Sunday, May 7, 2017

No Guts No Glory

Monday was the start of my first of three west Texas trips in May. I was part of the Swarovski Optik Western Hawks Far West Texas big day team for the Great Texas Birding Classic along with Clay Taylor and Bob Friedrich. I had created a route I thought would be a winning route with plenty of water and habitat diversity.

Townsend's Warbler
Franklin Mountains State Park
On Monday Bob and I did some scouting before meeting Clay in El Paso. We checked out the Balmorhea area and found a Western Wood-Pewee for Year Bird 429 at Balmorhea State Park. We headed into El Paso to pick up Clay at the airport and stashed my car in long term parking and headed out to scout the El Paso area.

At the Franklin's Mountain's State Park we spotted a warbler at the lookout from the car and when we got glass on it, it was Townsend's Warbler for Year Bird 430. A few minutes later we  found an empid we were able to determine was a Willow Flycatcher for Year Bird 431.

At the Crossroad's Pond we found an unexpected Red-necked Phalarope for Year Bird 432. Not a bird I had on my radar, maybe it should have been now that I've looked at the eBird records and see how New Mexico seems regular for them.

Red-necked Phalarope
Our final site to scout for the day was the Rio Bosque Wetland's Park, which is one of the driest placed I've ever birded it turns out. It is a great place for Gambel's Quail though. While scouting to see of there was any water in the impoundments we found a mixed group of warblers and one was a MacGillivray's Warbler for year bird 433. This was a special one because it one of the big misses of my 2015 big year.

We spent the night in Alpine and rose at 3:30 am to leave the hotel by 4:00 am to be birding the Davis Mountains by 5 am. On time it didn't take too long to find a calling Elf Owl calling for Year Bird 434. No Western Screech-Owl yet, no Great  Horned Owl calling like they did over my tent in January here. The milky way blazed so bright at first I thought it was clouds moving in, but really clouds of stars. Several shooting stars flashed by. We tested our optics counting moons around Jupiter. Time to move on though.

It was a few minutes before 6 am now at the Lawrence E Woods picnic area. When we got out of the car a Turkey gobbled somewhere near by. A few minutes of calling and we has several Western Screech-Owls calling for Year Bird 435. As we walked to the other end of the picnic area a turkey roosting in the tree above me cut loose with a loud gobble right above my head causing me to jump, causing Bob and Clay much laughter. As the some light crept into the sky Cassin's Kingbirds started calling for Year Bird 436.

Almost full sunrise and a Gray Flycatcher bursts into full song for Year Bird 437. Things were really starting to get going now, but we really didn't have full sunlight in the picnic area year. We waited 10 minutes later than our scheduled out time to get the sun and we were rewarded with Hepatic Tanager for year bird 438.

We moved on to Davis Mountains State Park and located a Plumbeous Vireo for Year Bird 439. At the feeding stations we found abundant Black-headed Grosbeaks for Year Bird 440.

We headed out to the next stop hoping for a Common Black Hawk the nest site on SH118 outside of Fort Davis. We dipped on the Black Hawk but did get Zone-tailed Hawk for year bird 441.

Behind schedule already we headed for the Balmorhea area and did well boosting out totals up into the 90's already. Now the long hall to the Guadalupe Mountains.

We hit Frijole Ranch and did well on empids, Cordilleran Flycatcher was Year Bird 442 and Dusky Flycatcher was Year Bird 443. We had perhaps as many as 6 Dusky Flycatchers.

Over at the Pine Springs Visitor Center we found a Virginia's Warbler for Year Bird 444. We headed back on the road headed for El Paso. We made good time and picked up some good birds on the Dell City loop. We opted to cut out the Franklin's Mountains State Park stop and we were back on schedule sort off. We decided to take a risk and drove the entrance road to Hueco Tanks State Park and picked up a number or new birds for our Big Day plus White-throated Swift as Year Bird 445.
It takes a lot of guts to drive 2200 miles in west Texas!

Traffic delayed us for a few minutes getting to our next stop, the Crossroads Pond in West El Paso. Good luck was with us and the Red-necked Phalarope was still there and a  Wilson's had joined it. We picked up several more good birds and headed to our last birding stop of the day, Rio Bosque Wetlands.

Not well named the Wetlands are not very wet but still birdy. We stayed there until well after sunset and nabbed many birds for our big day, including Gambel's Quail, Lesser and Common Nighthawk, and Common Gallinule in a ditch.

Heading back home the next day I was pleased. Seventeen new Big Year Birds put a dent in my West Texas Holes. We did very well with our Big Day, turning in an outstanding score I think. The big day lasted 17 hours of birding and 400 miles. Total round trip for me was about 2200 miles. Oh and about a 1000 bugs spilled there guts on my windshield can grill. I'll be back soon.

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