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A Prairie Bird-a-thon

Northern Bobwhite

Pat Merkord initiated NPAT’s first Prairie Bird-a-thon. She took pledges toward the total number of birds counted. From May 28 to June 5, Pat traveled around the state to six of our conservation properties and conducted breeding bird surveys. The final count was 1801 birds. That’s a bit higher count than the past years. She was assisted in the count by Michelle and Vince Villafranca, Kelly Walker, Tom Willard and Kirsti Harms.

Thanks to everyone who pledged!

We hope to try this again next year and welcome others to join us next year to count birds, and possibly even some other species… maybe even butterflies, bees or blooming wildflowers! We hope some of you will be inspired to join the counting.

Prairie Birds
Prairie birds, clockwise from left: Grasshopper sparrow, Dickcissel, Painted Bunting, Eastern Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Scaled Quail

Here are some birding highlights from Pat

Kirchoff Family Farm Prairie: I counted a total of 50 Northern Bobwhite across the entire restored prairie at 10 out of 12 points! There were 14 species of Neotropical songbirds including Painted Buntings, Grasshopper Sparrow, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Common Nighthawk, White-eyed Vireo, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Barn Swallows, Great-crested Flycatcher, Gray Catbird, Lark Sparrow, Western Kingbird and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Painted Buntings and Eastern Bluebirds were abundant. This property now provides significant habitat for Neotropical and Grassland birds. Unusual sightings included Black-necked Stilts, Harris’ Hawk, Eastern Screech Owl and Barn Owl.

The Ash-throated Flycatchers use the nest boxes at Maddin Prairie.

Maddin Prairie Preserve: The highest bird count was recorded at Maddin with 669 total birds. Scaled Quail (10) and Northern Bobwhite (50) were both observed on the property. Bobwhite were counted throughout the preserve. Painted Buntings and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were abundant. Maddin has both Western and Eastern Meadowlarks nesting. The same pair of Swainson’s Hawks that nested on the property every year were observed. A Mississippi Kite observed near Champion Creek may also be nesting on the preserve. Ash-throated Flycatchers were nesting and feeding their young at every nest box on the property and in other natural cavities as well. Lark Sparrows and Grasshopper Sparrows were frequent in the restored prairie areas. Nesting Bell’s Vireo were also common.

Daphne Prairie: Dickcissels ruled the prairie on this 900-plus-acre easement. Even though we counted 194 Dickcissels, we still feared that we’d undercounted them! Painted Buntings and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were abundant as were Eastern Meadowlarks. Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo buntings were also recorded. One Broad-winged Hawk was observed. These hawks breed in this part of Texas, so this bird is most likely breeding on the property or nearby. Some Neotropical songbirds included Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Lark Sparrow, Summer Tanager, Eastern Kingbird, White-eyed Vireo, Great-crested Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Chat, Cliff Swallow and Barn Swallow. Eastern Bluebirds and Wood Ducks were utilizing the nest boxes.

Mary Talbot and Talbot Brothers Prairie: These two Silveus dropseed prairies are very close to each other and are similar in habitat. The counts were done in late morning and early afternoon so they were not as productive as in early morning. We have not been able to survey the extensive bottomland forest area of the Talbot Brothers tract yet for lack of access. As we improve access and have more help to counting, our numbers should increase significantly. Grassland birds were well represented on both prairies including Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Dickcissel, Grasshopper Sparrow, Barn Swallow, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Kingbird and Eastern Meadowlark. Other Neotropical songbirds included Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Cliff Swallow, White-eyed Vireo and Summer Tanager.

Lawther-Deer Park Prairie: This 51-acre coastal prairie continues to amaze with the amount of bird life. A total of 72 birds and 17 species were recorded for the smallest of the prairies surveyed. The most exciting observation was the Yellow-crowned Night Herons that were feeding in the wet areas of the prairie—in about 10 inches of water. This area also attracted a Little Blue Heron, and Great Blue Heron. Cattle Egrets were seen near the Cemetery and a Killdeer in the short grasses to the north. A pair of Coopers Hawks and a family of Red-shouldered Hawks were seen frequently as they patrolled the prairie searching for prey. Doves were common including White-winged, Mourning and Rock Doves. Mockingbirds and Cardinals were common. The week after the survey, a pair of Bobwhite were seen on the prairie. Most likely they are escaped pen-raised birds, but it was nice to see them anyway. Once not that long ago quail and prairie chickens were common on these coastal prairies.