Walburg BBS 2017-06-03

On June 3, 2017 I ran my first USGS Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). The US Geological Survey started these bird surveys in 1966 and they make up one of the most valuable data sets we have for North American bird conservation. The surveys are hundreds of 25 mile routes on back roads all over the United States, and some in Canada and Mexico. The routes are surveyed once per year in bird breeding season (usually June). They are traversed by car, stopping every half-mile to record every species of bird seen or heard for 3 minutes. Most are run by volunteers. Last winter I discovered that no one was surveying the Walburg route, and since it's close to Austin I signed up for it. This route starts in the small community of Walburg northeast of Austin and runs east. It passes south of Granger Lake and most of it is within the Granger Christmas Bird Count circle. It was a Saturday morning at 6:00 AM when I started this survey route.

Most of my route was through agricultural fields (mostly corn), with some stops in rural neighborhood areas, and a few stops near creeks with some riparian woods. I estimate that the most common species I recorded were Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove, Dickcissel, Red-winged Blackbird, American Crow, Northern Mockingbird, Painted Bunting, Common Nighthawk, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Killdeer, and Lark Sparrow.

The Walburg route was first run in 1980 and has only been skipped 5 times since then. While looking through the historical data for this route, it broke my heart to see how two species in particular have declined. In 1980, 55 Northern Bobwhite and 128 Eastern Meadowlarks were recorded. I only observed 2 bobwhite and 7 meadowlarks. Interestingly, 2 other grassland species, Dickcissel and Lark Sparrow, seem to be holding steady on this route. And Red-winged Blackbirds seemed to be using the corn fields more than the Dickcissels. A single male Orchard Oriole, singing while it flew by, was probably the most interesting bird I recorded.

A few stops were on busy roads, but most were a real treat to experience, quiet with long views in all directions. Hearing the meadowlarks reminded me of my youth on the Texas coast. And at two stops Common Nighthawks were diving close enough for me to hear their wings rip the air as they pulled up. (See my two attached audio observations.) I ended the survey at 11:25 at a pretty spot on top of a hill and I felt it was a morning well spent.

Walburg BBS Roadside - 4

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

Posted by mikaelb mikaelb, June 21, 2017 01:16

Observations

Photos / Sounds

What

Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna

Observer

mikaelb

Date

June 3, 2017 07:04 AM CDT

Description

Made during the Walburg USGS Breeding Bird Survey, at stop 10.

Photos / Sounds

What

Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor

Observer

mikaelb

Date

June 3, 2017 08:14 AM CDT

Description

Made during the Walburg BBS, at stop 21. Two Common Nighthawks were in the air, and one was vocalizing and diving, sometimes right on top of me. I you listen closely to the sound, at the end is the ripping sound the wings make when it pulls out of a dive. And I think it vocalized at the same time.

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