Birding at Lake Somerville
For Valentine’s Day, my husband took me out for a great day trip that combined two of my favorite things, nature and textiles — first we went birding for a couple of hours; then we went to a cotton gin museum.
We went to Lake Somerville State Park. It is just about an hour west of where we live, but we saw some very different birds from those at home.
Lake Somerville is about 17 square miles in area, and about 130 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. So I was surprised to see these birds further inland than I would have expected —
and I got the best Yellow-rumped Warbler picture I have ever gotten in my life.
But the most interesting thing was a big flock of birds that just kept moving. I thought they were Common Grackles, because we have those move through here. But when I looked at the pictures, I figured out that they were mostly Red-winged Blackbird females.
I had a sort of vague memory that some birds migrate in waves, with the males going first to stake out territories and get them ready for the females, so I looked it up, and indeed that is what Red-winged Blackbirds do.
As a result of his studies at Ithaca in 1911 and 1910, he [Arthur A. Allen] divides the migratory waves into seven classes as follows: “Vagrants” arrived from February 25 to March 4; migrant adult males from March 13 to April 21; resident adult males from March 25 to April 10; migrant females and immature males from March 29 to April 24; resident adult females from April 10 to May 1; resident immature males from May 6 to June 1 (1910); and resident immature females from May 10 to June 11 (1910).
from Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds by Arthur Cleveland Bent
(I wrote about the Life Histories by Bent here, and I am very happy to see they are all online!)
Studying the pictures more closely, I couldn’t find any Red-winged Blackbird males at all, but for about every 15 blackbird females, there was a Brown-headed Cowbird male. But just one Brown-headed Cowbird female for every 50 blackbird females!
According to several sources, including this one, Red-winged Blackbirds are often seen in mixed flocks, with cowbirds, grackles, and other blackbirds. So I understand that part, but I am curious as to why there are so few cowbird females in the mix.
Brown-headed Cowbirds are known for brood parasitism. The females move in on another species’ nest, lay their eggs, and leave. The other species raises the cowbird baby, often at the detriment of their own young. The cowbirds don’t depend on just one species; according to Kent Rylander in The Behavior of Texas Birds, 140 different species are known to have raised cowbird babies.
So what is going on here? Are the cowbird females off laying eggs in other nests? Hmmm?
I have no idea. Like I said, I don’t have these birds at home so I am not that familiar with them. I have seen a pair of cowbirds here on two occasions, but I have never seen Red-winged Blackbirds here. If you have an explanation, I would love to hear it!
The other thing that was special is that I got a life bird, American Pipit!
Now, my life list is not extensive, it is more like some people’s month list. Or even a list for a good weekend. I am at 178 birds, I think, but I am always happy to get a new one. This bird is a good example of looking carefully at every bird you can — I almost dismissed it as a Chipping Sparrow, but it was wandering around on the mud flats next to the lake where I wouldn’t think a sparrow would be, so I took some pictures just in case it was a new bird to me.
Being that this is the weekend of the Great Backyard Bird Count, I entered my sightings on eBird. In my home county, there have been 73 species sighted and 65 checklists entered, but for the county Lake Somerville is in, there have only been 33 species and 5 checklists entered, so I am glad I helped add to the statistics there.