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.


  1. What's expected in the Bowl? I've been there many times over the past, uhh... 45 years, but always as a hiker, not a birder. Are there rare catches up there?

  2. Congrats David,
    I got to see lesser prairie chickens outside Woodward, Ok a few weeks ago. Fantastic views from a van. The wildfires and drought have all but wiped them out.