Saturday, May 2, 2015

The TOS Meeting in Winnie

This weekend was the Texas Ornithological Society in Winnie, TX on the upper Texas Coast. I was set to lead field trips for two days in Chambers County. My home birding turf so to speak. There are a good handful of birds to find for the year so there was lots of potential.

I spent all day Thursday scouting for my field trips. I drove a little more than 100 miles in Chamber's County on the dusty county roads looking for rice fields with shorebirds. I had very little luck though only finding two places with birds. It seemed that because its been very wet lately many farmers either got their rice in early and the field was in the dry stage and the rice was getting high, or they were still trying to get them worked and flooded.

I found very good numbers of shorebirds in the fields that I did find, but nothing new for the year. The Hudsonian Godwit with my name on it didn't seem to be out there.

Bright and early Friday morning I lead my field trip to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. I decided to take the field trip right to the spot I had heard Black Rails at recently. Almost as soon as I got out of the car I heard one rail give a few distant "kik-ke-doo" calls but I might have been the only one to hear there. We wait at bit and eventually one rail started to call again and all heard it. I think this was the 4th time this year I've heard Black Rails, go figure, feast or famine.

A Common Nighthawk snoozes
in the Jackson Prairie Woodlot
I lead the group through the places I new so well, Crab Corner, Deep Marsh, Jackson Prairie. We picked up lots of good birds, Sedge Wren, Seaside Sparrow, Purple Gallinule, King Rail, Clapper Rail, and Least Bittern.

After lunch we headed over to the Skillerrn Unit and while the woods held little the water actually had some shorebirds and we got good looks at Greater Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, and best of all White-rumped Sandpiper.

After that I decided to go check a spot I was told had Hudsonian Godwit the day before. On the way there I noticed a field that was just being flooded that had been dry the day before. I got out and checked it and it was just loaded with birds, Hundreds of Dunlin and at least several hundred Semipalmated Plovers. Really more Semipalmated Plover than I had ever seen in on spot. I counted 12 species of shorebirds. Then a Peregrine Falcon chased a large flock of phalaropes up and rearranged the birds.

As the birds were settling down I saw a group of large shorebirds with distinctive white rumps setting in and tower over the dowitchers. Hudsonian Godwit was Year Bird 386.

Bobolinks had been reported on the way to Robbin's Park on Smith Point. One of my fellow field trip leaders heard a Bobolinks there today and they have been reported there several times in the last week. I made the drive down and looked for some time but with no luck. I was planning on taking my field trip to this location again tomorrow so maybe better luck next time.

The next morning we left early for a Chambers County big day. Every time I head out like this the day hold the promise of something exciting. I was once asked "do you expect to see something rare every time you go out?" I have to answer yes, that's why I go out!

Lesser Yellowlegs in the Rice Fields
The day was going well, we were getting the target species at each stop. Finally we were headed down to Smith Point again.

We get there and I check the field the Bobolinks were reported in and nothing. I head down the road a little and I get a call on the radio from one of the field trip participants that had lagged behind. Bobolink! It wasn't quit a "bat turn" but it was close as I made a fast U-turn back. Of course the bird disappeared into the grass before I got back. We decided to play a bit of a Bobolink call and it popped up almost right away. Bobolink was Year Bird 387. While we were admiring it suddenly the rest of the flock of about 50 birds flew up closer and serenaded us with their chorus of toy robot calls.

We finished the field trip in high spirits hitting Anahauc National Wildlife Refuge and the rice fields for shore birds and finished the day with 115 species. A very good day of birding in one of the most productive counties in Texas.

Next week is the Great Texas Birding Classic statewide tournament, stay tuned for that craziness!

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