Scissor-tail Beauty

by Donna Lewis

I am sure all of you have noticed the numerous little mini flocks of scissor-tails lately around the county.   They are a bird even amateurs can identify.

Male and female. Photo by Martin Hall on iNaturalist.

We drive to our destination and everyone in the truck says look, look, a scissor-tail!

They have something to say! Photo by the late Greg Lasley on iNaturalist.

So, why do these birds have this tail?  This bird is a flycatcher, so it needs to be agile and able to turn quickly on a dime and in mid-air.  To catch an insect you have to be fast.

She caught a fly! Photo by Judy Gallagher on iNaturalist.

Its tail splits in two to redirect its flight.  Pretty handy.

Scissor-tailed flycatchers (Tyrannus forficatus) are beautiful birds with a pearly gray head and chest, and dark wings and tail. They can be found all over Texas and Oklahoma.

Photo by HD Cooper on iNaturalist.

During the winter they will migrate south to Mexico and even South America. That is what they are doing now. Otherwise you would not see them in a flock.  They like to be solitary, except at night when they may roost together as a community.  A sleepover with your friends.

Photo by Lena Zappia on iNaturalist.

In some places they are known as the Texas bird of paradise.

Females (who don’t have as long of a tail as the males do) lay three to six eggs that are white or cream colored with some dark red on them. Lovely to see.

Keep your eyes up and you will see them now.

All photos are some rights reserved (CC BY-NC) and authorized for nonprofit use and were selected by Sue Ann Kendall to go with Donna’s narrative.

Have You Been Seeing Flocks of Small Purple Martins?

by Donna Lewis

I have been getting numerous calls from people about this phenomenon. 

There’s something on the fence, but what?

Most of our purple martins have left our area for Brazil now. There could be a few lost souls who just don’t want to fly fast, but most have gone south. So, what is it that everyone is seeing, including myself?

Mystery birds on a wire.

We are seeing northern rough-winged swallows.  They are in the same swallow family as the purple martins. Their Latin name is Stelgidopteryx serripennis. They are smaller and make much less noise.  Unlike the martins, they fly closer to the ground to catch live insects.  They also perch lower on fences.  Their breasts are white and they have smaller blunt-looking tails.   

Northern rough-winged swallow in Arizona. Photo by heyitshelios on iNaturalist.

The rough-winged swallows are going south also, but stop around Mexico. They are solitary unless they are migrating.

This will help you ID them in flight. Photo by davidpickett on iNaturalist.

For me the way I really know them is that they are much quieter than our martin friends. But for a moment I was reminded of the Martins and it brought a smile to my face.

Have a wonderful stay in your winter retreat little friends.

Invasion of American Robins

by Donna Lewis

I have had an invasion of American robins this week. They came by the hundreds and have not left.

Usually they land, eat bugs, then move on, but this time they looked around and decided they would hang out. Life is good here.

So, every day they have been drinking and pooping in my bird baths. I’m not sure in which order; we’ll leave that alone. Because of that, twice a day I put fresh water in all of them and replace the dried mealworms.

A robin guarding my feeders.

My resident birds, the cardinals, woodpeckers, chickadees, and others have to fight to get their share.

But one robin has taken it to a new level. He or she has decided to chase my bluebirds off the mealworm feeders. None of the other robins are doing this, just the one.

For four days the bird has sat on the platforms and chased the little bluebirds away.

I love all the birds, but this is pushing my patience, so I tried to run him off so he could join his flock in the pasture.

He’s not budging! I almost touched him once.

I could not get a photo of all the action, but here he is in all his glory. I call him the Bluebird Bully.

Stay away from my mealworms!

Bon appetit.

What’s Up with Our Chapter?

Hello! It’s been such a busy time for the El Camino Real Chapter that we haven’t had much time to update you.

Marsha May sharing all her birding information.

First, our 2020 training class has been meeting the past few Thursdays, and it’s going very well! We have over ten class members, and every single one of them is bringing amazing talents and knowledge to our chapter. The classes have been attended by many of our current chapter members, too, because there is so much to learn.

For example, last week we had Marsha May, a renowned birder and former Texas Parks and Wildlife employee, who told us so many things about birds that even the most experienced birders didn’t know. (I learned how their lungs work, where there are two air chambers, so when they breathe out, it’s the air from the previous breath!)

The classes are a great way for current members to get Advanced Training hours and also get to know our new class members.

Coming Up

Next week is our February Chapter Meeting, which will feature one of our favorite speakers, Dr. Alston Thoms. He is an archeologist at Texas A&M University, and he will present a program about the original peoples who occupied the land around the Rancheria Grande here in Milam County. Knowing who lived here before us really puts the area into perspective.

A map of the Rancheria Grande, which was near current Gause, Texas. We have members who own property there. This image is from this Austin American Statesman article. The article would be great to read in preparation for the Chapter Meeting.

On the Saturday after the chapter meeting February 15) will be a wonderful field trip opportunity for our class members and current Chapter members. We will visit the property of one of our members, near Davilla, and get first-hand information on the flora and fauna in our area.


Our iNaturalist team (Linda Jo Conn, Ann Collins, and me) has set up the FIRST of our BioBlitzes for February 22. We will announce the location at the Chapter Meeting, and it will appear in our weekly email newsletter, so stay tuned.

What’s a BioBlitz? It’s where a group of people get together and record as many entries into iNaturalist in a set area that they can. We are planning to eventually cover all the parks in Milam County, which is a big job, but will provide wonderful data about our county for researchers. We’re excited!

Art by Sean Wall, on my wall.

Farther in the Future

Carlton climbs a fence.

Our Vice President, Donna Lewis, is working hard scheduling speakers for the 2020 Chapter Meetings. We’re excited to be able to announce that our friend, Sean Wall, will be joining us for the May 14 meeting. He’s an expert on wildcrafting, edible native plants, and using what you find in nature in all aspects of your life. For example, he painted this picture of my dog, Carlton, scaling our fence using pigments he found around him.

The Saturday after the Chapter Meeting, Sean will return to Milam County to lead a nature walk at the Hermits’ Rest Ranch, to see what kind of edible plants are growing in the fields, wetlands, and wooded areas there. The wildflowers should be pretty that time of year, too!

We hope to see you at some of our meetings and events. Our Chapter Meetings are open to the public, by the way!