Monday, December 28, 2009

American Kestrel

This was an unexpected sighting. It's the 28th of December in the Texas panhandle. The temps have been staying near or below freezing long enough for park lakes to be frozen over. While out looking for some bird shots so I could post here again (about time!), I happened to notice two American Kestrels hunting a field about 200 yards from each other - one at each corner. I had to do a double-take. Kestrels in the panhandle this time of year? I expected that they would all be well south of here this time of year. After re-checking my range maps in the books I use as references, I see that their winter range can extend far north into Canada. So, surprise was a bit unwarranted. Kestrels are definitely a pleasure to see and watch.

This one was the first of two and perched on this wire for a long time, letting me take all the shots I wanted. I didn't pressure this Kestrel to the point it would leave. It was such a great opportunity, I didn't want to throw it away.

This was the second one I photographed. I inched as close as I could, but unfortunately nervousness gave way to flight.

(See more Kestrel photos and info HERE.)


Saturday, October 24, 2009


While watching Northern Harriers hunting in adjacent fields, this Meadowlark perched on a wire above me and sang me a song.

(More Meadowlark photos and info HERE.)

Northern Harrier

We parked along a road on the south edge of town this morning to see if some local Harriers would do a show for us. They did. There were two or three hunting adjacent fields in their usual manner - flying low over fields and ambushing prey of opportunity. This one slammed on his brakes when he spoted a meal.

(More Northern Harrier photos and info HERE.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mississippi Kite

I guess Mississippi Kites have to scratch what itches, too.

And they even get stiff and have to stretch out those joints now and then. Note the Kite's left side is very much extended. He is perched by one foot.

See more HERE.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Great Egret

This is a chance shot I took over the weekend - of a Great Egret passing by the house. (Click on the photo for a larger view.)

See more photos and info here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's Hawk is very common in the panhandle, as it is in its breeding grounds and summer home. This hawk feeds on small mammals such as mice, voles, and ground squirrels. Also on its menu are small birds and large insects such as grasshoppers and crickets. As such, they may be a party to rescuing crops from outbreaks of these insects. Swainson's Hawk is slightly less bulky than the Red-Tailed Hawk, and can be mistaken for the Red-Tail. The first things you might notice are its dark hood, and its white underside and white wings with a dark trailing edge (flight feathers).

The business end of the Swainson's Hawk.

Here, a Western Kingbird urges a Swainson's Hawk to move along.

The typical "V" of its wings as it soars above. The dark flight feathers and his hood are clearly seen in this shot.

A Swainson's Hawk soars above two others, perched in adjacent trees.

This one seems to have a "hangnail". Or would that be a "hangfeather"?


Monday, July 13, 2009

Mississippi Kite

I can't help it. Mississippi Kites are one of my favorite birds, and they are a challenge to photograph. This one landed in a nearby tree, and was nice enough to stick around for a photo shoot. These show their mask, eyes, and coloring more clearly than some of my other shots.

See more of my Mississippi Kite shots and information HERE.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Turkey Vulture

Another trip to Palo Duro Canyon today gave us another treat shortly before sunset. Hundreds - literally hundreds of turkey vultures were amassing at the lower end of the park to roost in trees. Wave after wave of vultures arrived for a good hour anyhow. It was the most amazing thing I've seen in the bird world.

Everybody knows Turkey Vultures - the big black birds soaring high overhead, searching for carrion to make a meal of. Their red heads are just a bit on the ugly side, somewhat resembling a turkey's. Hence the name.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Gambel's Quail

This is a first sighting for me - seen in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. The Gambel's Quail is about the size of a robin, and has a plume coming from his forehead that makes this quail readily identifiable. We saw this one standing watch for his mate and a brood of chicks they were raising together.

Gambel's Quail usually forages for seeds, buds and shoots, cacti, fruit, and will occasionally eat insects. They nest on the ground under cover of shrubs or grass.


Bullock's Oriole

Shelley and I were spending the morning in Palo Duro Canyon today. At one point, this Oriole caught our attention when it flew through our field of view. Its bright orange coloring was ablaze in the morning sun, making it impossible to ignore. After entertaining us with fly-bys several times, it landed in the top of a nearby tree.

The Bullock's Oriole builds an elaborate hanging pouch nest that provides both shelter and protection. This nest is often the only evidence of this bird being there, seen hanging in a bare tree in the fall. This oriole is common in the western half of Texas. It eats caterpillars, wasps, beetles, and will also feed on fruit and nectar.


Western Kingbird

This Western Kingbird was nice enough to pose for me so I could get a good series of his portraits.

(Click for a larger view.)

See more of my photos and info on the Western Kingbird HERE.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mississippi Kite

On a recent trip into Palo Duro Canyon, we saw many Mississippi Kites soaring overhead. Some were perched in trees - often 3 to a tree. These Kites were hunting along the canyon walls.

(Click on the images for larger views.)

You can see more of my Kites and related info HERE.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Western Kingbird

The Western Kingbird can be seen many places throughout the panhandle as well as most of the rest of Texas. It is a flycatcher, and dines on insects but will eat berries, too. This Kingbird will perch on a fence post or wire, waiting to ambush a flying insect as it passes nearby. Its aerobatic skills are top notch and he will pursue a dragonfly, bee, butterfly, or cicada for 40 feet or more. They are quite noisy as they engage in their courtship/mating rituals.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mississippi Kite

While in Palo Duro Canyon yesterday, many of these Kites were soaring above us. There were at times 3 or 4 of them in a single tree. It appeared that some of them were involved in their mating ritual.

(See more of the Mississippi Kites HERE.)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ash-Throated Flycatcher

While in Palo Duro Canyon today, this flycatcher presented himself for a shot. I have tentatively ID'ed it as an Ash-Throated Flycatcher with the help of a friend. He didn't give me a very good pose, so I'll hold off on any specific commentary about him until I find out for sure. If anybody can give me a positive ID on it, I will amend this post.


Sunday, May 10, 2009


The Mockingbird is one of the most interesting birds around. It is the great impersonator, hence its name. He tries to impress females with his many voices, to the point of mating. They are easily identified by the white bars on their wings in flight.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mississippi Kites

Spring is in the air. These two Mississippi Kites are in the middle of their courtship routine in the elm tree in our back yard. They would "bow" to each other, touch beaks, fluff their feathers, and flutter their wings. With a little luck, they will build their nest close by.

(You can see more info on them in my other posts, HERE.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Euro-Collared Dove

Here is another view of the Euro-Collared Dove (also called the Eurasian Collared Dove). You can see more info about them HERE in another one of my blog posts.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

House Finch

House finches are apparently in their mating plumage. The bright reds are very attractive to females.

(See more photos and information about House Finches HERE.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blue Jay

The Blue Jay is easily recognized by its bright blue color, and black necklace. Chances are, you'll hear it before you see it. Its "Cat! Cat! Cat!" call is one of the most common of all. The Blue Jay can also mimic the calls of Red-Shouldered Hawks, Red-Tailed Hawks, Ospreys, Crows, and even a neighborhood cat! (I didn't know that either.) Blue Jays eat nuts, berries, insects, and even carrion.

This Blue Jay appears to be building a nest in one of our trees. Jays around here are difficult to photograph, because they insist on keeping branches between them and the camera.


Monday, April 13, 2009


The Killdeer is the actor of the bird world. If you come too close to its nest, it will act as if it is hurt in an effort to lure you away. It almost always works with predators. They are famous for acting like it has a broken wing, but this one used a broken leg act - its left leg. The Killdeer is found virtually everywhere in the United States, including the panhandle. It will at times leave this area in the winter, but is generally here year-round. This handsome bird forages for insects with a run-and-stop technique.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Black Crowned Night Heron

These herons typically hunt at dusk as the sun disappears below the horizon. An attractive bird, they sport two white plumes trailing from its crown during breeding season. They feed with the stand-and-wait method, waiting to ambush prey in the shallows from shorelines. While many people think that the Black-Crowned Night Heron has a short thick neck, my photo below seems to discount that belief. In fact, they are able to stretch their necks out reminiscent of others in the heron family. The panhandle is in their breeding/summer range.

This heron displays its white plumes during breeding time.

Seemingly admiring himself, this Black-Crowned Night Heron assumes his hunting stance.

For some reason, this heron (bottom right) chases off a Snowy Egret.

Apparently rarely seen doing it, the Black-Crowned Night Heron can extend its neck, much like others in the heron family.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mississippi Kite

One of my favorite birds is the Mississippi Kite. They are in the same family as hawks, eagles, harriers, ospreys, etc. Mississippi Kites are raptors - predators - and feed mainly on larger insects like grasshoppers and dragonflies. They can also occasionally take larger prey such as bats, swifts, and swallows. The Mississippi Kite is likely the one raptor that will casually eat in flight. The first thing you may notice is their black "mask" against a light gray head and body.

The panhandle is part of the Mississippi Kite's breeding grounds. Many people have complained about them "attacking" them while walking down a sidewalk. They are not aggressive towards humans. When nesting, the Mississippi Kite can be very defensive and territorial, and will attempt to urge people, dogs, etc., to move away from their nest or the tree it's in. I have personally been "buzzed" repeatedly by them while working on rooftops. Should you ever encounter them in this way, don't be afraid. Simply move along if you get concerned. They have no malice towards you. They don't want to harm or eat you. They just want you to go away. If they had a problem with human activity, they wouldn't nest amongst us. When I have been buzzed by them, I have never had them close enough to even reach out and touch them - or them, me. Rooftops are much closer to their nests than you would be by walking down the sidewalk.

Kites generally winter over in South America and return to Texas in May. While thought of as a southern raptor, they have been seen as far north as New England.

American Robin

Everybody knows the American Robin. It's squeaky chirp and warbling song signals that spring is here.

Dining on adult insects and larvae, earthworms (night crawlers), other invertebrates and berries, the sight of the American Robin foraging in our yards and gardens is a form of "comfort food" for our psyches.

He appears to be listening for prey when he tilts his head as he forages, but in reality his keen eyes are looking for movement on the ground. His eyes are more on the sides of his head than other species, so he has to tilt his head to see the ground under him.

The panhandle is among the Robin's breeding and summer grounds, but it also winters throughout Texas to the south.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Eurasian Collared Dove

This dove's call is the typically soothing, "coo-COO-coo!" It is characterized by the pale gray overall color and distinct black collar around the back of its neck. They can breed up to six times a year in warmer climates. Eurasian Collared Doves dine on grain and seeds, and are common feeder visitors. See also this blog post.