Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Mad Dash Home

Started Monday, January 19, 2015 in Brownfield, TX. We left the hotel about 6:20 headed for Paul's Lake at Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge. Our timing was perfect and we were able to scan the flock of Sandhill Cranes in Paul's Lake for the Common Crane. An hour of scanning and we felt like we had looked at all the cranes, maybe 5,000 for the Common Crane with no luck. We also able to scan many more thousands as they flew over heading to other areas.

Thousands of Sandhill Cranes land in a field
near Muleshoe NWR
If you have never been to Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge in the winter you are missing one of the great avian spectacles in Texas. I have seen numbers that perhaps 75,000 of this amazing bird winter here, about 15% of the world population.

We had about an hour left before we needed to head south towards Austin. We drove the roads looking for groups of cranes and while we found many Sandhill Cranes, no Common Crane. I did add Chestnut-collared Longspur for year bird 223 and Lapland Longspur for year bird 224.

White-cheeked geese on Brashear's Lake, Levelland, TX
Since our route took us back through Levelland we decided to check out a large concentration of waterfowl we saw in the dark on the way through. It was almost all white-cheeked geese and we easily found Canada Goose for year bird 225 and Cackling Goose for year bird 226 and about a bazillion geese I just didn't want to put a name too. This pond is shown as Brashears Lake as an eBird hotpot and is located at the east end of 13th Street.

Too soon we had to load up and go and make the 425 mile drive to the Lake Creek Trail in Austin where the Eurasian Wigeon was reported. I agonized the whole way looking for positive reports but alas there were none.

Raptors were scarce of the drive, I was counting on getting a Ferruginous Hawk today. Hawks were scarce, just a few red-tails until we got to Lubbock and then none for about 200 miles.

We made it to the site a few minutes after 5 pm. I jumped out and started scanning and almost immediately found a "Storm Wigeon". A rare variation of Wigeon with a white face. There are some good pictures HERE on this blog.

I asked John to take a look at it and while John was looking through the scope he says "there's the wigeon" I took a quick look and coming out of the edges was a gray bodied bird with a reddish head and a creamy white "bald pate". Almost immediately it disappeared though and although we looked until we lost light we never saw it again, but we did see new ducks all the time so there were a lot of hidden birds. We also saw "Stormy" a couple of more times but he would disappear too. I'm still weighing this one, did I see the Eurasian Wigeon? I've not ticked it yet.

Our trusty rental Nissan Versa looked like it had been rode hard and put up filthy. as an insurance policy we decided to run it through a car wash. Check out the before picture. We had been hearing chunks of mud dropping off since Lake Balmorhea. We actually heard the last chuck fall less than a hundred miles from home.

This road trip was about 2150 miles and I added 62 year birds. I think our trip list is going to be about 160 species.

One thing I learned is I'm going to need to train a bit before my next mountain trip. Bear Canyon was hard, although its a hard trail. I also think I need to get a carbon fiber tripod to lighten the load, like the Manfrotto MK294C3-D3RC2. I would love to hear recommendations for a tripod that will hold a Bushnell Elite Scope.

It was a good trip, but I did manage to leave some birds on the table. Ones I should be able to make up during the year are Ferruginous Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Sagebrush Sparrow, and McCown's Longspur. Those are pretty straightforward to make up and some can be found at least a day trip from Houston. Harder to make up are the review species I left behind, Varied Thrush, Common Crane, and Eurasian Wigeon.

Its not going to be easy to get up to 300 by the end of month and stay married. I need to stay close to home and will have to pick my targets. Priorities will be birds that are hard to get after mid March.

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