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Saturday, July 21, 2012

The nearby treasure of Hagerman

Canada Goose family
Canada (not "Canadian") Geese
One day recently, a birding group at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge saw approximately  3,500 Snow Geese, 3,000 Ross's Geese, 125 White-fronted Geese, 125 Green-winged Teal, 125 White Pelicans, 100 Canada Geese, 100 Pintails, 22 Buffleheads, 30 Great Egrets, 16 Canvasbacks, and one adult Bald Eagle.  Plus lots and lots of the usual resident songbirds.        

Touring Hagerman N.W.F. by car, on their park roads, is free.  It's located about 45 minutes north of Denton on I-35, and about 15 minutes east of Gaineville - on the shores of Lake Texoma.

Snow Geese
Hagerman N.W.R.

For all but a few of us, West Nile Virus ("WNV") is not a big deal.  It's nowhere near as universally scary as the news media have hyped it to be. It's only a major concern if your immune system is poor, and/or you have a serious, underlying medical condition.

No, I'm not a physician (nor are news reporters), but I read voraciously and try to get the true facts behind things, not just accepting the media spin and hype.

I'm absolutely sure that there have been a few serious cases among the millions of people who live in north Texas (as there have been with colds). But the proven fact is that about 80% of the people who contract WNV, don't even know they're sick (they may just feel a bit tired or achy for a few days). Most don't even do anything like stay home from work or take some aspirin. (There have been just 13 cases this year in Denton County - a county of around 690,000 people)

Silly things like mosquito-spraying from trucks has dubious results and, some say, does more harm than good. However there are two things you can do to lessen the chance of getting WNV. First, make sure your immune system, and general health, is good. So your body can resist WNV naturally. Second, constantly empty any containers in your yard that hold even the slightest bit of water. Watering cans, flower pot saucers etc. Mosquitoes breed in still water. (Just put a non-poisonous "mosquito dunk" in birdbaths to keep them from breeding there.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Texas woodpeckers that look identical, but aren't

Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Both these birds are common in north Texas yards, live in the same habitat and have very similar markings. So it's often difficult to know if you're looking at a Downy Woodpecker or a Hairy Woodpecker. Look closely. The Hairy's body is slightly longer, but unless you're incredibly lucky you aren't going to see them side by side.

The clue that takes less than a second to think through is the relative sizes of the head and bill.  A Downy has an unusually small bill, noticebly shorter than the length of the bird's head. It doesn't look like it could put a dent in anything. The Hairy's bill, however, is at least as long as its head. It looks like it could do some real damage.

Maximilian Sunflower
Asteracae (or "composite") is a large family of native plants, almost all of which are particularly good at producing lots of tasty, rich food for north Texas birds.  Several should be in your yard. The most notable species are aster, coneflower, several daisies, coreopsis, blanket flower and about a dozen species of sunflower (Maximilian Sunflower is very durable, and one of my favorites since it has a lot of flowers instead of one big one).