Thursday, August 31, 2017

Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash

Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash
As we fell into the sun
And the first one said to the second one there
I hope you're having fun - Paul McCartney

Well Harvey was fun here in Houston, really fun. At first things weren't too bad. Sunday morning we woke to feet of water in the street and it kept coming up, only starting to recede on Wednesday. We were flooded in.  Food was running out. Beer was getting low and we were completely out of bacon for god's sake. In the mean time I kept hearing reports of birds I needed, Bridled Tern, Sabine's Gull, etc. from around the state. Really fun.

Thursday morning we could get out even though there was water in the street still, but now only as high as the rim of my tire. It was sunny and the cabin fever of being cooped up for 4 days with 4 adults, 2 teenagers, 3 dogs, and 3 cats was wearing on me. About 9:30 I saw a report of a Long-tailed Jaeger at Hornsby Bend in Austin. Then I saw a report of that one of the pair of Red-necked Phalaropes at Mitchell Lake was thought to be a Red Phalarope. Got to Go

I went shopping with my wife to replenish the pantry and made it out on the road about 12:30 pm. things where a mess in Houston still and there was only one open route to I10 for me and it cost me an hour travel time. Once on I10 travel was much easier. I finally made it to Hornsby Bend about 4:20 pm. I started looking in the pond I thought it was last seen in, The only birds I saw were a pare of Black-necked Stilts.

Long-tailed Jaeger Austin TX
I talked to someone who said she had recently seen it on the long pond. I started around the pond. At first there was nothing. Then at the end I saw a bird and got glass on it. yes! Long-tailed Jaeger makes Big Year Bird 481, and its a life bird to boot! That brings me to 540 species in Texas.

I heard a report that the Sabine's Gull that had been seen earlier in week at Lake Travis might have been seen that morning so I decided to give it a try until dark. Boy Austin rush hour traffic is fun. Oh and the post hurricane Harvey gas panic was setting in big time. I figured I had plenty of gas to make it to San Antonio that night, but when I spotted a station with a short line I decided to fill up. Turned out that was a good call. It was the last gas I saw until I got back to Houston, Every station I saw after I headed to San Antonio until I got back to Houston the next evening was out of gas. Of course the station closest to my house was still pumping gas.

I made it the park where the gull had been seen. I spent about 90 minutes looking until the sun set with no luck. Only seven species too. I headed to San Antonio, every station I passed seemed have bagged pumps now.

I made it to Mitchell Lake about opening time the next morning. Ran into some folks I know from Austin and we all spent a long vigil looking for the Phalarope. I called it an official dip after 4 hours, It turns out the consensus on this bird was that it really wasn't a Red Phalarope after all! I did manger 36 species and many new county birds though. Time to make the trek home.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

No Bueno

I left Houston at 7 am headed for Big Bend National Park. The idea was to look for a White-eyed Hummingbird that was reported the week before near Boot Springs. I was chaining this trip on to the Davis Mountains Preserve open weekend. Since I was going to do a lot of camping I decided to stay in the Chisos Mountain Lodge and get a solid night’s sleep before leaving at first light for Boot Springs.

The Chisos Mountains were as green as I’ve ever seen them. I had about 3 hours before sunset so I decided to bird Pine Canyon. I headed down the Glenn Springs road and it was in great shape. A couple of miles down I turned on to the Pine Canyon Road and it was also in good shape. I soon passed the PC1 campsite and had about 2.5 miles to the trail head. Right before PC2 I found a steep slope with some large holes near the top but they weren’t very deep. Without a thought, I started up and near the top I started to slip.

I backed down and put it in low gear and tried again. Still I slipped. I back down and got a running start. Nope, I wasn’t going to make it up this hill. I just need about 2 more feet too. No Bueno.
No choice and backed down. I had to back about a quarter of a mile to PC1 before I could turn around. Disappointed I headed for Dugout Wells.

At Dugout Wells I got out and could see a fair number of birds moving about. As I was gearing up I heard footsteps. About a half dozen javalina came out of the desert and headed down to the wells. I decided to give them plenty of room and bird the outside edge until they moved on. I pished and a thrasher popped up. I took a second look at what I assumed was going to be a Curve-billed Thrasher. No, it was a Crissal Thrasher. I flashed back to November of 1995 on my first trip to Big Bend National Park when I got my life Crissal Thrasher maybe a dozen steps from here. Wow almost 22 years ago. I think this is the first time I’ve had a Crissal here since then too.

I walked around the far end of the wells pishing and a small gray bird flew into a bush right in front of me. Elf Owl! I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had as good a look at one. I tallied 15 species in about 30 minutes and decided to call it a day. Up early it will be a full day of birding!

Mexican Jay
Up early I headed up the trail as soon as it was light enough to see. What a difference not hiking with a 45 pound pack, this was easy going compared to my last trip where I camped up this trail. Lots of wildflowers. Birds were the usual suspects, Mexican Jays and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers where everywhere. I took longer than expected birding my way through Juniper Flats and Boulder Meadow, but by 8:20 I was starting up the switchback 1.3 miles down the trail and 600 feet higher than I started at.

There are 21 switchbacks over a mile and a half where you climb about 1000 feet to the top of the Pinnacles. It took me a little less than two hours to make it to the top. Not too bad, I made it up 1600 feet and three miles in less than 3 hours.

Right at the top I heard my first Broad-tailed Hummingbird trill. Almost as soon as I got up the Pinnacles I stopped seeing Black-chinned and started seeing Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. I hurried on to Boot Springs to find this Whited-eared Hummingbird.

Hummingbirds became more numerous along the Boot Springs Trail. At one point I had a really green backed selaphorous hummingbird that I counted as an Allen's Hummingbird. I was up to 4 hummingbird species

I made it to the springs itself feeling good. I was walking across a flat area, just a little fine gravel under my feet when I heard a pop and felt a sharp pain from my knee and went down. I thought to myself "crap that hurt a lot". then I thought "crap, I'm 4.5 miles from the car". No Bueno.

I limped my way to the White-eared Hummingbird spot and found a nice rock to eat my lunch on and rest my knee. I had been there about 30 minutes when i started to hear voices, weird voices, coming from the direction of the south rim on the trail. A few minutes later a 20 something woman by herself appears and was really embarrassed. She had been camping and was heading down and was talking loudly in weird accents she explained to scare mountain lions. I replied in my best over done French accent "Oui! zee Mountain Lion particularly diz like the taste of zee Freeencch!" She grinned and headed down the trail.

I hung out at the spot as long as I could, no luck, I started down the hill early since I figured it was going to take a long time to get down. Back at the spot of my injury a pair of Blue-throated Hummingbirds dueled for my fifth hummingbird species of the day.

My knee was really hurting and I found a decent walking stick in the stream bed and trimmed the end a little. I don't like breaking the rules on collecting but figured under the circumstances I was making a minimal impact.

I can usually make the trip down in about two hours, this time it took over 4 hours. Surprisingly it was the passage through the Juniper Flats that hurt the worst.

In Alpine I found some compression tape and wrapped my knee well and that helped a lot.

The next morning I headed to the the Nature Conservancy's Davis Mountains Preserve hoping to relocated a Buff-breasted Flycatcher that was reported a month earlier. After finding a route that didn't pass through the high water in the creek I made it to the site and spent an extended time there looking with no luck. No Bueno.

There were no uncommon birds there at the time. I decided the next morning to head for Dog Canyon at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. 2.5 hours later I got as far as the turn off near Carlsbad NM and found the road to Dog Canyon closed due to a wash out. No Bueno

I headed back to Frijole Ranch to try my luck. It was pretty slow around the ranch house and I decided to try the Smith Springs Trail. Slow going on the trail with my bad knee. Almost to the springs I found a female Lazuli Bunting for Big Year Bird 479. I was getting pretty worried about that bird and felt relieved to get something for this trip. 

Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
I needed to get off my knee for a bit and I headed back before making it to the springs proper. I sit for a bit catching up on my liquids. I start up the draw working my way slowly up hill. There are birds around. I keep working further and further up the hill and draw. I'm so far back I can now see into Bear Canyon a bit. Finally I hear something. Across the draw are a pair of Juniper Titmice for Big Year Bird 480. Whew I think I made six tries for this bird this year.

Heading back to the car, I'm literally only about 10 feet from the car and there is a rattlesnake in the path. Mind you I've been walking about prime rattlesnake county for the last several hours and I find one in the parking lot! I walk around it and head for Fort Stockton to cool off. Oh and rest my knee.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


So Tuesday evening at almost 6 pm I was sitting down to dinner when by friend David Hanson called. There was no mistaking the excitement in his voice. He went in to a explanation of where he was, a location I knew very well. In my mind I thought "he's about to say Jabiru". Sure enough, David and is wife Jan had found a Jabiru near Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. I told him I was on my way. I started a rapid windup around the house, getting the word out, quickly double checking my gear. My wife Donna asked don't you have time to to sit and eat your dinner. No I answered! I was out the door in about 10 minutes.

I made it to the site about 7:30 pm along with about 10 other people. Lots of Wood Storks around. Unfortunately the Jabiru had not been relocated. By the time it was dark more than 20 people were on site. No Jabiru, most of us would be back at sunrise.

Back at 6:40 am for the sunrise. Lots of folks already there, maybe 20 already. People get bored keeping vigil and several decide to check other areas. It gets down to just a few at the original site.

Jabiru in Chambers County, TX
About 8:30 we get word it was seen briefly north about a half mile dropping into an old crawfish pond. The bird is no longer visible though, but we know where it is.  I spread the word and the flash mob returns.

As luck would have it David Hanson knows the adjacent land owner and he agrees to take David and I in and we check if we can see it from the other side of the property. We have no luck though.

As we are returning we get word its popped up and has been seen again. We rush over. Several people got to see it again but its behind a levee again. We assemble. Large birds like Great Blue Herons and more Wood Storks are dropping in and we know the hidden pond must have a bunch of birds. Folks who know about my big year ask me if I feel depressed or nervous that I've missed it so far. I reply no, its early and we know right where the bird is, I'm going to get this one!

Soon we note a tractor coming down the levee mowing. Its will surely flush most of the birds in the pond. We watch it move closer for 5 minutes, everyone getting ready. I advise folks to pre-focus cameras and binoculars. Excitement builds as the tractor gets closer and closer, a train of Cattle Egrets behind it.

Birds erupt, Wood Storks everywhere, then some one calls "there it is!" I see it, it dwarfs even the Great Blue Herons, Jabiru is Year Bird 478! and county bird 314. It soars around for most of an hour. By 11:30 I am the last person to leave the site.

I offer to show Armand Moreno and friends my best spots in Anahauc National Wildlife Refuge for Black Rail. I ask if everyone knows what a Black Rail calls sounds like. They don't and I play the call for them, low volume being careful not to broadcast it as we stand on the road. I play the ki ki do call once and the growl call once. I'm amazed to hear the growl call coming from the ditch next to us!. We stand there for the next 30 minutes and hear the call spontaneously every 5 minutes or so. Its in 10 inch high Spartina patens grass and true to its enigma status we never see even the grass move even though we aren't 10 feet from it staring at the spot we are hearing it from. What a great day, Jabiru and Black Rail.