, Eurasian collared dove and Inca dove, as well as house sparrows, juncos, house finches and gold finches. One odd note. I had two white-winged doves were much darker than the others. There were a couple of other different things about them as well. It was the first time I have seen them. It would be nice if I could get a decent picture.

Good birding!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Economic Impact of Nature Tourism (Especially Birding) in Texas

A great blog post by American Birding Association (ABA) President Ted Lee Eubanks on how nature tourism creates jobs here in the state of Texas. I hope everyone will send a copy to our state legislators. I would have preferred to see the point made without the stick in the eye of conservatives, but the point about the economic impact of nature tourism is still valid.

Good birding!

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Bad Year for Bluebirds

The November issue of The Cardinal, the monthly newsletter of the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club, shared bad news from Greg Mucciolo, who monitors a number of bluebird boxes in various locations.

This year was not a good one for eastern bluebirds in our area. Between the heat, the drought, and the general lack of bugs, very few birds were able to fledge young. Greg counted a total of 12 eastern bluebird fledglings as well as 8 ash-throated flycatcher fledglings in his boxes. He also discovered a young dead screech owl in one of the boxes.

Here's hoping next year will be better.

Consider putting up nest boxes in your yard.

Good birding!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Couple of Neat Blogs by People Doing Neat Things

I posted before about a Big Year blog I was following. Matt Stenger has been doing is low-budget big year and is up to 670 species of his 716 goal. It has been really neat to follow Matt's big year adventure and to read how he has worked through some of the issues in his personal life on this journey. I'm rooting for Matt to hit his birding goal before the end of the year. Even if he doesn't, I dare say it's an adventure he wouldn't trade. He's a great photographer so his blog is loaded with pictures of the birds he has seen along the way.

Bird Man Walking is another blog I just discovered due to Twitter. Brad Storey is walking with his dog across the US to bring attention to bird conservation and support the Important Bird Areas program. He is over 600 miles now. Audubon is accepting donations. This blog doesn't have pictures--it is all text. It appears his daughter is posting what he calls in. He posts his cell phone number regularly and accepts calls. He is trying to figure out how he will make his way across Texas. I hope the Texas Ornithological Society (TOS) gets involved in helping him, especially in west Texas.

Good birding!

Beautiful Day

Yesterday morning was definitely fall, with dark clouds and a nip in the air. Today was spring--bright sunshine and that mellow, slightly damp feeling the air has at that time of year.

I have been gone for a couple of weeks, so was looking forward to getting back to Lake Wichita, one of my favorite local birding spots. I took the chat trail to the barrow pit. Not a long walk, but far enough to be certain our winter birds are back.

The birding wasn't the best this morning, but since there were a few first of season birds, that is OK in my book. Here's a list of the birds seen today: cardinal, spotted towhee, American goldfinch, blue jay, great blue heron, double-crested cormorant, American wigeon, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, bufflehead, northern shoveler, American coot, pied-billed grebe, ruddy duck, redhead duck, mallard, great blue heron, ring-billed gull, yellow-shafted flicker, song sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, slate-colored junco, European starling, red-winged blackbird, great-tailed grackle, northern harrier, Cooper's hawk.

Surprisingly, no doves--but I think all of those are at my backyard feeders. :)

Good birding!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Review: Birds of North America and Greenland

Princeton University Press was once again nice enough to send me a new birding book for review. I have been out of town for a few weeks, so am just now getting the chance to take a careful look at the book, published November 2.

Birds of North America and Greenland, by Norman Arlott is a relatively inexpensive, compact volume. My first thought was, "North America and Greenland?" But it makes sense, as Greenland shares its birds with Canada and the northeastern United States. The book covers 900 species on 102 color plates. The paintings are beautiful and accompanied by short notes and thumbnail range maps.

The book is listed as an illustrated checklist, but has some basic elements of a field guide. As long as you remember the book is not intended to be a field guide, you'll be happy with the book. It would definitely be easier to carry in the field than your Sibley or Crossley. You should be able to narrow down the possibilities for your bird until you can take the time to cross reference your field guides later.

If I were looking for a book for a new birder, this would not be it, but it would be a worthy supplement to a birder's library--easy to tuck into a suitcase on a trip when a larger, more detailed field guide may be more than you want to carry. Priced at $15.95/$10.63 on Amazon, it would be an appreciated stocking stuffer for Christmas.

Good birding!

North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club Meeting

The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meets this coming Tuesday, November 15, at 7:00 PM at the National Association of Letter Carriers building, 5310 Southwest Parkway (next to Wichita Valley Nursery.)

I don't know the topic of the program as it wasn't announced in the newsletter, but I do know we will be finalizing plans for the Christmas Bird Count and count spaghetti supper, scheduled for December 17.

Visitors are welcome and light refreshments will be served.

Good birding!

Project Feederwatch Starts Tomorrow!

One of my favorite winter activities, Project Feederwatch, starts tomorrow. I have been cleaning additional feeders this morning and need to make my pilgrimage to Wild Birds Unlimited later today to stock up on food. I just received my November coupon and another 10 Bird Bucks in the mail so the hit on my checkbook won't be quite as bad.

I keep up 2 platform feeders all summer with a nectar feeder for the hummingbirds. This morning I cleaned a tube feeder, a peanut feeder, a suet feeder and a hopper feeder. I am taking down the nectar feeder--I haven't had anyone local mention having hummingbirds for a few weeks now, so I am assuming they are all south of us now. If any show, I do have some blooming plants still.

I did say last year I would let you all know if the Wild Birds Unlimited Daily Saver's Card actually saved me any money, and it appears it did. I don't care to pay a membership fee for savings cards, but decided to check it out. I saved about $60 over and above the price of the membership with the card, so will renew it. Of course, whether the investment is worth it depends upon how much you buy. Today, I get a free suet cake. One can never have too many of those!

Whether you participate in Project Feederwatch or not (and I hope you do), now is the time to clean your feeders and get them ready for the colder weather if you haven't done so already.

Good birding!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

YardMap Coming Soon

Have I said recently how much I love the Cornell Lab of Ornithology? Recently, I received an invitation to help test a new project soon to be announced from the Lab: YardMap. They picked a good person to help test because if there is anyone who can mess up something, it is me.

I have just started playing with the website, which isn't yet open to everyone, but I think it will be a fun way for those of us who are trying to improve our backyard habitat for birds to interact with others with similar interests. It will allow participants to see what others are doing and to learn from one another. I'll be sure to let you know when the application becomes available for general use.

Good birding!

YardMap Coming Soon

Have I said recently how much I love the Cornell Lab of Ornithology? Recently, I received an invitation to help test a new project soon to be announced from the Lab: YardMap. They picked a good person to help test because if there is anyone who can mess up something, it is me.

I have just started playing with the website, which isn't yet open to everyone, but I think it will be a fun way for those of us who are trying to improve our backyard habitat for birds to interact with others with similar interests to see what others are doing and to learn from one another. I'll be sure to let you know when the application becomes available for general use.

Good birding!

Leave Nest Boxes Up

Although nesting season is over for this year, birds will still appreciate you leaving up your nest box over winter.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology NestWatch newsletter in October, nest boxes can provide winter shelter for cavity nesters. Be sure to clean out your nest box first. Although the newsletter suggests insulating the boxes for the cold weather, that is seldom necessary in our area, although if we have a severe cold snap as we did last year, I am sure some extra protection from the elements would be welcome.

If you put up nest boxes, you should consider signing up to participate in the NestWatch program next year and contribute data to help us learn more about birds.

Good birding!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Save the Date: Great Backyard Bird Count

We've got lots of opportunities to watch birds this winter: Project Feederwatch, the Christmas Bird Count and the Great Backyard Bird Count. The 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is scheduled for February 17 - 20. I'll post more as the event draws near. Usually the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club and the Rolling Plains Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist plan one group birding event during the GBBC. I'll be sure to post when that happens.

Good birding!

More Feederwatchers Needed

One birding activity I have participated in for many years is Project Feederwatch. I wrote about this in a previous post.

I have signed up, got my feeder pole up and when I get home from my trip to North Carolina (visiting my daughter and her husband and waiting for new granddaughter, Amelia, to make her appearance,) will clean and put up more feeders in anticipation of the Feederwatch season, which starts on November 12th.

I always have fun with Project Feederwatch. I pay more attention to my birds on days that I am counting and have the added enjoyment of knowing my data is helping us learn more about birds. You don't have to be an expert; you just have to put up a feeder, watch the birds that visit, and update your data.

More than 50,000 people take part in Project Feederwatch each year. This is the 25th year for Project Feederwatch--a great time to get involved. Cornell University is actively recruiting new observers, so get involved.

Good birding!