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!