Big Country Audubon Society

Stories from January, 2007

Late January Birds

What’s been flying around this week? Birds that like it wet, birds that love mud, and birds that are different. I’m continually amazed at the diversity in our avian world. For each habitat in our world, wet-dry, mountain-valley, desert-forest, lake-sea or swamp-grassland there are beautiful little (or big) feathered creatures that hop, flutter, creep, swim or perch in their special worlds. One such creature is the little inconspicuous Le Conte’s Sparrow, a beautiful orange-faced sparrow of damp meadows and shallow marshes; habitat not abundant in the Big Country. But just last week while walking in the diversion ditch at Dyess AFB, a ditch that is slowly being restored to riparian habitat, this small little secretive sparrow hoped up on a tiny annual, posing long enough to allow me to take its picture.


The species was named for John L. Le Conte, a physician friend of J.J. Audubon and a distinguished entomologist in about 1790. This orange-faced sparrow has been likened to a twenty-dollar gold piece if seen up close. Sorry about the poor quality photo; I’m still attempting to get a drop-dead gorgeous photo but I have a feeling the only one to drop dead will be me due to frustration. The field guides weren’t joking when they state their behavior as secretive.

On our field trip to Jones County and Lake Hamlin, we saw birds of the grasslands, Horned Lark:


and meadowlarks. Some birds appear to like mud, unlike some vehicles I know. This meadowlark seemed to revel in the muddy water while another friend waited his turn to take the plunge.


And the bird that was different this past week:

Harlan's Hawk

a Harlan’s Hawk, subspecies of the Red-tailed Hawk. It took me awhile to figure it out because this taxon has no red in the tail, a very light face, the characteristic patagial mark is missing (because of all those black feathers, no obvious belly band, and I’ve had no experience with this group of hawks. See more pictures of this unusual Red-tail.

And one more photo which is a once-in-a-life-time shot comes from Jay Packer:


You can read more about it by following the link to the photo gallery. To see more photos of those birds (and coyotes) seen last week, click on the Late January Birds Gallery. To see a complete list of the Hamlin Field Trip sightings, click on January 27 Sightings section.

January 30, 2007 – Dyess AFB Mesquite Shrub


  • Northern Bobwhite, 9

Complete list:

  • Northern Bobwhite, 9
  • Red-tailed Hawk, 2
  • American Kestrel, 1
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker, 1
  • Loggerhead Shrike, 1
  • Blue Jay, 2
  • Black-crested Titmouse, 2
  • Cactus Wren, 2
  • Bewick’s Wren, 3
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1
  • American Robin, 2
  • Northern Mockingbird, 5
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler, 1
  • Spotted Towhee, 1
  • Chipping Sparrow, 2
  • Field Sparrow, 6
  • Vesper Sparrow, 17 (in the field, T5:#1)
  • Song Sparrow, 1
  • White-crowned Sparrow, 1
  • Northern Cardinal, 7
  • Pyrrhuloxia, 2
  • Red-winged Blackbirds, 250 + (in the southern DD)
  • Meadowlark species, 7
  • House Finch, 4
  • House Sparrow, 1

Mammal sighting: Two coyotes roused from sleep, approx. 40 feet away

Sightings by LgPacker

January 27, 2007 – Lake Hamlin & Jones County

Best bird(s) of the day:

  • Ross’s Goose, one lone bird on the shore of Lake Hamlin
  • Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk

Complete List:
(Numbers of individuals not recorded–I just enjoyed the birding)

  • Ross’s Goose
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Northern Harrier
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Red-tailed Hawk, subspecies Harlan’s Hawk
  • American Coot
  • Sandhill Cranes
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Eurasian Collared-Dove
  • White-wing Dove
  • Mourning Dove
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker, yellow shafted
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Blue Jay
  • American Crow
  • Common Raven
  • Horned Lark
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Black-crested Titmouse
  • Carolina Wren
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • Marsh Wren
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • American Robin
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Eurasian Starling
  • Cedar Waxwings
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Field Sparrow
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Meadowlark Species
  • Brewer’s Blackbird
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • American Goldfinch
  • House Sparrow

Sightings by: Katherine Hampton, Bill Hughes, Victoria & Tom Lee, Laura Packer, Edna Ross

David Blankinship to speak at General Meeting, Thursday, February 1, 2007

David Blankinship has acquired many titles in his distinguished career. Researcher, biologist, ornithologist, game warden, conservationist, naturalist, preservationist, birder, bird bander, to name a few. Most of David’s career involved working with the Whooping Crane Recovery Project with National Audubon.


The Whooping Crane is one of the rarest North American birds. Once fairly widespread on the northern prairies, it was brought to the brink of extinction in the l940s. There were only 15 Whooping Cranes in Texas but strict protection on their wintering grounds and public education against shooting them gradually helped to increase their numbers. Come find out how David Blankinship’s work with the Whooping Cranes helped insured their chances of recovery.

We meet Thursday, February 1, 7 p.m. at the Rose Park Senior Center, corner of South 7th and Barrow, Room A.

For as long as David can remember he was fascinated by wildlife, nature, biology and the outdoors. His first books (besides comic books of course) were beginning field guides to birds, fish and mammals. Growing up in McAllen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, David’s first opportunity to work with birds came as a field assistant on the White-wing Dove Research project in l956. This job worked out so well that he worked on the White-wing project every summer from 1956 through 1963. White-wings sent him to and through college.

While working on his doctoral degree at Texas A&M in wildlife management, he made numerous trips into Mexico doing various research. It was on one of his return trips to Texas he met some folks from National Audubon who asked him to be involved in the Whooping Crane Recovery Program. So began his 16 1/2 years as a research biologist for the National Audubon Society (from mid-l970’s to l987) and the opportunities for some of the most rewarding experiences of his career.

David states,

“Working with Whooping Cranes was a tremendous experience. What a privilege to be able to get to know each great white bird on an individual basis, to add to our knowledge of the species and to be in a position to help make management decisions and do battle on their behalf. When the birds went north in the spring the great salt marsh had a vacancy as noticeable as a missing tooth. At least I could help make sure the whoopers could come back to this marsh.”


The Whooping Crane has made a remarkable recovery, with wintering populations well over 200. David conducted numerous presentations, conferences, and workshops all over the world concerning the Whooping Crane Recovery Program. He also participated in a four year cooperative project with National Audubon, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service using radio telemetry to track whoopers in migration between Texas and the nesting grounds in northern Canada and collected data on their behavior and migration habitat use. This project was the subject of a National Geographic Society Television Special, The Flight of the Whooping Crane.


David has now retired from the Fish and Wildlife Services and makes his home in Abilene with his wife Debbie.

Activities David has been involved in:

  • Went on a 3-month expedition to Central America recording tropical bird calls for the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, 1960.
  • Worked on the ecology of White-wing Dove nesting colonies in Northeastern Mexico, traveling from the border to Tampico and Valles, l966.
  • Worked for National Audubon Society 1970-1987, main emphasis on Whooping Crane recovery but also involved in other bird recovery projects.
  • Population recovery of the Brown Pelican in Texas, color banded most of the young pelicans produced in Texas from 1972 through 1984.
  • Made aerial censuses of pelicans in Mexico from Brownsville to Belize.
  • Participated in the Texas Colonial Waterbird Census resulting in the preservation and protection of numerous rookery islands off the coast of Texas.
  • Served as warden for Sundown Island, Second Chain-of-Islands, Matagorda Island, Ayres and Roddy Islands, Deadman’s Island, Long Reef and Lydia Ann Island sanctuaries on the central Texas coast.
  • Served as the Director of all National Audubon’s Texas sanctuaries including the Sabal Palm Grove.
  • Conducted nesting and banding studies and traveled throughout most of the Bahama Islands locating and censusing colonies and collecting hunting season data on the Bahamian White-crowned Pigeon.
  • Taught high school biology and then worked for awhile as staff biologist for the Corpus Christi Botanical Gardens.
  • Worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service on their endeavor to preserve and restore the wildlife and plants of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, 1989-2005.

January 22, 2007 – Dyess AFB

Best bird(s) of the day:

  • Greater White-fronted Geese, best because there were over 260 of ‘em vocalizing and flying in V formation
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Harris Sparrow

Complete List:

  • Greater White-fronted Geese, 260+
  • Gadwall, 12 TP
  • American Wigeon, 1 TP
  • Mallard, 2 TP
  • Northern Shoveler, 17 HP
  • Ring-necked Duck, 2 TP
  • Hooded Merganser, 2 HP
  • Great Blue Heron, 2 1@TP, 1@DD
  • Red-tailed Hawk, 2 MS
  • American Kestrel, 1 MS
  • Killdeer, 5 GC
  • Mourning Dove, 46 GC
  • Belted Kingfisher, 1 HP
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker, 2@GC, 1@DD
  • Blue Jay, 1
  • American Crow, 2 GC
  • Bewick’s Wren, 4 GC
  • Eastern Bluebird, 7 HP, 3 DD
  • Northern Mockingbird, 5
  • Eurasian Starling, 6
  • Field Sparrow, 2 GC
  • Savannah Sparrow, 4 MS
  • Le Conte’s Sparrow, 1 DD
  • Song Sparrow, 3 DD
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow, 1 DD
  • Harris Sparrow, 1 MS
  • White-crowned Sparrow, 3 MS
  • Dark-eyed Junco, 9 GC
  • Northern Cardinal, 2 GC, 1 MS
  • Pyrrhuloxia, 1 MS
  • Meadowlark species, 20 MS
  • House Finch, 92, majority on the GC
  • American Goldfinch, 6

2 Coyote sightings.

HP: Hospital’s Pond
TP: Totten Pond
GC: Mesquite Grove Golf Course
DD: Diversion Ditch
MS: Mesquite Shrub Habitat

All Sightings by LgPacker

Birds on Ice – January Birds

Winter finally settled over the Big Country in mid-January. Below freezing temperatures, sleet, snow, and continually cloudy dreary days have kept me inside preoccupied with other projects. But I can only go so long without birds in my life. The first above-freezing day I grabbed the binoculars, a friend, and headed out for the day. How were the birds coping with the prolonged cold? Would I even see any birds?

Our destination took us to still frozen grasslands near Tuscola where we spied hundreds of robins foraging in the ice (they’ve spent the winter with us).


Next we oohed and aahed over flocks of Western, Mountain, and Eastern Bluebirds around Buffalo Gap (don’t think I’ve seen all three species of bluebird in one day);


counted 83 Hooded Mergansers on Lake Abilene;


found one surprise at the State Park; and ended the day stuck in the mud at Lake Kirby (but that’s another story). The Birds on Ice Gallery showcases some of the birds seen on our outing as well as birds seen the week before. A smidgen of information on how birds cope with cold weather is included along with the birds’ pictures. A complete list of birds seen is at Sightings.

The surprise at the State Park? A sign of spring:


First winter plumaged male Common Yellowthroat (it’s a warbler!) signals spring is closer than we suspect.

Oh, you want to know how I got stuck in the mud at Kirby? Gravity (or stupidity; I get the two confused). It was really too mushy to be driving around Lake Kirby but my enthusiasm led us there. We entered the area on the west side, drove the caliche embankment, went around the end of the lake over the paved dam, and then inched toward the boat ramp on the east side. A mere 150 yards from pavement the saturated red dirt that we all use as a road sloped off to the side toward a two-foot rock ledge. Gravity grabbed the truck and over we slid coming to rest next to a Mesquite bush, two large prickly pears, and the two-foot rock ledge. Several attempts to rock myself out of my predicament only brought the truck on top of the prickly pear and one wheel half on the ledge and the other half over air.

A frantic call to my non-birding spouse didn’t receive much sympathy but did spur him to action. But after he carefully studied the situation and tried a thing or two the decision was made to call a wrecker. No way was my non-birding spouse going to gamble with gravity. He surmised more forecasted moisture would only hasten the truck’s inexorable slide off the ledge and even I knew that was not a good scenario. Much to our dismay we learned the wrecking companies could not pull the truck out until the soil was completely dry. Leaving the truck abandoned at Kirby for who knows how long is not how I envisioned the birding day’s end. While I felt sick over the event, my birding friend and non-birding spouse began problem solving.

About 10:30 at night my non-birding spouse went back to Kirby to see if the truck was still intact and happened to meet three young guys who offered to help free the imprisoned truck. (One had previously worked for a towing company.) With much discussion, a load of trust, a large chain, and enough experience to make it happen, the guys pulled the truck out of the muck and off the rock ledge. My sickening feeling turned to elation as I promised never to drive unecessarily on slippery roads again. And if you ever need the towing services of some really talented young men, I’ve got their names and phone numbers in my cell phone. And for those of you who want a more detailed account of this story, my non-birding spouse will be happy to tell you the rest of the story.

January 18, 2007 – South Abilene

Best bird(s) of the day:

  • Hooded Mergansers
  • Common Moorehen
  • Mountain Bluebirds
  • Western Bluebirds
  • Marsh Wren
  • Common Yellowthroat

Complete List of Birds Seen:

  • Gadwall, 3 ASP, 6 LA, 4 BG, 35 LK
  • Mallard, 12 LK
  • Northern Shoveler, 25 LK
  • Northern Pintail, 1 LK
  • Green-winged Teal, 3 BG
  • Canvasback, 1 LA
  • Ring-necked Duck, 3 ASP, 4 BG
  • Lesser Scaup, 4 LK
  • Bufflehead, 1 LA, 45 LK
  • Hooded Mergansers, 83 LA
  • Northern Bobwhite, 8
  • Pied-billed Grebe, 1 LA, 2 LK
  • Eared Grebe, 1 LK
  • American White Pelican, 50+ LK
  • Double-crested Cormorants, 12 LK
  • Great Blue Heron, 2 LA, 1 BG, 4 LK
  • Snowy Egret, 1 LK
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1 T
  • Red-shouldered Hawk, 1 BG
  • American Kestrel, 2 BG
  • Common Moorehen, 1 LK
  • American Coot, 6 LA, 25 LK
  • Sandhill Crane, heard in the Lake Abilene Area
  • Killdeer, 3 LK
  • Greater Yellowlegs, 2 LK
  • Bonaparte’s Gull, 4 LK
  • Ring-billed Gull, 5 LA, 250+ LK
  • Forster’s Tern, 1 LK
  • White-winged Dove, 1 BG
  • Mourning Dove, 35 BG, 5 T
  • Belted Kingfisher, 1 LK
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker, 1 T
  • Northern Flicker, 1 BG, 3 T
  • Loggerhead Shrike, 1 BG
  • Blue Jay, 2 ASP, 3 T
  • Western Scrub Jay, 7 T
  • American Crow, 2 T
  • Carolina Chickadee, 2 ASP, 2 T
  • Black-crested Titmouse, 2 T, 7 ASP
  • Carolina Wren, 1 ASP
  • Bewick’s Wren, 1 ASP
  • Marsh Wren, 1, ASP
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1 ASP, 1 LK
  • Eastern Bluebird, 3 ASP, 6 LA, 10 BG
  • Western Bluebird, 2 T, 15 BG
  • Mountain Bluebird, 8 BG
  • American Robin, 250+ T, 100+ BG
  • Northern Mockingbird, 1 LA, 10 BG, 3 LK
  • Eurasian Starling, 12 T
  • Cedar Waxwing, 300+ T, 60 BG, 35 ASP
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler, 1 ASP, 4 T
  • Common Yellowthroat, 1 ASP
  • Spotted Towhee, 1 ASP, 1, LA, 2 T
  • Canyon Towhee, 3 T
  • Chipping Sparrow, 12 BG, 8 T
  • Field Sparrow, 1 BG
  • Vesper Sparrow, 6 BG
  • Savannah Sparrow, 3 BG
  • Song Sparrow, 1 ASP
  • White-throated Sparrow, 2 T
  • White-crowned Sparrow, 25 BG
  • Dark-eyed Junco, 31 ASP, 35 T, 25 BG
  • Northern Cardinal, 17 ASP, 8 T
  • Red-winged Blackbird, 35 LK
  • Meadowlark species, 100+ BG
  • House Finch, 3 T, 15 BG
  • American Goldfinch, 6 ASP, 25 BG
  • House Sparrow, ASP, BG, LK, T didn’t count numbers

ASP: Abilene State Park
BG: Buffalo Gap area
LK: Lake Kirby
LA: Lake Abilene
T: Tuscola area including Cedar Gap Farm

All sightings by Katherine Hampton and Laura Packer

Rescheduled: Field Trip to Jones County and Lake Hamlin, January 27, 2007

Since weather did not cooperate on the 20th, we rescheduled this field trip for the 27th. Same instructions: we’ll meet at Denny’s on FM 600 and I-20. We will leave at 7:30 a.m. from Denny’s so if you want breakfast, come early enough to order and eat. Last year’s Jones County field trip produced Burrowing Owl, Sora, Sandhill Cranes, Song Sparrow, and Common Yellowthroat just to name a few. Join us as we drive the county roads looking for avian residents, winter dwelling species, and rarities.

If weather conditions are a problem, please call our hotline (325-691-8981) to hear if the trip has been scheduled. Bring food, snacks, and dress for the weather. For most of the field trip we will be in the car but occasionally we will get out and do easy walking.

December 30, 2006 – Christmas Bird Count

Best bird(s) of the day:

  • Bushtits
  • Brown Creeper
  • Common Moorhen
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Le Conte’s Sparrow
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Townsend’s Solitaire
  • Western Bluebirds
  • Western Sandpipers

Complete List:

  • Canada Goose, 4
  • Wood Duck, 3
  • Gadwall, 162
  • American Wigeon, 22
  • Mallard, 135
  • Northern Shoveler, 54
  • Northern Pintail, 4
  • Green-winged Teal, 33
  • Canvassback, 12
  • Ring-necked Duck, 16
  • Lesser Scaup, 7
  • Bufflehead, 5
  • Wild Turkey, 26
  • Northern Bobwhite, 16
  • Pied-billed Grebe, 10
  • Horned Grebe, 3
  • Eared Grebe, 21
  • American White Pelican, 97
  • Double-crested Cormorants, 67
  • Great Blue Heron, 30
  • Great Egret, 1
  • Snowy Egret, 1 (cw)
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron, 2
  • Black Vulture, 1
  • Northern Harrier, 5
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1 (cw)
  • Cooper’s Hawk, 1
  • Red-shouldered Hawk, 1
  • Red-tailed Hawk, 16
  • American Kestrel, 36
  • Common Moorhen, 1 (cw)
  • American Coot, 223
  • Killdeer, 22
  • Spotted Sandpiper, 4
  • Western Sandpiper, 3
  • Least Sandpiper, 19
  • Bonaparte’s Gull, 18
  • Ring-billed Gull, 322
  • Forster’s Tern, 8
  • Rock Pigeon, 563
  • Eurasian Collared-Dove, 179
  • White-winged Dove, 153
  • Mourning Dove, 249
  • Inca Dove, 23
  • Greater Roadrunner, 3
  • Eastern Screech Owl, 1
  • Great-horned Owl, 2
  • Belted Kingfisher, 8
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker, 11
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker, 20
  • Downy Woodpecker, 9
  • Northern Flicker, 6
  • Eastern Phoebe, 1
  • Say’s Phoebe, 1
  • Great Kiskadee, 1 (heard on count week just the other side of our official circle. It will not be recorded on our CBC but included in this list for your information)
  • Loggerhead Shrike, 21
  • Blue Jay, 87
  • Western Scrub Jay, 3
  • American Crow, 6
  • Horned Lark, 11
  • Carolina Chickadee, 13
  • Black-crested Titmouse, 18
  • Bushtits, 10
  • Brown Creeper, 2
  • Cactus Wren, 2
  • Carolina Wren, 3
  • Bewick’s Wren, 14
  • Marsh Wren, 3
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet, 1
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 9
  • Eastern Bluebird, 71
  • Western Bluebird, 68
  • Townsend’s Solitaire, 1
  • Hermit Thrush, 1
  • American Robin, 145
  • Northern Mockingbird, 166
  • Curve-billed Thrasher, 7
  • European Starling, 761
  • Cedar Waxwing, 118
  • Orange-crowned Warbler, 4
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler, 13
  • Spotted Towhee, 3
  • Hybrid Eastern/Spotted Towhee, 1 (cw). This female towhee looked exactly like an Eastern on one side (no spots on the wings), but on her other side she had the characteristic spots of a Spotted. Go figure
  • Canyon Towhee, 6
  • Chipping Sparrow, 45
  • Field Sparrow, 17
  • Vesper Sparrow, 34
  • Savannah Sparrow, 55
  • Le Conte’s Sparrow, 1
  • Song Sparrow, 54
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow, 8
  • White-throated Sparrow, 2
  • White-crowned Sparrow, 229
  • Dark-eyed Junco, 241
  • Northern Cardinal, 64
  • Pyrrhuloxia, 29
  • Red-winged Blackbird, 693
  • Meadowlark Species, 568
  • Common Grackle, 55
  • Great-tailed Grackle, 1,673
  • Brown-headed Cowbird, 1,912
  • House Finch, 350
  • Pine Siskin, 18
  • American Goldfinch, 38
  • House Sparrow, 838

Sightings by: Lorie Black, Joyce Curtis, Kathy & Tom Edwards, June Estes, Katherine Hampton, Joan Howard, Bill Hughes, Earlene Hutto, Bera Johnson, Isabel & Josephine & Tom Lee, Charla & Vance McCracken, Steve Owens, Amy & Jay & Laura Packer, Edna Ross, Kim Walton, Charline Wheeler, Linda White, W.K. & Carolyn Wiggins

Where Have You Been?


Well, my feeble excuses are: I’ve been busy! Don’t give me the eye; I know everyone else has been busy, too. Holidays are fun, I thoroughly enjoyed them, but now…


…it’s time to get back to work…


…looking at the task from every angle…


… and now I’m poised to bring you more information, more pictures, more birding!

Ladder-backed Woodpecker (female), foraging on dried annual (not a tree!) inspecting it for insects at Dyess AFB, TX. All photos by LgPacker.