Big Country Audubon Society

Big Country Blog

Walnut Creek Ranch Field Trip, May 19, 2007

WCR_metalwork

What a fantastic field trip we had to Walnut Creek Ranch! I don’t know where to begin the accolades so here goes:

The view was breathtaking:

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…the accommodations wonderful:

WCR

…the bird banding brilliantly fascinating:

WCR_PABU

…the birding exciting:

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…the colorful caterpillars captivating:

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…and the company, a riot!

BCAS group

The pictures are now up at the Walnut Creek Ranch Gallery. There’s a whole bunch of ’em but you can pick and choose which ones to peruse. Our brainy webmaster added pagination to our website and the ability to add captions or descriptions to the thumbnail pictures. Take a look, you’ll like what you see.

As for the mysterious red caterpillar with yellow horns, check out Bugs for Thugs, an excellent website dealing with everything creepy (to some) and crawly. Remember, those beautiful birds we all love to watch consume vast quantities of bugs so you might want to log in from time to time to see what fasinating bugs walk (or crawl or fly) on this earth. Then razz Kelley when you see one snatched out of the air by our feathered friends. (Just kidding, Kelley.)

And now back to Walnut Creek Ranch. I’ll be adding this wonderful birding site to our Birding Locations soon with directions so you can visit again and again. Our gracious host, Kathi Johnson, welcomes birders and those looking for a place to just get away from it all. The short two-hour drive from Abilene is scenic and I’ll be looking forward to going back soon.

Memorial Weekend Birding

NOBO

Memorial Weekend found me quail counting at Dyess AFB. How does one count quail? Easy. Stand in one place, listen to calling quail, and count how many you hear. Move to the second place and count again and so on. Some wise guy (above) had to walk out of cover and wave at me. The other birds I saw over the weekend are showcased in the Memorial Weekend Gallery. I’ve got pictures of Dickcissel, Pyrrhuloxia, Roadrunner, and a couple of warblers, one pretty common for our area and the other not so common.

Hope you had a memorable Memorial Day, remembering to thank a vet (that would be for me my Dad who served in WWII) and remembering our freedom is not free. And the next time I’ve got to remember, uh, that rain plus clay makes a temporary parking lot.

Chihuahuan Ravens Nesting on Dyess AFB

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While out at Dyess birding in a Mesquite scrub area at the end of March, a Chihuahuan Raven shot out of a tree and soared above me cawing loudly. I watched it circle around me (of course I was capturing this behavior digitally, see above) and wondered why it was so agitated. When I heard a second raven call, I knew there had to be a nest nearby. A few minutes of diligently picking my way around lotebush, prickly pear, and everything else thorny, I located a nest high atop a Mesquite:

CHRA_onnest

Over the next two months John and I observed and documented the ravens at the nest. John captured a parent feeding the young:

CHRA

and I probably took the last picture of the young in the nest. Where the nest is located is hard to reach; the area floods when it rains (and it’s been raining a lot); the Mesquite foliage thickened and blocked the view; and mosquitoes are fairly bothersome. But we slogged through the sticky mud and biting bugs and captured some pictures of the nesting ravens. So if you want to see more raven pictures and maybe learn a thing or two about Chihuahuans, go to Chihuahuan Raven Gallery, and enjoy!

Moms Working Hard

This past Sunday, May 13, was Mother’s Day. Since this site is all about birds and nature, I thought you might like to see what the mother birds were doing last week. I accidentally stumbled upon several species of birds tending to nests at Dyess AFB. I spotted this mother cardinal bringing food to her babies:

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Thank goodness our mothers didn’t force these green wiggly things down our throats (although this reminds me of some of those green vegetables I had to eat).

This Ash-throated Flycatcher was also hard at work:

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I think her menu item was cricket.

Not all birds are on the protein-only diet, some birds eat fruit as evidenced by this male Rose-breasted Grosbeak:

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For the record, Rose-breasted Grosebeaks aren’t normally found in Abilene. BCAS has less than a handful of Abilene records; they are pretty rare. They are more common in the mature eastern forests. So this find was a real treat!

If you’ll click on Moms Working Hard gallery, you can see other photos of the birds I saw last week. And if you haven’t already, thank your mom for all she does, has done, and will do for you. Moms are the best!

Well, Owl Be Surprised!

This evening a friend called and invited me to bird. Said she’d heard of a hawk’s nest out on utility poles south of Lake Fort Phantom and wanted to go take a look. Yawn, every year some Red-taileds nest there. I was tired; really didn’t want to go see another Red-tailed; but made the effort none-the-less. Before I could set the scope on the hawks, I noticed something different:

GHOW

Those weren’t hawks! They were Great-horned Owls! Well, “owl” be surprised! The parent sat to the right of the nest and we watched the nestlings preen, stretch their wings, and generally jostle each other because they’d outgrown their nest.

GHOW_nest

The owlets soon settled back into the nest to wait for the sun to set. I left re-examining my previous pre-concieved negative attitude. Nature is full of surprises if we’d only make ourselves available to observe it.

(The owls are out on FM 3308; the road that runs between West Lake Road and East Lake Road.)

So Many Birds; So Little Time to Blog

NAWA

One faithful reader commented the other day, “I check your website everyday, but I’m not finding anything recent.” Ouch; I’m guilty as charged. But those close to me know I haven’t been slouching off. Quite the contrary. I’ve been birding almost non-stop since mid-April. Birding in and around Abilene, birding on the upper Texas coast, birding in Austin, and birding at Dyess. My eyes are tired and blurry from staring at tall trees and deciphering what little feathers are moving about in the canopy. Why the non-stop birding? It’s migration and millions of our breeders are returning to claim a territory, build nests, and raise a family. It’s so exciting (to me at least) to find warblers, tanagers, buntings, and others. If I blink I might miss something. OK, I’ll slow down and process the hundreds of photos I’ve taken the past few weeks. No, I’m not going to throw all of them up on the web. I wouldn’t do that to my failthful readers. But I did pick a good solid baker’s dozen to illustrate some of the warblers and others seen recently. So Many Birds; So Little Time; thanks for looking. And keep watching the trees and this website. I’ll throw up some more photos soon.

Boom-Stomp; Strut-Rustle

ATPC

Prairie Chickens and Wild Turkeys began their displays the middle of April; and several Audubon members were privileged to see the Attwater’s Prairie Chickens at the Abilene Zoo (above). Attwater’s are endangered because they are loosing their habitat. Read more about the Abilene Attwater’s Prairie Chicken Reintroduction Program at the Zoo’s website and for a more thorough explanation of the recovery program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has an excellent website.

You’ll need special permission from the Abilene Zoo to see the Prairie Chickens, but if you want to see Wild Turkey displaying,

WITU-displays

come on out to Cedar Gap Farm. The toms are strutting for the hens and you can see plenty of other birds there, too. More pictures are in the Boom-Stomp; Strut-Rustle Gallery.

Now here’s a question to ponder: how do those toms stay puffed up without hurting themselves?

Another Lake Kirby Adventure

TRES

The phone rang late Friday evening; my friend Lorie was looking at Tree Swallows (above) out at Lake Kirby. Friday’s cold front had stalled the migrating swallows and several hundred were flying around barely inches from the water’s surface. Needing my birder’s fix for the day, I grabbed the camera and ran (OK, drove) out to Lake Kirby to see if I could photograph a few of the swallows. On the way out I told myself all the reasons I shouldn’t be photographing: cloudy, diminishing evening light, cold north wind, subjects probably too far away, and John English wouldn’t photograph in such conditions. But I love a challenge and sure, the images could be much better; but all the images are at least diagnostic. Besides, no one really gets great looks at swallows; they’re always darting back and forth eating bugs.

BANS

Not only were a few Tree Swallows hovering above the lake but Bank Swallows (above), Barn Swallows, Cliff Swallows, and Cave Swallows were present as well. The strong north wind slowed them down just long enough for the camera to lock in on them allowing me a few shots. They are in the Migrating Swallows Picture Album. And if you think the two images posted here are less than decent, don’t bother looking at the album; they aren’t much better. But if you’re a birder needing a fix, enjoy!

So as daylight began to slip into darkness, I put the keys into the ignition and prepared to leave water’s edge. Uh-oh, nothing happened when I turned the key in the ignition. The truck wouldn’t start! Several warning symbols flashed on the dashboard. Incredulous and wondering how I was going to explain this one to my non-birding spouse, I got the vehicle’s manual out thinking I could decipher what was wrong with the truck. Hmm…I discovered the red glowing battery symbol surely meant I had a dead battery. So I called the non-birding spouse, confessed my predicament, and waited for help to arrive in the form of jumper cables. Slamming shut the glove compartment in frustration then caused the truck’s horn to sound off. Quickly punching a few buttons on the keyless remote stopped the blare of the horns and then I realized why my truck wouldn’t start. I had locked myself in the truck with the remote and when I attempted to start it, the truck thought I was someone trying to steal it. Only when I unlocked it with the remote did the truck start just fine. Chagrined, I called my non-birding spouse, confessed my stupidity and stopped him from driving all the way out to Kirby.

My, ain’t technology grand?

Heron Rookery Revisited

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John and I revisited the Heron rookery in San Angelo to observe these majestic birds at their rookery. I learned herons have a certain protocol when pair bonding, wooing mates, and gathering nesting material.

GBHE

I also learned where herons nest around Lake Fort Phantom if they don’t have trees to use as nest sites. Talk about high-rise apartments!

You can see the newest pictures and behavior in the Heron Rookery Revisited Album. And I didn’t just make this information up (well, some of it I did). The factual information came from BNA, Birds of North America Online. The creative interpretations came from this birder’s overactive imagination induced by being stuck inside all day l-o-n-g due to rain. I believe you can tell the factual from the creative captions. I gotta get out and do some sunshine birding. See you in the field.

Spring Awakens

CACW

In case you hadn’t noticed, spring is here! Birds that are normally shy and quiet are suddenly noisy and visible as they sit high on their perches singing to announce their territory. This Cactus Wren hopped directly above me and promptly let loose with his famous rattle. As you can see, he inflates his throat to produce the rattle call.

CACW

A few ducks are left on our ponds and some are showing off:

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…while others prefer to walk on water.

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The Eastern Bluebirds are house hunting:

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And the turkeys have become downright gaudy!

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To read more about what these birds are doing, check out the Spring Awakens Picture Gallery. There are more pictures of shy birds, show-off birds, and you can see a sequence of pictures showing the actual moment of how a female bluebird contemplates, inspects, and then chooses which box she will raise her family in.