Monday, November 13, 2017

Hook Me Up

View from the tower
I'm running out of birds. I started the week with just seven non-review species that I have realistic chances of getting. I need a bunch of review species to pop up in these last six weeks of the year. For those who don't know what I mean by a review species lets review. From the Texas Bird Record Committee Bylaws "In general, the Review List will consist of species that have occurred within Texas and adjacent ocean four or fewer times per year in each of the ten years immediately preceding revision of the Review List. By majority vote of quorum at a meeting, the Committee may, as it sees fit, add other species to the Review List, such as those whose identification is difficult."

If my math is correct there are 488 species on the non review list. These are the birds known to occur in Texas and don't meet the criteria above. It means those are the birds that with a little luck you should be able to get and should expect to get. So far four have slipped by me and I don't think I have a chance to make up.

In the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) the top of the list is Hook-billed Kite. I have already put in about 3 half days looking. Hook-billed Kite is regular but unpredictable in the RGV and you either have to get luckyor just put in the time and pay your dues for it.

Friday morning I had about an hour on the Santa An NWR Observation tower with when conditions got rainy and foggy enough that I figured no raptor in its right mind would be up and about. I came down from the tower and got word a few minutes later of the Tamaulipas Crows at the Brownsville Landfill.

Saturday morning I was back with no luck, Better weather but not great weather. A local school group joined me on the tower led by the ranger. Fascinating to see how excited they were to have a view of Mexico. Some confessed to having never seen Mexico. Most confessed to having never seen the existing border wall. It was good to be reminded how lucky I am to get to see so much of Texas.  Too soon I had to head for the festival.

Green Jay
Estero Llano Grande SP
It was foggy again and I started the day at Estero Llano Grande State Park nearby waiting for the weather to improve. Just the usual suspects but a great place to while away the time. Weather improved and I headed for Santa Ana NWR making it to the tower a few minutes after 9 am. Plenty of festival folks about to keep me company. It actually got sunny and I had a fair number of raptors up and about. Plenty of distant raptors to study. Cooper's Hawk, Northern Harrier, and White-tailed Hawk. Harris Hawks have kinda paddle shaped wings and I got hopeful on several distant Harris Hawks until their distinctive white rump showed.

I had been alone about an hour and I would have to leave soon. A distant rapture soared. I got the scope in it. No white on the rump ruling out Harrier and Harris Hawk. Broad paddle shaped wings eliminated accipiters and harrier, Rounded wings eliminate most buteos, especially the White-tailed Hawks that had been around. Add in the pointy looking head, the forward thrust of the wings beyond the head and it really adds up to one thing. Hook-billed Kite was Year Bird 493. Another bird that I can only feel a great sense of relief to get
Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival Field Trip
Santa Ana NWR
So now there are six non-review species left for me in the state. Tundra Swan, American Woodcock, Pomarine Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, Little Gull, and Lapland Longspur are what's left on the plate for me. Call me if you find them!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

To the Dump, to Dump, to the dump dump dump...

Tamaulipas Crow
Brownsville Landfill
The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Harlingen has a habit of turning up some rare birds. There was no doubt in my mind its where I needed to be this week.

Sunday before the festival got going on Wednesday a pair of Tamaulipas Crows were found on South Padre Island. By the time I made it to Harlingen on Wednesday the pair had been sighted twice more on the mainland, always miles apart but each time closer to the Brownsville Landfill. The Dump as birders affectionately call it was until the 1990's the only reliable spot to see these crows. But they disappeared from there and haven't been there for more than a decade.

Wednesday I drove slowly around the neighborhood they were last seen in. For some reason the Foghat song "Slow Ride" got into my head only with new lyrics "Crow ride, They ain't easy..." No luck on the crows.

Aplomado Falcon
Old Port Isabel Road
Thursday morning before the festival and went back out. After my crow ride through the neighborhood I cruised a bit down the Old Port Isabel Road. This is the classic spot to see Aplomado Falcon. This never happens to me, but today a pair of Aplomado Falcons perched on the fence right next to road and I had my camera ready. I soaked up as many shots and they would tolerate. No crows and it was time too head to the festival.

Since there had been no reports on Thursday of the the crows I decided to spend some time looking for Hook-billed Kite at Santa Ana NWR. I was the only one there at sunrise, not  a car to be seen. I was on the tower shortly after 7 am. Weather continued to degrade, getting foggier and wetter. Spooky no one around yet, not even border patrol. After an hour and slowly wetter and wetter conditions I called it quits. I headed to Estero Llano Grande SP to kill some time under cover on the deck.

Dump Selfie
As I was pulling in to the parking lot I got a message that the crows were at the Brownsville Landfill. Crow Ride, Take it Easy (the the speed that is). To the Dump, the dump, to the dump, dump, dump! I made it to the Dump about 10:15 am. The birds had disappeared a few minutes before I had arrived. I decide it was a party and hung out with 50 if my newest closest crow fan friends. The crowd slowly dwindled and after 2.5 hours it was just two of us there.

Getting close to the 3 hours mark Jesse Huth showed up to make it three.  I commented to Jesse his fresh eyes would help. Jesse had not been there 10 minutes when he said "Is that it on the fence" Sure enough, there on the fence was one of the Tamaulipas Crows for Year Bird 492. A second popped up into view. We got the word out and we waited for folks to return. After an hour I handed the crow baton to someone else and headed to the festival.

Alert readers may note that this should be year bird 293, but I'm showing 292. Too many questions are coming up on the Costa's Hummingbird and I just don't feel good about having it on the list, so I'm dropping my count by one. With some luck another will show up.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Here Chickie chickie chickie

Attwater's Greater Prairie-Chicken
Greater Prairie-chicken is one of the weirder birds you can count in Texas. In 2014 the ABA checklist committee decided that Greater Prairie-Chickens at the Attwater's Prairie-Chicken National Wildlife Refuge are countable. So this is a gimme bird, sorta.

There are two ways to see this bird. One is to drive the newly expended tour loop at the refuge and hope to get lucky. The new loop is very good, but eBird shows you have about a 10% chance of seeing a prairie-chicken on the loop. I've made about 7 trips this year with no luck. My last trip through in October someone reported one about an hour after I was there.

The other way to see one is to sign up for the tour the refuge gives the first Saturday of the month. You have a much better chance of seeing a chicken on this tour. There were two tours left this year and I was able to get on the November tour. Its not a sure thing but your odds are much greater than 10%

I got in about midnight from my trip to the panhandle. The tour meets at 7:45 am so I got less than 6 hours of sleep after I got back from my panhandle trip. On way my car started making a loud dragging noise. I pulled over and investigated. On my way home from Canyon an 18-wheeler threw some tread in front of me and I hit it. I didn't think any harm had been done, but now I could see it had damaged a plastic guard under the front of my car. It seemed mostly intact but had come loose and was dragging. I pulled it off and threw it in the hatchback hoping I could reattach it later.

On the tour I ended up in the back of the van. A big year doesn't require a spectacular view, just an identifiable view so no problem.

The tour is really not a birding tour although the tour does try and find Prairie-Chickens. It is more about the effort to restore and preserve the native prairie there. What you get to see is pretty spectacular if you have an eye for prairie. The new expanded tour loop is good, but this is even better.

We had been going a while and a hawk was called a Red-tailed and flew close. I realized the was wrong the large white wing patches proved it was a Ferruginous Hawk, a new county bird for me.

We continued. Finally the we spied my target. Out the front windshield was a lone Greater Prairie-Chicken for Year Bird 492. I got some poor shots out from the back. At this point they are all good!

After the tour I headed home, ready for a long nap! Next week is the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and with some luck I can get a few more birds there

Friday, November 3, 2017

You Win Some, You Lose Some

A member of the Tribe forwarded a report of a Varied Thrush in Canyon, TX that was found by Ray Matlack. Ray is the director of Texas Wild, He was looking out the back door right as he had to go give a class lecture and saw the thrush and was able to get a few shots of a male Varied Thrush. How cool is that?

Red-breasted Nuthatch
As luck would have it, I had been introduced to Ray just a few weeks ago by a mutual Facebook friend. I reached out to Ray and he extended me an invitation to camp out in his back yard and look for the thrush. Of course this was the last game of the World Series and I  had to cut my evening short and get some sleep, still I dozed with the TV on and actually woke up in time to see the last out of the game and see the Astro's win.

Up at 3:30 am and in the car by 3:45 I was on the road to Canyon, 635 miles the GPS said. I topped off the tank and grabbed a burrito at Buc-ee's in Madisonville. Until the sunrise somewhere navigating around the Metroplex I was cursing the Astros, feeling the lack of sleep. After the sunrise I felt better.

West of Fort Worth I  started to move through counties I had never birded before and started racking up some new county birds as I drove. Wichita, Wilbarger, Hardeman, Childress, Hall, and Donley all new counties for me to pass through in the daylight and I added some ticks to my Century Club totals. The Century Club and SirusXM radio are what keep me alert on a big year drives.

I arrived about 2 pm and Ray showed me the lay out. I pulled up a chair and settled in for a wait. Not much activity, I only tallied 5 species by 5 pm. I was beat and arranged with Ray to return in the hopefully more active morning. I drove around the neighborhood trying not to look suspicious as I peeped into everyone's yard with no success. I headed to my room and fell asleep early.

Sunrise was 8.04 am so I could sleep in to 7 am. I felt woefully out of shape as the college regional crossfit games were in town and the the breakfast room at the hotel was filled with super fit college kids.

Back at Ray's after a quick drive around the neighborhood again I settled in. Things were pretty slow until recess at the Elementary School across the street. When the wild indians came out to play it pushed a lot of robins into Ray's yard. No thrush yet though.

Red-tailed Hawk, Hall County
I tried playing some Varied Thrush calls. One time when it stopped I heard what sounded like a response, but only one. I tried again and there it was again! I thought it might be about to come in. I tried again and I realized one of the teachers across the street has a whistle that sound remarkably like a Varied Thrush, waa, waa, waaaaa.

I called it quits about noon and bid Ray good bye and thanked him for the opportunity. You win some and  you lose some. I told Ray if it was a guarantee you'd get the bird every time it wouldn't be so much fun to chase.

It was a long drive home, but I had a date with an Attwater's Prairie-Chicken to keep tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What was that?

It's crunch time, I need a few more than 30 species to break the record. Notable birds I still need are Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers. Purple Sandpiper is a reasonable review species to go prospecting for so part of my end game is walking the rock jetties near me looking for Purple Sandpipers and I can also be alert to the possibility of Wanderling Tattler and Surfbird. Long shots for sure but the more time in "rockpiper" habitat the better the odds. Both are also decent places to look for jaegers.

I walked both of the Brazoria County jetties, Surfside and Quintana on Monday, covering a total of 1.4 miles of jetty. Nothing but the usual suspects. On Tuesday I hit East Beach in Galveston where a Pomarine Jaeger spent a few months in 2016. Nothing out of the ordinary there, although there are a few Jaeger reports from here this year.

On to the North Jetty on the Bolivar Peninsula. This jetty is almost 5 miles long, but a cut in the jetty at about the 2 mile mark limits how far out you can walk. Fun fact about the jetty: General Henry Martyn Robert, the author of Robert's Rules of Order was the original engineer for the jetties 1895.

Nelson's Sparrow
I started out on the jetty with visions of making it to the cut. I'd guess I've never been more than about a half mile out on this jetty. I passed the last fisherman at about that distance. Close to where the marsh grass meets the jetty I found lots and lots of Nelson's Sparrows. A fair number of Seaside Sparrows too.

I kept going past the 1 mile mark. I made it out 1.6 miles and noticed the weather was turning and I didn't want to get caught way out on the jetty. Making it to the cut would have to wait for another day.

Mystery Bird
Bolivar Flats/North Jetty.
I saw a bird way out on the Bolivar Flats that looked very dark and it wasn't hanging with the other gulls. I watched it for a bit and saw it get back up. Much darker than any gull and a bit smaller than a Herring Gull. It got up again and looked like it was heading closer. I readied the camera and tried to keep glass on it. I looked hard for the white flashes in the primaries I expect from a Jaeger, nothing. It looked as close as it would come and I tried for some photos but they are poor, I did note a paler mantel and darker primaries. At first nothing added up in my mind.

The bird flew out into the Bolivar Roads and was gone. I now wonder, could this have been a juvenile Heermann's Gull? the colors and the size are about right. My best photo seems to show a pale base to the bill. What do you think?

Distant with a large gull
Herring or perhaps a Lesser Black-backed Gull

In flight

In flight closer, not sure the pale colors in the primary
are real

Sunday, October 29, 2017

An Evening with Mr. H

As we were settling in for the night in Fort Stockton, Bob Friedrichs and I got word that Mr. H high up in the Davis Mountains had an Evening Grosbeak at his bunker. First thing in the morning I sent Mr. H a note asking if we might visit the bunker and catch a glimpse of this beauty. Mr. H answered quickly that he had not seen it yet today.

Evening Grosbeak
Davis Mountains
We headed out to Imperial Reservoir since Bob had never been. Its about 20 minutes north of Fort Stockton and has had a number of good birds over the years. There is not really any direct access anymore though, the caretaker doesn't appear to be on site anymore, but you can scope a lot of lake from the gate and any big water in west Texas is worth checking out. We would be off grid while there unfortunately.

At the lake we tallied 30 species in 40 minutes, the best birds being a distant Willet and a first for me in west Texas Bald Eagle.

Right as we had gone off grid Mr. H responded telling us the Grosbeak was back. We got the message on the way back into town 45 minutes later and we immediately headed to the bunker. It was 140 miles to the Davis Mountains and we would make it about 11:30 am.

Right after we left Fort Stockton Mr. H went silent. We went silent too, most everyone was silent! ATT was offline and neither Bob nor I had a working connection.  It turned out ATT was out in the whole region and we didn't have service until we got almost to Ozona that day on the way home, We had to hope the situation stayed the same at The Bunker. As a backup I extracted the GPS coordinates from a photo I took at The Bunker and plugged them into the GPS.

We made it almost to The Bunker when the car would not make it a steep hill, right as we passed a 4x4 only sign. The GPS said only 0.2 miles to The Bunker. We parked and started to walk. A flock of Red Crossbills flew over as we huffed and puffed up the steep mountain with our flat land lungs.

We made it about 11:35 and Mr. H greeted us in Duck Dynasty camo. I get the impression Mr. H wears a lot of camo around The Bunker for security reasons.

Mr. H bid us to take a seat and be quite, this bird was skittish. Mr. H left us to make coffee and we watched. A male Rivoli's Hummingbird kept catching my eye.

We had been on watch only about 10 minutes when Bob called out in an excited whisper "There it is!" It came out on to the platform feeder, Evening Grosbeak was Year Bird 491!. There is something about these "diversion" birds when you change plans and go back for a bird that makes them more exciting, more satisfying.

Bob and I raised cameras at the same time. Curse you Alessandro Volta! my camera battery was dead! I had 4 charged ones in my pack, back at the car. Fortunately Bob popped the battery from his camera out and loaned it to me so I could get a few shots of my own.

Headed back it was cash only until we got to Ozona. It seems all credit card processing depends on ATT out west. One wag waved his phone at the woman behind the counter as we grabbed a bite to eat saying "My Verizon phone works just fine". I was so happy for him, he still had to pay cash like me.

It was a long drive home, we covered about 880 miles that day by my reckoning, The Grosbeak made it bearable.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

At Any Costa's

Costa's Hummingbird, El Paso, TX
Bob Friedrichs and I were up bright and early and headed to the hummer house, making it there at 7:45 am. Hummingbirds were active and we watched multiple Anna's Hummingbirds chasing around. We divided up searching Bob taking the backyard and myself in the front.

Not very long after we got there a smaller bird made an appearance just as Bob came back to the front yard. This looked like the bird we had seen photos of, smaller, darker headed, looked like it had a bolder collar than any of the Anna's we had seen. It was having a bad hair day too, it showed a very unruly crown. It flew down inside the tree and perched deep inside. We struggled for a good photo. The Anna's were bullies and chased it several times. From the chasing birds we saw some garnet red flashes of color, not the purple of a Costa's. We couldn't be sure in the chase what bird we were seeing though.

This continued for some time. Bob decided to stake out the back feeder hoping for a Broad-billed Hummingbird that had been reported coming to that feeder. I staked out another feeder that the Costa's was reported to favor.

Our mystery bird made a few appearances at this feeder, but from my angle was hard to see. I never saw the gorget color. Bob returned from the backyard and this time he caught a glimpse of purple he thought. It was looking better and better for this bird. Still we weren't sure. Bothering us was the tail looked long in the photos too.

No one had really seen the bird for 7 days now. It had not been identified right away when it was photographed and no one had been able to look for it since. Compounding the problem was the original photo showed the bird in heavy molt and it would be expected to change a lot in a week. Our bird had more feathers in the gorget, but that's to be expected.

We called it a day after 3 hours and headed out to prospect for more birds. We circulated the best photo to our Hummingbird Guru and he confirmed Costa's Hummingbird for Year Bird 490. He also thought the tail looked ok since males have longer tails. Unlike a lot of year birds at this point I feel more relief than elation, this one was a struggle.

We hit some spots in El Paso County prospecting with nothing all that uncommon being found. At a dairy feedlot on Hudspeth County right next to the highway we found about a hundred Yellow-headed blackbirds mixed in with the thousands of Brewer's Blackbirds.

Probably a hyper-marked Herring Gull
Lake Balmorhea 
We made it to Lake Balmorhea with time for some gulling before it got dark. It was windy now and the lake churned like the ocean. We found some gulls though and it took little time to identify Ring-billed and Franklin's Gulls.

We moved around the lake. An interesting gull flew at us and Bob jumped out to photograph it. On the water I spotted another gull that looked interesting. It had a very strong scapular pattern. I circulated some photos. A few who felt California Gull, and more that liked Herring Gull. Gulls can be a challenge and some defy easy answers.

Remember that gull in flight that Bob was photographing? Later reviewing the photographs, it was a California Gull. With gulls shoot first and ask questions later is often good advise.

We headed into Fort Stockton and got one of the last rooms in town. We celebrated with pizza and beer. We got word of a great bird we had to figure out if we could get in the morning.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Prospecting for Gull Gold

Lewis's Woodpecker
Guadalupe Mountains NP
Bob Friedrichs invited me to go along with him to West Texas while he chased some birds he needed for his Texas list. At the time we were leaving I had no year bird targets in West Texas that were known but we planned to prospect for rare gulls on the West Texas lakes we could access, and maybe something rare would show up we could chase.

Due to problems I had with a failing phone, the essential tool of a compulsive lister like myself I did not get to Bob's house in Palacios until almost 2 o'clock in the afternoon. We quickly loaded and hit the road for Guadalupe Mountains National Park. While en route we got a return call we had made about some access and learned that a Costa's Hummingbird had been reported in El Paso. I quickly shot off an email to the homeowner and crossed my fingers for a positive reply.

While driving we speculated where to look for gulls after we finished at the national park and Bob mentioned he had never been to Red Bluff Reservoir. I never had been either and knew only a little about access. Red Bluff had been a hotspot a decade ago for rarities but things had been quit for some time and not many checklists had been turned into eBird from there recently. That sounded prime for finding something unreported and we decided to prospect there after we finished at the park when we realized it was only about an hours drive away.

It was getting late and we heard nothing more on the way. We pulled into Pine Springs at Guadalupe Mountains National Park about 11 pm Mountain Time 642 miles later and about 730 miles from when I left the house. The campground was totally full it appeared. We moved to the overflow parking areas and decided to stay there next to a picnic table. I decided to follow Bob's lead and opted to sleep al fresco on my pad in my sleeping bag without a tent also. I was in my bag and dozing off in less than five minutes I bet. Through the night I could see the stars and hear a nearby Great Horned Owl hooting.

We woke at about 7 am and first light in the sky and 42 degrees and were ready to hit the road in less than 10 minutes. Easiest breaking camp ever! I munched a bagel as we headed to Frijole Ranch.

Mean while back at the ranch we right away found Stellar's Jay for a rare drive up sighting of this montane species in Texas. A Juniper Titmouse taunted us from deep in a juniper letting use only see flashes if it.

Cassin's Finch
Guadalupe Mountains NP
We headed down the trail to Smith Springs. In the trees down slope from Manzanita Springs Bob quickly found one of his targets, Lewis's Woodpecker. We worked the area and also turned up several Cassin's Finches for another target of Bob's. There were crazy numbers of Dark-eyed Juncos everywhere. A Sharp-shinned Hawk starting chasing around birds ruining the party. We pressed on to Smith Springs.

At the springs proper we found it crawling with Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Hermit Thrushes. I heard and we later located Golden-crowned Kinglet there. As we turned back another Juniper Titmouse called next to the trail.

Almost back to Manzanita Springs we found two Townsend Solitaires and a Sage Thrasher. A quick check around the ranch house showed nothing new in the pecan trees, but plenty of activity from Acorn Woodpeckers, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays, and a couple of Stellar's Jays.

We spent three hours at McKittrick Canyon. Stellar's Jay and Red-breasted Nuthatch being the two unusual birds we found. We headed off to Red Bluff Reservoir.

As we neared the reservoir we found signs that said "private property permit required, purchase at the office" Cool we thought, its going to be access like Lake Balmorhea. We got to the office and a sign on the door said "Office Closed, No Permit Required at this time". We headed down to the lake in a old park. At first we though there weren't many birds here but coots. We started scanning and we realized there were a lot of ducks, thousands really mostly Ruddy Ducks. We explored along the shore and found not much other access to the lake to view more distant birds. There was a floodway on CR 448 we figured we weren't trespassing if we walked down to the shore to get another view of the lake. We tallied 7 species of waterfowl. A group of maybe twenty gulls teased us on the point of an island too distant to make positive ID's on. Some where much smaller than those we assumed were Ring-billed Gulls. We did ID both Ring-billed Gulls and Franklin's Gulls in flight.

Red Bluff Reservoir
Trust me, there is a Sabine's Gull out there
We moved back to the park and scanned hoping some of the the distant gulls we could see in flight would move closer. Bob was staring through the scope and I heard "oh oh oh, I might having something, wait wait, Yes! Sabine's Gull!" I'm sure it was just seconds before for he gave me a turn at the scope, but it seemed an eternity. I followed a small gull skimming the water, all the way across the lake. Was this it? it circled, it banked, Yes! I could clearly see the black and white pattern on the wings even at this distance. Sabine for Year Bird 489! I watched it while Bob readied the camera for a shot if it got closer. Back and forth it flew, another bird approached, it banked. In the same view I had two Sabine's Gulls! We watched until all the gulls roosted in the lake for the night but never got a picture opportunity. This bird is one of the sweetest of the year for me, going prosecuting for it and striking gold like this.

We headed for El Paso, our GPS overloads telling us it was going to take three hours. On the way we secured permission to try for the Costa's Hummingbird. A late dinner at Whataburger and we made it to bed at a decent hour, ready for hummers the next day.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Wicked Tuna

All the scheduled Texas Pelagic trips were cancelled this year because of low participation. That hurt because I was counting on those trips for birds, lots of birds. I needed a back up plan. I found a company that does long range tuna fishing trips that go off the continental shelf in to pelagic waters from Port Aransas. I was about to go when Hurricane Harvey hit at the end of August and slammed right into Port Aransas. I gave it a couple of weeks and the September trip I thought looked good was already full. I booked the next 36 hour trip and put out a call online for others to join me. Bob Friedrichs decided to go also and we were set.

South Polar Skua
Photo Bob Friedrichs
We met the boat at 3:30 am on Saturday morning. I was having trouble with my scopolamine patch for seasickness adhering but I could feel the dry mouth sensation that says "I'm working" We bordered a little after 5 am and were off about 5:30 am. Bob and I hit the bunks and slept until about 7:30 and first light. Almost immediately we had Royal Terns in about 120 feet of water. Swells were expected to be very low but when we woke it was rougher than the 1.5-2 foot swells expected, I'm guessing about 3 foot.  Manageable but the bow was just too wet to be on. We positioned ourselves on the stern and kept watch.

Brown Booby
photo by David Sarkozi
At about 9;50 we spotted the first pelagic species, a Cory's Shearwater in about 500 feet of water for Year Bird 485. We ground on. At about 10:20 am we crossed the 600 foot mark and started "down" the slope of the Continental Shelf. I was out of Bob's sight when a Pomarine Jaeger flew by and I missed it at about 11:00 am. About 12;30 I was barely keeping my eyes open and we were on a large stretch of nothing on the bottom in about 3000 feet of water. I decided to take a nap. I asked Bob to wake me if I wan't back in 90 minutes. about 80 minutes after I hit my pillow Bob had a Bridled Tern sitting on the some trash. At 90 minutes Bob got me up because he had just seen a Brown Booby. When I got up on deck the booby was still there chasing flying fish.

Somewhere along the way my patch came off. I was flying without a net. I did take a dose of Bonine about 5 pm, but other than that I did well with motion sickness and had no problems

Sunset 150 miles offshore
About 4:45 pm we arrived at our destination, a floating rig in about 5000 feet of water 156 miles from Port Aransas. Bob and I spotted some birds over the rig, We soon realized they were Peregrine Falcons. We spotted another, and a another. We eventually had a firm count of 8 Peregrines and an Osprey on the rig. We trolled for fish for a while and fishing started in earnest about sunset. Tuna started coming on-board, some bit in half by barracuda. I lost one that felt like a good fish. Bob landed 2.5 Black-finned Tuna. I fished with no luck until midnight. The meds making be drowsy. I decided I needed some sleep and hit the hay for 3 hours and joined Bob at 3 am. He had had no luck. I fished with no luck until 5:30 am and thought they must be about time to head back and decided to sleep until sunrise. Right after I went below Bob hooked a big one, it took him 30 minutes to land a 56 pound Yellow-finned Tuna. Worn out he came below.

We both set alarms for 7:30 and slept through them, but we both made it on deck about 8 am. It was much calmer now and we took up posts on the bow. At 9:30 Bob called out a bird flying right for us. It passed close and I got glass on it and initially thought jeager. Bob managed some good photos and we reviewed them getting more excited. This was a skua and we later confirmed South Polar Skua for Year Bird 486 and a Life Bird for both of us!

Masked Booby
Photo by Bob Friedrichs
At 10:30 am Bob spotted a bird right above the horizon and called Audubon's Shearwater. I got on it and saw there were two birds, and I concurred with Audubon's Shearwater for Year Bird 487.

At 11:30 am Bob spotted a Masked Booby right by the boat for Year Bird 488. It was also chasing flying fish and we could see it dive and go at least 6 feet underwater next to the boat in the clear blue water. This booby was one I was afraid I was going to miss which made it sweeter.

No other birds after that, We crossed back onto the shelf at about 2:20 pm. By my count we had 7 pelagic species. We got 13.5 hours birding in deep water by my reckoning. A standard 12 hour Texas Pelagic trip makes about 3.5 hours in the deep water and has been costing about $200. This trip costs $400 and you get almost 4 times the birding time in deep water, so hour by hour its a pretty good value. The berth is nothing special dark and I have to say pretty darn dingy, but I had no trouble sleeping and being able to do that was a great relief on a trip this long. An you could end up with a lot of tuna! Want to see where the trip went, click here for a map. There are 4 more 36 hour trips scheduled by Dolphin Docks this year I might have to try again!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

I'm Gonna Git You Sucka

Williamson's Sapsucker
A group of up to four Williamson Sapsuckers were raiding a Madrone tree high up in the Davis Mountains at Mr. H's bunker. It rained all night and the road would be dicey but the G-man and I headed out at first light. We arrived at the bunker about 8:30 am, it was cool and some wind still. Mr. H said lets go see if they are still here.

Williamson's Sapsucker
On the deck it too less than 30 seconds to find the adult male, Williamson's Sapsucker was Year Bird 482. We hung out and watched the action for a while, tallying five species of woodpeckers adding Red-naped Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Acorn Woodpecker, and Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

The G-man and Mr. H had a job to complete and I had all the birds known to be in the Davis Mountains at the time. My original plan was to head for Dog Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains and prospect for montane species, but the road to Dog Canyon was closed again. I decided to try McKittrick Canyon.

I got there at 1 pm Mountain Time and had 5 hours before the gate would be locked. I though I just had enough time to make to the Grotto and set out at a 40 minute a mile pace. The first mile and a half had most of the birds. I had several Mountain Chickadees. At one point I thought to myself "Is that a meadowlark?" then realized it was a pair of Scott's Orioles singing. I was trying to locate it for a picture when a warbler flew into the tree. I suddenly realized I was looking at a mostly clear yellow face and a dark chest. Hermit Warbler was Year Bird 483.

Black-throated Gray Wartbler
A bit further down the trail I did my Western Screech Owl imitation and really go a response. At first I thought I had five Mountain Chickadees, then I realized two were Black-throated Gray Warblers. Then two Virginia's Warbler came in, then two Townsend's Warblers. At one point I had all six warblers in the field of view. Then six Western Tanagers came in at once. Another Townsend's made an appearance for a total of three. It was easily the best migrant flock I've ever had in the Guads.

I passed the Pratt Cabin and thought I had time to get to the Grotto. About a half mile from the Grotto I realized I might be cutting it close before the gate closed so decided to head back. I tried my screech-owl call again and got nothing. Then I tried my Northern Pygmy Owl call and it seemed that something answered, I thought I was hearing a series of slow toots back, but far up the slope. I listen and it called again. I tooted more. No response. I called again. It tooted more and it seemed to move closer, still too far away to see. It was slow, clear and the notes longer and more clear than any chipmunk or squirrel I've never heard. In July John and I heard something we couldn't decide on. Since then I've found recordings of the chipmunk in the Guads and it never had notes this clear and long. Rock Squirrels always seem more of a high pitched bark to me than a toot. Was this a Northern Pygmy-Owl?

In a big year no one get to thumb up or down a bird on your list. Its all you and you have to live with yourself. In the end you have to ask yourself, does it feel right to have this bird on my list? I know I heard something different than July, but I just didn't feel right about putting it on the list.Northern Pygmy-Owl is going to have to wait this time.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Strike Two!

Saturday after noon John B texted me and asked if I was interested in chasing the Sabine's Gull at Mitchell Lake in San Antonio. I hard learned of the bird too late to chase it on Saturday and was planning a Sunday chase anyway, so I suggested I pick him up at 5 am Sunday morning.

Pretty uneventful drive and we pulled in right at 8 am opening time. As soon as I walked up on the porch of the visitor center a gentleman who knew me said to me "it was hear until 6 pm last night" Funny how my presence is always linked to a bird.

Lesser Scaup
Salt Lake Guadalupe County
We headed out and watched the lake for a long time, enjoying the company of many birders. Sabine's Gull seems to be a 3 day bird pretty often. After about 5 hours of scanning for the gull we had to call it a dip.  Strike two on Sabine's Gull. This appeared to be a one day wonder that we missed. Back to Houston and better luck next time.

We stopped at Salt Lake in Guadalupe County on the way home. This lake is always worth a quick check I think. It was really full and had only a few birds. Up by the dam though there was a Lesser Scaup for the days most unusual bird I think. I'll take it as a consolation prize.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash

Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash
As we fell into the sun
And the first one said to the second one there
I hope you're having fun - Paul McCartney

Well Harvey was fun here in Houston, really fun. At first things weren't too bad. Sunday morning we woke to feet of water in the street and it kept coming up, only starting to recede on Wednesday. We were flooded in.  Food was running out. Beer was getting low and we were completely out of bacon for god's sake. In the mean time I kept hearing reports of birds I needed, Bridled Tern, Sabine's Gull, etc. from around the state. Really fun.

Thursday morning we could get out even though there was water in the street still, but now only as high as the rim of my tire. It was sunny and the cabin fever of being cooped up for 4 days with 4 adults, 2 teenagers, 3 dogs, and 3 cats was wearing on me. About 9:30 I saw a report of a Long-tailed Jaeger at Hornsby Bend in Austin. Then I saw a report of that one of the pair of Red-necked Phalaropes at Mitchell Lake was thought to be a Red Phalarope. Got to Go

I went shopping with my wife to replenish the pantry and made it out on the road about 12:30 pm. things where a mess in Houston still and there was only one open route to I10 for me and it cost me an hour travel time. Once on I10 travel was much easier. I finally made it to Hornsby Bend about 4:20 pm. I started looking in the pond I thought it was last seen in, The only birds I saw were a pare of Black-necked Stilts.

Long-tailed Jaeger Austin TX
I talked to someone who said she had recently seen it on the long pond. I started around the pond. At first there was nothing. Then at the end I saw a bird and got glass on it. yes! Long-tailed Jaeger makes Big Year Bird 481, and its a life bird to boot! That brings me to 540 species in Texas.

I heard a report that the Sabine's Gull that had been seen earlier in week at Lake Travis might have been seen that morning so I decided to give it a try until dark. Boy Austin rush hour traffic is fun. Oh and the post hurricane Harvey gas panic was setting in big time. I figured I had plenty of gas to make it to San Antonio that night, but when I spotted a station with a short line I decided to fill up. Turned out that was a good call. It was the last gas I saw until I got back to Houston, Every station I saw after I headed to San Antonio until I got back to Houston the next evening was out of gas. Of course the station closest to my house was still pumping gas.

I made it the park where the gull had been seen. I spent about 90 minutes looking until the sun set with no luck. Only seven species too. I headed to San Antonio, every station I passed seemed have bagged pumps now.

I made it to Mitchell Lake about opening time the next morning. Ran into some folks I know from Austin and we all spent a long vigil looking for the Phalarope. I called it an official dip after 4 hours, It turns out the consensus on this bird was that it really wasn't a Red Phalarope after all! I did manger 36 species and many new county birds though. Time to make the trek home.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

No Bueno

I left Houston at 7 am headed for Big Bend National Park. The idea was to look for a White-eyed Hummingbird that was reported the week before near Boot Springs. I was chaining this trip on to the Davis Mountains Preserve open weekend. Since I was going to do a lot of camping I decided to stay in the Chisos Mountain Lodge and get a solid night’s sleep before leaving at first light for Boot Springs.

The Chisos Mountains were as green as I’ve ever seen them. I had about 3 hours before sunset so I decided to bird Pine Canyon. I headed down the Glenn Springs road and it was in great shape. A couple of miles down I turned on to the Pine Canyon Road and it was also in good shape. I soon passed the PC1 campsite and had about 2.5 miles to the trail head. Right before PC2 I found a steep slope with some large holes near the top but they weren’t very deep. Without a thought, I started up and near the top I started to slip.

I backed down and put it in low gear and tried again. Still I slipped. I back down and got a running start. Nope, I wasn’t going to make it up this hill. I just need about 2 more feet too. No Bueno.
No choice and backed down. I had to back about a quarter of a mile to PC1 before I could turn around. Disappointed I headed for Dugout Wells.

At Dugout Wells I got out and could see a fair number of birds moving about. As I was gearing up I heard footsteps. About a half dozen javalina came out of the desert and headed down to the wells. I decided to give them plenty of room and bird the outside edge until they moved on. I pished and a thrasher popped up. I took a second look at what I assumed was going to be a Curve-billed Thrasher. No, it was a Crissal Thrasher. I flashed back to November of 1995 on my first trip to Big Bend National Park when I got my life Crissal Thrasher maybe a dozen steps from here. Wow almost 22 years ago. I think this is the first time I’ve had a Crissal here since then too.

I walked around the far end of the wells pishing and a small gray bird flew into a bush right in front of me. Elf Owl! I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had as good a look at one. I tallied 15 species in about 30 minutes and decided to call it a day. Up early it will be a full day of birding!

Mexican Jay
Up early I headed up the trail as soon as it was light enough to see. What a difference not hiking with a 45 pound pack, this was easy going compared to my last trip where I camped up this trail. Lots of wildflowers. Birds were the usual suspects, Mexican Jays and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers where everywhere. I took longer than expected birding my way through Juniper Flats and Boulder Meadow, but by 8:20 I was starting up the switchback 1.3 miles down the trail and 600 feet higher than I started at.

There are 21 switchbacks over a mile and a half where you climb about 1000 feet to the top of the Pinnacles. It took me a little less than two hours to make it to the top. Not too bad, I made it up 1600 feet and three miles in less than 3 hours.

Right at the top I heard my first Broad-tailed Hummingbird trill. Almost as soon as I got up the Pinnacles I stopped seeing Black-chinned and started seeing Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. I hurried on to Boot Springs to find this Whited-eared Hummingbird.

Hummingbirds became more numerous along the Boot Springs Trail. At one point I had a really green backed selaphorous hummingbird that I counted as an Allen's Hummingbird. I was up to 4 hummingbird species

I made it to the springs itself feeling good. I was walking across a flat area, just a little fine gravel under my feet when I heard a pop and felt a sharp pain from my knee and went down. I thought to myself "crap that hurt a lot". then I thought "crap, I'm 4.5 miles from the car". No Bueno.

I limped my way to the White-eared Hummingbird spot and found a nice rock to eat my lunch on and rest my knee. I had been there about 30 minutes when i started to hear voices, weird voices, coming from the direction of the south rim on the trail. A few minutes later a 20 something woman by herself appears and was really embarrassed. She had been camping and was heading down and was talking loudly in weird accents she explained to scare mountain lions. I replied in my best over done French accent "Oui! zee Mountain Lion particularly diz like the taste of zee Freeencch!" She grinned and headed down the trail.

I hung out at the spot as long as I could, no luck, I started down the hill early since I figured it was going to take a long time to get down. Back at the spot of my injury a pair of Blue-throated Hummingbirds dueled for my fifth hummingbird species of the day.

My knee was really hurting and I found a decent walking stick in the stream bed and trimmed the end a little. I don't like breaking the rules on collecting but figured under the circumstances I was making a minimal impact.

I can usually make the trip down in about two hours, this time it took over 4 hours. Surprisingly it was the passage through the Juniper Flats that hurt the worst.

In Alpine I found some compression tape and wrapped my knee well and that helped a lot.

The next morning I headed to the the Nature Conservancy's Davis Mountains Preserve hoping to relocated a Buff-breasted Flycatcher that was reported a month earlier. After finding a route that didn't pass through the high water in the creek I made it to the site and spent an extended time there looking with no luck. No Bueno.

There were no uncommon birds there at the time. I decided the next morning to head for Dog Canyon at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. 2.5 hours later I got as far as the turn off near Carlsbad NM and found the road to Dog Canyon closed due to a wash out. No Bueno

I headed back to Frijole Ranch to try my luck. It was pretty slow around the ranch house and I decided to try the Smith Springs Trail. Slow going on the trail with my bad knee. Almost to the springs I found a female Lazuli Bunting for Big Year Bird 479. I was getting pretty worried about that bird and felt relieved to get something for this trip. 

Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
I needed to get off my knee for a bit and I headed back before making it to the springs proper. I sit for a bit catching up on my liquids. I start up the draw working my way slowly up hill. There are birds around. I keep working further and further up the hill and draw. I'm so far back I can now see into Bear Canyon a bit. Finally I hear something. Across the draw are a pair of Juniper Titmice for Big Year Bird 480. Whew I think I made six tries for this bird this year.

Heading back to the car, I'm literally only about 10 feet from the car and there is a rattlesnake in the path. Mind you I've been walking about prime rattlesnake county for the last several hours and I find one in the parking lot! I walk around it and head for Fort Stockton to cool off. Oh and rest my knee.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


So Tuesday evening at almost 6 pm I was sitting down to dinner when by friend David Hanson called. There was no mistaking the excitement in his voice. He went in to a explanation of where he was, a location I knew very well. In my mind I thought "he's about to say Jabiru". Sure enough, David and is wife Jan had found a Jabiru near Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. I told him I was on my way. I started a rapid windup around the house, getting the word out, quickly double checking my gear. My wife Donna asked don't you have time to to sit and eat your dinner. No I answered! I was out the door in about 10 minutes.

I made it to the site about 7:30 pm along with about 10 other people. Lots of Wood Storks around. Unfortunately the Jabiru had not been relocated. By the time it was dark more than 20 people were on site. No Jabiru, most of us would be back at sunrise.

Back at 6:40 am for the sunrise. Lots of folks already there, maybe 20 already. People get bored keeping vigil and several decide to check other areas. It gets down to just a few at the original site.

Jabiru in Chambers County, TX
About 8:30 we get word it was seen briefly north about a half mile dropping into an old crawfish pond. The bird is no longer visible though, but we know where it is.  I spread the word and the flash mob returns.

As luck would have it David Hanson knows the adjacent land owner and he agrees to take David and I in and we check if we can see it from the other side of the property. We have no luck though.

As we are returning we get word its popped up and has been seen again. We rush over. Several people got to see it again but its behind a levee again. We assemble. Large birds like Great Blue Herons and more Wood Storks are dropping in and we know the hidden pond must have a bunch of birds. Folks who know about my big year ask me if I feel depressed or nervous that I've missed it so far. I reply no, its early and we know right where the bird is, I'm going to get this one!

Soon we note a tractor coming down the levee mowing. Its will surely flush most of the birds in the pond. We watch it move closer for 5 minutes, everyone getting ready. I advise folks to pre-focus cameras and binoculars. Excitement builds as the tractor gets closer and closer, a train of Cattle Egrets behind it.

Birds erupt, Wood Storks everywhere, then some one calls "there it is!" I see it, it dwarfs even the Great Blue Herons, Jabiru is Year Bird 478! and county bird 314. It soars around for most of an hour. By 11:30 I am the last person to leave the site.

I offer to show Armand Moreno and friends my best spots in Anahauc National Wildlife Refuge for Black Rail. I ask if everyone knows what a Black Rail calls sounds like. They don't and I play the call for them, low volume being careful not to broadcast it as we stand on the road. I play the ki ki do call once and the growl call once. I'm amazed to hear the growl call coming from the ditch next to us!. We stand there for the next 30 minutes and hear the call spontaneously every 5 minutes or so. Its in 10 inch high Spartina patens grass and true to its enigma status we never see even the grass move even though we aren't 10 feet from it staring at the spot we are hearing it from. What a great day, Jabiru and Black Rail.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Day at the Beach

Late in the afternoon on Tuesday at post went out on the Texas Chase Birds group on Facebook that a pair of Elegant Terns had been found on North Padre Island just north of the Padre Island National Seashore. Unfortunately it was just too late in the day to get there before dark, I would have to make the a try in the mourning.

Elegant Tern, North Padre Island
Up at 2 am, out of the house at 2:30 am. Between stops for gas, coffee, and tacos I pull onto the beach about 15 minutes before sunrise at 6:30 am. Its plenty of light to bird and start my search. By 8 am I've covered about 6.5 miles of beach pretty thoroughly. Not a lot of terns but lots of good birds. I saw several banded Piping Plovers.

Joel and Vicki Simon joined me and we entered the Seashore itself and checked all we could, covering about 1.75 miles of beach with no luck, but the but the numbers of terns was increasing.

Banded Piping Plover
By 10 am we're back driving the original stretch of beach. A small group of terns has gathered at the coordinates where the birds were originally found. Just to make life interesting there is an old RV parked there. The occupant seems to be a 70 plus year old guy in a Speedo about 2 sizes too small. Remember folks, crack kills!

By the time I finish that pass I'm ready for a break and go grab some lunch. I return and drive the beach some more, watching the flock at the original location for about an hour. Speedo guy seems to want to always be in my field of view I'm afraid though.

Its about 3 pm and I decided its not looking good since I've seen no positive reports all day. I turn towards home. At about 4:30 pm I've just passed Refugio northbound and have just let my wife Donna know I should be home about 7 pm. Dan Jones calls me and lets me know he just found the bird. Change of plans! I turn around at the next crossover and check my ETA to the site, 6 pm.

Marbled Godwits
A bit of traffic in Corpus Christi costs me a few minutes but I make 6 pm back on the beach. The tide is a lot further out now and there are more birds around. I decided to just drive directly back to the spot Dan reported the bird and not waste a lot of time checking 5.5 miles of beach.

I run into Joe Fischer and we combine forces. No bird at Dan's spot but we can see a lot of white birds south down the beach and we decide to go it on foot, It take us about 30 minutes but about 1.25 miles into the national seashore we find a single Elegant Tern for Year Bird 477! Don't you just love it when plan B comes together.

Joe and I grab a bite at my third Whataburger stop of the day and celebrate. I hit the road and make it home about midnight. I've been up 22 hours. I've driven about 45 miles on the beach and 750 miles over all. About 18 of the 22 hours was behind the wheel. It was a great day!

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Guads Part 2

John and I went to sleep about 11 pm with Mexican Whip-poor-wills calling sporadically. During the night we woke to a screaming sound echoing off the hillsides. It was loud. I thought to myself, "Hope it doesn't go for our packs in John's tent. I hope my tent is far enough from Johns if it does!"  and a few minutes later I heard something moving through the bushes. It was later we listened to some recordings of females mountain lions calling and realized. I wonder if I was hearing the mountain lion pass by.

Up at dawn it took little time to break camp. It wasn't even really sunrise and we took advantage of the dawn chorus around us. The stunning call of Hermit Thrushes were all around us. Down the trail a bit a broad-tailed hummer trilled by. Several Cordilleran Flycatchers call, responding to our owl whistles and toots. A pair of Stellar's Jays danced in a dead pine.

John stopped me and said in a whisper "owl!" something was calling back. We called back to it and it was giving the rhythm-less rapid tooting of a Northern Saw-whet Owl! It came in closer and we crossed the wash. I saw something flit in a tree and then it was calling further away, alas no visual.

View from the Tejas Trail
At the Juniper Trail and Tejas Trail junction we hear a faint once a second tooting that suggested a Northern Pygmy-Owl. We called and it moved closer and got more rapid, then stopped. Did we just hear a Northern Pygmy-Owl? We had no visual. Then it started again, further off. We had a corundum on our hands. Some chipmunks and squirrel are known to call very similar to a Northern Pygmy-Owl. We never saw this bird, but it seemed to move around. We consulted folks who spend more time in these mountains than we have spent and decided we couldn't count it, still intriguing.

We hear another Red Crossbill. We also have our only warbler of the our time in the mountains, a single Audubon's Warbler. In the 1.5 miles from the Juniper Trail to the Bowl Trail on the Tejas Trail we have all the same birds we had on hiking the other side of the loop that is closer to 4 miles. Definitely the most productive trail we had in the Mountains, better habitat to my eye.

A bit further down the trail we heard a weird call and John asked "what's that!" this never happens with John, that I know a call he doesn't, Montezuma's Quail on the hill side across from us.

A Canyon Towhee explores
Now comes the fun part, the hike down. Its 3.7 miles down to the parking lot from the Bowl Trail. We cover the distance in 2.5 hours. I was down to less than 2 liters of water when we started down from the eight liters I had brought up. With about three quarters of a mile to go I run out of water. We make the parking lot in another 30 minutes and we drop our packs and enjoy close to a half gallon of water each. Nectar of the gods at that time. A Canyon Towhee explores the backseat of John's car as we catch up on our hydration.

We head over to Frijole Ranch trying for Juniper Titmouse. We ended up chatting with a volunteer for some time, but managed close to two hours of searching for the Titmouse, No luck, I guess I will be back again for a fifth visit to the Guadalupe Mountains this year.

We head into Fort Stockton for a hot meal, a cold beer, and a bed with air conditioning.


Poison Oak around my eye,
can shave because of the rash
on my face either.
John spotted what he thought was poison oak in the Bowl. I wasn't so sure. We had no problems while there. We were cleaning up with baby wipes, which do a remarkable job of getting grime off you with little weight in your back and no water. I think that protected us from any exposure we had to it. We arrived home on Tuesday evening feeling fine. I got around to stowing all my gear on Thursday afternoon. Lots of hot and sweaty jobs around the house and I didn't shower for hours. Bad plan. We must have had some exposure to poison oak in the Bowl because I woke up with it on my neck, arms, and worse face on Friday morning. I think it was on the outside of my backpack and I got exposed from the residue as I emptied it. At first it wasn't that bad. Then it started swelling around my eye. By late Monday morning I looked in the mirror and I had accumulated pocket of fluid under my eye the size of a golf ball. I'm a birder and don't mess around with my eyes I was in the doctors exam room in 90 minutes. A steroid shot, a Benedryl shot, two sets of tablets, an ointment, and EXPENSIVE eye drops and 5 days later and mostly recovered. Oh driving after a Benedryl injection is a hoot. Watch out for poison oak or ivy in the Guads!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Guads Part 1

After hearing reports of Flammulated Owl in the Guadalupe Mountains the first week of June I hatched a plan to try for them. Things came up and I was unable to go until July 8, more than a month after the last report. John O'Brien was able to go with me and we left Saturday morning at 5 am headed west.

It was an uneventful drive, picking up some county birds as we made our way 667 miles from my home in Houston to the Pine Springs Visitor Center. After getting our back country permit for the Tejas Camp Ground we found a campsite in Pine Springs that night and since it was getting late in the day we decided to see of it was possible to find Spotted Owl in the Devil's Hall Canyon by hiking to the trail closure and hopefully hearing them call at dusk.

Devils Hall
We left at 4:10 pm for the 2 mile hike in. It took a fair amount of time since you're walking in a rough wash most of the way.  We made it to the marker that says the trail is closed beyond this point about an hour before sunset. We settled in to wait. It was birdy and we had some of the usual suspects up close and personal using a nice puddle there. Western Wood-Pewee, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and Lesser Goldfinch at least gave us something to look at.

Finally began to get darker. Both John and I heard something up the canyon, perhaps in the side canyon that's up beyond the closed sign. We heard it again, it sounded like a "hoot" too me. I did my best Spotted Owl imitation. No response. For the next half hour we would hear something very faint and I would try my call. Finally we heard a call clear enough we were satisfied, Spotted Owl became Year Bird 473.

Mule Deer Trail Markers
Picking our way out in by the light of our headlamps we would hear the occasional Common Poorwill calling. Once we got onto the flats headed out the moon was up like a spotlight. Near the end of the trail I thought to myself those are weird reflective trail markers up ahead, then they got up and ran off, mule deer in my headlamp.

Up at first light the next morning we tried for Juniper Titmouse at the Frijole Ranch site, Two hours and no titmouse. Juniper titmouse is starting to bum be out, its my 4th trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and no titmouse yet.

Time to hit the trail. Both John and I have 50 pound packs carrying 2 gallons of water each. Its 3.7 miles to the Bowl Trail head and we gain about 2,500 feet. We make pretty good time but I drink more water than I anticipated, just under a gallon, but we make the Bowl Trail in 4.5 hours, not bad I think.

John O'Brien and myself in the Bowl
We decided to take the long way to Tejas, which wasn't the best idea in retrospect. We followed the Bowl Trail to the Juniper Trail and circled around to the Tejas Camp site. that made for about 8 miles that day with backs on our backs. Near the Bowl and Juniper Trail junction we found a nice group of bird. Then I heard a Band-tailed Pigeon for Year Bird 474. A short time later John pointed out a calling Red Crossbill for Year Bird 475. Both of those birds felt really good to get, both are birds I felt like I should have had already.

Making my tent work with
no poles
We made it to the camp a little after 7 pm and dried off and set up camp. The night before both my tent pole both broke in the tent while it was set up and I was unable to use them this time. I came up with a support by using a rope that John had brought. It wasn't pretty but would work for the night.

We decided to nap until 9:30 pm and go owling. At 9:30 we had not gone 20 steps down the trail before we heard a Flammulated Owl calling, Year Bird 476! We decided we where hearing two different birds calling. I managed a poor recording.

We worked the Tejas Trail back to the Juniper Trail. We hoped for Northern Saw-whet Owl but only managed a couple of Mexican Whip-poor-wills and another Flammulated Owl. It was after 11 pm time to hit the hay and try again in the morning.

Saturday, June 3, 2017


Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
King Ranch Norias Division
Headed south to the land of the Crested Caracara. First stop the always super productive King Ranch. I met Tom Langschied the Nature Tour Coordinator at the Norias Gate at 8 am after the 4 hour drive from Houston. I was a little early and so got checked out by the Border Patrol while I was waiting. I have no idea how many times I've been checked by the Border Patrol or how many checkpoints I've been through, but I must be on a watch list by now.

Altamira/Audubon's Oriole Hybrid
The main target was of course the abundant Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls they have there. It didn't take too long to locate a pair of owls and make Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl Year Bird 470. We toured a lot more of the ranch. I don't know of another place where you can find so many specialty birds in one place.

During the morning we heard Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. We saw Hooded, Altamira, and Audubon's Orioles.We also saw an interesting Altamira/Audubon's hybrid. Can't count it but still an interesting bird. We also had great looks at Tropical Parula, Botteri's Sparrow, and Groove-billed Ani. Its a very special place for birders.

After a great morning birding I headed further south in search of Muscovy Duck. There seemed to be a Crested Caracara every half miles as I cut across the South Texas Brushlands. I made it to the picnic area just north of San Ignacio. From this overlook you can see close to 2 miles of the Rio Grande. Its an excellent look out for birds in the river. I spent two and a half hours there that evening with no luck on the duck.
Tropical Parula
Norias Division King Ranch

View of the Rio Grande from the picnic area.

Back in the morning I posted myself on the high point. Lots of bird activity on the river, but mostly grackles. They seemed to fly back and forth across the river endlessly. Wait, there it is, a large black colored duck with white wing patches flies from the Mexican side to the US side. The look is brief but Muscovy Duck is Year Bird 471. I wait about a half hour more hoping for better look but pack it in at about 10 am.

American Kestrel
Webb County
My plan was to hit some spots where Wood Stork had been seen recently on the way home. No luck with the wood storks but I did find what appeared to be a breeding group of American Kestrels in Webb County North of Larado on US 59. That what county birding does, it makes you look at every bird and sometimes you find something interesting. No luck between Laredo and Houston on Wood Storks, but its still early from these to disperse from breeding in Mexico.

I'm counting the days to Pelagic Season. If you're interested in the Texas Pelagic Trips, check out the website We still need more signups for the first trip to go!