Sunday, September 27, 2015

There and Back

I've always kind of known I was going to have to make a trip like this, West Texas and back in 48 hours.

The new West Texas Hummingbird Webcam was taunting me. Right there live was a Magnificent Hummingbird. I could see it every five minutes is all its glory of an iridescent violet crown and emerald green gorget.

Add to the drama, a Broad-billed Hummingbird was found on the central coast. I tried all morning to make contact to get a chance at the Broad-billed with no luck. So about noon I sought and got permission to visit the sit of the webcam. My weekend was set now.

Dark and early at 4 am I headed out and proceeded west on I10. Since my appointment with the hummingbird was for Sunday morning I could spend the afternoon looking for other birds. Lake Balmorhea seemed like a good place to start. It was only 567 miles away.

Miles ticked away a nice pace, traffic was light the whole way. Uneventful except for a new county bird, a Zone-tailed Hawk in Pecos County.

I pulled off the highway a few minutes after noon at Balmorhea, TX I decided to check the little birded Sandia Wetlands Project first. I was last at this site in August and it was dry and tractor work was going on. The first two units had water in them this time but not a single shorebird was present, except for a Killdeer calling somewhere. Very quiet here. Then I heard a sound like an insect. I was able to locate the two birds making the call, a pair of Grasshopper Sparrows made for Year Bird 465. Another bird that's been popping up out of the way.

I made my way over to Lake Balmorhea on speculation. Lots of large grebes present mostly Clark's Grebe. I was hoping for some cool gull like Sabine's but not a single gull or tern was present. Only a few Spotted Sandpipers and Killdeers for shorebirds.

Cassin's Kingbird
Made my way too Davis Mountains State Park. I had been given the advise the the Limpia Creek Trail would be my best chance for a MacGillivray's Warbler. The trail was birdy. Lots of Audubon's Warblers (Yellow-rumped Warbler), Grosbeaks, Cassin's Kingbird, Wilson's Warbler. No MacGillivray's though. Later that evening I saw an alert for MacGillivray's Warbler for the exact location but in the camp ground. The camp ground was full of tents when I got there so I think I just missed it.

I'd been up since 3:30 am and had now driven well over 600 miles today. About 5:30 pm I headed in for the night. On my way to the hotel I got a text message about a Piratic Flycatcher in West Houston! I was even sent the pictures and it sure looked like a good one to me. It felt like I had gone the wrong direction all of a sudden.

The next morning I meet up with my host at 7:30 am and we headed to the site. It was about 45 minutes out of Fort Davis. The last bit was 4-wheel drive only and I left my car at the bottom of the hill. I was told it was just 400 yards up the hill, just turn in at the stone marker with the number on it. I walked up the hill, saw the number and turned left up the hill following what I though were fresh tire tracks. Man this was a long way. This is way more than 400 yards I told myself. Finally I came to a cabin. Funny I don't see hummingbird feeders. Wait, that's the wrong truck in the drive way. I realize I went the wrong way and hot footed it back down the hill. After my 1.2 mile wrong turn my host met me at the bottom of the hill and showed me the correct way. I was basically in sight of the place.

Magnificent Hummingbird 
We settled in on the deck. Almost right away my target bird made its appearance. Magnificent Hummingbird was Year Bird 466. This place was amazing. In about 2 hours I had 8 species of hummingbird, including White-eared Hummingbird.

The White-eared Hummingbird just added to something I've started to notice. I've very few birds with only one record this year, maybe less than 10%. I've got about 90 days to go and I wonder how that will play out.

Too soon I had to head home. I see the attraction of this place. It does grow on you. This is my fourth time in the Davis Mountains this year and there is going to have to be a 5th before the end of the year.

Fall is wrapping up for sure, but I need to keep my eyes pealed for those very few migrants I still need. I'm starting to feel what one of the previous Big Year record holders told me "At some point its going to seem like winter will never get here" I just need a couple more fall birds then let winter roll on in.

I made it home by 9 pm. I did about 1,311 miles in about 40 hours. I went there and back and still got in a little birding. Neither the Broad-billed Hummingbird nor the Piratic Flycatcher were seen again, so I guess I made the right call after all.

In Coming!

Lucifer Hummingbird

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Wheels Up!

Saturday morning about 10 am I got a message from the TexasRBA alert - Northern Jacana at Estero Llano Grande State Park. Ok, here's the situation. I'm one of the leaders at the Rockport HummerBird Festival. We are in the middle if the Saturday morning field trip to the Hazel Bazemore Hawk Watch. The field trip will end at about noon in Rockport. Its about 3 ours to Estero Llano Grande State Park. If I can leave by 1 pm, I could be there by 4 pm. The park closes its gates at 5 pm. This could work. Just have to take care of a couple of things first...

Step 1. Send a message to my wife who is waiting for me back in Rockport. "Northern Jacana in Estero Llano Grande State Park!". She replies "Is that there we are going later?" Have I mentioned how incredibly understanding my lovely wife Donna has been about this Big Year? I answer "Yes, we can have dinner at the Blue Onion in Weslaco, and back to Rockport by 9 pm." Her answer "What about the Texas Ornithological Society table?" That's going to be step 2.

Step 2. I ask if I can be excused from the working the TOS table with by best puppy dog sad eyes because there is a Northern Jacana with my name on it. The answer is yes, if we will give them time to grab some ice cream at Dairy Queen. Done deal! While Donna and I man the table another friend, Bill, comes by. "Aren't you on the way to the RGV" he asks. I explain the ice cream trade. Bill says "Go, I'll watch the table". Many thank-yous to Bill and we're wheels up headed south.

Northern Jacana, Estero Llano Grande SP
The drive to the RGV is uneventful and we make it just a few minutes before 4 pm as expected. Not as expected, its starting to rain. Just as we're getting out of the car John Yochum, one of the park naturalists pulls up in a cart and we ask if the jacana is still there. He says yes, I just left it, let me take you there now! We jump in and wheels up we're bouncing our way to the bird.

At 4:05 pm I'm looking at the Northern Jacana for Year Bird 464! I'm on my A game today and to quote the A-Team, I love it when a plan comes together. A short time later we execute part two of the plan, dinner at the Blue Onion. By 5 pm we are enjoying a fine craft beer and the delicious hummus and grilled flat bread.

Celebrating at
the Blue Onion
We head back. Again the trip back is mostly uneventful except the passage through the Border Patrol checkpoint south of Sarita. I've been through these checkpoints more times than I can count. Its routine and since I pull up with virtually no one in front of me I'm counting on 20 seconds at most. Nope the agent has lots of questions. "Are you cititzens?" Yes we are. "Where are you coming from?" Weslaco. "What where you doing there?" I went to see a rare bird. "You bought a rare bird?" No I went to see one. "Just one bird? what kind of rare bird?" A Northern Jacana. "What was rare about it?" Its from Mexico. "Where are you headed? We're going to Rockport tonight. "Ok you can go" So many questions!

Anyway we make it back to Rockport by 9 pm. I didn't expect to get a new one this weekend, but a big year is all about taking advantage of opportunities.