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!