Big Country Audubon Society

Big Country Blog

May Happened; Then June

OK, I’m flying in all directions and vow to slow down. You believe that? Me neither. But I’ve been collecting photos of our birds in the Big Country these last two months and am now ready to share them with you.

In May Happenings Gallery, you’ll see who has bred successfully, who has some babies, and which tireless parents are feeding their young. And I threw in this photo of a Black-chinned Hummingbird feeding from Prickly Pear. How West Texas is this?

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In June’s Findings Gallery, more of the same:

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Does this Bullock’s Oriole make you turn your head down and to the left? I promise the other birds in the photos are reasonably straight and the photos’ captions are a light and quick read. With all the real work, yard work, and house work that’s vying for our attention, who needs extra computer work? Seeya next post!

Baby Bluebird Behavior

Hi everybody! This blog is still alive and doing well. You haven’t heard from me in a while because I’ve been too focused on birding and not paying enough attention to blogging. But hopefully this set of baby bluebird photos will reassure you that we haven’t been slackers. The last time we visited the Eastern Bluebirds, the parents were bringing food to their young in the natural cavities or nestboxes. The other day John and I discovered newly fledged bluebirds and photographed mom and dad stuffing bugs and berries into their gaping beaks:

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All four little eager-to-be-fed fledglings lined up on one branch waiting patiently to be fed. Mom and Dad flew furiously back and forth between open mouths and the grocery store, bringing home the protein and the fruit. But one little fledgling couldn’t wait to be fed in orderly fashion so it kept scrambling from one side of the lineup to the other in an attempt to be fed next. But no matter which side it switched to, Mom or Dad always seemed to alight on the other side, farthest away from its hungry mouth.

But don’t let me bore you with words, take a look at the pictures in Baby Bluebird Behavior Gallery. All the drama was digi-captured and you can find out if the hungriest fledgling ever got fed. Enjoy!

May Migration, 2008!

Last week was the time of year every birder looks forward to: spring migration. Whether the birds came to your backyard,

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stopped at the local park,

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flew into Dyess,

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or waded out at the lake,

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migrants were here in the Big Country and several members sent photos for us to enjoy.

Now if the above pictures don’t move you to click on May Migration 2008 gallery to see what else was migrating through, then you are not a birder and you need to seriously consider visiting another website! If you didn’t see any migrants this past week; don’t fret. Migration is not over. It’s not too late to get outside and look around. Migration is happening all over the Big Country!

Above photos from top to bottom: Lazuli Bunting, Gray Catbird, and Yellow-breasted Chat (c) LgPacker. Ruddy Turnstone (c) Lorie Black

April’s Ending

April may have just ended but the spring nesting season has just begun! The Swainson’s are nesting again:

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Eastern Bluebirds are tending to young:

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and other goodies are passing through the Big Country on their way to their breeding grounds such as Black-headed Grosbeak, Marbled Godwits, Sprague’s Pipit, and Tri-colored Heron. We’ve all been having birder’s high for awhile now and the fun just keeps getting better. Now is a great time to get out and enjoy what’s here and what’s passing through. Go to April’s Ending to see all the goodies; and then go to Bluebirds Ad Nauseam for more gorgeous bluebird photos. Upon browsing the photos, you may find something other than birds enjoying the warm spring sunshine:

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Photo of mating Swainson’s Hawks by John English, photo of bluebird and ground squirrel by Laura Packer. All images are copyrighted.

Upland Sandpipers and Great Kiskadee in April

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During the first half of April, Upland Sandpipers fly into the Big Country, like this one seen off S. 27th at Oakwood Trails (Centennial Park). They are a difficult bird to photograph, because they seem to know just how far to land away from the camera. But I caught a couple of them taking a leisurely walk in the short grass, their favorite habitat, on Tuesday, April 8. Just four days earlier, Lorie first found 17 Upland Sandpipers on Boys Ranch Road. So keep your eyes open for these dove-sized birds with long necks and small heads.

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And then on Wednesday, April 9, while birding with another birder from New Jersey (hi Steve) in Will Hair Park, our “resident” Great Kiskadee called out from the creek bed. The New Jersey birder was ecstatic to get this bird on his life list and digiscoped; and I was ecstatic to record it in early April.

A few more pictures of these birds are in the Upland-Kiskadee Gallery; check it out!

Eagles, Bluebirds, and Bobcat

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John English sent me this majestic pose of a young Bald Eagle trying out its wings above its nest while holding onto a half eaten fish March 27, 2008. Young eagles do not become breeding adults until five years of age. This is also when they acquire the white feathers on their head and tail.

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Also at the end of March John spent some time with a pair of Dyess bluebirds (above) and the resident bobcat (below) sauntered into view for a quick photo shoot. We think the bobcat looks nice and plump…pregnant female?

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To see more of John’s photos, check out the Eagles, Bluebirds, and Bobcat photo album.

Crested Caracara in Callahan County

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And yet another rare bird (for this area) has shown up in the Big Country: the Crested Caracara. On February 2, 2008, a friend reported seeing a caracara flying overhead on CR 283 on the county line of Callahan and Coleman. These types of sightings are hard to confirm; how does one chase a bird seen in the sky? Well, this past week the caracara was reported at roadkill on CR 283, just two miles south of Hwy. 36. This sighting was chase-able and that’s just what I and a friend did this morning. I was not able to obtain a photo but I did see the bird fly into the area. The photo used here is from John English and I believe he took this photo at Choke Canyon S.P. We watched the caracara harass a couple of Chihuahuan Ravens and soar with the Turkey Vultures for about ten minutes before disappearing again. Caracaras are found to the south of the Big Country in open habitats, typically grassland, prairie, pastures, or desert with scattered taller trees, shrubs, or cacti in which it nests. This sighting is well north of its normal range.

Anyway, just wanted to let all know that the Crested Caracara has been sighted in the Big Country, about 25 miles from Abilene. The roadkill is still in the area so there’s a good chance it will hang around this area for those that are interested in relocating the bird. The Birds of North America Online has this to say about the Crested Caracara:

The distinctive Crested Caracara “combines the raptorial instincts of the eagle with the base carrion-feeding habits of the vulture” (Hudson 1920). Called ignoble, miserable, and aggressive, yet also dashing, stately, and noble, this medium-sized raptor, with its bold black-and-white plumage pattern and bright yellow-orange face and legs, is easily recognizable as it perches conspicuously on a high point within its territory. In flight it can be distinguished by its regular, powerful wing-beats as it cruises low across the ground or just above the treetops. Known locally as the “Mexican buzzard” for its habit of scavenging alongside vultures, the Crested Caracara is an opportunist and is commonly seen walking about open fields and pastures, feeding on a variety of invertebrate and vertebrate prey, as well as on carrion. The name “caracara” is said to be of Guarani Indian origin, traro-traro, derived from the unusual rattling vocalization that the bird utters when agitated.

Brown Pelican Spotted at Lake Kirby

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Thursday at noon, April 3, 2008, Lorie Black spotted this Brown Pelican at Lake Kirby. A few Audubon members rushed out to the lake and refound the bird and some photos were obtained. This is a very rare sighting for the Big Country. Brown Pelicans are common along the coast and this may be a first Taylor County record. To see more pictures of the Brown Pelican, go to Rare Birds Gallery. I’m sure more pictures will be added if the pelican sticks around for awhile!

Love is in the Air (and on Cars)!

March is a great time of year. Many resident birds are staking out territories, singing to attract mates, and starting to build nests. A pair of Eastern Bluebirds were photographed at a natural cavity on Dyess Air Force Base. The couple was pair bonding, evident by the male coming to the cavity and feeding the female:

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Wild Turkeys are finding love at Dyess Air Force Base also. But one turkey is finding love in all the wrong places:

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Red Crossbills, first spotted in the Buffalo Gap area are now being seen in Abilene!

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And a couple of Great Blue Herons are nesting at Nelson Park:

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But wait, there’s more Big Country bird news! We’ve got pictures of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Lesser Goldfinches, and Snowy Plovers. In fact, we have so many interesting photos of what’s been happening this past month that two photo galleries were created for your viewing pleasure, March Menagerie and the photos about Love is in the Air (and on Cars)!

We hope you enjoy our birds of the Big Country in March. Keep your eyes up, there’s more to come!

Long-eared Owl Found in Taylor County

LEOW

Guest post by Heidi Trudell –

This afternoon (3/7/08) while heading back from work I spotted a lump of roadkill just off the shoulder of 351 and out of the kindness of his heart, my coworker obliged and we investigated the lump. Initially the lump looked like a clump of wood or Great-horned Owl, but Carson pointed out that it was too small and quite buffy. Sadly, I’ve never seen a live Long-eared Owl so I was hesitant to call it LEOW but nothing else would have been close. The whole critter is maybe half the size of a GHOW, has quite small talons, slender ear tufts, lemony yellow eyes, very heavily mottled back and wings and tail… The underwings are overall buffy with a distinct dark splotch near the “wrist.” It’s definitely an exciting bird for me, even if it’s not exactly countable – getting such close looks at fresh specimens of any species is exciting. Many thanks to Carson Brown, Laura Packer, Michael Retter and Jay Packer for their assistance in identifying, photographing, documenting and generally cooperating in getting the LEOW online and into the freezer!

***Please note that state & federal permits are required to pick up dead critters, the LEOW in question is under Texas A&M’s salvage permit and will end up in their collection. This is not to say that you should ignore fresh roadkill, but make sure that someone with permits is able to pick it up.

To see more pictures of this first Taylor County record (or until proven otherwise) click on the Long-eared Owl Photos.