Texas Birding Beginnings
How I Became Serious about Birding
My husband says: “Cat people are weird. Bird people are weird. When you get the two in one person, it's dangerous.”
Ok, guilty as charged. I’ve been fascinated with birds since I was a child. I picked up the birding bug from my first grade teacher. A class project was to make a bird book with pictures and copied facts written out for us each day on the blackboard (yes, I’m that old). That first bird book is long gone, but the fascination with the many varieties of birds remained. As I have traveled all over America, I have seen and photographed lots of birds; but I only started seriously birding this last two years. When I say serious about birding I mean recording my sightings and actively looking for birds.
On my 50th birthday I made a rather awesome promise to myself. I vowed that I would take my life-long love of birds more seriously. I would get some good birding books, not just the Golden Books American Birds that I had been working with since I was 7 years old. I would then start a life list and see how many birds I could collect in the next 40 years or so.
Texas State Bird: Northern Mockingbird
I thought this sort of tongue in cheek. I’m loving my backyard birding and have been having fun visiting a few wildlife refuges and state parks, but to really find all those birds would be quite a feat. Plus, if I were going to do this, I wouldn’t just snatch and grab bird shots. I would want to record what I'm learning about them.
- Why do they come to Texas?
- Do they live here all the time?
- What type of habitat do they like?
- Do they like to be around people or are they shy?
- How can I attract them?
- Will they be easy to find, difficult or near impossible to find?
- How am I going to find out where they are?
Ok, you get the picture? In the words of Scrooge McDuck, “This is going to take a lot of thought.”
As I started to answer these questions and find my birds, I set up a Facebook page to share my finds with friends and family. Now I am attempting to write Hub articles. The Hubs will document my birding quest, my research, how I take pictures, how I learn to ID birds and serve as a sort of travel guide to the beautiful Lone Star State’s birding spots.
Why Write About My Birding?
When working with my first online birding groups, I learned that birding is a very widely loved activity, but some people, due to disabilities or other reasons can only see birds through their windows, the television or internet. Others, like me for the last few years, are taking their baby steps and are hungry for ways to learn about birds. And then there are the photographers and fellow life list hunters who are looking for hints. And last, there are those who just want to read about birds and see them in pictures. God love the last group, because I think they will be 90% of the people that will like what I will offer.
What Birds are in Texas?
Chasing information about the birds of Texas and their varieties varies with the website or book you read. One says there are 425 birds that move through the state. Another says more; another says less. Finally I came to Texasbirds.org. Below is their official count information and how they compile it.
“The official list of bird species accepted for Texas by the Texas Bird Records Committee (TBRC) of the Texas Ornithological Society. This list totals 639 species as of June 19, 2013 and includes taxonomic and nomenclatural changes outlined in the 54th supplement (Auk, Vol. 130, No. 3 (July 2013), pp. 558-571) to the AOU Check-list of North American Birds.
To be considered a fully accepted species on the Texas list at least one of the following is required:
- An extant specimen identified by a recognized authority together with convincing evidence that the specimen was obtained within Texas.
- One or more photographs that clearly demonstrate definitive characters with convincing evidence that the photos were taken within Texas.
- An audio recording of a bird vocalization that clearly demonstrates definitive characters with convincing evidence that the recording was made within Texas.
In addition to the above, the record itself must be reviewed and accepted by the TBRC.”
That’s official enough for me.
Backyard Birding Catch
Where Do Texas Birds Come From?
There are some birds that live in Texas all the time, but most move through the central flyway of North America, stopping in Texas along the way. The flyway is a vast territory running from the Arctic in the north to lower South American countries and the Antarctic continent. In Texas you will see American Pipits that nest in Alaska and Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds which winter as far south as Panama. The long distance record holder in the Central Flyway is the Arctic Turn which flies from the Antarctic in winter to its Arctic breeding grounds in the Spring. This puts Texas in a prime position to host a massive number of birds throughout the year.
There really isn't a bad time of year to look for birds in Texas. The spring season brings us all the central flyway migratory birds moving north, summer gives us a wide variety of tropical birds, warblers and others. In the winter, we have birds that nest as far north as Alaska and Canada coming here for the warmer climate.
Free Education Publication
"Learning about Texas Birds" by Mark W. Lockwood is a free publication from the Texas Parks and Wildlife for education. I have used it for Scouting and other programs.
Get Yours at: http://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_p4000_0038.pdf
Birding Regions of Texas
Texas also has a vast regional variety. The State is 800 miles from its north and south borders or east and west borders. Elevations differ from 8,000+ feet to sea level. The eight regions shown in the excerpt from Learning about Texas Birds, page 3, shows the ecological diversity of the state. As birds can be specialized to a particular habitat some birds are easier to find in certain areas of the state. The Coastal Plain will harbor both off shore birds and coastal marsh loving birds. The Trans Pacos area, in contrast, is home to birds looking for desert scrub and grasslands and higher altitudes. However, some birds aren't so specialized and can be found all over the state, such as the Great Horned Owl and Great Blue Heron.
Ecological Regions of Texas
Let's Get Started
So now we have a good geographic understanding. We know what birds we can expect to find using the Texas Bird Records Committee. With those things we can now research individual birds and what specializations they have that will dictate where to find them. With that information, road trips close to home and across the state can be planned.
So, ready, set GO!
© 2015 Sherry Thornburg