Thursday, November 13, 2008

Young Birders in Texas

I was glad to have my spotting scope along. I kept it set on midget and the kids dug the great bird looks. Photo by Liz Gordon.

During the recently completed Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, I gave a presentation my most recent book, The Young Birder's Guide and discussed how we adults can help to get more kids into birds and nature. And that was fun and seemed to be well-received.

What was even better was getting to take two groups of local kids out birding in the park across the street from the festival headquarters. All told we took out about 35 youngsters and a dozen or so accompanying adults. The bird list was not exceptionally long, but we had big fun. Helping me herd the kids, spot birds, and impersonate sun-bathing Inca doves was Liz Gordon. Liz is a natural with kids, due in large measure to her own forever-young outlook on life. (Thanks again Liz of the Cosmos!)

We gathered 'round the field guide after each new species was sighted. Photo by Liz Gordon.


Susan Hoehne was the festival's coordinator for kids activities and she graciously arranged for us to borrow 15 pairs of compact Brunton binoculars from the Valley Nature Center. These came in very handy (as did the binocs loaned to us by our friends at Eagle Optics)—each kid got to have his or her own pair to use on the field trip.
Small binoculars work best for small hands and close-set eyes. Photo by Liz Gordon.

After a few quick lessons on using the binocs we crossed the street to Lon C. Hill Park seeking birds. The afternoon prior I had scouted around the auditorium and park to see if there were any stake-out species I could rely on. There were no birds in the afternoon heat. ¡Campo sin pajaros!

I felt better on Saturday morning when I showed up an hour before the first kids bird walk and found lots of bird activity. A pair of red-crowned parrots low in one of the park's trees were the best of the early birds. Alas they did not stay around for the kids to see.

Our total bird list was as follows:
  1. great-tailed grackle
  2. Brewer's blackbird
  3. golden-fronted woodpecker
  4. yellow-bellied sapsucker
  5. house sparrow
  6. rock pigeon
  7. Inca dove
  8. Eurasian collared dove
  9. European starling
  10. Couch's kingbird
  11. turkey vulture
  12. Lincoln's sparrow
  13. northern mockingbird
  14. laughing gull
  15. orange-crowned warbler
I gave away copies of the Young Birder's Guide to a few very interested youngsters and sold a few others to their thoughtful and generous adults.

The thing I was most pleased about was that Liz and I opened the eyes of these three dozen or so young south Texans to the avian wonders of their part of the world. They knew about the local parrots and chachalacas, but the mockingbird, golden-fronted woodpecker, Inca doves, and Couch's kingbird had them saying "Awesome!" and "Cool!" and "Oh WOW!"
Watching two very active golden-fronted woodpeckers. Photo by Liz Gordon.


I have to say, I am pretty sure that's why I was put here on Earth—to show people (of all ages, but especially kids) awesome and cool birds!

The second field trip of the morning. That's me in the green shirt with the littlest birder. At far left: Liz Gordon, my co-leader.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Una Paloma


Even though it's a non-native invader of our fair land, I have to admit that the Eurasian collared-dove is a good-looking bird.

This species first came to our hemisphere via the Bahamas in the 1970s. Now it's found throughout the South and great flocks can be found around town grain elevators in the Great Plains. It is universally considered one of the most successful colonisers of all birds—easily spreading itself across Europe, Asia, and as far north as the Arctic Circle. And it is non-migratory, so you know it's one tough bird!

I found a small flock of EC doves in Lon C. Hill Park across the street from the Harlingen, Texas community auditorium where the Rio Grande Birding Festival was being held. When I first started taking birding trips to South Texas, the Eurasian collared-dove was not present. Now they are fairly easy to add to the day's bird list in any of the Rio Grande Valley's towns.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Deer Prudence


While birding the King Ranch a few days ago, we encountered these curious white-tailed deer bucks. They were wondering where the food was. On this huge Texas ranch, the wildlife managers sometimes scatter deer feed along the roads, so I'm sure these guys mistook a bunch of birders for the chow wagon.

The bucks we saw had small bodies compared to our Ohio white-taileds, but the antler racks on these Texas animals are huge! Aside from cattle ranching and a little bit of tourism, the King Ranch also sells hunting leases. I found myself wondering if these deer were a little too curious for their own long-term good.


The birding on the King Ranch was really great—this was my first visit. More on birding the ranch in the near future.

I am down here in south Texas for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, one of the best and biggest in the country. This morning I'll be taking a couple of groups of elementary school kids out birding on the festival grounds. The weather looks good, the wind is low, and I'm counting on a few great-tailed grackles, great kiskadees, and Couch's kingbirds to make an appearance.

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