Saturday, November 28, 2015

Slip Sliding Away

I'd been planning to head for the Texas Panhandle for a couple of weeks. I had been making queries of locals and bought my ticket. The plan was to fly up the day after Thanksgiving and return on the Monday after. So on Monday before there is a tropical storm in the Pacific. Oh, and its remnants are going to move across the panhandle on Friday and crash into a cold front and turn into freezing rain.

Thanksgiving evening I check and the forecast is for the roads in Lubbock to remain open until the evening then it should warm up enough to get out late Saturday morning. The prediction is for the it stay clear and ice free to the south. Plan B, maybe I could get to the Guadalupe Mountains and look for Juniper Titmouse if it was clear to the south.

I left Houston uneventfully. I got a call from Fat Tony (aka Anthony Hewetson) that things were getting bad fast as I waited for my connection in DFW. My flight was here though no problem, I even saw the crew go on-board. When it got time to board the gate agent started to announce the boarding then was stopped in mid-sentence by her radio and she changed the announcement to a delayed boarding. With out missing a beat she thought out loud on the microphone and said "Oh that's no good the pilots just deplaned". But the flight had not been officially cancelled.

It didn't take too long to get the official word that the flight was cancelled. About 100 people headed to the kiosk to re-book. I got in line and on a whim just called the airline customer service number and re-booked in about 5 minutes while the first person in line about 100 people in front of me was still trying get seats. I even got a premium seat upgrade for free.

The weather got a little better and I got to Lubbock and defrosted an icy car and got snug in my room with some takeout and a six pack of Stone IPA. Trouble was the ice was building to the south and not so much to the northwest. I watched and the pattern stayed that way all evening and even at 6 am it was still the same. No Guads for me.

Smyer Playa
I decided to head to the north west and do what I could do. I made a list of sites and loaded them into my GPS and headed west to Smyer Playa to look for Ring-necked Pheasant. The roads were fine until I got there, highways completely clear, other paved roads had ruts through the ice so it wasn’t a problem getting there. The road to Smyer Playa was a slick mess. I was fishtailing in the mud for about a half mile. I got part way down to the playa and saw ice on the road and decided to park and walk the rest of the way. No luck on pheasants.

I headed to a site in Parmer County where that has been a Rough-legged Hawk was reported a few days ago. It was a 55 miles cross country but that’s where the birds are. Not a mile down the road I spotted by first bueteo of the trip. It was a long way off and I had to get the scope out. A few minutes of study and Yes, Ferruginous Hawk for Year Bird 477. That made me feel a little better.

It must have been really cold last night,  I see several mostly frozen small ponds. On one there is a very confused looking Killdeer slipping as he/she walks.

Bonaparte's Gull, Lamb County
First County Record?
I bit further down the same road I found another playa, but this one was not frozen and had a bunch of ducks. No real variety but then I noticed a small gull. I tried to make it into a Little Gull, but the dark primaries made it all Bonaparte's Gull, According to Fat Tony its likely a first county record. There are no other records in eBird nor Jim Peterson's

A very frozen CR27 in
Parmer County
North I press, across the frozen Texas Tundra. I finally make it to Highway 60 and County Road 27 in Parmer County. Nope, no way am I going down that road. Its solid ice and snow, and I bet mud underneath. Rough-legged Hawk is going to have to wait.

I decide to head back to Smyer and get a second chance at Pheasant. The GPS puts me there a bit before sunset and I do what my computer overlords suggest and head south on FM1172. A mile down the road I see a flock of birds out in the snowy agricultural field I'm sure are Longspurs. Of course there is a truck behind me now. I can;t just whip over in these conditions and have to go about a half mile down the road to let him pass safely and turn around. I make it back and at first I can't find them, but then they take off and I can see the distinctive tails, McCown's LongSpur is Year Bird 478.  

Mud Slicks and Icicles
I make it back to Smyer Playa and park well back from the bad spots and walk down the road. Lots of White-crowned Sparrows calling. In the fading light I hear it calling. Ring-necked Pheasant is Year Bird 479. Just in time too, my tires are so slick from the mud I almost slide in to the ditch but ease out safely and head back to Lubbock.


  1. Replies
    1. If we could just walk up to every bird it wouldn't be this much fun! I'd go back to stamp collecting if it was like that.