Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Great Texas Birding Classic Underway



2016 Wichita Wingmen in front of the Jenny at the Wichita Falls airport
Chuck Thueson, Dianne Thueson, Penny Miller, Sue King, Warren King (L to R)
Last year I participated for the first time ever in the Great Texas Birding Classic with Sue and Warren King and Chuck Thueson as part of the Wichita Wingmen team. Dianne Thueson, was supposed to drive for us last year, but was unable to go. She is back in the driver's seat for tomorrow's event. We had a good day last year, but not great. However, we won 1st place in our region/event.

The Great Texas Birding Classis is a competitive birding event with different types of competitions. The event raises money for Texas Parks and Wildlife Conservation Grants.

This year, the Wichita Wingmen will be competing tomorrow, Wednesday, April 26. We are once again taking part in the big day portion of the competition. This is a 24-hour birding marathon, although truthfully, we are not going to be out the entire 24 hours.

There are four teams competing in our region this year. Locally, the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist chapter sponsored a team to compete against ours (although most of us are members of the chapter as well.) That team has already done their big day. They are keeping mum about their total count, but I know they got some good birds (like a bald eagle). One of the other teams competing is located in College Station (yes, that's in the same region).They have had excellent counts in the past (over 100), so I expect some problems from that quarter. It is expected to be a little cool and windy tomorrow, with a chance of rain. I am not overly concerned with the temperatures, but the wind could be a problem. The rain will be an issue only if it is a hard rain. But we are committed at this point, so we are going, no matter the weather.

You can keep up with us throughout the day. I will be making the occasional post about the birds seen on @birdwithpenny using the hashtag #gtbc17--they will feed to the twitter feed on this blog as well as to my personal Facebook page. I'll post an update later after I get the official species count from Sue. Last year we had a song sparrow that the GTBC wouldn't count because it wasn't "supposed" to be in our area in May. We didn't have a picture to prove it, so we didn't get to count it. Sparrows don't often sit still for a photo op. I saw a song sparrow just last weekend, do perhaps we'll get a picture this time.

Wish us luck!

Good birding!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Upcoming Art Exhibition Featuring Birds

I got a postcard (photo to the left) in the mail from the Wichita Falls Museum of Art about the upcoming exhibition "Birds in Art." The postcard indicates the exhibition runs from May 4 - June 24 (which is different than the dates on the museum's website.) I'll be sure to stop by to see it.

For those who may be interested, the opening reception is May 4, 6PM - 8PM.

For more information, contact the museum at 940-397-8900.

Good birding!

Monday, April 17, 2017

HItting the Chat Trail

Red Admiral
I haven't been on the Chat Trail in Lake Wichita Park for a while, so I decided to go on Sunday. The birding was average, but there were other attractions. There were a lot of butterflies--the red admirals were thick along the trail. The bullfrogs were all along the shore of the barrow pit. They make a funny noise when they jump in--a type of alarm call. Sounds a little like a squeaky toy.

Anyway, although I didn't come across any excellent birds, I did have a good outing. My favorite bird, the chimney swift, is back for the summer. There are still winter season bird in the area as well.

Birds that morning:

Mallard
American coot
Canada goose
Great blue heron
Killdeer
Red-bellied woodpecker
White-winged dove
Eurasian collared dove
Mourning dove
Chimney swift
Barn swallow
Northern cardinal
Northern mockingbird
Blue jay
Bewick's wren
Carolina wren
Eastern phoebe
Scissor-tailed flycatcher
American robin
Spotted towhee
White-crowned sparrow
Savannah sparrow
Song sparrow
Common yellowthroat
Yellow-rumped warbler
Orange-crowned warbler
Great-tailed grackle
Red-winged blackbird
Brown-headed cowbird

Since I wasn't really feeling the urge to clean house, I decided to head down Southwest Parkway to do a quick drive-by of a few other spots. There was a black vulture sitting on a light pole along Southwest Parkway. Nothing but mallards and Canada geese on Stone Lake. I made a quick pass through Crestview and picked up some gadwall and starlings (Whoopee!) There wasn't much on Sikes Lake either--some double-crested cormorants and pigeons were the only additions. There was a cute little clutch of 5 newly hatched Canada geese along the shore.

Alas! I really did need to get home and do some housework....bleh!...so headed back.

Good birding!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Turkey Day!

I picked up a new Breeding Bird Survey route in Archer County this year and wanted to scout the route. Most of the routes are in rural areas and the maps can be confusing. My husband agreed to go with me and drive while I tried to navigate. Road signs out on the county roads would be very helpful. There are poles where the signs used to be, but very few signs were on the poles. It took us three hours to drive out, map the route and drive home, but at least I am pretty sure of the route for the count.
Wild Turkey
Photo: Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren
Wikimedia Commons

You see very different birds in the county than you do in town. Although birdwatching was not the purpose of the morning, I did a little bit anyway in between trying to figure out where we were and where we should be going.  The roads were mostly gravel and dirt. A couple were a little more dirt tracks than actual roads--it was obvious they were not heavily traveled. I am very happy my husband was with me. He must have said at least a dozen times, "This route is not one you want to do by yourself. If you can't find someone to go with you, be sure to wake me up and I will go." (He is not a birder and he isn't a morning person, so it's very sweet of him to go with me, which is about half of the surveys I do.)

I put the picture of a wild turkey on this blog because turkeys were a frequent sighting. I saw an even dozen all told. One was a male showing off for the ladies--always impressive.

I also saw several roadrunners and loggerhead shrikes. I saw two what-appeared-to-be prairie falcons, but they should be gone. They generally leave in early March. But they were too light to be peregrines and too large and light to be kestrels. I can't think of anything else that look like and fly like these birds other than prairie falcons, so I am going to call them that. Of course, I don't have pictures.

Birds seen were:

Blue-winged teal
Killdeer
Turkey vulture
Black vulture
Prairie falcon
Red-tailed hawk
American kestrel
Mourning dove
Wild turkey
Northern mockingbird
Scissor-tailed flycatcher
Loggerhead shrike
Roadrunner
Eastern bluebird
Cliff swallow
European starling
American crow
Common grackle
Lark sparrow
Meadowlark (my bet is eastern, although they weren't singing)
House sparrow

I'll be looking forward to running the survey to see what birds I see when I am looking for them.

Good birding!

Saturday Bird Walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park

Lincoln's Sparrow
Photo courtesy: Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren
Wikimedia Commons
Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day to be out watching the birds. The only downside was the wind, which became increasingly blustery as the bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park progressed. By 9:00 AM, there were whitecaps on the lake. Windy days aren't the best for finding birds. Consequently, it wasn't the greatest birding morning ever, but it was still better than cleaning house.

On the way out to the park, it was obvious the scissor-tailed flycatchers are back. This was the first day I had seen any, and they were everywhere. I easily saw over a dozen along FM 1954 between Hwy 281 and the park entrance. When I was filling out my park entry paperwork, a Carolina chickadee was singing in the tree at the park entrance. That was the only chickadee I saw or heard all morning.

Debra Halter was the only other person to show that morning, so we took off on our usual route. There were a few times Debra said, "We haven't seen XXX bird this morning." No less than three times, we saw the bird right after she mentioned it. The first was the white pelicans. There are usually good number of pelicans on the lake, but this is right around the time they leave. Sure enough, right after we saw a group of around 15 across the lake. As we were leaving, a group around that size flew over our heads and joined up with another group to make about 50 birds, circling over our heads before flying off. Migrating? We've had a small group of 5 or 6 stay at Lake Arrowhead for the summer the last couple of years. No indication they are breeding.

Debra and I spent several minutes watching a couple of sparrows in the underbrush. We finally decided one was most likely a Lincoln's sparrow. Debra had her camera and loaded the picture into iNaturalist, where that ID was confirmed. I have included a clearer picture from Wikimedia Commons.

Overall, here is a list of the birds we saw on the bird walk inside the park:

Northern shoveler
Blue-winged teal
American coot
Double-crested cormorant
White pelican
Killdeer
Least sandpiper
Great egret
Dowitcher (couldn't determine long-billed or short-billed)
Turkey vulture
Mourning dove
Eurasian collared dove
White-winged dove
Red-bellied woodpecker
Carolina chickadee
Northern mockingbird
Northern cardinal
Eastern phoebe
Cliff swallow
Common grackle
Great-tailed grackle
Red-winged blackbird
Brown-headed cowbird
European starling
House finch
White-crowned sparrow
Harris' sparrow
Lincoln's sparrow
Song sparrow
Bewick's wren
Roadrunner

When I left the park, I decided to take a couple of detours on the way home. First, I drove down to a little marshy area on FM 1954 toward Hwy 287 just outside the park. Added a great blue heron and a northern harrier to my list. I turned around and took W. Arrowhead Rd down to the public boat ramp. I saw another northern harrier and added a loggerhead shrike and an eastern bluebird.

Overall, not a bad morning. Don't forget, the bird walk at Lake Arrowhead state park is the second Saturday every month, beginning at 8 AM. It is an easy walk, lasting about an hour and a half. If the weather is unpleasant, we may complete the route in an hour. If the birds are great, we may go two hours. Come out and join us! New birdwatchers are always welcome.

Good birding!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Project Feederwatch Season Nearly Over

I was updating my weekend Project Feederwatch data and noticed that next weekend is the last count for this season. Porject Feederwatch is a citizen science project, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It's a good, easy project for birders of any age and ability. For home schoolers, this would be a good project to incorporate into your curriculum. For the rest of us, it's just fun. My 5-year-old granddaughter loves to feed the birds and recognizes a few of the species that come to the yard. Maybe in another year or two, she can start taking care of the recordkeeping.

I am always a little saddened by the end of Feederwatch, although I have to admit that since I moved into this house a few years ago, it also lessens my frustration level.
Male house finch, a regular at my feeders
Photo: Maria Carcacas/Project Feederwatch

This was my 19th season counting birds at my feeders. My frustration has been the lack of diversity in the birds at my feeder. This year was a little better from the point of view that on a few non-count days, I did have some nice birds in my yard. But if it weren't for white-winged doves and Eurasian collared doves, it would be pretty sparse in the bird count arena.

I think a lot of my problem is that my neighbors don't have good habitat for a variety of birds, nor do they feed birds. The yards are not huge. I have been working on my yard, adding food plants for the birds, insects, and my family. It takes a while for all of those to take hold and grow, but we're getting there. That is probably why I am beginning to see a few nice birds, even if I can't record them for this project. So, I'll keep plugging along.

I have some birding friends that also participate in Project Feederwatch. They live in a different part of town, with neighbors who feed and watch birds--they have awesome sightings. I am always jealous. But we do what we can, where we can.

I renewed my Project Feederwatch for next season. Maybe my 20th anniversary year will be "the year" my gardening work will pay off.  Why not take part in Project Feederwatch at your house next season? The season runs from November 11 to April 6 and the registration is inexpensive.

Good birding!


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Leucistic House Finch

Leucistic finch at center of photo--note male further back to the left
I looked out my back door and saw a white bird on the ground under my feeders. Of course, I grabbed my binoculars and as luck would have it, the bird and its cohort stayed put (which generally is not how it works.) I grabbed my cell phone and snapped a quick picture. Not a great picture, but if you look closely, you can see the leucistic house finch on the ground.

Leucism is caused by a genetic mutation affecting pigmentation. The birds (and other animals) keep their dark eyes (unlike albinism), but have white patches or are white. Here is a short summary about leucism in birds.

Good birding!


Reporting Out Great Backyard Bird Count

Last week concluded this year's Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) event. I was happy to once again be able to schedule work around participating in this event, so I got to bird four days in a row! Life doesn't get much better than that.

I have finished filing all of the GBBC checklists into eBird, so I can finally report to all of you how it went. Overall, it was pretty good weekend.

On Friday, February 17, a group of us birded the chat trail and barrow pit in Lake Wichita Park. One of our group is fairly new to birding. I enjoy having new birders in a group--it really helps to go with others when you're first learning. Sue got a lifer marsh wren. One of the highlights was a hairy woodpecker. Although you don't see one every day, I don't think most of the regular birders in the area think of them as rare, but eBird does. Several of the group independently identified the bird, but no one thought to take a picture of it, so we'll see whether they accept the sighting. We had a good morning for woodpeckers overall, with the hairy, a couple of downy woodpeckers, a northern flicker, a ladder-backed woodpecker, a northern flicker, and a red-bellied woodpecker. We didn't do as well on the duck side of the house, but a quick sighting of a great-horned owl in flight made up for the lack of ducks.
Foggy morning at Lake Arrowhead SP
Disputed sandpiper


On Saturday, a few of us tackled Lake Arrowhead State Park. Thick soupy fog made visibility poor and prevented being able to scan the lake and opposite shore for birds. Since the picture to the left was taken with my cell phone, if you haven't been to Lake Arrowhead SP, you probably don't recognize how foggy it was. From this spot, we should be able to see over the lake, but there is just a wall of white. We saw some good birds regardless. The long-eared owls were still on site. There were a lot of people who traveled from elsewhere in the state to get a good look at the owls. One is remarkably mellow about all of the coming and going. Sue King, who had the lifer marsh wren on Friday, picked up another lifer with a golden-crowned kinglet here. We spent a great deal of time studying a flock of sandpipers. To all of us the legs appeared dark and we made an identification of semipalmated sandpiper. The editor for eBird thinks the legs are yellow in the photo. We are still in discussion at this point. The list at the end of this post is accepting the sandpiper as we identified it because the legs were definitely not yellow. But the editor has only the photo and range maps to go by, and semipalmated are not supposed to be here right now. But, as the saying goes, the birds can't read the field guides. However, it is possible the sandpiper is something else, so we will see. I sent out a call to those who were there to forward any clear pictures they might have.

On Sunday, several of us met out back of Wild Bird Rescue for a GBBC in a Big Sit format. It was pretty disappointing in terms of numbers, although James got a lifer with a yellow-rumped warbler. A Bonaparte's gull and a couple of Forster's terns were highlights for me.

River up in Lucy Park
Recent rains mean quishy areas in Lucy Park
On Monday, I birded the Circle trail from the entrance of Lucy Park on Sunset Drive to Williams Park. Lucy Park is not the bird mecca it was before, but there is still some good habitat on this stretch of trail for little dickie birds. As you can see in the photos, the recent rain made much of the park pretty quishy and the river was up and moving fast. I enjoyed seeing a white-throated sparrow--the first I have seen in Lucy Park since they tore out much of the understory. However, there is still a good stand of trees and vines near the footbridge, behind the sanitation building. Down the trail some, Lynn and I saw two brown creepers, which are always a highlight for me. A surprising find in town was the pair of eastern bluebirds behind the MPEC. I have seen bluebirds a couple of times over the past 20 years in Lake Wichita Park, but never here. A belted kingfisher flying up and down the river was also nice.

I am hoping by next year's, GBBC the Nature Bluff area will be ready for visitors.

So what did we see? I am hoping I don't inadvertently leave a bird out, but here goes:

Canada goose
Double-crested cormorant
Mallard
Northern shoveler
Ruddy duck
American wigeon
American coot
Pied-billed grebe
Ring-billed gull
Bonaparte's gull
Forster's tern
White pelican
Great blue heron
Killdeer
Semipalmated sandpiper
Belted kingfisher
Great horned owl
Long-eared owl
Turkey vulture
Red-tailed hawk
Northern flicker
Ladder-backed woodpecker
Downy woodpecker
Hairy woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker
Inca dove
Mourning dove
Eurasian collared dove
White-winged dove
Rock pigeon
Northern cardinal
Northern mockingbird
Blue jay
Tufted titmouse (both regular and black-crested)
Eastern phoebe
Eastern bluebird
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Golden-crowned kinglet
Orange-crowned warbler
Yellow-rumped warbler
Common yellowthroat
American robin
Great-tailed grackle
Red-winged blackbird
European starling
House finch
American goldfinch
Cedar waxwing
Song sparrow
White-thrated sparrow
White-crowned sparrow
Field sparrow
Dark-eyed junco
Harris's sparrow
Brown creeper
Marsh wren
Carolina wren
Bewick's wren

If my count is correct, that's 58 species.

Good birding!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Lifer! Long-eared Owl

Long-eared owl at Lake Arrowhead SP
I have been offline for awhile. A car accident, a new grandbaby and then getting sick kept me barely keeping up with work--and not too well, at that.

But I wanted to catch up with some good birding. As you know, I usually lead the bird walk at Lake Arrowhead State Park on the second Saturday of each month. February 11 was a very good day--I got a lifer! But not during the bird walk.

After the bird walk, several of us stuck around to work on the butterfly garden near the ranger station  at the entrance to the part. We noticed some owl pellets under a live oak tree adjacent to the garden, but we didn't see an owl in the tree at that spot. A little later, Debra McKee found a long-eared owl on the other side of the tree. My photo is to the left. I took it with my cell phone, so it isn't the greatest, although it is clear enough to identify. This was a life bird for me, so I was excited. In fact, it was a life bird for most of us who saw it that day. It is continuing to draw many visitors to the park. As many as 5 owls have been seen at one time. If you decide to go to the park to look for it, please be quiet and as unobtrusive as possible to keep the birds from being stressed.

Like I said, overall, it was a very good day for the bird walk. Here are the other birds we saw the same day:

Great egret
Great blue heron
Ring-billed gull
Double-crested cormorant
Canada goose
White pelican
American coot
Gadwall
Northern pintail
Mallard
Pied-billed grebe
Wilson's snipe
Killdeer
Least sandpiper
Greater yellowlegs
Black vulture
Northern harrier
Long-eared owl
Eurasian collared dove
Mourning dove
Rock pigeon
Ladder-backed woodpecker
Yellow-shafted flicker
Northern cardinal
Northern mockingbird
Eastern phoebe
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Bewick's wren
Meadowlark species
Savannah sparrow
Song sparrow
House finch
Red-wingred blackbird
Great-tailed grackle
Brown-headed cowbird
European starling

The next bird walk is scheduled for March 11, at 8:00 AM.

Good birding!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Lifer!!

Pyrrhuloxia, Lake Arrowhead SP, 12/23/2016
Photo courtesy of Debra Halter
There are few things more exciting to a birder than adding a life bird to their list. I had a chance to do that this past week.

Debra Halter and June McKee were birding at Lake Arrowhead SP and saw this pyrruhloxia. It looks much like a female cardinal, but it is more of a grayish color and is dark gray/black around the beak and eyes. Debra kindly posted her photo to the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club Facebook page, with a good description of where they saw the bird.

It was late in the day when I saw the post, so I decided I would give it a try to find the bird the next day. I had an previous opportunity to get this bird when I was showing a group of birders from Houston around the area, and we were at Copper Breaks State Park a few years ago. Several of them saw the pyrruhloxia--I did not. I heard it, but I don't count a first-time bird unless I see it well enough to be able to identify it.

I told my husband I was going out to try to find a lifer. The last time he went with me was a couple of years ago when he went with me on New Year's Eve (when we didn't find) and New Year's Day (when we did find) a whooping crane that had been sighted out around Electra. He didn't know about a lifer, and he didn't think people would actually spend time out beating the bushes for one--until he saw how many people were out trying to get a glimpse of the whooping crane.

Even though this bird wasn't in an isolated area, he decided he would go with me, so Christmas Eve found us at Lake Arrowhead State Park, trying to find this bird. Birds will often stay in one area for awhile, if they find the type of habitat they like. We walked all through the general area Debra had described, with no luck. I finally spied what I thought would be perfect habitat for this bird and decided to give it a thorough look. And, there it was! My husband didn't see it, but he was on the opposite side of the area. I got a good look, but couldn't find it again for him. He's not a birder, so he wasn't heartbroken. But it would have been nice for him to see it too. Overall, it took us about 45 minutes to find the bird, so not bad at all. We did see a few other birds during our walk: eastern phoebe, European starling, Northern mockingbird, American coot, pied-billed grebe, double-crested cormorant, red-winged blackbird, ladder-backed woodpecker, yellow-shafted northern flicker, ruby-crowned kinglet, northern cardinal, Cooper's hawk, northern harrier, black vukture. Not bad for 45 minutes.

Good birding!

Christmas Bird Count

I am catching up on happenings. It is hard enough to find time to bird over the holidays, let alone follow-up writing about it. But I did want to catch up.

The Wichita Falls Christmas Bird Count  (CBC) was December 17, sponsored by the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club. The weather was absolutely beautiful on December 16. Not so much on count day. I was naively thinking the cold front might not come through until afternoon, but the temperatures started dropping early in the morning. That would have been okay, except for the wind, which makes the weather seem so much colder and keeps the birds down. Consequently, the count was lower than usual, both in number of species and numbers of individual birds. We worked hard for these birds.

I started the count on the Lake Wichita dam, where it is always windy and can be downright miserable when it is cold. I was joined by Fred Koberg, from Graham, joining me for his first CBC. We birded from 7:30 AM to around 3:00 PM in our area. We walked about 5.3 miles and drove 82 miles. We later met the other teams for the count supper at Sue and Warren King's home.

My favorite birds of the day were the Wilson's snipe, prairie falcon, and white-throated sparrow.

I am including only the birds seen by me and Fred in our area, which is the southwest section of the circle. Debra Halter is the official compiler for our count and submitted final totals for the count after the count week.

Canada goose, 88
Gadwall, 76
American wigeon, 6
Mallard, 67
Northern shoveler, 53
Ring-necked duck, 29
Bufflehead, 1
Duck sp, 54
Pied-billed grebe, 5
American white pelican, 77
Double-crested cormorant, 100
Great blue heron, 5
Turkey vulture, 1
Northern harrier, 2
Sharp-shinned hawk, 1
Cooper's hawk, 1
Red-tailed hawk, 5
Buteo sp, 3
American kestrel, 8
Prairie falcon, 1
American coot, 41
Killdeer, 10
Wilson's snipe, 4
Ring-billed gull, 144
Rock pigeon, 21
Eurasian collared dove, 70
White-winged dove, 6
Mourning dove, 4
Belted kingfisher, 3
Red-bellied woodpecker, 1
Ladder-backed woodpecker, 2
Downy wooodpecker, 2
Northern (yellow-shafted) flicker, 1
Eastern phoebe, 4
Loggerhead shrike, 1
Blue jay, 4
American crow, 1
Tufted titmouse, 1
Ruby-crowned kinglet, 3
Eastern bluebird, 1
American robin, 3
Northern mockingbird, 5
Brown thrasher, 1
European starling, 287
Orange-crowned warbler, 1
Spotted towhee, 1
Fox sparrow, 1
Song sparrow, 2
White-throated sparrow, 1
Harris' sparrow, 6
White-crowned sparrow, 18
Sparrow sp, 13
Dark-eyed junco, 5
Northern cardinal, 32
Red-winged balckbird, 218
Meadowlark sp, 23
Common grackle, 4
Great-tailed grackle, 108
Blackbird sp, 230
American goldfinch, 10
House sparrow, 1

Although this wasn't one of the better counts in terms of numbers or weather, it was a great time. After all, I could have been cleaning house.....

Good birding!