What is October Big Day?

Chipping Sparrow – ©️ 2019 Heather Valey

On Saturday, October 19, 2019 is what eBird has christened “October Big Day”. October Big Day is a global effort created to help scientists get bird count data that they can use to better understand birds. It’s also a great excuse to get out and look for birds. Last year, over 18,000 birdwatchers took part in October Big Day.

Boat-Tailed Grackle – ©️ 2019 Heather Valey

Who can participate?

  • Anyone anywhere in the world with an EBird account. (There is an EBird app for Apple and Android phones, as well as a website app for PC. )

How do I participate?

    On Saturday, October 19th, watch birds. It can be for a whole day at a special birding spot or just a few minutes in your backyard.
    Log your observations, photos, sounds in EBird via their website or on the go in their mobile app.

For more info please go to: https://ebird.org/news/october-big-day-19-october-2019

Happy birding!!

Male Northern Cardinal – ©️ Heather Valey

Ready for Some Fall Outdoor Fun?

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A Barn Owl enjoys a reward as he is showed in a Raptor presentation – © 2016 Heather Valey

The Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge is hosting their 3rd annual Roundup Event on October 19th. This is a great event for getting acquainted with the wildlife refuge and trying out some new outdoor activities with the kids. This should be a great way to spend the day outdoors. I will be there photographing the event.

  • There will be something interesting for everyone there. Activities for the day include:
  • Archery
  • BB Gun Range
  • Birds Of Prey Presentation
  • Reptile Show
  • Fishing
  • Hiking

 12pm to 4pm

When: Saturday October 19th

Time: 11am to 3pm

Where: Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

24518 FM 1431

Marble Falls TX 78654

Free for all ages!

For more info visit : https://friendsofbalcones.org/event-3554654

Doeskin Ranch - Balcones Canyonlands NWR

Doeskin Ranch at Balcones Canyonlands NWR – © 2017 Heather Valey

 

Do You Want to Help Pollinators?

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Sonoran Bumblebee (Bombus sonorus) at a Mystic Spires Plant – © Heather Valey 2019

As you’ve probably heard, over the last couple decades, pollinator species have been having a rough time.  Between loss of habitat and insecticides, their numbers have been teetering on the edge.  As a result, scientists have been urging people to plant milkweed and other native nectar plants for butterflies, bees, beetles, moths, flies, some bats & hummingbirds.  Additionally, there has been a call to reduce the use of pesticides on lawns and yard plants.  But did you know that there is also another thing you can do to help pollinators? You can help by being a citizen scientist and documenting your pollinator sightings in the upcoming Texas Pollinator Bioblitz!

What is a citizen scientist? A Citizen Scientist is an amateur scientist who voluntarily contributes effort toward scientific research under the direction of professional scientists.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) © Heather Valey 2019

On October 4th through October 20th is the Texas Pollinator Bioblitz.  This event gives you the opportunity to help scientists collect data about the pollinators and pollinator plants that you see where you live, work and play.  It’s easy and fun, and folks of all ages are encouraged to participate.

How to join in:

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Female Broadtail Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) – © Heather Valey 2019

    1. Register HERE to be an official member of the Bioblitz and receive cool information on pollinators throughout the challenge.
    2. During October 4th through October 20th take pictures of pollinators and pollinator plants in Texas.  You can take your pictures and videos anywhere as long as they are in Texas.
    3. You can post your pictures or videos into the project in the following ways

Don’t worry if you don’t know exactly what species you are seeing, just take the picture and post it on the platform of your choice.  Scientist and knowledgeable volunteers will help identify it. 

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Unidentified Fly (Diptera) Species –  © Heather Valey 2019

This Bioblitz will not only give data to scientists about what type of pollinators you are seeing, but it will give them more insight into species that have conservation needs such as the Monarchs and around 30 other pollinator species.

This is a great activity to take part in.  Not only is the data contributing to the conservation of these important creatures but it is a fun way to learn about what pollinators you have in your neighborhood.

Happy pollinator hunting!

Kickapoo State Park Bird Blind

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Black-Capped Vireo at Kickapoo S.P. – © Heather Valey

I always love birding in new places, especially areas fairly far from my home turf.  I recently went birding at the Kickapoo Cavern State Park bird blind and had a really good look at some great Vireos and a few other birds that are very hard to get a glimpse of in the Austin Texas area.

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White-Eyed Vireo at Kickapoo Cavern S. P. – © Heather Valey 2019

The bird blind was created very thoughtfully.  There is a place for birders to sit and watch through windows cut in the blind and there are windows placed higher in the blinds for photographers using tripods.

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Juvenile Male Bullock’s Oriole at Kickapoo Cavern S.P. – © Heather Valey 2019

A gravity fed stream flowed through the middle of the bird area with a few thoughtfully placed cedar branches as perches. There were a couple of sparsely leafed trees on the edges of the bird area that also allowed for some good viewing.  Native limestone with orange lichen was used ornamentally as well.  It was a very pleasant place to sit, listening to the gurgling stream and watch the birds flit in for a drink and a bath was a perfect way to spend the morning.

(Top Left: Hutton’s Vireo, Top Right: Yellow Warbler, Bottom Left: Yellow-Breasted Chat, Bottom Right: Black-Tufted Titmouse all ©Heather Valey 2019)

Post Climate Strike – What Next?

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Climate Strike Austin © Heather Valey 2019

written & photographed by Heather Valey

Just as South East Texas was reeling from the giant tropical storm Imelda, young people and folks from all walks rallied at the Texas Capitol (and around the world) demanding action on Climate Change.  Speakers on the steps of the Capitol led chants and gave passionate speeches about the inaction of our government to even acknowledge, let alone act on Climate Change in recent years.

The strike may be over, but we can’t rest.  We must continue to insist on action.  We also must be insistent on the right action.  I’m tired of being overwhelmed with distracting lists of things I can do to fight climate change: stop eating meat, stop showering, don’t eat organic food, eat more organic food… etc.  I do try to watch my carbon footprint, I drive a hybrid car, we have installed energy saving light bulbs in our house, we try not to fly very much…etc  But these “to-do” lists for the common folk is all a distraction to move blame away from where it belongs.  For example, take the “stop eating meat” mandate,  livestock only contributes to the overall US greenhouse gas emissions by 4.2%, and globally up to 18%.  We need to focus on the biggest cause of the issue and that is our use of fossil fuels.   The biggest offender in the U.S. is the burning of fossil fuels (oil & coal) which accounts for 62.9%  of our Greenhouse Gas emissions in this country. Globally, fossil fuel consumption contributes to 76 % of our Green House Gas emissions.  So if you just can’t give up meat, don’t feel like you are a terrible environmentalist.  

**  The recent fires in the Amazon, Indonesia now and Canada in 2018 aren’t helping either.  
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Climate Strike Austin – © Heather Valey 2019

Our government needs to be participating in the solution, not becoming a bigger part of the problem.  The US is the 2nd largest contributor of Greenhouse Gases in the world.  The UN Climate summit this past week was focused on creating plans and strategies to act now on Climate Change, but sadly produced little but talk.

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© Heather Valey 2019

We must continue pushing until our government starts taking this seriously.   There are things you can do aside from putting down that burger.

  1. Make sure you are registered to vote. If you are not, you can go HERE .  If you think you are already registered, double check.  Your vote matters so make sure you are able to cast it.
  2. Do your homework before voting, look for candidates that support action for climate change.  Look into what their plans are.  Use resources like Vote411 or  League of Women Voters  . USA.gov has some good tips on how to decide who to vote for in any election.
  3. Look for groups in your area working on climate change activism.
  4. Stay in the loop.  Keep up to date on what is happening.
    • By signing up with any of the agencies that are working on fighting climate change they will send you updates
    • Search out information beyond the headlines, the mainstream media doesn’t always show what is happening with a certain issue
    • The Austin Eco-Network is a great source for the Austin area for eco-issues

If you can add to these lists please do in the comments!

sources
https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions
https://austineconetwork.com/beyond-the-strike-how-to-actually-do-something-about-climate-change-energy-edition/
https://www.edf.org/energy/texas-clean-energy-economy
https://www.vox.com/2019/9/22/20877222/un-climate-action-summit-2019
https://www.c2es.org/content/international-emissions/
https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions

 

Friday the 13th, a Full Moon & Glowing Scorpions

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written & photographed by Heather Valey

It was Friday the 13th and a full harvest moon, enough coinciding symbolism to keep any superstitious folk home with the door locked.  However, there was an enthusiastic crew at the moonlight hike I co-led with super Volunteer Coordinator, Johanna Arendt (Travis County BCP).  The hike was on a tract of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve that is managed by Travis County.

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The tract we were hiking is a small part of a large network of tracts in the surrounding Austin area that make up the preserve. This land was put aside to preserve habitat for endangered and threatened species.  One of these species being the Golden-Cheeked Warbler. 

Hikers_reeditEveryone came equipped with flashlights and the desire to see creepy crawlies and things that go bump in the night at the preserve.  Luckily, for us nature did not disappoint. We wandered through a meadow at the beginning of the trail and made our way up into an Ashe Juniper and oak forest.  Once in the forest Johanna, armed with a black light, flipped over a couple limestone rocks.  After a few rocks, we found what we were looking for, a Striped Bark Scorpion.  (That’s Centruroides vittatus for anyone who wants to know the Latin. )  Now being proper Texans, we’ve all seen a scorpion or two, heck some of us have gotten much closer than we’ve wanted to and gotten stung once or twice.  I fall into that category… ouch. (I still think they are amazing though.) However, one novel thing about scorpions is, that in black light, they glow!

Blacklit Bark Striped Scorpion

Why do scorpions glow under black light? Scientists don’t know exactly what causes the effect.  They have narrowed it down to a substance found in the protective hyaline layer of the scorpion’s exoskeleton.  Scientists have noticed that scorpions don’t glow right after they molt.  Suggesting that the substance that causes the glowing develops as the new exoskeleton hardens.

After admiring the glowing Arthropods, we went on up to a ridge to look at the full moon and then down back to the trail head where an Eastern Screech Owl topped off the evening with an eerie whinny, much to the appreciation of the group.  After the hike we said our goodbye’s to our great group of hikers as everyone headed off to their cars.  We hope to see them on a future hike.

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You too, can join us on future guided hikes at the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve in Austin, Texas.  Check their MeetUp page for upcoming hikes.  If you would like to volunteer to help with land stewardship activities on the BCP check out the opportunities they have on their Event Calendar.

 

sources

Brown, Wizzie, “Hot Dry Summer Has Scorpions in South Central Texas Heading Indoors”, 30 June 2018https://today.agrilife.org/2018/06/30/hot-dry-summer-has-scorpions-in-south-central-texas-heading-indoors/, Agrilife Today

Kids Discover, “What Makes Scorpions Glow in Ultraviolet Light?” 2019, https://www.kidsdiscover.com/quick-reads/makes-scorpions-glow-ultraviolet-light/, KidsDiscover.com, 

Terminix, “Why Do Scorpions Glow Under Ultraviolet Light?”, 2019, https://www.terminix.com/blog/bug-facts/why-do-scorpions-glow-under-ultraviolet-light/, Terminix.com

Fall Migration Birding in Austin TX

Swainsons Hawks Migration

photo by Heather Valey Copyright 2018

by Heather Valey  (originally appeared on Travis Audubon’s Smoke Signal blog) 

 

Every spring and fall, over 400 species of birds migrate through Texas skies. Most of them embarking on an incredible long-distance flight from their northern breeding areas in spring to their winter homes in South & Central America.   Why such a long arduous journey every season?  Birds migrate in order to move to more agreeable environments with resources for building nests and raising their young in the spring. In the fall they move to where there is more of an abundance of food in the winter.   Other contributing factors motivating this journey include the decreasing amount of light hours in the north and the colder winter weather.

When is fall migration in Texas?

Fall migration in Texas starts as early as July.  You may have noticed that in August you weren’t seeing some of our early spring birds, such as the Purple Martins, Barn Swallows & Golden-Cheeked Warblers.   They had already made their way south toward their over-wintering grounds. Other birds migrate a little later. For example, by late August we start seeing more hawks moving into the area from the north, peaking by the second week of November.  Whooping Cranes generally start their trip from Canada to their wintering ground in Texas around October.   Different species of birds seem to have different environmental and physical factors that motivate them to migrate at different times, so the exact time a species migrates may vary from year to year.

How can you see migrating birds in Austin?

According to Shelia Hargis, President of the Texas Ornithological Association, “There are numerous places around Austin to go see specific types of migration, but I think Hornsby [Bend] is the best place to see several different types of migration – shore bird migration, hawk migration and passerine migration…”  She also recommends Commons Ford Prairie for witnessing hawk & passerine migration.  Also, you can get lucky just by remembering to look up occasionally wherever you are, as you are driving, or working in the backyard or walking in a park.

Is There A Way I can find out what is migrating now?

Yes! As a matter of fact there is! Cornell Scientists created an online tool called BirdCast, that uses weather radar networks to track birds on their migration routes in the spring & the fall.   The map uses near real-time data to forecast bird migration in the US. It is designed to help keep you informed so you know what to expect in the few days ahead, in order to plan your bird watching trips.  To help you learn to read the BirdCast map and use the tool to your benefit, Cornell has created an online “how to” guide.

Fall and spring migration can be a great time to see birds that aren’t normally in our area.  You can go out birdwatching at our local parks or be more of a casual birder looking to the skies.  Technology can help you get a better idea of where and when to look.  Remember to log your migratory bird findings in e-bird and happy birding!

Sources:

Arnold, Keith A., “The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas: Golden-Cheeked Warbler”, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, txtbba.tamu.edu/species-accounts/golden-cheeked-warbler/

Oder, Tom, “With these maps, you can track migratory birds in near real time”, Mother Nature Network, 22 August 2018, www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/cornell-updated-birdcast-maps-track-bird-migrations

Powell, Hugh, “Here’s How to Use the Migration Forecast Tools From BirdCast”, All About Birds, Cornell University, 3 April 2018, www.allaboutbirds.org/heres-how-to-use-the-new-migration-forecast-tools-from-birdcast/

”The Basics of Bird Migration: How, Why, and Where”, All About Birds, Cornell University, 1 January 2007 www.allaboutbirds.org/the-basics-how-why-and-where-of-bird-migration/

Shackelford, Clifford E., Rozenburg, Edward R. , The Migratory Birds of Texas: Who They Are and Where They Are Going, Fourth Edition,  Texas Parks and Wildlife, 2005, travisaudubon.org/home/wp-conten/uploads/2011/07/migration-and-the-migratory-birds-of-texas-tpwd-publication.pdf