Saturday, April 25, 2015

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night

Just glad I have a waterproof scope
We there was no forecast of snow for today, but rain was there for sure and we had plenty of gloom of night planned. We were running our Upper Texas Coast day for the Great Texas Birding Classic. We were planning to run from midnight till we ran out of birds to chase.

During the night conditions were actually pretty good, we had a few drips on us but there was very little wind. Bad for the mosquitoes but really good for listening for birds.

By the time we got into position for dawn chorus in the Boykin's Springs Recreational Area we had 30 species on the list.. Almost as soon as we got out of the car to listen Chuck-wills-widow was calling for Year Bird 368. Soon an Eastern Towhee joined the chorus for Year Bird 369.

We headed to our woodpecker spot and as we got out of the car we could hear the trill of Bachman's Sparrow for Year Bird 370. As I raised my binoculars to a marked tree I saw a Red-cockaded Woodpecker jet out for the day for Year Bird 371. While we all got on the woodpecker a couple of Brown-headed Nuthatches made their squeaky toy noises for Year Bird 372.

As we were heading out of the area to begin the race for east Texas warblers John calls out "Hairy Woodpecker" and I jumped out of the car and hear the sharp "Peek" several times of a Hairy Woodpecker for Year Bird 373.

By now the rain has started in earnest and we had some tense moments negotiating the rutted muddy forest roads. Luck was with us and we were soon back on firm roads. Our next target bird that was a year bird was Prairie Warbler. We checked the first spot we had lined up for them. Nothing. We checked the next spot; nothing! I was getting nervous. At the last spot one called right next to the road nabbing me Prairie Warbler for Year Bird 374.

I felt better and we headed off to our next stop for breeding warblers. Along the way in a wet field we saw a group of shorebirds wheeling about in the pouring rain. Wilson's Phalarope for Year Bird 375.

We're having fun now, scanning for Swallow-tailed Kite in the rain!
Martin Dies State Park was tough in the rain, many birds that are easy there just didn't show up as expected. We did manage most of our targets though, it just took some time (which we didn't have) and patience. No new year birds though.

Busting out of the piney woods and heading for Beaumont I got a message that a friend had a large group of warblers in his backyard. As luck would have it (finally!) his house was the next exit! We pulled in sucked up several needed day birds and I got Blackpoll Warbler for Year Bird 376.

Next we headed to our American Robin spot, and while there we had a pair of Fish Crows croaking for Year Bird 377.

Blasting east out of Beaumont we headed to a spot we had scouted some great ducks. En-route we spotted a large group of shorebirds over a rice field. We pulled over and sure enough our suspicions were correct. Buff-breasted Sandpiper for Year Bird 378. Another flock of shorebirds flew by and it was clear they were White-rumped Sandpipers for Year Bird 379.

Our duck ponds produced some cool stuff like a pair of late Hooded Mergansers. While there a couple of Bank Swallows passed over for Year Bird 380.

Cruising down to Anahauc National Wildlife Refuge we continued to tick of shorebirds in the rice field and lingering ducks in some special ponds we knew about. At the refuge we headed for the Jackson Prairie Woodlot and Marchetti Bird Blind. It was hot (and humid too!) and we ticked off a nice group of migrants. I also added  Year Birds Yellow-bellied Flycatcher for 381 and Bay-breasted Warbler for Year Bird 383. A Traill's Flycatcher was perched in the brush and I was afraid we'd not be able to put a name to him, bit it gave a mellow "whit" and we were able to call it Willow Flycatcher for Year Bird 383

High Island was jammed with birders and birds and we added many species. At Roll Over Pass we broke 200 species with the many shorebirds there that you don't find in the fresh water rice fields. On  Retillion Road heading into the Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary we were able to scope a Barn Owl in the back of a nest box. 

On the Flats proper we quickly found all the ringed plovers we still needed save one, Snowy Plover. While searching for that we found a couple of Red Knots. A Magnificent Frigatebiird was a surprise, only my second ever April one. Snowy Plover eluded us.

After the Flats were were out of light and mostly out of birds to chase. We listened for a while at Frenchtown Road hoping for a migrating Upland Sandpiper and Nelson's Sparrow with no luck. Finally we had to call it a day. We had been on the road for over 24 hours and had been actively birding for 21 hours. I had 2 hours of sleep since Friday at 6 am, 

We did finish with a healthy amount above 200 species for the day. I can't reveal the total so we have some drama at the awards brunch for the Great Texas Birding Classic. I do feel good about it though, its my best Upper Texas Coast day ever! 

I did add 16 Year Birds to my total. Next Week is the TOS meeting and I'm leading field trips for the meeting on my usual patch in Chamber's County. With luck the intense schedule of trips will turn up some rarity. I would sure like to finish next weekend with 400 species, but with 27 to go that seems unlikely, but I'm going to try!

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