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!