Friday, December 29, 2017

End Game

The year was winding down and opportunity was slipping away. I had to make a final push and see what I could do.

With really only one totally free day left for me in the year I headed to Galveston. Of the none review birds left on my list two would be possible in Galveston. My plan was to hit East Beach then cross over to the Bolivar Peninsula and head around the bay checking all the gull spots for something unusual.

Brown Booby
Texas City Dike
I decided to start my day at the Texas City Dike since it can be a good gull spot and is best early. It was just after sunrise and almost right away I found a Brown Booby! It appeared to have an injured wing. I called the Texas City Animal Control and they said they would come pick it up. About 30 minutes later the Animal Control Officer arrived and she and I looked for it but it had disappeared. I hope that means the bird wasn't really injured.

I got to East Beach about 10 am. Lots of gulls there and a lot of large gulls. The lyrics of the popular birding song "I like big gulls and I can not lie" ran through my head. I scanned through them and found nothing unusual. I noticed lots of ships on the move in the channel and some had good size gull flocks behind them. On the Freeport CBC seawatch we have occasionally have had a jaeger come in with a ship in bound. A ship was making its way inbound many be once every 20 minutes. I see maybe 1 ship a year on the Freeport CBC so a couple of hours here could equal a decade of the seawatch in potential activity. I headed to the end of the seawall where I could have a good view of the channel.

I set up at the Fort San Jacinto Historic Point as the historic marker there call it. It turns out its a very good seawatch spot. The channel comes pretty close to the point and you get a pretty good view with the scope of the passing ship's gull flocks. I see a lot of dark first year Herring Gulls, more than I saw roosting on East Beach and Boddecker Rd telling me I was at least seeing different gulls. It wasn't too long before a Lesser Black-backed Gull made an appearance. Lots more Herring Gulls.

After a couple of hours I saw a small gull in a flock and the dark underwings jumped out at me. I could see the I could make out a small cap and an ear spot, and most importantly no white triangle on the wings. This had to be a Little Gull, Year Bird 503.

Parasitic Jaeger
Left of the Buoy
I figured my good luck for the day was used up, that's two really good birds in a day. Off in the distance I could see another ship inbound. I decided to stay until it passed. As the inbound ship passed another ship outbound two flocks merged. A very dark bird jumped out at me. It was ring-billed gull size and darker then any juvenile Herring Gull. It had a lighter belly and a more narrow tail than the gulls. I could only make this bird into one thing, Parasitic Jaeger and Year Bird 504. I tried a photo, but its just a dark dot way out there.

Two more days left in the year for me. Who knows what could turn up. It would take some fancy footwork on my part to get to some birds now. I have left only two non-review species left on the table. If I get something else this year, its going to be a great bird.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Man from Uncle

I got some teaser photos while I was getting a tire repaired of a Black-legged Kittiwake I still needed. It was in an exclusive marina. Not just anyone could get in. Bummer is all I could say. I thought maybe sometime this week I could go to public areas near by and hope the bird comes by.

If you've followed my big year you know sometimes the shadowy Secret Underground Birders (SUB) reach out to help me with my big year. SUB is not always in the main stream (They are very upset with adding Hawaii to the ABA list I hear), but they have a soft spot for listers.

I get a call from the Man from Gulls (I'll call him the G-man) in SUB. He knew of my need for a Kittiwake and it just so happens that his Uncle was the Commodore at this marina and he could get us in. I had 45 minutes to get to the location though.

When the phone rang I was about to leave the house to help my wife at her company install a server at her company. I should say my VERY understanding wife who I love VERY much and begged off to go chase another bird (she is very relieved that there are only 12 days left in the year).

Black-legged Kittiwake
I made to the rendezvous with the G-man. The Commodore escorted us to the Marina leading the way in a Cadillac the color of the deep blue sea. The guard at the gate jumped with a snappy salute and allowed us entry when the Commodore approached.

We where in. The Commodore left us to our search and went on to attend to the multiple tasks always awaiting a Commodore of his status. We picked a starting point and started looking at gulls. Not too many around, mostly Brown Pelicans.

Way off on a piling a lone gull sat. I put binoculars on it and I thought maybe. The G-man put more fire power on it with his scope and confirmed this was our target. Black-legged Kittiwake was Year Bird 502.  The bird was amazingly tame. I got pretty close without the bird seeming the least bit alarmed. Photo's all around!

Tomorrow morning the server gets installed. Anymore birds to chase will have to wait until at least Friday

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Just too Easy

Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Sanderson, TX
Just about 4 pm yesterday  Lee Hoy sent me a message that there was a Violet-crowned Hummingbird in his yard in Sanderson, TX. Lee also graciously offered me use of his guest house. I started the logistic calculations in my head. If I leave at 4 am I can be there at noon, that woukd give be all afternoon too find it. I'll have to skip the San Bernard CBC (I would definitely miss the gumbo). Yes that would work.

I got to bed early but for some reason I woke up early at 1:30 am. I tossed and turned for an hour before I decided too leave early for Sanderson. An hour head start and I made the 479 mile drive in great time and pulled into Lee's driveway about 10:30 am. I grabbed my camera and binoculars and made a quick pitstop (I drank a lot of coffee on the way!).

As I came back outside I heard and saw a large hummingbird with amazingly loud wingbeats fly over my head and land in the mesquite tree over my head. I got glass on it. All white below, thick red bill with a black tip. Violet-crowned Hummingbird was Year Bird 501! This is one was just too easy.

I realized I could make it home before too late and still make the CBC tomorrow! I hung around till noon and headed for home, but not before snagging a picture of the red T-rex on main street Sanderson. I was just recently reading the not only was it possible that T-rex was a feathered dinosaur, it almost certainly was feathered, could it be counted as 502?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

500 Gold at the end of the Rainbow

I got word late Saturday afternoon that Shepdawg had found a Golden-crowned Sparrow at Lake Palo Duro. Lake Palo Duro! I was just there three days ago! Lake Palo Duro 676 miles from my house and ten and half hours drive.

The next morning I got a positive report at 8 am of the bird, actually two birds. Last night I thought Tuesday would be my first chance to chase it. Now I started to formulate a faster plan. If I gave up going to a beer dinner (serious business a beer dinner) and left around midday and spent the night in Pampa I could get a reasonable night sleep and get to the sight close to sunrise on Monday morning.

I got out of town about 12:45 pm a little later than I wanted but still ok. Other than getting rerouted to a surface street in Fort Worth because I missed an exit because of the sun glare I made the 600 mile drive without incident and made the hotel in Pampa a little after 10 pm.

With a sunrise of 7:45 am I was able to get breakfast at the hotel and get on the road for sunrise. Just me and school buses on the road as the sun peaked over the horizon. I have to admit, the panhandle does grow on you after a time.

I pulled into the park by the lake right after sunrise at 7:45 am. The hill where the sparrows were being seen was still in shadow. I had set my GPS to the exact spot Shepdawg had found it. I drove up and saw it was a small line of trees with a log pile behind it. A few small trees lead back into a small ravine.

I had been listening to the call notes in prep for this for a couple of hundred miles. To my ears the call of a Golden-crowned Sparrow sounds much like a Savannah Sparrow and the White-crowned is more of a "plink" and the Golden-crowned a "seeeep". When I got out of the car I will swear I heard that call. The only birds I located was a small group of Dark-eyed Juncos.

Golden-crowned Sparrow
Lake Palo Duro
I watched the sun sweep across the hill in the space of a few seconds. Sparrows started popping up now. A group moved down to the lake shore and I followed. White-crowned Sparrows, Song Sparrow. A fair number of American Tree Sparrows. Boy this is the place for for American Tree Sparrow this year.

I worked flocks up the hill and back down. The tumbleweeds slowing my roll, sometimes chest high. I worried that I would have to consider a heard only bird.

After about 35 minutes a bird perched up and I could see it was a chunky bird with no white supercillium. I got glass on it and it turned toward me and I could see the golden crown! Golden Crowned Sparrow was Year Bird 500! Now that's a milestone. I hit 400 species for the year on April 26. It took 229 days for the next 100 birds.

I followed the bird around for a few minutes getting pictures. At one point I thought I had three birds in view at one. Now looking at my pictures I'm not so sure. I'm reasonably certain I was photographing this bird and could hear that "seeep" call note off to my right. All my certain pictures are off the initial bird though so I don't know how many were actually present.

Northern Shrike
Lipcomb County
This chase was 1,410 miles for me. Here's the funny part, Another Golden-crowned Sparrow was found at Warbler Woods near San Antonio, just about 200 miles away. It would have been easier, but I have to admit, 33 hours to the panhandle and back makes a much better story and it's hard to get tired of American Tree Sparrows, Northern Shrikes, and Rough-legged Hawks.

I planned to stop by Lake Marvin and prospect for Trumpeter Swan, but Joe Fischer was there that day ahead of me and had no swans so I headed south via US83 and birded a little in the four counties I still had not been in for the Panhandle, picking up a Northern Shrike outside of Canadian.

Aud the Dinosaur 
You do see some interesting things driving across Texas, like Aud, the Canadian Dinosaur. If it was at least a theropod I might find a way to count it as 501, but alas Aud is a Sauropod and likely cold blooded and unfeathered unlike theropods.

I'm still pushing my count, there are a little more than two weeks left in the year and Christmas counts start this week. I could certainly pick up a few more rarities and I still have three realistic non-review species, Parasitic Jaeger, Black-legged Kittiwake, and Little Gull. A big year is not over until January 1!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Almost there.

Lapland Longspur
Year Bird 499
Bob Friedrichs and I continued our panhandle trip last week. On Wednesday morning we found our first group of longspurs. As it turned out my target wasn't too hard, I was soon able to tick Lapland Longspur as Year Bird 499. I took lots of in flight photos and got some ok flight photos for documentation.

Northern Shrike
Lake Palo Duro.
Bob needed some birds for the year in Texas so we headed up to Lake Palo Duro for Northern Shrike and American Tree Sparrow. I'd never been to Lake Palo Duro and big water is always interesting in the Panhandle. When we got there almost the first bird we found was Northern Shrike. We spent a few minutes letting it make its rounds while we waited for a photo opportunity.

We continued and checked a line of brushy trees and sound a found a flock of American Tree Sparrows. These birds were not this easy back in January when I was chasing them!

Our plan was to work our way up to Texline and bird Thompson Grove in the morning. one the way Bob wanted to check a site where a few weeks ago Rusty Blackbirds has been found. We pulled up and the site was pretty dead. A few juncos and a pair of Great Horned Owls present. I lectured on how Rusty Blackbirds wouldn't stay in a site like this. Then I heard a squeaky call and three Rusty Blackbirds popped up in view. Amazing. a few miles way at a similar site we found another dozen Rusties.

American Tree Sparrow
Thompson Grove
The next day we made the Thompson Grove east of Texline in Dallam county at sunrise. The car thermometer read 8 degrees. Once the sun warmed things up sparrows got active. American Tree Sparrow was easily the most common. We figured more than 20 birds present. Oh and another Northern Shrike.

Heading back into Dalhart we saw and estimated 50 Common Ravens. We saw several groups up to eight. I'm kicking myself now. I wonder of these ravens are part of the montane invasion. Could there have been a Black-billed Magpie out there waiting to be found? We looked as we drove but made no active search. I feel like that was a mistake.

Making tracks we made Lake Arrowhead near Wichita Falls with enough light to look for a Red-necked Grebe. Not much grebe action on the lake, but Bonaparte's Gulls were present in numbers. From a park on the east side of the lake I saw a small gull that seemed to have dark underwings and no white triangle. Bob could not locate the bird though when he looked. It was getting dark and the bird was distant. We raced to the dam hoping the bird was heading that way but we found only more Bonoparte's. Did I find a Little Gull? it would be bird 500 for the year. I replayed what I saw over and over in my head. I looked a videos of Little Gull in flight with Bonoparte's. I would need to think on this one.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

I would drive 1200 miles...

Last week Bob Friedrichs and I planned a trip to the Texas Panhandle to look for longspurs. I still need Lapland Longspur for the year and Bob need all the other panhandle ones and a few other specialties of the panhandle. Of course a Green-breasted Mango showed up Saturday afternoon at Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen.

Since the bird was being seen Sunday and the site was open special for it on Monday we changed plans slightly. We would leave two hours earlier and try to get to Quinta Mazatlan by 9 am. That meant I would leave my house by 3 am and meet Bob at 5 am in Palacios.

That part of the plan worked. We made it to the site by 9:15 am. Of course Bill Sain informed me as soon as we got there that the bird was seen at 8:30 am briefly. It looked like from the reports from the day before that the bird came in about every 60-90 minutes. No reason to panic yet. We settled in for a good old fashion stakeout. There was a good crowd there and lot of friends I knew so it was a party.

Green-breasted Mango
Quinta Mazatlan
At about 10 am someone said "there it is" The crowd went wild, well quietly wild. It did sound like a presidential press conference with cameras. Green-breasted Mango was Year Bird 497. It hung around for 5 minutes and was gone. Time to fly, Pampa our destination was 11 hours away. We were on the highway by 10:25 am I noted.

About the time we got almost to Alice, TX about 100 miles north Eric Carpenter sent me a message asking if I had heard about the Tundra Swans at the Fort Worth Nature Center. A little back and forth with Eric and some discussion between Bob and I on logistics and we decided to divert to Fort Worth for the night. We couldn't make it before closing but could be there when they opened at 8 am Tuesday morning.

On the way to Fort Worth I got a report from Eric Clum that a kayaker spooked the birds deep into the marsh. No one relocated them before closing. We could only cross our fingers and hope for the best.

By the time we got to our hotel I had covered 880 miles. Bob drove 760 of those. As we settled in Bob checked his eBird alerts and saw that there was a Pacific Loon at Lake Benbrook. That wasn't far and we could check it at sunrise and still make the Nature Center in good time.

We got to the lake nice and early and started scanning around the dam area where it was seen. No loons at all. We had basically decided to move and check around the point when Bob saw something he wanted to get a better look at. Sure enough, there was the Pacific Loon for a Year Bird for Bob. We headed for the Nature Center, just 19 minutes on our eBird checklist.

Tundra Swans
Fort Worth Nature Center
We made it to the Nature Center by 8:30 am. We birded for the swans for about 60 minutes when I got a text message from Bill Edwards that he had the swans. We hurried over to Bill's location and there they were feeding calmly in the marsh. Tundra Swan was Year Bird 498. Time to fly. We hoped to make it in range of longspurs before it got dark.

We made it to Lake McClellan with about 20 minutes of light. No luck on the longspurs reported there, but we did pick up some Mountain Bluebirds for a new Texas bird for Bob.

We made our hotel in Pampa about 6 pm. We have covered 1250 miles since I left my house Monday at 3 am. Tomorrow we're going to find some longspurs!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Luck of the Irish

I am part Irish, my grandmother's maiden name was O'leary from Chicago afterall. I'm due some good luck. I had planned to stay home Tuesday morning but running through my email I saw an eBird alert from my friend John at Sabine Woods that he had a late Eastern Whip-poor-will the day before. I can't pass up a make up opportunity so close to home and jumped in the car and headed out.

Between Winnie and Port Arthur it started to rain pretty hard, hard enough that I considered pulling over. Driving about 50 MPH I surfed on. Then right in front of me a dumpy, rounded winged no tail bird with a long bill flew across the road. I guess ponding water flushed it. American Woodcock was now Year Bird 495! I'll take good luck when I can.

I got to Sabine Woods a little after 9 am since its close to two hours from my house. As I was gathering up my gear John pulled up and said "I thought I might see you here". Indeed, my last chance for this bird for sure.

Late Broad-winged Hawk at Sabine Woods
We check the area where where he had the bird the day before. No luck. Then a bird calling confused me, it seemed so out of place. I asked "am I hearing a Great Kiskadee?" John  confirmed one had been present since July and was being at least heard regularly on the adjacent property. Pretty cool and a new county bird for me.

We kept looking. Hermit Thrushes and Golden-crowned Kinglets being very vocal. We flushed a nightjar, but the size and all dark shape clearly showed it to be a Chuck's-will-widow. John remarked that could be the latest Chuck's record for Sabine Woods.

We looped the place, covering a mile by eBird. No luck. John had to leave and I was alone and decided to make another pass through the southwest corner. This time a small nightjar flushed from a chest high branch. I got a glimpse of pale tail corners. I got a five second look at it perched and it had a gray crown. Then it was gone. Now that was lucky, a late Eastern Whip-poor-will as Year Bird 496! add in the woodcock and this been a great day!

So that leaves just Tundra Swan, Parasitic Jaeger, Little Gull, and Lapland Longspur as realistic Non-review birds left. Greg Cook has been up in the Panhandle finding what seems like a lot of Lapland Longspurs so that's a good possibility to chase next. So little time left, but the year is not over until January 1st.

Epilogue - so Thanksgiving evening I was sitting in the backyard enjoying the mild evening with the family and low and behold an American Woodcock flies over. Crazy how that happens

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Grind

Slim pickings right now. Just not many birds to find. The montane invasion out west seems to have leveled off and the Tamaulipas Crows in the Rio Grande Valley so far have not been the vanguard of an eruption from the south. No choice but to grind on looking for the six remaining non-review species that I feel like I have a chance for.

Monday November 20th had me heading east to check a site in Chambers County that usually yields walk up American Woodcocks for the Old River CBC. Damn my luck the county is "improving" the park and that area was full of heavy equipment. No reason to stop.

Great Horned Owl
Hooks Woods, High Island TX
I worked my way down the coast, cruising through Anahuac NWR just because. I hit Hooks Woods in High Island next and worked the back area where the Bolivar Peninsula CBC sometimes gets American Woodcock. No luck but I did flush a Great Horned Owl.

On the Bolivar Peninsula I found a shrimp boat in close and caught up to it and started scanning the decent sized gull flock behind it. I must have scanned at least 50 boats like this year. This time there was a larger bird that looked darker chasing through the Laughing Gulls. I watched it for sometime looking for a definitive view. The belly was definitely paler and it was definitely darker and larger than the Laughing Gulls. Finally I was able to see what I needed, the pale in the underside of the primaries that let me call this a Pomarine Jaeger for Year Bird 494. Onward

Rollover Pass had birds but nothing uncommon for the day, more terns than gulls. On Tuna Road at the now giant hole that swallowed by car in March I was able to see my first of season Bonoparte's Gull chasing a barge in the Inter Coastal Canal. That might be a strategy for Little Gull in my end game, posting up on the canal and watching the flocks behind barges. They seem to have large number of Bonoparte's and maybe a Little Gull would join them.

Barn Owl
Bolivar Flats
When I passed the Barn Owl box on the way to the Bolivar Flats I could see the resident owl's head sticking out. With a scope I could see something small and light moving around behind it, so I'm guessing there are owlets in the box too, or at least one.

Other than a flyby gull that I thought could have been the Great Black-backed Gull from last week there was nothing rare on the flats. I did find a load of Piping Plovers, 18 in total and 6 of them were banded.

"White-over-Green" banded in 2012 on the Bolivar Flats
I've been having a good time looking for banded Piping Plovers and have found several. I report all of them if I have enough information and have started a spreadsheet to track them. If there are numbers on the leg flag I try my best to get it, but you can't always see it. Click here to see my spreadsheet.  I'm hoping my spreadsheet will help identify bird if you can't read the number on the flag (not all flags have numbers either) So far my oldest bird is a 5 year old bird.

Time to head home. I'll be back on the coast soon.

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.