Sunday, March 1, 2015

Back in the Saddle Again

I had to take two weekends off the chase to lead a trip to Belize. I know, but someone has to do it! Since Whooping Crane has been reported regularly on the Lamar Peninsula near the Big Tree I decided to tick off this as a drive by while the getting was good. It's already Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo time in Houston and its time to get back in the Saddle of this Big Year.

Whooping Crane becomes the worlds
largest feeder bird
Got on the road Saturday morning by 5:30 am and in spite of the ugly rainy weather made it to the site by 8:30 am. It took me 8 minutes to locate a pair of Whooping cranes for Year Bird 280. Crazy one of the rarest birds in the world is a feeder bird. This pair was at a deer feeder and I noticed several other back yards with deer feeders set up.  Seriously people are baiting in Whooping Cranes it appears to me with corn!  I understand the desire to have them nearby as a kind of trophy, but should we allow them to become the worlds largest "pigs with wings"?

Year Need List from Birdseye
Year Need List from Birdseye
So it was only 8:45 am. I had just figured out you could configure the smartphone app Birdseye to show a state big year. Its pretty straight forward to set up. Once done it now shows me what I need for the year in Texas that has been reported to eBird out to a range of 50 miles. I saw immediately that the Little Gull was last reported at Port Aransas 8 days ago and there were some other targets in Port Aransas so I headed over to the Port A jetty.

I drove up to the gull flock at the base of the jetty by 9:30 am. Right in front of me an SUV disgorged a little 2 year old girl dressed all in pink and her mom then instructed her to run through the flock of gulls and skimmers multiple times while she took pictures. Cute, hopefully the gulls landed a few "good ones" on her. A least the flock seemed to settle right back down when she stopped. Over the next two hours I saw at least 5 dog walkers and 2 groups of teenagers do about the same thing. The gulls settled down right away every time though. I do wish I wouldn't end up in jail if I showed the offenders what its like for the gulls if I chased them around the beach in my car for a few minutes. Picture my dark blue Nissan Juke and the theme to Benny Hill for a few minutes.

Bonoparte's Gull, Port Aransas Jetty
Bonoparte's Gull, Port Aransas Jetty
So 2 hours standing one the beach scanning the remarkable number of Bonoparte's Gulls there did not yield a Little Gull. Did it mention it was raining too? This is what big years are made of, sticking things like this out though. I did figure out that its pretty easy to see the underwing color of a small gull though with a scope once you get in the grove of looking. A useful technique for finding Little Gull for sure.

I headed over to the Port Aransas Nature Preserve at Charlie's Pasture, or just Charlie's Pasture for short. I know many people love Paradise Pond and the Birding Center on Port A, but to me the real gem of birding in Port A is Charlie's Pasture. The access to the flats the more than mile long boardwalk give is just the best in Texas I think. A remarkable 265 species have been reported to eBird here. As soon as I started out on the boardwalk about a half dozen Purple Martins were flying around for Year Bird 281.
Panoramic view of the boardwalk at Charlie's Pasture
Panoramic view of the boardwalk at Charlie's Pasture
The weather kept getting worse, but finally at about a mile out on the boardwalk I found a couple of Snowy Plovers for Year Bird 282. No luck on my other target, Wilson's Plover. A Peregrine Falcon appears out on the flats though with a duck though, I must have just missed him take it. In an hour in the rain I found 40 species at Charlie's Pasture. By the time I left it was obvious more Purple Martins where arriving with more than twenty males swarming around. Spring has Sprung!

Digiscope image of a pink breasted Laughing Gull
Digiscope image of a pink breasted Laughing Gull
I headed back over to the jetty to see of the Little Gull has shown up with no luck. I did get a digiscope image of a VERY pink breasted Laughing Gull though. There were several of these pink breasted birds present and all showed their wing tips to me and all where Laughing Gulls. I've never actually seen any Laughing Gulls this pink before. I suspect these are the what is getting reported as Franklin's here though.

Alas time ran out without a Little Gull and I had to head back to Houston to get ready to go to the Rodeo Cookoff with my wife. Still a three year bird day is a good day.


2 comments:

  1. thanks for the photo of the pinkish LAGU.... I saw some of these at SPI flats during a Bird-A-Thon last weekend, and was hoping they were Franklin's, but couldn't convince my buddies (or myself, actually).... had never seen this before.
    Madeleine S. Laguna Vista.

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  2. Agreed re: Charlies Pasture. Paradise Pond and the Birding Center give you the biggest bang for your buck per foot of walking, but you can really get out into the mudflats at Charlie's Pasture. Plus the openess of it seems better for PEFA, WTHA and the like. Had a great time scoping out plovers and hiding from the wind back in early January.

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