Big Country Audubon Society

Stories from November, 2007

Bobcat In Nature


The last time I reported on bobcats at Dyess AFB was over a year ago. Yesterday I had the unique opportunity to witness the personal grooming habits of a bobcat hidden in dense riparian habitat. With snow still covering most of the area at Dyess, the ground was well saturated as I walked into a thick stand of trees and underbrush. I wasn’t trying to be particularly quiet; as I pushed through some brambles and branches, a movement caught my attention. Like a camera lens, my eyes were focusing in the direction where movement occurred, and it took me a couple of seconds to realize the movement I saw was close and that it was a bobcat! The bobcat was in the middle of taking care of the call of nature, so it was immobilized. I was probably about 20 feet away from the cat and froze (heart rate shot up, body tensed, brain said “get out.”). Another side of the brain said, “GET A PICTURE!”


By now the cat had finished its business and stared at me. It looked as if it was trying to figure out if it should stay and call my bluff, turn and run, or step forward and terrorize me. For a second or two, the cat leaned forward as if to come my way. I brought the camera up to my face, focused and slowly squeezed the shutter button thinking if I had too, I’d throw the camera at the charging cat. I had multiple layers on; false sense of security, huh?

Then the cat s-l-o-w-l-y turned away from me (domestic cats move very slowly and deliberately when one breaks off from another in a showdown) and s-l-o-w-l-y walked away. It thought I was the aggressor. That’s when I squatted down and started taking more pictures. The first picture was taken at 12:51; the last picture (which you’ll see later) was taken at 13:16. This cat let me photograph it for over 25 minutes. This isn’t an exaggeration. My camera records the time on each photo.

The above photo was taken right after the cat finished its business and realized I was there. In good kitty fashion, he pawed at the wet leaves to cover his business. Then he slowly moseyed (redundant, I know) a little further from me. I thought he was outta there for sure. But to my amazement, he began to preen (uh, he’s not a bird…so I guess he groomed). I repositioned myself for a better angle and thus you see the Bobcat In Nature Gallery.

November 26, 2007 – DAFB

Best bird(s) of the day:

  • Cave Swallow: 1, it’s getting really late in the season to be seeing swallows
  • Rock Wren: 1 in the same place previously found two years ago. Talk about site fidelity
  • Brown Creeper: 1

Complete List:

  • Mallard: 2
  • Wild Turkey: 13
  • Great Blue Heron: 2
  • Northern Harrier: 1
  • Red-tailed Hawk: 3, all with three different plumages
  • Killdeer: 12
  • Ring-billed Gull: 1, just a flyover
  • Rock Pigeon: 9
  • Mourning Dove: 24
  • Greater Roadrunner: 1
  • Belted Kingfisher: 1
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker: 3
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker: 3
  • Eastern Phoebe: 1
  • Blue Jay: 9
  • Chihuahuan Raven: 1
  • Cave Swallow: 1
  • Black-crested Titmouse: 4
  • Brown Creeper: 1
  • Rock Wren: 1
  • Bewick’s Wren: 1
  • House Wren: 3
  • Eastern Bluebird: 3
  • Northern Mockingbird: 10
  • European Starling: 33
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler: 2
  • Orange-crowned Warbler: 1
  • Canyon Towhee: 1
  • Chipping Sparrow: 21
  • Field Sparrow: 2
  • Savannah Sparrow: 1
  • Song Sparrow: 2
  • White-crowned Sparrow: 5
  • Dark-eyed Junco: 3
  • Northern Cardinal: 1
  • Meadowlark sp: 10
  • Great-tailed Grackle: 2
  • House Finch: 45
  • Pine Siskin: 3
  • American Goldfinch: 10
  • House Sparrow: 10

Sightings by LgPacker

December 2007 Calendar of Events


December 6, 2007: Christmas Party!

Who: All Big Country Audubon members and their families
What: Christmas Party
When: Thursday, December 6, at 7:00 p.m.
Where: Rose Park Activity Center located at S. 7th and Barrow, Room A
Bring: Your favorite finger foods, snacks, and a wrapped gift for the Christmas gift exchange (completely voluntary). Please limit your gift to $10.00.
BCAS will provide: Drinks, plates, and napkins. A very short program (15 to 20 minutes) will be presented!


Christmas Bird Count, Saturday, December 29!

This year’s 108th Christmas Bird Count will be conducted Saturday, December 29. If you have never been involved in a CBC or you are a die hard participant, now is the time to get involved. We divide into groups with each group responsible for a pre-selected area in and around Abilene. Each group leader determines the start time, when to take lunch breaks (or whether to bring a lunch), and when to call it quits. You do not have to know what birds you are observing. There will be someone in the group who can identify the species; you only need to know how to count. If you would like to stay home and watch your feeders and report the birds seen, we can use these results, too.

If you would like to help us count birds this year, please contact us through this web site. Leave your name and a contact e-mail or phone number and I will contact you and assign you to a group. That group’s leader will then contact you regarding time and place to meet. After a day of counting, we will all meet at 6:00 p.m. at Cracker Barrel to turn in the tally sheets, eat, and swap stories.

CBC counts are used as long-term population trends of winter birds. Conducted since 1900, National Audubon uses the data to determine which bird species are increasing, declining, or holding steady. A small fee of five dollars per person aged 19 and older is required for participation. Feeder watchers and those 18 years old and younger are not required to pay a fee. This fee helps offset the printing costs of the Summary of the CBC which every participant receives.

So join us this year. We always have lots of fun; someone usually finds a rarity; and you’ll be contributing to one of the most powerful conservation tools in use today!

November 23, 2007-Lake Kirby

Best bird(s) of the morning:

  • Pomarine Jaeger continues harrassing the gulls and I watched it chase after an American White Pelican, but the pelican seemed indifferent to its advances.
  • The cold and snow brought in a few more ducks.

The List:

  • American Wigeon: 4
  • Gadwall: 8
  • Mallard: 4
  • Northern Pintail: 4
  • Northern Shoveler: 12
  • Canvasback: 25
  • Redhead: 30
  • Ring-necked Duck: 30
  • Lesser Scaup: 30
  • Ruddy Duck: 5
  • Pied-billed Grebe: 3
  • Horned Grebe: 6
  • Eared Grebe: 4
  • American White Pelican: 6
  • Double-cresrted Cormorant: 25
  • Great Blue Heron: 5
  • Red-tailed Hawk: 1
  • American Coot: 30
  • Killdeer: 6
  • Greater Yellowlegs: 1
  • Least Sandpiper: 10
  • Ring-billed Duck: 65
  • Pomarine Jaeger: 1
  • Belted Kingfisher: 2
  • House Wren: 1
  • Marsh Wren: 1
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 1
  • Northern Mockingbird: 2
  • Orange-crowned Warbler: 1
  • Spotted Towhee: 1
  • Savannah Sparrow: 1
  • Song Sparrow: 6
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow: 2
  • White-crowned Sparrow: 15
  • Dark-eyed Junco: 10
  • Northern Cardinal: 2
  • Great-tailed Grackle: 12
  • American Goldfinch: 3

Sightings by LgPacker

Black Phoebe Found at Willhair Park


This is a Black Phoebe! New member Dan found this bird at Willhair Park this past Saturday and posted to the web his findings. In fact, he found two Black Phoebes at the park! I followed up on his sighting, refound one bird, and managed a couple of diagnostic photos. (Sliding down a twenty-foot embankment without breaking me or the camera was a challenge.)


In all my years of birding, I’ve never seen a Black Phoebe in or around the Big Country. They’re found further south in the Hill Country and even further south into Mexico. Perhaps they’re expanding their winter range or maybe they’ve been here all along, tucked away behind resident houses along Cedar Creek. Or maybe they followed in the wingbeats of the Great Kiskadee which is again being seen and heard in the same areas as last fall. Whatever the reason, I’m excited to announce this great find. Look for the Black Phoebe along the creek perched low on overhanging branches.


As icing on this morning’s birding, a couple of Sharp-shinned Hawks were chasing each other among the elms and pecans. The female sat still long enough to say, “cheese.” If you want to know what else I saw, check out the 11-19-2007 Sightings. It’s amazing how much bird life is “out there.”

November 19, 2007-Willhair Park

Best bird(s) of the day:

  • Black Phoebe; first reported by Dan Symonds 11-17-2007

Complete List:

  • Great Blue Heron: 1
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk: 2
  • Red-shouldered Hawk: 1
  • Red-tailed Hawk: 1, being chased by one of the Sharpies
  • American Kestrel: 1
  • Eurasian Collared-Dove: 3
  • White-winged Dove: 26
  • Black Phoebe: 1
  • Great Kiskadee: 1 heard
  • Blue Jay: 6
  • American Crow: 1
  • Black-crested Titmouse: 3
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch: 1. This is a good year to see RBNU
  • Carolina Wren: 1
  • Bewick’s Wren: 1
  • American Robin: 3
  • Northern Mockingbird: 2
  • European Starling: 16
  • Spotted Towhee: 1
  • Dark-eyed Junco: 6
  • Northern Cardinal: 3
  • Western Meadowlark: 1 singing
  • Great-tailed Grackle: 25
  • House Finch: 3
  • American Goldfinch: 1

Sightings by LgPacker

Lake Kirby in November, 2007

With the past excitement of the jaeger flying around at Kirby, we’ve been doing a little more birding at the lake and have found a few interesting birds we’d like to share with you.


With November’s warmer weather the egrets are hanging around in pretty good numbers, some gulls are showing off, and a few ducks are paddling around. Marsh Wrens seem to be singing everywhere, several Common Yellowthroats were hiding in the reeds, and a Merlin had his eye on a snipe. Go to the Lake Kirby in November, 2007 Gallery to see more birds hanging around Kirby. Better yet, go out to Lake Kirby and see what’s happening.

November 12, 2007-Lake Kirby

Best bird(s) of the morning:

Pomarine Jaeger: 1

Complete List:

Mallard: 8
Redhead: 1
Pied-billed Grebe: 6
Eared Grebe: 2
American White Pelican: 5
Double-crested Cormorant: 4
Great Blue Heron: 4
Great Egret: 3
Snowy Egret: 5
Black-crowned Night-Heron: 1
American Coot: 31
Killdeer: 19
Wilson’s Snipe: 4
Greater Yellowlegs: 1
Spotted Sandpiper: 1
Least Sandpiper: 33
Ring-billed Gull: 78
Pomarine Jaeger: 1
Rock Pigeon: 2
Mourning Dove: 2
Belted Kingfisher: 1
Bewick’s Wren: 1
Marsh Wren: 6
Northern Mockingbird: 3
Curve-billed Thrasher: 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 6
Common Yellowthroat: 3
Savannah Sparrow: 3
Song Sparrow: 3
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 4
White-crowned Sparrow: 13
Pyrrhuloxia: 1
Red-winged Blackbird: 24
Western Meadowlark: 1
Great-tailed Grackle: 15
Brown-headed Cowbird: 12
House Finch: 8

Sightings by LgPacker

Kirby Jaeger Identified as Pomarine


For those of you who are following the discussions on Texbirds on the Kirby Lake Jaeger, Martin Reid posted his views regarding its identity. Below are his comments along with the photos submitted to highlight his conclusions. The full-sized photos can be found at Flickr. Lorie Black’s photo (above) is also used to highlight some of Martin’s points. The jaeger was at the lake again this Monday morning.

Dear all,
I’ve been asked to comment on the identity of the Kirby Lake Jaeger. I believe it is a Pomarine, and I list here the features that lead me to this conclusion (from most important/reliable to least important/reliable). It should be kept in mind that there is probably no one single 100% foolproof feature to separate an “average” intermediate/dark Pomarine (POJA) from a similar Parasitic (PAJA), and thus an ID based on a large number of features is likely to be more accurate. I need to disclose that my personal experience with jaegers is not huge: Since moving to Texas almost 17 years ago I’ve seen 50 – 60 POJAs, 25 – 30 PAJAs, and 3 LTJAs. In 2006 I was based on Alaska’s North Slope for six weeks in late August and September where I had daily encounters with numerous breeding (and a
few juvenile) POJAs and much smaller numbers of PAJAs. Back in my native Great Britain many years ago I did a lot of land-based seawatching and visited PAJA colonies that provided extensive experience with POJA and PAJA (hundreds of each;- maybe more than a thousand for PAJA). My conclusions and my comments below are based on my experience plus the content of the following references: “Field Identification of the smaller skuas (= jaegers)” By Klaus Malling Olsen and Lars Jonsson as published in BRITISH BIRDS Volme 82 number 4 (April 1989). “Skuas and Jaegers: A guide to the Skuas and Jaegers of the World” By K. M. Olsen and Hans Larsson. “Advanced Birding” by Kenn Kaufman. “The Sibley Guide to Birds” by David Sibley.

First it needs to be aged, if possible; luckily this individual has all the hallmark features of a juvenile (fresh plumage with much pale edging/tipping on the upperparts, all feathers appearing the same age; legs (not feet) completely blue-gray; central tail feathers very short, etc.) To save repetition all the following comments (unless specified) refer only to juveniles:

Reasons why it is a POJA:


The primary tips have no pale markings at the tip. One image (IMG_5116 above) seems to show a tiny white dot on two of the right wing primaries – but on all other images including those that are closer and sharper than IMG_5116 there is no sign of any pale primary tips. PAJA differs from almost all POJAs (and LTJAs) in that the primary tips have obvious pale tips – usually formed by a pair of short, thickish, cleanly-demarcated pale lines on each side of the tip that almost meet at the very apex of the wing. The only time a PAJA would have the Kirby bird’s lack of pale markings to the primary tips is if it were extremely worn, and such wear would also be evident in reduced/absent pale tipping to the wing coverts. On this bird the pale tipping to the wing coverts is thick and fresh-looking, so it is hard to imagine that the primaries ever had similar pale tips.


The Central pair of tail feathers are very short – barely extending beyond the rest of the tail – and the right-side central tail feather (the left-side one looks damaged and unreliable concerning shape) appears to have a broad, shallowly-curving tip that does not end in a point. POJA has the shortest-looking central tail feathers at this age, often presenting a rather squared-off tail in all but the most ideal angles of view (and as shown in a number of the flight pics of this individual). Although hard to discern in many instances, PAJA should show a short but obvious fine point at the tip of these feathers.


The shape and pattern of the head: PAJA typically has a rather distinctive crown shape, with a high-point above or ahead of the eye that forms a domed look; in contrast POJA has a more-squared head shape, and if there is a peak it is a very gentle one behind the eye, creating a blocky look. The Kirby individual seems clearly to have this latter shape. POJA has a rather smooth head pattern without any longitudinal streaking in the nape (but sometimes with a suggestion of dark scaling) and throat, and with the darkest part of the head being on/above the loral area. PAJA invariably has some diffuse but obvious longitudinally-aligned streaking on the nape, plus finer but more distinct streaking on the throat, and with the darkest part of the head being the center of the crown, creating a capped effect that – on all but very palest-headed individuals – consistently creates a soft, capped look in flight accentuated by the contrastingly pale nape. I see no signs of this latter pattern in the Kirby bird (whose head does not paler than the body, at rest), instead I see a fairly classic POJA pattern, with no sign of streaking on the throat or nape.


NOTE: photo IMG_4939 does suggest a dark cap – but it is subject to strong low-angle lighting that I feel is presenting an inaccurate view – compare it to all the images taken the next day in neutral lighting.


Rump and uppertail covert pattern: PAJA typically have relatively low contrast in this area, as the paler elements are typically the same tone as that of the head (or slightly darker), and the pattern of darker and lighter bars does not line up to create fairly straight latitudinal barring. Only pale-headed PAJAs have a contrastingly pale rump/utc area. POJA typically has the pale elements in the rump/utcs lighter (sometimes strikingly-so) than the head, and has the marks line up to form latitudinal bars that are straightish or with a slight scalloping. The Kirby bird is slightly atypical of POJA in that the pale elements of the rump/utcs ar barely any lighter-toned than the head – but the pattern of this area is typical of POJA (and not of PAJA) in that the dark and pale marks are for the most part uniformly thick an aligned into almost-straight lines, with obvious contrast.


The outer lesser secondary coverts of the upper/leading edge of the wing: PAJAs of this color-type (i.e. not dark-morph, pale-morph, or “cold-gray”-morph) have very extensive pale rusty tipping to these feathers, forming a palish rusty band on the leading edge of the wing (often merging into the similar tipping/edging on the median secondary coverts). POJA does not have this strong pale tipping to the lesser secondary coverts, thus the leading edge of the upper wing is darkish. Some POJAs have quite extensive pale rusty-cream edging to the median coverts and on such birds, there is usually a contrast on the open wing between the darker outer lesser coverts and the paler medians (may include some of the lowermost lessers). The Kirby individual has well-edged median upperwing coverts with darker lesser coverts, as on POJA.


Pattern of upper median and greater wing coverts: PAJA typically has, in addition to the crisp pale marks at the tip of each of these feathers, one or more obvious pale marks either on the edge or internally about half-way back from the tip of the feather (sometimes there is a complete pale edge to the outer side of each feather). POJA typically lacks these marks, and at most has a very small number of such marks on the innermost greater coverts. The Kirby bird has three tiny such marks on the inner greater coverts and none elsewhere, better-matching POJA rather than PAJA (although some PAJA can be poorly-marked.)


Foot color: POJA differs from PAJA (and LTJA) in that, while the leg and “ankle” are pale blue-gray, almost the entire foot is black, while the smaller species have varying amounts of blue-gray extending from the ankle onto the sides of the foot at its base. The Kirby bird appears to have a virtually all-black foot with no pale gray at the base, either side of the “ankle”.


Bill shape and size: Often hard to judge, one might argue that this individual is within the upper limit for PAJA, but only a small minority of PAJAs might appear like this, while it is typical for POJA. Also note the rather large hook for a bird of this age (where the bill may not yet be fully-grown).


Overall size: impossible to determine from all but one of the photos; the one pic with a yellowlegs close-by gives me the impression of a really large jaeger, and the observers saw it close to Ring-billed Gulls and said “this jaeger is easily the size of the Ring-bills that it was harassing”. Per Kaufman, POJA is about the size of a Ring-billed Gull or Heerman’s Gull, while PAJA is the size of a Laughing Gull.


The bases of the underwing greater primary coverts: The oft-touted pale bases of these feathers that is characteristic of POJA is somewhat variable. A minority of PAJAs can have a contrasting pale area that matches the typical pattern of POJA, while a minority of POJAs can lack strong contrast at this location. This is perhaps the only feature of the Kirby bird that could be viewed as being non-typical for POJA – but the pattern falls well within the limits for POJA.

Taking all the above into account, I feel that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of Pomarine… but I am open to a well-argued alternative analysis!


November 09, 2007 – Lake Kirby

Best bird(s):

  • Red-breasted Merganser: 1 female
  • Forster’s Tern: 1
  • Parasitic Jaeger (until someone with more experience tells us different)

Complete List:

  • Red-breasted Merganser: 1
  • Pied-billed Grebe: 8
  • American White Pelican: 12
  • Double-crested Cormorant: 24
  • Great Blue Heron: 8
  • Great Egret: 2
  • Snowy Egret: 8
  • Red-tailed Hawk: 1
  • American Coot: 24
  • Killdeer: 4
  • American Avocet: 2
  • Wilson’s Snipe: 1
  • Greater Yellowlegs: 2
  • Lesser Yellowlegs: 1
  • Least Sandpiper: 15
  • Ring-billed Gull: 36
  • Forster’s Tern: 1
  • Parasitic Jaeger: 1
  • Mourning Dove: 12
  • Belted Kingfisher: 2
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker: 1
  • Blue Jay: 1
  • House Wren: 1
  • Marsh Wren: 2
  • Northern Mockingbird: 2
  • American Pipit: 3
  • Orange-crowned Warbler: 1
  • Song Sparrow: 1
  • White-crowned Sparrow: 6
  • Red-winged Blackbird: 45
  • Common Grackle: 25
  • Great-tailed Grackle: 36
  • Brown-headed Cowbird: 100

Sightings by KHampton and LgPacker