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!

1 comment:

  1. Great adventure David. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to you heading out to Big Bend and having the list jump quickly