Sunday, February 23, 2014

Austin Trip

Congress St Bridge
I had to go to Austin for a work-related conference February 20 - 22.  I try to bird a little on my trips, even if it is just the drive to and from. My husband laughs at me because I am always asking what county we are in so I can record the birds by county along the way. Usually, I don't see much, even when I am not driving. This time I was by myself. I always thought birding while driving at 70 mph was a little tricky, but birding at the new 75 mph is definitely foolhardy--not that I seem to be able to help myself.

On the way to Austin, it was exceptionally windy--never good news when trying to sight birds. However, luck was with me. In Lampasas county, an Osprey flew across the road right in front of me. I generally am trying to remember the birds of each county until I can stop and record them--I know I had other birds in Lampasas, but the osprey pushed the rest of them right out of my brain.

When I got to Austin, I had some time and needed to stretch the kinks out from the 5 hour drive, so decided to take a walk. I didn't realize it when I registered by the conference hotel was right on the Colorado river and adjacent to Congress St. bridge, famous for the bats at sunset. Anyway, I took a little walk along the river, noting some birds that have not yet returned to Wichita Falls, as well as some ducks we have in the winter.  I took just a short walk as I had skipped lunch as was looking for someplace to eat. As I was walking downtown, I saw a mockingbird jump into a tree. When I looked up to get a better look, there was a sharp-shinned hawk! He had a small bird in his talons, enjoying his dinner--people where walking along right under his perch, not even noticing him. Without the mockingbird, I probably would have missed him too.

After dinner, I was walking back to the hotel and noticed the bat display in front of the Austin American Statesman offices. I decided to sit on the hill and watch the bats come out, even if it is not considered the best time of year for it. While I was waiting, a young man sat down nearby. He was riding a bike with several saddle bags. We struck up a conversation. Max is from Canada and was riding through the US on his way to central America. He had entered the States in August and had to be out by March 29. He had visited many cities along the Mississippi River. He too was waiting for the bats. He was a very nice young man--I hope he has a safe journey. The bats were awesome! Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, exited from under the bridge in a 15-minute span at sunset. I wish I had a good camera--my cell phone did not pick them up at all. A very inspiring sight, if you ever have the chance to experience it.

The birds I noted that afternoon were: ring-necked duck, bufflehead, American coot, double-crested cormorant, pied-billed grebe, great egret, snowy egret, spotted sandpiper, rock pigeon, white-winged dove, mourning dove, sharp-shinned hawk, cardinal, song sparrow, great-tailed grackle, northern mockingbird. The next night on the way to dinner I added some gadwall.

On the way home, I stopped to stretch my legs in a short walk in Pecan Creek Park in Hamilton, Texas. Several nice birds, to include: Eurasian collared dove, white-winged dove, mourning dove, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, turkey vulture, Carolina chickadee, Bewick's wren, northern cardinal, blue jay, northern mockingbird, eastern phoebe, cedar waxwing, orange-crowned warbler, American robin, and house sparrow.

What an nice trip! The conference was also good--I really did learn some interesting things and meet some nice people. But this is just more proof that you can bird anywhere!

Good birding!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Looking Back on the 2014 Great Backyard Bird Count

Texas Master Naturalist and friends enjoying the GBBC at Lake
Arrowhead State Park.
I had a pretty good Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC.) Whenever possible, I try to do a little birdwatching all four days. It doesn't always work out, but this year I did manage to bird every day, although the time available wasn't much on Friday and Monday.

I started out my Valentine's Day at Lake Wichita Park at 7:45, spending about 45 minutes walking from the parking lot next to Murphy's Mound around to the barrow pit and back. It was a beautiful, clear morning with a temp near 40 degrees, but the wind was bitter cold. The best bird there was a brown thrasher. Other birds included: northern shoveler, gadwall, Canada goose, double-crested cormorant, ring-billed gull, greater yellowlegs, northern flicker, Eurasian collared dove, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird, white-crowned sparrow, Harris' sparrow, song sparrow, American robin, and meadowlark (sp.)

On Saturday I started at Lake Arrowhead State Park where the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists hosted a public GBBC count. It was fairly windy. The best bird there was a ferruginous hawk. We didn't get a lot of species, but other birds included: American white pelican, double crested cormorant, Canada goose, ring-billed gull, killdeer, downy woodpecker, red-tailed hawk, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, Bewick's wren, meadowlark (sp.), white-crowned sparrow, and house finch.

On the way back from Wichita Falls from Lake Arrowhead, I stopped in to Crestview Memorial Cemetery. Probably the best birds there were the large number of cackling geese (they look rather like stumpy Canada geese.) In addition, the following birds were present: Canada goose, mallard, bufflehead, ring-necked duck, gadwall, northern shoveler, red-tailed hawk, red-winged balckbird, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird, song sparrow, and Harris' sparrow.

Still not ready to head home and grade final exams (bleh!), I decided to cut through by Stone Lake.  I drove by there and parked behind Grace church for a quick survey of a nice wooded area. I stayed for about 20 minutes and saw American coot, northern shoveler, mallard, Canada goose, American kestrel, northern cardinal and spotted towhee.

In yet another delaying tactic, I swept through Kiwanis Park and Lakeview Cemetery (any idea why it is called Lakeview?) I have never seen any good birds in this park, but you have to give it a shot every once in a while. The only finds there were 1 each, great-tailed grackle, blue jay and starling.

I then cut back across Southwest Parkway to check out Rosemont Cemetery. I haven't had a lot of luck since they started expanding and making "improvements" in the cemetery, but nonetheless, I did see my first turkey vulture of the year soaring overhead, so that was a good find. Other birds included: Eurasian collared dove, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, American robin, white-crowned sparrow, Harris' sparrow, and house finch.

On Sunday the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalists hosted another public GBBC count behind Wild Bird Rescue, where the Big Sit is held. There is no water in the lake at the west end due to the drought, but we did have some good birds, notably a flock of white-fronted geese flying over and an orange-crowned warbler. In addition to these sightings, the group saw: Canada goose, double-crested cormorant, ring-billed gull, killdeer, northern harrier, rock pigeon, Eurasian collared dove, northern cardinal, blue jay,  red-winged blackbird, European starling, great-tailed grackle, spotted towhee, dark-eyed junco, song sparrow, and house sparrow.

On Monday, I drove through Riverside Cemetery between meetings. I was only there for 15 minutes, but the only bird I saw was a northern mockingbird. However, the wind was blustery and cold--not promising.  Although I didn't expect to get much, I was right by Lucy Park, so had to at least make a quick 15-minute drive through. Although I didn't spend much time and didn't get out of the vehicle, I had the good fortune to see three wood ducks on the duck pond. Even if I didn't see another bird, I would have been happy. As it happened though, the wood ducks were not the only birds (although they were far and away the best ones.) Other birds includes: Canada goose, mallard, northern shoveler, great blue heron, Eurasian collared dove, northern mockingbird, blue jay, American robin, European starling, great-tailed grackle, and common grackle.

All told, I spent 7.75 hours birding over the four days and drove about 50 miles all told. I had a great time and saw some good birds.

Good birding!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Upcoming Bird-Related Events

Yes, I do realize I have made more posts today than I have for the past two weeks. My life is like that. I need to learn how to write them in a big purge and schedule when they show up, but I haven't yet.

There are some upcoming events for those interested in birds I thought I would pass on.

February 14 - 17: Great Backyard Bird Count. I have already written a separate post about that, so I won't repeat everything here--you can read the post. It looks like the weather is going to be decent (of course, that could easily change.)

February 18: Movie Night with the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club. 7:00 PM. The club will have its regular meeting in the home of two of its members to watch "The Big Year." Guests are welcome, but email me at for information on the location. Popcorn will be served.

March 8: Raptor ID class at Hackberry Flat. 9:30 AM. There will be a group leaving from Wichita Falls around 8 AM. For more information contact Terry at

March 8: Bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park (and the reason I won't be going to Hackberry--boo!) 8:00 AM. Meet at the Firewood shed in the first camping area to the left after you enter the park.

Try to check out some of the bird-related activities in our area.

Good birding!

Pine Warbler

Sue and Warren King reported a pine warbler in their back yard a couple of days ago. There are only a couple of sight records of this bird in Wichita county, so this is an excellent find. To say I am jealous is an understatement. Here are some photos of this beautiful little bird. Sue King was gracious enough to give me permission to use her photos.

Good birding!,

Big Day for Wild Bird Rescue

Terry McKee told me I haven't posted a summary for the Big Day for Wild Bird Rescue that was held January 4. It's one of those things I was intending to do that somehow in my mind got turned around to me thinking I had done....ever have that happen to you?

We had two teams this year. We met at IHOP for breakfast and to plan strategies.

The more experienced team was Team 1 (me, Brady Surber, Tiffany Surber, Rick Folkening and Katherine Smith). We birded Wilbarger, Archer and Wichita counties. This was our first year with a second team. Sue and Warren King and Chuck Thueson birded primarily Wichita and Clay counties.

Team 1 species list (in order found, not field guide order):

Great horned owl
Red-tailed hawk
Eastern meadowlark
Eastern meadowlark
American kestrel
Northern harrier
Ladder-back woodpecker
Harris' sparrow
Field sparrow
Canada goose
Cackling goose
Loggerhead shrike
White-crowned sparrow
Red-winged sparrow
Hooded merganser
Red-headed woodpecker
American crow
Northern cardinal
Horned lark
Dark-eyed junco
Wild turkey
Black-crested titmouse
Eastern phoebe
Yellow-shafted flicker
Ring-necked duck
Northern bobwhite
European starling
House sparrow
Brown-headed cowbird
Brewer's blackbird
Savannah sparrow
Lark bunting
American pipit
McCowan's Longspur
Chestnut collared longspur
Lapland longspur
Song sparrow
Winter wren
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Carolina chickadee
Sandhill crane
Ferruginous hawk
Blue jay
Eurasian collared dove
Northern mockingbird
Yellow-rumped warbler
Rock pigeon
White pelican
Great blue heron
Ring-billed gull
Green-winged teal
Herring gull
Lesser yellowlegs
Vesper sparrow
Greater white-fronted goose
Least sandpiper
Western sandpiper
Eastern bluebird
Long-billed dowitcher
Greater yellowlegs
Baird's sandpiper
White-winged dove
Great-tailed grackle
American coot
Glaucous gull
Burrowing owl
Greater roadrunner
House finch
Bewick's wren
Brown thrasher
American goldfinch
Black vulture
American wigeon
Prairie falcon
Cooper's hawk
Lesser Scaup
Greater scaup
Northern pintail
Northern shoveler
Black-bellied whistling duck
Mourning dove
Double-crested cormorant
Lincoln's sparrow
American robin

Team 2 was a first-time entry. This is their list (again, in the order seen.)

Canada Goose
American Wigeon
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck
Hooded Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Pied-gilled Grebe
White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk
American Kestrel
American Coot
Greater Yellowlegs
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
White winged dove
Mourning Dove
Inca Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker –Yellow
Northern Flicker – Red
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
Carolina Chickadee
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Le Conte’s Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

I haven't seen a final tally of how much we earned, but I Kate Bukowski at Wild Bird Rescue did tell me that although Team 2 had fewer birds, they out earned Team 1--way to go Team 2! It was the most successful Big Day fundraiser we've had. Thanks to everyone who sponsored/donated for this event!

Good birding!

Good Birding at Lake Arrowhead Today

The second Saturday of every month is a bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. On the drive out, I saw 5 red-tailed hawks and 4 kestrel, so I was hoping for a good morning. After a week of snow and bitterly cold weather, I had a hunch there wouldn't be a crowd at the park for the walk today; nevertheless, the roads were clear, so I went. And I was right. However, me, myself, and I had a good morning. It wasn't too cold (30's) and there was no wind, making for decent weather.

While I was waiting to see if anyone else was going to show, I watched a mockingbird go over my truck looking for food. I realize my little cell phone camera isn't the best, but you can see him perched on the front of my truck--looks like a hood ornament. He actually let me get pretty close. He was going over the grill and searching in the space between the windshield and the hood, probably looking for bugs. I did notice the mockingbirds were beginning to chase one another and other birds, although none are singing yet.

The lake, besides being low, has a film of ice on it, with some of the last round of snow still setting on top of it. The lake is currently sitting at around 28% capacity.

In addition to the birds, there were a number of white-tailed deer. It is amazing that you can be looking over a field and see nothing, then something startles the deer and suddenly, there are a dozen of them running across the field with their white tails flashing.

I also saw some bobcat tracks and when I was climbing the rock stairs on the trail, it was obvious a cotton tail had come that way before me--he had climbed the stairs too.

You can't really see it, but in the picture to the right there are several hundred gulls sitting on the ice. Most all of them are ring-billed gulls but there were two first winter herring gulls mixed in--they really stood out from the others, being much larger and darker. Although a large group of birds, this was just what was left after well over 1000 took off just a little earlier.

In a little over an hour inside the park, I saw the following birds: Canada goose, cackling goose, white pelican, mallard, double-crested cormorant, killdeer, great blue heron, spotted sandpiper, ring-billed gull, herring gull, red-tailed hawk, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, golden-fronted woodpecker, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, eastern bluebird, red-winged blackbird, meadowlark sp., dark-eyed junco, white-crowned sparrow, Harris' sparrow, song sparrow, and house sparrow.

By the time I left the park, the weather was really warming up, so I decided to take West Arrowhead Road to see if I could add any birds to my list. I did add starlings (yippee), Eurasian collared dove, blue jay, American kestrel and American crow.

I then decided to head home by way of FM 9154 and FM 2650 (Sisk Rd). Most of the small tanks were frozen, but there was one tank with some ducks, so I was able to add not only some great-tailed grackles, but gadwall, ring-necked ducks and green-winged teal.

Now, aren't you sorry you stayed home? Don't forget you can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count at Lake Arrowhead State Park next Saturday, February 15, at 9:00 AM. Why not join in?

Good birding!