Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Race to the Finish, the Last Day of the GTBC

Last Day of the Great Texas Birding Classic for us. We're starting at the Lawrence Wood Picnic Area in the Davis Mountains before dawn looking to pick up our last night birds. We make it there well before dawn and sort out who can do the best imitation of a Western Screech-Owl. I've never really tried doing one before but I do find I can do the bouncing ball song pwep pwep pwep pwep pwepwepwepepep reasonably well. We spread out a little and soon it sounds like a chorus of Western Screech-Owls with speech impediments as we all try.

I'm on the end of the line and one calls off to my right and so I get to claim I called it up! We soon all get on it. Western Screech-Owl as Year Bird 429. We are also listening to several Mexican Whip-poor-wills calling around. We were surprised to hear them, but its good to know this easy to reach spot has them. Suddenly David and I booth exclaim  "Common Poorwill!" A Common Poorwill calls a couple of times for Year bird 430. Unfortunately Clay missed it.

Next its my turn to try and miss a bird. Clay and David are both saying they are hearing a turkey gobble.  I'm straining and just not hearing anything. Finally it pops out of the background for me and Wild Turkey is Year Bird 431. After I can hear it its the loudest thing calling.

The passerines are really waking up now. Western Wood-Pewee, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Tanager, and Chipping Sparrow are calling. We also pick out Dusky Flycatcher for Year Bird 432. At first we hear and then are able to put glass on Grace's Warbler for Year bird 433.

The change is plans did allow us to stop at my favorite
spot in Fort Davis, the Stone Village Market to grab breakfast
It rained most of the night and we had some plans that just made impossible. Unpaved roads were just not drivable even in the mighty stealth Tahoe. We decided we'd have to abandon that plan and continue on our route.

Onward we pressed, we had to end our day in Amarillo, 528 miles away!

Next stop is Lake Balmorhea. Its a mud-hole too, worse than my January trip here was (see Where the Rubber Doesn't Meet the Road). Mud means time to us, since we have to walk and not drive. We do pick up the birds we need here though, Western, Clark's and Eared Grebes. We also pick up Cinnamon Teal and Yellow-rumped Warbler.

A Red-necked Phalarope had been reported here and we find a funny looking Wilson's Phalarope. I'm convinced this is the bird that was reported several times as a Red-necked. Red-necked Phalarope is one of the "near review species" that has just come off the list. These birds get over reported because well there is no review on them. They are still rare, just not unexpected anymore!

Meanwhile back at the Great Texas Birding Classic we head for the Van Horn Cemetery and pick up Gambel's Quail but dip on Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.

On we race to the Guadalupe Mountains. I've never actually made the drive up Texas 54 before and its as pretty a drive as I've seen in West Texas. I find myself staring at the mountain tops and wondering what birds are there up there? How often does anyone get to look in these privately held highlands? We make the drive passing less than a dozen cars in 60 miles, I love it out here.

We start at the Frijole Ranch at Guadalupe Mountains. The wind is wicked but we do get a few things. We are surprised by a House Wren we still need, and Violet-Green Swallow is Year Bird 434. We all get on a Lillian's Eastern Meadowlark as an escrow bird if that split ever happens

McKittrick Canyon
We move on to McKittrick Canyon. We only have about 2 hours to spend here and so we hike fast. We pick up some empids, Dusky and Willow Flycatcher. We hear Lazuli Bunting calling for Year Bird 435. A very loud plane passes overhead that makes us look up and we get a Golden Eagle, thanks to the american military I'm guessing. We make it to the Pratt Cabin and find a calling Mountain Chickadee.

We blast back down the trail and on the hill side we "follow" with our ears a calling warbler that I conclude is a Virginia's Warbler for Year Bird 436.

Back at the car we jump in headed for the last long drive of the day and zip through New Mexico to Lubbock racing the setting sun. Because the team ended in Amarillo last year with great success Clay favored this route. My gut feeling is El Paso would be a better end point. Most of the same birds are present plus some others we don't have a chance at in Lubbock. It's also two hours closer and so we have two more hours to bird! That could translate into more time in the Guads or more time to chase things in El Paso.

We start working our network for info on Lubbock. One thing about Lubbock is I know more people there to canvass for information. I recall a Smyer Playa is a reliable location for pheasant but the local peeps tell me the road isn't accessible because of the rain. We are assured that geese should be present in most parks though.

As we pass back into Texas eagle eyed David spots a Prairie Dog town with several Burrowing Owls. We make a U-turn and find almost a dozen for a nice pick up.

Burrowing Owl in Lubbock
In Lubbock we head to Lake 6 Park and wow! Lubbock got a lot of rain and the high water has moved the geese around. We do find Cackling Goose though, but try as we might we can't find a Canada! While searching we pick up our last bird of the Classic, Yellow-headed Blackbird.

We're loosing light and have to call it a day and head for Amarillo.During the The Great Texas Birding Classic I picked up 49 species in this 6 day run! I'm keeping our total for the trip under wraps until after the Great Texas Birding Classic, but its north of 300 species by a lot. We traveled about 2700 miles by ground and then flew home.

I wonder if this format might actually be a good way to do a big year. I find about 420 species reported in eBird for the month of May. Say you could rely on finding 75% of those in a week. Now assume you do this three times in the year Winter, Spring, and Fall. That should get you to most of the species present in Texas in a given year with only 21 days of birding. While the road trips would be long, lets say 3000 miles each, that's still less than 10,000 miles of birding. It would also be cost effective to rent a car and not put the miles on your personal vehicle. Most big years come in at 25,000-30,000 miles at least and 50,000 miles is what I would expect for a real record year, With those 21 days of birding getting most of the birds out of the way, you could concentrate on chasing rarities and the few you still need. Something to think about, especially for an end game for the year.

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