Sunday, January 29, 2017

In the West Texas Town if El Paso

We started the day at Sunland Race Park just over the New Mexico border in El Paso hoping to locate the Mew Gull and the California Gull that had been reported there and catch them flying into Texas. There were lots of gulls there when we got there. We say a far number flying into Texas so we decided to go see if we could find a vantage point on the Texas side of the border and maybe get one on the wing.

Just as we crossed the line into Texas we noticed a large number of gulls heading into an enclosure behind a new looking Walmart. We pulled up inside the enclosure we could see about 500 gulls on a retention pond and more circulating in and out from the race track. Looking at Google Maps the northern 2/3 of the pond is in Texas too.

We did find one interesting bird, it seemed good for a Mew Gull too. Joe got some photos but we have not had internet access enough to compare them and see if we snagged this treasure.

We headed next to the bird blind at the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park. Just a Canyon Towhee when we got there, but soon a Black-throated Sparrow put in an appearance for Year Bird 291. We didn’t have to wait long before a Green-tailed Towhee appeared for Year Bird 292. Waiting a bit more and a pair of Gambel’s Quail strutted in for Year Bird 293.

We headed next over to McKelligon Park. Right away on the trail we hear a “seep” call I’m sure is a Black-chinned Sparrow. I get a brief glimpse of a brown backed, grey headed bird to confirm Black-chinned Sparrow as Year Bird 294.

We hit Ascarate Park hoping for something interesting. Lots of Buffleheads and Ruddy Duck. There are some Canada Geese here but I don’t know their status as wild birds and decide not to count them.

We head East to Tornillo Reservoir looking for a California Gull that’s being seen there. Luck is with us and we do locate it swimming in the middle of the lake by itself. California Gull is Year Bird 295.

We head further east to McNary Reservoir. While scanning we hear something like a rocket behind us. We look and in the field we see a large brown bird with a snow goose in its talons. Golden Eagle is Year Bird 296.

Our plan is camp to at Hueco Tanks State Park. We have a line on a Long-eared Owl. We get there, check in, go through Orientation, and get to our campsite. We search unit dark with no luck on the owl, maybe in the morning.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Bushels of Sagebrush Sparrows

This morning we headed for Guadalupe Mountains National Park and planned to hike Devil's Hall. It snowed late in the date yesterday and while it was bright and sunny this morning it was also 24 degrees when we set out on the trail. There was about an inch of snow on the ground making the park look like a powdered sugar donut.

Almost first thing on the trail we ran into a Rufous-crowned Sparrow for Year Bird 283. A bit further down the trail we had a pair of Phainopepla for Year Bird 284. When the sun started to hit the upper canyon walls Canyon Wren called for Year Bird 285.

We continued and made the Devil's Hall itself, a narrow canyon of layers. There was enough ice on the rock to make us be very careful as we went.

Above the hall is the area where Spotted Owl is known have breed in the past. We searched all of it with no luck, just a few nuthatches and a Red-napped Sapsucker.

We head back down. The snow is melting and its getting really slick though, slow going.

We find a flock Western Bluebirds. With them we find a Townsend's Solitaire for Year Bird 286. While trying to relocate the solitaire we find a flock of Mountain Chickadees for Year Bird 287.

Sagebrush Sparrow
We have lunch and head for the sand dunes section of the park outside of Dell City. Not far down the road we find a flock of Sagebrush Sparrows for Year Bird 288. In the same spot we find a Crissal Thrasher for Year Bird 289. We push on to the park entrance outside of Dell City. All along this road we see small flocks of Sagebrush Sparrow, especially after the end of the agricultural area. From Dell City to the park entrance it is actually the only species we encounter. Once at the park entrance we see a smaller thrasher on a bush. We have to get the scope out to id it, but Sage Thrasher is Year Bird 290.

Sage Thrasher
On the one mile of road from the park entrance to the parking area for the sand dunes we had 8 Sage Thrashers, 1 Crissal Thrasher, and 29 Sagebrush Sparrows. We had a total of 48 Sagebrush Sparrows for the day! The sparrows were easily seen from the car and getting out and pishing when a couple were seen usually produced a half dozen.

The road to the sand dunes is not as well known as the Balmorhea Cemetery, but for my birding time its much better Sagebrush Sparrow. There are just a lot more there on that road. Plus you have Sage Thrasher and Crissal Thrasher here!

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Amazing Pink Bellied Woodpecker

I teamed up with Joe Fischer for a grand tour of West Texas and the Panhandle hoping to sweep through all the hard to get birds there. We flew into Midland to start late Wednesday and started birding at Sunrise.

The first stop was Hogan Park in Midland to look for the Lewis's Woodpecker that was first reported I think back in November. Unfortunately there had been no affirmative reports of this bird for almost a month.

Lewis's Woodpecker shows off a prize
We got there before sunrise and started our search. Hogan Park does not have a lot of trees so the search area wasn't enormous. The usual city park birds made appearances, but a pair of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers were all the woodpeckers we found.

After about 45 minutes we hard a woodpecker that wasn't a Ladder-backed or a Golden-fronted Woodpecker. Then we found it flying to a telephone pole that was almost in the sun. Lewis's Woodpecker relocated for Year Bird 265! Lewis's Woodpecker is one of the "near review species" Its not a review species for Texas but there are darn few of them, its a load off my mind to get it off the need list.

On the road to Imperial Reservoir in Pecos County hoping for something very cool like a Red-throated Loon. We arrived about 10 am and had to scan from the gate. Loads and loads of birds, no Red-throated Loon though. A Scaled Quail called for year bird 266. We moved down the road and scanned from a high point and found a flock of Common Mergansers for Year Bird 267. That leaves only Surf Scoter for non review ducks in Texas for the year.

 We headed next to the Sandia Wetlands outside Balmorhea, TX. Only one cell had water in it and it looked like they had been flooding it only for a couple of hours. Wilson's Snipe was the only water bird. We did have lots of sparrows. Brewer's Sparrow was found for Year Bird 268. After a bit we found flock of Lark Buntings for Year Bird 269.

We decided to pass through the Balmorhea Cemetary looking for Sagebrush Sparrow. Its supposed to be a sure thing here but I've never found it here. I found a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher for Year Bird 270. A short time later a Rock Wren popped up for Year Bird 271.

On to Lake Balmorhea. Lots of the large grebe present, We found Western Grebe for Year Bird 272 almost right away. Around the far side of the lake we found lots of Clark's Grebe for Year Bird 273. As we were leaving Pyrrhuloxia hopped onto the fence for Year Bird 274.

On to Davis Mountain's State Park. Lots of Year Birds here. The usual suspects except for the quail who's name I won't mention. I finished the day with 279 species.

We made camp and crawled into out sleeping bags. The volunteer at check asked us if we were sure we wanted to camp, it was going to be 24 in the morning she said. We assured here we were ready for it.

I had a new tent and a good sleeping bag, I was comfortable all night. When I woke I bumped the tent getting up. It snowed in my tent. Actually the condensation from my breathing froze as frost on the inside of the tent. We broke camp pretty fast and got into the car to head for the days birding. How disappointing it was only 25 degrees, not the promised 24.

Be very quit! we are hunting sparrows
For today we met up with a student working on a Baird's Sparrow study at the Mimms Unit of the Dixon Water Foundation. This unit is open to the public, You can access a 2 mile dirt road from a gate at the end of N Austin Street in Marfa Texas. Trouble is for a Baird's Sparrow hunt you can't leave the road. We've heard rumors of folks going off trail for sparrows here. Hopefully this won't become common place and ruin access to an amazing grassland for all of us.

We head way out into the grassland and set up nets and started the sparrow drive. We caught several Savannah Sparrows first. Then a Grasshopper Sparrow for Year Bird 280. More Savannah's. Then the tech runs to snatch a bird I didn't see from the net. Dang it! Baird's Sparrow in the hand, doesn't count. We keep working, finally getting another Grasshopper. 

Baird's left, Grasshopper Right
We move the nets and try a different area. Lots of sparrows present. Then a small sparrow is flushed, it flies towards me, I throw a frisbee to turn it, it turns back in front of the net and another tech throws a frisbee and it turns and is captured in the net. It's a Baird's Sparrow for Year Bird 281 (and a life bird too!).

After the Sparrow Banding we head for the Lawrence E Woods Picnic Area in the Davis Mountains. A Red-napped Sapsucker was there the day before. First bird out of the car, Red-napped Sapsucker for Year Bird 282. Not much else moving though.

We head north to the Guadalupe Mountains. Our intent is to camp. On the way we see forecasts of 30 MPH wind, not good. Then it starts to snow. double not good, Looks like a nice warm bed and shower for us tonight in White's City NM. Tomorrow  - The Guads!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Week Two

Hermit Thrush at
Cedar Hill Park
Headed out on week two starting on my home turf in Chamber's County. My first stop was Cedar Hill Park on Lake Charlotte. Almost immediately I located three new Year Birds; Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, and White-eyed Vireo bringing me to 193. 

After making the loop on the trail a group of Tree Swallows passed over for Year Bird 194. 

I headed down to Anahuac NWR hoping for the Burrowing Owls that's been there all winter. Unfortunately it was sleeping I guess and not visible. Seaside Sparrow eluded me too. 

Onward to the Bolivar Peninsula. Rollover Pass was full of birds, but no new ones. I headed over to Yatch Basin Road. I did find Clapper Rail for Year Bird 195. Seaside Sparrow eluded me again. I checked Tuna Road and Bob's Road. Seaside Sparrow eluded me again.

Anna's Hummingbird
The next day I headed over to John O'Brien's and picked up his Anna's Hummingbird for Year Bird 196.  I decided to head over to Bear Creek Park for another try at the Greater Pewee. On the way I had a Peregrine Falcon fly over the West Loop in the Gallareia for Year Bird 197. I dipped again on the pewee though.

Wednesday I headed back down to the Quintana Jetty since the wind has shifted to the south.

Common Tern Year Bird 200
Conditions were good and I managed Northern Gannet for Year Bird 198 and Black Scoter for Year Bird 199. On the way in I scanned the gull flock and spotted a rare for season Common Tern for Year Bird 200.

On to San Bernard NWR and Bobcat Woods. Immediately I flushed a Barred Owl for Year Bird 201. The Couch's Kingbird that has been there all winter was Year Bird 202. In the woods I found Spotted Towhee, Black-and-white Warbler, Palm Warbler, and Wilson's Warbler for Year Birds.

Bonaparte's Gull
I was on a roll and walked one of the nearby field and walked up a Le Conte's Sparrow for Year Bird 206. On the Moccasin Pond loop a Sora called for Year Bird 207. Then the surprise of the day a Sprague's Pipit flushed from the road for Year Bird 208!

Tomorrow I head for the Rio Grande Valley for the TOS winter meeting, many more good birds await me there!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Return of Mr. X

Allen's Hummingbird
Some may remember Mr. X from the Silver-backed Whop-de-do in 2015. Mr X reached out to me Sunday and told me to meet him Sunday at 4 pm if I wanted to get an Allen's Hummingbird. When Mr. X makes you an offer you can't say no.

I was at the rendezvous point right on time. He lead me to a more private location and motioned me to a chair.

Almost immediately a Buff-bellied Hummingbird came in for Year Bird 186. A few minutes more and a Black-chinned Hummingbird made an appearance for Year Bird 187. Rufous Hummingbird made Year Bird 188. Then we debated the identification of one bird when the sun caught it gorget and showed it to be a young make Ruby-throated Hummingbird for Year Bird 189.

Then a flash of orange I thought was a male Rufous. Mr. X then said there was no male Rufous here. The bird turned, the green back showed it to be the Allen's Hummingbird for Year Bird 190.

I made sure not to over stay my welcome with Mr. X and left 5 hummingbirds richer!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

As I walked out on the streets of Laredo

As I walked out on the streets of Laredo.
As I walked out on Laredo one day,
I spied a poor birder wrapped in khaki,
Wrapped in dun khaki as dull as the clay.

"I can see by your outfit that you are a birder."
These words he did say as I boldly walked by.

Rail Road Bridge in Laredo at the current Amazon
Kingfisher site.
Early Saturday morning Tony Frank and I headed to Laredo to chase the Amazon Kingfisher that's been there since October. Oh at 2:30 am when we left my house it was 28 degrees. It will get warmer as we head south I say.

Every 75 miles it dropped a degree though, so about 20 miles outside of Laredo at dawn the temperature on my dash read 24 degrees. It warmed a bit as the sun came up, so by the time we got to the kingfisher site it was back up to 28 degrees. As we pulled up a pair of Great Kiskadees fussed with each other for Year Bird 168.

We got out of the car and it took Tony all of 30 seconds to find the Kingfisher, perched in Mexico! I do think we set the record for the lowest temperature that an Amazon Kingfisher had been observed at though.

While waiting for the Kingfisher to fly into US airspace a White-collared Seedeater made a brief appearance for Year Bird 169. A Ringed Kingfisher appeared for Year Bird 170.

Still waiting on the Amazon. A Least Grebe maded a break for the US side when ICE wasn't around for Year Bird 171. Finally the Amazon Kingfisher flew into the US for Year bird 172.

Time was wasting we headed to Alice, TX to look for a White-winged Scoter that had been reported the week before at Lake Findley. On the way I picked up Chihuahuan Raven for Year Bird 173, White-tailed Hawk for Year Bird 174, Harris Hawk for Year Bird 175, and Common Ground-Dove for Year Bird 176.

Brown Pelican Lake Findley
As we get out of the car at Lake Findley Green Jays fly over my head for Year Bird 177. While scanning the lake for the scoter I pick up Ladder-backed Woodpecker for Year Bird 178. Then we find a couple of Cinnamon Teal for Year Bird 179. As we are leaving the a Greater Roadrunner was sunning for Year Bird 180. No scotor to be found, but we found a first for Jim Wells County in eBird Brown Pelican.

We head for Corpus Christi to look for a Surf Scoter. Oodles of Redheads but no Surf Scoter. A Port of Corpus Christi Police Officer rolls up and asks us what we are doing, "Looking at birds" we say. He's not wearing a jacket and its still just 35 degrees. He heads back to his SUV then turns and returns and asks "What kind of birds?" I reply "Just a bunch of Redheads today" I reply. He turns back to the truck, then comes back again and points at our scopes "Are those cameras?" "No they are telescopes I answer" He tells us to stay warm and jumps back in and leaves. I turn to Tony and say "Good thing he didn't look in the car at the cameras on the back seat"

Ok its getting late, but we squeeze in a stop by the Big Tree outside of Rockport and find three Whooping Cranes for Year Bird 181. A couple we had seen also cruising around obviously looking for cranes pulls up and asked if we have found some Whooping Cranes. We answer yes and invite them to look through the scopes. "No that ok" they reply and drive off. Mystifying behavior.

Brewer's Blackbird
Ok peddle to the metal heading home. A flock of blackbirds in the scrub catch our attention. I do a quick U-turn, those have got to be Brewers I say. Sure enough Brewer's Blackbird for Year Bird 182.

We make it back to my house by 7:10 pm. Sixteen and a half hours and 12 new birds. Its been a good day.

Friday, January 6, 2017


Common Look at Offat's Bayou
Galveston, TX
Tony Frank messaged me about 10:45 am today asking if I had seen the report of Red-throated Loon at Offatt's Bayou in Galveston. I hadn't but went looking for it and the pictures looked good. I headed over to pick up Tony and we made it to Offat's Bayou by 12:15 pm. At first we didn't see much in the way of loons, just two Common Loons.

We saw a few more to the south and moved over to the south parking lot and almost immediately found the Red-throated Loon for Year Bird 166. The flock of loons was better than 20 birds and we picked out a Pacific Loon for Year Birds 167.

It was cold, windy and rainy and when it became clear we weren't going to get pictures of the rare loons we got out of the weather and headed for the Texas City Dike. A photo hand been posted yesterday that Tony thought was checking out as a California Gull,

The dike was deserted except for a half dozen even crazier than we were fishermen. We searched the length of the dike with no rare gulls making an appearance.

We headed home to get ready to chase the Amazon Kingfisher Saturday in Laredo!