Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Bird Count Results Are In!

Last night the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club met for their regular monthly meeting, Christmas party and Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) results party. This was the 40th Wichita Falls CBC. Participants for part or all of the count were: Tammy Davis, Rick Folkening, Debra Halter, Jimmy Hoover, Sue King, Warren King, June McKee, Terry McKee, Bryan Miller, Penny Miller, and Chuck Theuson. The compiler for the CBC was Debra Halter.

Sue and Warren King were gracious hosts for the gathering in their home.

The CBC on Saturday, December 14, started out cold and blustery, which did have an impact on the birds seen. Overall, the count was about average for the number of species, but very low in terms of the numbers of individuals of each species seen.

The species seen included: Canada goose, cackling goose, gadwall, American wigeon, mallard, northern shoveler, northern pintail, green-winged teal, canvasback (countweek), ring-necked duck, lesser scaup, bufflehead, common goldeneye, hooded merganser, ruddy duck, pied-billed grebe, double-crested cormorant, great blue heron, northern harrier, sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper's hawk (count week), red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, merlin, American coot, sandhill crane, killdeer, ring-billed gull, rock pigeon, Eurasian collared dove, white-winged dove, mourning dove, Inca dove, great horned owl, barred owl, belted kingfisher, red-bellied woodpecker, ladder-backed woodpecker,  downy woodpecker, northern flicker, eastern phoebe, loggerhead shrike, blue jay, American crow, horned lark, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, black-crested titmouse, red-breasted nuthatch, Carolina wren, Bewick's wren, eastern bluebird, American robin, northern mockingbird, European starling, orange-crowned warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, spotted towhee, fox sparrow, song sparrow, Harris' sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, dark-eyed junco, northern cardinal, red-winged blackbird, eastern meadowlark, western meadowlark, Brewer's blackbird, common grackle, great-tailed grackle, brown-headed blackbird, house finch, American goldfinch, house sparrow.

In addition, the McKee's found a large flock of longspurs, but typically, the birds were too far away to make a positive identification as to species. I also had the good fortune to get an excellent look at a bobcat.

After compiling the count, the club members participated in a Chinese gift exchange. Overall, an enjoyable evening.

The next big event for birders will be the Big Day for Wild Bird Rescue, coming up on January 4. We are shooting for 100 species, which is considerably more than we found on the CBC. Why is that? First, the participants in our CBC don't stay out for 12 hours on their counts. The CBC is also limited in terms of geographical area--there are some good birding locations that aren't far from Wichita Falls that are outside of the count circle for the CBC. The Big Day team will visit those places. The last Big Day team drove more than double the miles all of the CBC teams logged. The CBC also tends to be more leisurely. The Big Day team knows it is out to raise money and to do that, they must find as many species of birds as possible in the time they have--so they don't spend much time just appreciating the birds (which is unfortunate, but a fact of life.)

I hope you'll take time to participate as a birder on one of the teams (it looks like we may be able to field more than one team this year) and/or contribute to the team. After all, as much as the team members love to bird, this is an exhausting event and the goal is to raise as much money as possible for our local organization. Not only does Wild Bird Rescue rescue, rehabilitate and release wild birds, but they provide educational programs to thousands of people annually--many of you have met their Avian Ambassadors around the community. If you would like to bird or would like to contribute, contact me at txbirds@gmail.com.

Good birding!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Big Day for Wild Bird Rescue Coming Up

Once again, I'll be taking part in the Big Day in support of Wild Bird Rescue. The Big Day is scheduled for Saturday, January 4. As always the goal is 100 species. We haven't made it yet, although we've been close.

Some of you may not know what a Big Day is. A Big Day is an attempt to find as many species of birds possible in a 24-hr period. In our case, our "day" is 12 hours (7 AM - 7 PM).

Our team of birders will bird Wichita and Archer counties. If we can get enough birders, we may break into two teams and expand our range a little, making it a competitive event. If you're a birder and want to take part, contact me at txbirds@gmail.com.

However, our biggest need is sponsors--people who will donate to support the team as it tries to raise money for Wild Bird Rescue. Donations can be a flat dollar amount or on a per species basis (the more species we find, the more the donor pays.) If you wish to donate on a flat basis, that's great. You can drop your donation off at Wild Bird Rescue at 4611 Lake Shore Dr., Wichita Falls, TX 76310, mail it to the same address, or donate by credit card through PayPal at the website (if you elect PayPal, please indicate "Big Day" in the comment section.) Or you can contact me via email, and I will be happy to pick up your donation in the local area.

If you wish to donate on a per species basis, just send me an email with your pledge or call Wild Bird Rescue at 940-691-0828, and they'll make note.

You can track the progress of the team all day in one of the following ways:

  • Follow me on Twitter (@birdwithpenny)
  • Watch the Twitter feed on this blog
  • Watch the Wild Bird Rescue Facebook page
We are hoping for a lot of sponsor support for this event--Wild Bird Rescue is desperate for funds at this time of year. The organization receives well over 1000 wild birds per year to rehabilitate. The Avian Ambassadors program has been a huge hit with educational programs touching over 6,000 people in 2013 (most of them children.) This is not an inexpensive task, so your financial support is needed. 

Good birding!

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

One set of feeders out back (Ignore the rest of the mess)
Brrrr! It is really cold here and we have several days of below freezing temperatures to go! Yes, those of you in the great frozen north are probably playing your tiny violins for us as you go through this all of the time, but for people who have become acclimated to the warmer weather of Texas, this is really something unusual. We might be below freezing for one day, maybe two, but it is rare indeed for it to go on for nearly a week, as it is predicted to do. As you can see in the photo to the left, there isn't a lot of snow, it's a thin layer of ice with a hard layer of crusted snow over the top.

Fortunately, those of us in the Wichita Falls area got less snow and ice than predicted, although we got enough. My poor birds are very happy for the buffet in the back yard, especially with a layer of ice on the ground that isn't going to melt anytime soon.

I hope you are putting out food for the birds, and just as importantly, water. My rainwater harvesting unit I would normally use to fill the bird bath is frozen, so gray water it is. I left it on drip yesterday, but I don't see anything dripping out of it today--hope it doesn't break.

Looking forward to seeing some birds today. Yesterday I had my first juncos at the feeders.

Good birding!


Saturday, November 30, 2013

My Little Gluttons--Are They Worth It?

I was walking with a friend earlier this week, and we were talking about how much we are spending to feed the little feathered gluttons in our yards. I haven't done real well this year tracking my birding expenses, but I know I spend a lot. Not just on food, but gas, books, magazines, memberships, donations, equipment, etc.

Sometimes I wonder whether I should be spending that money on my hobby. There are so many other things I could be spending that money for.  That thinking lasts about 30 seconds...maybe. I know the birds don't need the food I put out for their survival. I don't feed the birds for them; I feed them for me. I spend a couple of hours walking the trails in the parks to watch the birds, not for them, but for me. I volunteer at Wild Bird Rescue for my satisfaction when I get to see a beautiful bird released that would have died or I get to see the fascination on the faces of people who have never had the opportunity to see a hawk or an owl up close.

If I went out to dinner, I would enjoy that and wouldn't begrudge the $20 or $30 I would spend. I could go to the movies, and between the ticket and the popcorn (you can't go to the movies without popcorn) I would spend $20. Each of these things would last a couple of hours, at most. I spend $20 or $30 on a bag of bird food and I can get many hours of enjoyment watching the birds over the course of a week. Looked at that way, I think I am getting good value for the dollar.

In addition, when I go out birding, I am getting good exercise and lowering my stress level. I always feel better after a few hours away from all of the other "To-Do" things that crowd the day.

So yes, even if most of the birds I am getting right now at my feeders are not the ones I most want to see, they are worth every penny. I added two more feeders to my yard today...

Good birding!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Trying to Shop for a Birdwatcher?

Every once in a while I try to help those who have birdwatchers on their Christmas lists by providing some ideas. I don't do this every year, but if you want to go back through some previous lists, here is the link to the 2009 blog post and the 2011 blog post. They are still perfectly valid and I promise your birding family members and friends will love the gift. Since both of these posts are extensive, I won't go back through all of the ideas, but instead focus on a few newer choices.

Although I have reviewed several books this year, here are my suggestions for some newly published bird books your birding friend may very well not have: The Warbler Guide and The Crossley Guide: Raptors. There are other fine books out there, but these two are a cut above.

If you have people on your list who are trying to improve their field birding skills, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some excellent webinars for a relatively low cost. They also have some other, more intensive courses that are more expensive. For a variety of learning opportunities, check out their website. I've taken some of these courses myself. A Cornell membership would be welcomed by most birders--the recipient would get a beautiful magazine as part of their membership and have the opportunity to participate in several citizen science activities if they are interested.

Wild Birds Unlimited in Wichita Falls also has some nice gifts: High quality T-shirts, books, binoculars, feeders and birdseed would be welcome gifts.

For the birder with everything, I would again recommend a donation to a birding organization. Wild Bird Rescue is always in need of monetary donations, especially to support their Avian Ambassador program. Who wouldn't want to sponsor a hawk or an owl?

Good luck with your Christmas shopping!

Good birding!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Christmas Bird Count Just Around the Corner

Me, studying my field guide, trying to decipher a sparrow
The 2013 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is just around the corner. The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club will be sponsoring the Wichita Falls count on Saturday, December 14.

This is the 114th year for this citizen science project, sponsored by the Audubon Society. The CBC is the longest running citizen science project in the world, with over 63,00 participants counting every bird they see in one of 2,300 15-mile diameter circles.

I don't know exactly when the Wichita Falls count circle started, but it has been awhile. The center of the circle is located at FM 369 and Kavorik Rd. Traditionally the club has divided the circle into three parts, with different groups birding each segment. This allows the club to be more thorough in covering the circle. We'll be doing the same this year. Each section has a team captain that organizes the team for his/her area. The captains will decide when/where their team members will meet, what time they'll start the count and the route. They are also responsible for compiling their team's data before the count supper. This year, the captains and their areas are:

  - Wichita Falls: Includes Lucy Park and most of the the city area. Some walking and quite a bit of driving. Team captain is Terry McKee.
  - Lake Wichita: Includes the area of Wichita Falls south of Southwest Parkway to include Lake Wichita, out to Holliday and along many of the country roads. A lot of walking in the Wichita Park and Lake Wichita and a lot of driving as well. Team captain is Penny Miller.
  - Iowa Park: Includes Iowa Park and a lot of countryside nearby. Some walking, but mostly driving. Team captain is Jimmy Hoover.

The Christmas Bird Count is a great event for a new or inexperienced birder. Someone in the group will be familiar with the birds, but they need help with recordkeeping and sighting birds. The pace is fairly leisurely, so there is time to talk about the birds and their identification. You also have a chance to learn some of the best birding spots in the area for return visits on your own. Participants don't have to take part the entire day. You can arrange to meet up with the group at a specific place and time and stop when you need to leave. If you're interested in taking part, you can email me at txbirds@gmail.com, and I'll hook you up with one of the team captains.

The teams then converge at the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club count supper to combine the results of the three teams to submit to Audubon. The atmosphere is a little competitive to see which team got the most birds or the "best" bird.  Normally the count supper is the evening of the count. However, this year, some of our members have tickets to the Wichita Falls Symphony concert that same night, so we are moving the count supper to Tuesday night. It will serve as both the count supper and the club Christmas party. You don't have to participate in the count to participate in the count supper. We often have members who can't take part in the count for some reason, but want to hear about what they missed. If you're interested in taking part in the count supper, again email txbirds@gmail.com, and I'll give you the address.

Hope you can take part for some or all of the day.

Good birding!


Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Beautiful Morning

Hooded Merganser pair, Photo by Footwarrior, Wikimedia Commons
I haven't really been out much, but decided to get out this morning--it was just too beautiful to be inside all day.

On my way from the house, I decided to take a quick tour through Rosemont Cemetery. I don't know why I still go through there since they cleared out the side area where I used to see the turkeys. Really nothing much to see there as a rule.  Typical birds seen this morning were: pigeon, blue jay and mockingbird.

I then drove to the Lake Wichita spillway and the boat ramp. Much more productive. Of course, the water is still very low, although there is a little more water there now than the last time I was there. The ducks are back. One of my favorite birds, hooded merganser, was present. There were 5 birds on the lake that I saw. I also
American pipit. Photo by Jonathan Hornung via Wikimedia Commons
saw my first American pipits of the year. These birds are usually heard first. I heard one and then saw one flitting across the ground. Once it lands, you will notice the bird bobbing its tail.

I then drove down Rathgeber Rd. There was nothing in the tanks along that road. I took a quick pass by Stone Lake, noting a few gadwall and some northern shoveler. I then went through Crestview cemetery. The best birds there were some wigeon and ring-necked ducks.

Overall, a pretty good morning. Glad I decided to get outdoors. Here's a summary of all birds seen this morning: ring-billed gull, solitary sandpiper, sanderling, killdeer, greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, hooded merganser, mallard duck, northern shoveler, ruddy duck, blue-winged teal, gadwall, American wigeon, Canada goose, American kestrel, red-tailed hawk, Eurasian collared dove, rock pigeon, blue jay, American robin, American pipit, northern mockingbird, phoebe, meadowlark sp., red-winged blackbird, great-tailed grackle, European starling, white-crowned sparrow, house sparrow.

Good birding!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Cool Bird Word

I had to share this one. If you're on Facebook, look up the page, Word Porn. Lots of interesting words. This morning's word was a great one for bird lovers!


Monday, October 14, 2013

An Excellent Big Sit

Turkey Vulture in Flight (Photo: Geoff Gallice, Wikimedia Commons)
More people participated in the Big Sit on Sunday morning than we have ever had--we had a total of 11 people who came at one time or another.  Peggy Browning (who wrote Saturday's article about the Big Sit in the Times Record News), Tami Davis, Jim Hensley, Sue King, Warren King, Terry McKee, June McKee, Chris Peterson, Katherine Smith, and Chuck Thueson watched birds with me from 7:30 - 10:00 AM.

We thought this would be a lackluster year because of the drought and predicted rain. The location of the Big Sit, behind Wild Bird Rescue has been dry for a while and is now a good distance from any water. We did not have nearly the number of ducks and shorebirds we could have because the birds were too far to positively identify, even with a scope. However, in spite of that, we did have a very good count. The weather was also very pleasant, although none of us would have been upset if it had been pouring rain.

One of the highlights of the morning included a continuous series of kettles of migrating turkey vultures. A total of 147 vultures passed overhead during the 2.5 hours we were observing. The sight was even more impressive given that the vultures don't take to the air until later in the morning when they can catch a good updraft.

Another highlight was the sighting of 4 species of woodpeckers. Usually we are lucky to find one or two species. We had a red-bellied woodpecker, two northern flickers, a pair of downy woodpeckers and a hairy woodpecker, a less common woodpecker.

Altogether we 29 species--not bad considering the conditions and the limited time the Sit took place. We did have some birds we were not able to identify for one reason or another (usually too short of a view or poor lighting.)

Here is a complete listing of birds seen:

Canada goose
White pelican
Northern shoveler
Great blue heron
Greater yellowlegs
Long-billed dowitcher
Double-crested cormorant
American avocet
Killdeer
Turkey vulture
Downy woodpecker
Hairy woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker
Northern flicker
White-winged dove
Mourning dove
Rock pigeon
American robin
Scissor-tailed flycatcher
Yellow warbler
Northern mockingbird
Northern cardinal
Blue jay
Ruby-crowned kinglet
European starling
Eastern meadowlark
Red-winged blackbird
Great-tailed grackle
House finch

Many thanks to Katherine Smith of Wild Birds Unlimited for donating a goodie bag to all of the participants.

All in all, a great morning.

Good birding!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Upcoming Birdwatching Opportunities

I have not been posting much lately. I would like to say it's because I have been so busy watching birds I haven't had a chance to write, but that wouldn't be true--unfortunately. However, there are some opportunities coming up in the near future to watch birds with others. This is a great way for new birders especially to learn more about birds. Novice or experienced, birding together is an enjoyable way to pass the time.

Saturday, October 12, 8:00 AM, is the Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. Terry McKee is leading the walk this month as I have another commitment. Meet at the firewood shed in the first campground on the left after you enter the park. This is a walk, although the way terrain is fairly flat. We are in migration season, so there should be some good shorebirds and perhaps some warblers. The length of the walk depends upon the weather, the birds, and the desires of the group. It's usually 1 - 1.5 hour.

Sunday, October 13, is the Big Sit on Lake Wichita behind Wild Bird Rescue, 7:30 AM - approximately 10:00 AM. This is a sedentary birdwatching event. Bring a lawn chair, binoculars and something hot to drink. Dress in layers--we've had rainy and/or cold weather at nearly every one of these events. Rain is forecast. Since we are still in an extreme drought, I am perfectly fine with getting wet. The photo to the left was the view last year when there was still some water at the end of the lake where we conduct the watch. It is dry now, so we will see what birds we can see.  The Big Sit is officially a 24-hr event, but we have traditionally just watched for a few hours. It is not necessary to be there the entire time--this is a come and go event.

A little further out is the Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club on December 14. This is an all day census of all birds seen. The club divides the count circle into three parts, each birded by a separate person/group. Typically we bird from sunup until we cover our area thoroughly (usually around 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM) then we head home to clean up and head to the count potluck dinner to compile the report with the information from all of the teams. I have headed up the Lake Wichita segment of the count the last few years. Other teams cover Lucy Park and much of the city of Wichita Falls and another does the area closer to Iowa Park.

A little further out is the Wild Bird Rescue Big Day fundraiser on January 4. This event runs 12 hours: 7 AM - 7 PM. This is a hard day of birding. We have traditionally had one team--it would be great to have more than one--perhaps an out-of-town team? If you don't want to bird this one, you can follow the team(s) on Facebook and Twitter during that day. Of course, we'd love to see you donate for that event to support Wild Bird Rescue.

If you want more information on any of these events, contact me at txbirds@gmail.com. I'd love to see you at some of these events.

Good birding!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pledge to Fledge Update

Well, I got to meet one new birder during my impromptu Pledge to Fledge weekend, so I feel it was worthwhile.

On Friday, I went out to the chat trail. No one came that I noted, but I have that old anal-retentiveness about time left over from my military days, so at 7:35 I was birding and may have missed someone. I didn't do it on purpose, but I get out of the truck with my binoculars and if I see a bird, I'm off.

I didn't have a lot of time, since I did have a lot of work to get done, but spent about 45 minutes and saw some decent birds--the best being the white-eyed vireo although I also enjoyed the spotted sandpiper and black-necked stilts.

The birds seen included: Canada goose, mallard duck, lesser yellowlegs, killdeer, snowy egret, spotted sandpiper, Mississippi kite, turkey vulture, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, white-winged dove, red-bellied woodpecker, American robin, blue jay, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird, scissor-tailed flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo, eastern phoebe, white-eyed vireo, chimney swift, red-winged blackbird, common grackle, great-tailed grackle and house finch.

I did see a few hummingbirds zip by, but as quickly as they passed, I wasn't ready to commit to an identification.

On Saturday I went back out. I did hang out around the entrance to the chat trail for a little longer than on Friday, since I chastised myself for my speedy start the day before, but again after a bit, took off on my own. However, a little later met up with Dana Swann from Lawton, who came down to Wichita Falls for this, and I had a great time with her.We went down the chat trail, around the barrow pit and then over near Murphy's Mound to look for shorebirds.

I really wanted to be able to get her the black-necked stilts and the vireo as they are both very pretty, but she did get a clear view of a yellow-billed cuckoo (normally a very shy bird) and a Bullock's oriole, so all wasn't lost. We did see some shorebirds, some of which I had to take notes on and come back to determine what we saw--I am still no shorebird pro (but improving.) Here is my list for the morning: mallard, great blue heron, lesser yellowlegs, greater yellowlegs, killdeer, pectoral sandpiper, long-billed dowitcher, avocet, Mississippi kite, mourning dove, white-winged dove, Eurasian collared dove, red-bellied woodpecker, yellow-billed cuckoo, eastern phoebe, northern mockingbird, western kingbird, scissor-tailed flycatcher, northern cardinal, blue jay, Bullock's oriole, common grackle, and house finch.

Overall, a good weekend.

Good birding!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Pledge to Fledge

This weekend is Pledge to Fledge, an international effort to introduce people to birdwatching. I wish I had heard about this event sooner, to try to set up a coordinated event, but there's next year.

Due to the short notice (like, today), I am just going to make the following offer: anyone who wants to do a little bit of birding can meet me at the entrance to the Chat Trail in Lake Wichita Park at 7:30 Friday morning (August 23) or 7:30 Saturday morning (August 24.) I can only stay out an hour on Friday (I do have to work after all) but can spend 2 - 3 hours on Saturday, if anyone has an interest. I am not available this year on Sunday. Where's the Chat Trail? Take the first entrance to the park off Fairway (next to the football fields) and drive to the end of the parking lot. The chat trail is the gravel (chat) trail that is at the back corner.

You don't have to worry about knowing anything about birds. This is just an introduction. Open to children and adults. So, c'mon out!

Good birding!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Not a Good Time to Be a Bird

The pressure on our birds is becoming downright oppressive.  Pesticides (some of which are on bird feed), habitat loss and some plain stupid legislation (and proposed legislation) is making it harder and harder for birds to successfully live and breed. This is potentially a huge loss for everyone--not just those of us who love to watch the birds.

I thought I would share some recent reports and news articles to illustrate the points.

Birds are very dependent upon private land owners. More than 60 % of land in the U.S. is privately owned--in Texas it is more like 90%.  As long as private land owners continue to preserve habitat, birds have places conducive to breeding. The annual State of the Birds report talks about just how critical private land is. If you want the condensed version, here is a fact sheet.

Congress is certainly not helping the situation, especially the House of Representatives, which seems to have lost any hint of rationality. The Senate passed a decent Farm Bill, but the House failed to produce any legislation, letting themselves hold the legislation hostage over food stamps. Although I often have heartburn over many of the items in the Farm Bill, we stand to lose a lot more if something doesn't pass. For a good summary of what birds and other important conservation programs may lose, read "Farm Bill Disappointment" in the July issue of The Birding Community e-Bulletin. As if that is not bad enough, you can follow that up with a review of the evisceration of most of our federal natural resources conservation programs as proposed in the House. If these programs are important to you, these proposed pieces of legislation are likely to make you cry. Your representative is home now on a break, so it is a good time to let him know how you feel about the House's action. However, let it be known that Congressman Thornberry did NOT go along with his fellow House members in the case of the Farm Bill, so I would express appreciation to him on that score if you have the chance. I don't know his feelings on the proposed appropriations bill for the Interior Department. You may want to ask him.

These actions illustrate how short term political gamesmanship can act as a nuclear option to wipe out programs that have had enormous long term benefit for our country.

I don't often talk politics in this blog, but if you love birds (and other wildlife), you need to start watching our elected representatives more closely because they have been mixing something with the Kool-aid there in Washington and it is affecting brain cells (and not in a good way.)

Good birding!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Birthday Birding

Today is my birthday, so I decided to do some birding at Lake Wichita and made some extra stops at Crestview Cemetery and Stone Lake.

Spillway is to the left
Looking toward the floating pier
I started the morning about 6:50 AM at the chat trail in Lake Wichita Park. I walked back to the barrow pit, which was completely dry. There was a little bit of damp dirt, but no water, and subsequently, no birds. But the chat trail was productive as always. There were two surprises there today. One was two white-eyed vireos. The yellow spectacles, white throat, wide-eyed look and distinctive wing bars on a black wing make it recognizable once you can actually get a look at it. I spent several minutes tracking the quick-moving birds through the trees. I also saw two or more black-throated green warblers. This is very unusual according to the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club checklist. However, I don't see what else it could be. A yellow face with a black eye-stripe with a black throat was my first glimpse. With a little more watching, I noted a plain chest and belly which was basically white, a dark back and two distinct wing stripes.

Along that little bit of trail, I saw: great blue heron, cattle egret, Canada goose, mallard, Eurasian collared dove, white-winged dove, mourning dove, northern cardinal, tufted titmouse, Carolina chickadee, robin, turkey vulture, Mississippi kite, great-tailed grackle, red-winged blackbird, barn swallow, black-chinned hummingbird, eastern phoebe, great crested flycatcher, northern mockingbird, orchard oriole, scissor-tailed flycatcher,  black-throated green warbler, white-eyed vireo, downy woodpecker, Eurasian starling, house finch, and house sparrow. I also saw probably the biggest turtle I have ever seen in this area--it's head was as big as my fist--in the drainage ditch along the chat trail. I haven't seen a turtle that big since some large snapping turtles growing up in Indiana.

Old pier almost completely out of water
I then drove over to the spillway. There is no water anywhere near the spillway. It's depressing to look out over the lake and see basically a mud flat.

There were a lot of black-necked stilts, killdeer and a solitary sandpiper. Several mallard were hanging out near the old pier. Two blue-winged teal were a surprise. They are very common here in the winter, but unusual in the summer, although I have seen them in the past on rare occasions.

 Since I was close, I decide to drive through Crestview cemetery. This is one of the better places to bird ordinarily as there are two ponds on the property. However, with the lack of rain the ponds are almost gone. The main pond near the front had more water in it than the last time I was there. There weren't a lot of birds, but a little blue heron, a solitary sandpiper and some Mississippi kites were nice birds.

Stone Lake egrets
I decided to check out Stone Lake since I was close. It is posted no trespassing, but since it is right on the road and the sidewalk passes by it, you can see the birds on the front side. There weren't as many birds here as you can often see in the winter, but there was an egret roost adjacent to the lake (you can see it in the picture to the right--not a great picture, but it was taken from a distance with a cell phone.)

Altogether a nice couple of hours. Here's a complete list of the birds seen this morning:
great blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, little blue heron, cattle egret, Canada goose, mallard, blue-winged teal, black-necked stilt, solitary sandpiper, killdeer, Eurasian collared dove, white-winged dove, mourning dove, northern cardinal, tufted titmouse, Carolina chickadee, robin, turkey vulture, Mississippi kite, great-tailed grackle, red-winged blackbird, barn swallow, black-chinned hummingbird, eastern phoebe, blue jay, great crested flycatcher, northern mockingbird, orchard oriole, scissor-tailed flycatcher,  barn swallow, cliff swallow, black-throated green warbler, white-eyed vireo, downy woodpecker, Eurasian starling, house finch, and house sparrow.

Overall a great birthday!

Good birding!

Nice Morning at Lake Arrowhead

Saturday was the monthly bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. Only June showed up to bird with me this morning, but we had a pretty good morning. Not great, but good. I had a Mussel Watch scheduled with the Texas Master Naturalists at 8:30, so we had to watch the time.

The lake remains critically low.  However, we have had some intermittent rains to keep the plants greener than usual for August, just not enough to run off into the lake.

Birds seen: Canada goose, mallard, double crested cormorant, killdeer, Baird's sandpiper, solitary sandpiper, little blue heron, green heron, great egret, snowy egret, great blue heron, red tailed hawk, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, downy woodpecker, northern mockingbird, scissor-tailed flycatcher, Bewick's wren, yellow-billed cuckoo, Eurasian starling, common grackle, red-winged blackbird, house finch, and lark sparrow.

Next month we'll change to winter hours (start 8 AM) for the bird walk--perhaps more people will attend.

Good birding!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Upcoming Bird Events

The monthly bird walk will be Saturday at 7 AM at Lake Arrowhead State Park. Meet at the firewood shed in the first campground on the left (second left) after entering the park. There is a $3 park entry fee if you don't have a Park Pass.

The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meets Tuesday, August 13 at 7 PM at the NALC Building, 5310 Southwest Parkway (next to Wichita Valley Nursery).

It's not too early to reserve Sunday, October 13 for the annual Big Sit. The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club and the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists organize this event on the cove behind Wild Bird Rescue each year. This is a sedentary bird watching activity that takes place nationwide on this date. Bring a lawn chair, your binoculars and a drink, relax and watch the birds. We usually start at 7:30 (although you can show later if you like) and leave whenever you've had enough fun. The objective is to count as many birds as possible from within a 17-ft circle over a 24-hr period. We're a pretty lightweight group and rarely watch past 10 AM. It is ideal for novice birders. Here's hoping we have some rain before then so we have water for the ducks. They should be returning by then. If we can at least achieve a mud flat, we can pick up shorebirds. We'll see.

I hope to see you at one or more of these birding events.

Good birding!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Extra Stuff with The Warbler Guide

You'll recall a few weeks ago I posted a review of The Warbler Guide. There are some supplemental items now available you may be interested in.

Downloadable Quick Finder Guides are now available. These would be handy to laminate and keep in your car or pack for ready access in the field. Several are available for FREE.

You can also enter to win one of three copies of The Warbler Guide being given away by Goodreads. They'll be choosing the winners on August 12--my birthday! Since I already have a copy, good luck to you who read this blog. Currently, only 192 people have registered for the drawing, so odds aren't too bad. Go for it!

Good birding!

Swift Night Out

Chimney swift at nest
The chimney swift is among my favorite birds--they are so unique. The Driftwood Wildlife Association has an annual A Swift Night Out to gather information about the numbers of chimney swifts each year. This year the dates are 8, 9, 10 August and 6, 7, 8 September.

So what do you do? You try to find a chimney swift roost, whether a few individuals or hundreds (if you find one with a large number of individuals, please let me know at txbirds@gmail.com). Count the number of birds you see returning to the roost at dusk and send the count to the Driftwood Association by email with the information requested on their website. That's all there is to it.



Chimney swift tower when first built
Inside the tower--a nest!
Wild Bird Rescue, Inc.  has a chimney swift tower that my husband built a few years ago. In prior years, we've had nesting chimney swifts in the tower. Unfortunately, none nested there this year. However, the tower is still an excellent place to release the babies raised at WBR and could serve as a roosting spot (although there is no evidence of that this year.)

Be on the lookout for chimney swifts and report them so we can learn more about these interesting little birds.

Good birding!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Good Saturday Morning Birding

Black and white warbler. Photo by William H. Majoros, Wikimedia Commons.
Well, Saturday was a busy day. I decided to do a quick stop at Lake Wichita Park to check the chat trail and the barrow pit. Thirty minutes, tops. The birding was very good, so I ended up staying a little over an hour and made an extra stop at the mudflats over by Murphy's Mound.

My surprise bird was a black and white warbler. Not generally here in the summer, but if I remember correctly, I had one or two sightings last summer as well. I also saw a brown thrasher. Although known to be in this area year around, I usually only see them in the winter. This one was looking a little rough with molt well underway.

As mentioned in the previous post, I also tried out my newly acquired shorebird identification knowledge on some long-billed dowitchers and a snowy plover. It's hard to believe fall migration is starting, but it is. Seems like we just finished spring migration.

Overall, a good hour with the following birds seen:

Green heron, black-necked stilt, great egret, killdeer, snowy plover, long-billed dowitcher, Mississippi kite, turkey vulture, white-winged dove, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, chimney swift, barn swallow, purple martin, black and white warbler, orchard oriole, robin, cardinal, blue jay, black-crested titmouse, Carolina chickadee, western kingbird, scissor-tailed flycatcher, mockingbird, brown thrasher, great-tailed grackle, brown-headed cowbird, red-winged blackbird, house finch, house sparrow.

Good birding!

New Webinar Series from Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a great resource for people who love birds. I have taken some of their courses before. The Lab recently announced a series of three, 1-hour webinars on shorebird identification. Since shorebirds tend to kick my butt in the field, I decided to sign up. The webinars are $10 each.

I attended the first session on Friday, and it is a great course to learn about shorebirds. I went to Lake Wichita Park yesterday to put my new knowledge to the test. Wow! I quickly identified a plover and a dowitcher and then spent the time narrowing the field to a snowy plover and a long-billed dowitcher. Previously, I would have spent an hour trying to get an identification--it took just a few minutes yesterday. Not to say I am an expert by any stretch, but the hints given in the class sure cut down on my confusion. I can say this webinar was $10 well spent. I am looking forward to the remaining two webinars, focusing more on the individual species.

If you miss the window to sign up for this round, the courses will repeat at another time. I am waiting for the waterfowl series to come back around as I wasn't able to attend last time.

Good birding!

Monday, July 22, 2013

You Can Bird Anywhere! Birding During Butterfly Count

Part of our intrepid butterfly hunters

Identifying one of our captures
On Saturday I took part in the North American Butterfly Association butterfly count at Lake Arrowhead State Park sponsored by the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists. I am not very good at butterfly identification, so this is my opportunity each year to work on my butterfly knowledge. We met up at 6 AM. Usually we do this count in late June and it is light at 6. It was just coming up on sunrise at 6 this year.

The seven of us did find 9 species of butterflies; American snout, buckeye, hackberry, common checkered skipper, pearl crescent, orange sulfur, black swallowtail, dogface sulfur and viceroy. By far and away the most common butterfly of the morning was the hackberry. We finally called it quits when the temps got into the 90's.
American snout butterfly (look closely and you will see the long snout)

I always take my binoculars and birdwatch on any outside activity and Saturday was no exception. We had a good day for that, with 32 species. The unexpected sighting was American avocet, although a review of the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club checklist shows this is the beginning of the fall migration for them. In addition to the avocets, we saw/heard: cattle egret, snowy egret, great egret, great egret, great blue heron, Canada goose, turkey vulture, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, bobwhite, cliff swallow, purple martin, yellow-billed cuckoo, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, American phoebe, Carolina chickadee, orchard oriole, painted bunting, Bewick's wren, Carolina wren, scissor-tailed flycatcher, great crested flycatcher (a life bird for one of our participants!), eastern bluebird, brown-headed cowbird, red-winged blackbird, common grackle, American crow, European starling, house finch, and lark sparrow. We saw a couple of woodpeckers, but never got a good enough look to be sure of which woodpecker we saw.

Overall, a great morning and much better than cleaning house.

Good birding!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Black-necked Stilts

Black-necked stilt. Photo by USDA.
With the very low water levels at Lake Wichita, the noisy black-necked stilts have been very common over the past year. The barrow pit at Lake Wichita Park is pretty much just a mud flat--with not much mud.

Last time I walked back to the barrow pit a couple of weeks ago, I saw what appeared to be a nesting black-necked stilt on a pile of mud in the middle of the pond. I thought to myself, "No, that can't be right--those birds only migrate through here. They don't nest." Well, I guess they do now. I went out there this AM and two little long-legged, fuzzy babies were huddled up next to the nest and then took off across the mud. Although they lack the distinctive black and white plumage of the adults and don't have the pink legs, the only birds out there were black-necked stilts, and these guys were right there with them, with distinctive baby fuzz. With my phone camera, I couldn't get any decent pictures.

Good birding!

Book Review: The Warbler Guide

This is a book you'll want.

When I lived in Hampton, VA I often went birding with a lady named Dorothy, who lead bird walks each month at Newport News Park, a beautiful park and excellent for birdwatching. Dorothy was the best I have ever seen at identifying warblers in the field. You could bet if you got even the smallest glimpse of one or heard a song, she was going to know exactly what it was. She had also written a small volume on warblers. Dorothy had banded birds, primarily warblers, at Kiptopeke Songbird Station since it opened, so had held hundreds, if not thousands, of warblers in her hands over the years, making a thorough study of the small birds.

However, for most of us, warbler identification is tough. The birds are small, shy and constantly moving. Therefore I was excited to receive a copy of The Warbler Guide, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle from Princeton University Press this past week.

This is a beautiful book, chock full of pictures. The best part is that many of the pictures are what we usually see when we see a warbler--from underneath or in flight. The book also shows comparison species and from the same angle the species in question so you can clearly see the difference. The book also has photos of both sexes in various plumages--a great help to those of us who normally only get to see the birds in migration, when most are not in breeding plumage.

Another very useful portion of the book is "What to Notice on a Warbler." This detailed section takes you through step by step specific areas to note when you see a warbler in the field to help with identification. "Aging and Sexing Warblers" and "How to Listen to a Warbler Song" are also very helpful. The book has sonograms of warbler songs, which is not something I have found to be very helpful in the past. However, this book also has a section on "Understanding Sonograms," which I think will help me use these graphs to help my identification skills.

In addition to the warblers, the book also shows some similar non-warbler birds and has a quiz section in the back to practice.

Like many species guides, this is definitely not one to carry in your pack. At 560 pages, it is a heavyweight. However, this is an excellent work to read at home to prepare for migration here in north Texas and a super reference work.  At $29.95 this is a must-have for any birder's library. It's only $18.99 at Amazon. You can also find additional supplemental material at the companion web site.

If you're not sure about the book, take a look at a sample on the American Redstart.

Now if I can put the book down, so I can get back to housework. Bleh!

Good birding!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mystery Bird

  We received a mystery patient at Wild Bird Rescue this afternoon. Duck-sized with webbed feet. Very docile. I know what it looks like to me, but I am not going out on that limb--I am calling on the expertise of the TEXBIRDS participants on this one.   I'll let you know. If any readers have a thought, feel free to post in comments.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ka-Ching!

Sunday is my day to volunteer at Wild Bird Rescue. Now that we have babies in the house, there is no chance to bird on Sundays. I have been doing a lot of early morning babysitting, so just haven't had a chance to get out. The reports of migrants on TEXBIRDS have been making me antsy to get out. When I left the house, there was a small flock of cedar waxwings in the front yard--that decided me. So I decided to delay my arrival at Wild Bird Rescue for a half hour to check out the chat trail at Lake Wichita Park, normally a good place to find migrant warblers.

I wish I had gotten there earlier. I know I missed some good birds--I heard and saw them, but didn't have the time to seek them out. I also saw some sandpipers in flight (my nemesis) and didn't have the time to study them in order to sort them out. However, an eared grebe at the barrow pit (which does have a little water in it now) and several mourning warblers along the chat trail made for a very good morning. I also enjoyed seeing the white-faced ibis where the white face was obvious.

However, in spite of less than an hour on the trail, I did see some excellent birds:

American coot
Eared grebe
Blue-winged teal
Black-necked stilt
Mallard
Ring-necked duck
Northern shoveler
Gadwall
Canada geese
Spotted sandpiper
Lesser yellowlegs
Killdeer
Green heron
White-faced ibis
Turkey vulture
Downy woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker
Mourning dove
White-winged dove
Eurasian collared dove
Northern mockingbird
Bullock's oriole
Carolina Chickadee
Cardinal
Eastern phoebe
Blue jay
Scissor-tailed flycatcher
Barn swallow
Purple martin
Mourning warbler
Song sparrow
Clay-colored sparrow
White-crowned sparrow
Spotted towhee
Brown thrasher
American robin
Red-winged blackbird
Great-tailed grackle
Common grackle
House finch

 So, get outside--there are some great birds out there!

Good Birding!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Yes, You Can Bird Anywhere!

Thursday, a group of gentlemen I work with decided to go golfing, and I was invited along. I don't golf. However, an afternoon outside is always a good thing. So I agreed to go, as long as I didn't have to golf. While they golfed, I heckled and did some birding. The guys aren't birders, but they got into the spirit of the thing and didn't give me too hard of a time. Overall, it wasn't a bad day birding, considering we were on the course in the afternoon (1:00 - 5:15 PM) and it was very windy.

I saw my first green herons of the year and my first snowy egret. My favorite sighting was a flock of chipping sparrows. Here is my list for the Country Club golf course, 18 April:

Mallard
Blue-winged teal
Killdeer
Great blue heron
Snowy egret
Eurasian collared dove
White-winged dove
Rock pigeon
Red-tailed hawk
Turkey vulture
Mourning dove
Northern cardinal
Blue jay
Robin
Cedar waxwing
Scissor-tailed flycatcher
Mockingbird
Barn swallow
Cliff swallow
Purple martin
Eastern phoebe
European starling
Red-winged blackbird
Brown-headed cowbird
Great-tailed grackle
House finch
White-crowned sparrow
Chipping sparrow
House sparrow

It just goes to show, you can have a good day birding anywhere, anytime. Just keep those binoculars at hand.

Good birding!


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Book Review: The World's Rarest Birds

A few days ago I received a review copy of The World's Rarest Birds from Princeton University Press. This is a beautiful book with so much detail and interesting information, you can stay absorbed for hours. At the same time, it is so heartbreaking that most if not all of the critically endangered species discussed will be gone by the time my 17-month-old granddaughter graduates high school.

This large book is an effort to raise awareness of bird conservation issues worldwide. In 2010 two of the authors established an international photography competition to compile a complete photographic directory of every Critically Endangered and Endangered bird in the world. The contest was repeated the following year to try to get photos of some of the birds not photographed the previous year. This book showcases the winning photographs from both competitions as well as 800 others and 76 illustrations of birds which are not known to have been photographed and may already be extinct. As you can imagine, the photographs in the book are absolutely stunning.

Introductory chapters highlight threats the birds face and include a variety of maps and tables with information about the last documented sighting of the species that are possibly extinct or possibly extinct in the wild. Following are region-by-region discussions of conservation, threats and species at risk. Each species has a photo or illustration with information on the population numbers, threats, distribution, habitat, and behavior. Each account also has a QR code, which will take the reader to the species account on the BirdLife International website, with the most current, more complete information on that species.

The book is intended to educate and mobilize birders, naturalists and the general public to take action to save threatened birds and to raise awareness for the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

The World's Rarest Birds is $45 and worth every penny. The 360 pages contain 377 illustrations, 977 color photos and 610 color maps.

Good Birding!



Thursday, April 11, 2013

Some Bird News

Spring migration is well underway with several summer species back. Although I have been hearing reports of scissor-tailed flycatchers in the area, I didn't see my first one until today and saw several. Great egrets are back. I saw a large flock of ring-billed gulls heading out with the storms this week. You never know what you are going to see at this time of the year so get out.

In addition to spring migration, there are several things coming up over the next few days:


  • Saturday, April 13, 8:00 AM. Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. Terry McKee will be leading the walk this month.
  • Saturday, April 13, 1:00 - 3:00 PM. Open House/Baby Bird Shower at Wild Bird Rescue, 4611 Lake Shore Dr., Wichita Falls, TX. This is the one time a year the public can tour the facilities and see what happens at Wild Bird Rescue. The baby birds have started coming in. In addition to a tour, visitors will be able to see education programs with our avian ambassadors, eat hot dogs and cake. There is no admission fee, but of course, donations are welcome. Cash is needed most, but if you would prefer to donate goods, here are some possibilities: flat sheets in good condition, aquariums (they don't have to be leak proof), laundry detergent, bleach, paper towels, Dawn dish soap, gift cards to Petco and grocery stores, and large pet carriers.
  • Tuesday, April 16, 7:00 PM. North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club. NALC Building, 5310 Southwest Parkway, Wichita Falls, TX. I will be the speaker, but I haven't decided what to talk about yet, so it's a surprise. Open to the public. No RSVP required.  
Good birding!

Monday, April 1, 2013

BirdFest Texoma, Here I Come!

Well, I finally got my registration sent off for the BirdFest Texoma. I think I missed being able to sign up for many of the field trips I wanted since I waited so long to send in my registration, but regardless, I plan to spend the weekend birding around Hagerman NWR. I'll be more proactive about getting my registration in for the Lower Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival when registration opens in June.

I know that Nila Dowlearn from Wichita Valley nursery is planning to attend the BirdFest as a vendor. Is anyone else from the area going? If so, post a comment or send me at email at txbirds@gmail.com.

Good birding!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review: The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors


I was fortunate to receive a copy of The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors from Princeton University Press recently.

Most birders I know have a copy of The Crossley ID Guide, Eastern Birds, that I reviewed previously. The original Crossley guide was a very large volume with photos of all the bird species in the U.S. So why should a birder invest in another Crossley guide? Because  the raptor guide is focused on more in-depth information on the species they cover and spends a lot of space on comparing characteristics to differentiate birds in the field. Raptors are notoriously difficult for most birders; we can use all the help we can get.

Sample Alpomado Falcon plate, used with permission
As with the previous Crossley guide, there are lots of photos. I've included a sample from the section on the Alpomado falcon to the right.

However, I really enjoyed the ability to learn more about the individual birds in the new book. There were multiple plates for one of my favorite little raptors, the American kestrel. These elegant little birds are very common in north central Texas in the winter. They are much less common in the summer, but they do breed here--we get fuzzy little babies at Wild Bird Rescue most summers. Other less common falcons are the prairie falcon and the peregrine falcon.

The Crossley Guide is not really intended to be used in the field, although the raptor guide is small enough to carry. What the book is especially good for is to study between field trips to improve your knowledge of field marks and plumages when you have time to really study the differences. I especially liked the quiz pages where multiple similar species are shown sitting and in-flight, from various aspects, with the opportunity to determine the identification on your own before looking at the key.

For those interested in more information, check out the free sampler available at the Princeton University Press site. You can also learn more about the guide (and other neat stuff about birds) by checking out the Princeton University Press blog tour. There have been some really excellent blogs so far--you can find them all in the blog tour schedule. The blog tour started on March 11 and will run through this week, culminating in a Raptor ID Happy Hour with Richard Crossley and Brian Sullivan, 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM EST on Friday. March 22. You can access the Happy Hour at http://shindig.com/event/raptorid.

Also right now, Princeton University Press is holding a contest for several prizes to include autographed copies of this book, binoculars and other items for one lucky person.

I hope you'll take part in some of the activities associated with the launch of this book and be sure to order your copy from Princeton University Press or your local book store.

Good birding!



Thursday, March 14, 2013

North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club

The  North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club will meet at 7PM at the National Letter Carriers Union Hall at 5310 Southwest Parkway on Tuesday, March 19. This is a small group where members discuss their sightings, share new books and interesting magazine articles and have a short program on some topic.  Come on out!

Good birding!

Book Review: Texas Waterfowl

Well, I've been negligent lately. I have had the book, Texas Waterfowl, by William P. Johnson and Mark W. Lockwood for some weeks and haven't posted a review.

Most of our ducks are here in the winter--only a few are present in the summer months. They are an identification challenge for most of us, especially the immatures and females.

When I lived in Virginia I was fortunate enough to bird with a lady who had spent 40 + years banding warblers. She could identify any warbler she saw even a glimpse of immediately. We were birding one day and we came across some ducks. I asked her if she recognized the species and her answer was, "They're ducks." She hadn't spent nearly as much time learning about ducks. However, for those who are interested in learning more about these birds, consider getting this book.

This slender volume is dedicated to the 45 species of ducks, geese and swans that occur in Texas. The book has an interesting and informational profile on each bird, a range map and a bibliography to help those who are looking for more information. If there is one thing I would like to have seen, it would be at least one photo of each bird in flight. That seems to be the way I see them many times and the only photos were of ducks on the water.

Published by Texas A&M University Press, the book is $25 and well worth the addition to your library if you would like to learn more about these fascinating birds. On Amazon, you can get the book for $16.76.

Good birding!

Friday, February 15, 2013

This Weekend's GBBC Events

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) starts today and runs through Monday. If you feel you don't know enough to participate on your own, there are two events where you can bird with others.

Smith's Gardentown will be participating in the GBBC from 10 AM - 2 PM. Members of the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist chapter will be there from 10 AM - Noon to tell customers about the GBBC and to help them identify birds.

On Sunday, from sunrise until 9 AM, the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist members will be behind Wild Bird Rescue to do a GBBC count and to help people identify birds.

You can take part in these counts for as little or as much time as you want.

Good birding!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count is this weekend. I plan to bird every day for a while. If you want to go, message me and we'll connect. I try to bird at least Lucy Park and Lake Wichita Park. I haven't decided if I will try to add to my Texas Century Club count or perhaps try several spots along the city trail system.

Smith's Gardentown is doing a count at their store all day on Saturday.

The Rolling Plains chapter Texas Master Naturalist usually has a public count out behind Wild Bird Rescue. I haven't heard about a definite time/date. I'll post as soon as I hear something.

This is a great activity to do with kids, whether you know much about birds or not. You can participate for as little as 15 minutes.

I hope you find the time to take part sometime over the weekend.

Good birding!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Lake Arrowhead This Morning

No one turned up at Lake Arrowhead State Park this morning for the bird walk. The park was fairly empty. The cooler weather combined with a rainy forecast seems to have kept people away. Since I have been fighting the crud for two weeks, in a way it was nice, since it meant I could get home and get back into my PJs and under my fuzzy blanket.

Once it was apparent no one was going to show, I made a short drive through the park and on W. Arrowhead Rd. to Bridwell tank.

Inside the park, I saw a Carolina wren, who was scolding me while I filled out my pass at the gate. Later I saw the following birds: great blue heron, double-crested cormorant, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, ring-billed gull, red-tailed hawk, northern flicker, ladder-backed woodpecker, red-winged blackbird, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird, white-crowned sparrow, house finch and European starling. The prairie dogs were mostly underground, although the sentries barked a warning when I was in the area.

Upon leaving, I took a short jaunt around W. Arrowhead Rd. to Bridwell tank. Only the back side of the tank has any water and the Lake Arrowhead side of the road is completely dry, as it has been for several months. However, I did see three white-tailed deer along the way as well as some eastern bluebirds, eastern meadowlarks and American kestrels. Coming home on FM 1954 in Archer Co, I added northern harrier, mallard ducks and a loggerhead shrike.

So not a bad morning for a quick trip. I'll spend the rest of the day watching birds at my feeder for Project Feederwatch. At least I am getting some American goldfinch now in an otherwise lackluster year.

Good birding!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park Saturday

Tomorrow, Saturday, February 9, is the date for this month's bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. Meet at the firewood shed in the first camping area on the left. Meet at 8 AM.

It's supposed to be fairly cold in the AM, but we shouldn't see rain until later in the day (although if it rains, it will be so awesome, I'll be dancing in it--cold or no cold!)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review: The Unfeathered Bird

Cover, The Unfeathered Bird
I recently received the coffee table book, The Unfeathered Bird, by Katrina van Grouw from Princeton University Press. 

Skeleton of a great hornbill from
The Unfeathered Bird 
Ms. van Grouw is the former curator of ornithological collections at London's Natural History Museum, a successful artist and a taxidermist. This book, which took over 25 years to create, takes us below the feathers and focuses on the skeleton of the birds. With over 300 illustrations, we can clearly see the anatomical adaptations of various species of birds.

If the book was just a collection of drawings of bird skeletons (and some musculature), it would have been worth a look, but not a purchase. Instead, the beautiful drawings are accompanied by a wealth of information about the physical adaptations of birds that make them so successful. I spent hours, pouring over the text. For example, in the chapter on Cormorants and darters next to a drawing of a great cormorant skeleton: "Perhaps the most striking feature of the cormorant's head anatomy is the extra bone projecting from the rear of the skull. This bone provides additional support for the muscles of the jaw to enable the bird to keep a firm grip on its prey."

Although not an inexpensive book ($49.95 from the publisher), if you are a birder with an interest in how birds do what they do, this is an excellent book. You can find the book cheaper ($32.30) on Amazon. This would also make a great gift for a birding friend who seems to have every bird book in print.

Good birding!

Archer County Birding

Well, Sunday morning I decided to head to Archer County after feeding the hawks at Wild Bird Rescue, to see if I could make a dent in my Texas Century Club count for that county. I can't say I had the best morning, but good enough. I did add a couple of species to my county list.

I went out toward Archer City and stopped at Lake Archer. No birds on the water, but I did pick up a few small birds such as a song sparrow and spotted towhee, as well as the first cedar waxwings I have seen this winter, so it was a nice stop.

Harlan's red-tailed hawk, photo Dominic Sherony, Wikimedia Commons
My best  bird of the day was a dark-morph Harlan's red-tailed hawk. Although red-tailed hawks are fairly common in the winter, the Harlan's subspecies is more common further west. I was driving on FM 368 near Camp Stonewall Jackson when I saw what at first glance looked like a turkey vulture sitting on a stump, but its head wasn't right. It was a large, dark bird, which brought the turkey vulture to mind. I did a U-turn and went back for a better look. I got a good look as the bird flushed--no doubt of the I.D.

I usually stop at Camp Stonewall Jackson, but noticed a few cars, so didn't. That is one of the disadvantages of birding alone as a woman--even we older women have to be concerned with safety in more isolated locations. Although men need to be safety conscious as well, the threat is more for a woman alone.

In slightly less than three hours I saw the following birds: mallard, great blue heron, Eurasian collared dove, mourning dove, red-tailed hawk (to include 1 Harlan's), American kestrel, northern harrier, northern mockingbird, loggerhead shrike, blue jay, eastern bluebird, eastern meadowlark, American crow, cedar waxwing, great-tailed grackle, red-winged blackbird, European starling, white-crowned sparrow, song sparrow, dark-eyed junco, spotted towhee, house sparrow.

Overall, not a bad day.

Good birding!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Feeling Better

I have been feeling a little cooped up lately. I haven't birded much in recent weeks, and I needed a break. So this morning, I made a break for it. Although my Texas Century Club counts would have been better served by a morning in a different county, but since this is my day at Wild Bird Rescue, it was more convenient to bird Lake Wichita Park, so I did.

It was a beautiful morning--bright sunshine, light frost and no wind. I didn't have great birds, but I had some good birds, and more importantly could feel my stress level drop almost immediately. The lake levels continue to drop. If we don't get some substantial rain soon, it is going to be a tragic summer for birds and other wildlife.

Here are the birds I saw this morning: northern shoveler, mallard, Canada goose, double-crested cormorant, American coot, greater yellowlegs, killdeer, ring-billed gull, Eurasian collared dove, American kestrel, northern flicker (yellow-shafted), downy woodpecker, cardinal, blue jay, American robin,  red-winged blackbird, European starling, great-tailed grackle, house finch, American goldfinch, song sparrow, field sparrow, Harris's sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, and house sparrow.

Overall, a great attitude adjustment.

Good birding!

Great Backyard Bird Count Coming

Save the Date! The Great Backyard Bird Count is coming soon. I plan to bird each morning and would be glad to have company.

The Texas Master Naturalist chapter normally schedules one public count during this time, so watch for an announcement of the time/date/place for that.

Good birding!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Monthly Bird Walk

Saturday, January 12 is the monthly bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. Meet at the Firewood Shed at 8:00 AM. The firewood shed is in the first campground on the left.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

So Far, A Boring Project Feederwatch Year

I have participated in Project Feederwatch (PFW) for many years, regularly recording the birds visiting my feeders and updating the sightings in the PFW database.

This year has been exceedingly boring. The primary I have seen are house sparrows, white-winged doves and Eurasian collared doves. We did get some colder weather and some snow over the past few weeks. Consequently, I did finally have a couple of Inca doves, dark-eyed juncos and house finches show on Feederwatch days. But overall, the year has been pretty discouraging. I just don't have the same habitat in my yard that encourages birds. But even very common birds tell Cornell something. So we'll keep observing, recording and reporting the data.

Good birding!

Birding 2013

I don't know why, but I can't help but put some significance on the first bird I see each year. It's as if I think that bird is a harbinger of the year. Intellectually I know that is not true, but that doesn't mean I don't feel that way regardless. For example, in 2011 my first bird was a house sparrow but that same day I spotted a whooping crane (a lifer), so it is demonstrably not true.

In 2012 we did the Wild Bird Rescue Big Day fundraiser and the first bird was a white-crowned sparrow, the start of a good count.

White-winged dove
Photo by Dan Pancamo via Wikimedia Commons
This year, the white-winged doves were first up. What does that say for my birding year in 2013? I must say, so far 2013 hasn't been very exciting on the birding front. However, if you want to see birds, you have to bird, and so far this year, I haven't been out much at all. But I intend to change that. I made some birding resolutions for 2013. Since I am known to be a little compulsive on my New Year's resolutions (especially after sharing them with you,) I am looking forward to a good year.

What are my birding resolutions this year?

  • Attend two birding festivals. Right now I plan for those to be the Birdfest Texoma in May and the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in November. If I can fit in one of the Texas Ornithological Society (TOS) meetings, I will. But the Winter and Spring meetings don't fit my schedule, so we'll see about the Fall meeting.
  • Be more consistent in keeping up this blog--in order to do that I have to get out and see some birds. I am shooting for a minimum of 1 blog post a week. I have done more than that in previous years, so it shouldn't be a problem.
  • Update my sightings in eBird regularly. I can use eBird to keep track of the birds I see. After having lost my life list not once, but twice, this is a good thing. I can't replicate those earlier records, which is discouraging, but at least I can avoid a similar disaster.
  • Add five counties to  my Texas Century Club count. This will force me to get out and bird, which is the only way to become a better birder. I am not as competitive as many people participating in this program, but I am using it as a way to encourage me to get out and bird.
I am planning for a great birding year. What are your birding resolutions this year?

Good birding!