Big Country Audubon Society

Stories from April, 2006

Spring Social at Cedar Gap Farm

For our May 4 meeting we will have a dinner at 6 p.m. at Cedar Gap Farm south of Abilene for members and their family. Meat, soft drinks, and iced tea will be provided.  Please bring a side dish and a salad or dessert.  We will not have a program but the hummingbirds, Painted Buntings and other birds that frequent the feeders will keep us entertained!  We will probably eat around 6:30 or 7 pm, giving us ample time to bird before we enjoy the meal.  So if you can’t come at 6, come when you can.  This is a great way to stay in touch with other members and we always look forward to seeing you at our spring social. If you need directions to Cedar Gap Farm, click here or leave a message on the hotline (325-691-8981) and someone will return your call. Dress is casual, of course.

Incas About to Fledge

Inca Dove Babies
The Inca Doves are growing in their nest and will soon fledge. Pictured above are the babies on 4-21-06; their penfeathers had emerged but the barbs of the feathers hadn’t fluffed out yet. They were still covered with lots of baby down. While photographing the mother on the nest I waited for her to leave and come back with food for her babies. She never left but instead fed her babies “pigeon milk.” Doves have a unique way to provide protein to their young. They secrete a milky fluid rich in protein and fat in the crop. The young are fed this diet for the first few days and then they begin to receive a mixture of “milk” and partially digested seeds or fruit. To be fed, the young bird will insert its bill into the corner of the parent’s mouth and the adult will regurgitate the milk or the mixture for the young to eat. I watched the parent feed both babies at once, one on each side of the mouth. To see how big the babies are now, click here.

John English Photos

Black-throated Sparrow

John English’s photos are now ready to view. Click here to see his birds. If you like what you see, just keep in mind the real photos are so much more detailed than what a computer screen depicts. One of the photos is enlarged to give you an idea of how stunning his artwork is. If you like what you see, let John know. If you want to see more of John’s work, click here.

Spring Festival at Abilene State Park

Come to the Spring Festival at the Abilene State Park on Saturday, April 22, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. There will be lots of family entertainment, shopping, and FUN! Live music will be performed all day. There will be arts and crafts booths, food booths, a children’s area, and silent auction. No admissions will be charged but contributions will be accepted. All proceeds will benefit the Abilene State Park.

The Problem With Saturdays

If you’re an avid birder and have the weekends to bird, Saturdays are problematic. So many places to bird; so many possiblities await. How do you choose which place to bird? What if you choose to look for shorebirds and then discover a few days later that passerines were popping up in the woodlots and you missed them. One way to solve this dilemma is to bird at the Hutto’s Bird House at Cedar Gap Farm.

The Bird House is a happen’ place. If there’s a bird anywhere near the area, it will put in an appearance at the feeders. As of April 15, Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches and several species of sparrow were still helping themselves to free seeds. Three new migrating sparrows (Chipping, Clay-colored, and Lark) showed up in good numbers along with the still wintering White-crowned and White-Throated Sparrows. The Black-chinned Hummingbirds are back from their wintering grounds and are busy buzzing around the feeders and gathering nesting material that Earlene has put out.

If sitting and waiting for the birds is not your thing, the Hutto’s have developed several trails that meander through their property. About a dozen Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were spotted gleaning insects from the trees. A nice-size pond attracts thirsty migrants and residents alike. Two Orange-crowned Warblers were splashing in the water while two pair of Spotted Towhees were preparing to bathe. Canyon Towhees and Black-creasted Titmice were loudly announcing their territories Saturday. And the views from the front porch are a little impressive; I watched the aerial courtship of two Sharp-shinned Hawks. While I was there I took pictures of the Hutto’s place. Those of you who have been there will enjoy seeing the place again. If you haven’t seen the Hutto’s place, what’s your excuse? Painted Buntings are due back any day now. Click here for pictures; click here for directions.

What’s This Bird?

Leucistic House Sparrow

A few weeks ago a friend sent me this picture of an odd-looking bird seen on the ground below the office window. Try to match this bird’s plumage to one in a field guide and you find it’s an impossible task; there is no such bird unless you know about albinism and leucisim. (It’s a short read.) More pictures of this leucistic bird can be found here, plus photos of an albino dove that showed up at a feeder in NE Abilene.

Stubborn Mama

Bluebird on Nest

And you think your job is boring? Try being a bluebird mama, sitting on eggs, day after day waiting for them to hatch. It will take this female bluebird approximately two weeks to incubate her eggs. Only the female developes a brood patch, an area of skin on the belly where there are extra blood vessels and no feathers. The eggs come in direct contact with the brood patch and this keeps the eggs at just the right temperature so they’ll develop properly. The male does not develop this patch, he gets to stand guard at the nest box and feed the female. She’ll only leave for a few brief periods of time to forage for food.

If you’re wondering how I got this picture, it’s because the mama didn’t fly when I opened the box to inspect it. I moved a small mirror into the box mere inches above her head and clicked the camera as she stared at me and hunkered down further into her nest. I know she has at least three eggs and she might have more. But I probably won’t know how many unless I find her away from the nest the next time I’m out to monitor. Of course you want to see more pictures, so click here.

Swainson’s Hawks Nesting at Dyess

Swainson's HawkLast week (end of March) I was out at Dyess AFB monitoring bluebird nest boxes on the golf course when a large dark object in the top of a mesquite tree caught my eye. A Swainson’s Hawk! I got the scope out, attached the camera to it, and took the picture here that you see. As I debated whether to take more pictures, a second hawk flew over to the first and they both started screaming at each other. It looked like the hawk in the tree was getting attacked and then I realized they were mating. The male’s wings were flapping like crazy as he tried to keep his balance on top of her and her wings were flapping as she tried to balance on the tree. I hoped to goodness the camera was still in focus as I snapped another picture. The male hawk flew to another branch, smoked a cigarette, and she preened herself.

Well, this week (first of April) I went looking for the nest and I found it! And I got a few more pictures of the hawks building their nest. I’ll let the pictures finish this story. Click here to see the album.

And of course, I’ll add more updates, so stay tuned…

Inca on Nest

Inca Dove

Kathy Hampton left town the other day to see her new granddaughter. When she returned she found an Inca Dove in a motherly way, sitting on a nest made in one of the hanging baskets on her front porch. A digiscoped image was taken from the street (so as not to disturb mother). When the dove left momentarily two round white eggs were found in the nest. According to Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman both parents will incubate the eggs for 15 to 16 days. Males incubate mostly during the middle of the day and the female at the other times. So about April 20 Kathy should see some new Inca Doves hatch out. Someone may have to put the digiscoping equipment out in the street again! Stay tuned…

Inca Dove Eggs

Watching Warblers

Please join us for our April 6 general meeting at 7 p.m. at Rose Park Senior Citizens Center, Room A. We will watch a video on the warblers of North America. Produced by Michael Male and Judy Fieth the American Birding Association reports: “Certainly the best video we have observed on any one group of birds, and absolutely unparalleled on the group of eastern north American wood warblers.” Over twenty-five warblers are highlighted in this video. Hear each warbler’s calls, learn their characteristics, and see their beautiful plumage. Warblers highlighted are Blackburnian, Black and White, Yellow, Prothonotary, Yellow-throated, Pine, Prairie, Cerulean, Louisiana Watherthrush, American Redstart, Canada, Ovenbird, and Yellow-breasted Chat to name just a few. If you’re planning a trip to the Texas Gulf Coast this spring to watch warblers, you need to see Watching Warblers!