Big Country Audubon Society

Big Country Blog

Eurasian Wigeon’s Point of Reference

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Picture of white plastic jug/bouy where the wigeon was spotted the afternoon of December 4 and the morning of December 5, 2006.

wigeon's bouy

This spot is exactly at the end of RR 11 in Concho Recreation area, off of CR 1929 or the Ray Stoker Jr. Highway. If you’ll look at the houses on the opposite side of the lake you’ll notice a house and a flat-roofed barn which are the last two right-most structures in this group of houses. Come down to the water at about a 45 degree angle and you’ll see the white jug. The wigeon did not stray too much to the right or the left of this jug.

Click on this link for directions to Lake Ivie/Concho Recreation Area . Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the maps for a larger view.

Hope this helps. Happy hunting and good luck!

A Nice Winter Mix

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I was just reflecting on our past week of birds in the Big Country and shaking my head as to the mixture that was found. This Sage Thrasher (above) was seen and photographed at Dyess AFB. It is a bird of the West, inhabiting sagebrush, brushy slopes, and mesas. It winters in the desert Southwest, and we’re at its northern wintering range. However, it is somewhat irregular in its wintering areas but it concentrates where there are good wild crops of berries.

PIWA

On the same day the thrasher was seen, a Pine Warbler was out foraging for insects at the golf course at Dyess AFB. It is a bird of the East and breeds almost exclusively in pine woods. This is the third sighting in Taylor County the last 5 years or so. I’m still sleuthing to see how many, if any, sightings were made prior to this time frame. An uncamouflaged picture of this bird can be found at Cornell’s web site, All About Birds.

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Remember this guy? The Great Kiskadee! He’s still here! Being a resident of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, he’s waaaaay north of his range. I had expected him to migrate south in the fall but our first blast of real winter weather accompanied by snow obviously didn’t move him out. He was seen at Wilhair Park eating juniper berries as fast as he could stuff them into his mouth on December 2. (Photo by JAEnglish)

Also on December 2 a Eurasian Wigeon was found among thousands of ducks at Lake O.H. Ivie in Coleman County. (The find is courtesy of Jay and Amy.) As its name implies, it breeds in Europe but occasionally flocks with American Wigeons in North America. Oops, I feel a rarity chase coming on!

I’ve collected a few more photographs of other birds found in the Big Country towards the end of November/beginning of December. Horned Grebe, Hooded Mergansers, Loggerhead Shrike and more can be seen in the Winter Mix gallery. What a mix of eastern/western, winter/resident, and north/south birds!

Bluebirds, Harriers, and Pantries: Mid November Birding

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Several Western Bluebirds are here in the Big Country for the winter. Found the first flock in Buffalo Gap and another at Cedar Gap Farm. For an explanation on the finer points of IDing Western vs. Eastern, visit the Mid-November Gallery.

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Lorie captured a couple of action shots of a Northern Harrier hunting for its food at Lake Kirby. How did it know to hunt in the tall reeds? Hawks see the ultraviolet spectrum of light. Rodents leave urine trails as they scamper from one weedy area to another. Urine trails apparently glow like neon lights in the ultraviolet range. Therefore, all a hawk has to do is find the urine trails and wait patiently for the next full-bladdered rodent to hurry down the path.

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Other birds stash their food in pantries to be consumed later. I found several impaled insects (like the one above) indicating the Butcher Bird (Loggerhead Shrike) is stocking his pantry for the winter. Fifty-two impaled grasshoppers were discovered in S.E. Callahan County last week. Oh yummy; someone’s having a Thanksgiving feast soon.

We at BCAS hope you have a delicious Thanksgiving, full of family, happy gatherings, and thankful reflections.

Unexpected November Finds

Whenever my son and I bird together we engage in an activity at the end of the day we call, “What’s the best bird you saw and why.” It’s a way of recounting the day, carefully thinking about all the birds seen, and then choosing just one to win the title, “best.” Sometimes the best bird is a lifer (we almost always elevate lifers to “best”). Sometimes it’s best because it’s the most beautiful (think Painted Bunting). A seldom seen bird does something out of the ordinary and thus it becomes best for the day (watching an Osprey fishing is a darn good “best”). Or as often is the case, the unexpected bird becomes the best of the day simply because it was, well, unexpected. That’s what happened this past week. Let me explain.

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Several unexpected finds made this past week memorable. Monday while birding the golf course at Dyess AFB I saw this little mystery bird. As soon as I saw it, the heart started racing, I grabbed the camera, and got some fuzzy but dignostic pictures. I found an excellent picture from the web for you to ooh and aah over. However, I didn’t find one bird; I found five. Five times the excitement!

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Another unexpected find was watching four birds flit around the playground at Kirby Lake. If you don’t know who sports sky blue plumage, check this photo. Unexpected because the habitat is all wrong. Best bird for the day because I didn’t see any of these last year. In fact, they are very challenging to find in the Big Country.

Other “bests” included Bald Eagle, Sage Thrasher, and Hermit Thrush. Hey, sometimes it’s hard to capture everything on a digital camera; that’s why there’s the world wide web.

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And the best unexpected find was the wildlife browsing the shores of Lake Kirby. He walked out of the mesquite shrub, looked me over, and then ignored the clicking shutter as he fed. Watching him from 50 yards away with nothing between us but sunlight was definitely unexpected and a best for the day.

Other pictures of our November sightings can be seen in the Unexpected November Finds Gallery. If you have unexpected finds, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

End of October Treats

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My how time flies, and so do the birds. The end of October found pelicans at Lake Kirby,

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warblers still moving through,

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and brown woodpeckers alighting in the trees around town.

For more photos and updates on the End of October birds click here. And visit this site soon; early November birds are winging this way!

Surf’s Up At Kirby Lake

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Another rare bird for the Big Country, a Surf Scoter. Same song, second verse. I wasn’t birding today, too many chores and the weather wasn’t exactly pleasant. But when Kathy called, I said yes. The last time Surf Scoter was recorded in this area was May of 1999. These birds are hardy seaducks. They breed in northern Canada and Alaska and migrate along the Pacific coast or Atlantic coast. The bird pictured above is a juvenile. It was photographed on Lake Kirby October 23, 2006. It appears to be wearing something around its neck. Other photos can be viewed in the Surf Scoter gallery. To see a picture of an adult Surf Scoter, check out this link.

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As an added enjoyment, three Common Loons were also swimming on choppy Lake Kirby. Loons usually are found on much larger, deeper lakes.

So yipee! A neat find today. I understand tomorrow’s weather will be cloudy and rainy. I just may have to go birding again.

Ospreys Over Abilene, Mid-October

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More than one Osprey visited the Big Country; two were seen regularly at Lake Fort Phantom and two at Lake Kirby. The Osprey at Dyess AFB (above photo) was photographed again doing what it likes to do: eat fish. Because water plays such an important role in wildlife’s existence, our photos this time reflect birds that depend on water.

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These Wood Ducks seen in Cedar Creek in NE Abilene inhabit riparian areas, swamps, or marshes. Evidentally no one told them about dry West Texas.

Check out the Mid-October photo gallery for more Osprey, Wood Ducks, and other birds that depend on water. And if you think these pictures are all about birds, you’d be wrong. John got lucky again and found a bobcat lazing in the warm sun.

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October Hummingbird

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This little hummingbird is still hanging around the yard when all others have left. Is it a straggling young Black-chinned or something else? I’ve posted pictures of this hummingbird so you can take a look. Under each picture I’ve commented about its field marks such as wing to tail ratio, bill shape, lack of buffiness, faint gray supercilium, etc., that might point to something else other than Black-chinned. Please let me know what you think it is. The white on its forehead is probably frost or pollen.

Blackbird Behavior

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Today I saw a strange behavior; a Brown-headed Cowbird (BHCO) bowing before a Yellow-headed Blackbird (YHBL). Wherever the YHBL was, the nearest BHCOs would assume a crouching position and lower its head (see above photo). Both sexes of BHCO would “bow” near the YHBL. The BHCO would then move toward the YHBL while keeping its head bowed; the YHBL would react by either flying off or pecking at the BHCO’s head. The BHCOs would not fly when pecked at. The three times I saw this behavior it was the YHBL that would fly off and leave.

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Can someone comment on this behavior? I could anthropomorphize this behavior and explain it as the little cowbird subjects were bowing to their golden-clad sun god. Or is it the BHCO’s way of telling the YHBL to get lost?

Osprey Cruises Over Dyess AFB, Early October, 2006

I’ve said it many times before: if you don’t get out and bird, you never know what you could be missing. Such was the case this past week. Birding has been slow, especially with the lack of warblers. I awoke early Tuesday morning and argued with myself whether to stay in bed and get a few more “shut-eyes,” or get out and see what had stopped over to refuel in Abilene (migratory birds have to stop and eat every now and then before moving south). Since two weeks had slipped by since I’d been to Dyess (ah, that kiskadee is so distracting) I decided to check out the activity there.

Osprey

So I’m toolin’ along in the golf cart when the corner of my eye says, “Stop!” I look up and see a very white-breasted hawk staring back at me. “It’s an Osprey!” and I’m really close to the bird. So close I think I’ll scare it off it’s perch. I slowly get out of the cart, barely breathing as I set the scope and camera on the hawk. Click, click, click. I take a few pictures. Mesquite limbs in my way. Slowly move to the right. Click, click, click. Take a few more pictures. Still some branches in the way. Move a step further to the right. Now I’m totally exposed, out in the open but the Osprey doesn’t give me a second look. I’m able to take a few pictures (well, OK, I took 105 pictures the first day, and about that many the next day!). After sending John several pictures and teasing him with them (na-na-na look what I found), he tore himself away from his busy schedule (ah, he was so torn up) and got some stunning action shots of the Osprey.

Hey, don’t fret that you weren’t there. Lorie reported two Ospreys at Lake Fort Phantom. Just get out there and start looking! And by the way, if you don’t get out and bird, you never know what you’ll miss.