Monday, May 23, 2011

Western Tanager

Today I had a Western Tanager at my water source! I don't know if I have ever seen a more beautiful bird! It is rarely seen in this part of Texas and is evidently migrating.

The picture is from Wikipedia Commons. It was only here for about 5 minutes (but maybe I'll see it again today?) and I was too stunned by its beauty to get the camera. No photo can show this bird's incredible electric chartreuse color.

I also had a female Black-headed Grosbeak in my yard eating seed. That's a thrill too. I did get a video of her. Here is a frame freeze.

I feel that I am the luckiest person alive. I live between two locations that have the most colorful and precious birdies. I can't say it is free because I try to feed them all, but it is the least expensive entertainment I can think of and I enjoy it more than any entertainment I could buy at any price. What's better, I have my precious cousin Carol to share my passion with.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mystery Birds

Loggerhead Shrike (Wikimedia Commons)

A few Sundays ago, my husband and I got to see a Loggerhead Shrike (top) in our yard several times. It is amazing that he is a full-time Texas resident and I have never seen one before or since. Populations are declining in part of the state due to insecticide use killing off most of the grasshoppers. We had a bumper crop of grasshoppers this year where I live so I don't understand why I didn't see more of them. They also eat other insects, lizards, small mammals, and frogs. We have all of those readily available here in the country north of Stanton, Texas. These birds have to impale their prey on a barbed wire fence or other sharp object because their feet are too weak to hold their catch.

Above is a picture of a European Starling in winter plumage. These birds have been a mystery to me for a few weeks now. I thought they were closer to Starlings than any other bird but I have never seen their winter plumage--only solid black ones. They have a lot of purple and green iridescence in their winter coats. Beautiful! One of the sexes has a lighter-colored head. There are many more pictures here that show this winter oddity.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Female Blue Grosbeak

My husband and I identified a female Blue Grosbeak a couple of days ago. I had seen her several times before but could not get a good enough look at her to clearly identify her. She has continued to visit our water source and I hope I get to see her husband before they migrate south. They spend the summer here, but I have not seen the male.

They eat mostly insects, but also some seeds and fruit so my feeders offer a little that they might be interested in.

The picture is from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Water and Wind!

When I lived in the city, I always provided a bowl of water when I fed the birds. That worked fine. Now that I live in the country, I have discovered that the best way to attract lots of wild birds in the summertime is to have abundant water. At first, I tried offering a basin of water and some did come to it, but not as many as you might think. By accident, I let it run over a few times and it filled ruts in the nearby road. That did it! Birds came from everywhere! I counted nine Bullock's Orioles taking a bath all at one time. Once, I had 5 Pyrrholuxia all at once. They bathe and drink and drink and bathe. Even the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Kindbirds and Mockingbirds come frequently to bathe and drink.

The water also attracted a few critters. The park where I live is sort of a sanctuary for wildlife. We have a resident Jack Rabbit that is one of the biggest I have seen. He has come to drink and so have little bunnies and the prettiest (blonde, almost white) spotted ground squirrel I have ever seen came to the water once. Unfortunately, the water also attracts the unwanted--a rattlesnake came to the puddles just outside our fence last Saturday.

We used to see only an occasional quail. When the water is spraying and flowing into the ruts, the whole covey comes to drink--chicks and adults together. We have had coveys of both Bob White and Scaled Quail regularly come to the water.

Night before last, a covey of Scaled Quail came to our yard. I counted 9 or 10 little chicks. Their heads were not fully feathered and they were so cute and fuzzy. They came right up to our steps so I got a good look. They were about the size of the little juvenile male Golden Fronted Woodpecker that comes to my yard daily. 

Another thing I have discovered is that, when the wind blows, the birds that mostly fly to get where they are going don't move around much. The doves, the hummer, the House Sparrows and a few Finches will brave it but the colorful birds pretty much limit their moving around during the windiest times.

(photos from Wikimedia)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Swainson's Hawks Here Today!

This picture of a Swainson's Hawk is from FlickR (Wikimedia Commons) and, judging from its size relationship to the fence post it is standing on, it seems less than half as big as the pair that came to my yard today.

About 7 to 10 days ago, one of these birds landed just outside the chain link fence in my yard. I was so flabbergasted at its size that I could not remain calm enough to start making a positive I.D. One of my dogs started raising such a ruckus that the bird immediately flew. Because it was so large, I thought it might even be an eagle.

Just now, a pair of these birds landed in the dirt road just past my fence. I am still overwhelmed at their size. My books say that the female, which is larger than the male, is 20 to 22 inches long, but I thought she looked bigger than that. These are definitely the largest birds that take flight that I have ever met in person. They may look especially large because their legs are long so they stand tall. The wingspan is 4-1/4 feet. 

Because I offer large puddles of fresh water (and a basin too, but they prefer the mud puddles), I always have a lot of birds here. There were Mockingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, White Wing Doves, Eurasian Collared Doves, House Sparrows, Grackles, Finches, Bullock's Orioles, Lark Sparrows, Western Kingbirds, and a Curve-Billed Thrasher all jockeying for places in the water just before the two hawks landed.

I didn't see one of them catch it, but there was definitely a small bird in its talons and it began eating it while still in my yard.

Below are two more views (Wikimedia, Megan McCarty) but they do not show how huge these birds are. (I started worrying about my little Shih Tzu, who was outside under the porch.) Swainson's Hawks eat rodents, snakes, small birds, and insects.

I could hear the call they made and it was a familiar sound that I had heard in Western movies a number of times over the years, a very distant-sounding "Keeeaar."

I hate that one of my regulars had to be breakfast, but the hawks have to survive too. I never know if my feeding and making water available makes an unlevel playing field, but I do know that with our 100- to 104-degree temps, some would heat stroke and die without the water.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lark Buntings Return?

We had flocks of Lark Buntings and they were one of the most frequent visitors to my feed sources until the weather warmed up. During the summer, they completely disappeared until today. I just saw a male in our yard.

I couldn't find a good picture. The male is mostly black with white wing patches and a large blue-gray bill. The female is brown with a heavily streaked chest. She has a very mottled appearance (as do some of the males).

A Lark Bunting today, a Western Meadowlark yesterday. Something is changing the makeup of my bird population again. Anyway, I am thrilled to have these two birds starting to come back so I can enjoy them.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Birds Showering Here This Morning

It is cloudy and a little cooler here this morning than it has been. I have the water hose running and there is a fine mist plus some puddles around. The favorite is a tire track that is a few inches deep. It is full of water and has been like a magnet this morning for the thirsty birdies!

I was amazed to see the first Rufous Crowned Sparrow I have seen out here in the Permian Basin Desert. As always the picture ( doesn't do it justice. That little rusty-colored cap is quite vivid and it is very easy to tell it is not a House Sparrow.

By chance, I looked up to see a Meadowlark fledgling this morning. The Western Meadowlarks are plentiful where I live during cold weather but, though my bird books say they don't migrate, they all disappeared when warm weather came. Glad to see one again. They are so beautiful.
The chance for a bath has appealed the most to a male Pyrrholuxia who has been in the water here repeatedly today. He makes the most noise and splashes more when he is bathing than any of the others. He obviously enjoys it!

My regulars, also showing up this morning for a drink, include my Canyon Towhee, Cactus Wren, White-winged Doves, Eurasian Ring-necked Doves, House Sparrows, House Finches, Lark Sparrows, Brown Headed Cowbirds, Curve Bill Thrashers, Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers, Western Kingbirds, and Bullock's Orioles.

I love my life here in the country watching these beautiful birds!