Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Photo Big Day

I know some of the people who read this blog like to photograph the birds they see. Here's a new competition for you--a photographic big day! Although this is another one of those events I didn't learn about until it was in progress, it appears you can make a team any time!
Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, co-authors of The Warbler Guide, are collaborating with the ABA and NYC Audubon on a race to see and photograph as many bird species as possible 24 hours. Most of us are familiar with the “Big Day,” where teams race to see and hear as many birds as possible in a single day, but these teams are made up of elite birders and many of the “sightings” are actually made by ear.

The Photo Big Day is an attempt to level the playing the field by reducing the reliance on ear-birding and limiting species counts to actual photo-documented sightings. Tom and Scott will be part of Team Warbler and their inaugural Photo Big Day will be held on April 22 in Southeastern Texas. You can read more about the Photo Big Day, join the fun, or support a team at this site:

There are a number of questions not answered on the website (or at least I didn't find the answers.) For example: What are the criteria to determine whether your photo counts? Although this team birded in southeastern Texas on April 22, it appears teams may choose a location and date different from the team mentioned in the above paragraph.

This might be a fun event for our local photographers and birdwatchers.

Good birding!

Pledge to Fledge

As some of you know, I support Pledge to Fledge, which is really nothing more than helping new birdwatchers learn more about birds. However, every year the Global Birding Initiative designates the last weekend in April for an international event. I did it last year and did meet up with a new birder--had a great time.

This year I am going to be in Austin attending a convention over the Pledge to Fledge weekend. But just know that if you're a new birder and want to learn to identify birds, contact me at and we'll find a mutually agreeable time to get out and watch the birds. No special event required.

In the meantime, don't forget the Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park on the second Saturday of each month. Usually I lead the walk. When I cannot, Terry McKee has been kind enough to step up.

People are often intimidated by the number of birds and feel overwhelmed at first. But all of us learn our birds one at a time. Whether you can identify one bird or hundreds, it is more important to enjoy and appreciate them than it is to know their names.

Feel free to contact me any time to meet-up to bird.

Good birding!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Nice Morning at Lake Arrowhead State Park

I am just now getting around to writing a summary of our morning at Lake Arrowhead State Park. Saturday, April 12, was the monthly bird walk at the park. A beautiful morning, although a little cool and nippy. One of my regular walk attendees, June, came as well as Karen, one of the new class of the Rolling Plains chapter Texas Master Naturalist. Robert Mauk with Inland Fisheries stopped by for a few minutes, although he was in the park primarily to take some nature photos.

On my way to the park, I noticed my first flock cattle egret of the year in Archer county and then came across a small flock of black vultures around a carcass on FM 1954 in Clay county.  That was a good start for what turned out to be a decent birding morning. Several summer birds have arrived--both snowy and great egrets were around the lake and everyone's favorite, scissor-tailed flycatchers, were everywhere. The highlight was probably the large group (probably easily 300 birds) of white pelicans massing over the park. A front was moving into the area, so perhaps the birds were preparing to head north. No sign of any gulls, so they have apparently all left--I haven't seen any around Lake Wichita for several days now. Some winter birds are still around--most noticeably the white-crowned sparrow.

We spent two hours birding. The birds cited included: Canada goose, white pelican, double crested cormorant,  killdeer, great egret, snowy egret, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, Carolina chickadee, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, eastern phoebe, eastern bluebird, red-bellied woodpecker, ladder-backed woodpecker, cliff swallow, scissor-tailed flycatcher, Bewick's wren, red-winged blackbird, eastern meadowlark, brown-headed cowbird, common grackle, lark sparrow, savannah sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, and house finch.

Overall a pleasurable couple of hours.

Good birding!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Book Review: The Thing with Feathers

The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human, by Noah Strycker is a must-have for bird enthusiasts. Enough science for those so inclined, enough history for those who enjoy that, and lots of fascinating information about the birds around us.

The book is laid out in short chapters focused on something interesting about a particular bird--the long-debated topic of the sense of smell in vultures, for example. It is apparent Mr. Stryker has a great love and fascination for birds--it comes across in every page. He also has a great sense of humor. I laughed out loud when he described picking up a deer carcass along the side of the road to bait vultures--in part because it sounds like something I would do. However, maybe it is my age, but I think I would have thought to put a plastic garbage bag under the dead animal in my car.....

Overall, a fun, fascinating, wide-ranging book. I highly recommend it. I bought my copy from Amazon. Don't forget to log in through and designate 0.5% to Wild Bird Rescue or other charity of your choice.

Good birding!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Moving to Summer Birdfeeding

I am writing this this morning while watching the rain--it is such a joy to see water. Those of you in this area know how severe our drought has been.

A few days ago I wrote about the end of this year's Project Feederwatch season. The end of the season also marks the end of winter bird feeding for me. It would be different if I lived further north--I would probably keep all of my feeders up another few weeks.

However, that doesn't mean I don't continue to feed the birds in the summer; I feed all year around. It does mean I don't have to spend as much money supporting my birds. I took down one suet feeder, one platform feeder and two tube feeders. That still leaves one suet, two platform (although I'll put only half the food out as usual) and one tube feeder. I also add a hummingbird feeder in the summer. After all, I still like to watch the birds and an easy  meal is never turned down by busy parents. I have been noticing fewer visitors to my feeders over the past couple of weeks. In part this is due to more insects being available and in part because breeding birds are beginning to lay out their territories.

Most importantly, especially in this drought, provide water. Although you cannot use treated water outside under our drought restrictions, if you collect rain water or use greywater (from your shower only,) you can continue to put out water for your birds.

People sometimes ask why reduce food when the birds have babies to feed in the summer? Most babies are fed insects. Baby birds grow at a phenomenal rate and insects are high in proteins and fat. Most adult birds also change the composition of their diet in the summer, switching to a higher proportion of insects as insects are usually plentiful at this time of year and parents need a quick meal on the go. Cardinals eat about 1/3 insects and 2/3 vegetation (including seeds) although they feed their young almost 95% insects.

That isn't true of all of our birds, of course. The diet of house finches seems to stay at 97% seeds and plants all year long. So they'll be regular visitors to my sunflower feeder all summer. And of course our doves eat seeds all year around. Not that the Eurasian collared doves and white-winged doves in my neighborhood couldn't afford to go on a diet.

The best bird feeding is what birds get from native plants and the insects that feed on them. I haven't put in as many plants as I have wanted to the last few years because of the drought. But I continue to put in one or two every year.

Please don't spray poisons in your yards. Not only does it reduce the number of insects, but those insects in your yards are full of poisons, and are then fed to baby birds. Lots of birds is a good way to keep insects under control. Besides, we are all going to be sorry when the pollinators are gone.

So continue to enjoy your birds as the summer approaches. If you put up some bird houses or provide other suitable habitat with trees, shrubs and vines, perhaps you'll have the good fortune to watch a brood grow up.

Good birding!