Monday, January 26, 2015

The First Chase

While I was out gulling on Saturday I got word that a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat has been located in the Rio Grande Valley. Ideally I would have dropped everything and headed south. Life is not ideal though. I had an obligation Saturday evening so I wasn't able to get home and get ready to leave until about 8 pm.

My original plan was to head for the Brooks County Safety Rest Area south of Falfurias and get the Painted Redstart that's been there, then head for a cache of Live Oak County hummers at a private residence, then on to Port Aransas to try for Little Gull, then swing by Rockport for a try at Whooping Crane.

Well you have to chase a review species when its there, so I decided to leave an hour earlier and head for Estero Llano Grande State Park for the yellowthroat. I planned to get up at 2:30 am and be on the road by 3 am. That would put me in to the park about 8 am.

Well the best laid plans. I get my gear together, laid out cloths, set the coffeepot to brew at 2:30 am. Jumped into bed. At 3:20 am I work up and saw I had over slept. Damn, forgot to set an alarm. I jumped up and got out as quick as I could but didn't hit the road until 3:40 am.

The drive was uneventful and it was light enough to see some birds as I passed through Kenedy County on US77. Red-tailed Hawks were on poles rubbing the sleep from their eyes and Crested Caracaras were everywhere. As I hoped I spotted a White-tailed Hawk for Year Bird 232 on a post.

Cinnamon Teal, Estero Llano Grande State Park
I made it to the park about 9 am. No word yet on the Gray-crowned Yellowthoat. At least oversleeping didn't hurt my chances for the bird. As I walked out to the site I got a nice shot of a Cinnamon Teal up close.

When I got to the site the crowds were restless and starting to scatter. I found my fried Dave Dolan who I planned to bird back to Houston with. I realized it was getting warm and sunny so I head back to the car for sunscreen since all was quit. I picked up several year birds like Tropical Kingbird, Couch's Kingbird, Plain Chachalaca, and Buff-bellied Hummingbird.

I didn't miss anything while I was away. A Northern Beardless-Tyrranulet was calling for Year Bird 242. Suddenly there was shift in the crowd, someone has the bird in view! The mob quickly coalesced in to a line that was working to get everyone on it. I got a quick look I was willing to count but unsatisfying. The bird dropped out of sight and I kept looking. then it was back up and I could see it well. We got several more on it. then it flew and the crowd shifted location and relocated it. Suddenly it flew in pretty close and oh and ah's all around as it showed its bright yellow chest and throat to all. Gray-crowned Yellowthoat was Year Bird 243 and review species number 3.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron,
Estero Llano Grande SP, Texas
It was only a little after 10 am now and Dave and I went after a few more year birds for me, like Yellow-crowned Night-Heron for Year Bird 244, Least Grebe for Year Bird 245, and Green Kingfisher for Year Bird 246.

We grabbed a bite to eat and gassed up and head for the Brooks County Safety Rest Area about an hour away. The Painted Redstart has been very easy to find. We jumped out and started looking. First bird I found was a Blue-headed Vireo for Year Bird 247, then Dave located a Yellow-throated Warbler for Year Bird 248.

Painted Redstart, Brooks County Safety Rest Area
Lots of Eastern Bluebirds were calling and giving us good looks. I wasn't too worried yet, but I was starting to have thoughts like "Damn, I'd hate to miss a gimmie bird like this". Thankfully it started to call and we quickly located the Painted Redstart for Year Bird 249.

On to the cache of hummingbirds. That worked out well and I picked up Rufous, Black-chinned, and Ruby-throated Hummerbirds right away. Finally the main target, Costa's Hummingbird for Year Bird 253 was identified.

No time left to try and chase Little Gull and Whooping Crane, but at least the Cranes are not going to be easy to miss and I have other chances. If they stick around for next week they are also 2 hours closer that the Rio Grande Valley.

Breaking 250 Year Birds was a psychological boost. I know its terms of effort it is maybe 25% there, but seeing the halfway mark really feels good. Next weekend I'm going to see how close to 300 I can get myself, that is unless there is something I have to chase!

Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Estero Llano Grande State Park

Tropical Kingbird, Estero Llano Grande State Park

White-tipped Dove, Estero Llano Grande State Park

Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Estero Llano Grande State Park

Least Grebe, Estero Llano Grande State Park

Great Kiskadee with frog, Estero Llano Grande State Park

Eastern Bluebird, Brooks County Safety Rest Area

Gulls, Gulls, Gulls...

When I wrote the title of this post for some reason the 1962 Elvis Presley movie "Girls, Girls, Girls" flashed into my head. Oh well Saturday morning I decided to test my gull sex appeal and see what I could "pick up" at Thompson's Bait Camp and Ash Lake in far east Harris County.

Thayer's Gull, Thompson's Bait Camp, Harris County, Texas.
When I pulled up to Thompson's I could hear some hushed excited voices from the dock on the other side of the building. A small group had a Thayer's Gull just sitting a few feet out on the dock. Was nice to get to study a gull like this for a while and really soak up it "Thayer-ness". Thayer's Gull was Year Bird 229.

I had not been watching and did not know that the area Iceland Gull was seen at this site the day before. I stuck around for a while chatting and scanning, only yielding some Lesser Black-backed Gulls. After about an hour of that I exchanged phone numbers with all and extracted promises that they would call if the Iceland showed up and headed over to Ash Lake where I hoped there would be a good number of gulls.

Ash Lake is best viewed from the end of FM 2354 (Tri City Beach Road). If you go, park well back from the end of the road, preferably back from the driveways because someone is spreading nails and screws on the road. I wasn't disappointed; there were thousands of gulls on the water but many were quite distant. The landfill across the channel was active and gulls circulated from the dump to the lake so there was a lot of turn over. I stayed a couple of hours hoping for Glaucous, Iceland, or Great Black-backed Gulls. At noon I had just the usual suspects including a few more Lesser Black-backed Gulls. I decided to head out and go look for sparrows at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

No sooner than when I crested the Trinity River bridge on I10 than I got a call that a Glaucous Gull has just made an appearance. I exited and turned back and made it as fast as I could. It took about 25 minutes to back track. Unfortunately as I was pulling up I was greeted by flapping arms, a signal that the Glaucous Gull had flown just 2 minutes before I got there. Such is the luck of the game. I hung out for another hour but no gull joy.

I made my way to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and checked the sighting board. Slim pickings. I started at Jackson Prairie Woodlot and immediately flushed a covey of about 10 Northern Bobwhite for Year Bird 230. They must have been wearing floaties because the whole area was ankle deep from the rains the past week. I worked some areas that had been good for Le Conte's Sparrow on the Christmas Bird Count with not luck. Everything was super wet, Anahuac NWR is going to be lush this spring.

I still need one freshwater duck, Fulvous Whistling-Duck so I checked the Deep Marsh Unit and while it was packed with waterfowl, no luck on Fulvous. A Gull-billed Tern did a flyby for Year Bird 231.

Peregrine Falcon, Anahuac NWR
On the entrance road on the way out. I spotted a bird perched that wasn't a Red-tailed Hawk. Close examination showed it was actually a young Peregrine Falcon for Year Bird 232.

Not a lot to show for the day, but that's to be expected. I need to plan a mop up operation to get the last of the Upper Texas Coast easy ones out of the way so I can make better use of the eBird alerts. I might have 20 species I could find in a day to go yet A few local sparrows are starting to haunt me. As I figured, gulls are going to be a grind. I fear until migration starts up its going to be gulls, gulls, gulls!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Mad Dash Home

Started Monday, January 19, 2015 in Brownfield, TX. We left the hotel about 6:20 headed for Paul's Lake at Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge. Our timing was perfect and we were able to scan the flock of Sandhill Cranes in Paul's Lake for the Common Crane. An hour of scanning and we felt like we had looked at all the cranes, maybe 5,000 for the Common Crane with no luck. We also able to scan many more thousands as they flew over heading to other areas.

Thousands of Sandhill Cranes land in a field
near Muleshoe NWR
If you have never been to Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge in the winter you are missing one of the great avian spectacles in Texas. I have seen numbers that perhaps 75,000 of this amazing bird winter here, about 15% of the world population.

We had about an hour left before we needed to head south towards Austin. We drove the roads looking for groups of cranes and while we found many Sandhill Cranes, no Common Crane. I did add Chestnut-collared Longspur for year bird 223 and Lapland Longspur for year bird 224.

White-cheeked geese on Brashear's Lake, Levelland, TX
Since our route took us back through Levelland we decided to check out a large concentration of waterfowl we saw in the dark on the way through. It was almost all white-cheeked geese and we easily found Canada Goose for year bird 225 and Cackling Goose for year bird 226 and about a bazillion geese I just didn't want to put a name too. This pond is shown as Brashears Lake as an eBird hotpot and is located at the east end of 13th Street.

Too soon we had to load up and go and make the 425 mile drive to the Lake Creek Trail in Austin where the Eurasian Wigeon was reported. I agonized the whole way looking for positive reports but alas there were none.

Raptors were scarce of the drive, I was counting on getting a Ferruginous Hawk today. Hawks were scarce, just a few red-tails until we got to Lubbock and then none for about 200 miles.

We made it to the site a few minutes after 5 pm. I jumped out and started scanning and almost immediately found a "Storm Wigeon". A rare variation of Wigeon with a white face. There are some good pictures HERE on this blog.

I asked John to take a look at it and while John was looking through the scope he says "there's the wigeon" I took a quick look and coming out of the edges was a gray bodied bird with a reddish head and a creamy white "bald pate". Almost immediately it disappeared though and although we looked until we lost light we never saw it again, but we did see new ducks all the time so there were a lot of hidden birds. We also saw "Stormy" a couple of more times but he would disappear too. I'm still weighing this one, did I see the Eurasian Wigeon? I've not ticked it yet.

Our trusty rental Nissan Versa looked like it had been rode hard and put up filthy. as an insurance policy we decided to run it through a car wash. Check out the before picture. We had been hearing chunks of mud dropping off since Lake Balmorhea. We actually heard the last chuck fall less than a hundred miles from home.

This road trip was about 2150 miles and I added 62 year birds. I think our trip list is going to be about 160 species.

One thing I learned is I'm going to need to train a bit before my next mountain trip. Bear Canyon was hard, although its a hard trail. I also think I need to get a carbon fiber tripod to lighten the load, like the Manfrotto MK294C3-D3RC2. I would love to hear recommendations for a tripod that will hold a Bushnell Elite Scope.

It was a good trip, but I did manage to leave some birds on the table. Ones I should be able to make up during the year are Ferruginous Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Sagebrush Sparrow, and McCown's Longspur. Those are pretty straightforward to make up and some can be found at least a day trip from Houston. Harder to make up are the review species I left behind, Varied Thrush, Common Crane, and Eurasian Wigeon.

Its not going to be easy to get up to 300 by the end of month and stay married. I need to stay close to home and will have to pick my targets. Priorities will be birds that are hard to get after mid March.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Guadalupe Mountains

The Western Escarpment of Guadalupe National Park
Got a little bit of a late start this morning heading for Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The sunrise blinded me right at the Hudspeth County line as we headed due east. We really wanted to be about 30 more miles down the road.

Our first target bird of the day was Sagebrush Sparrow. We had a report from a good observer that he had found some along the road between FM1111 and the Culberson County line on US180. That is about a 25 mile stretch. We looked at several picnic areas and several other good looking spots along the road but never found anything but Brewer's, Savannah, and White-crowned Sparrows. We did spy a pair of Golden Eagle for year bird 218.
Blinded by the light on US180 Looking for Sagebrush Sparrow
On to Frijole Ranch at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. This was my first visit to this spot. It was swarming with bluebirds, a couple of Easterns, but loads of Western Bluebirds and lots of Mountain Bluebirds. Mountain Bluebird was year bird 218.

We decided last night to see if we could reach some higher elevations. We took the Frijoles Trail and along it in a small grove of trees we found Townsend's Solitaire for year bird 219. We continued up the mountains along the Bear Canyon Trail. Not very fair up the trail we heard and then saw a pair of Cassin's Finches for Year bird 220.

The view from our high point, 7100 feet on the Bear Canyon Trail
We made it up to about 7100 feet before we ran out of time but the canyon held nothing but a bunch of Canyon Wrens. To tell the truth it looked like we had just made it to the better habitat. Unfortunately we had to head down the mountain,

Along the trail down John's boot started to fall apart. Actually the sole pealed off. Yes the trail up Bear Canyon is a Sole Destroyer!

Just as we got back to the parking lot we spotted a Sage Thrasher for year bird 221.

We decided to just see how far we could make it up McKittrick Canyon before the gate closed. We hustled down the trail as fast as we could and ran into our friends John Berner and Ken Hartman who had started the day with us at Frijole Ranch. Right was we approached them Ken says "Do you need Mountain Chickadee?" and pointed to one flying over. Fortunately it landed and Mountain Chickadee became year bird 222.

Tomorrow, we chase the Common Crane!


Once Upon a Time in What was Old Mexico.

Started Friday with two major targets, Crissal Thrasher and Gambel's quail. Our first stop was the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. Both birds were found along the canal as we drove up to the park. Gambel's Quail was a lifer too. Those two plus the Harris Hawks made for year birds 203 before got to the parking lot.

We spent the next couple of hours walking the trail at Rio Bosque. Rio Bosque is built on land that surrounds the old channel of the Rio Grande River. In the 1930's the river was channelized and straightened and a new International Boundary was set. Most of this park is on land that was in Mexico 80 years ago. The park goes right up against the border wall now.

Due to construction the wetlands have not been flooded yet for the winter. In fact water has been scarce the last few years and the park has not had much water. Our day list shows that, Gambel's Quail, Crissal Thrasher, Verdin, and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher are not wetlands species. For many the highlight was the pair of nesting of White-tailed Kites.

Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is build right against the border wall in El Paso Texas
We also had many Cooper's Hawks there for species 204.

After the park we went to the Jonathan Rogers Water Treatment Plant. The settling ponds there were absolutely packed with ducks.  We counted 16 species of waterfowl including new year birds Cinnamon Teal and Blue-winged Teal for 206 species for the year. Other good stuff there where Common Merganser, Redhead, Ross's Goose and American Avocet.

Our next stop was Lake Asacarte Park and more of the same species. While there I ran into John Berner who mentioned he was headed to a stakeout Lewis's Woodpecker. I begged off the field trip and bummed a ride with John. Less that 20 seconds after getting to the sight we found the Lewis's Woodpecker I'm a cottonwood. Species 207.

While searching a neighborhood in the upper valley of El Paso for a Band-tailed Pigeon, I got offered a tour of some of the neighborhood hotspots by Jim Paton. he took me to the Keystone Heritage Park where Yellow-headed Blackbirds were coming in to roost in numbers for species 208 for the year.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

So was this a Baird's Sparrow

One of John's target birds for the trip was Baird's Sparrow and who can say know to stomping around in the grass when its 28 degrees? Actually by the time we got around to stomping through the grass the temperature was up into the high 40's so not that bad.

Our target Baird's Sparrow habitat, site of the first bird we flushed.
So we spied a likely stand of grass out on 118 in the Davis Mountains that we saw a good number of sparrow in, Chipping and Rufous-crowned mostly. We walked down one side of the road, then crossed over headed back to the car through the grass on the other side of the road.

Bingo! a sparrow flushed from the grass. White-tail corners, streaky back, very pale, like the color of the dried grass. It flew and dove in the grass, kinda typical of Ammodramus sparrow behavior. We were able to flush this bird two more times not really getting a better look, but not finding anything to contradict Baird's Sparrow.

So was this a Baird's Sparrow?
We tried another site, no luck. We continues down the road, turning south on 166 and about a mile and quarter south we found another good looking stand. Very quickly we flushed another bird. This time I was ready with the camera, but the bird was faster and while I took many shots I didn't get much bird. Left is the most bird like shot. It looks much dark here than it did in the field.

So did we have two Baird's Sparrows today? We did have two very Ammodramous acting sparrows, that were light colored, with streaked backs, white tail corners, very cryptic, in the right kind of habitat. Something to think about, but it didn't make the year list. Funny I looked at my copy of Beadle's Sparrows of the United States and Canada: The Photographic Guide before this trip and said to myself "naw you won't need that".

It was a good day for me in terms of meeting my goals. I did get my target of 11 new year birds and reached 200 species.
Western Bluebird of Happiness - Lawrence E Woods Picnic Area - Davis Mountains
You never get chances like this to photograph a Lark Bunting!
Western Meadowlark - "Does this fence post make me look fat?"


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Where the Rubber Doesn't Meet the Road...

Clark's Grebe at Lake Balmorhea, TX
Clark's Grebe at Lake Balmorhea, TX
Today was the start of the big west Texas trip as part of the TOS meeting in El Paso. my friend John O'Brien and I left Houston at 1 am and headed west on I10. 10 am found us pulling into Balmorhea, TX. We gassed up for the rest of the day and headed for Lake Balmorhea, Almost immediately we found a Clark's Grebe coming only a few feet from the car. Over the next few hours we dug up as many birds as we could here, with an adult California Gull being perhaps the best bird. There were no Western Grebes we could find, a disappointment. We spend quit a lot of time looking through spotting scopes with no luck.


Over all it was a cold a dreary day, by the time we left the area it had risen to 35 degrees by 1 pm, the warmest we would see all day.
John scans Lake Balmorhea at just above freezing from the dam

Turns out Lake Balmorhea is NOT where the rubber meets the road, at least not when you drive the road opposite the same at Lake Balmorhead. Take a look at that tire, we a rind of more than an inch of sticky, slippery mud on the tires. I felt like Hermann Munster walking in my boots in similar condition. 

Finally heading for the Davis Mountains we decided to make a quick stop at the Wild Rose Pass Picnic Area. The place was very birdy, with three towhees, Green, Canyon, and Spotted Towhee; and three wrens, House, Rock, and Canyon; Scaled Quail, and several species of sparrows. We counted 23 species in just a 20 minute stop.

Dark-eyed Juncos, Davis Mountains, TX
Two Dark-eyed Junco Subspecies in the Davis Mountains
When we finally made it The Lawrence W Woods Picnic area on 118, it was 3 pm and really quit. I mean, no sound at all quit, no vehicle noises, no wind noises, and no bird noises. We beat the bushes for a while and managed several new year birds for me, and found a large number of Chipping Sparrow and Dark-eyed Juncos coming to seeps along the creek. 

I got a lot of good pictures today. I can't say enough about how I'm loving this new Canon EF 300mm F4 IS lens I got right before Christmas. 

Today added 25 species to my total for 2015, bringing me to 189. I'm crossing my fingers that I get to 200 tomorrow. The game plan is to hit the Lawrence E Woods Picnic area again early, maybe stop in at the state park for their feeders, then head for El Paso via the Valintine. We're going to bed after 20 hours on the road and birding with dreams finding a Baird's Sparrow.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Secret Underground Birders or SUB

When you try to do big things sometimes people you never expected reach out to you to help. Friday afternoon I got a call from an agent of SUB, the Secret Underground Birders, let's just call him "Feather Throat". He told me to follow the birdseed. He told me a Silver-backed Wup-de-do was being seen at an undisclosed location in the yard of a man recently retired form "The Company". This man valued his privacy but if I wanted to see the Silver-backed Wup-de-do he would pass my name on to Mr. X who would  arrange a meeting with the mysterious gentleman.

I agreed to the conditions and a few minutes later I got the following text message. "Will meet you at 8 am Sunday.  Come into the Smallville HEB and park in the lot near the gas pumps. I will be in a black SUV.  See you there". I confirmed the meeting.

I left early Sunday after stopping at Huc-ee's for a cup of joe and a taco. I arrived about 30 minutes early and settled in to wait for Mr. X. Right on time the SUV pulls up beside me and Mr. X tells me "Grab your stuff and I'll take you to the bird".

Mr. X told me the gentleman doesn't want any trouble but was willing to help and again reiterated that if I knew what was good for me I would not reveal the location and identity of anyone involved. Mr. X seemed like a guy who could make that a reality.

After winding along back roads in the rain and cold for some time we came to a guard on the side of the road. A few words were exchanged with Mr. X and we were permitted to pass.

We arrived at stately house. Mr. X relayed that the gentleman would not be joining us but we were going to stand under the large tree and wait for the Silver-backed Wup-de-do to. Did I mention it was 45 degrees and that it was raining pretty hard, and there was lightning?

We spent the next 40 minutes making small talk about what happens in SUB. Turns out SUB works on a need to know basis only and most SUB agents don't know much other than their feathered charges. Each drop of rain seemed to drum on my new Frogg Toggs rain gear. With little fanfare Mr. X said "It's here" and there it was, the Silver-backed Wup-De-Do preened and posed for a couple of minutes then slipped away. It was over but I had ticked off review species number 2.

(Parts of this story are true, I did have a cup of coffee and a taco on my wait to the meeting, and it was raining and 45 degrees under the tree, and I did pick up a review species and a new life bird for my big year this morning. I did get some pictures of the Silver-backed Wup-de-do, when I get the all clear I'll post the pictures. Special thanks to some thoughtful people who made this happen for me today).

A note about the year so far, even though its only day 11 of the year, its been raining almost every day I've had the chance to bird. I picked up some new rain gear recently and I can't be more pleased with my Frogg Toggs. This rain gear is a breathable but at a fraction of the cost of any other breathable rain gear I've priced. I got a complete rain suite for about a third of the price of a GoreTex jacket. I've been completely try in them the whole time.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Woo are you...

So today I decided to try and knock off the rest of my "Eastern" owls. So up at 3:30 am, out of the house by 4 am, and on site in Chamber's County by 5:20 am. I routinely owl this area for the Bolivar CBC and so I have some favorite sites, but that's with special permission to be in Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge before it opens. The refuge is not open to birders until 1 hour before sunrise. Sunrise today was 7:15, so I was not able to enter the refuge until 6:15 am today.

At about 5:20 am I pulled up to the entrance road on FM 1985. The plan was to work FM 1985 until the refuge was open at 6:15 am right at the entrance there was a Barn Owl on a fence post. Owl species 2 for the year. I had about a dozen owls on FM 1985 on December 18, 2014 along this road, but that was under excellent conditions and starting about 90 minutes earlier. Barn Owls go to bed early and start to get hard to find an hour before sunrise. Conditions were also not great, wet and cold with no moon. Over the next 45 minutes I was only able to find one Eastern  Screech-Owl, but hey, that was owl species number 4.

When it became time to enter the refuge I headed in and set up about 30 minutes before sunrise at the northern end of the Yellow Rail Prairie with the scope and started scanning.By sunrise I had found 3 Short-eared Owls working over the prairies.

Most of the time there is a Great Horned Owl roosting in the Jackson Prairie Woodlot, but not today, So I dipped on the easiest owl, but I'm not sweating that yet, lots of opportunities for Great Horned in the next 11.5 months!

I had to be Liberty Texas at 10 am, so I had only until 9 am to look for the Anna's Hummingbird in High Island. By the time I made it to High Island I only had 15 minutes to look for it! Fortunately the bird made a brief appearance five minutes after I got there. I waited until I had to leave with no opportunity for picture I'm afraid.

After my meeting in Liberty, TX it began to rain and so yawning from lack of sleep I headed home.

Still not a bad day with 4 out of 5 target birds found.

Tomorrow's targets, Greater Pewee, Allen's Hummingbird, and Rufus Hummingbird.


Monday, January 5, 2015

End of my CBC Season

Yesterday (1/4/2015) was the New Braunfels CBC. Sparrows were a focus and I did pretty well. I was able to knock out most of my winter "central Texas" sparrows and I can start target birding for some of the tougher ones close to hope. Another great bird was Zone-tailed Hawk, a bird that could be ellusive depending on were I am during the breeding season.

December 2014-January 2015 Henslow's Sparrow in eBird.org
Ammodramus sparrows are a big hole I need to fill quick. I still need Grasshopper, Baird's (Review Species), Henslow's, Le Conte's and Nelson's Sparrow. Baird's and Henslow's will be a hard nut to crack. Henslow's is scarcer than usual this year, There is only on report in Texas for this season and its in Henderson County and what looks like private property.

eBird.org's new Target Species tool I think will be very useful this year. It allows you to put in a location and month and it will give you a list of prioritized targets from most likely to unlikely for the location and month for your year list. Sounds very handy for not forgetting something and prioritizing my birding.

January Sites for Common Gallinule in eBird.org
For example I will have some time in Chambers County next Saturday morning. The top 5 species on the eBird target list for my year list are: Common Gallinule, Blue-winged Teal, White-faced Ibis, and White-tailed Kite. You can click on the map link and get a map of the sites the bird has been reported from.

The other tool that I will be using a lot is the Texas Ornithological Society Birdseye App. This FREE app will show you what species have been reported to eBird.org near you. There are both iOS (iPhone) and Android versions. It will even give you a map to where the birds have been reported.

So after the CBC season I'm at 148 species. Not impressive for 4 days in Texas, but I was trying to lay down a decent "base" for the rest of the month. Next weekend I'll be hitting some target species east of Houston, especially owls. I shouldn't have much trouble with Barn, Great Horned, and Eastern Screech-Owls. Sunday I will likely be looking for the Greater Pewee in Bear Creek Park (Harris County). Let's hope for good weather.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Getting Started...

Since it doesn't make a lot of sense for me to spend my time running up a list of Upper Texas Coast birds that will be here all year long I've started out the year working on quality and not quantity. As of this moment I'm at 123. Unfortunately A few things have fizzled out, but there are some successes.

January 1, 2015 I got out and went looking for gulls. The targets were Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gull, Thayer's Gull, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, and California Gull. All of these birds had been seen by a group I was in on December 30, 2014. There is a landfill at Cedar Point in Chambers County that attracts large numbers of gulls and a lot loaf in the area around the landfill. I decided to try and locate some these goodies. The landfill was closed for the holiday and there were very few gulls around. I only located Lesser Black-backed Gull of the targets, and this has essentially become a "trash bird" where ever large gull congregate. I picked up nothing I can't go out and get on demand in the area during the winter. I'm going to chalk it up to paying my dues on time with gulls.

Birding Old River CBC, Trinity Bay, Chambers County Texas
Old River CBC 1/2/2015 3:30 pm fog and drizzle, 45-50 degrees

January 2, 2015 and I was out on Lost River on the Old River CBC at 5:30 am in a boat headed up the river. Before sunrise we were parked listening for owls and got several American Woodcock coming in to roost and several calling Barred Owls. 

This section of the Old River CBC gets permission to bird from the levee that forms Dalton Lake, formerly know as the HLP Cooling Pond. This deep warm clear water lake attracts good numbers of diving ducks. We were hoping for a scoter, but only had Common Goldeneye, Canvasback, and Horned Grebe. Horned Grebe can be hard to turn up on demand so I'll take that.

Next stop was a set of ponds for a private hunt club and here we found Greater Scaup, sometimes a tricky bird to find. Out on the bay we found another four Lesser Black-backed Gulls (see I told you trash birds), plus Marbled Godwit and a rare for the county Piping Plover. The plover was actually a new county bird for me so I was very pleased with that.

I had queried Tim Fennell about where to find Mountain Plover and Burrowing Owl in Williamson County and in a stroke of luck Tim was leading the "plover patrol" for the CBC on January 3, 2015 and offered to take me along. So it was up at 3:30 am to met Tim by 7:30 am at the Sore Finger WMA. By 8 am we had found both Burrowing Owl and Mountain Plover. One of those in the patrol with us, Sam Fason, mentioned that the Brown Booby found in September at Windy Point on Lake Travis was seen by time yesterday. At lunch I headed out for Lake Travis.

Brown Booby, Windy Point Lake Travis, Travis County Texas
Brown Bobby - Lake Travis 1/3/2015
Once at Lake Travis I scanned the lake with no luck and while waiting for the booby to show up I struck up a conversation with another birder there looking, while we were chatting he shouts "Booby!" its it passing at eye level not 75 feet from us! During the next 90 minutes I saw the Brown Booby 3 more times and managed a few poor pictures.

Tomorrow is the New Braunfels CBC. There is a Calliope Hummingbird being seen in the count circle, I was trying to get to see it today, but the times just didn't work out. I'll especially work on sparrows tomorrow and try and knock out as many of the central Texas sparrows as I can. Other birds I'm hoping for are Say's Phoebe, Shorteared Owl, and Spotted Towhee. Black Phoebe and Green Kingfisher are also possible. Wish me luck, I need to get some sleep now.