Archive for the 'Birding' Category

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

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

Share Your Bird Sightings on eBird

Friday, April 14th, 2017
Share your bird sightings on eBird.

Share your bird sightings on eBird.

This is Passport to Texas

If bird watching is your passion, consider sharing your sightings with the world on eBirds

That the Cornell lab of Ornithology sponsors.

Cliff Shackelford is Parks and Wildlife’s non-game ornithologist. With spring migration underway, who knows what you’ll see in the next few weeks.

And you can easily – on your smart phone or your computer – enter your sightings. You can even start with eBird by setting up your yard as a hotspot or a patch that you frequent. And it’s already in the system, and then all you have to do is you go and say, ‘Okay; it’s April 27th, and we had a black-throated green warbler, and two Tennessee warblers, and a chestnut sided warbler. And other people can see that and get pretty excited.

Of course if the hotspot is, say, your backyard, you may not want strangers walking up to your fence line with binoculars. You can be somewhat vague when inputting the location of your sighting, and still provide meaningful information to your fellow birding enthusiasts.

If you’re worried about people finding your secret patch, you can make it more of a broad brushstroke on the map, but still submit the data so people can say, ‘Wow. That was Travis County and they had all those great birds.’ So eBird is a real good tool.

Find a bunch of birding information on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website. The WR Program supports our series.

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

Field Guides for Better Birding

Thursday, April 13th, 2017
field guide

Using a birding guide enhances your bird-watching experience.

This is Passport to Texas

Before long you’ll see treetops dotted with color. Flowers? Nope. Feathers! Feathers of migrating bird species stopping over in Texas. To know what you’re seeing, you’ll need a good field guide.

There are so many really good field guides out there. I always like to recommend the ones that cover the whole country, because that way you just spend $20 or so, and you’ve got a book that’s great for any trip, when you go visit California to Florida to New York or here in Texas.

Cliff Shackelford is Parks and Wildlife’s non-game ornithologist.

So, I really like the National Geographic Society’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America. The Sibley guide is very good. The Roger Tory Petersen guide is very good. And the Golden Guide to Birds of North America. So, there’s really three or four. And the neat thing is, is to buy more than one; have one in the car, have one at home, and have one at the office. That way, you see different depictions of the birds, and then wherever you are that book is going to be at your fingertips.

Find birding information on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

We humans – we like to watch reality TV. You can have that experience out in your yard or at your local park, just looking to see what’s going on in the life of a bird.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

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