Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blue Jay

This Blue Jay was a bit of a puzzle to me when I saw it. First of all, its body and tail appear to be fully matured. At the same time, its head appears to be that of a newly-hatched bird. Could it be that he just has a wet head for some reason? Is it some sort of genetic defect? I don't know.

Another puzzling thing is that it was imitating the call of the Mississippi Kite - a very good "PIT-tooooooooooo"! I've never heard anything like it before. It was very clear, albeit with a little "smaller" sound as if the volume was turned down a bit.

If you have any insight as to these mysteries, please post here or Email me (at the address on the photo) and let me know.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mississippi Kite

"Our" little one has been exploring his new world today, taking note of everything that moves. His parents are pretty active today, presumably teaching their little one to hunt and survive.

Studying his surroundings - watching everything.

On the wing. Stretching his wings? Learning to hunt? Both?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Mississippi Kite

This young kite was hatched and raised in a neighbor's tree. I've been anxiously waiting for signs of the fruits of his parents' labor. This is it. I have been keeping close watch on their tree and the aerial activity in the neighborhood. Apparently his first trip out of his nest, this Immature Mississippi Kite perched in the top of the elm tree in our back yard much of the day today. His parents have been very active, tending to him quite well as he experiences this big world for the first time. Before you know it, they will be on their way to South America again.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Black-Necked Stilt

Here is another shot of the Black-Necked Stilt.

(Click on the label "Black-Necked Stilt" below for more images and information.)

Chihuahuan Raven

Chihuahuan Ravens have white neck feathers, but they are usually hidden from view. They are rarely seen unless the wind ruffles their feathers just right. This is the main thing that differentiates them from the larger Common Raven. Chihuahuan Ravens inhabit the flat, scrubby grasslands that are common in the panhandle - brushy land, dry grasslands, garbage dumps, and yucca. They were once thought to be a bother to cattle and wildlife, but this simply isn't true. Their feeding habits are similar to crows, in that they eat carrion, eggs, insects, grain, berries, and garbage.


Friday, July 30, 2010


This is the American Avocet - in breeding plumage. The non-breeding stage will find the rusty colored head and neck becoming a gray color. They eat aquatic vegetation and invertebrates it finds while using its needle-like bill as a probe, often by walking swiftly and running through fairly deep water, swinging its bill from side-to-side.


Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpipers have these frontal spots when in breeding plumage. Non-breeding, there are no spots their fronts are only white. Females are a bit on the polygamist side, having more than one mate during a breeding season. The females let the males tend their nests.

These Sandpipers forage along the shoreline, eating aquatic invertebrates. They also snag flying insects out of the air.


Blue Heron

Blue Herons are very common. They are a very patient "stand-and-wait" predator, waiting for an unsuspecting fish to swim by. They'll eat fish, snakes, amphibians, and rodents by swallowing them whole. Their graceful flight is characterized by slow, steady wingbeats and their necks folded back over their shoulders with their legs extended behind them.


White Faced Ibis

The White Faced Ibis is characterized by its long, down-curved bill, as are other Ibises. They probe soil and shallow water for aquatic invertebrates, small vertebrates, and amphibians. Ibises are declining in number. They require high-quality marshland for nesting, but pesticides used in rice fields and diminishing wetland areas don't lend well to propogation of the species.

White Faced Ibises follow migration flyways, and can be seen readily in one area and not be seen at all a few miles away.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owls are a smallish owl, being about 10" in length. They have no ear tufts, and have bright yellow eyes. Their "who-who" is associated with territorial defense and breeding. When agitated, they will bob their head up and down. Burrowing Owls eat small vertebrates and invertebrates, but mostly small rodents and large insects. They often live near ground squirrels, but rarely prey on them. We found these in close proximity to a prairie dog town.

This first one appears to have been banded.

This photo clearly shows the wing and tail markings of the Burrowing Owl.
There can be some variation due to age and other aspects.


Scissortail Flycatcher

This flycatcher is closely related to Kingbirds. Its long forked tail is the reason for its name, resembling the blades of scissors. They lay 3 - 6 eggs that both parents care for. Scissortails are very protective of their nest and can be very defensive of it. The Texas panhandle is prime breeding country for them, as they prefer shrubby country and sparse tree cover. Scissortails eat mostly insects that they often wait for from a perch. They will also eat berries.


Barn Swallow

The Barn Swallow is the most common swallow. Most of the northern hemisphere is its breeding range. Its "V" tail and blue upper parts are the most obvious identifiers. The Barn Swallow makes a nest of mud, often attached to man-made buildings. It is a swift and maneuverable bird that eats insects that it catches in flight.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Blue Jay

Blue Jays don't normally give me much chance of a shot. They are usually pretty timid - with me anyway. They seem to disappear when I get my camera out. This one gave me an opportunity I couldn't pass up.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Barn Swallow

The Barn Swallow can be seen just about anywhere in North America, and the Texas Panhandle is no different. They are the only Swallow with a deeply forked tail. They are fast and highly maneuverable, and it is estimated that they can travel 600 miles in one day searching for food for their young.


Horned Lark

The Horned Lark is the only lark found in North America - and they are found all over the continent. They forage for seeds and invertebrates. They get their name from the black markings on their heads, which suggest "horns".


Black-Necked Stilt

The Black-Necked Stilt (on the left in the photo) has fallen victim to hunters and loss of habitat in past years. It was an endangered species, but is making a great comeback. There is one subspecies that is still endangered - the Hawaiian Stilt. I was surprised to see this black-necked stilt here in a local marsh. (I don't believe I saw one of them before.) The Stilt eats invertebrates it finds when it probes the bottom with its bill. They lay buff colored eggs in nests on the ground near the water.

(The Black-Necked Stilt is on the left in this photo. That's an American Avocet on the right.)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mississippi Kite

Yes, Kites are nesting nearby. This is one of the two or three pairs who have been hanging around the house. This is one of the females, and she is hauling construction materials for their new home. I believe this pair is building a nest in a neighbor's tree across the alley. I will be watching their activity.

This little lady was kind enough to take time out to pose for me while she was preening. Gorgeous, isn't she?


Monday, May 10, 2010

Mississippi Kite

May brings the return of the Mississippi Kites to the panhandle. These two will be raising young before long. They have mated, and I can only hope that they will nest nearby.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Mourning Dove

The Mourning Dove is plentiful in the Panhandle. It is related to the Rock Dove (pigeon), White-Winged Dove, Euro-Collared Dove, and ground dove. There are lots of stories out there, but this dove actually gets its name from its mournful coo-ing sound. Some people consider it to be a bad omen if one of these doves flies into a room.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Great Tailed Grackle

Also known by some as the Boat Tailed Grackle, it resembles the crow - albeit smaller. The most obvious differences between the crow and the Great Tail are the tail and eyes. The male grackle usually flies with its tail vertical, using it like a rudder on a boat. Its eyes are yellow, whereas the crow's are black. The males are overall black, and somewhat irridescent. Females are smaller with dark brown back and wings, and the head and frontal areas are a lighter brown/bronze. Females generally fly "normally" - with their tails horizontal.

This is the male Great Tailed Grackle.

This is the female Great Tailed Grackle.

(Note: Some books list the Great Tailed Grackle and the Boat Tailed Grackle as two different species. Those that do show them to be almost exactly the same, in appearance and behavior/eggs/traits. The Audubon society book I have only lists the Great Tailed Grackle. I have always considered it to be two names for the same grackle.)

European Starling

This is the European Starling. It was introduced in Central Park in NYC around 1890, starting with 100 birds. A Shakespearean club planned on introducing every bird species that Shakespeare wrote about. The Starling was part of that introduction. Now they are found virtually everywhere in the United States. They are well adapted to human environments.

House Sparrow

This is another house sparrow - a female.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Blue Jay

A foggy morning in Amarillo this morning. A blue jay calls from a tree next to our house. They don't stick around very long. This one did - just long enough.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

(See more Blue Jay photos and info HERE.)


Monday, January 18, 2010

Great Horned Owl

I haven't done a lot of checking on this owl, but I thought I'd post it here anyway, without much commentary.

Shelley and I were at Buffalo Lake NWR near Umbarger, Texas, looking for photo-ops. As we rounded the far end of the road that circumnavigates the lake, I noticed that one of the trees didn't look right. There was a big "bump" that didn't "belong" on one of the branches. We stopped and watched, and sure enough we saw some movement in the tree. A closer examination with binoculars and zoom lenses revealed another first for me. A Great Horned Owl was perched on a branch with his back towards us. He was remarkably well camouflaged with the trunk and branches, due to the pattern on his back/wings and the color. While shooting some photos, I started to work my way around the tree he was in to get a better angle. No chance of that! (We couldn't see his face well from where we were.) He watched me changing position, got nervous and flew off before I had a chance. When we got home and checked out the images on the computer, we saw that he was unabashedly watching us the whole time.

Here, he is looking over his left shoulder facing left.

He's watching us over his right shoulder in this one.
Note the excellent natural camouflage.


Sunday, January 17, 2010


The Roadrunner is also called the Chaparral Bird, and is the state bird of New Mexico. It also inhabits the Texas panhandle. The photos here were taken at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Many people don't realize it, but the roadrunner can fly. He just prefers not to. He can run at speeds up to about 17 mph, and eats a variety of lizards, snakes, scorpions, centipedes, mice, and insects. They will even eat rattlesnakes! Roadrunners are mature at 2 - 3 years old, and lay anywhere from two to 12 eggs.

(Click on the images for a larger view.)

Red Tailed Hawk

Shelley and I took an afternoon jaunt to the Palo Duro Canyon today. On the way home, we saw two Red Tail Hawks perched on power poles a mile or two apart. These are shots of one of them.

(See more Red Tail photos and info HERE.)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Downy Woodpecker

While trying to catch some shots of waves of geese flying by, this little female Downy Woodpecker showed up.

(See more photos and info on Downy Woodpeckers HERE.)