Counties Birded
Counties 0 Counties 254

Monday, February 11, 2019

Birding the Big County

Jay Packer called me and invited me to join him for a day of birding in Taylor County and offered to host me for a couple of days to bird the area. I of course said yes and we picked some dates.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Lake Abilene
Jay thought that my All County Year would be a great tie in for his Taylor County Big Year. Jay is trying to bird every day in Taylor County with a goal of 250 species for the year. He is also raising money for a nature park at Abilene's best birding location, Kirby Lake. Jay is a great photographer and writer, you should check out his blog and even better make a pledge for the Kirby Lake Nature Park.

Part of the appeal of this trip for me was a chance to bird the Big County, and area where I had a block of 14 counties I have never birded in and to the best of my knowledge never have even passed through. I wanted to start my birding day in Palo Pinto County the east most county in this block that was new to me. It just so happens that Possum Kingdom State Park is in Palo Pinto County so I was thinking meeting my goal of 47 birds in the county should be pretty easy too. Then I would bird the lower strip of counties I needed on my way to Abilene.

Things didn't work out as planned though. Instead of leaving at say 3 am and arriving at the park about 9 am, I wasn't able to leave until about 7 am because I had been on an unsuccessful chase the day before and had gone 20 hours on 4 hours of sleep. I got a full nights sleep and left at 7 am and arrived at about 2 pm instead (rush hour traffic and I birded a little at picnic areas on the way.

I tallied up bird in nine new counties for the year on the way. Finally I made the turn onto Park Road 33 about 1:30 pm almost to Possum Kingdom State Park. Basically all of PR33 is in the neighboring county, Stephens County, and it was very good to me, netting me 24 species for the day and the bird of the day for me, Western Bluebirds.

The State Park was kinda dead, yielding only 16 species of birds. Adding some species on my drive though the county I got Palo Pinto County to 24 species. Ok for mid afternoon, but not close to my goal of 47 average per county.

I pressed on through Stephen's County, wishing I had some time to stop and bird at Hubbard Creek Lake, it looked good. I pressed on through Shackelford County just making 6 species. Heading in to Abilene I pass briefly though Jones County and log Eurasian Collared-Dove for a single in the County to get it one the map, but failed to find a bird in Callahan County. I added 13 new counties for the year bring my total of counties I've recorded something in for the year to 62.

Day 2 of the road trip was all about Taylor County, Jay and I made a bit of a big day about it and started at Lake Abilene with Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Just a few things on the lake, but we were off and running. Between the lake and the park proper we found the first raven of the day starting a day long debate on raven ID in the county. I don't think we ever decided on the ID of a raven that day even though we saw many during the day. Raven ID is certainly a problem in the Big County.

We finished the day with 93 species, pretty good for a seat of the pants big day. Jay got 3 new ones for his Big Year, Cave Swallow, Lark Bunting, and Lesser Yellowlegs. Highlight of the day for me was Mountain Bluebird.

Day 3 was going to be a big one for me, I wanted to attempt to reach 14 counties in a day and get back to Abilene in time to go to the Big County Audubon meeting with Jay.

Ferruginous Hawk, Crosby County
My first new county of the day was Fisher County, with 16 species driving through. On to Kent, Dickens, Crosby, and a bit of Floyd County. In Crosby and Floyd you really feel the change from the Big County to the Texas High Plains. Right away I had a bunch of Mountain Bluebirds, a Prairie Falcon, and a Ferruginous Hawk.

This was my western limit of the day and I made my turn to the east getting my first bird in Motley County at 12:53 pm. Where has the time gone I thought. Motley and Cottle Counties went smoothly, but I traveled miles of Foard County with no birds. I was afraid of missing birds in the county so I took a loop on an unpaved county road. A couple of miles of that road and nothing still. Then right before I hit the pavement I see a flock in a field. I scan and wow, there are about 100 Mountain Bluebirds in the field. That field and a productive picnic area and I hit 13 species before I leave the county.

Mountain Bluebird, Foard County
I cross into Baylor County and check my timing, its getting late and my original route is really too tight on time I think. I had allowed for this to happen by getting my west most counties out of the way first so it wouldn't be a too hard to pick them up on my way out of town. I turned west in Baylor County and headed for Knox County, then Haskell and on to Abilene, picking of some more birds in Jones before meeting Jay for the meeting. Not what I was hoping for my day but I did log birds in 12 new counties for the year and set up for a good day tomorrow to finish off the Big County.

Day 4, headed home the long way. I make a beeline fore Stonewall County. I can't really resist stopping to bird at picnic areas, and the US83 Aspermont Picnic Area is a good one, its right on the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River. I wasn't able to stay long, I had miles to go and it was well 20 degrees. I had 14 species in as many minutes. There is a fair amount of birdable area there too.

Another great stop in the county was FM1263 at the Salt Fork of the Brazos River. Besides being very scenic I found 13 species here.

Salt Fork of the Brazos River
On to King County then I turned to the east for the final run home. Throckmorton and Young finished my targets counties for the day. Young County was good to me with 23 species and I pressed the home button on the GPS at 1:45 pm.

My GPS Overloads picked a route that went through several new counties for year. By sunset in Leon County I had logged birds in 12 counties for the day bringing my total to 85 counties for the year.

Next week I'm going to try and finish off my last block in east Texas, then I have to figure out how to get into the Panhandle soon.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

My old man has like this ultimate set of tools, I can fix it!

Started off Wednesday morning heading for the Rufous-backed Robin in Uvalde County. I had my Egg McMuffin, my coffee, a full tank of gas. Life was good. Due to construction, my exit in San Antonio to US90 was moved and I missed it. My GPS overlords suggested the next exit and take the second right. Simple enough.  I exited got over put on my turn signal and started my turn...

... Wham!!! I got hit from behind. A guy on the feeder slide into me when he braked. I think it was likely just bad luck on his part, a slick patch on the road.

My thought at first was that I could continue on to Uvalde and get the bird, I could just rip the broken pieces off. It took 90 minutes to get a police officer out to take the report, 10 minutes with the officer and I was clear to go.

Turns out I had two problems, I could not get the tailgate to close anymore, and when I climbed back into the drivers seat I found my seat has twisted about and inch to the right so it was tipped. I'm thinking the "box" of the vehicle was twisted now. While it drives ok, I don't think this road trip is continuing. I will have to chase another day. We'll see if I'm getting a new car now.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

East bound and down, loaded up and birdin'

White-throated Sparrow, Wood County
Well not really east, more north from Houston. Anyway, last week I headed north into east Texas to start the big push to bird all counties this year. I left home with 3 counties under my belt. My first stop was Montgomery County. Montgomery county is an embarrassment for me. Its adjacent to my home county but in the 12 years I've been county listing I only has 92 species in it. Just 8 more to go. I checked the eBird targets and it showed 32 targets with more then 5% so this should be a snap. I headed for Lakeside Park in the Woodlands. Thirteen species I needed were reported the day before.

I arrived about 8 am and got to 98 in just 15 minutes. Unfortunately It took me close to an hour more to to find European Starling and House Sparrow to make 100. Oh the indignity of having to have House Sparrow as my 100th. Anyway time to head out to meet Bob White who I was going to bird with the next day. By the time I left the county I had logged 43 species for the day in the county. I need to average 47 per county to reach my goal of 12k ticks for the year. A second visit when breeding birds are in or during migration should do the trick. These counties within a day trip of home need to all be at 100 plus by the end of the year.

On to Walker County, a county I have birded very little. I think only drive through birds on my way through on I45. I hit Huntsville State Park. It was slow, but I did manage a trifecta of nuthatches in one tree, Brown-headed, Red-breasted, and White-breasted Nuthatches. Twenty species and I hit the road, I needed to meet Bob at noon at Ratcliff Lake in Houston County. I picked up a few birds in Trinity County on the way and passed the best place name I've seen in some time, the East Prairie Possum Walk Cemetery.

I was 5 minutes away and Bob called, Ratcliff Lake was closed due to the government shutdown! We logged a few birds at the gate and headed for Mission Tejas SP. The state park was pretty dead too. Between the two stops and road birds we managed only 21 species.

We hit the Caddo Mounds in Cherokee County. Cherokee County only yielded 17 species. Our last stop of the day was Lake Nacogdoches, That got me to 18 species in Nacogdoches County. A six county day and I was off and running at 9 counties for the year.

Bob and I left early planning to be at Lake Bob Sandlin at first light, on the Camp County side. It was birdier today (some sun sure helps). We ticked off 24 species and crossed the lake into Titus County. Between the Boat ramp and Lake Bob Sandlin SP we knocked out 43 species in the County

We did some road birding in Franklin County for 19 species. We headed for White Oak Creek WMA in Morris County. White Oak Creek like many of the waterways in east Texas was out of its bank, better than a half mile wide. We were able to bird a little around one access point for 29 species.

We headed for Red River County and did a short road loop through the county for 27 species. We then birded through Bowie County for 17 species. On to Cass County, a new one for me and we found 12 species as we passed through.

Tiny Marion County was next, another new one for me. We planned to bird Buckhorn Park on Lake O'The Pines. Unfortunately like many Corps of Engineers Parks these days its only open to RV'ers spending the night. I guess the lady at the gate felt sorry for us though, she let us in since we were only planning to stay a short time. Here we found the bird of the trip, a Pacific Loon.

The day was getting away from us as we entered Harrison County at 3:54 pm, needed to be a drive through only county for five species.

Panola County was next and the last east Texas County I had never visited. The Beckville Picnic Area and some road birds made 23 species in the county. Part of our drive was County Line Road, we logged eight species in Rusk County on the other side of the road. That made 11 counties for the day, and 20 over all for the year for me.

Sunrise at Mineole Nature Preserve, Wood County
Bob was under the weather the next day and headed alone to start in Wood County at the Mineola Nature Preserve. I got there at 7:15, but the gates don't open until 7:30. I logged 10 species while I waited for someone to open the gate. The Mineola Nature Preserve is a gem, I found 41 species in 90 minutes. By the time I left Wood County I had 47 species and finally made my target in one county.

Next on my itinerary was Lake Gilmer in Upshur County. Road birding and the park on the lake got me to 31 species in the county and I headed out. In Gregg County I managed 19 species in an hour and even stopped for lunch. The Whataburger in Longview is across the street from the Redneck Rockstar Boutique and Spa in case you were wondering.

I stopped at CR244 Marsh in Smith County for 17 species and headed south. Except for a brief stop at Ellen Trout Park in Lufkin for Angelina County I logged birds from the Highway. I completed the road trip with Angelina, Polk, and San Jacinto Counties.

I was at 28 counties birded this year. A paltry average of 24 species though. I figure by the end off the year I should have all the counties within 2 hours of home at 100 or more and that could be as many as 20 counties. That will help a lot with the average.

Next week I drive across Texas.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Full Beto

Yesterday I announced my intent to bird all counties in Texas in 2019. I called it "The Full Beto" referring to Richard "Beto" O'Rourke's brag of visiting all Texas counties during his US Senate campaign. Man did I step into it with that. A small number of subscribers howled foul that I was getting political with that. Good lord, a tongue-in-cheek reference to a failed political stunt is hardly political. Its a good thing I didn't mention Mexico was going to pay for my gas!

Anyway; from what I can tell no one has actually done this. Just to keep it interesting I'm going to see what mark I can set for total county ticks. Total county ticks is the total of the species in each county, i.e. if I see Northern Mockingbird in all 254 counties that counts for 254 ticks. The biggest total annual Texas tick total I know of is a bit over 11,700 so perhaps 12,000 should be the goal for that? Wait, that's 47.2 species per county average! is that doable? Lets see!

Somewhere I recall seeing that the average distance across each county in Texas is 60 miles. So that makes it about 15,240 miles to visit each Texas county. I did 45,000 miles in my 2017 big year so that seems totally doable. 

To reach 12,000 county ticks I will need actually bird in most counties, I need to get close to that 47.2 birds in each county. In 2017 I recorded birds in 150 counties and average 34 species per county. I did make the century mark in 14 counties and 50 or more in 34 counties. I recorded only one species in ten counties. Many of those counties I know I traveled through multiple times, can't let that happen again!

Of course the weather has been bad the first two days of the year. Lets hope tomorrow I get a chance to chase a Rufous-backed Robin in Uvalde County

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Varied is the Spice of Life

Varied Thrush, National Butterfly Center, Mission TX 11/7/18
Varied Thrush
I was all set to head for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in twenty for hours. I planned to bird some counties on the way. At 12:45 pm I saw a report of a Varied Thrush at the National Butterfly Center in Mission. I decided to stay with my original plan and head for Goliad County but would check and see if the Thrush was relocated.

I left Houston about 7:15 am after a quick run to the post office. About 120 miles down the road I saw a report that the thrush was seen again. Recalculating... I plotted a course for the National Butterfly Center, ETA 1:15 pm.

I get there and there are only 2 people there. That's actually a good sign. If no one was seeing the bird there would be people stacked up waiting, especially with lot of birders in the valley for the festival.

A few birders wonder up, they saw it just before I go there. It's disappointing to just miss it but its still a good sign.

Huck Hutchen's showed up and we are chatting. I notice a couple who had been there photographing something. I keep chatting even though I think "I should go see what they are photographing".

They motion us over and "I think it was just here, but it flew behind the bush" They showed us photos and yes that was it. Arg!!!! Its about 2 pm.

We keep a watch, Huck watching the water feature, I keep a watch where its been seen twice in the last half hour. Huck says several times "Come on David find this bird"

At 2:30 a bird flies in from behind me and lands in a tree pretty high. That's it! Anti-Big Year Bird 10 and Texas bird 554! I call everyone over and blast away with the camera. I manage only 100 shots in the two minutes it was there before it drops from sight.

I hang out hoping for another chance for more photos. More birds have gathered over the next hour with the bird not making an appearance. I leave at 3:30 wishing all of them luck.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Blue and Purple

Purple Sandpiper Point Comfort, TX
Purple Sandpiper
Point Comfort, TX
On Thursday February 15 I was scheduled to give my talk on the Monotypic Families of Birds at Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen. A Blue Bunting was found there on December 30 and since Quinta Mazatlan is was not open the next day I didn't get to chase it for my Big Year. It was still present and now it counts for my Anti-Big Year.

I got there early for my talk and joined a half dozen people on watch for the bunting. I ran into an old friend and we were chatting it up; catching up for a good 40 minutes. My friend had to leave and I moved back over to the main crowd and a couple asked me "Did you see it? it was just here". Doh! maybe tomorrow.

I did my talk and it went well. I got back to Quinta Mazatlan the next morning and there was a couple and third guy there waiting on the bird. After a bit the third guy excused himself to got find a restroom. A large group of Red-winged Blackbirds came in and were noisily chowing down. Suddenly the male of the couple jumped up and started clapping, making all the Red-wings fly off and of course absolutely everything else. I snapped at them "Don't Do That! you scare off everything when you do!" We sat in silence for a bit. The the other guy came back (he was traveling with the couple). The Red-winged Blackbirds drifted back in. Now the guy jumps up clapping! I blew up! I think I might have actually been yelling a little when I said "Don't do that, you're going to ruin it for everyone!" He tried to explain the blackbirds would eat all the seed. I told him the blackbirds and bunting had been existing together for 60 days, The blackbirds weren't going to bother the bunting. In fact the bunting likely uses the blackbirds as an early warning system. If the blackbirds flush, likely nothing is coming out of cover. The woman growled to me "Who died and left you boss"

I almost answered "David Daulphin! that's who" My mentor and great friend David passed away a few years ago, but I could just imagine how he would have reacted to these folks. I have no doubt he would have gone to the office and asked that they be escorted out. I once sat next to him when he told the County Judge from Jefferson County to leave Chambers County and leave the good people of Chambers County alone at a Fish and Wildlife Service open comments meeting. Ah fond memories. I held my tongue, realizing anything else would likely lower my odds of getting this bird.

A Coopers Hawk slashed through at waist height. It got really quit now.

About an hour late I got to call out there it is! It was standing under some bushes, sun making it light up bright blue in places. Blue Bunting was Anti-Big Year Birds #3  I tried to get others on it. Not many did. The clapping threesome didn't I know.

I relocate it from another angle, only really able to see the tail as it perched in the bushes. It disappeared before others could get on it. I tried to relocate it for another 20 minutes before I decided to head out and look for county birds on the way home.

Right as I almost got to Refugio I saw a post that Bob Friedrichs had found a Purple Sandpiper in Point Comfort on the edge of the old causeway. I called Bob right away and found out her was headed back there for pictures and would likely beat me by a few minutes. I rerouted south from Refugio on 774 and was only 44 minutes away according to my trusty GPS.

Bob called me back as I was coming into Port Lavaca to tell me he was back on the bird. I got there in less than 10 minutes. The bird was really close too. I grabbed by camera to shoot some pics and my battery was dead! Still Purple Sandpiper was Anti-Big Year Bird #4. I pulled away and put a fresh battery in the camera and shot close to 300 pics of the bird.

Two review species on the same day 240 miles apart, that's a good day!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


On February 2 my friend John O'Brien text me an asked if I was up for a chase for a bird I had already seen. John wanted to chase the Snowy Owl in Odessa, then look for Sagebrush Sparrow. I know the best spot for Sagebrush Sparrow in the state I told John. After getting the go ahead from my ever indulgent wife Donna we set 3 am as the time to leave.

John picked me up at 3 am and we trekked across Texas for the second time less than 10 days for me. We made Odessa before noon and we logged the Snowy Owl at 11:51 into eBird. We jumped on the road setting a course to Dell City and Williams Road, the best place I know for Sagebrush Sparrow.

We passed through Winkler County a new one for me, county 208. I was a little disappointed we didn't get to go through Wink, the boyhood home of Roy Orbison.

By 4 pm CST we were on the Dell City loop, Along the east west portion of the road (FM1576) you can find Sagebrush Sparrow without much trouble and we found at least 7, getting John a technical lifer. He had seen Sage Sparrow before the split and certainly both Bell's and Sagebrush, but had never noted on a list the subspecies so has never counter Sagebrush Sparrow until now. It took us 13 hours and 723 miles but we got both target species. We spent the night in Fort Stockton making our total day 923 miles.

The next morning we birded Imperial Reservoir (from the gate) where there was an impressive amount of waterfowl. We also hit the Fort Stockton Waste Water Treatment Ponds and headed east towards home. John was willing to indulge me in passing through Schleicher County to make 209 counties for me but just 9 species on our drive through.

Elegant Trogon
New Braunfels, TX
Stopping in Junction for a bite to eat on the way home I find the report of the Elegant Trogon in New Braunfels. It came through the Facebook Group "What's this Bird" and was a week old sighting. I told John we could make that diversion and it wouldn't actually cost that much time. We decided though not to press our luck with arrival times we had promised since the bird had not been confirmed recently. It turns out the bird was relocated that evening and we could have likely seen it.

I grew up in New Braunfels and started birding right in Panther Canyon where the Trogon was found. I was in town the day it was found for my dad's birthday. I woke up that day less than a quarter mile from that bird!

Lots of good reports on Monday so I headed for New Braunfels. I called my mom and said "surprise! my next rare bird chase is in New Braunfels and I would be visiting again. I left for New Braunfels Tuesday morning at about 7 am and pulled into Landa Park at 10:30 am.

Lots of folks I know on vigil at the chase site. I find Dennis Cooke and Dan Jones, the two birders I spied across the freeway to locate the Snowy Owl in Odessa. The nature of the birds I will be chasing this Anti-Big Year make me think this won't be the last time I run into these guys at a stakeout.

We spread out on the trail. At 12:21 Dennis calls me that he has the bird and I relay it to Dan and we all converge down the tail on the bird. I get to spend close to 40 minutes watching it feed and getting many photos Elegant Trogon is Anti-Big Year Bird #2 and Texas Bird 548.

I bid everyone good-bye and head to my parents house. Using GPS coordinates from my photos I measure the distance as 1024 feet from my boyhood bed room!

I end my adventures that day with watching the Falcon Heavy test launch of the Tesla Roadster and Starman into space. Its been a pretty darn good day!