Sunday, November 29, 2015

Slipping in a Winter Wonderland

Ferruginous Hawk Potter County
One chance. One chance is all I'm going to get at the heart of Panhandle. Its now or never for some of these species I'm afraid. If I don't find them today it could mean a mad last minute dash to find them at the end of December when I could be chasing something else.

I get out of Lubbock a little later than I planned but was half way to Amarillo before the sunrose. I27 is fine, totally clear of ice. South of Amarillo my GPS Overlords instruct me to exit and take the loop around Amarillo and head up to 136. There is ice but a clear lane through the ice. The temperature on the car says 27. I take 136 north from Amarillo and things aren't very nice. There is a rut in the ice, but I'm still driving on some ice. I take it slow and easy, There really is no one on the road.

Before I leave Potter County I see a buteo on a pole right by the road up ahead. There is no one in sight and I can see at least a half mile in each direction. I stop carefully right in the middle of the road. Its another beautiful Ferruginous Hawk.

I head to Fritch Fortress first at Lake Meredith. This site has had both American Tree Sparrow and Northern Shrike. The GPS Overlords take me through the neighborhood and I see a pickup do a 360 in the road in front of me before getting traction and rutting his way out of someone's front yard. I take it really slow and easy. Five miles an hour and make it to the road into Fritch Fortress without incident.

Icy road at Fritch Fortress
I can see where someone tried to get in and slide off the road on the slope and took out the car counter. I decide to walk in and park in a safe spot and head out. It's still 27 degrees.

I worked in an ice factory in high school and walked on a lot of ice. I was good at it. This ice is at a 10 degree slope though. and its tough going. I walk in the icy grass where I can. At times I find myself sliding across the ice like I'm skating and have no choice but to ride it out to an open patch.

Its birdy. Lots of White-crowned Sparrow, some Savannahs, a pair of  very handsome Lincoln's Sparrows. I hear some unfamiliar chip notes. Unfamiliar is good, very good. I find the bird. Nice rufous cap, thin rufous eyeline and two white wingbars! American Tree Sparrow is Year Bird 480.

American Goldfinch
I walk the whole hill. No waterfowl on the lake, no gulls, no eagles. In a big patch of sunflowers I find a mixed flock of finches. Lots of House and American Goldfinches, but no Purple Finches.

In another flock of American Goldfinches I find my first of season Pine Siskins. I love the Ziiiiipppppp call. No Shrike though.

I head over to Cedar Canyon, This is a traditional spot for American Tree Sparrow, but Northern Shrike has been found here too. Lots of sparrows and another American Tree Sparrow. No Shrike though

Ok back on the road. I feel like its not a good idea to head to Texline like I originally planned. Might mean giving up Northern Shrike though but it would be foolish I think. Positive vibes though, don't count a dip until the days is over. I check Bird'sEye and I see a Rough-legged Hawk in the right direction reported 5 days ago. I head south picking up 207 out of Borger headed for CR16 north of Panhandle The road is pretty good and I make time. I get to CR16 and like much of the Panhandle its a rutted muddy mess. Not this road.

I decided to bird my way back, the road is good and who knows whats on the next telephone pole. I find some paved roads to work down off of 207. Sparrows, Kestrels, and some Red-tailed Hawks. Near Claude I find a Peregrine Falcon on a pole. That's a pretty good record for Armstrong
County, eBird only shows 3 others.

Out on the plains of the Panhandle
I come to a big playa that's got a lot of open water. I keep hoping for something like a Eurasian Wigeon or a Brant s o I get out and scan. Lots of Northern Pintails and the first Lesser Scaup of the trip. As I scan a bird on bare stick on the edge of the playa catches my eye. I tick of the marks. Narrow black face mask, larger bill, little throat to breast contrast. Northern Shrike is Year Bird 481. Dig those positive vibes.

Back on the road. Its a frozen winter wonderland. I didn't realize it but the road drops through Palo Duro Canyon. Spectacular is all I can say. Not a bit of ice in the canyon, I'm guessing the lower elevation is the reason. As I climb out of the canyon the frozen landscape returns.

In Briscoe County I see a dark hawk up ahead. I slow to check it out. Lots of dark western Red-tailed Hawks around. A bit of study and Yes, its a Rough-legged Hawk for Year Bird 482. Those positive vibes are humming now. I try for a picture but after chasing it down the road what I feel is getting to be too much I leave the bird be.

Its getting late and I'd rather not be on unfamiliar roads that could have ice in the dark so I start to cut over to I27. I see a Short-eared owl on a fence post. A bit further down the road I see another hunting. Then a third owl. Something seemed off though. The night before over beers Fat Tony warned me to make myself familiar with the difference between Long-eared Owl and Short-eared Owl in flight. He warned that they were very similar in flight. I had done that but was still digesting it. This bird bugged me and it took me close to a mile to decided to turn around and go back.

At first I couldn't find it. Lots of harriers hunting, I could see three at one time. I saw them drop into the grass a couple of time. All of a sudden it was there, it must have been down in the grass. The darker belly, even color of the back and tail, this was it! Long-eared Owl for Year Bird 483. Probably roosting in the trees on the hill.

What a day, I didn't think I was going to sweep all my targets for the day! I have to figure out what I can look for tomorrow for the half day I have left.

1 comment:

  1. Way to go! My positive vibes yielded sunny skies and mild temperatures. Good birds, too. Not quite the adventure you had.