I Really Like to be in Southern Texas

by Dave Hanks

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

It’s pleasant in winter time, when temperatures are low.

This is the time of year when it’s best to go

To the Rio Grande Valley to enjoy the birdie show.

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

All sorts of perchers like these conditions too

Just put out some feed and they soon come into view.

They are there in abundance, and I will name a few:

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

To see Woodpeckers, Jays, Thrashers, and the Kiskadee;

Cardinals and Titmice, and an Oriole in a tree

And so many, many others, are there for you to see.

One gulf coast denizen is the Tri-Colored Heron. It is also known as the Louisiana Heron. They will be there stalking the shallows to catch and ingest almost anything that they can get down their gullet. This 26 inch tall bird inhabits the saline waters of the gulf’s marshes and mangrove swamps.

Audubon Oriole is another southern Texas joy to find, with its yellow body and black head and neck. Texas has more bird species than any other state in the union, and when we can take a trip there, it is always rewarding.

 

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Turkey Vultures prefer their road-kill to be fresh

by Dave Hanks

Scientists, as a result of poor concepts involved in conducting experiments, concluded that birds could not smell. However, better devised experiments of more recent times have shown that birds can indeed smell. Turkey Vultures, that at one time ignored rotten meat placed under a log, do have a very good sense of smell. It’s no surprise that they react very quickly to a recent kill.

Although they are meat eating birds, they do not kill, but survive on carrion. They soar very high, and with their excellent eye sight, can survey a large area in search of dead animals. While perched, you can see their red head and brownish/black body. But in flight, the silvery/white trailing edges of their wings are now visible.

There are 7 species of New World vultures, including the California and Andean Condors. They are two of the world’s largest flying birds with wingspans of over 9 feet. DNA evidence has shown that Old World vultures are unrelated. Their claws, beaks, and behavior patterns are different. American vultures have weak, chicken-like feet which are suitable for running but not for grasping. They must put a foot on the food source to hold it in place while eating. Their beaks are thinner and not as strong as the Old World birds.

Buzzard is not a very attractive term. It is incorrect to use it on American species. It is a term for several hawk species of the Eastern Hemisphere. It does not apply to vultures.

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Resting but alert

Deferred Maturity

by Dave Hanks

Young song birds hatch, fledge, and are ready for migration. The young birds usually resemble the female parent. However, by the following spring the males acquire their adult breeding plumage and assume parenthood. Their development is relative simple and quick. However, most raptors and gulls go through several stages before reaching sexual maturity. Large birds like eagles or buzzards have 4 to 5 stages of development. Hawks usually have two stages to go through over a two year period to reach maturity.

Buteos are large hawks with broad wings. The FERRUGINOUS HAWK (pictured) is the largest American Buteo. Only the Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, and female Snowy Owl weigh more than this hawk. Ferruginous Hawks go through three stages after the nestling stage: juvenile, sub-adult, and finally adult – three years from hatching to adulthood. This species has been known to live for 20 years (determined by re-catching banded birds), although the majority die within a 5 year period –which allows a five year old bird two opportunities to nest.

Ferruginous Hawk’s first year mortality is estimated at around 66% and adult mortality at about 25% per year thereafter. This ground nesting bird is preyed upon by Coyotes, Golden eagles, and Great horned Owls. Jackrabbits rank high on this species food list. When prey sources are at a low, many hatchlings will die of starvation. Illegal shooting of adult birds has also caused a problem to this not-so-common species.

This magnificent hawk has been used as a falconry bird in its native range.

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A young Ferruginous in the sub-adult phase

 

Arizona: A winter month bird bonanza!

By Dave Hanks

First, this southerly location receives visitors from Mexico – a country with birds not found in the more northern states of America. Also, its desert landscape causes many species to be in abundance in the less arid and lusher areas. Some special areas Carolyn and I would visit during winter months to do photography start at the top of the state and extend into its southeastern corner.

Just below Flagstaff at Cottonwood is Dead Horse Ranch. It has many water birds, many scrubland species, and River Otter. This spot has always been productive enough for a several day stay.

South of Phoenix is Picheco State Park with its desert adapted species. Further south at Tucson is a very rich area. The Sonora Desert parks, both west and east portions add more variety, and all three parks increase the winter picture bounty.

Perhaps, Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, has yielded the most variety: Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxia, Cactus Wrens, Roadrunners, Goldfinch, Thrashers, and several Woodpeckers to name a few.

Further south, just north of Nogales, is Madera Canyon. This higher elevation provides a woodland habitat of Scrub Oak, Juniper, and Yucca. It sports four special species: Arizona Woodpecker, Bridled Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch, and Scott’s Oriole.

From Patagonia Lake we travel to the Chirricahua Mountains and Portal in the southeastern corner. This is the real bird capital of Arizona. One can hardly get the feeders out before the birds that are waiting in the trees swoop down to feast. Peccary and Coati Mundi are two mammals that are there to experience also.

Crissel’s Thrasher: An exciting discovery and photo session

Crissel’s Thrasher: An exciting discovery and photo session

Habitat around homes fill gaps

by Dave Hanks

As the world population, as well as America’s, expands – habitat for wild things shrinks. People that care, can help wildlife out, especially birds. The planting of a variety of vegetation types around homes aids birds greatly. I read that 82 percent of the nation’s cities, suburbs, and small rural housing plots give homes to two-thirds of all North American bird species.

We have been fortunate to live on a small farm with a large yard around the house. We have a great variety of trees and shrubs. As a result, the place has been an attraction for wildlife. My wife loved the birds, and so we kept a record of the species that visited our place. We have recorded one hundred and nine bird species. It is amazing how many you will see when you become aware of them!

Birds are much more numerous than non-bird wildlife species – but we’ve had our share of those too. Northern Fox Squirrels are plentiful and it seems that Mountain Cottontails find security under most of our bushes. There was even a Striped Skunk that lived in the culvert under our driveway, and a badger that dug a burrow under the cattle corral manger. A Red Fox used to hangout on the lower end of our place; but, perhaps, the most exciting were the three Mule Deer (2 bucks and a doe) that would wander across our yard to eat the apples that had dropped from the apple trees in the back. Less preferred creatures such as assorted rodents, butterflies, weasels, and Garter Snakes also utilize our yard.

However, the birds are the greater beneficiaries. It is nice to be serenaded in the early evening and early morning by the Great Horned Owls that live here. Colorful birds come here in the spring; like Towhees, Buntings, Western Tanagers, Black-Headed Grosbeaks, and Bullock’s Orioles. Several pairs of the latter two species nest in our yard, and we can enjoy them all summer long.

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A male Bullock’s Oriole: breath-taking splendor

 

The Chukar: A favorable introduction

by Dave Hanks

This national bird of PAKISTAN can, also, be found in the Mediterranean Islands, Turkey, Iran, Eastern Russia, China, Nepal, and now the United States. Most introductions to the USA have been detrimental, but not this bird. It has become established in the rocky grasslands and canyons of the western USA.

The Chukar’s name resembles its call – a rapid series of “chuck – chuck – chuck – chuck” and a shrill “whitoo” when alarmed. This partridge is a plump 14 inches long, has a white face that is encircled with a black ring that runs through the eyes and down to its throat, light grayish-brown back, buff belly, and Rufous streaking on its sides. It is a striking, multicolored bird that leaves no question as to its identity.

I have had acquaintances tell me that it was their favorite upland game bird to hunt. The Chukar is not only fun to hunt, but is good eating – even considered of gourmet quality. These characteristics have prompted the breeding of this species on game bird farms, thereby keeping a viable wild population. It is very easy to keep and breed in captivity.

Whenever you find yourself in the rocky canyons of Nevada, Utah, or South-West Idaho, look for this bird.

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A member of the pheasant family

Lewis: An Unusual Woodpecker

by Dave Hanks

Pink and green is an unusual color combination, but the LEWIS WOODPECKER is an unusual woodpecker. This bird is named for Meriwether Lewis, who shot a few specimens while on the Lewis and Clark expedition, and after returning home, gave them to the Philadelphia museum. There are very few American species that are pink or green. But, this one has a pink belly and a green back. This 11 inch bird, also, has a red face, and a white neck and throat – an interesting use of colors.

This is an unusual woodpecker, not only because of its coloration, but because of a habit of feeding in mid-air by catching flying insects. Berries and nuts are also eaten – the nuts stored in tree holes for winter consumption.

The Lewis Woodpecker is strictly a western species. Oregon and Northern California woodlands have been especially attractive to this species. These areas are abundant in open Ponderosa Pine forests, riparian woodlands (dominated by cottonwoods), and logged woodlands with standing snags – ideal for nesting. These are the habitats that the bird prefers.

There was a cottonwood tree (that has since been cut down) that was a favorite nesting site for Lewis Woodpeckers. It was on the upper entrance to the Harrington Fork picnic area – along Rock creek in Twin Falls County. We used to visit it every spring to see the woodpeckers. It was a sad day when it was no more. Since the loss of many special trees along Rock Creek, we have had to go further afield to find our pink-bellied friend. Once we visited a central Idaho campground, where the species was reported to have been seen. We were disappointed when the campground host told us that we were a couple of weeks late. But not so fast! I found one down by the river!

Loss of habitat has put this species in trouble. It would be a shame, if this neat bird became extinct!

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Resting in a cottonwood tree by the Salmon River