Monday, May 11, 2015

The Great Texas Birding Classic Gets Real

We had been nursing a tire that was losing air since Corpus Christi. Unfortunately the Fix-a-flat we put in it gave up and we now had a flat tire. It was still early, about 6:30 am and we started making calls and figuring out where to get a flat tire fixed in Junction, TX

After Rolling Around in the Mud
Changing a Tire
After three grown men went in three directions we figured out where all the tools were and how to get the tire out. I’ve always been kind of a dive right and get done and damn getting dirty kind of guy. So I was soon wallowing in the “road gravy”, or the mud from Old Port Isabel Road that had washed off the Tahoe overnight in the rain. Yeah it rained overnight again.

We got the tire changed in good time and headed down the road to get the tire repaired since we didn’t want to head to Big Bend National Park sans a spare tire. We found the tire repair place right as they opened at 7 am.

We watched as the tire was repaired and then the technician brought over to us what was in the tire. It was the business last half inch of a knife blade! It appears that at one of our stops in Corpus Christi someone jabbed a knife into the tread of our tire and broke it off in the tire! Was this the work of SUB? (Secret Underground Birders). I thought I was on good terms with SUB since the Silver-backed-Wup-De-Do incident? Did we cross some line and run a-fowl of the Golden Crescent Chapter of SUB?

Whoever did this all jokes aside it hard come to any conclusion other than it was intentional. I mean knifes just don’t break off in your tires on their own. No matter it was SUB or one of our competitors, the Great Texas Birding Classic just got very real and we always had one eye in the rear view mirror. It made us drive kind of funny too.

On to South Llano River State Park. We picked up a few birds on the way in we needed, lots of Black-chinned Hummingbirds around the feeders at the headquarters. We headed over to the bird blind and Holly Reinhard, formerly the Naturalist at Lake Casa Blanca State Park and now stationed here at South Llano River State Park, waved us over. She had read my Facebook post from the night before and was going to help us find out target species on the morning bird walk.

First stop is the bird blind. Not 30 seconds after we get there a Black-capped Vireo starts “dive bathing” in the birdbath for Year Bird 402; flying back and forth splashing into the water. Really the best looks I’ve ever had at this often hard to see species.

No time to linger though we head out at a fast pace looking for Golden-cheeked Warbler near the deer blinds. On the way we note Bell’s Vireo’s singing for Year Bird 403. As soon as we make it to the area we hear singing Golden-cheeked Warblers for Year Bird 404.

Birding on the Edge!
Fort Lancaster Overlook
We spend some times searching for Wild Turkey with no luck, so though we have to head out, lots of miles to cover today before we rest.

We head out west on I10. It’s a good 120 miles to our nest stop. The Fort Lancaster Overlook and Sheffield Rest Area. We have light rain all the way. We get the and there is construction at the bottom of the bottom of the hill and guess where all the workers spend their break in their running diesel trucks! The drone and rattle of the diesel engines makes it hard to hear. Finally we are able to hear our target bird, Gray Vireo for year bird 405.

Hail in Big Bend National Park
We push on to Big Bend National Park. We’ve been passing through light rain all the way and on the way to Persimmon Gap just after we enter the park we run into very heavy rain, I’m alert looking for a flash flood. Clay is driving and soon has to pull to a stop because the heavy accumulation of hail on the road. On the side if the road is an honest to goodness flash flood and along the sides is a buildup of close to a foot of hail.  Very cool to see but not so good for the birding. After this we never saw temperatures in West Texas over 70 degrees either.

We pull into the parking lot at Panther Junction to make a few phone calls since we have service and cell service is spotty to none existent in the park. Right in front of us a Scott’s Oriole perches up on a yucca stalk for Year Bird 406.

Common Black-Hawk, Rio Grande Village
Big Bend National Park
We head down to Rio Grande Village in search of the nesting Common Black-Hawks there. It takes no effort at all to locate presumably the male perched in a tree. Common Black-Hawk is Year Bird 407. After the hawk poses for many pictures we answer the eternal question “What would you do for a Klondike Bar” with ice cream from the Rio Grande Village Store.  We fortify ourselves for our next task, Pine Canyon.

On the drive up to the Pine Canyon Trail Head we spot our first Western Tanager for Year Bird 408. Not long after we start up the trail we get a Hepatic Tanager for Year Bird 409. We also start to get Mexican Jay’s for Year Bird 410. Western Wood-Pewees are there for Year Bird 411 Our true quarry awaits though. We make it to the designated spot where our goal has been seen and heard recently.  Of course we are all reminding ourselves of what the call sounds likes like by playing it very quietly on our phones. You can’t hear it 3 feet away but if you’re standing close you think you’re hearing our target in the distance.  Many false alarms caused by this. We each try our hand at imitating it but with little luck at first.

On the Trail to Pine Canyon
We spread out a little to give ourselves a better chance at hearing it. I try to whistle the single “toot” version of the call of our target and hear something up the canyon and above all my partners. After checking with each that they aren't doing it we can confirm yes! Northern Pygmy-Owl for Year Bird 412 and a life bird to boot! This is also a big milestone in my big year, it marks passing my total for last year. I whistle a little more and the owl seems to be moving in closer as we hope for a look and picture but it never gets that close. Northern Pygmy-Owl often gives a double toot version of its call, “toot-toot toot-toot” this owl is mixing it up now though, give a 1-2-1 version of the call; “toot toot-toot toot toot-toot toot toot-toot” not something on any recording I have. We decide not to harass this bird anymore though and leave it be, dozen must have been here by now since it was discovered whistling and maybe playing recordings for it. I imagine this owl is now thinking “there sure are a lot of guys in this canyon, why aren't there any chicks?”

Anyway its getting late and we head up to the Chisos Basin Lodge to check in for the night. We check in and find out that the restaurant closed just 3 minutes before we get there! No ordering pizza here either! Luckily they let us have soup and salad bar, and a sandwich so we are good to go. This is my first time to stay in the Chisos Basin Lodge and I have to say I like the 1930’s Roosevelt cabin we are in. The floor is native limestone and its worn smooth by who knows how many feet that have walked it in the last 75 years. I imagine how remote and wild it would have felt in the 40’s and 50’s. And now we have WiFi here.

One more task for this day, we seek Common Poorwill and Elf Owl. It’s totally cloudy and raining a bit again. We head over to the sewage pond to listen for both night birds before we sleep. Not a good night for it I’m afraid. I don’t hold out much hope to tell the truth.  Nothing calls at first, but then not far away Elf Owl calls for Year Bird 413. We could stand out here in the rain for who knows how long waiting for a crazy poorwill to call, but we decided sleep is more important now, we plan to make Boot Springs before sunrise and its almost 2000 feet higher up the mountain!

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