Big Country Audubon Society

Big Country Blog

September’s Spectacles

GRHE

Another quiet week, a little cool spell and a few migrants marked last week’s birding. The above photo of a Green Heron at the Lily Fest in San Angelo was taken by Lorie Black. She said he really put on a show Saturday. He hopped from pad to pad. As it began to sink he’d hop to another. He was filling up on the little Mosquito Fish.

BTNW

A few warblers were trickling into the Big Country. This Black-throated Green Warbler was seen in southern Taylor County off CR 134. A Peregrin Falcon, Osprey, and Northern Harrier were spotted in Jones County.

CBTH

Even though it’s mid-September, I keep seeing juveniles. This young Curve-billed Thrasher dressed in his new school clothes was spotted the morning it turned cool. Mom was nearby trying to make the old feathers look presentable.

YBCU

And lastly, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo was spotted out in the open! When caught, his only defense was to act like a tree. You can see a few more photos in the September’s Spectacles Gallery.

Yawn! Where’s the Action?

STFL

The beginning of September’s birding has been a little too slow and quiet even for this avid birder’s tastes. It’s hard to top two weeks’ birding in Big Bend last month and I got distracted by club activities, family matters, and football. However a little time spent outdoors quickly rekindled the birding enthusiasm and a very cooperative Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (above) gave me an intimate look at how birds maintain their feathers for flight.

NOMO

Speaking of feathers, some birds defy identification by sporting all-white tails. Don sent me a picture of a bird he photographed at the lake; it didn’t match up to any in the field guides. Do you know what this bird is?

To solve this bird’s anonymity and to see more preening action click on Flycatcher Preens Gallery. And by the way, if you thought the flycatcher was yawning; you’d be wrong. This action is called…. Oh, just go to the pictures to find out!

It Sure is Quiet These Days; Where Is Everyone?

What a difference a few weeks make. At the end of July the sounds of begging nestlings and singing adults defending territories filled the early morning hours. Now all is quiet as our breeders are slipping out of the Big Country and heading south for the winter. I caught the juvenile Swainson’s hawk at the end of August looking skyward surely contemplating his forthcoming departure.

SWHA_looks_up

If you’re observant you’ll notice some summer regulars still hanging around. I nearly ran over this newly fledged Yellow-billed Cuckoo in a field at Dyess. Movement in the dense grass was suggestive of a small rodent but my curiosity got the better of me as I got out of the truck to see what exactly was in the grass.

YBCU_inhand

After properly documenting its presence I came home and discovered the Yellow-billed Cuckoo has one of the shortest incubation periods, is one of our fastest growing nestlings, and occasionally pairs become intraspecific brood parasites. (They lay their eggs in other Yellow-billed Cuckoo nests.) More information on their behavior is included in the picture gallery.

Some migrants lurk in the undergrowth looking for fast food to fuel their fall journeys. Several warbler species, orioles, and flycatchers such as this Least Flycatcher

Flycatcher

were found utilizing stands of giant ragweed and dense undergrowth. This type of habitat contains lots of pests that only a bird can appreciate. Speaking of pests, this photo came with several big red harvester ant hitchhikers embedded in the photographer’s jeans. As I was photographing the flycatcher the ants thought it appropriate to sample their host’s epidermis. I did what every dedicated birder would do; I slapped at the ants (oh yeah, it really hurt them, they had thick denim protecting them) and concentrated on holding the camera still at the same time. Only after the flycatcher flew off was I able to put down the camera and divert my total attention to removing the little red jerks.

To see other birds photographed at the end of August check out the Where Is Everyone Gallery. To check out other sightings of birds seen in late August check out the Sightings section. Lorie reports hundreds of Great Egrets and Cattle Egrets are being seen in our fields and pastures around Lake Fort Phantom. If you have other sightings not listed here, please let us know who’s showing up at your place; we’d love to hear from you.

Rufous in the Big Country

RUHU

Rufous Hummingbirds have hit the Big Country! Member Jay Capra photographed this beautiful male the first week of August at a private residence in the Buffalo Gap area. He says; “I was MOST excited about the hummer, having only seen a Rufous on our place once before and never 2 days in a row. He has been here 4 days and has a spot in one of our cedar trees where I know he’ll be if he isn’t chasing the Ruby-throats away from his favorite feeder. The Rufous is still hanging out here (as of August 27th) and this past weekend I thought I saw the female.”

Another bird enthusiast, Marjorie, photographed a young male Rufous in the Cedar Gap area. She was so thrilled to have one visit her feeders that she had trouble holding the camera still. I know how she feels.

Not only did Jay send hummingbird pictures, but he sent other bird and wildlife pictures. You can check them out at the Rufous in the Big Country Album. Thank you, Jay and Marjorie, for sending us your pictures.

And by the way, if you’d like to share your summer birding stories/pictures with us, let me know. If it was interesting to you, it’ll be interesting to us. I’ve already got a wonderful report from a couple who vacationed in Colorado and another personal birding adventure in Big Bend to tell you about.

See ya in the next blog!

August Collage, 2007

The first week of August brought several neat photos my way that I wanted to share with everyone. John English went to Colorado and took pictures along steep, winding, narrow mining trails:

Yankee Boy Wildflowers

Larry Millar shares his photos of a Least Bittern taken at Lake Kirby in June:

Least_Bittern

Bill Kerr from Northern Ireland shares photos of a white swallow:

BARS

Heidi, Kathy, and I invented lofty birding perches:

KH_HT

and I found a still singing Bell’s Vireo on territory at Dyess AFB:

BEVI

That was the speed-read version. For more information, pictures, and all the details, see the August Collage Gallery. Thanks to all who contributed pictures. I appreciate the Big Country birding updates from all!

July Endings, 2007

DICK_puzzled

The end of July pretty much marks the close to the nesting season in the Big Country. The Dickcissels (above) and Mourning Doves were seen this morning still on the nest or tending young. But the Swainson’s Hawk at Dyess AFB has fledged; the Western Kingbirds and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are clumped together in family groups now; and a few fall migrants are pushing through. The influx of hummingbirds at our feeders this month is also an indication of changing populations. So just as you thought nothing new was happening with our birds, think again. Better yet, take a look at the July Endings Gallery; you’ll see some of our birds I’ve encountered in July and maybe learn something new. Have you ever seen a newly hatched Killdeer?

A Bird in the Hand…

BCHU

I’ve posted bird banding pictures recently, but I just had to share these photos with everyone because how many times do you see a hummingbird in the hand and it’s still alive? Kathy and I went to Christoval to Dan Brown’s Hummer House at the end of June (it was her birthday!) to watch the banders at work. Weather stayed mild and cloudy making for excellent bird-in-the-bag conditions. If the weather is too hot, some hummingbirds are too stressed and can’t be contained in the bags for long. I learned how to determine age and sex of hummingbirds (no, you don’t look there). The sign is in their back feathers, wings and tail feathers. If the edges to the back feathers are gray, it’s a female. If the edges are buffy, it’s a juvenile. Spreading the wing and counting from the tip of the primary back to the 7th primary reveals sex. A narrow P7 is male; a fatter P7 is female. How cool is that? Then you study the tail feathers to determine if the third feather from the edge is white tipped or green to categorize the bird further. All the adult males are “green” and a small percentage of females are also. If there is another AOU split with Black-chinned Hummingbirds, the banders will already have their data collected.

I got to try my hand at banding the hummers. I was nervous at first; such tiny bands and tiny legs and tiny everything about hummers! And I was nervous at the end. I was definitely out of my comfort zone. One male hummer kicked and flailed his tiny leg into the air making himself a moving target. What if I squeezed too hard on the band? What if I severed a leg? What if I squeezed his body too hard? Who turned up the heat? Well, I managed to band three hummers before handing the tools back to the seasoned veterans. I decided my talent was plucking the hummers and other birds from the mist nets used to snare the unsuspecting birds. Yes, it was easier until the dreaded cardinal appeared in the net with his BIG bright red bill ready to clamp down on my finger. Somehow I managed to get him out of the net without incurring any war wounds. In between plucking birds out of the net and watching the banders deftly apply jewelry to the birds’ ankles, I macro-photographed some of the more interesting birds. A Bird in the Hand is definitely easier to photograph than one in the bush! And did I mention the show-stopper bird?

Mid-July Parenting

SWHA

This year only one Swainson’s Hawk chick sits in the nest at Mesquite Grove Golf Course. The nest started out with two chicks but either fratricide, rain storms (I think I remember we had some rain), or an accidental slip reduced the nest to one. The hawks are being good parents and every mockingbird, scissor-tail, and kingbird are once again voicing their displeasure every time one of the big birds soars in the air. These majestic birds have made their nest in a large mesquite and they’re pretty easy to see.

loudspeaker

But across the Base high atop a public address system, another set of parents work hard to raise their young. I watched two Western Kingbirds attend to their nestlings and marveled at the lengths some birds go to find that perfect nest site. Some parents have lofty goals for their kids; drop into the Mid-July Parenting gallery and you’ll see what I mean.

Babes, Bullock’s and Other Birds

Last week John English photographed the birds at Cedar Gap Farm and produced some amazing pictures:

PABU_FeedBaby_JAE

Who says birds don’t engage in sports? This looks like a hand-off (er..beak-off) from bill to bill! Wish I could see it again in s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n! John got more great photos of some of the birds at Cedar Gap Farm. A Carolina Wren came visiting:

CARW

As did a Ladder-backed Woodpecker:

LBWO

And if you expect to see Bullock’s Orioles and other birds, you’ll have to check out the Babes, Bullock’s and Other Birds Gallery. There are some pictures of young birds in the Big Country that might be confusing to beginning birders, and a couple of pictures that remind us not all birds operate at one hundred percent. And for fun, I threw in a picture of a birder having a silly time. Betcha can’t guess who it is, hah!

Cedar Gap Farm’s Newest Resident: Black-capped Vireo

For those of you picking up today’s Abilene Reporter-News and seeing an article about Cedar Gap Farm and wanting more information, you came to the right place. Just click on Cedar Gap Farm in Birding Locations to read more about the birds and wildlife at the Hutto’s Cedar Gap Farm.

BCVI

As for the Black-capped Vireo, two were seen and a male photographed in early May. The Hutto’s were hopeful their years’ of hard work would attract this species and by finding them again in mid-June it is apparent the vireos are nesting somewhere on their property. The Hutto’s welcome birders to their place who want to look for this species; but the vireo has not established any pattern yet to be seen reliably. Updates on the birds’ nesting success will be posted as soon as someone can confirm either a nest or juveniles.

If you make a trip to see the vireos and don’t find them, you will not be disappointed in the other birds that are present. Who could be disappointed with the Painted Bunting…

PABU

…or the Indigo Bunting?

INBU

To see more pictures of the vireo and buntings visit Cedar Gap Farm Buntings and Vireo. To see what else is showing up at Cedar Gap Farm, spend a leisurely morning there and enjoy the wildlife!