Archive for the 'Birding' Category

Landscaping for the Birds

Thursday, September 14th, 2017
Working on a wildscape in San Antonio.

Working on a wildscape in San Antonio.

This is Passport to Texas

Putting out feeders is one way to attract wildlife to your yard. A better way is to create a wildscape.

What a wildscape is, is landscaping for wildlife.

Ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford, says this includes native plants that provide food and shelter; most urban yards, however, traded native habitat for lawns.

So, any little help you can [give] by putting in a wildscape really helps. And even if you don’t have a yard, you can do a wildscape on your patio with pots. I have seen hummingbirds go up to the 6th floor balcony of condos where someone has showy plants that say, “hummingbird come up here.”

A variety of berry and nectar producing plants will draw wildlife to your yard—or balcony.

You want to always stick to natives because they’re acclimated to the soil and the weather and the rainfall that you’re going to give them. And then, you want to make sure that they have some value to wildlife: that they’re going to give you the nectar to attract butterflies; they’re going to have berries at the right time when the cedar waxwings come, and so forth.

Fall is the best time to plant native trees, woody shrubs and perennial flowering plants. Find a list of native species that do well in your area on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Developing an Ear for Backyard Birds

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017
White-throated sparrow and Carolina Chickadee. Images:  National Audubon Society.

White-throated sparrow and Carolina Chickadee. Images: National Audubon Society.

This is Passport to Texas

It’s not uncommon to find the white-throated sparrow and Carolina chickadee in backyards throughout Texas.

Most Texans have these – especially in the eastern two-thirds of the state

Cliff Shackelford, nongame ornithologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife, says these birds are whistlers.

They have very clear, clean whistles. Sometimes you might even think it’s the neighbor whistling – but it’s a little bird!

If whistling like this comes from ground level, it’s likely the white-throated sparrow.

If it’s a little higher up– maybe up in the trees – it’s probably the Carolina chickadee. We get a lot of phone calls from people saying: what is this bird with that has this crystal clear whistle in my backyard? And it’s probably going to be one or the other – either the chickadee or the sparrow.

The chickadee is finch-sized with a gray body, white underside and black and white head. The sparrow is plump with a black and white head, white throat, gray underside and little yellow eyebrows.

You can hear the chickadee whistling year-round, but the white throated sparrow leaves for southern Canada where it’s nice and cool in the summer while we’re here melting in the summer months.

Learn more about Birds in Texas on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

The Wildlife restoration program supports our series and funds wildlife surveys throughout Texas.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

Texas Vultures

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017
Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture. Photo by Annie Ellison Regional Interpretive Specialist

This is Passport to Texas

Some people call them buzzards, but Cliff Shackelford says the correct ornithological name for the large black birds that dine on road kill is: vulture.

We have the turkey vulture and the black vulture.

Shackelford is a non-game ornithologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

And the best way to tell them apart when they’re perched and sitting on that dead deer carcass on the roadside, is: look at the color of the head on the adults. The black vulture has a gray head and the turkey vulture, a red head.

Vultures circle high above the land in search of a meal.

The turkey vulture uses the sense of smell, and they’ll smell their prey. The black vulture, though, uses sight, they’ll look for prey, but they’ll also cheat. They’ll also look for where the turkey vultures are circling—[and decide] I’m going to bump in line. And with their numbers, usually the black vulture can overcome the turkey vulture and get the first little bites.

More fun facts: vultures poop on their legs to cool off, and when threatened, they vomit.

This is a defensive mechanism. They don’t have fangs like a rattlesnake; they don’t have claws like a bobcat. So, their best defense is to throw up what’s in their stomach that was lying on the road for the last three days. And guess what? You’re going to turn away; it’s a great defense.

Find out about all kinds of birds and birding on the Texas parks and Wildlife website.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

TPW TV – Coastal Birds and Birders

Friday, May 12th, 2017
Birds and Birders segment coming up on Texas parks and Wildlife TV series on PBS.

Coastal Birds and Birders segment coming up on Texas Parks and Wildlife TV series on PBS.

This is Passport to Texas

The Texas coast is rich with bird life and year-round birding opportunities. Next week discover what all the fuss is about on the award-winning Texas Parks and Wildlife TV series on PBS, when ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford takes a group of birders to what he calls a “mecca”.

We are at Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary on Bolivar Peninsula in Galveston County and this is a mecca for birds, for water birds, for shorebirds that use the Texas coast.

[Alice Anne Odonell] Does everybody see the skimmer, going right down that very first wave? You can always go down to the beach and see anywhere from fifteen to thirty species of birds, no matter whether it’s in the spring or the hot summer time.

[Cliff] There are birds here for many reasons, for foraging for roosting and some are even here for nesting. This time of year we have least terns and Willetts.

[Birder] I see it. The least tern went back to the nest.

[Cliff] Oh good, good, good, yes excellent!

Coastal Birds and Birders airs next week on the Texas Parks and Wildlife TV series on PBS. Check your local listings.

The Wildlife Restoration Program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Learning the Ropes (Birds) from a Ringer

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017
Find the Ringer.

Find the Ringer.

This is Passport to Texas

When I hear the word ringer, I think unfair advantage. Yet, ringers are encouraged in the Great Texas Birding Classic’s Big Sit tournament.

You can have a team with all people who are beginning, and then they just have to be sure they have a ringer or two on their team who can ID the bird for them for it to go on their list.

TPW Nature Tourism coordinator, Shelly Plante oversees the event, and told me our colleague, Bob Sweeney, an attorney, is a Big Sit ringer.

You know, I’ve been fascinated with birds since childhood, and even in high school I was out in the field and woods with my binoculars and my book. I just think it’s an exciting, dynamic part of the natural world, and pretty easy if you’re willing to put a little time into it to develop a minimum level of knowledge.

Bob says he enjoys helping beginning birders gain knowledge and confidence.

I think any teacher has a great feeling when they feel like someone in the class gets it. Someone snaps to it. That Eureka moment may come, not during the Big Sit, but it may be something that was learned during the Big Sit that is then used in the backyard, or used on a hike or communicated to another person who is wanting to start out, so maybe the light bulb when it goes on is the confidence to transmit that knowledge—I know what that is. I saw it in the Big Sit. And here’s why I think it’s that.

The Great Texas Birding Classic is continues through May 15th. Stay on top of the action at birdingclassic.org.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti