The Friendly Pine Siskins

by Larry Kocian

With all the snow that has fallen on a wide area of the region, it’s understandable that our wildlife does turn to us for their sustainable needs, like food, shelter, water. The birds are one such animal that look towards our gardens, birdbaths, bird feeders for nourishment and shelter.

One example I am sharing with everyone is one that surprised me and gave me great excitement.  I got the family outside to experience this rare act of trust and absolute need between Nature and humans.  

The star of this report!

Early Monday morning (February 15), around 7 am, I ventured outside to tend to our domestic animals, to make sure food and water were available and to check on their wellbeing. The temperature was 7F and the wind chill of negative 20. Being outside was difficult and dangerous for prolonged periods of time. After caring for the dogs and cats’ needs, it was time to go to the feeders, after a warmup break inside.

As I approached the feeders, there were many species of birds, more than usual.  I store my bird seed in a small, metal trash can.  I set the can down by the feeders to fill them.  Right away I noticed this particular species of bird that did not fly away.  I was in aww and I thought what if I hold my hand out with feed so I could get the opportunity to feed a wild bird with my hands. This became a reality.  Immediately, the birds flew to my hand, appearing not to fear me. I wondered if they knew me well enough that they trust me or are they that hungry due to the 8.6 inches of snow that fell overnight with blizzard-like conditions.  I believe that it is both.  

Here come the birds!

Throughout the year, I supply food, water, and shelter for many species of birds, both native and migratory. It is very exciting and fulfilling to be a part of their lives.

Wonder!

I videoed the excitement right away, capturing the moments where these birds came to me for food. At first, I thought these birds were some type of Warbler, as there were Warblers in the mix of the many species present. I learned later that these birds are Pine Siskins. After further research,  I learned that every couple of years, Pine Siskins make unpredictable movements into southern and eastern North America.

Friendly bird

I got my kids and wife to go outside and try to feed these birds and the excitement grew.  We have been feeding them in this manner for two days now.  What a great opportunity to have the chance to let a bird land on you, fearless, and feed out of your hand.

Visiting Birds during the Snow and Cold Event:

Pine Siskins
Sparrows
Cardinals 
Warblers
Purple Finches 
Silver Waxwings 
Robins 
Bluejays 
Mockingbirds 
Grackles
Mourning Doves
White-wing Doves
Woodpeckers
Tufted Titmouse
Chickadees
Carolina Warblers
Starlings
Brown headed Cowbird

Report on the ECR Seasonal Winter BioBlitz

by Linda Jo Conn

As I reported at the monthly chapter meeting, I was pleased with the participation and results of our first seasonal BioBlitz. We had 10 participants who have submitted 492 observations to date, which included 248 species. To view the observations, go to: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/ecr-seasonal-winter-bioblitz.

This was a low-key BioBlitz, promoting observations made at one’s place of residence to avoid travel and promote physical distancing during this time of COVID precautions. We enjoyed pleasant weather that encouraged outdoor time during the first part of the designated week, but it did get a bit disagreeable during the last days. Still, worthwhile observations were made.

Perhaps one of the first things noticed by plant observers was the lack of blooms. Yes, there were the typical cool-weather blossoms of henbit deadnettle, catchweed bedstraw, shepherd’s purse, and common chickweed, but also a lot of unidentifiable leafy green rosettes. 

Lichens, particularly the orange colored hair lichens, were definite eye-catchers in the drab landscape. 

Golden-eye Lichen Teloschistes chrysophthalmus Photo by Linda Jo Conn.

Some plants such as the American Trumpet Vine were identified by last season’s seed pods

American Trumpet Vine Campsis radicans photo by Sue Ann Kendall

Other plants were given a general tentative ID and hopefully will be revisited when blooms appear later in the year.

Fleabanes and horseweeds, unidentified. Photo by Ann Collins.

We observed birds. A Red-Shouldered Hawk is perhaps checking out the nearby martin house.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus Photo by Debbi Sorenson

We observed reptiles. Well, one reptile observation was made.

Common Slider Trachemys scripta Photo by Ann Collins

We saw mollusks,

River Mussels Family Unionidae Photo by Marian Buegeler

And spiders,

Shore Spider Pardosa milvina Photo by Eric Neubauer

and insects,

Stable Fly Stomoxys calcitrans Photo by Sue Ann Kendall

And other arthropods, such as this intact exoskeleton of a white river crayfish.

White River Crayfish Procambarus acutus Photo by Marian Buegeler – reviewer said it was a great observation!

So, I thank you, sunasak, birdladymilam, marianmarie, eaneubauer, chenderson, dsorenson, potterswasp, jfcthornton, and debbi9, for participating in the BioBlitz.

 I look forward to joining you at the spring iNaturalist seasonal BioBlitz, scheduled for May 20-26. 

Happy iNat-ing!

Help Carolyn ID Her Tracks

by Carolyn Henderson

I went out at 7 a.m. to measure the snow fall for CoCoRAHs. I saw some tracks over my driveway, down my patio and across my back yard. I have attached pictures to see if anyone can identify the critter to whom they belong.

Please let me know, so I can accurately post them on iNaturalist. I’m guessing a raccoon or skunk. They seem too large for a squirrel or cat, and to distinct for an armadillo.

An Ice Storm!

Sue Ann Kendall and Carolyn Henderson

The weather keeps giving us more and more to observe and learn from! We had a pretty significant ice storm, especially in the northern parts of Milam County on Thursday of this week. We’ve all marveled at the beauty of plants encased in ice, while also worrying about our trees, livestock, and furry friends out in nature.

Shepherds purse

The birds seem to be doing just fine, judging from how many Sue Ann has been seeing chasing each other around and somehow finding things to eat (bluebird and mockingbird battles have been fun, plus our loggerhead shrikes and phoebes are competing for bugs, like a daytime drama!). Egrets and herons are also finding some cold food in the ponds.

Mockingbird chasing bluebird

We’re sharing some of the photos we took, so we’ll have a record of our observations. Next up? More snow and colder temperatures than most of us can remember are coming in the next few days.

Thick ice!

Here are Carolyn’s photos, including her CoCoRAHs precipitation gauge taken on February 12 at approximately 5:40 a.m.She left it sitting in the kitchen waiting for the ice inside to melt, so she could take a reading. Over two hours later, when she left for work, it had not completely melted.

And here are a few of Sue Ann’s photos. You can see more on her blogs from Thursday and Friday.

Hummers Here in Milam County Now

by Donna Lewis

I have to say that I have never had any species of hummingbirds here at my house in Milam County during December, January, or February.

So why now? I have really thought about it and there are several possible  reasons, but I will leave that up to the biologists to tell us. I know they are seeing this also and working on the answers.

So, to get to the real news…I have about four to five hummers that have been here for months. I finally got a shot at one, and I think it’s a Rufous hummingbird.

Rufous hummingbird?

If any of you think differently, by all means tell me.  It is very feeder aggressive and will not allow the others to even come near the feeder.

I did read that it is more temperature hardy than many other hummingbirds. It will need that shortly!

This small little bird has a copper coloring underpart and its sides are copper also.

Besides it, we have about 3 or 4 what I think are Black-chin juveniles or females. Once again I have not been able to get a good photo of them, but here’s a try.

Black-chinned hummingbird?

I have talked to several other birders in the area and they also have some hummers they have never seen here at this time of the year.

It pays to be observant.

So with some very severe weather soon to be upon us, here are a few tips.

  • This is when a little extra bird seed will assist them.  There are not many insects out when it’s cold.
  • Adding suet near your feeders will help with the fat that helps birds stay warmer.
  • And last but not least water. You may have to bust some ice up for them.

All these actions are for the big birds.

For the hummers, you need to bring their feeders in at dusk and return them at dawn.  They will freeze when it’s really cold.

The birds thank you.

Donna Lewis