Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sure, It's on the way back to Houston.

Sunday I woke up at 3:30 am and got my gear loaded and headed to Estero Llano Grande State Park to look for the White-throated Thrush found on Friday. I use the rule of thumb about not making a long distance chase unless the bird is found on day two. There were positive reports for Saturday so I decided to make the 180 mile drive to Estero for the bird.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Estero Llano Grande State Park
Three solid days of being on the road between 6 am and 6:30 am had me pretty tired. I stopped for some breakfast tacos, coffee, and a 5-Hour Energy. I get the feeling I should see if 5-Hour Energy would become a sponsor of my big year. The food, the coffee, and the energy boost and I was not quite perky, but at least felt safe to drive.

I arrived at Estero at 7:30 am found the location the bird was seen at last night and joined "the watch". Birds were perking up and soon several Clay-colored Thrushes were moving about for year bird 275. A Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet called close by. A couple of American Robins perched up above the group, signaling that we had to be careful about our ID.

Some stood on benches, most just scanned standing. I decided to kneel down and cover a perspective no one else was checking. I was about to ask someone to take my picture as I knelt in "prayer" for this bird. Looking through a tunnel in the trees a thrush popped into view. Browner than a Clay-colored Thrush, with a pale streaky throat, no "red-breast" this was it! White-throated Thrush was in the books as year bird 276!

I tried to get others on it, but I was in such different position than the others no one else got on it before it disappeared to where ever it goes. I understand I was the sole person to see it that day too. I sill had a lot of miles to cover that day and headed out to chase Tropical Parula.

The parking/picnic area at Resaca de la Palma State Park, Brownsville, TX
The parking/picnic area at Resaca de la Palma State Park
Next stop Resaca de la Palma State Park in Brownsville, TX. I'm ashamed to say I've never been to this gem of a park. I checked in and got directions to where the parula has been seen. Turns out it was the parking/picnic area. I was chatting with Tom Langschied and Jim Sinclair when someone alerted us that our target was being seen now. We hurried over and bingo! Tropical Parula for year bird 277. The parula was hanging out with a small group of blue-gray Gnatcatchers, feeding almost exactly like them.

Tropical Parula Resaca de la Palma State Park
Tropical Parula
Resaca de la Palma State Park
Tom mentioned that he also had a Black-throated Gray Warbler here in the same area. It was early still and I decided to give it until noon to find it. I started circling the area. I soon found an Altamira Oriole for year bird 278.

Another searcher called me over to where he was and told me he just had the Black-throated Gray. It had faded into he background by the time I got there. I spent sometime watching and I did find a Black-and-White Warbler for year bird 279.

I soon heard the flock of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and the Tropical Parula made another appearance. I was able to get another birder on her first day in the RGV on the Parula. Still no Black-throated Gray.

I managed to make 3 miles in the parking lot according to my app MapMyHike by noon but no Black-throated Gray Warbler. Alas, it will have to wait for another day, it was time to make the 350 miles drive home and see my wife! It was tempting to detour for Whooping Crane but instead opted for seeing Donna!

Monday, February 9, 2015

La Perla

Today's (Saturday) field trip at the Laredo Birding Festival was to La Perla Ranch. This trophy buck hunting ranch is also being developed into a trophy bass fishing resort. Several large ponds/small lakes are being developed and they have an amazing amount of waterfowl. This is a true oasis in the near desert of Zapata County.

Harris Hawk
Harris Hawk
On the way in at first light we had a Great Horned Owl that many got to see. Once we made it to the first pond we started ticking off birds quickly. On our way to the second stop we encountered the first of several large flocks of Lark Buntings we would have that day with everyone getting good looks.

While out of the van looking at the buntings I heard the raspy call of a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. We gathered all around and I played s little recording of the call and bingo! We had the gnatcatcher posing for all.

On to the second pond. As soon as I got close I heard the bouncing ball call in the huiche of Olive Sparrow for year bird 272. I tried to coax it out for everyone with no luck.

Walking around the other side of the pond I saw a birds that was not on my radar at all land in a bare tree. Looking at the warm buffy yellow, the two wingbars and the hooked little bill I was amazed to pick up White-collared Seedeater for year bird 273.

Black-throated Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow
Walking to the next pond we pickup almost all of the species of sparrows we would get that day.  A total of eight species of sparrows!

We moved on to the pond complex that a Muscovy Duck was found on Thursday field trip. After about 40 minutes on site I was giving up hope on the duck, then one of the participants on the trip said "whats this all black duck with white wing patches flying over?" I twisted into a pose worthy of a yogi to look out her side of the van and sure enough, Muscovy Duck was year bird 274.

La Perla Ranch is going produce a a lot of cool stuff over time I think because of the concentrating effect of its water. We ended the day with 77 species, We had 8 species of sparrow and 16 species of waterfowl. I would definitely like to go back to La Perla sometime.

The Streets of Laredo

Today (Friday) we ran the streets of Laredo for the "Bird till you drop" field trip at the Laredo Birding Festival. Our goal was how many species can we find in Webb County.

After conferring with my co-leader we decided to start a ranch he had access to outside of town on the east side. We spent out first hour there and had 23 species there, the best I think was Wilson's Snipe.

Our next stop was the Laredo Landfill. I was hoping for a pile of gulls there. We picked up the usual things, a boatload of Chihuahua Ravens, lots of Ring-billed Gulls, Greater Scaup. Yes I said Greater Scaup in a dump pond. Unfortunately we couldn't get very close to the gull flock and we left with only Ring-billed Gull.

On to Slaughter Park. One of the first birds we found there was Black-headed Grosbeak for year bird 266. Down at the river proper as we looked into Mexico a Northern Rough-winged Swallow circled us for year bird 267.

Scanning down the river I found crossing the river a Ringed Kingfisher for year bird 268. Getting into the big day mode, we called time and headed out to the next destination., Las Palmas Trail for our first try at White-collared Seedeater. Unfortunately even though we found all three Kingfishers there and more Kiskadees than I've seen in one place, we dipped on White-collared Seedeater.

Black Phoebe at North Central Park Laredo
Black Phoebe at North Central Park
Laredo, TX
While there we got word on a Tropical Parula that was just found at North Central Park. We headed over with high hopes. We soon were at the site and located a promising mixed flock. I found a Wilson's Warbler for year bird  268, but no Parula. This is another site that has had White-collared Seedeater, but not today.

We then headed to a site on the north side of town on Pico Road that has seedeaers. We got there and made some calls, but the ranch hand with the keys to the gate to the river and seedeaters was not there.

We got another note that Seedeaters had just been found at Father McNaboe Park. We wen't too far away and headed over. We checked the spot the other group had White-collared Seedeater with no luck, then checked along the river again. Dipped again, this was getting old.

We headed to our last stop of the day, Lake Casa Blanca State Park. I had hoped to get some other gulls since the gulls seem to roost here when he landfill closes. I did locate a Herring Gull but nothing else.

Vermilion Flycacher at La Bota Ranch Park, Laredo, TX
Vermilion Flycacher at
La Bota Ranch Park, Laredo, TX
Scanning the far side of the lake I did find an Anhinga for year bird 269. We kept looking for a Western Grebe that was supposed to be there but no luck.

We packed up to leave and on the way out of the gate I noted a large group of black birds. We stopped to check it out and found Bronzed Cowbird for year bird 269.

We wrapped up the day with 104 species, but alas White-collared Seedeater will have to wait for another day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Two in the Bush

Today I was heading south to the Laredo Birding Festival. To break up the five hour plus drive I made a few stops.

Stop one was the Lake Texana- Navidad River Boat Ramp on US 59. I had a Fox Sparrow here back the first of November 2014 so I was hoping maybe it had stuck around. A few minutes after I got there I could hear it doing the classic "smack" call from the bushes. I pished as much as I could but it would not show itself for a picture. Still Fox Sparrow became year bird 262.

A very boldly marked Savannah Sparrow
Another good find here was a pair of Couch's Kingbirds. They were acting very paired up, It was pretty birdy there today. I had 30 species in just 25 minutes. This location never disappointments me. eBird.org lists 166 species for this location. I rarely spend more than 30 minutes there but often get something good.

Great Horned Owl
The next stop was the Calliham unit of Choke Canyon State Park. This is usually a good location for Wild Turkey. I started out on the Emperor Road. It was good, but nothing new for the year. On my way back I heard some Great Horned Owls dueting. I think there were at least three, and perhaps four calling. Eventually I found one perched where I could get a photo.

I circled the park but no turkeys to be found. I had to get to Laredo so I headed out, hoping to catch some Turkeys along the road. I spotted something down a pipeline and did a U-turn to check it out. Fiddlesticks, just a couple of javelinas. But then two small birds flew up from the roadside and Common Ground-Dove became year bird 263.

The rest of the drive uneventful, Lots of Harris Hawks and Crested Caracaras. Looking forward to tomorrow an the festival.

Red-tailed Hawk

Monday, February 2, 2015

Starting off February Right

Sunday's February 1, 2015 weather forecast was for the rain to start about 10 am. I figured the day would be mostly a rain out but decided this was my best chance to get the Greater Pewee that continues at Bear Creek Park in the area around Restroom 9.

The weather couldn't have been nicer and the place was very birdy. Bluebirds and Chickadees were singing everywhere. The last time I saw this bird was in November and it was in the trees to the west of the restroom along Kunz Rd. I checked this area and had plenty of activity but no Greater Pewee. I then stared to circled the area slowly and carefully. Circle number one, no luck.

My 1.94 mile route to find the Greater Pewee  in Bear Creek Park
My 1.94 mile route to find the Greater Pewee
in Bear Creek Park
I started circle number 2. On this pass I did pick up Red-headed Woodpecker for year bird 259. At least I wasn't going to go home empty handed. I finished circle number 2 with no pewee yet. I had been here over an hour too. 

Patient is a virtue and I know the bird is here So I decided to concentrate on the area I saw the bird in before. At this point I toyed with he idea of just getting out the speaker and playing calls for it. Tempting because there is no prohibition on it here. I was alone, virtually no one else within a quarter mile of me in the park.

I'm personally not against playing calls to attract birds. Its not that its bad, its about how much is bad. So here is my personal checklist on when is ok to use playback. 1) is there a  prohibition on it here? 2) is there a chance that others would use playback here. To me #2 is the the important one. If the site is publicly accessible and popular you can never be sure how many people have been there before and after you. Just because I'm alone now doesn't mean ten other parties won't follow me today, and everyone could be playing calls.

So no playback would be right here. I'm not kidding myself, someone is surely coming to this park and using playback, someone will be the straw that breaks the camel's back, but it won't be me. So back to waiting. 

I got up to check out a drumming woodpecker close by. It was so loud I was guessing a Pileated, but it turned out to be a Downy that had found a VERY good hollow branch to drum on. Something right at the edge of my field of view caught eye. Hooray! it was the Greater Pewee! It gave me a couple of seconds of good looks the flew up to a spot I couldn't see and gave a few "pip-pip" calls that are diagnostic. Greater Pewee became year bird 260.

So expecting the weather to turn on me I headed home. Unfortunately the weather did not turn and it was great weather all day and I should have headed to Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR and chased Sprague's Pipit and Grasshopper Sparrow. Hopefully I'll find a way to get out there before the end of February.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Wrapping Up January

One day left in January and couldn't see a way to reach 300 that day. I decided to wrap up some low hanging fruit and run the Bolivar Peninsula and pick up some "beach birds" I would also have a chance at Northern Gannet and Surf Scoter there too.

Sunrise had me on the Bolivar Ferry from Galveston. Lots of dolphins including a pair very close to the ferry with a small calf between then. Scan as I might I found nothing interesting on the ride across to the Bolivar Peninsula.

My first stop was Frenchtown Road, a traditional spot for Nelson's Sparrow. Things were pretty dead and while I saw some distant sparrows flitting about, none were identified as a Nelson's Sparrow. Strike 1 and off to the Bolivar Flats.

The Bolivar Flats are one of those places that possesses magic. By the time I worked my way out to the end of the point there I was all alone. I realized I was hearing some strange almost musical noise. I finally figured out what I was hearing. The ground had a lot of bottles washed up and the wind was blowing over them creating many different tones. There were all kinds of harmonies and as the wind varied so did the "tune". It was like some avant garde music recital.

One of the first birds I found at the flats was Long-billed Curlew. Not a bird I was worried about, but Long-billed Curlew became year bird 254. After setting out on foot I found a small group of 9 Red Knots for year bird 255.

I spent a lot of time looking for small ringed plovers. I found more than a dozen piping plovers but no Snowy Plover. Strike 2.

American Avocets put on the real show at the Bolivar Flats. I put the number at 4500 but it would take a lot work to figure out an accurate number for them. There are just so many and they move around in dense groups.

Suddenly the magic happened. First large numbers of Forster's Terns moved towards me and then other species join the feeding frenzy. Large numbers of Avocets moved in close. There were gulls, terns, a good size group of White Ibis, a Reddish Egret. Suddenly more than a dozen Bonoparte's Gulls where feeding just in front of me. I felt invisible and totally in the middle of it at the same time as I stood there on the hard packed sand.

I made my way down the peninsula and checked out Bob's Road. Bob Road is usually good, but today it was dead too. My next stop was Yatch Basin Road in Gilchrist. 

The tides were in my favor and I located a few more target birds quickly. Short-billed Dowitchers became year bird 256. A bit of scanning with the scope and I found American Oystercatcher for year bird 257. I pished and scanned but no luck again on Nelson's Sparrow.

Like the wizard of the same name, a Merlin appeared out of nowhere for year bird 258. This Merlin ignored me and let me take a couple of good shots. 
So January ends with 258 species on the books. Its lower than I hoped but I don't think I missed too much. Only Varied Thrush and Common Crane seem out of reach now. I managed 17 days in the field out of 31 and traveled 4100 miles. I took over the #1 spot on eBird for Texas for the year. It's going to take work to stay there. I'm only going to be able to manage 7 days in the field for February, I've got to make them count.