Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Review: Better Birding

I am behind on many things lately, to include reading the books sent to me for review by Princeton University Press. I finally took some time to look over the book, Better Birding: Tips, Tools and Concepts for the Field, by George L. Armistead and Brian L. Sullivan.

This is not a field guide. It doesn't have every bird you are likely to see. What the authors have done is to provide a few groups of birds that are very similar and use them as examples of the types of things that birders need to consider in the field other than the usual field marks that field guides emphasize. This is often referred to as "birding by impression."

Often, you see a bird in the field and you studiously look for the field marks noted in your field guide, but you still cannot make an identification. Birds don't always look like they do in the book...for many reasons. The light is different, the time of year may affect the plumage, plumage can be worn, etc.

Often, when I am birding with someone who hasn't been birding long, they will often ask, "Why did you decide the bird was a ???." Often the answer I give has nothing to do with field marks. It often has to do with where and when the bird was seen, how it stands, how it moves, etc. For example, during the Christmas Bird Count we were sorting through some ducks at a distance and I called out "ruddy duck," although field marks were not visible. The question was, "How do you know? They are far out there." The answer was, "They look like little cow patties on the water with a short, stubby tail sticking up." Someone broke out their spotting scope and sure enough, they were ruddy ducks. The Hints and Considerations portion of each group discussion discusses many considerations such as habitats, time of the year, immature and other types of plumage as well as hints on what to look/listen for to help distinguish between similar birds.

The book has 850 color photos, with many side-by-side comparisons of similar species which are very helpful.

This book is for reading and studying at home, not in the field, but in combination with practice in the field, can be very helpful in identifying birds when you are out.

This book was published in December 2015. It is available for $29.95 from Princeton University Press or slightly less on Amazon. Remember our local charities when shopping at Amazon by using, com to access your account.

You gave everyone else good presents last week--why not reward yourself with a little something, like this book?

Good birding!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Christmas Bird Count Next Weekend!

Next Saturday, December 19, is the annual Wichita Falls Christmas Bird Count.  If you wish to take part, be sure to send me an email at or Terry McKee at

This is the 116th CBC. I am not sure how many years the Wichita Falls CBC has been running-- a good question for our compiler, Debra McKee.

Decent Birding at Lake Arrowhead This Morning

Debra McKee, Mike Cavett and I met at Lake Arrowhead State Park for the monthly bird walk. I initially had great hopes for the walk, thinking we had a good chance for winter ducks. On that score, I was disappointed.

Because birding was a little lackluster, we went off trail to track some small dickey birds in the brush that we would not have gone after on a better day. One of those side excursions paid off with a pair of ladder-backed woodpeckers, some Harris' sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, juncos, a small flock of five ruby-crowned kinglets, a yellow-rumped warbler, a Bewick's wren, a field sparrow, and a very tame mockingbird. That little patch certainly helped our list for the walk.

We didn't have many ducks. There were a large number of American coots on the lake, mixed with a couple of gadwall, a couple of other unidentifiable ducks (too far and too choppy), a couple of white pelicans, several pied-billed grebes, and the ubiquitous Canada geese. We did see some least sandpipers and a greater yellowlegs with the killdeer along the shoreline.

After the walk, I decided to drive around to see if anything was on the Bridwell tank--I discovered coot.

Debra had mentioned seeing about 15 turkey and a few hundred pintail in a flooded area on her way in from Henrietta, so I headed that way. The turkey were not in evidence, but hundreds of northern pintail certainly were. There were at least 300 birds. They are my favorite duck because they look so elegant. There were also some northern shoveler and at least 100 mallards.  The stop also yielded a song sparrow and a loggerhead shrike.
Pair of Northern Pintail. Photo courtesy of JM Garg, Wikimedia Commons

Some roadside birds traveling between stops included red-tailed hawks, kestrel, northern harrier and some eastern bluebirds.

My park list for the morning included: double-crested cormorant, Canada goose, American coot, gadwall, white pelican, pied-billed grebe, ring-billed gull, killdeer, least sandpiper, greater yellowlegs, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, northern harrier, eastern phoebe, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, Harris' sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, junco, house finch, meadowlark, yellow-rumped warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, American robin, field sparrow, Bewicks' wren, great-tailed grackle, and European starling.

Outside the park, I added northern pintail, northern shoveler, mallard, loggerhead shrike, song sparrow, eastern bluebird, red-tailed hawk, and kestrel.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Upcoming Birding Opportunities

The fall is a great time to bird and there are a few opportunities coming up to bird with others, which is a great way to learn more about identifying birds in the field.

Saturday, October 10: Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. 8:00 AM - (approximately) 9:00. We bird longer if we are seeing good birds and people want to. This is one of a continuing series of bird walks that takes place on the second Saturday of each month. $3 admission to the park applies. Meet at the firewood shed in the first camp ground to the left after entering the park (second left turn, first right, on the left--look for a black pickup.)
2014 Big Day 

Sunday, October 11: Big Sit. Sunrise - approximately 10:00 AM. A sedentary birdwatching experience on the shores of Lake Wichita behind Wild Bird Rescue. Bring a lawn chair, a drink and your binoculars and enjoy a leisurely morning of birding, hosted by the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club.

Saturday, December 19. Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club will again sponsor the CBC. This is an all-day bird count that has been going on for over 100 years, contributing a ton of data on bird populations. Our count is broken up into three areas and are a mixture of driving and walking. At the conclusion of the count, participants are welcome to the count supper (a spaghetti pot luck) where the teams compile their information into a single report. Contact Penny at or Terry at
if you would like to participate with one of the teams.

In addition to these birding activities, be sure to bring the kids out to the Wild Bird Rescue Owl-O-Ween on Saturday, October 10, 4:00 - 11:00 PM. This is a fundraiser for our local bird rehabilitation facility. Lots of games, crafts and candy. The education birds (especially the owls) will be present to meet the visitors. $5 entry/$20 for a family of 4 or more.

Lots of interesting and fun bird-related activities, so be sure to take part!

Good birding!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

(Mostly) Lackluster Holiday Birding

One of the great things about 3-day weekends is the extra time to go birding. I hit the ground running on Saturday to get all of the errands and housework done so I could do some birding Sunday and Monday.

I really do mean it when I say, "A bad day birding is better than most anything else," because Sunday and Monday were not the best birding I have had. I was looking forward to getting out because migration is underway. We certainly are not at the peak yet, but some of the early migrants are coming through and some of our summer birds are already gone.

I got a late start on Sunday. Although we have gone to winter hours at Wild Bird Rescue, there are still enough birds to take a while to clean and feed first thing in the morning, so by the time I got to the Chat Trail at Lake Wichita Park, it was 9:40 and already getting hot. I ran into Robert Mauk, a local photographer who takes some good bird pictures just leaving the trail. He said he hadn't seen many birds at all.  Because of the heat, I just went down the Chat Trail to the barrow pit and back--a sum total of 30 minutes. If there had been many birds, I would have stayed in spite of the temperatures, but no luck. Just as I was coming back, I did have two sightings that saved the morning: a yellow warbler and a blue-gray gnatcatcher. Other birds included: Eurasian collared dove, blue jay, robin, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird, black-chinned hummingbird, great-tailed grackle and a woodpecker. The woodpecker could have been either a downy or a ladder-backed--it was the right size for either, but it was just flying across the trail and I just didn't have time to be sure.

I decided to try Lucy Park on Monday. Another late start, but I was there by 8:30. Once breeding season is over, the birds are very quiet. The great-tailed grackles have molted. During those few weeks they don't have tails, they skulk around in the bushes, uncharacteristically quiet. You would think they are embarrassed because they are half dressed. Soon they will look gorgeous once again. If it wasn't for the blue jays, the woods would have been nearly silent.

It is easy to see the level of the flood waters due to the mud line on the trees. Although many of the wonderful birding areas have been torn out for supposed flood control, there are still some good birding opportunities in the park. Not as many as there were certainly. Now, if the people who cut down all of the wonderful trees had just torn out all of the salt cedar--but a rant for another day.

Red-headed woodpecker. Photo by Andy Reaga and Chrissy McClellan,
Wikimedia Commons
This was another day that was very disappointing, until near the end, when a pair of red-headed wookpeckers started chasing each other through the trees, chattering to one another. I donb't see red-headed woodpeckers so often that it isn't a thrill to catch a good sighting. There were also several small kettles of Mississippi kites circling the park with a few turkey vultures. I figured they were getting ready to ride the front that was predicted to move through the area in the next day or two. (The front did come through and I haven't seen or heard a Mississippi kite since.) Other than these birds, the only birds seen/heard that morning were: blue jay, cardinal, Carolina chickadee, yellow warbler, great-tailed grackle, starling, Canada goose, mallard (not the ones at the duck pond--on the river) and Canada goose.

Overall, not a great weekend, but a few good birds to make it all worthwhile.

Good birding!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Birding Clay County

Lark sparrow courtesy of US National Park Service
via Wikimedia Commons
The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club held a field trip to one of its member's property on Saturday, April 4. Seven members took advantage of the opportunity to walk through Jenny Bechtold's property in Clay County. Although we didn't have an abundance of birds, it was a pleasant morning, and we did see some good birds. I completely forgot to take a picture while there, but I imagine readers of this blog will be OK with bird pictures instead.

We had an excellent look at a beautiful lark sparrow, as shown in the photo to the left. In addition to the lark sparrow, we had eastern meadowlark, house sparrow, northern bobwhite, double crested cormorant, eastern phoebe, white-winged dove, grasshopper sparrow, Lincoln's sparrow, European starling, turkey vulture, song sparrow, brown-headed cowbird, great-tailed grackle, red-winged blackbird, cardinal, American crow, northern mockingbird, loggerhead and shrike. We heard more than one grasshopper sparrow, but as usual they stayed in the grass, so we didn't get a look at any. For those interested, I am including a photo of the grasshopper sparrow in hand. You don't often see these little guys, except when singing from a low shrub or tall grass, but their call is distinctive. We also sighted a coyote running across a neighboring field.
Grasshopper sparrow, photo courtesy of Pookie Fugglestein
via Wikimedia Commons

Jenny was disappointed by the lack of eastern bluebirds, which are common on her property. She advised me to take a different route back to HWY 287 upon departure. I did see an eastern bluebird as well as several mourning doves, a red-tailed hawk and junco on my way out, so it was a worthwhile detour.

Many thanks to Jenny and her husband for hosting us for this field trip and plying us with doughnuts, kolaches, juice and coffee. We had a great time.

Good birding!

Friday, February 20, 2015

"Amazing Hummingbirds" at Home and Garden Festival

Our annual Home and Garden Festival is this weekend, February 21 and 22, at the Multi-Purpose Event Center (MPEC).

On Sunday at 1:00 PM I'll be making a presentation, "Amazing Hummingbirds," in the main auditorium. I hope you can make it.

Wild Bird Rescue will also be participating in the Home and Garden Festival in the main exhibit hall.

Good birding!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club Meets Tonight

The North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club meets tonight, February 17, at 7 PM at 5310 Southwest Parkway (The NALC building next to Wichita Valley nursery.)

The group will certainly review the results of the Great Backyard Bird Count and discuss interesting sightings by the members. Guests are always welcome.

Good birding!

Great Backyard Bird Count Highlights

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) was February 13 - February 16. I was traveling on the 13th, so didn't have the opportunity to bird that day(airports don't try to attract birds.) However, I did take part in two group counts on Saturday and Sunday and did a solo count on Monday.

I was very happy to see 13 people join me for the GBBC at Lake Arrowhead State Park on Saturday. Since the Rolling Plains Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist counted this as volunteer time, it did help our numbers, and we had several members there. We had some very experienced birders with the McKees and also some very new birders. Our new birders were able to add some life birds to their lists--that always makes for a great day.

It was really a beautiful morning. During our 2-hour walk, we saw several good birds. I am sure I captured all of the species we saw, although I may have missed some of the numbers. Our list:

Canada goose
White pelican  11
Double-crested cormorant   4
Killdeer    10
Greater yellowlegs  1
Great blue heron   1
Ring-billed gull   31
Mourning dove  2
Ladder-backed woodpecker   3
Red-bellied woodpecker   1
Golden-fronted woodpecker   1
Northern flicker  1
Roadrunner   1
Northern mockingbird    5
Bewick's wren    4
Northern cardinal  10
Eastern phoebe  2
Eastern bluebird   2
American crow  3
Red-winged blackbird  2
Western meadowlark  13
Meadowlark species   9
Brown-headed cowbird   5
White-crowned sparrow  8
Fox sparrow   1
Harris's sparrow   13
House finch  15
House sparrow   2

On the way home from Lake Arrowhead, I did see a red-tailed hawk and a couple of kestrels (just nice for me--they didn't count for the GBBC.)

GBBC participants at Wild Bird Rescue trying to locate
the ruby-crowned kinglets

On Sunday, we had a group count that started behind Wild Bird Rescue. However, with no water at that end of the lake, the birding was rather flat, so we moved to the Chat Trail in Lake Wichita Park. We spent an hour at Wild Bird Rescue and another 1 hr, 25 minutes on the Chat Trail.

At Wild Bird Rescue we counted:

Canada goose   2
Mallard duck   2
Ring-billed gull    9
Killdeer    1
White-winged dove   9
Eurasian collared dove   7
Northern harrier   1
Northern cardinal  2
American robin  1
Ruby-crowned kinglet   2
Blue jay   1
American crow   6
Great-tailed grackle   1
Red-winged blackbird   5
European starling    3
House sparrow   6

On the Chat Trail we had the following birds (and I am quite sure the cardinal numbers are low--they were everywhere!)

Canada goose   6
Mallard duck  18
Double-crested cormorant  10
Killdeer  7
Turkey vulture   1
Eurasian collared dove  2
Downy woodpecker   1
Ladder-backed woodpecker  1
Carolina wren   1
Northern mockingbird  2
Blue jay  3
Northern cardinal   13
Eastern phoebe   1
Yellow-rumped warbler  3
Orange-crowned warbler   1
Ruby-crowned kinglet  1
Cedar waxwing   8
American robin   30
Dark-eyed junco  1
White-crowned sparrow   5
Song sparrow   3
Lincoln's sparrow    1
Harris's sparrow  2
Red-winged blackbird    3
Brown-headed cowbird  2
Great-tailed grackle  5
American goldfinch   6
House finch   1

On Monday, I headed to Lucy Park for a count. The temperatures took a nose dive between Sunday and Monday, so I was fairly certain that I would be the Lone Ranger for this walk, and I was right. I've noticed that Texans don't like cold weather much (which here, means anything much below 50 degrees.) My thermometer read 26 degrees when I headed out the door. However, there was very little wind, so it was a fairly pleasant morning.

How do you like the new trail signs? I think they are great--many thanks to the Parks and Recreation Department.

I didn't take the entire route I normally take as Monday was a work day and I always feel like I am playing hooky. If the birding had been stupendous, I would have sucked it up, but it was average at best, so I kept my walk down to 1.25 hour.  The birds found included:

Northern shoveler  2
Mallard duck  28
Ring-billed gull  37
Rock pigeon   14
Mourning dove  1
Red-bellied woodpecker  2
Northern flicker   4
Brown creeper  1
Blue jay   6
Northern mockingbird   1
Northern cardinal  4
Ruby-crowned kinglet  1
Carolina chickadee  4
Tufted titmouse  1
Dark-eyed junco  12
American robin  43
Great-tailed grackle  17
Red-winged blackbird  22
House finch    5

Overall, a fairly good few days of birding. I'm already looking forward to next year's count.

Good birding!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Great Backyard Bird Count This Weekend

The annual Great Backyard Bird Count is February 13 - February 16. This is a great opportunity for new birdwatchers to learn more about the birds and is also an excellent way to introduce young people to birdwatching in a painless way.

Participation can be for as little as 15 minutes. The idea is to watch birds in your own backyard--literally or figuratively. Usually I make it a point to count all four days, but will be out of town on the 13th. However, I plan to count the other days. On Saturday and Sunday there are some special events to help people get involved.

On Saturday, Lake Arrowhead State Park will host the GBBC with their monthly bird walk. The walk starts at 8:00 AM. It usually lasts an hour--more if the participants want to bird longer. Meet at the firewood shed in the first campground to the left after you enter the park (take the second left and first right--the firewood shed will be on the left.) Look for a black pickup.

On Sunday, Wild Bird Rescue and the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist chapter will host a GBBC event out behind Wild Bird Rescue at 4611 Lake Shore Drive in Wichita Falls, TX. Again the count will start at 8:00 and will last as long as people want to count. This is a come-and-go, so you can stay for as long or short a time as you wish.

There are no group counts scheduled for Monday, February 16, however, I will be birding Lucy Park on my own and am making an open invitation to others who might want to take part. Meet at the main entrance to the park in that first parking area to the left as you enter the park at 8:00 if you are interested in taking part. This parking area is adjacent to the picnic tables and River Bend Nature Center. If you want to contact me ahead of time, email I expect I'll be birding for about 2 hours, if I follow my usual route.

Take advantage of the many opportunities to get outside and watch the birds this weekend!

By the way, this weekend is also the education weekend at Wild Bird Rescue. 10:00 AM on Saturday will be the hawk/owl program. A special program on "Birds in Love" will be Sunday at 1:00 PM on Sunday (at least one education bird will be present at this program as well.)

Good birding!

Friday, January 16, 2015

This Coming Week's Bird Events

The Big Day for Wild Bird Rescue is really happening Saturday, January 17. We had so many teams members drop out because they already had plans for the 10th, we needed to move it once again. But we are at full strength for Saturday and were even able to add a third team, so it should be a great day. The weather promises to be decent (it is January, after all!)

Next Tuesday, January 20, is the monthly meeting of the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club at 7 PM at the NALC building at 5310 Southwest Parkway (next to Wichita Valley nursery.) We'll be discussing the Great Backyard Bird Count coming up in February.

Do you know that another way to keep up with birding events in our area is to check out the bulletin board in Wild Birds Unlimited? Katherine Smith posts details in her store.

Good birding!

Birdy Weekend

A little slow getting to this post, but I wanted to post a summary of the birds last weekend.

Saturday, January 10, was the monthly bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park. Jenny, June and Mike came. It was a chilly morning out at the Park--I was surprised so many came out. The morning started out with some good sightings, but then tapered off.  But for an hour walk, we did well on birds. I think we all enjoyed the eastern bluebirds most. We watched a flock of 10 - 12 for some time. Birds seen included: Canada goose, hooded merganser, bufflehead, white pelican, double-crested cormorant, ring-billed gull, ladder-backed woodpecker, northern mockingbird, cardinal, eastern bluebird, white-crowned sparrow, eastern meadowlark, junco, and red-winged blackbird.

On the way home, I noted an American kestrel on the wire.

On Sunday, I had Wild Bird Rescue, so while feeding the birds there, did see a few birds. A male ladder-backed woodpecker was calling and working hard at excavating the mulberry tree. I am hopeful that means he might decide to nest there. In addition, the feeders hosted dozens of goldfinch, house finch, house sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, red-winged blackbird, starling, Eurasian collared dove and white-winged dove. I did not see my Inca dove, which was disappointing.

Leaving Wild Bird Rescue, I decided I would check out the Nature Bluff as I haven't gotten there since a dirt trail was put in. Well, I still haven't had a chance to walk it--a construction sign greeted me when I arrived and the trail was torn up and muddy. If I had been birding with someone, I probably would have just struck out cross country, but the terrain is very uneven and my balance is very poor. Another day. The only birds I saw from the parking lot were a great-tailed grackle and a cardinal. So I decided to go to Lucy Park.

For the most part, local birders have written off Lucy Park since the city tore out all of the excellent habitat as an attempt at flood control. Although it is true that Lucy Park is not near the birding hotspot it was a few years ago, it is still as good or better than many of the other local places. If you don't remember it as it was, you can still have a decent morning birding. There are still a lot of nesting sites for cavity nesters, so it is still a good spot for woodpeckers and titmice. However, I noted a lot of the best trees for cavity nesters are marked for removal, so I expect the habitat decline to continue.
Pair of common goldeneye (you'll have to enlarge the pic--I am not good at
editing photos on my new computer yet.)

The highlight for me was a very shy pair of common goldeneye on the river. The list of birds there included: mallard, common goldeneye, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, ladder-backed woodpecker, northern flicker, white-winged dove, northern cardinal, blue jay, American robin, tufted titmouse, house finch, goldfinch, eastern phoebe, spotted towhee, junco, and song sparrow.

Although I didn't have a lot of time to bird this weekend, the time I had yielded some good birds and I had a good time. All in all, no complaints.

Good birding!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Big Day for Wild Bird Rescue This Weekend!

Because of the ice on New Year's Day, we postponed the Big Day for Wild Bird Rescue until this Saturday, January 10.

We are still looking for people to donate in support of this fundraiser and for people to fill holes on the teams that have opened up due to the change in dates.

Remember to watch the Twitter feed associated with this blog throughout the day on Saturday to track progress of the teams.

Good birding!