Friday, January 27, 2017

The Amazing Pink Bellied Woodpecker

I teamed up with Joe Fischer for a grand tour of West Texas and the Panhandle hoping to sweep through all the hard to get birds there. We flew into Midland to start late Wednesday and started birding at Sunrise.

The first stop was Hogan Park in Midland to look for the Lewis's Woodpecker that was first reported I think back in November. Unfortunately there had been no affirmative reports of this bird for almost a month.

Lewis's Woodpecker shows off a prize
We got there before sunrise and started our search. Hogan Park does not have a lot of trees so the search area wasn't enormous. The usual city park birds made appearances, but a pair of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers were all the woodpeckers we found.

After about 45 minutes we hard a woodpecker that wasn't a Ladder-backed or a Golden-fronted Woodpecker. Then we found it flying to a telephone pole that was almost in the sun. Lewis's Woodpecker relocated for Year Bird 265! Lewis's Woodpecker is one of the "near review species" Its not a review species for Texas but there are darn few of them, its a load off my mind to get it off the need list.

On the road to Imperial Reservoir in Pecos County hoping for something very cool like a Red-throated Loon. We arrived about 10 am and had to scan from the gate. Loads and loads of birds, no Red-throated Loon though. A Scaled Quail called for year bird 266. We moved down the road and scanned from a high point and found a flock of Common Mergansers for Year Bird 267. That leaves only Surf Scoter for non review ducks in Texas for the year.

 We headed next to the Sandia Wetlands outside Balmorhea, TX. Only one cell had water in it and it looked like they had been flooding it only for a couple of hours. Wilson's Snipe was the only water bird. We did have lots of sparrows. Brewer's Sparrow was found for Year Bird 268. After a bit we found flock of Lark Buntings for Year Bird 269.

We decided to pass through the Balmorhea Cemetary looking for Sagebrush Sparrow. Its supposed to be a sure thing here but I've never found it here. I found a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher for Year Bird 270. A short time later a Rock Wren popped up for Year Bird 271.

On to Lake Balmorhea. Lots of the large grebe present, We found Western Grebe for Year Bird 272 almost right away. Around the far side of the lake we found lots of Clark's Grebe for Year Bird 273. As we were leaving Pyrrhuloxia hopped onto the fence for Year Bird 274.

On to Davis Mountain's State Park. Lots of Year Birds here. The usual suspects except for the quail who's name I won't mention. I finished the day with 279 species.

We made camp and crawled into out sleeping bags. The volunteer at check asked us if we were sure we wanted to camp, it was going to be 24 in the morning she said. We assured here we were ready for it.

I had a new tent and a good sleeping bag, I was comfortable all night. When I woke I bumped the tent getting up. It snowed in my tent. Actually the condensation from my breathing froze as frost on the inside of the tent. We broke camp pretty fast and got into the car to head for the days birding. How disappointing it was only 25 degrees, not the promised 24.

Be very quit! we are hunting sparrows
For today we met up with a student working on a Baird's Sparrow study at the Mimms Unit of the Dixon Water Foundation. This unit is open to the public, You can access a 2 mile dirt road from a gate at the end of N Austin Street in Marfa Texas. Trouble is for a Baird's Sparrow hunt you can't leave the road. We've heard rumors of folks going off trail for sparrows here. Hopefully this won't become common place and ruin access to an amazing grassland for all of us.

We head way out into the grassland and set up nets and started the sparrow drive. We caught several Savannah Sparrows first. Then a Grasshopper Sparrow for Year Bird 280. More Savannah's. Then the tech runs to snatch a bird I didn't see from the net. Dang it! Baird's Sparrow in the hand, doesn't count. We keep working, finally getting another Grasshopper. 

Baird's left, Grasshopper Right
We move the nets and try a different area. Lots of sparrows present. Then a small sparrow is flushed, it flies towards me, I throw a frisbee to turn it, it turns back in front of the net and another tech throws a frisbee and it turns and is captured in the net. It's a Baird's Sparrow for Year Bird 281 (and a life bird too!).

After the Sparrow Banding we head for the Lawrence E Woods Picnic Area in the Davis Mountains. A Red-napped Sapsucker was there the day before. First bird out of the car, Red-napped Sapsucker for Year Bird 282. Not much else moving though.

We head north to the Guadalupe Mountains. Our intent is to camp. On the way we see forecasts of 30 MPH wind, not good. Then it starts to snow. double not good, Looks like a nice warm bed and shower for us tonight in White's City NM. Tomorrow  - The Guads!


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