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!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Hummer, Hummer, Owl

Lucifer Hummingbird
After a windy night in Big Bend Rio Grande Village I woke to still and both Western Screech-Owls and Great Horned Owls calling. It didn't take me long to strike camp and get on the road. I headed to Carolyn Ohl's Christmas Mountain Oasis. I rolled into the CMO about 9:30 am and the Hummer Show was on in full force. It took only moments to get on a Lucifer Hummingbird for Year Bird 467. The CMO is an amazing place and I lingered enjoying the hummers, Varied Buntings and Scaled Quail.

Finally I headed to my next stop. One of the western members of the Secret Underground Birders (SUB), call him Mr. H had invited to to his bunker high in the Davis Mountains to maybe get a rare owl. Driving from the CMO to Alpine I saw a B1 Bomber flow low over the highway heading east and had to think to myself, "What has the president done now" and "I hope I make it to Mr. H's Bunker in time"

Magnificent Hummingbird
I met up with Mr. H and he had me load up my gear into his survival vehicle and we headed high up into the mountains, checking our mirrors frequently to make sure we weren't followed.

Owl thirty would not happen for a long time and we chatted bird things and rare hummingbirds. Before too long a Magnificent Hummingbird made and appearance for Year Bird 468.

Soon we where being serenaded by Mexican Whip-poor-wills and Common Poorwills.

We headed up the hill in the fading light. When we got to the right spot by Mr. H's reckoning we had to wait until it was full dark. Finally  Mr. H was satisfied with the darkness. Using an old cassette tape he played the called. No answer. We waited a few minutes. Mr. H played it again. There it was faint and moving in closer! Northern Saw-whet Owl for Year Bird 469. Extra special because this was a lifer too. We moved around and re-positioned a coupled of times and finally got eyes on it.

Because we could we tried for Flammulated and Spotted Owl with not luck. Doesn't hurt to try!

Northern Saw-whet Owl
What a trip, 1,515 miles. 10.5 miles of hiking. I ended up with twelve new birds for the year and one lifer. My goal was to get 500 species by Memorial Day. I'm going to fall short of that by 31 species. I knew that would be a stretch, but goal that make you stretch are what's needed.

I may be able with some luck to pick up one or two species in early June, but that will be very lucky. I have only 28 none review species left! The next big push of birds will be in July when the Summer Pelagic Season starts.

Click here for my need list. I would really love to hear about a Lazuli Bunting or a Eastern Whip-poor-will I could get to in time. If you find one text or Facebook message me if you can!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Boot

My original plan was to head for Big Bend National Park last week, but the Crown Mountain Fire closed the trails in the Chisos Mountains and access to one of the two species you must get in Big Bend National Park. In Texas Mexican Jay is only present the Chisos Mountains, but they are resident. Colima Warbler is the other and they are present from maybe early April through August. Of course, you want them singing so May is the ideal time to go to Big Bend for a big year.

I left Houston Monday morning at 2 am headed west. I made good time and got to Panther Junction by 12:30 pm. As I was coming into the park there were warnings of full camp grounds, but I had no problem getting a site in Boot Canyon. My goal was to spend the night in Boot Canyon to maximize my chances at a Flammulated Owl.

Mexican Jay
First things first, I wanted to check out the water treatment plant for Blue-throated Hummingbirds. I headed down the service road and almost right away I had a troop of Mexican Jays for Year Bird 458. Hepatic Tanagers and Western Wood-Pewees were abundant. At the plant itself a beautiful Varied Bunting sang in the open for Year Bird 459. I found the tobacco plants where the Blue-throated Hummers where supposed to be. Not much activity, a Black-chinned Hummingbird was a good sign though. After waiting a while a Black-headed Grosbeak popped up and I did a few Western Screech-Owl toots to see if I could get it a little closer for a photo. Like rocket out of nowhere as make Blue-throated Hummingbird jetted in for Year Bird 460.

Ok time to get up the hill. It was three o’clock now and I got saddled up so to speak for my big hike. I got all loaded up and got about 200 feet down the trail and realized I didn’t have my permit on me, back to the car to get it. I then got about 300 feet down the trail and realized I forgot my flashlight and headlamp. Back again to the car for it. Ok this start was for real.

Varied Bunting
I made the Juniper Flats in good time, 50 minutes by my app for the first mile. Lots of Acrom Woodpeckers and Mexican Jays to entertain me while I pushed on with 40-50 pounds more than I was used to on my back. Two miles down and I was keeping under an hour per mile. I started into the switchbacks on the Pinnacles Trail. There are 21 switchbacks on the trail. Somewhere I got confused and wasn’t sure if my count was correct. On switchback 16 I head a call I was looking for, then a warbler landed in the tree in front of me. Colima Warbler sang for me for Year Bird 461.

Colima Warbler
Turns out my count was correct and at switch back 21 I topped the Pinnacles Trail at 3.8 miles and 6947 feet above sea level, and elevation change of 1600 feet from the parking lot. I stopped worrying about having to stop before I got there. I made good tome on the next mile was in Boot Canyon before I knew it. The spring and stream were flowing strong enough to hear.

By the time I made it to my site I had covered 5.25 miles in 4.5 hours. I felt pretty good about that, I even made the last mile in 30 minutes. It was now after 7:30 pm and I got right on pitching my tent and getting things in order since I was bushed, up since 1:45 and that hike and all. About 8 pm I was sitting on a log and realized I was hearing a familiar call. I checked a reference on my app and no doubt about it the long plaintive hweeew call I was hearing and so familiar with from Belize was a Dusky-capped Flycatcher for Year Bird 462. I had seen reports of one being heard on and off in the area. I finished my sandwich and it was still calling. Dang It, I guess I was going to have to try and get a photo or record it. Of course, by the time I got my gear together and made my legs work again it stopped.

Even though it wasn’t quite dark yet I crawled into my tent about 8:30 pm and listen to a podcast while I let my legs try and recover from the day. I was starting to doze about 9 pm as twilight was starting to fade and suddenly I could hear at least five of them calling. Mexican Whip-poor-will was Year Bird 463. The whips called all night long, they even seem to get a bit hoarse close to dawn.

An all-night serenade by Mexican Whip-poor-wills is nice, but the whole idea of camping was to get a shot at a Flammulated Owl. I woke at least a half dozen times during the night and listened with no luck on a Flammulated Owl.

Painted Redstart
I rose at 5:45 to whips still calling and got the tent packed and ready to break camp. A Plumbeous Vireo started calling over my head. I had the pack on my the time the sun was up and I realized I had been listening to warbler call nearby for about 5 minutes. I doubled check against my app and yes, Painted Redstart was Year Bird 464. After a few minutes it moved into a position I could even photograph it.

I only had one target left in the Chisos, Band-tailed Pigeon. I hung out until 8 am with no luck and started down. I did manage some good shots of Colima Warbler too. There were perhaps as many as eight present between by campsite and ranger cabin at the springs. I started down. On the Pinnacles switchbacks I had several more Colima Warblers. A little more than half way down I ran in John Yochum and Huck Hutchings from the RGV.

I made it down by 10:40 and enjoyed a cup of coffee from the Basin Store and sat in the shade enjoying the feel of no pack on my back. After my coffee I went to ask the ranger if the road might be open to Cottonwood Campground. It had been closed due to wash outs from the flash floods on Sunday and the daily report also said it was closed. I should ask when it might open I thought. The ranger was on the phone and I could hear the conversation “the daily report says its closed, but you’re saying its open now? All the way to Santa Elena Canyon? Just the overlook?” That sounds very promising. When she got off the phone she confirmed the road was now open to Cottonwood. Lucy’s Warbler here I come!

Lucy's Warbler
On my way I just let the call loop on my phone to tune my ears up. By the time I got there it was 12:30. I ate a sandwich and then started birding. I had not walked 100 yards and I heard it calling. At campsite 13 I found it above my head, Lucy’s Warbler was Year Bird 465. Not bad for almost 1 pm.

I headed over to Rio Grande Village for the end of the day and get a much-desired shower. I set up camp quickly and before my shower I scouted for Common Black-Hawk. No luck. The shower revitalized me and I took another look for the hawk. The wind was howling now no luck. Then I realized a bird I took for a Turkey Vulture wasn’t a Turkey Vulture. It circled in the wind over my head and zipped off down to the river. Common Black-Hawk was Year Bird 466.

With the wind still gusting to 20 mph I crawled into my tent, dreaming of what good birds I could find tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Best Laid Plans

I was supposed to be chasing Colima Warbler in Big Bend,  but the Crown Mountain Fire Sunday closed all of the trails to Boot Canyon and the Basin itself was closed. Stay flexible and make lemonade out of lemons. I headed for the Rio Grande Valley instead.

I still needed Botteri's Sparrow and that couldn't wait for the fall season in the RGV.  My original plan was to head for Old Port Isabel Road and look for it, but on a whim at the last minute decided to try the Palo Alto Battlefield NHP. I had been told by several this was a good site for Botteri's but had never been there.

Botteri's Sparrow
Palo Alto Battlefield NHP
I got out of the car at the overlook parking area and immediately heard a Botteri's singing somewhere. I loaded up with camera, binoculars, and a microphone and headed off to see if I could get closer.

Not far away I say a small bird teed up on a stick. Getting glass on the bird it was indeed a Botteri's Sparrow calling for Year Bird 454. It posed for pictures and I recorded some good audio of it calling, See my eBird checklist here for the recording.

I headed over to South Padre Island hoping for at least one of the three eastern migrant birds I still needed. The South Padre Island Convention Center was hopping when I got there. Literally hopping. It was Thrush-a-polooza and there were Swainson's Thrushes and Wood Thrushes all over the lawn. Warblers were active too, I tallied eight species of warblers. Lots of flycatchers and after staring down several empids my Jedi mind tricks worked and the force was strong in me and one started softly calling peet, peet, peet. letting me finally count Alder Flycatcher as Year Bird 455.

Mourning Warbler
I wasn't seeing any new birds after about an hour here so I headed over to the Valley Land Fund Lots on Sheepshead to see what I could find there. At first not much but grackles. At least a dozen male grackles were enjoying the water and chasing most any other passerine there. For the longest time an Eastern Wood-Pewee, a couple of empids, and a Red-eyed Vireo were it. Finally the grackles moved on and things got more active. I chatted with a couple of other birders that had arrived and we started to tally few more things. I started to get the impression that  birds were arriving too. One of my fellow birds said "What's this little bird" off in the corner of the sanctuary. I got on it and immediately thanked her for Mourning Warbler my Year Bird 456.

I made it back to the mainland and checked in at the Alamo Inn. I've stayed a couple of time now at the always comfortable and welcoming Alamo Inn. I highly recommend this Birder-centric Inn for a birding trip to the RGV.

Green Parakeets
No time to relax yet I still needed to connect with some Green Parakeets. I had missed them on previous trips to the RGV and it bugged me. I wasn't really sweating getting them, but I wanted to get them off the need list. I headed over to 10th and Dove in McAllen the traditional site for them in McAllen. When I arrived at my favorite spot, the fountains outside of the Lowes on 10th, there were at least fifty Green Parakeets squawking for Year Bird 457. Not a bad day, four new Year Birds

Tuesday morning I went looking for Hook-billed Kite. I started at Chihuahua Woods Preserve not far from Bentsen State Park. I'd never been to this site before but Hook-billed Kite nested here in the past and there aren't a lot of visits in eBird so it looked worth checking out. There was a far amount of snail shells on the ground but I didn't see any evidence of live snails, something a bird that eats snails would need. I spent about an hour there and while I had 29 species including Gray Hawk and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, no kites.

Plain Chachalaca
Santa Ana NWR
Before it got too late in the day I headed over to Santa Ana NWR and spent an hour on the tower there. It was windy and cloudy. I had Harris Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, and Mississippi Kite. An immature Broad-winged Hawk with its banded tail like a Hook-billed Kite got me going for a minute, but none of my target kites made an appearance.

I realized why I don't bird Santa Ana much anymore. It makes me sad to see it. I first visited Santa Ana 23 years ago. I'm sure the decline that makes me sad was well underway by them, but in the last 23 years most of the ebony and cedar-elm trees that made Santa Ana a lush place are gone and nothing but their skeletons remains. Those trees need annual flooding that doesn't happen anymore. I actually looked walking the Tower Trail back to the visitor center and saw none of either species. Sad, go see it before its all gone.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Roof of Texas

Western Tanager
The Bowl, I'll call it the Roof of Texas. All but one of the top 10 highest peaks in Texas are in the Guadalupe Mountains. When you reach the top of the Tejas Trail in Guadalupe Mountains National Park Park you are at 7900 feet and some change. Only Baldy Peak on Mount Livermore is higher than this outside of the Guadalupe Mountains. Most of the tails in The Bowl keeps you above 7800 feet. Its open year round. If you want to bird the High County of Texas this is where you should go.

That said its one of the least explored Hotspots in Texas according to eBird. Just 84 checklists have been turned in and only one eBirder accounts for almost 25% of those checklists. There are finds to be made here. My checklist was the first since March. Grace's Warbler and Audubon's (Yellow-rumped) Warbler are abundant. Hairy Woodpecker is common. Its one of two places to see Steller's Jay and Mountain Chickadee in Texas. Its the only place to see Pygmy Nuthatch. That's why I went.

El Capitan at Dawn
My original plan was too camp at Pine Springs and get an early start. Thirty mile per hour gusts made me wuss out and get a room in Van Horn 60 miles away. Just get up an hour earlier right? I overslept by 90 minutes and barely got on the road before 6:30 am. By the time I got on the trail it was 7:40 am CDT. The Tejas Trail is about 4.25 miles long and climbs a little over 2000 feet from the trail head. My plan was to blast up so I could have the max time at the high elevations.

It took about 1.5 miles to make it into the sunlight. As soon as sunlight hit the sides of the mountain the Black-chinned Sparrows came out. Not soon afterward I had one of those magic moments that happen every couple of years when you're birding. At first two Violet-green Swallows appears. then suddenly a flock of about twenty-five. A sparrow popped up close and I pished to try for a picture. The swallows appears to respond to the pishing and suddenly the whole flock was swirling around me. Those that passed lower than me appeared as emerald steaks. The flock moved off. I pished again and the flock came back. After about five minutes of swirling they vanish, not a swallow in the sky. Magic,

At about 7500 feet on the trail I spotted a hummingbird and it came in closer and I saw it was a Broad-tailed Hummingbird for Year Bird 449. Onward, I had 400 feet to go. Near the top of the trail I got a brief look at a Western Tanager for Year Bird 450.

Selfie at the top of the Trail
7919 Feet
I made it to the Bowl Trail in 3 hours and covered 4.4 miles and climbed 2000 feet. Not bad I thought for a 54 year old who's only exercise is none stop birding. From the overlook near the top of the trail you can get a cell signal and I sent my wife a selfie to let her know I made it safely. Time to find me some birds.

A bit down the trail I heard a few chip notes and tried my Western Pygmy-Owl imitation. The force was strong with my toots today and I had a good flock going in no time. At first I just saw Audubon's Warblers. You know, Audubon's Warbler in breeding plumage is a knock out warbler. Then I noted a few Grace's Warbler's for Year Bird 451. A white-breasted Nuthatch joined the party.

The owl call was working for me and I stuck with that winning strategy. The next flock produced Plumbeous Vireo and a Western Tanager. Then I heard a low pitched noise behind me that I had never heard before. It was a Broad-tailed Humming bird displaying.

A few clocks later I got a few Chipping Sparrows, Then another White-breasted Nuthatch appears. then I heard a pip almost right above me and I found my main target, A Pygmy Nuthatch for Year Bird 452 and it was camera close. Before I brought the camera to bear it was gone. I had only been in the bowl an hour and I had to decide to continue or head back down. I opted to continue.

About 30 minutes later I finally found a Cassin's Vireo for Year Bird 453. By now I was at the junction of the Juniper and Bowl Trails. What to do? In my hast to leave I had not picked up a trail map, Was the Juniper Tail a short cut? it seemed to head the correct direction. I opted to take it,

Plumbeous Vireo
Don't ever do this, don't take a trail in a wilderness area you don't know where it goes. I invested about three-quarters of a mile in this trail and I got to a gap where I could see Guadalupe Peak. The trail was not going in the correct directions. It might double back or it could go much longer. I decided to opt for back tracking the now 2.5 miles the way I came. After looking at the map later I determined it would have worked out fine and I was really about the halfway point. I do think it was better to turn back and not take the risk though.

On the backtrack I ran into a flock of about ten Western Tanager. I've never seen anything like it. I had no idea they were ever social like this. They all joined in to scold my owl whistle alone with a couple more Plumbeos Vireos.

I made time getting back down. Making it to the car by 5:15 pm. 13.25 miles, 9:43 minutes of hiking. 2741 feet of elevation gain. My legs were like noodles. It was a good day. Check the links below for the birds I saw:

My list for the Tejas Trail

My list for the Bowl

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

el Gallo

Lesser Prairie-Chickens on the Lek
Long time followers of my Big Year have heard me speak of S.U.B., the Secret Underground Birders. Think of them as the Men in Black of birding. The members of S.U.B. often have access to information and birds regular birders just don't know about. They sometimes share this information when it suites their purposes, and sometimes I've been a beneficiary of that information. 

After I posted my needs list, el Gallo from the Lower Panhandle chapter of S.U.B. contacted me and said he could hook me up with a Lesser Prairie-Chicken. The fires in the panhandle wiped out my only solid option for chickens. I jumped at the chance and agreed to the conditions.

I meet el Gallo well before sunrise on a quite side street. He instructed me to get in his truck. I jumped in and got settled as we headed out of town, Through the rough burlap sack over my head el Gallo made conversation, apologizing for the secrecy needed. The sack wasn't so bad, but the dust from the sorghum it had recently had in it kept making me sneeze. The forecast was for rain but we felt lucky. On the far west side of the panhandle not far from the New Mexico border we stopped. el Gallo removed the sack and we got out. I looked around trying to get my bearings but one prairie and one pivot irrigation field is much like another and I had really not a clue where I was.

In the darkness over the Grasshopper and Cassin's Sparrows we could here a couple booming. Lesser Prairie Chicken was Big Year Bird 447! This one felt good, a bird I had all but written off. It was a lifer to boot.

We waited until dawn even managing some poor pictures. Back on with the sack and el Gallo took me back to our starting point.

Bullock's Oriole
I headed for Guadalupe Mountain's National Park. My plan was yo try this afternoon for Juniper Titmouse at Frijole Ranch and make the hike to Smith Springs to look for things like Western Tanager and migrants. The drive was uneventful, but a Bullock's Oriole outside of Seminole was a new county bird for me.

After my 200 mile drive I arrived and checked the area for titmouse. No luck. I headed down the trail for Smith Springs, a site I've had never visited. On the way I found an empid. Big head, bold teardrop eye ring, it was looking good. Come on, say something! A nice sharp peek and my suspicion was confirmed. Hammond's Flycatcher was Year Bird 448.

Smith Springs its a stunning site. Make the hike if you can soon. It was slow today, just a Plumbeous Vireo and a Black-heade Grosbeak, buts its has some many good trees it must be good most days. Tomorrow, The Bowl.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

No Guts No Glory

Monday was the start of my first of three west Texas trips in May. I was part of the Swarovski Optik Western Hawks Far West Texas big day team for the Great Texas Birding Classic along with Clay Taylor and Bob Friedrich. I had created a route I thought would be a winning route with plenty of water and habitat diversity.

Townsend's Warbler
Franklin Mountains State Park
On Monday Bob and I did some scouting before meeting Clay in El Paso. We checked out the Balmorhea area and found a Western Wood-Pewee for Year Bird 429 at Balmorhea State Park. We headed into El Paso to pick up Clay at the airport and stashed my car in long term parking and headed out to scout the El Paso area.

At the Franklin's Mountain's State Park we spotted a warbler at the lookout from the car and when we got glass on it, it was Townsend's Warbler for Year Bird 430. A few minutes later we  found an empid we were able to determine was a Willow Flycatcher for Year Bird 431.

At the Crossroad's Pond we found an unexpected Red-necked Phalarope for Year Bird 432. Not a bird I had on my radar, maybe it should have been now that I've looked at the eBird records and see how New Mexico seems regular for them.

Red-necked Phalarope
Our final site to scout for the day was the Rio Bosque Wetland's Park, which is one of the driest placed I've ever birded it turns out. It is a great place for Gambel's Quail though. While scouting to see of there was any water in the impoundments we found a mixed group of warblers and one was a MacGillivray's Warbler for year bird 433. This was a special one because it one of the big misses of my 2015 big year.

We spent the night in Alpine and rose at 3:30 am to leave the hotel by 4:00 am to be birding the Davis Mountains by 5 am. On time it didn't take too long to find a calling Elf Owl calling for Year Bird 434. No Western Screech-Owl yet, no Great  Horned Owl calling like they did over my tent in January here. The milky way blazed so bright at first I thought it was clouds moving in, but really clouds of stars. Several shooting stars flashed by. We tested our optics counting moons around Jupiter. Time to move on though.

It was a few minutes before 6 am now at the Lawrence E Woods picnic area. When we got out of the car a Turkey gobbled somewhere near by. A few minutes of calling and we has several Western Screech-Owls calling for Year Bird 435. As we walked to the other end of the picnic area a turkey roosting in the tree above me cut loose with a loud gobble right above my head causing me to jump, causing Bob and Clay much laughter. As the some light crept into the sky Cassin's Kingbirds started calling for Year Bird 436.

Almost full sunrise and a Gray Flycatcher bursts into full song for Year Bird 437. Things were really starting to get going now, but we really didn't have full sunlight in the picnic area year. We waited 10 minutes later than our scheduled out time to get the sun and we were rewarded with Hepatic Tanager for year bird 438.

We moved on to Davis Mountains State Park and located a Plumbeous Vireo for Year Bird 439. At the feeding stations we found abundant Black-headed Grosbeaks for Year Bird 440.

We headed out to the next stop hoping for a Common Black Hawk the nest site on SH118 outside of Fort Davis. We dipped on the Black Hawk but did get Zone-tailed Hawk for year bird 441.

Behind schedule already we headed for the Balmorhea area and did well boosting out totals up into the 90's already. Now the long hall to the Guadalupe Mountains.

We hit Frijole Ranch and did well on empids, Cordilleran Flycatcher was Year Bird 442 and Dusky Flycatcher was Year Bird 443. We had perhaps as many as 6 Dusky Flycatchers.

Over at the Pine Springs Visitor Center we found a Virginia's Warbler for Year Bird 444. We headed back on the road headed for El Paso. We made good time and picked up some good birds on the Dell City loop. We opted to cut out the Franklin's Mountains State Park stop and we were back on schedule sort off. We decided to take a risk and drove the entrance road to Hueco Tanks State Park and picked up a number or new birds for our Big Day plus White-throated Swift as Year Bird 445.
It takes a lot of guts to drive 2200 miles in west Texas!

Traffic delayed us for a few minutes getting to our next stop, the Crossroads Pond in West El Paso. Good luck was with us and the Red-necked Phalarope was still there and a  Wilson's had joined it. We picked up several more good birds and headed to our last birding stop of the day, Rio Bosque Wetlands.

Not well named the Wetlands are not very wet but still birdy. We stayed there until well after sunset and nabbed many birds for our big day, including Gambel's Quail, Lesser and Common Nighthawk, and Common Gallinule in a ditch.

Heading back home the next day I was pleased. Seventeen new Big Year Birds put a dent in my West Texas Holes. We did very well with our Big Day, turning in an outstanding score I think. The big day lasted 17 hours of birding and 400 miles. Total round trip for me was about 2200 miles. Oh and about a 1000 bugs spilled there guts on my windshield can grill. I'll be back soon.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Big Day

This year for the Great Texas Birding Classic my team decided we would attempt a statewide big day. Using eBird records we reverse engineered much of the route used by the eBird team when they set the record for a North America big day.

We had some disadvantages though, one we were just 4 guys and two of them were still working, we just didn't have the time and resources that Team eBird had to prep. We also were locked into a day due to schedules and had to deal with the weather we were dealt.

We had been having trouble locating all the night birds we wanted to and decided to start in the Choke Canyon area since we new where to find most of what we wanted. We met up on Thursday morning and headed out to Choke Canyon. We got there in time to do some scouting, hoping to locate a Least Grebe that John thought we might be able to find in the dark. At one of our stops we found a couple of Bullock's Orioles for Year Bird 426.

Surf Scoter
McMullen County
The surprise was a water storage pond we checked out though. There was a Pied-billed Grebe, but the lone duck there was a female Surf Scoter for Year Bird 427. This site was a pond about an acre in size with a vinyl liner. We guessed maybe there were snails in the water it could eat.

We met at the car after an unsatisfying 3 hours of sleep to start at 11:30 pm. I had been elected The Time Nazi, my job was to keep us on schedule. It started windy but clear, we saw several shooting stars as we waited for midnight. On site we had a frustrating time finding an Eastern Screech-Owl, but a Barred Owl called to kick things off. Over the next two hours we found Barred, Barn, and Eastern Screech-Owl, along with Chuck-will's Widow, Lesser Nighthawk, and Common Pauraque. Yellow-breasted Chat was the most common night bird we found, their crazy calls and mimicry giving us fits all night long. Without a moon we could not relocate the Surf Scoter, It was now 2 am.

We then made the two hour drive to Uvalde, TX for the end of the night birding and finally picked up Great Horned Owl.

At our dawn chorus site we got investigated by the Border Patrol. Since we didn't appear to be illegal alien smugglers or actual aliens it was a brief encounter, although he strangely asked if we were looking for tarantulas. His two backup units arrived and they moved off to chat and left at a high rate of speed after a few minutes. Securing the border no doubt. It was now about 6:20 am

Park Chalk Bluff was good to us and we left after more than 50 species in less than an hour. We started our journey east stopping for a drive on/drive off Monk Parakeet site in San Antonio. It was now 11:15 am. At a rest stop on I10 we picked up Broad-winged and Cooper's Hawk. I was driving and missed the Mississippi Kites the others where seeing until some passed close and low. Near the Attwater's Prairie-Chicken National Wildlife Refuge we found our staked out White-tailed Hawk.

We continued on to the Lake Houston area, picking up woodland species but missing some key things like Pileated Woodpecker and Brown-headed Nuthatch. We were also getting being schedule and our route depended on getting to the coast before sunset. It was now 3:30 pm

Blasting down to the coast we started getting our shorebirds on the list. Two spots and we were looking good, and we were making up a little time. Close up Hudsonian Godwits were a highlight of my day. We zoomed into High Island, electing to only to Smith Oaks. A Black-billed Cuckoo was Year Bird 428. In 40 minutes we picked up 18 migrants. It was 6:42 pm. We headed down the coast.

Long-tailed Duck
Photo from 4/10/17
We elected to skip Yatch Basin road and do Tuna Rd. Originally we had planned to do Tuna Rd and try for Seaside and Nelson's Sparrow's singing in the dark. I suggested we do a quick drive by for them now since it was foggy and the wind was blowing gale force at about 32 mph according to the Weather Underground. We found both is a couple of minutes and blasted to the Bolivar Flats. Along the way we made up White-tailed Kite and Osprey we had missed. It was 7:36 pm. Sunset was 7:50 pm but it already felt like twilight due to the light fog and overcast.

Immediately at the Flats we found the lingering Long-tailed Duck, a great bird for the list. We found almost all the expected goodies, finishing with two Red Knots in the fading light. It was about 8:15 pm and the only light was the light from the glow of Galvaston across the bay.

We went to listen for rails. It was tough, wind close to 30 mph. After most of an hour we heard a Black Rail, then a King and a Virginia Rail. Put a fork in us, we were done! It was 10:35 pm.

We didn't do as well as we had hoped but we finished well north of 200 species for the day. The day was about 750 miles and we traveled door to door 1100 miles. We birded for 22.6 hours straight. I had 3 hours of sleep in 36 hours and ended up with a 25.5 hour day. I had only 2 cups of coffee but 3 5-Hour Energy. I think an excellent effort for a new route which we will certainly refine. We triage the whole day as we drive back to pick up our cars, idea for improvements flying fast and furious!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Tail of Two Vireos

It was a busy busy week of birding. Tuesday I started at 3 am with my team the Swarovski Optik Wandering Hawks for the Great Texas Birding Classic Texas Two Stop tournament.  We would bird Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge for day one and Estero Llano Grande for Day Two. We started the day in Sugar Land to get in one car at 3 am and ended in Harligen via Anahuac NWR after a day of birding at 11:30 pm. We then rose at 4 am to be at Estero Llano Grande with time for night birds. We ended the second day at 7:30 pm in Corpus Christi. I netted 10 new ones bringing me to 407 species

After the two step I was speaking and leading tours at the Birdiest Festival in America in Corpus Christi, TX. I did two bird days and picked up on a major fall out event on Sunday to bring me to 418 species for the year.

While at the festival John Berner alerted me that a Black-whiskered Vireo had been found at Lafitte's Cove in Galveston, This was a badly needed review species but the earliest I could leave would be Sunday around 2 pm since I had talk to give Sunday. Later that night I got another message that a Yellow-green Vireo was found at Sabine Woods.

There were no updates on the Black-whiskered Vireo by the end of my talk so I birded very productively in Corpus Christi. On the way home I found out the bird had been seen all day. It seemed to me that previous Black-whiskered Vireo had usually stuck around for 2-3 days so I decided to try for it in the morning. There were not reports one way or the other for the Yellow-green Vireo.

Black-whiskered Vireo
I made it to Lafitte's Cove by 7:45 am and began the search. While crossing the board walk I could hear a Prairie Warbler singing for Year Bird 419. A nice start. During the festival I kept mostly incidental checklists because of the way a big day with a group works and decided I needed to so some complete ones so I make a circle saying hello to many friends there. On my circle I found Bay-breasted Warbler for Year Bird 420,

We spread out looking when my friend David Hanson called me over and told me he just had it. We soon located it. Black-whisked Vireo was Year Bird 421.

Bay-breasted Warbler
It was still early so I decided to check out Corps Woods and then head over to the Bolivar Flats looking for a White-rumped Sandpiper. Corps Woods was pretty good, but nothing new. I was about to head for the ferry but then I got a message from Steve Mayes that he had just found the Yellow-green Vireo at Sabine Woods.

I was on the way, It was 11:30 am now and my GPS Overloards said I would arrive about 1:45 pm. I hurried.

Once there I found Steve and got details on where the bird was seen. I began my vigil, circling the area over and over like a pilgrim making a religious quest. At first I wasn't seeing any vireos then I found a couple of  Red-eyed Vireos.

I chatted up everyone I met, let them know what I was looking for. Surprisingly most were far more interested in a Cape May Warbler that was being reported. I found a report that the vireo hand been seen about an hour before I got there.

I decided I would leave at 4 pm and return tomorrow if I missed the bird today. I expended my search, then there was some excitement, someone found it but lost it. We keep searching and I decided to check the mulberry tree where it had been seen earlier. While I was scanning one of the birders I chatted up came and found me and let me know it was at the drip. I shot off to the drip and was able to get a brief but solid view, but alas no picture. Still Yellow-green Vireo was Year Bird 422. I checked the time it was 3:50 as I headed to the car, wondering how many people had seen both Black-whiskered Vireo and Yellow-green Vireo on the same day in Texas?