Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What is a Master Birder and were they at CFP?

The Master Birder Program at Travis Audubon Society (TAMBP) is designed to help participants increase their understanding of birds and their habitats, while also developing the skills and opportunities for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm for birds and the natural world with others.

Other Audubon chapters also have Master Birder Programs, but not all. Travis Audubon launched their program this fall, beginning in September. The training, similar to that of the Master Gardener’s Program, includes a series of in-class sessions, study assignments, several field trips, and volunteering and keeping up with continuing education credits for the first three years after completing the curriculum. The instruction is designed to focus on native habitat and vegetation, the distribution of bird species in the area, and conservation issues affecting those communities and species in Central Texas. Participants also receive special instruction on flight and bird behavior, anatomy, and migration.  

The inaugural class of the Travis Audubon Master Birder Program participated in a field trip at Commons Ford on Saturday, October 22, 2016.  If you happened to see this group there, hopefully, you now know more about their motives. Twenty-five participants including field trip leaders Shelia Hargis and Ed Fair worked their way around the prairie and the lake edge.  Some of the participants have already volunteered to act as guides for the Kids at Commons Ford Program scheduled for May 2017.
A highlight that occurred during this field trip happened shortly after the conclusion when Shelia spotted a Zone-tailed Hawk flying away and to the south.  Luckily for the four birders who were still milling about, the bird returned and offered some great views--including a comparison with a close-by Turkey Vulture.
Like any good program focused on conservation and education about a species, the Master Birder Program is designed to create birders/educators for life. We applaud Travis Audubon Society for establishing this important program and for utilizing Commons Ford Prairie as a training ground for learning about birds, habitat, and native plants and their contribution.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Big Sit! at Commons Ford Prairie, a project of Travis Audubon Society

Sunday, October 9, birders gathered at Commons Ford Prairie, a project of Travis Audubon Society, for The Big Sit! This non-competitive event held around the world promotes birding and species identification (and fun!). Participants come for all or part of a specified period--usually 12-24 hours--and sit in a 17-foot diameter circle to identify and record as many bird species as possible. Rules allow participants to leave The Big Sit! circle to identify a bird seen or heard within the circle. However, any new bird seen or heard from outside the circle is disqualified for the count unless it is seen or heard from an “anchor” inside the circle. The Big Sit! is an event conceived by New Haven (Connecticut) Bird Club. 

photo by Shelia Hargis

Commons Ford Prairie Committee hosted the second annual Big Sit! Sixteen people participated throughout the day, 50 total species were identified, and the hours of the sit extended from 6:00 a.m. to 5:01 p.m. It was a beautiful, cool, fall day for bird watching, adding to the pleasant experience of being with like-minded friends and acquaintances identifying birds collaboratively. The circle was situated on the edge of the prairie just north of the main ranch house, within good viewing distance of the prairie, the woodland edge, and the Colorado River valley just beyond the prairie. Together, these conditions contributed to many sightings of ducks and sparrows as well as raptors migrating south. A list of species is below.

Photo by Lee Wallace

Highlights of The Big Sit! included a mid-morning debate on whether participants spotted a Brown or Long-billed Thrasher, either of which would be a great find for the park. The bird was positively identified as a Brown Thrasher and a beautiful image by Lee Wallace is included above. Another challenge was identifying distant, migrating and moving birds from within our small circle. For example, both Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawk were spotted beyond the river, and on the adjacent property, Wild Turkeys roamed in a pack, nearly alluding detection because they were behind the tree line. 

Another high point of the morning was the steady stream of visitors: from Travis Audubon Society’s Board, Frances Cerbins, President, joined us, as well as Cynthia Pruett, TA’s new Chapter Representative on the National Audubon Board  who will begin her term in January. Cynthia is from Arizona and had attended the Victor Emmanuel Conservation Awards Luncheon on Saturday.  Travis Audubon Society Board member and Treasurer, Carol Ray, accompanied Cynthia. Thanks to all of them for joining us at Commons Ford, a unique place to watch birds. 

Left to right: Vincent O'Brien; Sandra Spurlock; Randy Spurlock; Ellen Filtness; Frances Cerbins; Deb Wallace (in the back looking up in the trees); Lee Wallace; Andy Filtness; Ed Fair. Photo by Shelia Hargis

Native prairies make great bird habitat. From the Commons Ford Prairie History, also included on this blog: The loss of native prairies has significantly and negatively impacted grassland and other bird species as well as other wildlife which depend upon such life-sustaining habitats. Virtually all species dependent upon native grasslands are in decline. Restoration of wildlife habitats will enhance, support and help sustain these species by providing nesting, shelter and food sources. Click on the link to donate to a fund dedicated to the prairie’s ongoing restoration. Thank you for your support.

Species list from October 9, 2016, The Big Sit at Commons Ford Prairie:

Mallard (Domestic type)
Blue-winged Teal
Wild Turkey
Double-crested Cormorant
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Eastern Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Chimney Swift
Ringed Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Cave Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted x Black-crested Titmouse (hybrid)
Canyon Wren
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Bewick's Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
Lincoln's Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Western/Eastern Meadowlark
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch

If you are interested in including some overall Big Sit stats, see the links below.

Misc stats for this year's Sit:

Stats by state - you can see how we compare to other circles in Texas:

October 20, 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016

Travis Audubon Field Trip - September 18, 2016

We had 16 participants and 43(-/+) species on our monthly field trip Sunday, September 18. It was hot and there were virtually NO migrants except for a great display by a Peregrine Falcon. The bird tried for a Wood Duck and missed. It then perched in the open just across from the fishing dock so that we could great photos (like the one from Lee Wallace attached as it took off) and bino/scope views. Join us for a future field trip by registering on the Travis Audubon field trip page. You can also join us for the Big Sit at Commons Ford on October 9. Details for this are also on the Travis Audubon field trip page.