Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Late to the Party

Rough-legged Hawk
Sherman County
Whew, I've been birding hard. After El Paso we swung through the Panhandle getting almost everything we wanted except the Long-eared Owl and Lapland Longspur. Back for a few days and headed to Refugio and bagged the Golden-crowned Warbler for Year Bird 307. A few days later I ticked Henslow's Sparrow with John Mariani's help for Year Bird 309. Henslow's was an important bird for me since I missed it in 2015.

Then on February 11 I went to Belize for two weeks. Sure it was fun and I did see 248 species of birds, but none of them added to my big year. Three days after I arrived in Belize I saw the news of the Long-eared Owls at Lake Arrowhead State Park near Wichita Falls, TX. Long-eared Owls are early migrants north and I thought it would be a miracle if they stuck around for at least 10 more days.

Over the next 10 days there were updates and the birds were there every day. I began to think it was possible. I finally was able to go and try for these birds on March 1st.

I rose at 1:30 am to make the 390 mile drive to the park from Houston. I was feeling the fatigue of birding sunrise to sunset in Belize and driving the van everyday I realized. I make a lot of coffee stops along the way. These delays slowly built up though.

I made it to the park by 8:15 am though. At the headquarters I was greeted with "Good Morning" and I responded, "Good Morning, I've come for your owls!" The staff smiled and let me know the birds had been in the tree by the flag pole the day before.

I parked and kept my distance from the tree scanning carefully. I had tried for the Long-eared Owls at Hueco Tanks State Park with no luck in a similar situation. There the park host told us he had been photographing them everyday until they flew off and he was mystified why they weren't there for us. I didn't want flush these birds so I stayed between 50 and 40 feet out from the tree.

Long-eared Owl
Lake Arrowhead State Park
I circled about have the tree and then I was making eye contact with a Long-eared Owl for Year Bird 311. I felt invigorated after the long drive and it was only 8:30 am.

I tooled around the park ticking of county birds for a bit then decided I should chase a few things in the DFW area. I could see using Birdseye that Rusty Blackbird had been seen at the Village Creek Drying Beds in Arlington in the last few days and that a Little Gull had been seen the day before at White Rock Lake in Dallas. Time to fly.

I made to Village Creek in good time and from past experience knew the place to look for Rusty Blackbird would be the woods on the entrance to the beds. I parked and started looking. I walked up and down the road a few times listening and looking at everything. On my fourth pass in about 30 minutes I heard a squeaky call and saw three blackbirds with rusty backs fly across the road. Rusty Blackbird was Year Bird 312. Time to fly!

When I arrived at White Rock Lake I could see a lot of birds on the spillway. That was a good sign. Most were Ring-billed Gulls and a couple of Herring Gulls. Once in a while I would find a Bonaparte's Gull mixed in but no Little Gull. Bonaparte's Gulls where flying close periodically and I started scanning the lake for the distinct dark underwings of a Little Gull in flight.

While scanning a pair of Purple Martin's made for Year Bird 313. Way over due actually, I expected  to get Purple Martin in early February actually.

Bonaparte's Gull
White Rock Lake
I could see larger numbers of Bonaparte's Gulls across the lake and decided to head that way, reasoning a Little Gull might hang out with them. I found good numbers resting on the water, While scanning across the scattered gulls I found a pair of Barn Swallows for Year Bird 314. Alas it was getting late and I had a lot of miles to cover I decided the Little Gulls wasn't going to get ticked today. I think this day marked the end of Winter birding and from now on I'm Spring birding. Four new year birds is a pretty good day though.

1 comment:

  1. The owls at Lake Arrowhead SP have been remarkably tolerant. Glad you made the trip. If I had known you were coming, I would have been happy to buy you brunch. I am enjoying reading your adventures.