18 Oaks

Today six of us toured 18 Oaks near Tecumseh. Ruth showed us the tree house and the new Barn Owl house. Here is a list of the bird species we observed today:

Turkey Vulture
Red-shouldered Hawk
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
American Crow
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Bewick’s Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Black-and-white Warbler
Field Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Blue Grosbeak
Painted Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

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A Fall of Woodcock (from Becky)

Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart

Note from Donald–We visited Sacred Heart on 20 February to watch the woodcock display. Here is Becky’s account of that outing…

The Fall of Woodcock
Becky Emerson Carlberg, 21 February 2016

This is your climate on steroids. How high can you go. Temperatures have been hitting the seventies and eighties in mid-February with the nighttime lows at fifty degrees. Wow. Our normal day temps should be in the fifty degree range, with nighttime lows at or below freezing. Any bets as to what we might experience in the spring and summer? Not to fear. By next week we swing back into a more ‘normal’ temperature cycle, but will we see any precipitation? Snow?

Friday morning on my way to the Japanese Garden I saw a turtle crossing the road. Further along were black birds spread out across the asphalt surface. As I came closer, the black birds turned into two dozen crows. Did you know a group of crows can be referred to as not only a flock but a murder? Yes, a murder of crows. This possibly dates back to the 15th century, but the origins are hazy. Crows and ravens were often seen at execution sites and cemeteries (sources of food), but folklore has it that crows are territorial and will punish crows that have done terribly bad things or are not from the group. Pretty well not based in fact, but makes for a good story.

Along a similar note, a flock of owls is known as a parliament of owls. Owls look very wise. The owl is the symbol for Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The gaggle of geese is attributed to the noise a bunch of geese make. A group of domesticated turkeys is known as a rafter, but the wild turkeys group together in a flock. Rafter? Nothing pops up, but one naturalist proposes it would take a strong rafter to support a group of turkeys. The wild turkey group has broken up into smaller flocks. A month ago, over fifty turkeys had gathered together and were grazing in an open field. Today I counted fifteen close to my house.

Turkeys do this. They flock together in the winter, but as the spring mating season arrives, the males hang together in smaller groups and start their strutting, booming, drumming and spitting to attract females. You have to love the bluster of a good male turkey.

The woodcock (Scolopax minor)

A collection of woodcocks is called a fall of woodcock. They travel solo or in small groups known as ‘flights.’ The woodcock is the size of a robin, but is disguised in camouflage pattern of russets, browns and blacks. Since the bird savors earthworms as well as insects and larvae, its bill is quite long and sturdy; just right for poking into the soil. This bird that resembles a snipe is another shorebird, as is the Killdeer, who has moved inland. It may not have been a good idea.

The habitat of the woodcock is disappearing as its open fields and woods are developed. The land across from St. Gregory’s University had formerly been prime woodcock territory, where males would perform their courtship dance in the air, followed by mating with the female and the formation of a new family. No more woodcocks can now be seen or heard as houses have covered the area.

Oklahoma, especially the eastern part, has year-round woodcock populations. The number of woodcocks is in decline as their habitats are being destroyed. Wake up people. Conservative development not only cuts the gobbling up of land for its human occupants, but allows preservation of the habitat and homes for wildlife.

Woodcocks like the edges of thickets, cleared areas and abandoned fields with trees ringing the perimeter. The normal singing range of a male is about ¼ acre and the nesting site may be only 90 meters further away. To find our woodcocks, the Deep Fork Audubon Society drove to Sacred Heart, nine miles east of Asher. The site had been a mission established in 1879. An academy for girls, boarding school for boys, convent, blacksmith shop, sandstone bakery, stables and a model farm eventually were built. The mission was destroyed by fire in 1901, leaving only the bakery, a log cabin, foundations of former buildings and a few small structures.

Sacred Heart reverted to a priory, but, beginning in 1910, most things were moving to St. Gregory’s College in Shawnee. The priory closed in 1965. The Sacred Heart Catholic Church, built in 1914 and a short distance away from the mission site, still stands on Bald Hill, the highest point in Pottawatomie County.

The mission site is quiet, with landscaping that stands as testimony of a former community. Thick trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata) hedges still delineate boundaries, and the remaining quince shrubs are beginning to show red blossoms. Pecan groves dominate part of the 640 acre property that also has a meandering creek and a few ponds.

creek pool

creek pool

bluebird

male Eastern Bluebird

Hundreds of American robins began winging it over our heads, apparently on the way to their night roosting area. Bluebirds, crows, titmice, chickadees, wrens, four-wheelers, motorcycles and woodpeckers were seen or heard. A pigeon sat on the top of the log cabin and watched as we opened, and closed, the gate on our way into the pastureland. The dirt road took us past tall grasses and woods. As dusk fell, we heard the first ‘peent.’

The male woodcock has a spectacular courtship display. In order to attract a cute lady, he has a plan. Either right before sunset or sunrise, he begins his ground display. On the ground the male woodcock emits several peents that sound oddly like a large insect buzzing. The guy then takes off into the air, chittering and twittering away as he climbs higher and higher into the sky. He is into his flight song. At the right moment the bird suddenly begins his rapid descent, chirping into silence as he lands at the same spot he started his performance.

Our male began his show at 6:32 pm. We heard the vibrating peent of the woodcock, accompanied by a chorus of toads, spring peepers and white-throated sparrows coming from the creek and the trees. Another peent was heard further away. Ah, two males in the general vicinity. Our bird then flew into the sky as he chittered constantly, but darned if I could ever see him. Up, around, down, up, around, down he went. The guy peented at 6:37 pm, chittered into the sky, began chirping at 6:38 pm and was done by 6:39 pm. At 6:41 pm he had completed a quicker display. At 6:43 pm I tracked with my ears his chittering and silent fall back to earth. The bird went up again at 6:44 pm after another series of peents, chittered across the sky then chirped downward at 6:45 pm. Pause. Once more into the air at 6:47 pm and done by 6:49 pm. At it again at 6:50 pm and by 6:52 pm…… silence. By 7:00 pm, the exhausted woodcock had called it a night. By now it was quite dark except for the brilliant moonlight. He needed a good rest to be ready to perform before the sun rose the next morning. Nearly 30 minutes of non-stop display, and I figure at least 10 full-blown ground and flight cycles. Never glimpsed him. I hope he finds a beautiful damsel for all the work he did.

If you want to know more, check out www.ruffedgrousesociety.org/Woodcock-Facts.

Moon above Sacred Heart

Moon above Sacred Heart

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Pontotoc Ridge Winter Bird Count

creek from the cave

The creek from the cave

January 23, 2016

Pontotoc Ridge Preserve Bird Count

Becky Emerson Carlberg

The day began early, dark and cold with temperatures in the upper twenties. The Deep Fork Audubon Group met at St. Gregory University and drove to the Nature Conservancy Pontotoc Ridge preserve. This site is 2900 acres of low rolling hills with stony lime outcrops, prairies, woods, springs, creeks and ticks. Pontotoc Ridge recorded an amazing 88 inches of rain for 2015. Fittstown Mesonet station, about 6 miles north, received over 77 inches.

It was time for the 9th annual winter bird count, under the direction of the Pontotoc Ridge manager Jona. Bird fanatics gathered at the new Pontotoc Ridge Headquarters building and filled up on doughnuts, cinnamon rolls and coffee. We broke into several groups and were assigned various areas to survey. My group followed a muddy, but frozen path along the county road fence and veered off into undulating land covered in exposed and buried limestone rocks of various sizes. The path then dropped down into an open prairie that took us along the edge of the woods. The final leg was through the oak forest, across two streams, past a cavern containing the Oklahoma cave amphipod, and back to the complex. The circuit was over 4.5 miles.

A very silent Northern Harrier hawk flew ten feet high directly above our heads. The black vultures with white tipped wings and a fan tail, and turkey vultures emerged as the sun warmed the land. Assorted sparrows, noisy crows, insistent woodpeckers, more sparrows, brilliant Eastern bluebirds, mockingbirds, cardinals, yet again additional sparrows, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, juncos, gold finches, flickers, and other birds, yes sparrows, were either seen or heard. Wave after wave of robins kept winging it north. The highest number one group saw was over 400, my group counted143, but a third group recorded only 4.

The wetlands group was treated to cormorants and ducks. Another group saw quite a diverse mixture of sparrows. My prairie/woodland group traipsed over woods and dales and our outstanding birds were the various woodpeckers that lurked within and at the edges of the trees. The clouds eventually broke and the sun appeared. Thankfully, there was little wind.

When all groups had completed their counts, we returned to headquarters for vegetarian chili, broccoli cheese soup and Subway sandwiches, plus desserts and cold drinks. Bird tallies were posted. Two groups identified 38 different bird species. We counted 37. Year-round, over 194 different bird species have been verified at the Pontotoc Nature Preserve.

It was a good day for birding.

limestone outcropping

Donald and Becky

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Stinchcomb (Becky’s account)

the hikeDeep Fork Audubon Society Waterfowl Field Trip
Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge

Halloween, October 31st 2015…..The first day of duck hunting season in Zone 1!

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Well, well, well. Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge is considered to be in the northwest corner of Oklahoma City, with Lake Overholser forming its southern border. Two miles of the North Canadian/Oklahoma River flow through Stinchcomb’s 1,000 acres. Bottomland hardwood forests (with oaks, sycamores, soapberry trees, etc), vegetation-lined ponds, reed filled marshes having no woody plants, swamps populated by trees, deer, beaver, beautiful white Great Egrets, and other wildlife populate the area. Tulsa Audubon Society in the past has reported Wood Ducks found along the river roads as well as goldfinches, woodpeckers, kinglets, owls, hawks and an abundance of sparrows.
Our small group slogged down one river road. It had rained 2 inches the day before. We saw Red-bellied Woodpeckers, cardinals, robins, doves, Blue Jays, sparrows, one Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-winged Blackbirds, a few crows and heard flickers and…..loud gun shots. Coming from all over.

Dirt-encrusted trucks were parked along and off to the side of most of the muddy river roads. As we walked carefully over rough, soaked terrain further toward water, we thought we saw a real duck. It turned out to be a decoy set up on one river bank furiously flapping its fake wings in the air, going nowhere fast. There were the three other Mallard decoys floating on the water. Sure enough, numbered duck blinds were strewn along the road. As we passed duck blind number 25, I wondered if we should have shown up for the limited duck blind drawing held September 26th. Lucky participants that are selected fork over an OK hunting permit fee and this enables them to sit in their cozy hidden quarters to……initially hunt, in the visual sense, for ducks. It would have been the only way we could have possibly seen any ducks that October 31st.

Stinchcomb is barely tucked into Zone 1, an area stretching through the northwestern quarter of Oklahoma. Who knew? We in the Shawnee area, east of US-177, are in Zone 2. The zone lines are very gerrymandered, but drawn according to the duck migration patterns. Zone 2 duck hunting season starts Nov. 7th. Duck hunting began in Zone 1 on Oct 31st, the day we picked weeks ago to have our little waterfowl field trip, and extends until Nov 29th. There is then a break to allow the ducks and geese a breather before the next execution date that runs from Dec 12th to Jan 24th 2016.

Futile efforts aside, we decided to go to another place less likely to have hunters. A large flock of over 200 Franklin’s and Ring-billed Gulls circled over our heads. Why? Apparently gulls love to float on updrafts to save energy. They can also form gull-nadoes when seeking food. Perhaps we looked tasty. A Great Egret quietly flew past as we trudged along the old paved road, more cardinals flew between the trees, a Brown Thrasher made sharp tsuck clicks, but the loud feisty female kingfisher zoomed around, getting our full attention. What a bird. The noisiest animals of all came in the form of three guys we could clearly hear somewhere close to the river. They soon drove out from one horribly muddy red clay side road in their mud-spattered but shiny Chevy SUV with canoe strapped to the top. The young men jumped out, all clad in their camouflage waders, and saw we had….binoculars…. not guns. Wow, comments were made amongst themselves about our binoculars, cameras and spotting scope, but they considered us harmless and warned that the road was almost impassable. They looked around, we assume for something to shoot, but soon left. Two minutes later we saw four ducks, dark silhouettes against the cloudy sky, safely escaping to another area. Our work here was done.
birders at the Baluu
For your information, only non-toxic shot is allowed when hunting in wetlands. The daily bag limit is 6 waterfowl and may include no more than: 5 Mallards of which 2 may be hens, 3 Wood Ducks (colorful perching ducks), 3 Lesser Scaups (abundant diving ducks), 2 Redheads (one of the least common North American ducks), 2 pintails (widely distributed), 2 Canvasbacks (largest diving ducks in North America), 5 mergansers (streamlined fish eaters) and 2 Hooded Mergansers (secretive and strikingly marked smaller mergansers who have lost a large percentage of their nesting habitats.) The Canada Goose season is from Halloween, Oct 31st until Nov. 29th and begins again Dec 12th, but ends on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14th. Hey, nothing says love like giving your lover a dead Canada Goose on that special day.

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Stinchcomb Refuge

Today four of us visited the Stinchcomb Refuge in Oklahoma City. Despite it being the first day of duck season, we were able to find a few birds. Here is a list of the species observed:

Canada Goose
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
American Coot
Red-shouldered Hawk
Franklin’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Northern Flicker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Carolina Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
American Goldfinch

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St. Gregory’s trip (from Becky Carlberg)

St Gregory 2September 28th 2015 Blog

The Monk’s Farm

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Have I mentioned my fascination with chickens? The past 24 hours? Many serious birders do not consider the chicken as a worthy entry onto their bird list. The usual banter is “did you hear that red-breasted woodpecker in the tree a quarter of a mile away”? “That sounds like about 45 cedar waxwings in the hackberry.” In unison, all binoculars rise into position and aim directly toward where the suspect bird(s) may be hiding. I have never been on an Audubon field trip where we walked up to a chicken pen and I heard “there must be at least 30 Delaware, 8 Salmon Faverolles and 4 Barred Rock hens.”

We Deep Fork Audubon Society members appreciate all birds. Do you realize how difficult it is to locate and identify a tiny little sparrow zipping through the bushes? Now imagine a big, plump Delaware chicken cocking her head from side to side staring back at you. You are filled with the satisfaction that you have laid eyes on and correctly identified a real bird. It just gives your goosebumps, or would that be chicken bumps?

This past Saturday, the Audubon field trip took place at St. Gregory’s University. Our small congregation assembled by the quiet maze that consisted of a spiraling path of rocks and shiny pieces of marble that ended in the center where sat a large stone with recirculating water. We walked along the fence line, hearing crows in the distance. The wrens could be identified by the “thumb down a comb” sound, and the blue jays were dominating the airwaves for a time. Chirping cardinals darted from tree to tree and a pair of starlings flew overhead.

Our discussion of birds drifted to hummingbirds. One person still had hummingbirds at her feeders, but another had not seen any in at his feeders for a week. Our hummers left this past weekend and the feeders are disconcertingly quiet. The next wave of migrants may be the Monarch butterflies. One person in Alva, OK reported counting at least 500 at her flowers and trees on the 26th of September 26th 2015. Similar numbers are coming in from western Kansas as well, so these Monarchs are taking a more western route to the south.

The next stop was to locate birds around the Abbey Church. The church had recently developed a leak, and closer inspection revealed 3 cedar trees happily growing at the top of the tower! It has been decided to let the roofers deal with the tower forest. To the south, a new drainage pond 12 feet deep had been excavated during the early spring drought and filled up rapidly with torrential downpours. As the raw soil stabilizes and plant life recolonizes, the plan is to certify the area as a wildscape emphasizing habitat restoration and conservation. Our group walked past the pond and along the eastern edge. There we met one brother who has built 258 bluebird houses. All renditions have been made out of cedar logs. The dedicated gardener is responsible for planting the trees growing on the campus. He has wrapped sheets of metal around many of the pecan tree trunks to thwart the squirrels. The pecan crop looks plentiful this year.

Oh look, we see chickens. Off to themselves in their own special pen, the two roosters came up to investigate us. We shook hands with the official chicken master. He is no amateur but has an advanced degree in Avian Anatomy but he loves his flock. The breed of choice is the Delaware, a cross between Barred Plymouth Rocks and New Hampshires. The critically endangered Delawares, plump white chickens with black feathers at the neck and tail, are known for their good meat and brown egg production. Four Plymouth Barred Rocks were present, and who could ignore the eight Salmon Faverolles, affectionately known as the five toed, French feathered free-loaders. Most chickens have 4 toes, but this French variety has 5. They are supposed to be good egg layers, potentially producing 240 eggs per year per chicken, but these pets spend their time being personable, refusing to undergo the indignity of squawking and laying eggs.

The happy chickens have a moveable hen house with a solar electric fence. Out on the prairie they spend their time chasing bugs, scratching and dethatching the ground and adding fertilizer to the soil. Chickens don’t have teeth, so tiny rocks are swallowed down into the gizzard; the grit helps break down seeds and other foods. On the ground was a tray of oyster shell and granite grit. The concoction keeps the chickens healthy and the egg shells thick. The local, free range and pasture raised eggs are for sale. Let me tell you, the eggs taste divine compared to any commercially raised eggs.

The mourning doves sitting on the wire brought us back to the wild side. A Scissor-tailed flycatcher flew through the area, one of many that usually stay here during the season. Sparrows flitted in and out of the Vitex hedge, many of them the larger Harris sparrows. Mockingbirds dodged between the trees, landing on the highest branches. Our last stop was at “The Pond” also known as “Pearl Plunge” but no one knows the story behind this name. What is known is that this pond is 24 feet deep and partially supplies St. Gregory’s with water. Best yet, a Belted Kingfisher soared right above the water along the north side, first pausing in one tree, then firing off to another, quite vociferously. A tall cypress with some knees hidden in tall grass is growing on the pond’s south side. Beside it were some plants with green and prickly porcupine eggs. OK, they are cockleburs, but our birder Deanne set us straight on the proper common name.

The campus of St. Gregory’s in the spring and early summer will also have the large flycatcher Western Kingbird and Cedar Waxwings. The Western Kingbirds have probably already migrated south and no Cedar Waxwings were spotted.
We had good weather and a good time. My bird list now has a culinary section: Delaware, Plymouth Barred Rock and the five-toed feathered freeloader chickens. The chickens are after the Rio Grande Wild Turkeys. The turkeys have now scattered into the woods. It is time for survival of the smartest, quickest and fittest.

Interested in fresh chicken eggs? Contact FrBoniface@stgregorys.edu

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Prague Lake, 21 July 2015 (Becky Carlberg)

Turkeys at the door

Turkeys at the door

July 21st 2015 Blog

Becky Emerson Carlberg

The young turkeys are growing. The mixed group ambles up from the south, walks down the porch, along the sidewalk, around the house and goes straight out to scratch the remnants under the bird feeders.

Speaking of birds, this morning was bird day. I drove to Prague Lake to meet the kids and their sponsors from the Prague United Methodist Church. Until last week, I didn’t even know Prague had this 400 acre body of water with an extended hiking trail around it. The trail crosses a few creek beds, traverses some wooded areas and goes across the dam. Notice I was referring to the trail, not us. The downhill descent through thick, gummy, slick red clay convinced several in our group they had gone as far as they wanted, and soon the entire group had returned back to the trailhead. After washing the sticky clay off our shoes and ankles, we decided to walk along the edge of the lake on the paved road.

Each day this week the Methodist youth will be exposed to a different field in biology. Yesterday they collected leaves and identified plants, today was all about birds, tomorrow is fishing, on Thursday the OSU Insect Adventure visits and Friday will be skulls and skins. How exciting.

What made today great was the weird weather. All the way to Prague I drove in rain. During the morning thunder rumbled in the distance and light rain fell, but the temperature was surprisingly pleasant. We saw some cool birds. Young purple martins were hanging out on the wire, cardinals sang loudly and periodically streaked through the air, while a juvenile blue heron took off and flew across the lake. That was an ooh and aah moment. A cooperative red-bellied woodpecker flew to the top of a light pole where everyone could see it. To the side of the boat ramp were several 5 gallon buckets full of sand into which were inserted thick bent yellow rods adorned with blunt-ended spikes. Was this a new artistic feature at Prague Lake? When the rain became persistent, we all retreated to the pavilion and looked at feathers and practiced with fake beaks.

Different species of birds have bills adapted for food and lifestyle. To demonstrate this effect, clothespins, small spoons and straws were used as substitute bird beaks. Cut-up marshmallows, raisins, jelly beans and popcorn became bird food. Although the straw was an imitation hummingbird bill designed to slurp up nectar, it was amazing how one kid bird could suck up so many raisins with his “beak.” The marshmallows made excellent worms deftly picked up by the clothespins, and the popcorn “seeds” were spooned up or clasped and made easy progress into the kid bird mouths. The kid birds were still hungry after their feeding event. It was time for one more trip to the lake’s edge.

A most interesting thing happened while we walked back down to Prague Lake. A state park truck towing a pontoon boat drove into the park area, followed by another state truck. In the back of each truck were more containers of large twisted spikes, both in yellow and black. Quite curious, we walked to the water’s edge just in time to see the pontoon boat zero in on an area, but had to leave before the artificial fish habitats , we surmised, were lowered into the shallow lake. They use old cars at Lake Wister. Then again, perhaps the metal limbs were a deterrent to prevent boats from getting into fish nursery areas. I would say it would give places of interest for scuba divers to visit, but they would have difficulty seeing the structures in the murky water and probably scrape bottom trying to get to them.

The kid birds and their sponsors climbed into their church van to return to town. I took off in the other direction. The turkeys came by later for a snack.

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Tinker Air Force Base

Painted Bunting

male Painted Bunting

On 20 June 2015 (yes, I’m behind in my blogging) three of us visited the Urban Greenway at Tinker Air Force Base. Bird species we observed include:

Mallard
Little Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Killdeer
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Blue Jay
American Crow
Barn Swallow
Purple Martin
Cliff Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Lark Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Painted Bunting
Eastern Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Pity this robin can’t read the sign…American Robin

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fence at the Japanese Peace Garden

Over the week-end, four volunteers and the city crew installed the fence for the habitat restoration area at the Japanese Peace Garden!

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Japanese Gardens and Lake Tecumseh

JPG Birdwatchers Water in the LakeYesterday four of us met at the Japanese Peace Gardens to survey the birds around our habitat restoration plot. The cold front that came in overnight and the steady wind made it feel wintry! We were happy to see a pair of Brown Thrashers using the restoration area. Here are the bird species we observed at the gardens:

2 Killdeer
4 Rock Pigeons
1 Eurasian Collared Dove
1 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
1 Northern Mockingbird
2 Brown Thrashers
several European Starlings
several Eastern Meadowlarks
1 Common Grackle
3 Great-tailed Grackles
1 House Finch
2 House Sparrows

After that three of us visited Lake Tecumseh. Water levels were up! Here are the bird species we observed at Lake Tecumseh:

20 Ruddy Ducks (these are late according to the OBRC Date Guide)
1 Northern Bobwhite
(1 rooster)
1-2 buteo hawks
Mourning Doves
1 Eastern Phoebe
2 swallows
1 Blue Jay
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Northern Mockingbirds
Red-winged Blackbirds

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