Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sudden Death

Photo of sharp-shinned hawk by Steve Beradi, Wikimedia Commons
If you attract birds to a feeder, you also attract predators for those birds. I usually refill my feeders when I get back to the house after walking with a friend at 7:00 AM. By 7:30 AM, the feeders are generally covered with birds.

Late last week, I noticed there wasn't a single bird on the feeders, and I could hear a blue jay screaming out a warning call. These are sure indications that there is a predator around. I had been seeing the odd sharp-shinned hawk and Cooper's hawk buzzing through the yard at various times, but hadn't seen them catch anything, until this day.

The blue jay's call was too little, too late. A sharp-shinned hawk alighted on the top of our garage next to the feeders, just long enough to adjust the house sparrow in his talons before taking off to enjoy his meal. I have plenty of house sparrows pigging out at the feeders, so I didn't begrudge the hawk his meal. In fact, he can come back for seconds any time.

Both species are here in the winter and prey upon smaller birds, although I have seen a Cooper's hawk wrestling a pigeon nearly as big as it was. It is easy to confuse the sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks. They look very similar. The sharp-shinned is smaller; however, there can be overlap in the size of a male Cooper's hawk and a female sharp-shinned hawk (in raptors, the female is larger), so size is not a definitive way to tell the difference. However, a sharp-shinned hawk seems slighter and more delicate overall.

In comparison, the sharp-shinned has a smaller head in proportion to its body than does a Cooper's hawk. The sharp-shinned as a more squared tail and a Cooper's a more rounded tail.

Either way, it is always exciting to see one of these graceful, fierce predators hunting. If I could just teach them to stick to the house sparrows!

Good birding!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Successful Big Day

The Big Day for Wild Bird Rescue, held yesterday, was fun and exhausting.

The core road team consisted of me, Brady Surber and Rick Folkening. We met at 6 AM at Sue and Warren King's home for a wonderful breakfast. Waffles, fresh fruit, bacon, and muffins! Considering we brought things like granola bars and PBJ sandwiches to eat throughout the day, breakfast was a treat.

The Kings have a barred owl in the neighborhood, and we tried valiantly to get the bird to show before hitting the road to no avail. We did pick up a few songbirds in their backyard before light. Our first bird of the count was an American Robin. Before we left, dark-eyed juncos, northern cardinals and a white-throated sparrow showed. We also heard a northern flicker.The Kings continued to watch their feeders all day to see if they had any visitors to add to the count, and we did add Inca Doves that spent an hour at their feeders that morning.

We proceeded to Sikes Lake, where we primarily picked up a few common birds, such as three species of doves, Canada and Cackling geese (pictured above).

Next, we birded Lake Wichita, checking in at the spillway, Lake Wichita Park and behind Wild Bird Rescue. We also walked the Chat Trail while we were in the park. Jonathan Alfonso and Becca Herd, new birders, joined up with us at Lake Wichita Park.

We picked up some ducks, several shorebirds, a few songbirds and a northern harrier. The highlight was a Black Scoter, a duck that has not been documented in Wichita County before. Rick took some photos--due to the distance, the pictures on the camera looked a little fuzzy, but I am hoping when seen on the big screen of the computer, there will be no doubt about the bird's ID.

Leaving Lake Wichita, we headed to Camp Stonewall Jackson where we had some good luck with our smaller birds to include everyone's favorite Eastern Bluebird and a Golden-fronted woodpecker. From there, we headed to Lake Kickapoo in Archer County. We didn't have much luck with waterfowl, but did add field sparrow, least sandpiper and gadwall.

By the time we left Lake Kickapoo, it was obvious we were already running low on time. We headed to Lake Longley for some more ducks and then to Iowa Park, hoping to find some rare gulls that had been reported just the day before at Lake Iowa Park. We checked Lake Buffalo, Lake Iowa Park and Lake Gordon, hoping we would find the reported Thayer's Gull and Lesser black-backed gull, but it wasn't to be. We did find a black-crowned night heron at Lake Iowa Park, which is an uncommon bird in this area. Jonathan and Becca left the group at Lake Buffalo (missing the heron,) leaving me, Brady and Rick to finish out the day.

By this time, it was getting dark, and we sped back to Wichita Falls. We made a quick pass through Rosemont Cemetery, hoping for nuthatches, but struck out. We got to Lucy Park just at dusk. We headed for the back part of the park, where in the past I've had the best luck with woodpeckers and small deciduous woods species. Unfortunately, the flood-control project has completely cleaned out the underbrush and most of the trees that used to provide excellent birding habitat. We came up with nothing in the short time we had available. I hope the engineers are correct that this will help prevent flooding (should we ever get rain again) because the negative impact upon the birds in the park has been substantial. I am consoling myself that the new nature park on Seymour Highway is not intended to be developed beyond a portion of the circle trail.

We decided to swing by the small pond behind Wal-Mart on Lawrence Rd as Rick mentioned he had seen Wilson's snipe there regularly. Sure enough we discovered two, even though it was after dark.

We made one more unsuccessful try for the barred owl at the King's house before calling it a day, with 96 species. Not quite the 100 we were shooting for, but a great day of birding nonetheless. The weather was near perfect.

Here is a list of the birds we saw for the day: American coot, northern shoveler, mallard, ruddy duck, bufflehead, green-winged teal, black scoter, gadwall, redhead, canvasback, lesser scaup, American wigeon, northern pintail, ring-necked duck, hooded merganser, pied-billed grebe, eared grebe, American white pelican, Canada goose, cackling goose, snow goose, greater white-fronted goose, double-crested cormorant, sandhill crane, great blue heron, black-crowned night heron, spotted sandpiper, greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, killdeer, western sandpiper, spotted sandpiper, Baird's sandpiper, least sandpiper, American avocet, long-billed dowitcher, Wilson's snipe, ring-billed gull, Herring gull, Bonaparte's gull, Forster's tern, rock pigeon, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, white-winged dove, Inca dove, northern harrier, Cooper's hawk, red-tailed hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, American kestrel, northern flicker, red-bellied woodpecker, golden-fronted woodpecker, Carolina wren, marsh wren, sedge wren, Bewick's wren, Carolina chickadee, blue jay, American robin, eastern bluebird, brown thrasher, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, dark-eyed junco, Loggerhead shrike, American crow, great-tailed grackle, common grackle, Brewer's blackbird, red-winged blackbird, European starling, brown-headed cowbird, eastern meadowlark, western meadowlark, American pipit, Sprague's pipit, yellow-rumped warbler, eastern phoebe, house finch, American goldfinch, pine siskin, spotted towhee, Lincoln's sparrow, white-throated sparrow, Harris' sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, fox sparrow, song sparrow, field sparrow, vesper sparrow, swamp sparrow, savannah sparrow, and house sparrow.

You can still support the rehabilitation and education efforts of Wild Bird Rescue by donating at their website or sending a donation to 4611 Lake Shore Drive, Wichita Falls, TX 76310.

Good birding!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Birdfest Texoma

I was at Wichita Valley Nursery to pick up a milkweed vine yesterday and saw an advertisement for Birdfest Texoma.

This event will be held at Hagerman NWR May 3 - 4. Wichita Valley Nursery will be there as a vendor. David Allen Sibley (Sibley's Field Guide to Birds) will be present as well.

A complete schedule and registration will be available in January, but mark your calendars now. I am planning to go.

Good Birding!

TOS Winter Meeting

The Texas Ornithological Society is hosting its winter meeting in west Houston this year. A birdy spot.

For information on workshops, field trips and hotels click here.

I usually miss the winter meeting because this is prime time for birthdays in my family; however, I hope some of you can make it. These meetings are a good way to learn more about our birds and meet others who share our interest.

Good birding!

Big Day for Wild Bird Rescue is Sunday!

Sunday, November 25 is the Big Day fundraiser for Wild Bird Rescue, Inc!

We'll be starting the day at Sue and Warren King's house for a pre-sunrise breakfast--Thank YOU!--and then start our 12-hour birding marathon on a quest for 100 species in Wichita and Archer counties. We plan close out our day at Wild Bird Rescue at 7PM.

As of right now, our team consists of me, Katherine Smith of Wild Birds Unlimited, Brady Surber from Vernon and Rick Folkening from Holliday.

I'll be posting our progress in Facebook on the Wild Bird Rescue page and on Twitter. You can watch the twitter feed on this blog.

If you haven't already, please make a lump sum donation at the Wild Bird Rescue website or pledge a per-species amount by emailing me.

Thanks for all your support.

Good Birding!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: The Jewel Hunter

Princeton University Press sent me a copy of Chris Gooddie's The Jewel Hunter for review. This is a story of his journey to see every one of the world's most elusive groups of birds--the pittas--in a single year.

The first chapter is his description of how he decided to quit his day job and spend a year following his passion. He was 45 and his desire to see his favorite birds required rugged travel in the rain forests. Additionally, pitta's are under a lot of pressure due to habitat loss, so the longer he waited, the more likely some of the 32 species of pitta would be extinct.

The rest of the book is a description on his journey through several countries, looking for these secretive birds in the rain forests of Asia, Africa and Australia. One of my favorite sentences in the book (as it sums up the life of birdwatchers everywhere): "My six and a half days of searching had finally paid off with a glorious, three-second view of the whole bird."

The summary:
  • Eleven months
  • 200,000 km (approximately 120,000 miles) traveled
  • 30,000 pounds (approximately $47,800 today)
  • Lost 13 kilos in weight (about 28 lbs)
  • Saw 1,970 species of birds (about 1/5 of the world's total)
  • Found all 32 species of pittas
It includes his pictures (definitely not professional photos) of the landscapes, people and animals he saw on his journeys.  Overall, an interesting book about a man on a mission.

This book is $25.95 from Princeton University Press and from Amazon.

Good birding!

Book Review: Birds of Central Asia

Princeton University Press sent me a copy of Birds of Central Asia, and it's a beauty.

This is the first field guide ever to central Asia, including Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. I wish it had been out when my son-in-law was deployed to Afghanistan--I would have sent him a copy.

Central Asia is a diverse environment, encompassing steppe, semi-desert and mountains. The pictures of the various biomes in the book show the diversity. It is also a fairly remote part of the planet.

This guide covers 618 species, including all resident, migrants and vagrants. The book contains 143 beautiful plates showing many distinct plumages and races. I found the descriptions to be a little more extensive than most field guides, which I consider a good thing. Of course, to get that additional information in the guide and still make the guide a good size to take into the field, the print is pretty small. If you have reading glasses, you'll definitely need them. However, the font is crisp and clear, making it easier to read.

Available from Princeton University Press for $39.50. I did find it on Amazon for $26.07.

This is a nice diversion for an armchair birder. After reading the book, I would be more likely to consider a birding trip to this area. If you know a birder stationed in that area of the world, this would be a very nice gift.

Good birding!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Big Day Coming November 25

The Wild Bird Rescue Big Day fundraiser is Sunday, November 25.

Wild Bird Rescue, Inc. has a two-fold mission: to rescue, rehabilitate and release wild birds and to educate the public about wild birds and wild bird issues.

This past year Wild Bird Rescue added a raptor aviary and a shorebird aviary and expanded its education program by adding several birds of prey and an amphitheater on site. This increased the number and types of birds Wild Bird Rescue can keep, but also added significantly to the operating costs, as raptors and shorebirds are expensive to feed.

The Big Day is a marathon event to find the most species during a particular day. The Big Day will be from 7 AM - 7 PM and will cover Wichita and Archer Counties. Last year, the team covered over 200 miles and recorded 98 species. The goal this year is 100 species--if the weather is good, that's possible.

Wild Bird Rescue is looking for birders for the team. If there are enough birders who want to participate, competing teams could be arranged. Contact me if you would like to take part.

We are also looking for pledges. You may pledge a flat amount or per species. You can email me your pledge or you can go to the Wild Bird Rescue website and use the "Donate" button--just put "Big Day" in the comments so your donation will be credited to the Big Day event.

It isn't necessary to be a part of the team to pledge.

To follow the progress of the team on the Big Day, you can look for posts on the Wild Bird Rescue Facebook page or follow me on Twitter at @birdwithpenny (that Twitter feed will also show up on this blog if you don't have a Twitter account.)

Please help this organization continue to provide these programs to the community.

Good Birding!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Birdy Weekend Coming Up

The bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park is Saturday, November 10, 8:00 AM. We meet in the first camp ground to the left at the firewood shed.

Also this is the first weekend for this season's Project Feederwatch. If you haven't registered but would like to take part, you can sign up at the Cornell web site.

Good birding!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Upcoming Events to Help Wild Bird Rescue

As most readers know, Wild Bird Rescue, Inc. is a local charity with a two-fold mission:
  - To rescue, rehabilitate and release wild birds
  - To educate the public on wild birds and wild bird issues

This has been a very busy year for the organization. So far this year, the organization has cared for nearly 1200 birds. In addition, 2012 saw the completion of a raptor aviary and a shorebird aviary, allowing Wild Bird Rescue to keep more types of birds. The organization also ramped up its education programs by keeping more raptors for programs.

Between more birds overall, more costly birds to keep and the number of education birds, the costs have also increased. Wild Bird Rescue still operates with just one paid staff member. Regardless, the coffers are empty. The organization has had a few fundraisers lately and three more are planned. If you can help by supporting one of these fundraisers, please do.

  • Saturday, October 13: PAWS It Forward to benefit Wild Bird Rescue. Wild Birds Unlimited is hosting a fundraiser at Smith's Gardentown on Saturday, October 13, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM. Donate $25 to Wild Bird Rescue and receive a $20 coupon for Wild Birds Unlimited products. Rusty, one of Wild Bird Rescue's avian ambassadors will be on hand periodically during the day.
  • Sunday, October 14: Big Sit, 7:30 AM - 10:00 AM. The Big Sit is a national event--rather like a birders' tailgate party. Birder's sit inside a 17-foot circle and count all of the birds they can identify. This year, to assist Wild Bird Rescue the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club has pledged $1/species. Anyone is welcome to participate in the Big Sit, whether for a few minutes or for the entire scheduled time. This is a great way for new birders to learn about birds or those with mobility issues to participate. So bring a lawn chair, binoculars and dress in layers.
  • Sunday, November 25: Big Day for WBR. This is a marathon birding event with a team (or possibly multiple teams) birding from 7 AM - 7 PM, attempting to find as many species of birds possible. Wild Bird Rescue is looking for sponsors (individuals, groups, or businesses) to pledge on a per species basis or a flat amount. Last year the team found 98 species. This year the goal is 100 species. If you would like to sponsor, contact Wild Bird Rescue at 940-691-0828 or email me at txbirds@gmail.com. You can also make a donation through PayPal on Wild Bird Rescue's website. If you would like to participate on a team, contact me. Just remember, this is a marathon event, with non-stop birding. We'll be driving a couple of hundred miles and likely walking quite a bit. The team will be posting their progress on Facebook and on Twitter throughout the day. You can follow the team by following me at @birdwithpenny or by watching the Twitter feed on this blog.
Of course, personal donations to the organization in any amount would be appreciated, whether or not they are connected with any of these events.

Good birding!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cold Front and Birds

Saturday was our monthly bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. I predicted really good birding because of the strong front that came in Friday night.  Well, I was right and wrong. We didn't have a very good day at Lake Arrowhead, but Lake Wichita was another story.

I met up with Fernando Barrera at Lake Arrowhead State Park at 7 AM. Fernando is the new education coordinator at the park. Unfortunately, Fernando and I were the only people there. However, it was a beautiful morning, so we decided to bird. Overall, we didn't get many birds: Great egret, snowy egret, cattle egret, great blue heron, killdeer, Canada goose, ladder-backed woodpecker, red-winged blackbird, mockingbird, cardinal, common grackle, scissor-tailed flycatcher, yellow warbler, eastern bluebird, and lark sparrow.

When I left the park, I decided to make a quick trip by Bridwell tank. Due to the drought, the front portion of the tank is completely dry and there wasn't much water in the back half of the tank. However, there was a good flock of lark sparrow and my first northern harrier of the season.

I then drove down to the boat ramp and picked up some turkey vultures, double-crested cormorant and my first ring-billed gull of the season, looking a little worse for wear.

On the way back to Wichita Falls I decided to make a quick stop at the Lake Wichita spillway. I'm glad I did as the front appeared to have brought in the first wave of winter ducks. There have been some white pelicans on the lake for a few weeks, but as of Saturday morning, there were well over 100 birds on the lake. Greater and lesser yellowlegs, black-necked stilts and a few avocets were also present. Several female/immature northern shovelers were the first for me of the season as well as a large number of gadwall. A flock of 21 blue-winged teal were also moving around the lake. A small group of coot stayed over the summer, but it appeared larger numbers had come in. The stop was rounded out with a belted kingfisher, turkey vltures, great-tailed grackle, snowy egret, great egret, great blue heron, red-winged blackbird, mallard and three black terns.

Overall, a very good morning. This is a great time of year to be out birding. It's cooler and birds are moving, so there's always the possibility of a surprise.

Good birding!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Local News for Bird People

Several small snippets of information for local people interested in birds:

  • The next bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park will be this Saturday, September 8, 7:00 AM. We'll meet as usual in the first camp ground on the left by the firewood shed. This is the last month we'll be meeting this early until next Spring. Over the fall/winter, we'll switch to 8 AM. But for this month, set your alarm and be there shortly after sunrise.
  • Wild Bird Rescue, Inc. is recruiting for a new Executive Director. If you or anyone you know might be interested, contact WBR at 940-691-0828.
  • Wild Birds Unlimited in Smith's Gardentown is looking for a part-time person for their store.
  • The Wild Bird Rescue garage sale is September 15. If you have items to donate (no clothing please) call 940-691-0828 to arrange for drop off. You will be able to drop off items on September 14 at the National Association of Letter Carriers building on Southwest Parkway from 9 AM - 4 PM.
  • We're recruiting for the next Wild Bird Rescue Big Day fundraiser. If you like to bird and have the stamina for a 12-hour birdathon, contact me at txbirds@gmail.com or call me at 940-867-9761. Right now, we're looking at the Sunday following Thanksgiving.
Good birding!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book Review: Bird Sense

I just got a new book (published in April) in the mail, and it is absolutely fascinating. Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird, by Tim Birkhead, explores how birds perceive their world through their senses, and how that perception affects their lives.

The book does provide a lot of anatomical and physiological information, but in a way that the average reader won't be intimidated. Historical accounts illustrate how we made the discoveries about how senses work. One very interesting discussion revolves around how well birds smell, using the turkey vulture to illustrate. That question is still debated in the general public.  I'm not going to give you the answer; read the book and discover it for yourself.

I am currently enrolled in the Cornell ecourse, Courtship and Rivalry in Birds, in which one of the discussions going on is emotions in birds--there is a chapter in this book on that very topic. Birkhead's conclusion is that birds do feel emotions, but not in the same way we do.

This is not a long book (around 200 pages of text), but is very well documented if you want to find out more.

This is another one of those books that should find a place on every birder's book shelf. $25 retail/$13.25 hardcover on Amazon/$9.99 for the Kindle edition.

Good birding!

Monday, September 3, 2012

And the Drought Continues

Yesterday I went out to the Lake Wichita spillway. I intended to spend most of the morning birding but forgot I had promised to help accept donations for the Wild Bird Rescue garage sale and fold newsletters at 9 AM, so was only able to stay for a short time. Although the lake is way down, this is the deepest part of the lake so there is still a fair amount of water. Numerous yellowlegs, both greater and lesser, were present. Generally it is difficult to tell one from another without hearing their call. This time I was given extra assistance as some of the birds were close to one another and the size difference was readily apparent. Many killdeer were also present.  There was a lone redhead duck a little further out in the water. Overall, not a lot of birds, but not bad for a quick stop. The birds seen included: robin, starling, pigeon, killdeer, greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, snowy egret, great blue heron, great egret, white pelican, spotted sandpiper, mourning dove, white-winged dove, Eurasian collared dove, red-winged blackbird, mallard, black-necked stilt, yellow warbler, red head duck, house sparrow, and great-tailed grackle.

This morning I went to Lake Wichita Park and walked the chat trail and down to the barrow pit, which although not completely dry, is well on its way, although there were a large  number of black-necked stilts, killdeer and some peeps I wish I had been able to identify.
Barrow pit--nearly dry

I also wanted to check out the new wildlife observation platform, which I had heard was completed. And sure enough, it was.
Wildlife viewing platform in Lake Wichita Park

View toward pelican point this morning
It is where I wanted it to be placed, which was at the end of the barrow pit overlooking the well-concealed inlet and out toward pelican point. Right now, the view is not so great as the lake has almost completely dried up at this end.

Overall, a fairly disappointing half hour. I did see a group of scissor-tailed flycatchers and an orchard oriole. As always, the cardinals were plentiful. Unfortunately, so were the mosquitoes and flies. I only got bit a couple of times by the mosquitoes but the flies were driving me nuts.

I decided my luck had to improve so in spite of the heat, which was already becoming oppressive at 8:30 AM, I decided to make a quick stop at Crestview Memorial Park on Hwy 79--often a good spot. However, both ponds are nearly dry--no birds of note.

I am looking forward to the promised rain later in the week and the cooler weather forecast for next weekend. Next Saturday is our regularly scheduled bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park.

Good birding!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hummingbirds Coming Through

Hummingbird feeder on my deck
I've seen hardly any hummingbirds this summer, until the last couple of weeks. Since then I've had regular visits by ruby-throated hummingbirds and black-chinned hummingbirds multiple times each day. Hummingbird migration is underway. If you got discouraged over the summer with the  lack of birds at your feeder, clean them up and try again. You'll probably get a hit. Although natural plantings are better, the lack of rain means that some of the best flowering plants for hummingbirds may not have a lot of blooms on them, so the extra nectar will be welcome.

See the feeder in the photo above? The wind chime behind it has little hummingbirds on it. They are about the same size as the hummingbirds that have been visiting the feeder.

How long should you leave your hummingbird feeders up? Although most of the birds will be gone by the end of September, I always leave my hummingbird feeder up until the end of October. There have been (rare) sightings of hummingbirds as late as December--but they are truly very isolated incidents.

Be sure to clean out your feeders and replace the nectar every couple of days. A little bit of water and sugar is not a lot of money and the health of your hummingbird visitors depends upon you.

Good birding!

Monday, August 20, 2012

This Week's Bird-Related Events

If you like to go out to eat, consider heading over to McAlister's Deli on Tuesday, August 21 between 5 PM and 10 PM. Wild Bird Rescue has a fundraiser that night. If you eat there during that time, 10% of your meal price will be donated to Wild Bird Rescue. This has been a really busy year, with record breaking numbers of birds coming in. In addition, the expansion of the education program and the addition of the raptor aviary have greatly increased food costs. So help out Wild Bird Rescue by eating a good meal.

The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club will meet at 7PM on Tuesday as well, so eat at McAlister's and then head over to the NALC building, 5310 Southwest Parkway for the meeting. A nice group of birding folks.

Good birding!

Recent Sightings of Interest

I know I still haven't caught up with my travels and the birds seen, and at this point, probably won't because other birds are happening in our own area.

First, on August 14 there was a post on TEXBIRDS by Rick Folening in Holliday that he had spotted (and photographed) a black-bellied whistling duck at Sikes Lake. He took some really good pictures. Since he gave the link to the photos on TEXBIRDS, I am sharing the link here, so others can also see the bird. I had to go out of town, but on the 17th I went to Sikes Lake, and there it was. I have seen black-bellied whistling ducks in Wichita County before, but only once.  The checklist of the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club shows a few isolated sightings over the summer, but indicates this is an accidental species for the area. I did not get any good pictures of the bird, just a picture of my foot the day after--I stepped in a bed of fire ants while I was looking through my binoculars at the duck. Typical. But at least I didn't almost step on a rattle snake while absorbed in a bird (it has happened.)

Fire ant bites--watch where you put your feet!
Second sighting of note was yesterday. I was working at Wild Bird Rescue and went out to see if any of our newly released Mississippi Kites were hanging about for backup feeding when I saw some large birds over Lake Wichita. They looked like white pelicans, but I was thinking it was too early. Never rely on your memory about when a bird should be in an area. I went again to check the bird club checklist and noted irregular sightings of white pelicans as early as August 3, before they become a fairly common sight in October. Anyway, there was a small flock of 8 birds on the lake. Right now, they should find it easy fishing with the lake being as low as it is. Both of the below pictures were taken with my cell phone on the peninsula that surrounds the cove behind Wild Bird Rescue. That mud flat is not usually there--it is normally covered with water.

The herons and egrets can stand in the water across the entire lake at that end. It is still a little too deep closer to the dam. It was nice to go out to the lake and see some mist from the recent rains. In spite of a couple of inches the last few days, runoff has been minimal--the ground is just too dry. We do have a chance for more rain this week, so perhaps we'll start seeing a little rise in the lake levels.

I did go out to Lake Buffalo on Saturday with some of my Texas Master Naturalist friends to do a mussel watch at Lake Gordon and Buffalo Creek Reservoir (Lake Buffalo.) They too, are way down. Lake Buffalo, especially. However, we did have an excellent morning for mussels. I also saw hundreds of egrets (great and snowy) at Lake Buffalo along with a group of 5 American avocets, a black-necked stilt and a spotted sandpiper.

Overall, some good birding for this time of year. Shorebird migration is in full swing, so get out and see what you can find.

Good birding!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Swift Night Out

Anyone know of a chimney swift roost in the area? The annual Swift Night Out is approaching this weekend. This is an opportunity to contribute to our knowledge of these intriguing birds. The first Swift Night Out weekend is 10, 11, 12 August, followed by September 7, 8, 9 next month.

For a short history and instructions, see this link.

There is a chimney swift tower at Wild Bird Rescue, but unfortunately, it has never been used as a roost site. Maybe in future years.

If you know of an area roost, please post in the comments.

Good birding!

Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park

This Saturday, August 11, is the Bird Walk in the Park at Lake Arrowhead State Park. Generally, August is not the best month for birding, but shorebird migration has begun, and there have been some reports of early warblers south of us, so we could get lucky. The water level is still extremely low. With the drought, if there is water, there should be birds. Last month we had some peeps we couldn't identify--I will try to remember my spotting scope this month.

We will start at 7 AM at the firewood shed in the first camping area on the left after you enter the park. We usually wrap up around 9 AM, just as it is getting toasty warm. Be sure to bring drinking water.

There is a $3.00 entry fee to enter the park (unless you have a Park Pass.)

Good birding!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Lovely Reflection

I am really a straightforward writer. I generally write clearly and concisely. However, I have great admiration for those who can write eloquently and are able to say important things well.

Many people are mired in the tragedy in Aurora, CO. Make no mistake, it is a terrible tragedy. On the other side is the daily miracle of life that goes on, no matter what horrible things are happening around us. I would encourage you to read the linked blog post from local writer Ysabel de la Rosa who writes eloquently about her thoughts in the context of her interaction with a baby grackle and the folks at Wild Bird Rescue.

Even the most common things can teach us important truths.

Good birding!

The World is a Dangerous Place When You're a Bird

The world is a dangerous place for a bird. Imagine if you are a teeny tiny little hummingbird. Frogs, spiders and yes, some insects can make a tasty meal of some of our feathered friends. Recently, Bird Watcher's Digest published a post about a praying mantis capturing a hummingbird--and the reader caught it on film. Don't click this link if you are extremely squeamish.

Good birding!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bird Walk and Boat Trip to Bird Island

What a beautiful early morning at Lake Arrowhead State Park for the monthly bird walk. Driving into the entrance to the park, I saw a large white-tailed deer doe standing on the side of the road.

Only one person came besides me, but it was still a reasonable morning for the middle of summer. Before the other person came, I heard a painted bunting and an eastern phoebe. Unfortunately, we didn't get them again.

On our walk, we saw: green heron, great blue heron, little blue heron, snowy egret, great egret, killdeer, Canada goose, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, red-bellied woodpecker, northern mockingbird, house finch, red-winged blackbird, great-tailed grackle, scissor-tailed flycatcher, cliff swallow, and barn swallow. We also saw some peeps from a distance that we couldn't identify for certain.

Bill Coombs, who lives on Lake Arrowhead and is part of Friends of Lake Arrowhead State Park, volunteered his pontoon boat to take us out to "Bird Island." This is a large rookery, with nesting herons and egrets of all kinds. We added cattle egret, double crested cormorant, mallard and turkey vulture there. Bill also provided some history of the lake.

When I got back to shore, I heard a bird up in one of the mesquite trees on the way back to the car. After listening and looking carefully, I found a cardinal's nest inside a large clump of mistletoe. Driving out I noted some lark sparrows along the road.

On my way back to town, I passed a red-tailed hawk on the ground next to the road on FM 1954.

It was really getting oppressively hot by 9:00 AM when I left the park.

Good birding!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park Saturday

The monthly bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park will be this Saturday at 7 AM. Meet at the firewood shed (1st camping area on the left). Park entry fee applies ($3 per person, unless you have a park pass.)

I'm in town this month, so I will be leading the walk. That means we won't get the good birds--it seems whenever Terry McKee fills in for me, something really good pops up.

Summer is not the best time to bird in Texoma, but hopefully this cooler weather will still be hanging around (at least for a couple of hours in the morning.)

Hope you can make it.

Good birding!


I've been traveling a lot lately (sorry, nothing to do with birds) and haven't been posting regularly. I'll catch up soon--I have several items relating to my recent travels to relate. However, today's can't wait because I am excited.

I was in Amarillo, TX for work and had a couple of hours I could bird before my business meeting, so I went to Thompson Memorial Park and got a lifer! Yeah! Black-crowned night heron. Although your field guide will say that Wichita Falls is in their range, our local North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club checklist will tell you that they are accidental species in our area, with only isolated records.

Thanks to the birders on TEXBIRDS for the suggestion.

Good birding!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Book Review: E-book, The Beauty of Birds

Princeton University Press offers Shorts, ebooks which are excerpts from larger, more extensive works. In this particular case, The Beauty of Birds, by Jeremy Mynott, is drawn from his longer work, Birdscapes: Birds in Our Imagination and Experience.

In The Beauty of Birds, Jeremy Mynott explores what it is about birds we find beautiful. What attracts us and how?

I really enjoyed this little book. An interesting portion discusses the changes in how birds are depicted in illustrations over time, with samples from a variety of famous illustrators: Audubon, Peterson, and others.

Americans tend to be very straightforward in their prose, with short, concise sentences. One of the joys of reading books by British authors is the more descriptive, colorful prose. The book is peppered with illustrations, photos, songs, poetry and other interesting tidbits, written in a way that is enjoyable from the beauty of the prose alone. If you enjoy reading about birds over and above than the descriptive prose of a field guide, you need to pick up this little gem.

The Beauty of Birds is available from Princeton University Press for $2.99. If like me, you were intrigued and want to read the entire Birdscapes book, then you can purchase it also for $19.95.

Good birding!

Fundraiser for Wild Bird Rescue

My favorites--nestling chimney swifts at WBR
On Saturday, July 7, Wild Bird Rescue (WBR) will be having a fundraiser at United Marketstreet on Kell Blvd/Fairway Blvd in Wichita Falls, TX from 9 AM - 2 PM. WBR's Executive Director, Lila Arnold, will be there with some of the educational birds, which will make appearances intermittently throughout the event. Bring out the family to see Sully (a red-shouldered hawk) or Trooper (an Eastern screech owl.)

WBR have T-shirts for sale, and have lists of items people can purchase at United to donate to the organization (tissues, paper towels, bleach, detergent, etc.) and cash donations are always welcome!

I hope you'll come out and support this organization. It has been another record-breaking year under very financially austere conditions.

Good birding!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bird Walk Saturday

This Saturday, June 9, is the monthly bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. Meet at 7 AM at the firewood shed (the first campground on left).

I will be out of town this weekend for work, so Terry McKee has once again agreed to lead the walk. Thanks, Terry! Terry was planning to do her breeding bird survey on Saturday, so I really appreciate her pinch hitting like this. Since I won't be there, I am sure there will be great birds.

Good birding!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review: Sparrow by Kim Todd

I am not a big fan of the house sparrow overall. In a previous post I mentioned a new book about the house sparrow I intended to buy and review. I discovered this book when reading a newsletter from the Celebrate Urban Birds program from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Well, I bought the book, Sparrow, by Kim Todd from Amazon and discovered a delightful read. As I said, I am not a big fan of the house sparrow, primarily due to its detrimental effect on some of our native birds, like the eastern bluebird. However, one has to admire a bird that has managed to spread over 6 continents and become so successful.

Ms. Todd brings out the impact of this tiny bird (and other sparrows) on literature and art as well as the story of its success.  I particularly enjoyed the discussion concerning the study of house sparrows in learning more about evolution and bird song. Ms. Todd ends her book with a discussion of the decline of house sparrow populations in many cities. Although the question about why this is happening is still unanswered, the possibilities point to the house sparrow as a possible "canary in the coal mine." In one study it seemed the house sparrows decline was due to underweight and undernourished babies due to a decline in insect populations in the city (a seriously bad thing) and in another, due in part perhaps to a large increase in raptor populations (which would be a good thing.) It will be interesting to discover the result of further research.

This was just a fascinating book--I can't recommend it too highly.

Good birding!                                                                                                              

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club Meets Tonight

The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meets tonight at 7 PM at the NALC building, 5310 Southwest Parkway.

Tonight I am presenting a short program on brood parasitism in birds. I am also responsible for refreshments--a kahlua cake is in the oven this AM.

Some miscellany:

- I came across an interesting post about crows: http://tinyurl.com/7cwneux

- Sad news: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=%2Fc%2Fa%2F2012%2F05%2F11%2FHO9Q1ODGD6.DTL

Good birding!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park, and After

Indigo bunting. Photo courtesy of Kevin Bolton, Wikimedia Commons.
Four people met me this morning for the monthly bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. It was cool and overcast. Overall, the walk wasn't the best birding I have had at LASP, but neither was it the worst. We started over behind one of the camping areas, made our way near the swim beach and then drove over to the area around the group pavillion/nature trail area. I was hoping for a good migration bird day, but it didn't pan out. We did see some migrants; just not as many as I had hoped.

I think the only bird I saw before the others arrived that we did not see subsequently were some double-crested cormorants. Other than that, here are the birds we heard/saw: Canada goose, mallard, great blue heron, little blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, cattle egret, green heron, killdeer, spotted sandpiper, mourning dove, northern bobwhite, Bewick's wren, barn swallow, cliff swallow, purple martin, yellow-billed cuckoo,  northern mockingbird, scissor-tailed flycatcher, yellow warbler, Bullock's oriole, red-winged blackbird, great-tailed grackle, house finch, lark sparrow, dickcissel, and great crested flycatcher.

We also sighted one other bird that to me looked like a male orchard's oriole. I think the rest of the group was convinced it was just another sighting of the Bullock's as we saw it very briefly just before the Bullock's showed. However, I am going to stay true to my ID--there is too much difference between the two. I will admit the look was very brief, however.

The yellow warblers and Bullock's orioles were thick. We saw several of them. Sue and Warren wanted very much to see the yellow-billed cuckoo we heard, but we weren't successful at finding him. (Sorry guys. I did see one fly across the road in front of me on W. Arrowhead later.) We ended our outing about the time a rain shower started around 8:45. Although we only heard bobwhite in the park, I did see one on W. Arrowhead and then again later on FM 368.

After the rest of the group left, I did some of my mussel watch at an inlet between showers. There I added turkey vultures and American coot to my LASP list for the day.

Leaving the park, I decided I wasn't ready to go home, clean house and grade papers/final exams for my classes, so I decided to try out the Bridwell tank on W. Arrowhead Rd. I walked around along the road in that area and didn't see anything special. I got back in my truck and took off and what do I see on the fence? An indigo bunting! It didn't stay up long, which is normal, but it did provide a good look.

I drove down to the boat ramp and then circled back. Once again on FM 1954, I made my way to FM 368 and then over to Hwy 277 and home. Along the way, I did pick up a few more good birds, mostly in Archer Co, to include: upland sandpiper, yellow-crowned night heron, black vulture, kestrel, American crow, loggerhead shrike, Western kingbird, eastern phoebe, eastern bluebird, American robin, brown-headed cowbird, common grackle and house sparrow.

Along FM 1954 I encountered a large flock of blackbirds. I thought at first it was a flock of yellow-headed blackbirds. However, I didn't see a male among them. I did pull off and take a good look. There were five or six female yellow-headed blackbirds mixed into a flock of brown-headed cowbirds. I am lucky there were no males. I might have driven right by instead of stopping. If I had driven past, I wouldn't have picked up the two upland sandpipers.

On FM 368 I encountered a huge flock of migrating Bonaparte's gulls. The must have been nearly 100 birds in the flock. When I returned to Wichita Falls, there was another flock of well over 100 at the intersection of FM 369 (Southwest Parkway) and Barnett Rd. Fortunately, the light was red, so I could stop and put some binoculars on the flock circling overhead.

Overall, a good morning.

Good birding!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Shorebird Weekend

I birded some on Saturday and on Monday at Lake Wichita. On Saturday I was conducting a Nature Trackers Mussel Watch and doing some invasives monitoring--I probably spent as much time birding as doing those projects. I started at the boat ramp off Kemp Blvd and walked down to the spillway, where there were several migrating shorebirds.

My species list for Saturday morning at Lake Wichita: Canada goose, American coot, mallard, great egret, cattle egret, Forster's tern, spotted sandpiper, white-rumped sandpiper, Baird's sandpiper, killdeer, Wilson's phalarope, black-necked stilt, double-crested cormorant, turkey vulture, rock pigeon, mourning dove, northern mockingbird, cardinal, yellow warbler, barn swallow, cliff swallow, red-winged blackbird, great-tailed grackle, common grackle, European starling, and house sparrow.

I then drove over to Crestview Cemetery, which has two small ponds. There I added lark sparrow, bobwhite, upland sandpiper, and scissor-tailed flycatcher.

On Monday I birded for about an hour, starting behind Wild Bird Rescue and then walking down the chat trail to the barrow pit. Behind Wild Bird Rescue I saw my first orchard oriole of the year, scissor-tailed flycatcher, white-rumped sandpiper, great-tailed grackle, white-winged dove, purple martin, great blue heron, red-winged blackbird and European starling. In Lake Wichita Park along the chat trail and barrow pit, I added mallard, canvasback, American coot, ruddy duck, black-necked stilt, great egret, Mississippi kite, Eurasian collared dove, American robin, northern mockingbird, yellow warbler, eastern phoebe, Carolina chickadee, northern cardinal, barn swallow, my first of season yellow-billed cuckoo, and chipping sparrow.

I was also lucky on the chat trail seeing a large red-eared slider and a rough green snake.

This morning while visiting the bank, I saw a green heron behind American National Bank on Midwestern/Maplewood.

Overall, a very good weekend. The only thing that could have made it even better would have been a lifer.

I got some email that there has been a brown pelican over between Seymour and Munday and a curve-billed thrasher on the north side of Lake Arrowhead State Park. It is a little far to drive for the brown pelican, unless I make a birding day of it. Haven't had any luck with the curve-billed thrasher.

Good birding!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park

This month's bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park will be this Saturday, May 12, beginning at 7 AM. Meet at the firewood shed--this is behind the first camping area on the left after entering the park. Park entry fees apply.

The Texas Ornithological Society began promoting bird walks in the Texas state parks to encourage people to visit and better appreciate the parks as habitat for birds. I'll be leading the walk this month. Many thanks to Terry McKee from the Rolling Plains chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist for leading the walk last month.

This month's walk happens to coincide with the International Migratory Bird Day.

The formal part of the walk will end by 8:45 as I am scheduled to do a Texas Nature Trackers Mussel Watch at 9AM. However, participants are welcome to continue to enjoy the many activities at the park (to include more birdwatching!)

I hope you can come out and enjoy the birds. We are getting a lot of migrating shorebirds right now--hopefully, we'll have a chance to see some at the park. I'll be posting the lists from my weekend birding soon.

Good birding!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Archer County This Morning

I did a short (1.75 hr) birding trip in Archer County today, trying to increase my numbers for my Texas Century Club list for that county. Don't know that I added more than one or two species, but there was rain, so no complaints. Not a lot of rain, but more than I was seeing at the house, and much needed. Altogether I saw 33 species driving the roadways, with a few short stops.

 At Lake Archer, there was a mixed flock of turkey and black vultures perching on the dock and a nearby tree I was able to get fairly close to. Once again, I left  my little camera at home and had to use my cell phone camera, so the pictures are not the best.

I also saw a small flock (11) of ruddy ducks on the lake.
I mostly saw the usual birds, but some special ones (in my book) were a golden-fronted woodpecker that flew across the road in front of my car on Hwy 25, a Bullock's oriole in the Hollliday cemetery and a yellow-headed blackbird on Hwy 277, just before the county line into Wichita.

My list: killdeer, rock pigeon, Eurasian collared dove, white-winged dove, mourning dove, cattle egret, great egret, great blue heron, snowy egret, Canada goose, ruddy duck, gadwall, turkey vulture, black vulture, golden-fronted woodpecker, northern cardinal, blue jay, American robin, scissor-tailed flycatcher, Western kingbird, Bullock's oriole, northern mockingbird, purple martin, cliff swallow, chimney swift, eastern meadowlark, common grackle, great-tailed grackle, yellow-headed blackbird, red-winged blackbird, brown-headed cowbird, European starling, house sparrow.

Altogether, a nice start to the day.

Good birding!

Much Maligned House Sparrow

Admittedly not my favorite bird, although you couldn't tell it from the hordes at my feeders. Anyway, for those who would like to know more about these birds, you can register for a free webinar coming up on June 12 at noon, Central time. The author of Sparrow, Kim Todd, will be speaking. You can sign up for the webinar here.

I have ordered the book from Amazon and will give you a review when I get it.

Good birding!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Upcoming Bird Events

May 12: I will be leading the bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park beginning at 7:00 AM at the firewood shed. The $3 park entry fee applies. Many thanks to Terry McKee for filling in for me last month.

May 15: I will be the program speaker for the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meeting at 7:00 PM at the NALC Building. The topic will be brood parasitism.

I hope to see you at one of these activities. In the meantime, the weather is still relatively mild and the birds are active, so get out and go birdwatching! I am planning to bird heavily over the next few days as I ended up having to cancel my TOS Spring meeting trip. I am in mourning over that, but decided I can still bird here. I am going to see how much progress I can make on my Texas Century Club lists for Clay and Archer counties. If anyone wants to go with me, give me a shout at txbirds@gmail.com. If I see anything great, I'll tweet it out. You can follow me (I don't tweet a lot) at @birdwithpenny (or watch the Twitter feed on this blog.)

Good birding!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Creating a Bird Garden

When we moved into our new house almost a year ago, I was disappointed with the birds compared to our previous house and began immediately to start improving the habitat for birds and other wildlife, especially butterflies. Many of the plantings will take time. I did note today the red admiral butterflies all over the backyard. Butterflies are more numerous this year than I can remember due to the weather, but still, they  are in OUR yard.

We're still working on the birds. I came across this blog post, Creating a Bird Garden, I thought worth sharing. Although written for a northeast US audience, the points are germane in our area--although the plants might be a little different.

I still have a few years' work to get my yard the way I want it, but we've made a start. I look forward to a greater variety of birds as time goes by.

Good birding!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Used Book Find

I was browsing at Hastings and as always, checked the Clearance section. I don't often find a great book there, but for $0.99, I can't pass up the chance to look for a bargain. I certainly found one recently.

I picked up Birding Essentials, by Jonathan Alderfer and Jon L. Dunn. This book is focused upon bird identification and has a wealth of information on the topic. Numerous photos and a clear explanation of birding terminology make this a must-have basic book. In addition, the book contained an explanation of field guide features, the basics of binoculars, and a chapter on fieldcraft in addition to the thorough explanation of bird identification basics. At the same time, most experienced birders will find something worthwhile in the book.

If you can't find the book in the bargain book section of your favorite book store, you can find it on Amazon for $10.63.

Good birding!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lake Arrowhead State Park Bird Walk

The monthly bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park is Saturday, April 14, at 7:00 AM--right at sunrise. Meet at the firewood shed behind the first camping area on the left when you come in the gate.

I am going to be in San Antonio this weekend for the League of Women Voters of Texas state convention, so Terry McKee has agreed to serve in my stead. Terry is a well-known local birder and is involved with many projects and groups relating to the outdoors and birds.

Many thanks, Terry, for your help.

There is a $3 entry fee to the park, if you don't have a park pass. The wildflowers are gorgeous, so bring your camera!

I'll be back next month (second Saturday).

Good birding!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Prepping for Hummingbirds

Pre-sunrise shot of hummingbird feeder.
A few folks say they have seen hummingbirds in the area. I haven't yet, but it can't be long.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I have started to change out feeders. I took down most (not all) of my seed feeders and rehung one of my hummingbird feeders. I'll get another up as soon as I see my first hummingbird.

Coral honeysuckle taking off this spring

However, whenever possible, try to supply natural food. I planted a lot of plants since we moved into our new house to encourage the hummingbirds, butterflies and pollinators. We didn't lose any plants (except perhaps the Turk's cap) during the drought. Everything is coming up this spring. My coral honeysuckles were just little twigs when I planted them next to the arbor. My husband figured they might grow to the top about the time we're eligible for Medicare. However, the plants have really taken off this spring.

Salvia is starting to bloom
It's easy and inexpensive to make your own sugar water for your hummingbird feeder, so don't by the syrup in the store. Just boil some water and mix 4 cups of water to 1 part table sugar. Stir until dissolved. Be sure to change often.,  I already had to change the sugar water in my feeder because crud was beginning to grow in it. So keep it clean and you should see some of these beautiful little birds any day!

Good birding!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Project Feederwatch Year End

One set of feeders out back.

This past weekend was my last count for Project Feederwatch. Since  my winter feeder birds are gone and the numbers of birds visiting the feeders is down, I guess it's time.

I am swapping out my feeders for the summer. I feed all year; I just don't feed as much and I switch up the food. Over the summer, I'll have the two tray feeders, the hummingbird feeders and the mealworm feeder. I should have the changes all made by this weekend.

If you can, consider joining Project Feederwatch next year. The season starts in November, but be sure to sign up early so you receive your materials in time.

Good birding!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Texas Ornithological Society Spring Meeting

The Texas Ornithological Society (TOS) will hold its spring meeting in Port Aransas, May 3 - 6. I am planning to go. I've sent in my registration form, so I am committed to it now. I have only gone to one other TOS meeting, and that was a few years ago. They always come at a bad time for me.

In addition to some awesome field trips at a perfect time of year for migrants, a special treat will be a fundraiser for the TOS Sanctuaries Fund. A group of grade school kids is going to do a mini Big Day to raise money. You can make a pledge here.

It should be a good time, with the promise of some great birds as well. If anyone from this area wants to go, contact me at txbirds@gmail.com and perhaps we can carpool.

Good birding!

Book Review: How to Be a Better Birder

Princeton University Press sent me a sweet little volume, How to Be a Better Birder, by Derek Lovitch. At first glance, I thought it might be a rehash of some other books on bird identification using the "whole bird" concept versus relying upon field marks. And the book does have some discussion on that point, although Lovitch pays homage to several of those other books in his first chapter.

I have been fortunate for the past few years to teach the basic birding class for the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist training class. My approach to teaching identification starts with "when and where" and proceeds through a list of items to consider, that includes color and field marks. However, I try to downplay those items as most birders, especially novices, place too much emphasis on only them, to their detriment.  Lovitch has a chapter on "Birding by Habitat" as well. His discussions of geography and weather and their impact on seeing the most birds, especially during migration, were especially interesting. I have been working on my sparrow identification skills for some time--his short section on why this group of birds shouldn't intimidate birders was very useful.

However, one of the unique aspects of the book is how technology can make you a better birder. I always wondered about the interest in the radar images of night migration and just how useful that could be to the average birder, but Lovitch explains this, and I will definitely pay more attention in the future.

As I am involved in several citizen science projects about birds, I was glad to see a chapter on how birders can put the observations to use in helping capture knowledge about birds that can postively impact their conservation.

Derek Lovitch's advice on how to be a better birder? Go birding! I wholeheartedly agree.

Birders at any experience level will find something of interest in this slender volume. The book is available from your local bookstore for $19.95 or from Amazon for $13.23.

Good birding!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bluebird Buddy Box Check

Saturday morning was absolutely gorgeous. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Friends of Lake Arrowhead State Park have a Bluebird Buddy program. Individuals or groups can sponsor a bluebird box for $50 a year.
Greg, Larry and Terry check out one of
the bluebird boxes at LASP.

Me with my bluebird box--empty so far.

Saturday Greg Mucciolo, Terry McKee, Larry Snyder and I visited 15 boxes to affix sponsor names, get GPS coordinates for each box and check the status of nesting. We found one box with newly hatched bluebird chicks, 3 with wren nests and several with wasps.  You too can find your bluebird box with the GPS coordinates. Terry is emailing each sponsor updates on the nesting activity in their box.

Greg has maintained the boxes at the park and other locations for several years. He will be returning to soap the inside of the boxes with Ivory soap to discourage the wasps--birds can't use them when they are full of these stinging critters. The Ivory soap is nontoxic but makes the surface so that the wasps cannot affix their nest to the wood, so they leave to find other accommodations.
Lots of gorgeous wildflowers at LASP
While we were checking the boxes, we saw some glorious wildflowers and did manage to see a few birds including: killdeer, Harris's sparrow, northern mockingbird, western meadowlark, song sparrow, ladderbacked woodpecker, northern cardinal, Carolina chickadee, mallard, American robin, eastern bluebird, turkey vulture, eastern phoebe, house finch, white-crowned sparrow, red-tailed hawk, savannah sparrow, white pelican, Canada goose, red-winged blackbird, European starling, and red-bellied woodpecker. On 1954 outside LASP we saw some gadwall in a tank.

This is a great spring for getting outside, so take advantage before the summer heat sets in.

Good birding!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hummingbirds/Purple Martins

Purple martins by Dori, Wikimedia Commons
Hummingbirds and purple martins are arriving. Purple martins have been reported all around and even north of us. If you have a purple martin house, be sure to evict the starlings and house sparrows and keep them out until the martins arrive.

For those who love the hummingbirds, it's time to clean out your feeders and get them up. Our most common hummingbirds in this area are the ruby-throated and black-chinned hummingbirds. They are very similar in appearance. Appropriate native plants are the most important food source you can make available to these tiny birds with a big attitude. If you haven't already done so, head to your local nursery and pick up some hummingbird friendly plants--coral honeysuckle, crossvine, sage, etc.

Ruby-throated hummingbird, William H. Majoros
Used by permission, Wikimedia Commons
If you don't have the space or ability to garden or just want to draw the birds to a place you can more easily watch them, hang a hummingbird feeder or two or more. It is very important the feeder be kept clean. You do not have to buy expensive hummingbird nectar. Just dissolve 1 part white sugar in 4 parts boiling water, allow to cool and pour into your feeder. You do not have to color the water red--and in fact, most people advise against it. If there is some red on the feeder, the birds will find it easily.

Be sure to change the water regularly and clean the feeder thoroughly each time. Never allow your water to get cloudy. Right now, with the cooler weather, you can probably leave your sugar water up to three days. When it gets really hot, you will probably want to change it every day.

I hope you are able to attract and enjoy these beautiful birds this summer.

Good birding!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park

The first bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park was this morning. The rain was kind enough to hold off until around lunch, so it was a decent morning although overcast. We didn't see a lot of birds, but it was still a nice time.

The only other person who came was Mike, one of the readers of this blog. We had a nice walk of a little over an hour. The Bewick's wrens were singing all over. We are on the border between the eastern and western meadowlark territories. I tend to see/hear more eastern meadowlarks. Today the meadowlarks were singing and they were westerns.

We saw: northern cardinal, eastern phoebe, Canada goose, American coot, white pelican, great blue heron, northern mockingbird, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, western meadowlark, Bewick's wren, red-winged blackbird, northern flicker, white-crowned sparrow, field sparrow, great-tailed grackle, common grackle, killdeer, double-crested cormorant and red-bellied woodpecker. We also saw a duck species, some gulls and some small peeps--all were too far away and in too poor light to make a positive ID.

After Mike and I split up--he to visit the prairie dogs and I to do a little more birding--I went over to the area around the equestrian camping area. I had some good luck there, adding robin, kestrel, dark-eyed junco, house finch, Carolina chickadee, eastern bluebird, and ladder-backed woodpecker

I didn't get any decent pictures of the birds, although perhaps Mike did. I did get more next pictures to add to my collection as well as this nice picture of one of the prairie dogs (right) and a pretty wildflower (left)--I have not idea what kind it is, but it was interesting, so I took a photo.

We'll be continuing the bird walks on the second Saturday of each month. We start the summer schedule in April, so the walk will start at 7 AM.

Good birding!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Birding Walks Begin at Lake Arrowhead State Park

The Texas Ornithological Society (TOS) has started a campaign to help increase attendance at Texas State Parks by their Invade State Parks initiative. Basically, members of TOS host birding field trips and encourage other TOS members and the public to attend.

The first bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park is Saturday, March 10, beginning at 8:00 AM at the firewood shed (dump station). I will be leading the walk. I picked this area of the park because of the habitat. We should have good viewings of sparrows and water birds. The walk will be about an hour and encompass about a half mile. However, if there are enough people interested, I will be happy to continue birding with anyone interested for another hour or so in other areas of the park.

There is a $3 entry fee to the park, unless you have a Park Pass.

Good birding!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Become a Bluebird Buddy!

The Friends of Lake Arrowhead State Park are supporting the bluebirds at Lake Arrowhead State Park. You can too by becoming a Bluebird Buddy. For $50 a year you, your family or a group can sponsor a bluebird nest box at Lake Arrowhead State Park.

Bluebird buddies will have a plaque with their name affixed to one of the bluebird boxes and receive updates on the nesting status of their box.

For more information, call LASP at 940-528-2211. If you want a sponsor form, email me at txbirds@gmail.com and I'll be happy to send  you one. Wild Bird Rescue is sponsoring a box. So am I. I hope you will too.

Good birding!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Book Review: Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives (2nd Edition)

Princeton University Press sent me a review copy of Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives (2nd Edition). What a beautiful book.

Since I was a child, reading Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, I have wanted to go to India. I haven't made it yet, but if I ever get to go, this book will be in my suitcase, even if something else has to be left out.

This book has 226 color plates, showing 1,375 species--all residents, migrants and vagrants. What makes the guide especially useful is that the species descriptions and maps are directly across from the color plate. Considering the number of species represented, this is a very compact field guide.

Richard Grimmett is head of conservation at BirdLife International. Carol Inskipp and Tim Inskipp are freelance wildlife consultants.

This book is $39.50 from Princeton University Press. It shows up for $26.07 on Amazon.

Looking through the book has me ready to pack my bags and go!

Good birding!

Great Backyard Bird Count at Lake Wichita

I  missed the first two days of the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) due to a work trip, but hit Lake Wichita first thing this morning. Six of us met on the shore of Lake Wichita behind Wild Bird Rescue and birded from 7:30 - 9:00 AM. You can see  by the photo at the left that conditions were not the best, with dense fog. However, the fog burned off between 8 and 8:30.

Our beaver friend that is often in the cove for the various counts in this location was doing laps across the area when Elizabeth Hawley and I arrived at 7:30. Unfortunately, everyone else missed him. I believe Elizabeth got some good photos though.

The GBBC protocol is to count the largest number of each species seen at one time. For Lake Wichita behind Wild Bird Rescue the count was (listed in the order seen):

White pelican, 39
Ring-necked duck, 3
Mallard, 5
American coot, 4
Red-winged blackbird, 14
Northern cardinal, 1
Ring-billed gull, 32
European starling, 6
Great blue heron, 3
Bufflehead, 2
Wren sp (was fussing in the reeds--we couldn't make a positive ID)
Canada goose, 4
Pied-billed grebe, 3
Blue jay, 1
Common goldeneye, 1
Cedar waxwing, 15
Ruddy duck, 6
Red-tailed hawk, 1
Robin, 1
American crow, 1
Eurasian collared dove, 1
Downy woodpecker, 1
Killdeer, 2
Great-tailed grackle, 3
House sparrow, 5
Double-crested cormorant, 3

During the count, we had a sweet little spaniel escapee show up. Fortunately, little Ben had a tag with his name and his owner's name and phone number. We crated him and when we finished the count, I took him home. He had taken advantage of the wet weather to dig out of his back yard.

After returning Ben to his home, I went on to Lake Wichita Park on my own to bird the chat trail and the barrow pit from 9:15 - 10:20 AM. My count was:

Eurasian collared dove, 9
Eastern meadowlark, 2
European starling, 3
Double-crested cormorant, 6
American robin, 5
Mourning dove, 1
White-winged dove, 13
Blue jay, 1
Great-tailed grackle, 1
Northern cardinal, 3
Northern flicker, 2
Downy woodpecker, 1
Carolina chickadee, 2
White-crowned sparrow, 9
American goldfinch, 4
Red-winged blackbird, 3
Pied-billed grebe, 1
American coot, 10
Northern shoveler, 23
White pelican, 36
Killdeer, 2
Turkey vulture, 1
Ring-billed gull, 1
Great blue heron, 1
Spotted towhee, 1
Harris' sparrow, 4
Fox sparrow, 1

I watched 5 shovelers swimming together, bobbing their heads and making soft clucking sounds. I was very happy to see the Harris' sparrows as I haven't seen many of them this winter.

Altogether, 38 species for the two short counts--not bad. 

For the rest of the day I am going to watch my feeders for Project Feederwatch and then tomorrow I plan to take the morning off work and do a GBBC count at Lucy Park.

If you haven't already, spend some time outside and watch the birds.

Good birding!