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 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!