Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Day at the Beach

Late in the afternoon on Tuesday at post went out on the Texas Chase Birds group on Facebook that a pair of Elegant Terns had been found on North Padre Island just north of the Padre Island National Seashore. Unfortunately it was just too late in the day to get there before dark, I would have to make the a try in the mourning.

Elegant Tern, North Padre Island
Up at 2 am, out of the house at 2:30 am. Between stops for gas, coffee, and tacos I pull onto the beach about 15 minutes before sunrise at 6:30 am. Its plenty of light to bird and start my search. By 8 am I've covered about 6.5 miles of beach pretty thoroughly. Not a lot of terns but lots of good birds. I saw several banded Piping Plovers.

Joel and Vicki Simon joined me and we entered the Seashore itself and checked all we could, covering about 1.75 miles of beach with no luck, but the but the numbers of terns was increasing.

Banded Piping Plover
By 10 am we're back driving the original stretch of beach. A small group of terns has gathered at the coordinates where the birds were originally found. Just to make life interesting there is an old RV parked there. The occupant seems to be a 70 plus year old guy in a Speedo about 2 sizes too small. Remember folks, crack kills!

By the time I finish that pass I'm ready for a break and go grab some lunch. I return and drive the beach some more, watching the flock at the original location for about an hour. Speedo guy seems to want to always be in my field of view I'm afraid though.

Its about 3 pm and I decided its not looking good since I've seen no positive reports all day. I turn towards home. At about 4:30 pm I've just passed Refugio northbound and have just let my wife Donna know I should be home about 7 pm. Dan Jones calls me and lets me know he just found the bird. Change of plans! I turn around at the next crossover and check my ETA to the site, 6 pm.

Marbled Godwits
A bit of traffic in Corpus Christi costs me a few minutes but I make 6 pm back on the beach. The tide is a lot further out now and there are more birds around. I decided to just drive directly back to the spot Dan reported the bird and not waste a lot of time checking 5.5 miles of beach.

I run into Joe Fischer and we combine forces. No bird at Dan's spot but we can see a lot of white birds south down the beach and we decide to go it on foot, It take us about 30 minutes but about 1.25 miles into the national seashore we find a single Elegant Tern for Year Bird 477! Don't you just love it when plan B comes together.

Joe and I grab a bite at my third Whataburger stop of the day and celebrate. I hit the road and make it home about midnight. I've been up 22 hours. I've driven about 45 miles on the beach and 750 miles over all. About 18 of the 22 hours was behind the wheel. It was a great day!

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Guads Part 2

John and I went to sleep about 11 pm with Mexican Whip-poor-wills calling sporadically. During the night we woke to a screaming sound echoing off the hillsides. It was loud. I thought to myself, "Hope it doesn't go for our packs in John's tent. I hope my tent is far enough from Johns if it does!"  and a few minutes later I heard something moving through the bushes. It was later we listened to some recordings of females mountain lions calling and realized. I wonder if I was hearing the mountain lion pass by.

Up at dawn it took little time to break camp. It wasn't even really sunrise and we took advantage of the dawn chorus around us. The stunning call of Hermit Thrushes were all around us. Down the trail a bit a broad-tailed hummer trilled by. Several Cordilleran Flycatchers call, responding to our owl whistles and toots. A pair of Stellar's Jays danced in a dead pine.

John stopped me and said in a whisper "owl!" something was calling back. We called back to it and it was giving the rhythm-less rapid tooting of a Northern Saw-whet Owl! It came in closer and we crossed the wash. I saw something flit in a tree and then it was calling further away, alas no visual.

View from the Tejas Trail
At the Juniper Trail and Tejas Trail junction we hear a faint once a second tooting that suggested a Northern Pygmy-Owl. We called and it moved closer and got more rapid, then stopped. Did we just hear a Northern Pygmy-Owl? We had no visual. Then it started again, further off. We had a corundum on our hands. Some chipmunks and squirrel are known to call very similar to a Northern Pygmy-Owl. We never saw this bird, but it seemed to move around. We consulted folks who spend more time in these mountains than we have spent and decided we couldn't count it, still intriguing.

We hear another Red Crossbill. We also have our only warbler of the our time in the mountains, a single Audubon's Warbler. In the 1.5 miles from the Juniper Trail to the Bowl Trail on the Tejas Trail we have all the same birds we had on hiking the other side of the loop that is closer to 4 miles. Definitely the most productive trail we had in the Mountains, better habitat to my eye.

A bit further down the trail we heard a weird call and John asked "what's that!" this never happens with John, that I know a call he doesn't, Montezuma's Quail on the hill side across from us.

A Canyon Towhee explores
Now comes the fun part, the hike down. Its 3.7 miles down to the parking lot from the Bowl Trail. We cover the distance in 2.5 hours. I was down to less than 2 liters of water when we started down from the eight liters I had brought up. With about three quarters of a mile to go I run out of water. We make the parking lot in another 30 minutes and we drop our packs and enjoy close to a half gallon of water each. Nectar of the gods at that time. A Canyon Towhee explores the backseat of John's car as we catch up on our hydration.

We head over to Frijole Ranch trying for Juniper Titmouse. We ended up chatting with a volunteer for some time, but managed close to two hours of searching for the Titmouse, No luck, I guess I will be back again for a fifth visit to the Guadalupe Mountains this year.

We head into Fort Stockton for a hot meal, a cold beer, and a bed with air conditioning.

Epilogue

Poison Oak around my eye,
can shave because of the rash
on my face either.
John spotted what he thought was poison oak in the Bowl. I wasn't so sure. We had no problems while there. We were cleaning up with baby whips, which do a remarkable job of getting grime off you with little weight in your back and no water. I think that protected us from any exposure we had to it. We arrived home on Tuesday evening feeling fine. I got around to stowing all my gear on Thursday afternoon. Lots of hot and sweaty jobs around the house and I didn't shower for hours. Bad plan. We must have had some exposure to poison oak in the Bowl because I woke up with it on my neck, arms, and worse face on Friday morning. I think it was on the outside of my backpack and I got exposed from the residue as I emptied it. At first it wasn't that bad. Then it started swelling around my eye. By late Monday morning I looked in the mirror and I had accumulated pocket of fluid under my eye the size of a golf ball. I'm a birder and don't mess around with my eyes I was in the doctors exam room in 90 minutes. A steroid shot, a Benedryl shot, two sets of tablets, an ointment, and EXPENSIVE eye drops and 5 days later and mostly recovered. Oh driving after a Benedryl injection is a hoot. Watch out for poison oak or ivy in the Guads!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Guads Part 1

After hearing reports of Flammulated Owl in the Guadalupe Mountains the first week of June I hatched a plan to try for them. Things came up and I was unable to go until July 8, more than a month after the last report. John O'Brien was able to go with me and we left Saturday morning at 5 am headed west.

It was an uneventful drive, picking up some county birds as we made our way 667 miles from my home in Houston to the Pine Springs Visitor Center. After getting our back country permit for the Tejas Camp Ground we found a campsite in Pine Springs that night and since it was getting late in the day we decided to see of it was possible to find Spotted Owl in the Devil's Hall Canyon by hiking to the trail closure and hopefully hearing them call at dusk.

Devils Hall
We left at 4:10 pm for the 2 mile hike in. It took a fair amount of time since you're walking in a rough wash most of the way.  We made it to the marker that says the trail is closed beyond this point about an hour before sunset. We settled in to wait. It was birdy and we had some of the usual suspects up close and personal using a nice puddle there. Western Wood-Pewee, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and Lesser Goldfinch at least gave us something to look at.

Finally began to get darker. Both John and I heard something up the canyon, perhaps in the side canyon that's up beyond the closed sign. We heard it again, it sounded like a "hoot" too me. I did my best Spotted Owl imitation. No response. For the next half hour we would hear something very faint and I would try my call. Finally we heard a call clear enough we were satisfied, Spotted Owl became Year Bird 473.

Mule Deer Trail Markers
Picking our way out in by the light of our headlamps we would hear the occasional Common Poorwill calling. Once we got onto the flats headed out the moon was up like a spotlight. Near the end of the trail I thought to myself those are weird reflective trail markers up ahead, then they got up and ran off, mule deer in my headlamp.

Up at first light the next morning we tried for Juniper Titmouse at the Frijole Ranch site, Two hours and no titmouse. Juniper titmouse is starting to bum be out, its my 4th trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and no titmouse yet.

Time to hit the trail. Both John and I have 50 pound packs carrying 2 gallons of water each. Its 3.7 miles to the Bowl Trail head and we gain about 2,500 feet. We make pretty good time but I drink more water than I anticipated, just under a gallon, but we make the Bowl Trail in 4.5 hours, not bad I think.

John O'Brien and myself in the Bowl
We decided to take the long way to Tejas, which wasn't the best idea in retrospect. We followed the Bowl Trail to the Juniper Trail and circled around to the Tejas Camp site. that made for about 8 miles that day with backs on our backs. Near the Bowl and Juniper Trail junction we found a nice group of bird. Then I heard a Band-tailed Pigeon for Year Bird 474. A short time later John pointed out a calling Red Crossbill for Year Bird 475. Both of those birds felt really good to get, both are birds I felt like I should have had already.

Making my tent work with
no poles
We made it to the camp a little after 7 pm and dried off and set up camp. The night before both my tent pole both broke in the tent while it was set up and I was unable to use them this time. I came up with a support by using a rope that John had brought. It wasn't pretty but would work for the night.

We decided to nap until 9:30 pm and go owling. At 9:30 we had not gone 20 steps down the trail before we heard a Flammulated Owl calling, Year Bird 476! We decided we where hearing two different birds calling. I managed a poor recording.

We worked the Tejas Trail back to the Juniper Trail. We hoped for Northern Saw-whet Owl but only managed a couple of Mexican Whip-poor-wills and another Flammulated Owl. It was after 11 pm time to hit the hay and try again in the morning.