Big Country Audubon Society

Stories from May, 2006

Bewick’s Wren Outsmarts Cowbird

Cowbird Egg

One day last week I documented these Bewick’s Wren eggs in a nestbox at Dyess. I noticed one egg appeared slightly bigger. Was this an illusion or was it actually bigger? After perusing the internet for pictures of cowbird eggs, I came to the conclusion that this egg was a Brown-headed Cowbird’s egg. As everyone knows the cowbird is a freeloader in the bird world; they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and then leave the rearing of that egg to the host family. Usually the cowbird hatches first, kicks the other eggs out of the nest, or hogs all the food and matures really fast. These scenarios prevent the song birds from raising their own kind. No wonder cowbirds are trapped and controlled where endangered species are at risk.

So today I was totally surprised to find only four eggs in the nest. The cowbird egg was gone. I did not remove the egg; no one else removed the egg. Conclusion? The Bewick’s Wren removed it. Let’s hear it for the wren!

Congratulations, You Have Babies!

naked-babies

Ever seen just hatched baby birds? When I was out at Dyess monitoring on Thursday, I photographed these baby birds in one of the nestboxes. I find it easier to check on the contents of the nests by using a small digital camera, switching to “macro,” positioning it above the nest, and then taking the picture. Was I excited to see that the eggs were hatching! I only took this one picture because I didn’t want to disturb the process of birth. I hurriedly closed the box and moved away.

Closeup

Here’s a closer look. You can see “arms” with almost hand-like projections that will become wings; translucent skin with the little veins showing; baby-fine fluff that will soon become feathers. Aren’t these pictures fascinating? Not because I took them but because birth is such a miracle. How do these naked, featherless, blobs ever become bouncy, chirpy, flying birds? How can bugs, worms, and mosquitoes transform this mass of gel into something beautiful? Nature is indeed a series of miracles!

Juvenile Bluebirds at Dyess

Juvenile Eastern Bluebird

Today when checking on nestboxes at Dyess I spotted this juvenile Eastern Bluebird hanging around the nestbox where it had hatched about four weeks ago. Because this birder was out enjoying migration the bluebird photos hadn’t been updated. So here’s the update:  Five eggs were laid; four chicks hatched.  Three chicks either fledged early or were missing due to predation because only one nestling appeared in the nest on May 4.  By May 11 the nest was empty and the adults have already built a second nest in a different nestbox.  On May 22 this box had 1 egg in it!  So this juvenile will soon have more brothers and sisters if the second nesting attempt is successful. Pictures of the hatchlings, their progress and the young juvenile can be seen here.

Swainson’s Hawks at Dyess, Continued

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As promised, here’s the latest update on the Swainson’s Hawks at Dyess AFB. After watching the hawks build onto the previous year’s nest site in March, they apparently abandoned that site and chose another in April. The new site is far from remote; it’s right on the golf course where all golfers walk right underneath it. The site is so well hidden, however, you have to know where it is to be able to find it unless you just happen to see the hawks fly into the nest. John and I watched this pair build their new nest and between his pictures and my pictures you can get an idea of what was happening. Click here for the continued picture story of the nesting Swainsons. Come back in about a month and we’ll have another update.

Rare Shorebirds in the Area

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This past week some rare shorebirds (for our area) dropped in at Lake Kirby. A Piping Plover

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and a Sanderling on the 6th of May were seen and photographed by Lorie Black.

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Six Hudsonian Godwits were seen at Abilene’s waste water ponds in Jones County on the 13th. OK, the picture isn’t very clear so click here to see what a Hudsonian Godwit really looks like. The last time these birds were seen in Abilene was April 30, 1994. White-rumped Sandpipers numbering between 75 to 100 were also seen. They aren’t exactly rare but we don’t see them very often. A few pictures can be seen here.

Field Trip to Lake Sweetwater

On Saturday morning, May 20, at 7 a.m. we will leave the parking lot at the What-a-Burger on South 1st and Pioneer to bird Lake Sweetwater and surrounding areas in Nolan County.  Those wishing to eat breakfast should come earlier.  We will carpool from the What-a-Burger. We will be looking for the summer breeders such as Bullock’s Oriole, Painted Bunting, Canyon Towhee, Dickcissel, Cassin’s Sparrow, Bell’s Vireo, Pyrrhuloxia, Curve-billed Thrasher, Verdin, Western Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Swainson’s Hawk, and perhaps Vermilion Flycatcher.  Bring snacks, sunscreen, and plenty of water; hot weather is predicted.

Mason County Field Trip

Mason County Field Trip

Six of us went to Mason County and birded private property April 29. We were thoroughly impressed and all had a good time. The weather was nice and mild after a rainy stormy Friday, and birds were everywhere. We saw colorful birds: the Summer Tanagers, Vermilion Flycatchers, and Painted Buntings. We saw both males and females, got them in a spotting scope and saw them as if standing only a foot from them. We found a couple of Verdins flitting about the cactus; they are a little gray bird with a bright yellow head and a brilliant red patch on their shoulder. My only regret is I kept the camera hidden for most of the day. I thought about taking pictures but instead chose to hold the binoculars. Nevertheless, the few pictures I took are here. Our species list was 49 and some of the highlights were:

Blue-headed Vireo (one at the Wheeler’s house)
Bell’s Vireo (they were almost everywhere)
Black-throated Sparrow (one singing)
Cassin’s Sparrows (several singing and skylarking)
Clay-colored Sparrows (dozens migrating through)
Crested Caracara (soaring and one spotted in a field closeup!)
Pyrrhuloxia
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (one among the dozens of Black-chinneds)
Common Poorwill (several calling in the early morning)
Cliff Swallows (hundreds nesting on the canyon walls above the James River)

Three Buntings at Cedar Gap Farm

Painted Bunting

Big Country Audubon met Thursday night for our May social meeting. If you were not there, you missed a great meal, good company, and excellent birds! The Painted Buntings were at every feeder (and that’s a lot of Painted Buntings). But what was extremely exciting were the two Indigo Buntings that showed up AND a Lazuli Bunting showed up! Now how good can it get? We accused Homer of paying the buntings to put in an appearance. The icing on the evening were the Common Poorwills heard in the night sky. Thanks to all who organized the event, brought food, and many thanks to Homer and Earlene for allowing us to use their observation room. The Painted Buntings will stay at Cedar Gap the whole summer and if you get out to the gap soon, you might also catch sight of the Indigo and Lazuli Buntings.

Birds Like Weeds

Lesser Goldfinch

The past several days (OK, past several weeks) I’ve been noticing my garden is full of weeds, you know the kind of weeds that grow really tall and have these little yellow flowers on top. When they go to seed they produce these white feathery tuffs that blow in the wind. I really should get out and weed the garden; it would look a lot better. But I let them grow in the garden and even in the yard if my lawn mower man would leave them be. Why? I discovered they are food for the birds. The weedier the garden becomes, the more I see birds. I could say something profound about how birds and the native plants they depend on for food evolved together, but maybe a picture is worth more than profound words. Sometimes it’s a good thing to let the weeds grow. To see the other birds eat the weeds, click here.