Big Country Audubon Society

Big Country Blog

No Theme, Just Pictures

Most blogs have some sort of theme: species, seasonal, rarities, or trip. This blog is none of the aforementioned. I have a hodge podge of interesting photos I wanted to share with you that others have sent in. Such as this photo of a Loggerhead Shrike taken by Joe Thompson:


Joe happened to find the shrike posing nicely in front of his red workshop. What the shrike did next….well…you’ll have to take a look.

The next group of fascinating photos comes from Kim Walton; he captured the wild nightlife at Dyess AFB with his wildlife camera. Do you know what this is coming to water?


And below is a photo of the Eastern Bluebird eggs Marsha found in her mom’s nestbox at the end of the season:


Me, I’ve pretty much been a slacker; just bummin’ around outside listening to quail and watching the leaves turn:


Hey, we really do have fall in the Big Country.

Yep, I told you it was a No Theme Gallery. Take a look at the rest of the pictures, I’m sure you’ll enjoy! Thanks to all who contributed their photos. Please keep ’em coming!

That’s Not a Red-tail!

So there we were Saturday morning, happily cruising along a Haskell County road when perched atop a double utility pole was a hawk-like shape:


“Stop the car!” “That’s not a Red-tail!” Screech! Everyone grabs their bins and sees:


“Oh, Wow!” We gotta get the scope on this one!”


A Prairie Falcon! A life bird for Dan and only the third sighting for me! Looks sorta like a Peregrine, doesn’t it? But the sandy-brown color and that area of dark on its flanks (sides) along with the white behind the eye is diagnostic. We take a few minutes to admire this little (16″) falcon of open grasslands and quickly get our cameras on it. Heidi’s digiscoped image wins hands down against my itty-bitty 400mm zoom lens. Before our admiration expires, however, it takes off and flies farther away from us, leaving us too soon.

“What a great find!” “This will be the birding highlight of our trip!” But what we saw next redefined highlight:


We watched with our mouths open as thousands and thousands of geese settled on top of a local lake. Every geese that came in for a landing had to announce that he was about to land so make room! By the time they all landed, Dan shot some great video and there was a little empty patch of blue water left.

Yes! We are planning another field trip to this area to give all a chance to see this marvel of nature. Watch for upcoming announcements. To view what other species of birds we saw, please see our November 1, 2008 list.

Late October, 2008

It is our passion to highlight the avian populations of the Big Country, to chronicle their annual migratory movements or to highlight avian behavior. This week’s post covers both situations. With the strongest of cold fronts moving into the Big Country this fall,


I captured the frontal passage at Lake Kirby (above). While the cold wind blew, a juvenile Osprey was dining on his morning’s catch:


When the cold front’s gusty wind knocked it off its perch, what do you think it did?

Lorie found some unusual ducks floating out at Ft. Phantom Lake October 24, 2008:


Do you know what they are? Do you have any ideas as to their origin? We have an idea, take a look here.

New member Joe Thompson sent in a photo of a moody American White Pelican wintering at Kirby Lake, October 19, 2008:


Several hundred stopped by mid-October and it will be interesting to see how many will hang around as winter sets in.

To find out the latest in Big Country bird news, check out the Late October Gallery. You’ll discover what the Osprey did when the cold front blew it off its perch, see a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk wintering in the area, and meet a contortionist robin. And don’t forget to check out the Sightings for a complete list of what has been seen recently. If you have an interesting photo you’d like to share with us, drop us a note.

Site Fidelity in October

Last year (2007) at Dyess AFB, TX, a beautiful white morph Red-tailed Hawk decided to overwinter on base:


Last Friday (October 17, 2008) I photo’d another white morph Red-tail. If it is the same hawk that hung out last year, it is showing site fidelity. With birds, site fidelity is when they complete their migration for hundreds or thousands of miles they not only return to the same area, but they will return to the same tree and branch, as if it were their home.

Another bird behavior I observed while on base happened with the Eastern Bluebirds. They were checking out nestboxes:


All the nestboxes on base have been relocated to telescoping eight-foot poles in an effort to thwart predation. Several bluebirds were already inspecting their potential new summer homes. One pair of bluebirds, however, was defending their previous nestbox! This is spring nesting behavior. Were some bluebirds just playing house? or actually getting a head start in the house hunting department?

And one last bird seen last week almost stumped me as to its identity. Do you know who this sleeping beauty is?


To find out the mystery bird’s ID and see the pictures of the white morph Red-tail and Eastern Bluebirds house hunting, check out the Site Fidelity Gallery. Feel free to tell me if I have mis-identified the sparrow!

Blind Sightings

I bet you thought I was never going to post again. Uh…me to! But here I am to let you know what happens when you throw up a portable blind and watch the birds on the move in the Big Country. Warblers began their migration at the end of September and I caught a few in all their digital beauty:


John caught a flicker arriving for the winter:


and Kim caught more than feathers.


Without blind assistance Dan caught a migrant at a local pond catching a meal:


and Lorie caught a sapsucker settling in at the Abilene State Park:


I’ve thrown a bunch of pictures into the Blind Sightings Gallery and I know you’ll enjoy them! And thank you, members for sending your pictures our way. If you have seen something we didn’t catch slipping into the Big Country, drop us a note and let us know what you found.

Red-headed Woodpecker in Abilene, TX

Big Country birding has been soooooo quiet this past week, even a little dead except for the occasional hummingbird fight at the feeders. A few warblers are passing through, mainly Yellow, a few Wilson’s and now a Nashville or two. But on this morning’s field trip to Oakwood Trails, our group spotted this dark-headed woodpecker:


It’s a Red-headed Woodpecker…hatch-year bird of course. If you look closely you’ll see a smattering of red feathers starting to appear on it’s face, especially around the eye. It has another red feather on the breast. By the time this bird grows up, it’ll have a totally red head and neck and live up to its name, Red-headed Woodpecker.


The last time we spotted a Red-headed Woodpecker inside Abilene was over twenty years ago. Wouldn’t it be nice if it hung around long enough for us to see it molt into adulthood? If you are interested in seeing this woodpecker, drop us a note and we’ll send you more specific directions.


Lorie took this photo, highlighting the red spots.

Caspian Terns and Sanderlings at Kirby


Once again, Lake Kirby has produced a couple of more rarities for the Big Country. This Caspian Tern (above) was spotted and photographed August 30, 2008, by Lorie Black.

A week later (September 6), another Caspian Tern was seen but with a juvenile:


Lorie thinks this is a different adult tern from the one seen last week. The one last week had a pronounced black tip; this bird did not. The juvenile was posturing and begging to be fed!


And if that’s not enough excitement for you, a couple of Sanderlings were present also:


Both species are rare for the Big Country. Other sightings for this weekend can be found on our Sightings page.

White Hummingbird in Abilene


There is an almost albino (leucistic) hummingbird in Abilene, Texas. It is coming to a feeder at a private residence in south Abilene. If you are interested in seeing this bird, please contact us through this web site and a field trip will be arranged. More photos can be seen here.

Mystery Oriole


A birder sent me a couple of pictures of an oriole he thinks is Hooded. It does appear to have a larger bill than Orchard and he said the overall size was clearly larger than any Orchard he’d seen before. The bird was seen at Lake Kirby in the weeds next to the dam. It was alone but feeding near a house finch and it was larger than the finch. Please take a closer look at larger pictures here.

Any thoughts? Please feel free to leave your comments. Thanks!

Seeing is Believing: American Woodcock in Taylor County – August 11, 2008

Yesterday I opened up my inbox to discover an e-mail from a Big Country Audubon member who claimed to have seen an American Woodcock. Baloney! He saw a snipe. But when he sent the promised pictures, I was in SHOCK!


How could this be? Woodcocks are nocturnal (he saw it during the daylight), they are very shy and secretive (it was walking about in plain sight), and he was able to approach it at close range (woodcocks never let you get close to them) to photograph it. Besides, woodcocks are a bird of moist, wet, dense habitat within dense eastern woods. This bird was seen on top of the cedar covered mountains in Buffalo Gap, Texas. No woodcock in his right mind would willingly choose cedar habitat to land in.


So how did this solitary and secretive bird end up on this West Texas blog? The weather. An early cold front with winds out of the northeast probably had a lot to do with this misguided sandpiper ending up in Buffalo Gap. This little guy must have been migrating, hit our storm system which blew him off course, and he flew until his fat reserves could no longer sustain flight, and he dropped out of the sky onto the sidewalk in front of an Audubon member’s house who happened to have a camera. While the woodcock scarfed up bugs in the front yard, Jay Capra grabbed his camera, took a couple of shots and then called the family to come look. Their response upon seeing the bird: “that’s the ugliest bird we’ve ever seen.”

Thank you, Jay, for documenting this rare bird! I know of only one other sighting from another Big Country Audubon member and it came from the Abilene State Park years ago. (We’re still checking to determine how many years ago.) And like Jay’s sighting, we found it hard to believe. Until now.