Big Country Audubon Society

Big Country Blog

Lake O.H.Ivie Field Trip by Kathy Hampton

Six birders were welcomed at 7:00 AM on Saturday, Novemberl14, 2009 with a gorgeous red sunrise complete with some clouds, Venus and a narrow sliver of the moon. Leaves showed the range of colors–light green, dark green, yellow, orange, red, brown and all the shades between. I do not recall ever seeing the mesquite leaves turn such a rich yellow color.  Sumacs were their well known bright red.

Temperatures were pleasant, winds calm. Had there been no birds, it would have been a great day to be outdoors.

The group listed 64 species and well more than 3,000 birds.  Each birder got at least one “life bird.” Tom Dolan recorded Short-eared Owland Rock Wren. Toni Dolan recorded Lark Bunting and American Pipit. Joe and Bonnie Thompson listed Lark Bunting and Franklin’s Gull. Dan Symonds actually showed excitement over his new lifer, Crested Caracara. (Way to go Dan!) Kathy Hampton did not even try to hide her rejoicing

over an unexpected Short-eared Owl that, at mid-morning, took flight right by us as we searched for the Rock Wren we were hearing. Check the

bird list for several other “really good” birds that we saw. All agreed that it was a great, fun day to be outside and bird! Birds are on the move. Be on the look-out!

Spring Migration-Many Happy Returns

It’s the time of year birders await with eager anticipation.  How will spring migration be this year?  The songbird migration of 2009 kicked off in early April with very good numbers of Clay-colored Sparrows moving through along with Chipping Sparrows.  Indigo, Lazuli and Painted Buntings have all been seen at Cedar Gap Farm.  Now will the warblers make a good showing?  If not, we still have a number of beauties, such as Blue Grosbeak, to enjoy.  So get out there and see what’s moving through!  Some are just passing by, so some are staying to enjoy for the rest of the spring and summer.

Male photographed near Cedar Gap Farm, 4/24

March Birding Madness: County Firsts!

The last week of March has revealed some incredibly out-of-range birds in the Big Country.  What is likely a Taylor County first is this Hooded Oriole, showing up at a nectar feeder at a northeast Abilene residence on March 24, 2009:

hoor-closeup-web-img_1158Photo by LgPacker

Hooded Orioles are normally found along the Rio Grande, in southern Arizona, in California and in Mexico.

A couple of days later Lorie found this Anhinga at Lake Fort Phantom at the outflow area establishing a Jones’ County first record:

anhinga_crPhoto by Lorie Black

Anhingas are aquatic birds normally found east of us along the Gulf Coast, along freshwater streams and ponds.  They spend considerable time in the water, body submerged with only the neck, face, and bill visible.  When not swimming the bird sunbathes on branches overhanging water as seen in the above photo.  The oriole, on the other hand, is associated with much drier habitat.  Why a waterlogged species and a desert dweller were seen days apart is anyone’s guess.  Perhaps their breeding hormones or the crazy weather patterns of late caused them to fly a little further than they had anticipated.

While not rare for our area, White-breasted Nuthatches are very uncommon in the Big Country.  They are more of an Eastern species.  But this one was found and photographed by Lorie at Oakwood Trails the first of March.

white-breasted-nuthatch-ldb_cr

Another bird hard to see (because it is nocturnal) is this Common Poorwill.

copo-ht-pict6208_webThought to be roadkill, Heidi pulled over and picked it off the road only to find out it was alive!  A quick trip to the Abilene Zoo’s Rehabilitation center brought it back to full health and it was released the next day.  Can’t find its eye or beak?  Here’s a closeup to help you figure it out.

To see more oriole, poorwill, and other bird photos from our members, go to our March Birding Madness Gallery.  Dan has wonderful pictures of a Fox Sparrow, Lorie has more pictures, John recorded a field trip to Cedar Gap Farm, and Laura has one or two also.  Speaking of Laura, the only poster to this site until now, BCAS is now happy to announce she has two new backups, Dan and Lorie.  They will be adding their birding knowledge and expertise to this site.  Blogging goodness slowed the first of this year when Laura had to take time off to battle cancer.  She appears to be winning the battle and thanks everyone for their many thoughts and prayers.

A Dove and a Pelican

Two bird occurrences made news here at BCAS this past week:  First, the rare sighting of a Ruddy Ground-Dove was reported in Tom Green County:

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Kudos to Don (who’s identity will remain protected); he found the bird in his backyard hanging out with the Inca Doves.  Also, over at Ocellated, there are some excellent first photos of this rare sighting.  This dove is from Mexico.  If you look in a field guide, you might find a drawing of the bird, but you won’t find its range map because only a few confirmed records have been found in extreme southern Texas, near the Rio Grande River. And yes, technically the dove is not in the Big Country.  But it’s just one county away!  Near enough to chase! And that’s what I did this past weekend.

There were eight of us in Don’s backyard on a stakeout.  Me, Randy, Jay, Amy, Bob and wife from San Angelo, and Heidi and Matt.  Now Heidi and Matt did not come with us.  Heidi just happened to call as we were driving towards San Angelo and found out there was a Ruddy Ground-Dove in the area.  I remember Heidi said something like, “What?  You left town on a rarity chase and didn’t tell me?”  Oops…I thought I had.  Oops…I thought you read Texbirds.  Um, Heidi, I guess I was sneaking out of town without letting you know.  And then I reminded her of how I almost derailed Kathy’s and my friendship by rarity chasing a certain Golden-crowned Sparrow a year ago without telling her.  Oh, man, I get a little too focused…oops.  So anyway, she and Matt race on down to San Angelo; they get to the place about 45 minutes after we got there; and around 3:05, everyone gets really good looks at the little dove sitting in a tree:

rugd-branch-img_0818web

Heidi’s still my friend, I have a new lifer, and all is right with the world. What more could I ask?

Glad you asked.  Back in mid-December, David reported a wing-tagged American White Pelican at Nelson Pond:

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Not only did it have a wing tag, it was also banded:

awpe-leg-band-img_0558web

If you find a tagged or banded bird, please report it to http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl/. This is the web site of the North American Bird Banding Program.  There are instructions there on how to report your sighting (or  call 1-800-327-BAND). I reported the sighting at their web site and last week I received a letter stating the bird was banded at the Blackfoot Reservoir, 4 miles southwest of Henry, Caribou County, Idaho!  The pelican was banded in 2008 when it was too young to fly.  So it’s not even a year old.  I always wondered where our northern visitors were coming from and now I know one came from the Blackfoot Reservoir! I think it’s enjoying hanging out with the Resident-Rehabbed (years-ago) pelican which has not migrated since its release back to the “wild.”  Hmmm…will the resident pelican take off in the spring with its new-found friend or will it create another slacker like itself?  The drama continues!

awpe-643-web-img_0569Baby Blackfoot (foreground) frolics with Resident-Rehabbed Pelican at Nelson Park, mid-December, 2008.

What Happened in December?

Nothing happens in the bird world in December, right?  Besides we’re too busy with holidays, CBCs (I did three!),  shopping, baking, and entertaining.  But while we were sleeping and waking and running, some of you noticed the birds and sent us photos.

A lingering Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was found at the wastewater treatment plant in Jones County on December 5:

stfl-img_0219-webIt set the latest “last-seen-in-the-fall” record for the Big Country.

Another flycatcher, the Great Kiskadee, was found December 29 behind a private residence along Cedar Creek in northeast Abilene:

gkis-jpacker_081229_8809webThis makes the “third-consecutive-year” record we’ve found this large Valley resident in the Big Country.

And the charm (third flycatcher) was this young Vermilion Flycatcher seen at SeaBee Park on the very first day of the new year:

vefl-ldb-jan-1-2009webEither this is the latest record or earliest record we have for Vermilion Flycatcher.  I don’t know…I’m confused.

And a little orange hummingbird braved the chill December air in Jones County:

ruhu-img_0260webRufous Hummingbird

Our usual winter residents have been seen in the usual places on fences:

ssha-mg_2586webSharp-shinned Hawk

in the brush:

webl-mg_4132webWestern Bluebird

and coming to the watering hole:

fosp-dsc_0441webFox Sparrow

But wait!  We have other birds that stepped in front of our cameras and in front of our cars   (It’s not gory; Heidi found an excellent specimen.)  I’ve put their pictures up at the December 2008 Gallery.  I even caught that  jolly-bearded, red-suited guy stopping by to grab a treat!

Thanks to those that sent in photos this past month!