Big Country Audubon Society

Stories from June, 2006

Swainson’s Chicks Hatch

Swainson's Baby

The exciting news this week was the arrival of two hungry all-white fluffy nestlings! John’s photos record the male Swainson’s bringing breakfast, a low altitude reconnaisance flight, and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher escorting the hawk away from its nest at the golf course. This week the male has brought food to the female and their young but in about a week she will leave the nest to share in the hunt for food as the growing nestlings demand more calories. The dark side of fratricide could occur in the next couple of weeks if there isn’t enough available food for both chicks. But with the abundant rodent, bird, and insect populations on base there should be plenty of food to satisfy both of them.

Desert Kingsnake

Other creatures spotted on base: two coyote pups exploring the world outside their den, an oblivious porcupine pretending to be a branch, and a colorful Desert Kingsnake who had trouble staying in one place.

What can you expect in the next few weeks? The upcoming kite festival will take to the air soon; four Mississippi Kites were photographed waiting patiently for their females to incubate their eggs. These four represent only a small portion of the larger population of kites that breed on base (Last year at least eleven pair bred on base). Western Kingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and other birds will soon fledge young and perhaps with luck we can show you their pictures, too.

Mockingbird Attacks Swainson’s Hawk

Mocker attacks Swainson's

I thought Dad Swainson’s had a cushy job: sitting around and watching the missus incubate the eggs, bringing her some food from time to time, preening, and basically being the king of his territory. Boy was that a misconception! John and I watched a Northern Mockingbird thrash the Swainson’s at Dyess with lightening speed; dive-bombing it, flying sideways, flying backwards, doing maneuvers that would make a hummingbird proud. The Mocker walloped the hawk from the side trying to dislodge the king, but the Swainson’s retaliated with a surprise maneuver of his own.

The background noise consists of a tractor/mower and a B-1, but if the sound is turned up you can hear the mocker’s scolding and the Swainson’s shrill cry of “back-off-buddy or else.” Also heard is John’s rapid-fire click-click-click of the camera. The original video images are much sharper than what you see at Google Video. They had to compress it so as not to take up too much bandwidth. At the next club gathering perhaps I can show the original video if time and interest allows.

If your firewall blocks the video, you can see frame by frame stills of a section of video. In one frame it is apparent the Mockingbird lands on the Swainson’s back and tugs at its feather. I now have a new respect for our state bird and its Texas-sized attitude.

Note: If the video does not play, you can get instructions to download a player from Google

Above photo by John English (c)

I Love The Nesting Season

coyote pup

There are other critters that “nest” this time of year. Because we’re Audubon we like to look at birds but John has captured some other critters in the nesting season. A few coyote pups were seen outside their den perhaps waiting for mom and dad to return with food. If you’ll click here, you’ll see more of John’s latest photographs taken at Dyess AFB. Ah, yes, he did take some bird pictures, too.

Snake Skin

Speaking of critters, I can only image what this shedded snake skin was doing drapped around the branches of this huge tree. I sometimes look were I’m stepping but now I’ve developed the habit of looking up, too. It’s called the Birder’s Two Step: Look down, step. Look up, step. I don’t bird as fast as I used to.

Hummingbird Program

Mark Klym from Texas Parks and Wildlife will present a program on the hummingbirds of Texas. Mark co-authored Hummingbirds of Texas with Clifford Shakelford and Madge Lindsey. Written for a general audience, with spectacular images for birders and nature enthusiasts at every level, Hummingbirds of Texas reveals the enormous appeal of this tiniest and shiniest of birds.

Please join us at the County Extension Office, Wednesday, June 14 at 7:00 PM to hear Mark Klym speak.

Nature’s Beauty and the Beast


Wildflowers are blooming. Have you noticed? Masses of golden Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) were nestled in a low spot out on the golf course at Dyess.

Then I spotted this Golden-fronted Woodpecker with a deformed or broken bill. You hardly ever notice nature’s imperfection because nature is not very kind to the weak, the deformed, or the old.
deformed bill

deformed bill closeup

Maybe you want to scroll back to the first picture and remember nature’s beauty.