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Thursday, April 3, 2014
Our break from the rain continued this morning, so I headed over to Marymoor Park, to see if I could get a good BAD bird, or maybe even a year bird.† Before I get into todayís story, though, here is an update on my Bird-A-Day project.
On Tuesday, April 1, the rain had finally stopped, and I went up to the Lake Crescent area again, to look for another duck that will be flying north in the next month.† There are already a lot fewer of them around, so I wanted to get it for my BAD bird.† Here is a picture of the pond at the Monroe Prison Farm pond.
I think I mentioned before that the prison farm has been abandoned now, and the pond is owned by a hunting outfit.† Here are some of the decoys on the pond.† It isnít hunting season until the fall, but maybe they leave the decoys out there all year.
I didnít see any American Wigeons (the duck I was looking for), but I saw them a couple of other places in the area that day, so that was my BAD bird on Tuesday.
I stopped at a place along the Monroe-Duvall road and walked a while in a field.† There were some Tree Swallows flying around and a nest box, and they kept landing on the perch on top of the box.† Here are a couple of Tree Swallows.
Here is another picture, and the one on the right is most likely a first year female.† I learned today when I looked it up that female Tree Swallows are gray in their first spring (the year after they hatched) and they donít get their full adult coloring until their third year.† The males get the full blue color after their first year.
On Wednesday it was again not raining, so I went up to Edmonds, to get another BAD bird that will be migrating north soon.† At first I didnít see any, but eventually I saw two or three Mew Gulls, so that was my BAD bird for yesterday.
So, now we are up to today, and I as I said earlier, I headed on over to Marymoor Park.† It was supposed to rain by this afternoon, but the morning was supposed to be dry.
There is a bird walk every Thursday morning at Marymoor, although it starts too early for me, and I have only actually participated once.† I have met them later in their walk a few times, though, and I did so today.† I asked about a sapsucker I wanted, and I was told they had seen one over by the slough.† So, I went on over there, to have a look.
As I left the parking lot, I saw some sparrow-like birds fly off, and one remained.† It turned out to be a Savannah Sparrow, which would make a great BAD bird, one I have not been counting on.† I looked them up later, and they seem to be common at Marymoor in the spring, so Iíll be back to get them later.
I walked along the slough, among the people walking their dogs.† The largest off-leash dog park I have ever seen is at Marymoor, and it is very popular.† I donít like to play bird calls when other people are around, but from time to time I played the call of the sapsucker I was looking for, when no one was around.† I donít know if the call attracted it, but I spotted a lovely RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER, a new bird for my year list.† Here is a picture when I first saw it, and I think it offers an interesting perspective on the bird, which is a member of the woodpecker family.
The bird flew to another tree, and then moved along again.† It perched briefly on a railing, but I missed a great picture there.† Then it went to a tree by the slough, and I did get one picture, but the bird turned its head away at the last moment.
It was only when I processed that picture that I noticed the holes in the tree.† Those are sap ďwellsĒ.† Sapsuckers have that name because they drill holes in trees and suck up the sap that comes out.† This tree has obviously been visited by sapsuckers before.
From there, the bird flew right by me, giving me a great view of it in flight, and it landed on a sign and did some drumming.† I finally got the best picture I have ever gotten of a Red-breasted Sapsucker.
Later a second flew in as well, so I saw two of them today.† Males and female members of the woodpecker family usually look different from one another, but the male and female Red-breasted Sapsuckers look the same, so I donít know what gender this bird was.
I walked a little more and when I got back to the parking lot, I decided to make one more loop around some trees and blackberries.† I played the song of another bird I wanted to see that I knew had been reported at Marymoor recently.† While walking around that loop, I heard a response to the song I was playing, or at least, I thought I did.† As I have said repeatedly, Iím terrible at recognizing and remembering bird vocalizations.
The bird kept singing, and I decided which tree it must be in.† It was a deciduous tree that was just starting to get leaves, so you would think that I could find the bird, but it eluded me.† After about five minutes, I did see a bird of the right size fly to another tree.† The singing continued from the second tree, so I concluded that was the bird.† I looked for that bird for at least 20 minutes, but I never saw it again.† I am counting PURPLE FINCH for my year list based on what I saw and heard.† After hearing the bird sing for over 20 minutes, I am sure it was a Purple Finch, and I did see the bird, I believe, even though the view wasnít nearly good enough to identify it.† This year Iím counting ďheard onlyĒ birds, so it would count anyway, but I did see the bird, so I think I would have counted it under last yearís ďrulesĒ, too.
I did get one other picture there.† Here is a female Northern Flicker, another member of the woodpecker family.
That was my day of birding today.† I added two more species to my year list today, to bring me to 250 for the year, of which 2 are lifers.
For my BAD bird today, I am taking Purple Finch.† Either Savannah Sparrow or Red-breasted Sapsucker would make a good BAD bird, but I have a better chance of seeing those again, I think, so Purple Finch it is, for today.† I head for Texas in just five days, GWATCDR (God Willing And The Creeks Donít Rise).
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
Iím in a cheap airport motel in Houston, Texas, and here is my first report of the trip.† I didnít have time to get a BAD bird at home before I had to leave this morning, and it was about 6:30 PM by the time I got here to my motel, got some drinking water, and got unpacked.† At that point I ventured out to get a BAD bird for the day, preferably one I wouldnít see later at home this year.† The airport is on the outskirts of Houston, but it isnít exactly prime birding habitat, although there are some trees around.† Unfortunately, it was pretty windy, and that is a problem when birding.† Not only do the smaller birds lie low, it is hard to hold your binoculars steady in a strong wind.
Anyway, I wandered around to see what I could see.† There were Northern Mockingbirds, but I had used that one in San Diego on a non-birding day.† There were Great-tailed Grackles, but I had used that one in California too, not thinking that I might want to use it here today.† There were House Sparrows, European Starlings, and Eurasian Collared-Doves, but I can get all those at home later in the year, so I kept looking.† There was a Turkey Vulture overhead, but Iím trying to save that one for the driving days on our way to Yosemite in June.† I wonít have time to actually bird on our trip down, and Turkey Vultures are easy to spot while driving.
I was hungry so I got a burger at Jack in the Box, and then I went to the other side of my motel.† I discovered a little pond there, and there were actually a couple of shorebirds on the far shore.† Exciting.† I got closer and established that one of them was a Greater Yellowlegs.† That would be an acceptable BAD bird, although they do come through the Seattle area in the spring, and people have been reporting them recently.† Here is a picture of that guy.
There was another one, and it took me a while to realize it was a Lesser Yellowlegs.† They are a lot less common at home, so that was a better BAD candidate.† Here is a picture of the two yellowlegs species together, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.
The size difference is apparent when they are next to each other like that.† The relative bill length, compared to the length of the head is also different, and that picture illustrates that, too.
A Snowy Egret flew in while I was taking those pictures.
That would be an acceptable BAD bird, too, but I can also see them from the car on the California trip, so I would rather save it.
There was also a Killdeer on the shore.† I think I already used that one this year.
Most exciting of all, though, at one point a TRICOLORED HERON briefly flew in and immediately flew off again without landing.† I didnít get a picture, but I had a good look at it.† So, I had my first year-bird of the trip, thus justifying this report today.† As you might remember, I write a report on each day I see a new bird for the year.
So, the trip starts off with 11 species on my first evening, when I didnít even have anywhere to really bird, and I didnít have a car to get around.† I am supposed to get my rental car in the morning, and then the real birding will start, if all goes to plan.† I added one to my year list today, so now Iím at 251 for the year, of which 2 are lifers.† For my BAD bird today, Iíll take the Tricolored Heron.† Iím sure Iíll have pictures of that one for you later in the trip.
To update my BAD bird project, I last reported on April 3rd, with the Purple Finch.† On April 4 I went up to Edmonds and found a pair of Green-winged Teal in the Edmonds Marsh.† Thatís one of the winter species that is already getting harder to find and will soon fly off to breed up north somewhere.† On April 5th I again went to Edmonds and got Surf Scoter.† That is a sea duck that winters here and also will be flying off in the next month to breed elsewhere.
On one of those Edmonds trips, I took this picture of a Bald Eagle.† The light was poor (with the bright sky behind it), but I love how majestic they look, so here is a Bald Eagle in Edmonds, Washington.
I had a couple of other birds that are due to fly away while Iím in Texas, and I picked up American Coot on April 6.† My plan for yesterday, April 7, was to get Double-crested Cormorant, and I went down to Juanita Beach Park and did see about 20 of them.† I also saw a lovely Common Loon in breeding plumage, though, and that was a much better bird, so I took that for my BAD bird yesterday.† Iíll try to get the cormorant when I get back home in three weeks.† They leave just about that time, but I see that they usually hang around one particular bay in Lake Washington into May, so Iíll try to get them there.
So, there is an update.† My three week Texas trip is underway, and I figure Iíll see a lot of excellent birds.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
I managed to get to sleep at about 11:15 last night, Texas time, which was great, as it was only 9:15 at home.† I canít usually fall asleep that early, and if I do, I have a waking period during the night.† Last night was good, though, so maybe I will adapt to the time change quickly.† I was up at about 7:15 this morning, so I got my eight hours of sleep.† I called Avis at about 8:30 to see if they could pick me up at my motel, and they said a driver would be there in about a half hour to pick me up.† Excellent!
Car rental prices out of Bush Intercontinental Airport here were absurdly high.† Avis was higher than any of them, and their best price for any car at all was about $2700 for three weeks.† Absolutely out of the ballpark.† They must only rent to corporate people who have company rates, and other suckers who donít know any better.† I prefer Avis, but I had been able to book an intermediate sedan with Enterprise for about $1100, still an outrageously high price for three weeks.† These prices were with the 20% to 35% discount that Costco members get, which made them even more absurd.† I discovered that if I rented from Avis at their Humble, Texas office, which is about 8 miles from Bush Intercontinental Airport, the rates were far, far less.† I canceled the Enterprise booking and booked a ďstandardĒ size sedan for only $608 for three weeks with Avis at their Humble Texas office Ė that is over $2000 less than the rate from the same company at the airport, eight miles away.† Amazing!† I kept checking, though, and later they reduced their price on an ďintermediateĒ SUV, and I switched my reservation to that, for $730.† I got a Ford Escape, which is more ďsmallĒ than intermediate, if you ask me, but I am satisfied with it.† I sure donít understand why it is $2000 less than if I had rented the same car from the same company at the airport, 8 miles away.† It shows that it can really pay to shop sometimes.
Anyway, they picked me up at about 9:15, I got my Ford Escape (white, which is what I really wanted because it doesnít get as hot in the sun) and I went back to the motel and packed up.
I finally got to my first birding site, Jesse H Jones Park, at about 10:45, and I started my official birding for the trip.† My first new bird for the trip was Mourning Dove, followed by NORTHERN CARDINAL.† Cardinals are quite common and very vocal, so I hear them all the time.† They have a number of different calls and Iím still learning to recognize them again, after not hearing them for two years.† Here is a male Northern Cardinal, which I actually saw later in the day at another site.
Here is a picture of one of the ďtrailsĒ at Jesse H Jones Park.
The trails were mostly asphalt, which is why I used the quotation marks around trails.† I walked in the woods and listened to all the bird calls.† If I knew the eastern bird calls, I could have had more species today, Iím sure, but I donít know them, so I had to look for each one.† It isnít easy in a forest, and most of the birds seemed to be up high and not easy to find.
I played the call of a warbler I knew was common there, and one flew in right away.† I got PINE WARBLER for my year list.† Here is a picture I got a little later of another Pine Warbler, I think.
It is a very odd pose, but several of my pictures today have odd poses in them, I notice.
I soon added TUFTED TITMOUSE to my year list.† They are quite common here.† Here is a picture of one, in an odd pose, of all things.
Here is a more conventional picture of that same bird, although it twisted its head at the last second, so it is a bit odd, too.
Neither picture shows the crest which gives it its name.† Iíll keep trying.
I passed by a pile of logs and brush, and I know that a wren I need for my year list likes that kind of habitat, so I played its song.† Sure enough, almost right away, a HOUSE WREN popped up, to check me out.† It moved around a lot, and I was only able to shoot one picture of it, and it isnít ideal, but it does show the little darling.† Interestingly, the park bird list shows them as common in the winter but rare in the spring, so I guess this one is hanging on after spending the winter here.
I heard an interesting call at one point, so I looked for the bird.† This time I found it, a lovely male SUMMER TANAGER.† Here is a picture of him.
He is red, like the male Northern Cardinal, but the cardinal has black around his face, and the bill is quite different.† Here is another picture of the tanager.† I didnít know they could raise the feathers on their heads like this bird is doing.
It was pleasant walking in the woods, but it got warmer than I had expected, eventually.† I thought the forecast was for mid-70ís, but it was low 80ís by the time I was through today.† Still, that isnít too bad, since I wasnít exactly exerting myself.† I was very pleased that the mosquitoes werenít bothering me at all, as they had been bad two years ago at this park.† This year I sprayed all my clothes with permethrin, an insect repellant that the US Army uses.† You donít apply it yourself, you spray it on your clothes, and it is supposed to last for six weeks, and through six washings of the clothes.† I had sprayed some of my clothes in 2012, but this time I sprayed all my outer garments, including my socks (for protection against chiggers and ticks), my hat, and my shoes.† For today at least, it kept the mosquitoes away, and I hope the chiggers and ticks, too.
I saw some birds along the path and I thought at the time that they were White-crowned Sparrows, but they didnít really look exactly right for that, and I later decided that they might be another sparrow I saw later, Chipping Sparrow.† Not one for my year list, but one for my trip list anyway.† Here is a picture of a Chipping Sparrow at a feeder there at the park.
Looking at that picture now, I am thinking that maybe the ones along the path were indeed White-crowned Sparrows, but Iím not going to count them.† Maybe Iíll get another look at them, although they supposedly only winter here, and I would think they would be moving north by now.
I sat for a while on a bench back at the parking lot, and I added EASTERN BLUEBIRD to my year list.† Here is a picture that I think is a female Eastern Bluebird.
There were American Crows flying around overhead from time to time, and I saw one on the ground on my way out of the park.† On my way out, I discovered some feeders by the park offices.† I picked up American Goldfinch for my trip list there, and also Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, and Brown-headed Cowbird.
It was past 1 PM by then, so I left the park and stopped at the McDís nearby and loaded up on grease and carbs.† With hunger banished (for the time being), I moved on up the freeway to my next site, named after another Jones, I guess, W. G. Jones State Forest.† My main reason for going there, and also my reason for staying where I am staying tonight, was to try to see Red-cockaded Woodpecker again.† It is an endangered species and I did manage to see one on my 2012 trip.† I was disappointed today to find that you can no longer access the part of the forest where the woodpeckers nest, during nesting season.† That part of the forest is closed from March 15 to July 15.† They say you are welcome to look for the woodpeckers from the boundaries of the nesting area (called a cluster, as they make their nests as a group, in an area covering several acres).† I donít know what the chances are of seeing one from outside the cluster Ė last time the one I saw was in the area which is now restricted.† Anyway, I walked around and didnít see one today.† I planned the trip so I could go back there tomorrow morning if I want to, and I havenít decided yet if I will do that or not, given the restrictions on where you can go.† Two people today told me they had seen them outside the restricted area, though, so maybe Iíll give it a go.† We will see.
So, anyway, this afternoon I walked the trails, staying in the allowed areas.† There was a man who was pushing a stroller with an infant in it, and we chatted a bit.† He was one of the people who told me he had seen the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers outside of the restricted area.† While we were talking, I spotted a RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER, which was nice, because in 2012 I didnít see one until the last day or two of my trip.† Here is a picture of it with its back to the camera, but it shows the nest hole it was attending, so I like it.
My buddy with the stroller pointed out a CAROLINA CHICKADEE in a tree nearby, which I appreciated.† There was also a Tufted Titmouse and a bird I think was a Pine Warbler.† Then, as we split up and we each were going our separate way, I noticed him pointing his camera at something, so I went back.† It turned out to be a BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH (lifer), my first lifer of the trip.† I hadnít been able to see one when I was here in 2012, and they have a very limited range.† It was the other bird I had hoped to see here, in addition to the Red-cockaded Woodpecker.† I even got some poor photos, and here is my best.
So, that was pretty exciting, and I walked on, still trying to see woodpeckers or anything else. †I did get another picture of an Eastern Bluebird.† I think that this one is a male, although the males are supposed to have more blue around the head.
When I got back to the headquarters area, I noticed there were feeders and a water feature, so I took a seat on a bench and watched the birds at the feeders and the water.† One of the birds that came to the water was a LINCOLNíS SPARROW, but it flew away before I could get a picture.† Then there was another sparrow-like bird at the water, and I got some pictures.† I thought it was a Chipping Sparrow at first, but it wasnít quite right for that.† I was planning to look it up later, but another birder came along about then, and I showed him one of my pictures and asked him if he knew what it was.† He thought it could have been an immature White-crowned Sparrow, but I was sure it wasnít that, as I see them all the time in California and at home.† He looked on his phone birding app and came up with a picture that matched mine perfectly.† It was a FIELD SPARROW (lifer).† No wonder I hadnít recognized it, I had never seen one before, and it wasnít even on my radar for that location.† I was hoping to see one in the Hill Country, east of San Antonio, later in the trip, but I didnít know they even lived in this area.† Here is a picture of my lifer Field Sparrow.
Here is a more conventional view, showing the side of the bird.
So, that was really exciting Ė two lifers on a day when I didnít really do much birding and only visited two sites.† I wanted to see the woodpecker, but the other two more than made up for missing that one.† While I was sitting there with the other birder, I also added White-throated Sparrow to my trip list.
There were a number of American Goldfinches around, as there had been at the feeders at the other park, and I got this picture of a male American Goldfinch at a feeder.
One came to the water, too, and I got this less conventional view of him.
So, that was my first real day of birding on the trip.† I added 11 species to my year list, of which two were lifers.† That brings me to 262 species for the year, of which 4 are lifers.† I also added 19 to my trip list, to bring me to 30 for the trip.
Tomorrow I move on a bit and try some other habitats.† I might or might not go back to W.G. Jones State Forest to try for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
I did fairly well with sleeping last night, although I was awake for a while a couple of times.† The beds in the motels have been too firm for me, so I wake up every 30 to 60 minutes and have to turn over.† I was up by 7:15 this morning, though, which is good, considering the two hour time shift I underwent a couple of days ago.† I heated my two little Jimmy Dean ham and cheese omelets and had my greek yogurt, and then I headed out about 8:30 to try again for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker at W. G. Jones State Forest.† It was a very pleasant 60 degrees or so, and I walked in the woods, looking and listening.† I heard some birds, but saw few.
I did manage a brief binocular look at a CAROLINA WREN, a common bird in this area, but it didnít stick around for pictures.† A more interesting sighting was a couple of BROAD-WINGED HAWKS flying around.† I had good binocular looks at them, and I feel confident in my identification.† I had only seen one before in my life, and it was at a pretty great distance, on my last Texas trip in 2012.† They have a distinctive shape, with their broad wings and broad tail, and the colors are easy to identify, too.† I had studied up on them, so I was prepared for the sighting today.
Thatís all I got at WG Jones this morning; no sighting or hearing of any woodpeckers.† I had given it a go, and I had been rewarded with the Broad-winged Hawks, so I was good.† I watched the feeder area for a short time, but only saw White-throated Sparrows, American Goldfinches, and Northern Cardinals.
I went back to my room and packed up and headed south and east.† I ended up backtracking and actually drove past the Avis office where I had rented my car the other day.† Was that just yesterday?†† I guess so.† I was heading for the little town of Dayton, TX, and I was following some directions in one of my books to look for Swallow-tailed Kites.† I saw one in 2012 and it is a spectacular bird, so I wanted to see one again.† I followed all the directions, stopping where they recommended, but I didnít see any kites.† There was also the possibility of a Mississippi Kite, which would be a lifer for me, but no luck there, either.† At one of my stops I picked up Great Egret for my trip list, and I saw Great Blue Herons several times.† I also saw some Little Blue Herons and some Blue-winged Teal.† At another place I saw some Cattle Egrets working a grassy lot.
I had my humble lunch in Liberty at the municipal park.† I had ham, cheese, veggies, Fritos, and a Diet Coke.† While eating lunch I saw a couple of Red-bellied Woodpeckers.† I find it interesting that in 2012 I didnít see that species until almost the end of my trip, but this time I have seen maybe half a dozen of them now.† Thatís how birding goes.
My next search was for shorebirds and waders, supposedly.† My book told me of a road I could take, east of Liberty, to look at rice fields that are flooded in spring and are supposed to be full of waterbirds.† Well, I donít know what the author of the book was thinking, but I took the road and never saw anything like a rice field, let alone a flooded field.† It was cattle country, with pastures and cows.
It actually worked out great, though.† The road was deserted, so I could stop when I wanted to and go as slowly as I wanted.† The first bird I saw for my year list was a male COMMON GRACKLE on a wire.† Later I saw a lot of others, and here is a picture of a couple of them on a fence.
The blue-purple iridescence of the head and breast is diagnostic.† Here is another picture that shows the iridescence even better.
At one point I stopped to look at a grackle on a fence, and a bird flew into the field next to me.† It turned out there were two UPLAND SANDPIPERS in that field, including the one that had just flown in.† I had only every seen two Upland Sandpipers before in my life, one in Montana and one in Texas in 2012, so that was very exciting to me.† I managed some pictures and this is the best of them.
As it turned out, I saw about 6 or 8 more of them a little later, much to my delight, and I got a better picture then.† Upland Sandpiper.
They spend their winters in Argentina, Uruguay, or Southern Brazil, and they breed in the northern half of the US, east of the Rockies, and also in parts of Alaska and Canada.† They are just passing through here now, on their long migration.† It is a very desirable bird to see, and I was thrilled.
Continuing along my deserted side road, I added EASTERN MEADLOWLARK to my year list.† They look very much like their cousins, Western Meadowlark, but their song is different.† I know the Western Meadowlark song (surprising, isnít it?), and I got to hear this one sing his Eastern song today.
It is a pretty blurry picture, as the bird was some distance away, but it shows its beautiful markings.
Next I was very pleased to see my first SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER of the trip.† Here is a picture of that one.
Here is a picture that shows its amazing tail a little better.
When the bird flies, it moves the long feathers of its tail in a scissors-like manner, to help keep its balance and flight stability, as it chases after flying insects.† I like this bird very much, and Iím sure Iíll be showing more pictures of it on this trip.
The birds on my little side road still werenít over, though.† I got this picture of a Loggerhead Shrike, which was actually the second one I saw today on that road.
Back on the busier roads, I saw some more Upland Sandpipers, as I mentioned before.† I think I must have seen 8 or 10 of them today.† At one point I pulled into a driveway to look at a couple of them, and I saw a sparrow.† Here is a picture of that sparrow.
I couldnít tell what it was at the time, and when I examined my pictures, I wanted to make it a Vesper Sparrow, but I finally decided it was a Savannah Sparrow, one for my trip list.† There are several sub-species of Savannah Sparrow, and Iím not familiar with what they call the ďEastern GroupĒ of sub-species.† Savannah Sparrows generally have some yellow between their eye and their bill, but not always, it seems.† The facial pattern and the streaking on the flank was what caused me to decide it was a Savannah Sparrow, not a Vesper.
I continued on up that road toward my destination for tonight, which was Kountze, Texas.† The speed limit was 75 on most of the two lane road, but I really didnít want to go that fast in my little gimcrack 4 cylinder Ford Escape, so I kept pulling over to let people pass.† The car has enough acceleration, but at highway speeds there is a whining, which might be the little engine straining or the tires on the pavement.† Either way, going 70 is tiring.† Considering the size of the engine and weight of the car, the mileage is pretty poor, if you ask me.† It is 1000 pounds lighter than my Honda Pilot and has much less power, but the mileage is about the same.† I got 23 miles per gallon on my first tank of gas.† Maybe I would only have gotten 22 in my Pilot, given the type of driving, but a little 4 cylinder car ought to get better than that.† It is rated at 27/32, I think, so maybe it will be better later on.
I got to Kountze about 3:30, and I checked into my motel so I could put my cold stuff in the little fridge.† Then I went out again and tried the place I plan to go in the morning, the Roy E. Larsen Sandylands Preserve.† I had some good luck there in 2012, but today was really dead.† It was fairly windy, which didnít help at all, and it was afternoon, which helps even less.† The temperature was about 80, just a little too warm for me, although the breeze made it fairly comfortable.† I walked around a little and heard a bird once, but didnít see anything of interest until I was on my way back to my car, when I saw a male American Kestrel for my trip list.† Here is a distant picture of that guy.
Considering the distance, it came out pretty well, I think, for a hand-held picture at 50X zoom.
So, that was it for today.† A serious birder would have birded for another two or three hours, but I threw in the towel about 4:45 and have been working on my pictures and this report since then.† Oh yes, I have also been consuming some wine, Chex mix, and peanuts.† Pretty soon it will be time for my humble dinner here in my room.
I managed to add 14 species to my trip list today, bringing me to 44 species for the trip.† When I think of only getting 44 species in two full days of birding (plus travel times), it seems really low.† I normally would think of 50 species in a day as being kind of ďnormalĒ, and I have had 100 in a day 2 or 3 times.† 60 or 70 in a day is normal on my California trips, when I really try.† I donít know why that is, or what it means, but I find it interesting.† I see that I only had 25 for my trip list in 2012 after two full days, though, when I followed the same itinerary, so maybe Iím doing fine this year.† 44 is better than 25, after all.
6 of todayís birds were new for the year for me, which brings me to 268 for the year, of which 4 are lifers (no lifers today, though).
Tomorrow I plan to look for some of the specialties of this area, and then end the day at Winnie, which is where I plan to spend four nights.† Winnie is near High Island, where I hope to see migrants, and it is also near the Bolivar Peninsula, where I hope to get a lot of shorebirds.† It will be a challenge tomorrow to get another bird for my year list, but we will see if I can get lucky.
I forgot to mention my BAD bird for yesterday, but it was the Brown-headed Nuthatch.† Today I am taking the Upland Sandpiper.
Friday, April 11, 2014
I was up and out of my third Super 8 motel in a row by about 9 this morning.† Not exactly early, but Iím working on it.† My first stop was back at the Sandylands Preserve where I was yesterday afternoon.† There was more birdsong and a little more bird action than yesterday, but it was still pretty slow.† I got this picture of a cute little Black Squirrel as I arrived.
I heard a bird about then, and actually saw it, but I thought at the time it was another Pine Warbler, which seem pretty common in that area.† I moved on and walked along one of the trails for 45 minutes or so, but saw almost nothing, and certainly nothing of interest.† For some reason I looked up a bird I had read was common in this preserve, and I realized that that was what the ďPine WarblerĒ I had seen had likely been.† I went back to where I had seen it, and I played the song of the bird I then thought it was, and a couple of WHITE-EYED VIREOS flew in and sang back to me.† They flitted back and forth, and I got some quick views of them to confirm the ID, but I never came close to getting a picture.† At least I had a year bird, anyway, and one that doesnít come to the west coast.
Next I drove a little north to Gore Store Road, which is supposed to be a great place for birds.† My book said that I should hear multiple Hooded Warblers at each stop, but I heard nothing at any of my stops.† I took the turn off on Fire Tower Road and then the road that goes to Waluta Camp, as the book advises.† I stopped and listened and I played some warbler songs, but I got no responses and saw nothing.† It turned out that they are clear cutting much of the timber around there, and there were logging trucks and pickup trucks coming along all the time, and the road was pretty narrow, with few places to pull off.† I did pick up a Red-tailed Hawk for my trip list, but a logging truck came along right then, so I couldnít try for a picture.† All in all, it was pretty unsatisfactory.
At the end of the road, when I got to Waluta Camp, I met a guy in a van as I was turning around.† He turned out to be the owner of Waluta Camp, and he said I looked like I was a birder.† I said I was, and he invited me to wander around his property all I wanted and told me that there were lots of birds on it.† I took him up on that, and I drove down near the creek that runs through the property.† The camp is interesting.† There are cabins in the trees, well spaced out, and it looks like an interesting place.† There werenít many people around today, though.
I heard a lot of birds, but of course, I didnít know what they were.† One was especially loud, and I looked and looked and finally saw it a couple of times.† I thought I knew what it was, so I played the song on my phone, and that was it.† It never flew in for pictures, but the RED-EYED VIREO kept singing away and flitting around in the top of a tree.† I see them in the summer east of the Cascades at home, but it was still a good one for my trip list as well as my year list.
While walking around, trying to see the various birds that were singing and calling, I spotted a lovely little Carolina Wren, singing away.† I had counted it a day or two ago, but today I got this picture of one singing away.
Here is what it looks like when it is not singing.
It was a beautiful spot, but it was forest birding, which is never really very satisfying for me, and time was moving on.† As I left I chatted again with George, the owner.† He was a very friendly guy, and if I had had the time and knew the bird calls and songs, I suspect I could have seen a lot more there.† George gave me a tip to find the Hooded Warbler that was supposed to be so easy in that area, and I drove to the creek crossing he suggested.† I got out and did hear birdsong, but of course, I didnít recognize it.† I played the Hooded Warbler song, and then I could recognize that several of them were indeed singing, on both sides of the road.† I tried to see one or lure one out with its song, but I never spotted one.† I am counting ďheard onlyĒ birds this year, though, in keeping with the general practice among birders these days, so I am counting HOODED WARBLER for my year list.† I saw the species on my 2012 trip to Texas, but it isnít a bird that gets out west.† Maybe Iíll see one later.† I missed out on Prairie Warbler, though, which is supposedly common along Gore Store Road.† The people who write birding books seem incredibly optimistic to me, or maybe I am just not a very good birder.
It was getting to be lunch time by then, so I headed south.† I had packed a lunch this morning, and I drove to Tyrell Park in Beaumont to eat it.† My reason for going there was to try to see a particular species of crow that lives across the south, but this is the limit of its range.† As I pulled into a parking place near some covered picnic tables, I saw a crow at the top of a tree.† This crow I was looking for looks exactly like the common American Crow, and the only way to tell them apart is by their calls.† I was worried I might not be able to recognize the difference in call, and I was worried I would see crows and they wouldnít call, but as it turned out, this crow at the top of the tree was calling as I pulled up, and I had no trouble at all telling that it was a FISH CROW from the call.† So, I had that out of the way, and I enjoyed my ham and cheese sandwich, Fritos, veggies, apple, and Diet Coke.
With lunch done, I found my way to Cattail Marsh, which is the birding location at Tyrell Park.† I guess it must be part of a sewage treatment facility or something, and there is public access to the ponds.† It was excellent habitat.† Here is a picture of part of it.
There were a lot of ducks and waterbirds out on the ponds, and I padded my trip list nicely.† I added Common Gallinule (formerly Common Moorhen), American Coot, Pied-billed Grebe, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Black-necked Stilt, Green-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, and White-faced Ibis to my trip list.† Twice I saw a couple of Soras, too, which is unusual, as they are pretty shy usually.† Here are a couple of pictures of Soras.
Overhead there were some gulls, the common gull on this coast, LAUGHING GULL.† Iíll have pictures later, I expect, but not today.† It is a black-headed gull, and I always find them interesting.
I saw one MOTTLED DUCK, too, which is a specialty of this area.† Pictures to follow, I expect.
There were waders out there, too, and I used my scope to sort through them.† I had already counted Lesser Yellowlegs on the trip, and there were a number of them out there.† That was good, because they made a good size comparison for some others.† I think the first ďgoodieĒ I picked up was SOLITARY SANDPIPER.† I had thought I had seen one on my 2012 trip, but later I learned I was mistaken in my identification.† I did see one in San Diego last year, but this one today was only the second one I have ever seen.† I feel pretty good about the identification this time.† Here are a couple of very distant pictures.
It was clearly smaller than the Lesser Yellowlegs nearby.† The distinct white eye ring is one of the diagnostic features I am relying on, as well as its behavior and overall appearance.
Next came some other waders that were interesting.† I decided that they were PECTORAL SANDPIPERS, another ďgoodieĒ that I donít see very often.† Here are a couple of pictures of that species.
They are also very distant, but I think the pictures show the key features.† This next one shows the bill shape and size.
So, that was all very exciting, but then I noticed some really small sandpipers.† Based on what I saw and what is reported at that site at this time of year, I think they were SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS, and Iím putting them on my year list as such.† I saw that species in 2012 here, but it was even more distant than todayís views.† I had an expert birder with me that time, though, and I relied heavily on what he told me to look for.† The ones today were too far for pictures, and even if I had pictures, Iím not sure they would prove they werenít Western Sandpipers, but Westerns would be very unusual here at this time of year, I think, based on eBird reports.† I hope to see the species again, maybe with some experts to guide me, but for now, Iím countiní Ďem.† My sandpiper trifecta of the day was complete.
There were some dowitchers, too, and Iím calling them Long-billed Dowitchers for my trip list, based on what is reported at Cattail Marsh in April.† A couple of ROSEATE SPOONBILLS flew over, too, so they went on to my trip list.† Pictures later, no doubt, when I visit the rookery where they nest in the next few days.
A Tricolored Heron flew in, which is the bird I got on my arrival night to add to my year list.† Here is a picture of it.
So, those were the birds of today, but I will end this report like I started it, with a picture of a mammal.† I think this is a Nutria, a rat-like water animal that has been introduced from Latin America, I think.
Itís hard to tell size from the picture, but I think it was about the size of an average sized cat.
So, eventually I tore myself away from Cattail Marsh and found my way to Interstate 10 and eventually to Winnie, where I plan to spend the next four nights.† I stopped at the grocery store and loaded up, and then at the liquor store and got what I needed to get loaded up, and then checked in to my new home away from home.† I stayed here at this same place two years ago, but this time I went for a king suite instead of a queen suite, and I like the added size.† It has a nice little kitchenette that is very sparsely furnished with the bare necessities and a king bed, and it has lots more space than I had last time. †It doesnít smell musty, the a/c works fine, and the windows open.† I like it.† I haven't tested the bed, but I imagine it is too firm for my taste, like all motel beds seem to be.
I added 22 more species to my trip list today, to bring me to 66 for the trip.† Ten of those were good for my year list, which now stands at 278, of which 4 are lifers.† I guess I will take Fish Crow for my BAD bird for today.† I donít expect to be back within its range this year.† Iím only 20 miles west of Cattail Marsh here, but Fish Crow isnít reported here, or at least, not very often.† I think I mentioned earlier that I was at the very edge of its range, which is why I was pleased to get it today.
Tomorrow the migrant birding starts. ††Mostly that means warblers, but there are other migrants, too. †I am about 19 miles from High Island (which is a town, not an island), and that is where the action will be centered for me for the next three or four days.† Iíll be going to the Bolivar Peninsula on the gulf coast for shore birds, and to Anahuac NWR for other local specialties, but the heart of the action for me will be High Island, for migrating warblers, vireos, thrushes, buntings, orioles, and other birds.† The weather forecast for Monday looks good for a ďfalloutĒ, but weather is fickle, and we will see.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
I was awake at 6, after 7 Ĺ hours of sleep, and I got out of bed at 6:30.† After my brekkie of three eggs, three little turkey sausage patties, and some Greek yogurt, I got away from here at 8 and headed down to High Island.† My first stop was Boy Scout Woods, where I paid my 25 bucks for my annual admission patch, so I could visit the Houston Audubon Societyís reserves in High Island this year.† There was no action at all at ďthe dripĒ, a place with grandstands and a dripping hose that fills a little pool.† Sometimes the drip is teeming with birds, but there was nothing this morning.† I wandered out on to the trails around the reserve, looking and listening.† There was nothing, and eventually I caught up with the free guided bird walk that leaves at 8 each morning.† There were 20 or more people on the walk, so I wasnít particularly interested in joining them, but I stood nearby to see if they were seeing anything.† I had gotten Feral Pigeon for my trip list on the way to High Island, and there were some Brown Pelicans that flew over when I was with the group, but nothing else of interest.† I wandered the trails a little more, but it was very dead.
I decided to move on over to Smith Oaks, another reserve nearby, to see if there was anything at the drip over there.† Before I did that, though, I checked out the rookery at Smith Oaks.† A rookery is a group nesting site, and at Smith Oaks, there are Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, and Neotropic Cormorants that all nest communally on a couple of islands.† Here is a picture that shows part of the rookery, with a lot of birds nesting in trees and bushes.
By nesting on islands, the birds cut down on the predators that can attack their nests.† The alligators in the water keep the predators from swimming to the islands.† I didnít see any alligators today, but Iím sure they are there.
Here is a picture of a Roseate Spoonbill, a bird I counted yesterday for my year list.
There were other people at the overlook where I was, and one of them mentioned that he had spotted a bird I wanted to see.† I saw it too, and added PURPLE GALLINULE to my year list.† I even got a distant picture.
I ended up seeing another by myself, too, so I tripled the number of Purple Gallinules I have seen in my lifetime today, since I only ever saw one before, in 2012.† I was pleased to get that one today.
There were lots of Great-tailed Grackles flying around, but I managed to see one BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE as well, so I had another one for my year list.† Across the lake I saw some vultures flying around from time to time.† Most of them were Turkey Vultures, which I have seen a lot of, but one was a BLACK VULTURE, another one for my year list.
I didnít see anything else there at the rookery, so went on over to Donís Drip, to see if anything was coming in there.† There were two people there, and they said there had been nothing.† I sat there a while, but all I saw was a hummingbird fly through.† I would guess it was the common one here, but since I didnít see it well enough to ID it, I wonít count it yet.
It was back to Boy Scout Woods then, and I actually picked up another one for my year list on the way, INCA DOVE.† There were a couple of them on a wire over the road.† Back at Boy Scout Woods, it was still completely dead at the drip.† While I was sitting there, though, a woman came and asked if anyone wanted to see a particular warbler nearby.† I certainly did, and I got several good views of a BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER.† There isnít any green on it, only black and yellow, but that is what it is called.† The field guide says the crown is olive green, but it looks black to me.† In the same tree was a TENNESSEE WARBLER, a very plain bird that I was glad I had help identifying.
I was thinking I would go on the free shorebird guided tour at noon, but I figured it would be crowded, and I thought it would be more fun to go see what I could find on my own.† I thought they would be going to Rollover Pass, so I drove on down there, which is about 15 or 20 miles from High Island.† The tide was way out, and on the bay side, the birds were far away.† Still, I got out my scope and started looking.† It turned out that there were plenty of birds closer in when you looked, and I could see the distant ones as well.† It turned out to be an extremely productive visit, despite the unfavorable tide.
I rapidly added a number of birds to my trip list, including Marbled Godwit, Willet, Whimbrel, Dunlin, and Black-bellied Plover.† Here is a picture of a Black-bellied Plover in its winter plumage.
I had seen all of those birds in California already this year, but they padded my trip list nicely.
There were a number of terns there, and one of the easy ones to identify was LEAST TERN, for my year list.† I also added PIPING PLOVER and AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER to my year list.† For my trip list, I soon added American Avocet, Barn Swallow, Semipalmated Plover, Black Skimmer, Herring Gull, and Royal Tern.† The birds were coming hot and heavy.
A group of birders arrived, and I thought it was the group from High Island that I had decided not to join.† I kind of moved over near them and tagged along with some of the birds that the leader was pointing out.† I got onto some BLACK TERNS that way, and on my own, I added Red-breasted Merganser to my trip list.
About that time another group arrived, and I realized that this second group was actually the one I could have been with, the ones from High Island.† I deserted the first group and joined the edges of the second group, to take advantage of the knowledge of the leaders in that group.† I think it is considered a little rude to just attach yourself to a group, especially when the people in the group are paying a guide to show them birds, although I have been known to do that before, kind of discreetly, of course.† I didnít mind barging in on this second group, though, because I knew it was a free tour, and I could have been with them if I had stuck around Boy Scout Woods a little longer.† They invaded my space, actually, and were set up all around my car, so it was easy to blend right in.
At about that time I spotted an excellent bird on my own, a FRANKLINíS GULL.† They look very much like the common Laughing Gulls, but this one was clearly a Franklinís.† It was far away, though, and was moving and mixing with other birds, so I didnít try to point it out to anyone.† I saw the rosy blush to the breast and the white patches on the wings that distinguish it from the Laughing Gull, so I am sure of my ID.† There will be more on Franklinís Gulls a little later in this report, if I remember.
Some in the group spotted a Red Knot, which was confirmed by the leader, and I got a good scope view of that desirable bird.† I had seen some birds at the Salton Sea that I thought were Red Knots, but now this sighting has ďinsuredĒ that one for my year list, in case I was wrong about that one.† When I see a bird that is kind of questionable or marginal, I always feel better when I see another one of that species later that Iím sure of.
A Gull-billed Tern flew over, and the guide confirmed my call on that one.† Later I saw a couple more.† A Ruddy Turnstone came around, and I didnít get a picture of that one, but I got a picture of another one later.
The tour leader pointed out a number of Semipalmated Sandpipers.† Yesterday I had called that one at Cattail Marsh in Beaumont, but it is a hard call, and so I was glad to have an expert confirm the call today.† Later I saw some little ďpeepsĒ that I knew were either Western Sandpipers or Semipalmated Sandpipers, and I ended up deciding, after seeing my pictures that they were also Semipalmated.† Here is a picture of couple of them.
I donít know how I will be able to tell a Western Sandpiper here, with all the Semipalmated ones that seem to be around.† They are very similar.
Before we left Rollover Pass, I added American Wigeon, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Ring-billed Gull to my trip list, thanks to the guide.† There were still 3 or 4 terns I needed to see, but I have time to look for them, hopefully when the tide is not so far out.
The tour group moved on to look for Upland Sandpipers, but I had seen a number of them yesterday, so I went off on my own again.† I drove down Yacht Basin Road, looking for a sparrow mainly, but keeping my eyes open for other things.† At an overlook of the bay, I watched a couple of terns flying around and diving into the water from time to time.† I got a couple of crummy pictures, but with the pictures, I am going to call them Forsterís Terns.† They are very similar to Common Terns, and I would like to have an expertís opinion when I call a Common Tern, but I am fairly comfortable with my Forsterís Tern call today.
To my surprise, I saw a couple of CRESTED CARACARAS at the end of Yacht Basin Road.† They were flying and also perched.† They are raptors, and I hadnít ever seen them near the ocean before.† I got pictures, but the pictures arenít nearly as good as ones I got in 2012 of the species, so Iím not showing them here.† I was happy to see them, although I was getting increasingly aware that I was seeing so many species today that were reducing my chances later to keep seeing new year-birds.† All you can do is take them as they come, though.† You canít ďsaveĒ them for later.
In the distance, I saw some pelicans, but this time they were American White Pelicans, another one for my trip list.
I moved on down to the next road that the book suggests for the sparrow I was looking for, which was Tuna Road.† There was a guy fishing at the end of the road, and as I approached the turn around area, there were a couple of gulls sitting there.† I took a look, and I thought they were Franklinís Gulls, the unusual one I had seen earlier at Rollover Pass.† They didnít have rosy colored breasts, but they had some other markings that made me think they might be Franklinís Gulls.† The white crescents around the eyes seemed large, they had white spots on their wings, and the black hood seemed to go lower on the neck that in Laughing Gull.† The bill seemed short and straight, too, not curved.† The legs seemed to be dark red, too, not just ďdarkĒ as the field guide calls the Laughing Gull legs.† Iím certainly no expert, so Iím not sure, but here are a couple of pictures of a couple of gulls that I thought might be Franklinís Gulls.
If they arenít Franklinís Gulls, then they are Laughing Gulls, and I promised pictures of Laughing Gull, so these will serve one purpose or another, I guess.
But meanwhile I was still looking for this sparrow.† I stopped a number of times and played the song of the bird.† Supposedly, they will perch up on the grass and take a look when you ďpishĒ or play their song.† At one stop, I actually saw a bird perching up, farther away than I expected, so I got out my camera and took some pictures.† They are distant and blurry, but I think this is a picture of a SEASIDE SPARROW.
So, with that success, I headed back to High Island to see if any birds had come in today.
I parked at Boy Scout Woods, and before I could even get into the reserve, someone pointed out a lovely male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK sitting in a tree.† Here is a picture of that handsome guy.
Then there was a male ORCHARD ORIOLE in another tree.† It flew before I could get a picture, but there was an EASTERN KINGBIRD in the same tree, and I got a picture of that one.
So, just like that, boom, boom, boom, I had three more for my year list, and I wasnít even into the reserve yet.† Itís interesting how the birds seem to come in groups like that.† There will be no action at all for a long time, and suddenly there is a flurry.
When I approached the grandstands at the drip, they were full, and people had their binoculars and cameras up.† That is a good sign.† It turned out that there was a group of maybe a dozen Orchard Orioles at the drip, taking baths.† Before I could get settled and take pictures, they moved on, though.† A beautiful BLUE-WINGED WARBLER came in briefly, but my only picture is too motion-blurred to show.† It was an excellent bird to see, though.† Next was a male INDIGO BUNTING.† You know I love blue colored birds, and here is a blurry picture of the male Indigo Bunting.
A BLUE JAY flew in, and most of the crowd yawned, as they see them all the time, but I think they are a beautiful bird, and this was the first one of my trip.† The jay took a bath and I recorded it in pictures.† Here it is as it arrived.
I call this next one Wet Blue Jay.
Here it is splashing around in the water, taking a bath.
And here it is, all clean and wet.
I think it is interesting that birds like to get all wet like that.† It is their propensity to do that that makes sitting and watching a pool of water rewarding.
A little while later a SWAINSONíS THRUSH flew in, but Iím not satisfied with any of my pictures of it.† Right after that, there was another warbler, a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH.† There was some discussion among the watchers as to whether it was a Northern Waterthrush or the more uncommon Louisiana Waterthrush, but the consensus was Northern.† Since I have never seen a Louisiana Waterthrush, I didnít have an opinion until I looked at my pictures and consulted my field guide.† I concur with the consensus, but here are three pictures of the bird, in case anyone has another opinion.
I would have struggled with the ID on my own, as it seems to me the bird has characteristics of both species, but since I am no expert, I will just accept that it was a Northern Waterthrush.
After that things really slowed down, and at about 4:30, I decided to save some birds for another day, and I headed for the barn.
So, it was quite a day for birds.† I was in two new habitats, and I cashed in.† I added 44 to my trip list, to bring me to 110 now.† 21 of those were new for my year list.†† I found one error in my lists (I had counted House Wren in San Diego earlier in the year, so I had to take my sighting of it here in Texas off my year list), and after that correction, my year list now stands at 298 species, of which 4 are lifers.† I wouldnít be surprised to find there are other errors in my lists.† I need to update my master spreadsheet for the year, if and when I get time.
I haven't decided exactly what I will do tomorrow, but the numbers will be way down from today, since I will be visiting the same places and will see many of the same birds.
What a life!
Sunday, April 13, 2014
As I predicted last night, the numbers were down considerably today, but I saw some birds and got some pictures I like.† Before I get into today, though, I wanted to mention two things.† First, I forgot to say I saw a Cedar Waxwing yesterday afternoon, one more for my trip list.† Second, I forgot about choosing a BAD bird for yesterday.† I did so this morning Ė I chose Purple Gallinule, mainly because I was so pleased to see two of them.
My first stop this morning was the bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway.† The other day I had seen swallows there, from the road, and I had read a report that said that Cave Swallows nest there, under the bridge.† This morning there were no swallows at all, though.† Very strange.
So, I moved on down to Smith Oaks in High Island.† I went to Donís Drip there, and there wasnít much going on.† I did manage to add RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, though, and also a Ruby-crowned Kinglet for my trip list.† I hung around a while, but the two rubies were the only ones I got there.† I moved on over to Boy Scout Woods, but there were no birds there, either.† 2012 was supposed to be a mediocre year, when I was here last time, but maybe this is a terrible year or something, because there has been a lot less bird action in High Island than I had in 2012.† Iím a few days earlier in the year this time, though, and maybe the birds are a little later this year, too.
I gave it up after a while and as I left, I got this picture of a little Inca Dove, which I had added to my year list yesterday..†
I drove on over to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).† At the entrance I got White-crowned Sparrow for my trip list, and I drove the road to Shoveler Pond.† Along the road there was a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron perched in a tree, and I got this picture.
Normally that would have been a year bird, but I saw the species in San Diego on my trip last month.† There was a Green Heron sitting out in the open, a good one for my trip list, and I got this picture.
The bird actually has a rather long neck, but it can tuck it into its feathers, and you would never realize it.† Hereís a picture I took in 2012 that shows the long neck.
Who would have imagined that such a long neck could be tucked away so effectively, with no sign of it?
There was a little bird in the reeds that I couldnít identify as it was too far away and it flitted around too much.† I took some pictures and this evening I could see it was a Marsh Wren, another one for my trip list.† Here is a picture.
I saw several Orchard Orioles today, one I had counted yesterday at Boy Scout Woods.† They seem to like the reedy habitat.† Here is a male Orchard Oriole.
The female is pretty much plain yellow, and I saw one of those today, too, along with 4 or 5 males at various places.
Next I saw a small bird in the reeds that really got me excited.† I thought it was a warbler, and it looked like nothing I had ever seen.† It seemed to be a blue-gray color and had yellow on its side and on the top of its head.† I got these three pictures of it, which allowed me to identify it.
This next picture doesnít show any of the yellow color.
This last picture finally gives the game away, and shows the yellow rump of a Yellow-rumped Warbler in a plumage I donít recall ever seeing.
This subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler used to be a full species, called Myrtle Warbler, but it has been combined with the Western subspecies that Iím used to seeing.† This is a male ďMyrtleĒ Yellow-rumped Warbler in summer plumage.† It looks completely different from what Iím used to seeing when I see Yellow-rumped Warblers.† One for my trip list, anyway.
There was another Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in the reeds, and I got this picture.
There was a juvenile one near this one, as well.
As I turned a corner I spotted a Purple Gallinule across the water from me.† I got pictures, and since I like blue colored birds so much, Iím going to show two of this very colorful bird.
I was thrilled to see two of them yesterday, and I was even more thrilled today to get these pictures of this very colorful bird.† This makes four of them that I have seen in my life.
There were a number of Eastern Kingbirds around, another one I had counted yesterday.† Here is a picture of an Eastern Kingbird that I like.
There are three species of grackle in this area, and I showed some pictures of the Common Grackle the other day.† The most common species is the Great-tailed Grackle, but at Anahuac, the predominant species is Boat-tailed Grackle, which I had counted for my year list yesterday at the Smith Oaks rookery.† Here is a picture of a male Boat-tailed Grackle calling.
It was a tough picture, with the bright background and an all black bird, but Iím pleased with how it came out (with some help from Paint Shop Pro).† They have a little bit of iridescence, which this picture sort of hints at.† You might have noticed that I like to show pictures of birds that are singing or calling.† I think it adds interest to the picture when the bird is doing something.
I got good looks at a Swamp Sparrow at one point.† I had seen an out-of-area one north of Monterey earlier this year, so it wasnít a year bird, but it was an excellent trip bird.† I have only seen the species two or maybe three times before.
There were a number of Savannah Sparrows, not one for any list, but I got this picture.† Look at those delicate little legs.
Here is a picture of a Barn Swallow, also not one for any list today.
Now for something completely different.† I saw three large alligators today, driving around Anahuac NWR.† Here is one of them.
It wouldnít be a good place to go swimming, I donít think.
It was time for lunch by then, so I drove down by the gulf and ate my humble lunch in my car.† I had made a nice thick ham and cheese sandwich, and to go with it I had some Fritos, some mini-peppers and sugar snap peas, and a Diet Coke.† On the way back from the coast, I played the call of a rail I knew lived there, at several places.† At one stop, I got a response, and in keeping with my new policy of counting ďheard onlyĒ birds, Iím counting KING RAIL for my year list, even though I never saw the bird.† The call is very loud and distinctive, though, and even I could recognize it.† It almost feels like cheating to play the birdís call, and then count it when it answers, but that is how the game goes.†† I think I might even count it as my BAD bird for today, since they specifically allow ďheard onlyĒ birds.† In terms of identification, hearing it is actually better than seeing it, as it looks so much like a Clapper Rail, which lives in a similar habitat.† At Anahuac, Clapper Rails supposedly live in the salt water parts and King Rails live in the fresh water parts, and I was playing the King Rail call because I thought I was in a fresh water area.
I saw meadowlarks several times, I got this picture of a singing Eastern Meadowlark that I like.† As I mentioned before, I like pictures of birds calling or singing.
Four BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCKS flew over at one point, another one for my year list.† I expect Iíll get pictures of that species later.† I saw the other whistling-duck species, too, FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCK, and I got a picture of one of those.
There were several WHITE IBIS in the fields, too, and I got this picture of one of them.
It must have been about 2:30 by the time I left Anahuac.† I stopped at the Skillern Tract, but I didnít see anything there, and I went on back to High Island.† My first stop was Donís Drip again, at Smith Oaks.† There was very little there (a common theme, you might have noticed).† I chatted with a guy from San Antonio and after awhile I moved over to Boy Scout Woods.† It was almost as slow there.† This is really much less bird action than I had in 2012, so far.† I did see my first GRAY CATBIRD of the year there, but my pictures are too blurry to bother showing.† I threw in the towel about 4:15 and headed for ďhomeĒ.† I was a half hour away, and I needed to get a few groceries and some gas for the car.
So, that is a total of only 13 species for my trip list today, which brings it to 123.† I added 6 to my year list, to bring it to 304 so far, of which 4 are lifers.
For today, Iím taking King Rail for my Bird-A-Day bird.
I wanted to mention a couple of other things.† I might have mentioned that I treated my clothes with permethrin before I left home.† So far, I not only havenít had any bites (knock on wood), I rarely even see a mosquito around me.† I see other people spraying, and I know there are mosquitoes around, but they seem to avoid me, which is wonderful.† No chiggers or ticks yet, either (knock on wood again).† Iím a believer in this permethrin stuff.† All my outer clothes, including my hat, my shoes, and my socks were sprayed with the stuff.† I think the hat is a key point, as it keeps the little buggers away from my head, I think.
The other thing I wanted to mention is the weather.† So far, the weather has been terrible for migrant birding, meaning that the wind has been strong from the south.† That means the birds are given a boost and end up inland somewhere, not here near the coast.† It is when the wind blows from the north that the birding gets good.† Tomorrow a front is supposed to move through, with thundershowers all day long.† That might hinder the birding, but it will also slow down the migrants, and it could mean some good birding tomorrow afternoon in High Island, although birding in the rain doesnít appeal to me much.
More importantly, at this point they are saying that Tuesday will be cool (mid 60ís) and clear, with strong winds from the north.† Theoretically, that could produce the perfect birding scenario, which is referred to as a ďfalloutĒ.† People say that when a real fallout occurs, there are birds everywhere, sometimes hundreds in a single tree.† They are slowed down in their flight across the gulf, and when they make landfall (if they make landfall Ė many donít make it when there is a strong north wind), they stop at the first desirable habitat they see, and on this part of the coast, that means High Island and its reserves.† Iím probably exaggerating the chances of a fallout actually happening, as I notice the Texas birding mailing list doesnít seem excited about the prospects, but Iím thinking I might change my plans and stay here an extra day.† I had planned to leave on Tuesday morning and head inland, but I could stay here an extra day and skip one birding site on the way west.† It would mean a six hour day of driving on Wednesday, but I can still do a six hour day, I hope, even though I am getting pretty old and feeble.† Iíll decide overnight and change my accommodation bookings in the morning if I decide to go for it.† It might turn into a big bust Ė weather forecasts have been wrong before, and maybe the birds can sense that the weather isnít favorable to fly across the gulf and theyíll just delay a day, but any reasonable chance at all of experiencing a real fallout is worth taking, it seems to me.† The cost seems low (a six hour day of driving and missing one birding site that wasnít especially productive in 2012 for me), and the potential benefit seems big.
So, that is my story for tonight.† The adventure continues.
Monday, April 14, 2014
I was up before 7:00 this morning, but I wish I was getting up earlier than that.† I haven't been able to get to bed until 10:30 or later, because my pictures and reports take so much time.† I mentioned last night that I was thinking about changing my plans, and this morning I did so.† I cancelled my motel for Tuesday night and added another day to my stay here in Winnie.† That will enable me to see if todayís weather front and tomorrowís north wind makes more migrants stop here tomorrow.
It was overcast and muggy this morning. †Just before the turnoff to the bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway, there was a Belted Kingfisher on a wire, a good one for my trip list.† I pulled onto the side road to look again for the swallows that were supposedly there at the bridge.† There was another car already there, and hundreds of swallows were flying around, and working on building nests under the bridge.† I donít know where they all were the other day when I stopped.† Anyway, I asked the guy next to the car what kind of swallows they were, and he said Cliff Swallows, which was disappointing to me.† I got out anyway and took a look.† They didnít look right for Cliff Swallow to me, and I consulted my field guide.† At the time, I thought they were Cave Swallows, but I have only seen Cave Swallow once before, so Iím no expert on them.† I showed the guy the pictures in my field guide, but it turned out he wasnít a very knowledgeable birder.† The woman in the car concurred with me, though.† She had been looking at them with binoculars and had a field guide there.† I tried taking pictures, but my camera was fogged up due to the humidity.† I guess that 20 minutes in the air conditioned car cooled it down and dried it out, and the humid air condensed moisture on the lens.† I tried to clean it, but my pictures are crap, due to the fogginess.† Looking at my crummy pictures and consulting various sources online, I started doubting my call of Cave Swallow.† Some things about some of them seemed more like Cliff Swallow.† I wish I had decent pictures.† The nests looked more like Cave Swallow nests, I thought.† I decided not to count them today, either way, and try again tomorrow.† I know what to look for now, both in the birds and in the nests.† I just hope they are there tomorrow.
I moved on down the road to High Island, and I tried both Smith Oaks and Boy Scout Woods, but all I saw at either one was Gray Catbirds.† This year continues to be much less productive for migrants than 2012, for me, anyway.† Maybe the birds are late this year, and since Iím here several days earlier in April than in 2012, maybe thatís why Iím not seeing them.† Or, maybe itís due to the weather so far Ė the winds have been from the south until today.
So, I pursued my plan for the day, which was to go on down the Bolivar Peninsula and look for shorebirds.† I had several to look for, and places to look for them.
My first stop was at Rollover Pass, and the tide was higher than the other day when I was there.† That was what I was counting on Ė the birds were in much closer.† I soon picked up SANDWICH TERN, which is pretty common, but I had missed it the other day.† I got this picture of a Laughing Gull in winter plumage.† Thatís the gull with the black hood in the summer.
I took the picture before I could figure out what it was.† I didnít see anything else there then, except for several Sanderlings for my trip list, but I decided I would stop again on my way back, when the tide was out a bit.
My next stop was Yacht Basin Road.† There was a Crested Caracara on a power pole at the end of the road, as there had been the other day.† Today I got a better picture of it.
It kind of had its wings spread a little, showing the white patch near the end.
Also at Yacht Basin Road, I got this picture of a winter-plumaged tern, and I think it is a Forsterís Tern.
There was an Osprey perched on a pole there, too, a good one for my trip list.† I almost got a picture, but it flew about two seconds too soon.† I also saw my first Double-crested Cormorant of the trip there.
Moving on down the peninsula, I stopped at a site that had been recommended to me for another species I wanted to see.† It turned out that I was familiar with the site, as I stopped there a couple of times in 2012.† I drove around the perimeter of the grassy fields there, and found one AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER, the species I was looking for.† Here is a picture of it, in transition plumage, mid-way between winter and summer plumages.
There were also a couple of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks there.† I had seen four of them fly over yesterday, at Anahuac NWR, but this time I was close enough for a picture.
My next stop was Bolivar Flats, or more properly, the beach leading to the actual Bolivar Flats reserve.† You can drive on the beaches in Texas, and I drove down the sand, just 20 or 30 feet from the edge of the water.† There were birds at the waterís edge, and for the most part, driving by them didnít spook them, so I got good close looks from the car.
I added Dunlin to my trip list, and I got this picture.† The drooping bill is the key characteristic.
There were a lot of Sanderlings, and some smaller ďpeepsĒ.† The small peeps were either Western Sandpiper (which I needed for my trip list) or Semipalmated Sandpipers, which I didnít need.† I got some pictures, and later I talked to an expert, but Iím still not sure.† Here is a picture of one, and I guess Iím going to assume it was a Semipalmated, although the rufous colors on the back would argue for Western.
Iíd like to be able to show that picture to an expert.† I just copied it to my phone, and maybe tomorrow Iíll get a chance to show it to an expert.
Here is a picture of a Ruddy Turnstone, another one I had already counted.
Herring Gull had already gone on my trip list, but up until today, all I had seen were immature ones.† Here is a picture that shows three adult plumaged Herring Gulls.† At least, I assume they are Herring Gulls.
The lower half of the bill doesnít look quite right to me for Herring Gull, but based on what gulls are reported here, they must be Herring Gulls.
There were a couple of Least Terns on the beach, and they sat right there while I pulled up to take a picture or two.† They are really delicate little creatures, much smaller than any of the other terns here, other than the Black Terns, who are just a little larger than the Least Terns.
They are smaller than a robin.
I was looking for a particular small plover, and I finally did see a few small plovers.† They all turned out to be Piping Plovers, though, which I had counted a day or two ago.† Here is a picture of one little cutie, though.
It was after noon by then, and I had planned to meet the shorebird tour at Rollover Pass.† I hurried back up the road, eating my lunch as I drove.† Today it was a tuna and cheese sandwich, Fritos, peppers and peas, and a Diet Coke.
When I got back to Rollover Pass, the tour was already there, so I joined the crowd.† The tide had gone out some, and there were more birds around.† One of the guides helped me identify COMMON TERN for my year list.† I knew I would need help with that one, so that was great.† Someone spotted a lone Caspian Tern, and I got a view of it through someone elseís scope.† I had left my scope in the car, since there were lots of scopes there, and it made it easier for me to take advantage of the experts if I wasnít encumbered with it.† The Caspian Tern completed my set of nine tern species here.† In 2012 I only got eight of them.
I was surprised and pleased that they had found a couple of winter plumaged Bonaparteís Gulls, a species I hadnít expected to see, for my trip list.† One of the guides noticed a Spotted Sandpiper nearby, too, another excellent one for my trip list.† My final new bird for today was a rapidly scampering WILSONíS PLOVER that someone spotted.† That was the one I had been looking for down at Bolivar Flats.† I scampered across our line of sight twice, but never stopped for a picture.
It was almost 1 oíclock by then, and the rain that had been threatening all day finally started to fall.† I would have stuck around to try for more pictures, but the size of the drops and the look of the sky told me to hustle to my car.† I only got a little wet, but it soon started bucketing down.
I drove back to High Island, but I wasnít going to try looking for migrants in the rain, although some people say that is the best time, if it is also windy, and it certainly was.† I decided to knock off early and I headed back up the road to Winnie.† It is about 20 miles from High Island to Winnie, and the speed limit is 65 most of the way, so it takes about 25 minutes usually.† Today the rain got heavier, the lightning was flashing and the thunder was rolling, and it got almost as dark as night at one point.† I donít think I have ever seen it so dark in the day time, and this was at 1:30 in the afternoon.† The water was standing on the road, and my gimcrack little rental car kept hydroplaning all over my lane.† I slowed down to about 45 and pushed on through the storm.† The temperature outside had been 73 when left High Island, and by the time I came out on the other side of the thunderstorm cell, it had dropped to 59 degrees.† It was quite a little storm.† It has rained off and on since then, sometimes heavily, but nothing like that initial storm.† The wind is blowing strongly from the NNW, which is presumably slowing down the migrants who left Mexico and points south today.† I might have had some good birding if I had gone back down to High Island, but I wasnít willing to spend an hour in the car, round trip, to find out.† The wind is supposed to shift slightly to pure North by tomorrow morning, and Iím hoping that will bring in a good crop of migrants tomorrow afternoon.† It is supposed to be sunny and cool tomorrow Ė starting out in the mid-40ís and rising to the low 60ís.† I guess Iíll wear my only long sleeved shirt over a short sleeved shirt tomorrow, as I donít have any kind of a jacket with me.† It will be very interesting to see what the birding at High Island is like tomorrow.† Just about the† only way I wonít get skunked for my year list tomorrow will be for some migrants to show up.† (I just realized that another way to avoid the skunk would be to see the swallows tomorrow and decide they are actually Cave Swallows.)† Weíll see if my decision to change my plans pays off.
I guess Iíll take the American Golden-Plover for my BAD bird for today.† I saw 11 more species for my trip list, to bring me to 134 for the trip.† Surprisingly, since the migrants are so poor this year, I see that I only had 118 species on the trip in 2012 after six full days here.† I was following pretty much the same itinerary, too.† The seventh full day was a big one, though, and I added 21 more, so Iíll probably be behind my 2012 pace after tomorrow, unless the migrants show up big time tomorrow.
Four of my birds today were new for my year list, to bring me to 308 species, of which 4 are lifers.
Iím looking forward to tomorrow, to see if my hopes for lots of migrants is only a pipe dream, or if tomorrow is my lucky birding day.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
The day dawned bright and sunny, but cold and fairly windy, as had been forecasted.† I was up by 6:15 and out of here by 7:30, headed for High Island and my warbler extravaganza.† At least, that was the plan.† The wind was blowing from the north, which is supposed to slow down the migrants and cause more of them to stop near the coast, like at High Island.
I stopped at the swallow nest site under the bridge, but there were no swallows around at all.† I looked at the nests, though, and they were Cliff Swallow nests, not Cave Swallow nests, so Iím counting Cliff Swallow for my trip list, since I saw a ton of them yesterday.
In High Island my first stop was at Boy Scout Woods.† Oh yes, it was 41 degrees when I left Winnie and 43 when I got to High Island.† I hadnít brought a jacket, but I had on my long sleeved shirt over a short sleeved shirt.† I kept my hands in my pockets as much as I could.† I like cool weather, but low to mid-40ís is a bit too cool even for me when I donít have a jacket or gloves.† I was disappointed to find out that the free bird walks conducted by Tropical Birding donít take place on Tuesdays or Wednesdays this year, as I had gotten there by 8 just to join the morning tour.
Boy Scout Woods seemed slow, and after spending a few minutes at the drip, I wandered around.† For a while, I wondered if my gamble on staying over here was going to pay off.†
I realized today that when Iím birding in the woods in High Island, Iím a parasite.† I watch for people looking up with their binoculars or cameras, and I attach myself to them and ask politely what they are seeing.† People are always happy to point out the bird they have discovered, and I am always polite and appreciative.† But, I realized today that I donít often get a good bird on my own.† So, call me a parasitic birder, as well as a dilettante birder.
Anyway, there was a group of about 8 people at one point, and they obviously had something.† In this case, I didnít have to ask, because the group leader was telling people where to look and what to look for.† It was a male Hooded Warbler, and I not only saw it, I got pictures.† Hooded Warbler was the one I heard up in the Big Thicket area last week, but didnít see.† So, now the stigma of a ďheard onlyĒ bird has been removed, because I saw one today.† Here is his picture.
I moved on from there, and walked out onto the elevated boardwalk at the back of the reserve.† Nothing at all out there.† Next I walked along the back of the reserve, in the sun, which was nice for the warmth.† Some people had a bird there, and I got BLACK-AND-WHITE-WARBLER for my year list.† Later I got some pictures of another Black-and-white Warbler.† There was also a female Orchard Oriole (I think) that I found on my own.
A little farther along a couple of women were looking at something, and the parasitic birder picked up NORTHERN PARULA for his year list, with a picture of that warbler.
Some people on the trail told me about a bird I wanted to see, a little farther along, so I hustled up to that spot.† There were other birders there, of course, and they pointed out the male PAINTED BUNTING I had come to see.† Here is a picture of that colorful bird.
There were a number of birds at that location, which was actually in someoneís yard.† They live adjacent to the reserve, and they have put up a sign that says people are welcome to bird in their yard.† There was my first YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT of the year there, and I got a picture.
A flycatcher was flitting around, catching insects, and I got some pictures.† Here are two of them.
One of the birders there thought it was a Least Flycatcher, but when I looked at the pictures and my field guide, I decided it was actually an ACADIAN FLYCATCHER.† There were several reasons for that, which I wonít go into, but Iím happy with the ID.
At one point a bird flew across in front of us, and I saw it, but didnít know what it was.† A couple of other people said it was a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, though, and that is consistent with what I saw, so Iím counting it.† My criteria, you might remember, is that I need to see it well enough that if I was familiar with the bird, I would have recognized it, and I also have to know what it was (like if a knowledgeable birder tells me).† This met that standard.
There were a couple of Brewerís Blackbirds on the lawn, for my trip list.† A small raptor flew in to a tree in front of us and perched briefly.† I got a good look at it, but I didnít realize what it was until one of the birders called MERLIN.† Then I realized that that was exactly what I had seen.† I donít see Merlins often, so that was a great one for my year list, as well as my trip list.† There were three male Indigo Buntings there, too, and here is a picture of one of them in the sun.
Here is a picture of two of those guys.
Here is another one of the male Painted Bunting.
Here is a blurry picture of a Black-throated Green Warbler.† I have a couple of better ones later, but this one shows the whole bird.
I left there and went to Smith Woods, and I got this picture of a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
I added BALTIMORE ORIOLE to my year lists there.† Some people told me it was good over at Hooks Woods, a reserve I hadnít been to this year yet, so I went over there.† On the way, there were six Black Vultures sitting by the road, and I got this picture.
There was also an active nest box cluster for PURPLE MARTINS, a member of the swallow family, and I picked up that one up for my year list.† Here is a picture of a female Purple Martin.
Hereís a male Purple Martin.
There were a lot of people at Hooks Woods, but I found a parking place I could back into, and I joined the crowds, ready to do my parasite act.† It worked great, and I soon added EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE and WARBLING VIREO to my year list.† I got this picture of a Summer Tanager that I think was a first year male, hatched last year, just starting to get its red feathers of adulthood.
There were other good birds around, including a Blue-winged Warbler, but nothing else new and no more pictures.† I moved on into the reserve, after someone told me about a warbler they were seeing there that I wanted very much to see.
I went to where they had described, and there were a lot of birders around, looking at a big tree.† Eventually I got several good looks at the GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER that I was looking for.† There was also a Black-throated Green Warbler there, and I got a couple of pictures of it.
There was also a Black-and-white Warbler there, and I got a couple of pictures of that one.
On my way out of Hooks Woods, I saw some more people who were looking up into a tree.† I asked, as we parasites do, and they pointed out a lovely CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER.† It took me a while to get onto it, but people were very helpful, and I was very grateful.† In turn, I helped some later-comers to find it.
Back out on the road I couldnít help taking this picture of a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak that was sitting out in the sun posing.
I also got this one of a female Summer Tanager.
It was getting on for lunch time, but I decided to stop at Boy Scout Woods again, partly because they have decent rest rooms there.† There were too many people roaming the woods to use the outdoor bathroom.
At the pond near the grandstands, people were taking pictures and looking at a bird, so I joined in, of course.† There was a KENTUCKY WARBLER which I was happy to add to my year list, but it didnít stick around long enough for pictures.† I did get this picture of a waterthrush, though, which is a type of warbler.
There was some debate about which of the two waterthrush species it was.† It isnít a great picture, but Iím showing it because a little later I got some pictures of another waterthrush at another pond, and I think the second one is a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH (lifer).† I wonít go into all the differences and why I think that the first one was a Northern Waterthrush, but I think these next two pictures are of a Louisiana Waterthrush. Here are the Louisiana Waterthrush pictures.
Okay, here are three of the field marks Iím relying on.† The Louisiana has brighter colored legs.† The Louisiana also has a wider eyebrow stripe, and it usually goes back farther on the head.† Thirdly, the Louisiana has a throat without streaks.† For good measure, here is a fourth one Ė the Louisiana is white on the breast, with some yellow wash on the flanks, while the Northern is often yellow underneath.† OK, a fifth Ė the streaks on the Northern are usually darker and more distinct than on the Louisiana, especially on the flanks.† In addition to all those markings, the Louisiana bobs its tail constantly, in a rotating manner, and this bird was definitely doing that.† OK, boring as hell, I know, but I wanted to record my thinking for my own future reference.† It was great to get a lifer, especially one so difficult to identify.
On my way back to my car, at the drip, I saw a Common Yellowthroat for my trip list.† Again, someone else probably saw it first, although I would have noticed it myself.
It was about 12:30 by then, and I suddenly realized I didnít have my cell phone in my pocket.† I thought about it, and I thought that probably I had left it at the motel this morning, but it nagged at me.† I decided to head back to Winnie, 20 miles back up the road, to be sure.† I ate my lunch on the way, so as to conserve time.† Ham and cheese sandwich, peppers and peas, Fritos, and a Diet Coke.† Does that sound familiar?
I was pretty sure by the time I got back to the motel that I had left my phone there, but it was still a relief to see it when I came in the door.† I stuck around and sorted through my pictures of the morning and started processing them.† My theory was that I would go back to High Island at the end of the day, and I could stay later if I had some of my photo work done.
I spent about two hours on my pictures and headed on back, arriving back at about 3:45.† I looked along the way for the swallows by the bridge, but they were still out and about, not at their nests.† I guess they feed most of the day, until they lay their eggs and have chicks.
I stopped at Smith Oaks and went to the drip.† No action there, but a couple of guys said there were a couple of warblers I needed along a particular trail.† I didnít find either of those, but a little farther along that trail there were people looking up into a tree, and I did my parasite act.† Eventually I got onto a beautiful CERULEAN WARBLER (lifer), my second lifer of the day.† Hooray!† I didnít get a picture, but I got several excellent looks at that darling.
I didnít get anything else there, so I moved on back to Boy Scout Woods.† As I was walking through the woods I again saw a couple who seemed to be seeing something, so I did my parasite act still again.† It turned out that they were looking at three birds, a couple of BROWN THRASHERS and a WOOD THRUSH, a couple of excellent birds for my lists.† No pictures, they are ground feeders, and it was dark under the trees and they didnít sit still for me.
After that, I went back to Prothonotary Pond, where I had seen the Louisiana Waterthrush earlier.† There was a guy sitting there, and I had a nice discussion with him about waterthrushes.† There were two of them around then, and we decided that one was a Northern and one was a Louisiana, probably the same one I had seen earlier.† There was another Hooded Warbler there, as well as several other birds.
It was 5:30 by then, so I headed for home.† It had turned out to be an incredible day for me, as far as numbers are concerned.† It wasnít nearly a ďfalloutĒ, but it was much, much better than anything I had experienced in the last few days.† After I changed my plans last night, and stayed over here an extra day, I decided if I saw 5 or 6 for my year list today, that would be good, 7 or 8 would be very good, 9 or 10 would be excellent, and more than 10 would be outstanding.† Well, I blew that out of the water with 18 more for my year list today (including two lifers), to bring me to a total of 326 for the year, of which 6 are lifers.† Absolutely outstanding.†
I picked up 21 for my trip list, to bring me to 155 for the trip.† I havenít had time to really check those numbers closely, but that is what I have now.† It was definitely worth staying over here an extra day, even though it means Iíll have to drive for six hours tomorrow to get to my next destination.† I have a couple of places to stop along the way, to try for one species at each stop, but I should still get in early enough to get something for my year list when I get there, if I can get away early enough tomorrow morning.† We will see, though.† A long day of traveling is a recipe for getting skunked.
For my BAD bird for today, Iíll take the Cerulean Warbler, as I have always wanted to see that bird, and I missed it last time I was here.† Tomorrow I move west, beyond San Antonio into what they call the Hill Country.† There are some western birds there, and a couple of special species I want to try to see.
Oh yes, one other note.† My camera started showing an error code this afternoon.† I checked it out online, and they recommended a reset procedure, and I did that.† The error code persists, and it flashes at me in the view finder when I take a picture.† The camera seems to still work, but Iím worried about it.† I called Christina and she is going to Express Mail my old camera to me at the destination after my next one, where I plan to arrive on Saturday.† Iíll keep using the camera, and keep my fingers crossed, but the flashing error code is disconcerting.† Weíll see what develops.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
This morning I was up about 6:30, but I didnít get away from my motel until about 8:45.† Just too much to do on a getaway morning, I guess.† I gassed up the car and headed out on my 5 hour plus drive, with several planned stops along the way.† If youíll remember, I had extended my stay in Winnie to take advantage of the weather, and the gamble had paid off big time, but now I had to do a long day of driving, and I had to bypass one of the stops I had planned on.
My first stop this morning was at the Wallisville Rookery, at the Trinity River.† I had read reports that a bird I wanted to see nested there, and it was right on my way, about 20 miles west of Winnie, right along I-10, which was the way I was going anyway.† It hadnít been easy to figure out how to get to the rookery, but I had done a lot of work online a couple of days ago, and I thought I had figured it out.
As it turned out, I did have it figured out.† After I got off the freeway (Interstate 10), I saw hundreds of swallows perching under a bridge, and I took a look at them.† I thought they were Cave Swallows, just as I had thought about the ones on the way to High Island a few days ago.† I tried to take pictures, but my camera was not cooperating.† I think I mentioned that it was showing an error code, and I had reset it to factory settings, in an attempt to fix it.† My pictures of the swallows are total crap again, this time because of a camera issue.† I later realized what the issue was, and I have corrected that particular problem, but it still is very flakey, and I donít trust it.† Christina is supposed to be mailing me my old camera, but I wonít get it until Friday evening at the earliest, so in the meantime I will try to see if I can make my new one work for me.† As for the swallows, I had thought they were Cave Swallows, but when I saw my crappy pictures, I decided that at least some of them were Cliff Swallows, so Iím not counting Cave Swallow yet.† I have more chances to see Cave Swallow, and Iím hoping.
At the Wallisville Project Rookery, I took my scope out onto the boardwalk lookout over the lake that comprised the rookery.† Before I could even set up my scope, though, I saw a male ANHINGA (lifer) not far offshore in a tree with nests in it.† Here is a picture that isnít very good, because I still hadnít figured out the configuration problem I had with the camera, and Iím still not sure the camera doesnít have other problems as well.† Here is a male Anhinga, a member of the cormorant family.
There was another one on a nest, too, but with my camera problems, I didnít get a decent picture of it.
So, I had a lifer, and I wasnít going to get skunked today.† At that point I thought I had Cave Swallow as well, but I later took that away when I saw my crappy pictures.
I drove through Houston on I-10.† Did you know that Houston is the fourth largest city in the US, according to population?† I didnít realize that.† I do realize now that the roads here in Texas are very difficult for a West Coaster to navigate.† The signs are terrible in my opinion, and the way they structure onramps and offramps is bizarre, it seems to me.† I made it though the heart of Houston, though, and my next stop was in Columbus, where I got a tuna sandwich and some Fritos for my lunch, at a Subway.
I ate my lunch at the Guadalupe County rest area.† They have really nice rest areas along the Texas highways, I have to say that for them.† After my lunch I picked up BLACK-CRESTED TITMOUSE for my year list.† I had seen that species there for the first time in 2012, and I saw it again today.† I didnít get a picture then, but I got one later, after I arrived at my destination for today, and Iíll show it here now.
My next scheduled stop was in San Antonio, to try to see a parakeet I had seen there for the first time in 2012.† When I got to the site, though, there was heavy duty road construction going on, and the access to the nest site was closed off.† I tried a couple of side streets, and on the second one, I was able to see the nests, which are in a power substation.† It was pretty distant, but I got this distant picture of a MONK PARAKEET in flight.
Like the parrots and parakeets I saw in San Diego this year, this population is descended from escapees who have established themselves in the wild.† I think this population of Monk Parakeets in Houston is officially countable according to ABA (American Birding Association) rules, but Iím not sure of that.
Next I moved on west and stopped and gassed up the car again, and then did some heavy duty grocery shopping at an H-E-B that I had scouted out ahead of time.† Loaded up with groceries (and there was a liquor store there, too, so I was also restocked with booze, just in case I ran out), I continued west, arriving at Concan, Texas, at about 4:30.† Iím staying at Nealís Lodges, which is a well known birding place to stay.† I stayed here two years ago, too.† I had forgotten how rustic the accommodations are, and the worst thing of all (which I had known going in) is that I donít have internet access in my ďcabinĒ.† There isnít any Verizon phone coverage here either, so I am ďdarkĒ Ė not connected.† I donít like the feeling of being not connected.† I can get on their wi-fi over at the office, supposedly, and it is supposed to be on all the time, so when I finish this, Iíll go over there and try to send it out.† If you get this on Thursday morning, then it worked.† It worked fine two years ago, so Iím optimistic.
On arrival, I got settled in and moved all my crap into my cabin.† Then I had a little drink and went out looking for birds.† Three women from Georgia had been checking when I was doing so, and they have a cabin across the way from me.† When I set out to look for birds, they were also out and about, and one of them kindly pointed out a Yellow-throated Warbler for my trip list.† Normally, that would have been a great one for my year list, but I had found one on a twitch in Oregon, on my way back from California, earlier this year.† It was still a good one for my trip list, though.† They told me about another one I need that they had heard and seen, and Iíll look for that one while Iím here.
I also picked up EASTERN PHOEBE for my year list at that time.† I tried for pictures, but my camera problems precluded me from getting any.† Iím still figuring out how to work around the various problems the camera seems to have.† They seem centered on focus and image stabilization, and Iím looking forward to getting my old camera in the mail on Friday evening.† There was another flycatcher flying around, too, but I couldnít identify it without pictures to study, and I couldnít get any pictures.
I went up to what is called the Cattle Guard feeding station, to see if anything was coming in there.† There were three other female birders there, and I joined them.† There was a Bewickís Wren (trip list) at a nest, right next to the seating area, but I wasnít able to get a picture.† The bird was much larger than our Bewickís Wrens at home, but I remembered from my last trip that the subspecies here is much larger than the one in Washington State.
A CANYON TOWHEE came in to the water at the feeding station, and I got this picture.
That was one I had wanted to see here, as I wonít see it anywhere else I plan to go this year.† A sparrow came in to one of the feeders, and we all could see it was something different.† It turned out to be a CLAY-COLORED SPARROW, another one I had hoped to see here, again because I wonít see one anywhere else this year.† Here are two pictures of that one.
A male Painted Bunting came in to the water, but I had seen that one in High Island.† Nevertheless, it is so colorful, that Iím going to show another picture of it.
Northern Cardinals are very common, but I just canít get enough of them.† Here is a male Northern Cardinal.
Next a warbler type bird flew in, and in my ignorance, I thought it must be a female Black-throated Green Warbler.† I got one picture only, and when I was looking at my pictures tonight and checking my field guide, I realized that what I had seen was one of the specialties of this area that I was particularly looking for, a female GOLDEN-CHEEKED WARBLER.† Without my sole picture, I could never have called it, as Iím just not familiar enough with the Eastern Warblers.† Here is what I believe is a female Golden-cheeked Warbler.
So, my camera was screwing up, but it was still working well enough to help me identify some good birds.
Another one that had come in a couple or three times was a BLACK-THROATED SPARROW, another one that I wonít see anywhere else this year, most likely, although I did see one in Central Washington last year.† Here is a picture of that one.
At least that one is easy to identify and canít be confused with any other species.† It was 6 oíclock by then, so I retired to my cabin to work on my pictures and this report.† While I was working on it, I heard a Common Raven outside, for my trip list.† I looked for it and didnít see it, but since I am counting heard-only birds, it goes on my trip list.† I thought I had seen one earlier today, but I didnít see the tail well enough to be sure, and I didnít hear it call.† The call is very distinctive, so I feel fine about counting it now.
It was a travel day, and a long one for this trip, but I still managed to add 11 species to my trip list, to bring me to 166 species for the trip.† 8 of those were new for the year, and one of those was a lifer.† That brings me to 334 for the year, of which 7 are lifers.
For my BAD bird for today, Iíll take my lifer, Anhinga.
I hate being ďdarkĒ, meaning offline and out of touch, but there should be some more birds here for me, although I already have three or four of the goodies I was looking for here.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
I wasnít able to get online last night, but I sent out yesterdayís report today.† I still need to update my website.† It is annoying to not have internet access in my room.† Almost everywhere has wi-fi in your room, and almost everywhere has Verizon mobile coverage, too, but this place has neither.† I wonít be back to the land of the living (meaning online access from my room) until Saturday afternoon or evening.† They had given me the wrong access code for the wi-fi last night, and I was polite enough not to call them at 9:30 PM when I was trying to get online to ask for the correct code.† (Not that I could have called them anyway, as there is no cell phone coverage here.)† I got the correct code this morning, and now I should be able to get online over at the office tonight.
Anyway, to today.† It was a big day in terms of numbers (for this stage of the trip) and it is a big day for pictures, so letís get into it.
I ended up just hanging around Nealís Lodges all day today, visiting the various feeding stations they have set up and wandering a little.† I wonít try to relate which feeding stations I went to at which time, and mostly I will just list the birds of interest I saw and show pictures.† I do remember that my first stop was what they call the Cattle Guard feeding station, which is near my cabin.† I had visited that one last night.† On my way there I added White-winged Dove to my trip list.† It would have been a good year bird, except I had gone on a twitch in Monterey earlier this year and had eventually found the one there that was way out of territory.† Later today I got this picture of one.
Thatís my fourth dove species of the trip Ė one more to go this weekend in the Rio Grande Valley.
At the Cattle Guard feeding station, I added BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD to my lists.† I also saw a male BLUE GROSBEAK.† My pictures of him are not good Ė I have been having camera problems, as I have mentioned, and today they plagued me all day.† I got by, but many of my pictures are even blurrier than usual, it seems to me.† I think the image stabilization function in my camera is compromised, and so that makes the pictures blurrier, especially in low light.† Iíll show them anyway, but Iím warning you now, you will see more blurriness today that usual.† The Blue Grosbeak pictures are good enough to identify the bird, but too blurry to show.
I saw a number of GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKERS today.† I really like their appearance, so Iíll show them a couple of times today.† Here is a somewhat blurry picture of a male Golden-fronted Woodpecker.
The name comes from the little golden patch just over the bill, in front of the eye.† This one is a male, which is indicated by the red patch on his forehead.
Nealís Lodges is on the banks of the Frio River, and the main reason people come here is to play in the river, I think.† That is mainly a summer thing, and they normally offer reduced rates in the fall, winter, and spring.† I had expected that, but when I made the reservation, they charged me the high season rate, saying it was because this was Easter week.† Well, so far, the place is deserted.† I think they took advantage of me, frankly, and I wish I had shopped around more.† Today I saw a number of other places that offer cabins, and I wasnít aware of them before.† On the other hand, Nealís is the classic birderís place to stay, which is why they can get away with charging high season rates in April, I guess.† It might fill up tomorrow, but yesterday was it was empty, and today so far (at 8 PM), not many new people have arrived.† Anyway, here is a picture of the Frio River, which doesnít seem all that impressive to me.† I think it must be low right now.
I visited the feeding station at the Campground, but it was pretty useless, so I moved on to the Pecan Grove.† That was much better, partly because there is water there, and water definitely attracts the birds, especially if it is flowing or dripping.† I was very pleased to pick up NASHVILLE WARBLER there, and I even got a poor picture.
A Carolina Chickadee came to the water.† They are supposed to be common, but I have only seen them two or three times so far on this trip.† They are very similar to our Western bird, the Black-capped Chickadee, except their flanks arenít brown.
Sorry for the blurriness, Iím blaming it on the camera problems.† Here is a female Summer Tanager that came to the water.
There was a male around, too, but none of my pictures is good enough to show.
Back near my cabin, I saw a LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER, and got this picture that doesnít show its face, but it does show its ladder back.
While driving between sites, I saw a male BRONZED COWBIRD on a wire, one I thought I might see down in the Rio Grande Valley, but I hadnít expected here.† This is an interesting place to bird because there are a number of Western species that show up here, at the extreme eastern edge of their range, and there are also some Rio Grande Valley birds that show up here, north of where they are usually seen.
Back at the Cattle Guard feeders, I picked up a single Lesser Goldfinch for my trip list, the only one I have seen so far, and that was very brief.† My only picture is crap.† From the overlook next to my cabin, I saw a Black Phoebe down by the river.† That is an example of a bird at the extreme eastern edge of its range, as is Lesser Goldfinch, for that matter.
At the Cattle Guard feeders, I got this picture of a Canyon Towhee, which I had counted last night.† It is also at the extreme eastern edge of its range.
I got this picture, too, and I have egg on my face over this bird.† I had counted it as a Rufous-crowned Sparrow, but later I got another picture that showed me it was actually a Lincolnís Sparrow, one I had counted on the trip at W. G. Jones State Forest, on the first full day of my trip.
Iím glad I discovered my error before I published it, anyway.† Here is the later picture I got that made me realize my mistake.
I love the Black-crested Titmouse, and here is another picture of that little cutie.
They are very active, and it is challenge to get a sharp picture of one.† Iím still trying, and Iím blaming my problem with blurriness on my camera problems.
Here is a picture of a Clay-colored Sparrow.† For some reason I donít really understand, I like that species, probably because of the name, because I liked it long before I had ever seen one.† We rarely get one out west, although I did see one at home, at Marymoor Park, last winter, after others had reported it.
I think the Black-throated Sparrow is a very striking bird, and I like this picture of a Black-throated Sparrow and a Clay-colored Sparrow at the feeder at the same time.
Back in the area in front of my cabin I finally got a sharp picture of a male Golden-fronted Woodpecker.
They have a very distinctive call, and I keep hearing it all around the area.
After I had my lunch, I went over to ďNealís RanchĒ, which is about a mile and a half down the road.† They have some feeders there, and I wanted to check them out.† Mostly they were overrun by Brown-headed Cowbirds, but just as I got there, a pair of Hooded Orioles were feeding on the jelly they put out for orioles.† Here is a distant picture of a male Hooded Oriole.
My pictures of the female are lousy, so forget them.
As I left there, I saw a red bird, and I thought it was just another male House Finch, but for some reason, I checked it out.† It was a lovely male VERMILION FLYCATCHER.† I tried for pictures, but it didnít sit still long, and none are worth showing.† I did get a picture of the female Vermilion Flycatcher, though, barely good enough to show.
I did leave the Nealís property at one point, to drive down a road nearby.† I had seen a report of a house that supposedly had feeders along that road.† I think I found the house, but the feeders were empty and the house looked empty today, too.† It was interesting to see all the accommodation places along that road, though, and they all looked even more empty than Nealís does this week.† Summer is their season here, I think.
On my way back, at one point I saw a bird fly to the ground, so I stopped to check it out. †It turned out to be a Lark Sparrow, one for my trip list, but it flew before I could get a picture.† It had been flying in to a puddle next to a water spigot, so I waited in my car to see if it would come back.† It did indeed come back, but it flew again before I could get a picture.† I waited there anyway, and a whole progression of birds proceeded to fly in to that little puddle, some to drink, and some to bathe.
Here is a picture of male and female Northern Cardinals together.
Three Cedar Waxwings flew in to bathe.† I had already counted them on the trip, but I love their looks, so here is a Cedar Waxwing near the water.
Some Chipping Sparrows came in and bathed, and also Clay-colored Sparrows showed up several times.† One time three Clay-colored Sparrows showed up and bathed.† Here is a picture of a couple of them bathing.
Here is a wet Clay-colored Sparrow, after it had had its bath.
I wonder what it is about bathing that birds like.
Here is a picture of that little puddle where I spent at least half an hour watching and taking pictures of birds.
I was sitting in my car, about 12 feet away from the puddle, looking out the passenger side window.
I was about to leave when the prize bird of the afternoon flew in just briefly and perched on the side of that post.† I got off one shot and it was gone, but I had gotten YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, one I was especially wanting to see here.† Here is that one picture I got.
It was almost 4 PM by then, so I went back to my cabin and worked on pictures for a while.† My idea was that I would go out again, to the Cattle Guard feeders, a little later.
About 5:30, thatís what I did.† I put some bourbon and water in a little water bottle I have, and I headed back to the feeder station.† On the way, I saw a couple of male Vermilion Flycatchers in the area outside my cabin, and I tried for pictures, but they just moved around too much.† I missed a couple of pictures because my camera insisted on focusing on the background instead of the bird in the center of the picture, even though I have it set for center spot focus.† It is very aggravating when that happens.† It might be happening more since my problems started, but it has always been something of a problem with this camera.
To my dismay, there was a mob of birders at the feeding station, maybe 8 or 10, or maybe even more.† Most of them were in one group, and fortunately, they were just leaving.† As it turned out, it was good for me, because one of them spotted bird on a snag nearby.† He called out that he had a kingbird, and everyone rushed to look.† It turned out to be a flycatcher, but not a kingbird (which is a type of flycatcher, so he wasnít all that far off).† The guy that seemed to be the leader of the group announced it was a ďBrown-headedĒ Flycatcher.† Well, there is no such thing, but I guess he meant Brown-crested, which it could have been.† After a minute, though, he changed his call to ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER, and that is what I think it was.† Here is a picture.
It was a tough picture, with the bright sky behind it.† Someone asked the leader guy why he thought it was an Ash-throated, rather than a ďBrown-headedĒ, and he gave what I thought were pretty bogus reasons.† I do think he was right, though, because of the bill size and shape.† I had studied those two species (Ash-throated and Brown-crested) at length when I was here in 2012, looking at pictures, and the bill size and shape is the key difference.† This one had a thinner bill, so it was an Ash-throated.† In my opinion.
So, having the annoying group there did add a species to my lists.† They left and I settled in to enjoy my bourbon and the birds.† This was one of the feeding stations that has benches to sit on, which is nice.
A male Painted Bunting came in at one point, and I got this picture of that colorful bird Iíve shown before.
It was at this time that I got the picture of the Lincolnís Sparrow I showed before Ė the one that made me realize my earlier call of Rufous-crowned Sparrow had been wrong.
While I was there, two other groups of two men came by, and while the second pair was there, one of them called out a bird I had wanted very much to see, and I got great looks at a BELLíS VIREO.† I spent so long looking at it that it flew off about the time I started to fumble with my camera.
That was my last one for the day.† I knocked off about 6:45 and came back to finish my pictures and work on this report.† Iíve had my dinner now, and Iíll go over and try to send this off tonight.† I have one more full day here, and there are two or three places I could go tomorrow.† I didnít feel like driving today, after my long day yesterday, but tomorrow Iíll go somewhere.† Iím sure I wonít get anywhere near as many new birds tomorrow, though, since I did so well today.
I added 15 species to my trip list today, to bring me to 181 for the trip so far.† 10 of those were new for my year list, to bring me to a total of 344 for the year, of which 7 are lifers.† I will take Yellow-throated Vireo for my BAD bird today, since it was such a surprise, coming out of the blue while I was watching that puddle.
What a life!
Friday, April 18, 2014
Well, last night I was able to connect to the wi-fi here, over at the office, but there wasnít any internet access.† This is starting to remind me of my internet adventures in Australia.† One problem after another.† I went over to the office this morning, and they agreed that the wi-fi wasnít working and they called their computer guy.† It turned out that he was working at the post office this morning, and he couldnít get here until after noon.† They told me he had been working on the wi-fi yesterday evening when quitting time came, and I strongly suspect he just left it not working.† Anyway, no internet here for me here this morning.
When I got back from the office after my unsuccessful internet attempt, I saw a Greater Roadrunner right outside my cabin.† I had seen one in the Imperial Valley last month, but it was a good one for my trip list.† Here is a picture of that guy.
I had gotten up at about 6:30, and I headed out about 8:30, after learning that I had no internet here this morning either.† The route to the place I had decided to go today, Park Chalk Bluff, took me to the outskirts of the town of Uvalde, so I went in to Uvalde and found the McDonalds there.† Uvalde has a population of about 15,000, so I figured there would be a Mickey Dís.† No Verizon mobile coverage though, which seems strange to me for a town that size.† At least in Australia, towns with that much population have mobile coverage from all the carriers.
I sent out my report from yesterday on the very slow McDís connection, and I headed out to go birding.† On my way to my first destination I saw a Wild Turkey fly across the road.† I donít recall seeing Wild Turkeyís fly before, although I knew they could do so, as I have seen them roosting in trees for the night, in Arizona.† Later I saw another one flying.† Very odd.
My first destination, Park Chalk Bluff, also called Chalk Bluff Park, is a ďresortĒ on the Neuces River, northwest of Uvalde. †I put ďresortĒ in quotes because it is a rustic working manís resort, not a fancy pants place like a resort in Hawaii.† They have pretty basic looking cabins and camping, along with a lot of family activities, like mini golf, water sports, a petting zoo, fishing, etc.† I stopped at the office and paid the eight dollar day use fee and got a hang-from-the-mirror card for my car and a wrist band for myself, and I set out looking for birds.
It was pretty slow, which is what I expected, actually.† There were a few birds for my year list I was hoping to see there, but I knew I wouldnít see much.† At my first stop in the park, I didnít see anything interesting, so I moved on down to the pecan grove, where you were supposed to have a chance to see a couple of desirable kingfishers along the river.† No one else was around and it was a very pleasant morning, partly cloudy with the temps in the 70ís.†
I stopped a couple of times, and one time I heard a bird singing, but of course, that was no help to me, other than to help me locate it.† It turned out to be a wren, and I assumed it was a Bewickís Wren when I saw it.† They nest in our yard, so I know them well.† On the other hand, there are various subspecies of Bewickís Wren, and the last time I was here, I learned the local population is somewhat different from ours.† When I processed my pictures this evening, I decided it had actually been a Carolina Wren.† Here are a couple of pictures.† First, one in which the bird is singing.
An Eastern birder with a decent ear would have known the species right then, from the song.† Here is another picture, showing the back of the bird.
Looking at my field guide now, I see that Bewickís Wren is just white and gray underneath, while the Carolina Wren has variable amounts of buffy color underneath, so Iím calling this a Carolina Wren.† I could certainly be wrong, though.
There was a lot of birdsong, but of course, I couldnít recognize any of it.† I saw a few birds, some of which I could identify but didnít need, and some I couldnít identify.† At one point, where the habitat looked good for a species I needed that is supposed to be common there, I played a song on my phone, and by golly, I got a bird to fly in and flit around a bit.† It even sang back to me.† I added BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER to my year list.† I had looked for them in San Diego, in the Imperial Valley, and at the start of this trip, and I finally caught up with one in the Hill Country of Texas, at Park Chalk Bluff, of all places.
A little later I saw a flycatcher, and it was one of two species, the same two species that came into play last night.† Last night the bird turned out to be an Ash-throated Flycatcher, but this one seemed to me to have a thick and long bill, so I thought it was the other species.† I played the song of the other species, and the bird responded by flying near me and acting interested, and eventually it even sang the same song back to me.† So, I got BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER for my lists.† I was afraid I would have a hard time distinguishing it from the very similar Ash-throated Flycatcher I had seen last night, but hearing the song clinched it.† Saved by my phone birding app again.
Next I saw a kingbird perched in a dead tree.† It could be either of two species, both of which I needed for my trip list, and one of which I needed for my year list.† I got as close as I could and took some pictures.† Here is the best picture Ė very distant and blurry, but it shows what I needed to see.
The bill length is diagnostic, but even better is the fact that the yellow on the underside goes all the way up to the throat.† Western Kingbird, which I saw in San Diego this year already, has a gray breast, but this bird has a yellow breast, so it was a COUCHíS KINGBIRD.† I expect Iíll see a lot more of them in the Rio Grande Valley this weekend, but I counted it today for my year list.
At another stop I saw some Cedar Waxwings fly in, and I got this picture of one of them.
I also saw some swallows flying over the river, and I was able to identify them as Northern Rough-winged Swallows for my trip list.
Here is a picture of the Neuces River at Park Chalk Bluff, where I was birding.
I found a picnic table on the bluff along the river and ate my humble lunch, while I watched the river for kingfishers.† I wasnít really expecting to see anything, but in the middle of my lunch a large kingfisher flew down the river, and I got a good look at it when it went by me.† It was easy enough to identify because it was huge, and the other kingfisher that lives there is tiny, about half the size of this one.† I added RINGED KINGFISHER (lifer) to my lists Ė all my lists, including my life list.† Outstanding!† I even got a so-so picture that shows the bird, even if the picture isnít great.† It not only flew right by me, it landed in a tree about 100 feet downstream from me, out in open sight.
Thatís quite some bill, isnít it?† Later it flew back upstream, and I got another look at it.† Then a few minutes after that, I saw a splash in the river upstream from me, and got my binoculars on it again, as it flew back to the side, out of my view.† Three views of a lifer bird, and a passable picture.† It doesnít get much better than that for an old birder.
Several times today I saw Vermilion Flycatchers, and I have never gotten a really good picture of a male.† Here is the best I could do today.† Not great at all, but it does show the amazing red and black colors of the bird.
They never let me get close, and they never stay in one place for long, so getting a good picture is very hard.† Iíll keep trying.
It was getting on for one oíclock by then, so I headed back.† I stopped at a place south of Uvalde called Fort Inge, but it was very disappointing, and I didnít see anything there.† Back in the area around Nealís, where Iím staying, I stopped at the puddle I had so much fun with yesterday, but the only bird that came to the water in the ten minutes I spent there was a male House Sparrow.† Not very inspiring.
I stopped at the Pecan Grove feeding stations, which I had visited a couple of times yesterday.† As I approached, there was a dove and a male Blue Grosbeak on the road, eating some seed that had been spilled or scattered there.† I needed a picture of a Blue Grosbeak, and I like blue birds, as I have mentioned before.† I got a number of pictures, from a distance, as I didnít want to spook the bird.† I canít decide which of two of them is my favorite, and neither one is great at all, so Iíll just show both of them here.
In this second one, his bill is open, with something in it, I think.
I parked my car and settled in to view the feeders and the water.† The water is the biggest attraction to me, as more interesting birds come in to bathe and drink than come in to eat the seed.
I finally got a picture of a Carolina Chickadee that I like.
It is always hard to get the eye in a bird with black around the eye, and this time I got it, barely.
A couple of Lark Sparrows came in to the water.† It was a Lark Sparrow that had fist drawn me to the puddle I enjoyed so much yesterday, but I hadnít gotten a picture yesterday.† This picture is kind of a peek-a-boo one, as some grass blades were in the way.† At least I was able to focus on the bird, and not on the grass in the foreground.
A male Painted Bunting came around again, as it had yesterday.† This time I got a number of pictures, and finally got what I consider to be the definitive male Painted Bunting picture.† Again, there is grass in the foreground, but I think it actually adds to the pictureís interest, rather than detract from it.† What a colorful bird!† A picture of a male Painted Bunting is on the front cover of the field guide I use.
There were a number of Nashville Warblers around today.† I got a lot of pictures, and this one is my arty picture of the day.
I like the colors and the leaves around the bird, as well as the softness of the picture.
Next I have a couple of pictures of the male Painted Bunting again, this time taking a bath.† This first one is just a blur of colors with water drops flying.
Here he is, all wet and finishing his bath.
At one point another bird flew in for a bath, a male Northern Parula, another warbler species that I had already counted.† I had seen females before, though, and this male looks somewhat more striking.
It wasnít until I saw the yellow patch on his back, as he was bathing, that I realized what species it was.
A female Eastern Bluebird flew in for a drink, too, and I got my second arty picture of the day of her.
OK, maybe my idea of arty is different from yours, but it is a pretty picture, isnít it?
I mentioned that there were a lot of Nashville Warblers around today, and at one point there was a real flurry and I counted 8 of them at one time.† Here is a picture I like of three of them, all lined up on a log.
I love the goggly look of their eye rings.† They look very alert to me, staring all around them.† A sort of wide-eyed look, you might say.
Iím still trying for the definitive picture of a Black-crested Titmouse, but Iím leaving their range tomorrow, so this is likely the best Iíll get.† Not perfect, but I still like it.
So, I threw in the towel about 3:30 and came back and started working on my pictures for the day.† I stopped at the office on the way and found out that they had fixed the wi-fi and I read my email and took care of some other things online.† I sure do miss having internet access in my room.† This is the only place on the trip where I wonít have it, at least.† I plan to go over to the office tonight and sit outside in the dark and get this report out.† Weíll see if the wi-fi works.† If not, then I plan to stop in Uvalde at Mickey Dís and send it out in the morning.† Tomorrow I head south to the Rio Grande Valley.† It will be hotter and it will be humid, but they have some birds there that you canít see anywhere else in the US, and I hope to add to my lists there.† Iím staying for three nights in Alamo, Texas, which is near McAllen, and then for two more nights in Brownsville, on the coast.
I got seven species today for my trip list, to bring me to 188 for the trip.† In 2012 at this point, as I was ready to leave Nealís for the Rio Grande Valley, I had seen 192 species, but I had spent an extra day or two by this point, too.† So, Iím pretty much matching my 2012 trip at this point.
For my year list, I added 4 species, of which one was a lifer.† That brings me to 348 species for the year, of which 8 are lifers.
For my bird of the day, Iím torn.† I was thrilled to see the Ringed Kingfisher, and I doubt Iíll ever see one again, but I want to post my definitive picture of the Painted Bunting to the Bird-A-Day site, so Iím choosing Painted Bunting for my BAD bird today.
Tomorrow it heats up as I head south.
Saturday, April 19, 2014
I was up at 6:30 this morning, and I got underway about 8:30.† Thatís pretty typical for a getaway morning, when I have to pack up and load the car.
I headed south, looking for a few species from the car along the way.† I had about five hours of driving again today, so there wasnít much time for birding.
I gassed up in Uvalde and headed down US Highway 83.† I saw a hawk at one point and turned around.† Here is a poor picture of a HARRISíS HAWK.† All my pictures today are poor, as they all involved looking up into a bright sky.
That was actually the second Harrisís Hawk I saw today.† The first one was in a tree at a point where I couldnít really stop the car for long.† I shouldnít have stopped at all, but I stopped briefly to verify the ID and moved on.
In one of the small towns, there was a group of corvids eating something that someone had discarded.† I stopped and looked at them closely.† They turned out to be CHIHUAHUAN RAVENS.† They look just like Common Ravens, except that their neck feathers are white at the base.† These birds bent over from time to time, and I could see the white bases to their neck feathers.† Common Ravens never would be gathered in a group in a town, either, so that would have been good enough in itself to identify them as Chihuahuan Ravens, which act more like Common Crows than Common Ravens.
I kept looking for bridges and culverts, to see if I could see some Cave Swallows.† I had seen them in 2012 at a bridge, but I seemed to have missed that bridge today.† I reached Interstate 35 eventually, and I figured I had missed the Cave Swallows.† At the interchange with the freeway, though, there was a bridge, and there were swallows flying around.† I found a place to park my car and got out and took a look.† By golly, darned if they werenít CAVE SWALLOWS.† Their nests, under the bridge, were Cave Swallow nests, too, which are open at the top, unlike Cliff Swallow nests, which have a circular hole for entry.† That was only the second time I had seen Cave Swallows, so I was pleased.
I stopped at a ďrest areaĒ, which was really only a very trashy picnic table, just north of San Ygnacio, but I saw nothing there.† It was overcast all day, with the temperatures getting up to about 80 eventually.† That was a lot better than when I went through there in 2012, though, when it was 100 and sunny.† I stopped in Zapata at the city park by the library, and found a table to eat my humble lunch (homemade tuna and cheese sandwich today, with tortilla chips and peppers and peas).† While I ate I saw a Blue Grosbeak, but it flew before I could get a picture.† A male Lesser Goldfinch made an appearance, too.† I was hearing some bird song from the reeds where White-collared Seedeaters (which would have been a lifer for me) were reported to live, and I played the song on my phone.† It sounded to me like what I was hearing, but Iím terrible at recognizing bird songs and calls, and all finches sound about the same to me.† After I ate about half of my lunch, I went over to where I had heard the singing, but it had stopped by then.† I wish I had gone over immediately, but if they werenít going to show themselves when I tried playback, I wasnít going to see them anyway.
While I was back finishing my lunch, I got this picture of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on a wire.† Another bright-sky background, unfortunately.
They are pretty common, and their long tails fascinate me.
I also added GREAT KISKADEE to my year list there.† Here is still another backlit picture.
They are common, and I plan to get a better picture.† I walked around a bit after I finished my lunch, but I never saw a seedeater, which was the main point of stopping there.† I missed them in 2012 too.† I saw three other birders also looking for the bird, and I wished them luck.
My next (and last) birding stop was at a park in Falcon Heights, called Starr County Park in some places, and some other name in other places.† On my way to the park from the highway, I drove slowly and checked out all the birds on wires and fences.† Most of them were mockingbirds, but one turned out to be a PYRRHULOXIA, a bird I had only seen once before, in Arizona in 2011.† It flew before I could try for a picture, which would have been another backlit one into the bright sky, anyway.
I hadnít been able to find Starr County Park in 2012 but it was right where the map showed it this time.† It is a very large park, but it was really dry and brown.† I drove around and saw a few birds, including a roadrunner.† I stopped at one point and looked, and I think I got a thrasher to respond to my playback, but I couldnít get a good enough look at it to count it.† I did add another dove I had forgotten about to my trip list, Common Ground-Dove.
After that, I gave it up and headed down the road to my current home-away-from-home, the Alamo Inn B&B.† I guess they do have B&B rooms, but I have what is actually a good sized one-bedroom apartment, very nicely furnished and the kitchen is also very nicely furnished with all the necessary stuff.† I have a balcony with a view of the neighborhood (Iím on the second floor), and the a/c works great.† It is the best place I will stay on the trip, by far, and it is only $68 a night.† I think it is an amazing bargain.
Anyway, I stopped at an H-E-B supermarket and stocked up on food, and checked in here.† I was very pleased to find that my old camera had arrived today, so Iíll try it tomorrow.† Iíve decided that the problem with my new one is that the Image Stabilization circuitry isnít working.† That makes the pictures much blurrier, especially in less than ideal conditions.† It is also slow to do anything.† Iíll be interested to see what I think of my old camera at this point, after having shot over 10,000 pictures with the new one.† The biggest difference is that the new on has an optical zoom range of 50X, while the old is only 30X.† I think that 30X with Image Stabilization working is going to be better than 50X without it.† We will see.
I sat out on my balcony for a while and had a drink and enjoyed the neighborhood views, and I spotted an odd sight.† There was a duck on a wire, down the street.† Eventually there were four Black-bellied whistling-Ducks on the wire, in two pairs.† The pairs seemed to be doing some kind of ritual, with bowing and weaving around involved.† Here is still another back-lit picture of a couple of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on a wire, miles from any body of water.
Maybe it is a common sight here, but it sure seemed strange to me.
I still wasnít done, though.† I knew from two years ago that a night bird nests on the roof of the building Iím staying in.† I asked and was told that they had returned (from migration south for the winter) just in the last week, and there were 3 or 4 around.† I went out at dusk and got a great view of a LESSER HIGHTHAWK flying off the roof and down the street.† I had only seen that species twice before, once in Arizona and once here, in 2012.
So, although it was a travel day, I did pick up a few birds for my lists.† I added 6 to my trip list, to bring it to 194.† Five of those six were also new for my year list, bringing that to a total of 353, of which 8 are lifers.
For my BAD bird, Iíll take the Pyrrhuloxia.† Try to pronounce that one.† I think I have it down now, but when I first saw it, I was stumped.† It is actually just as it looks.† Peer-who-LOXí-ee-ya.† It is still hard to say, though.
I guess thatís it for tonight.† More tomorrow, God Willing And The Creeks Donít Rise.
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Easter Sunday, and instead of being at home in the bosom of my family, enjoying a fabulous Easter brunch with confetti eggs, I was traipsing around south Texas looking for birds today.† Is that crazy, or what?
I was up a little after 6:45, and was out of here by about 8:30.† My first destination today was Estero Llano Grande State Park.† I got there about 8:50 and as I walked from the car park to the visitor center, I saw some PLAIN CHACHALACAS for my year list.† Here is a picture of one I got later, at another site.
They are large and very obvious when they are around.† They call loudly and show up at feeders and eat a lot of seed.† It is one of the ďvalley specialtiesĒ, though, so I had to check it off my list.† I also saw my first LONG-BILLED THRASHER along that walkway.† I never got a picture of one, although I saw one or two more today.
At the visitor center, when I was paying my 4 bucks for the day (senior rate), the woman who took my money told me about the bird walk this morning, and pointed out the group, not far away.† It had started at 8:30, and I hadnít missed much.† So, I joined them and they showed me some shorebirds where they were.† A Sora came out and showed itself, and I got this picture.
I had better views and pictures of Soras last week, but it is a hard bird to see in the open, so Iím showing this picture.
I should mention that today I was using my old camera.† The zoom range isnít as much as my new camera and it has fewer megapixels, and the new one has a couple of other features that are nice, but at least the image stabilization is working, so Iíll use it from now on.† I looked it up today, and my new one is actually still barely in warranty, theoretically.† I got it last year at just about this time.† I ordered it on April 26 and got it on May 3.† Tomorrow Iíll call Sony and start the return process, if I can.† I guess it must have a one-year warranty.† I wonít be able to actually send it to them until I get home, at which time the warranty might have expired, but maybe I can start the process now and get it fixed under warranty.† Iíll give it a try, anyway.
Back to the bird walk this morning, they were also looking at some Pectoral Sandpipers and some Stilt Sandpipers, and I got this picture of a Stilt Sandpiper.
Thatís a species I have only seen a couple of times before, and so it was nice to get a picture of one.† I had seen them out in the Imperial Valley at the Salton Sea earlier this year, but this was a much closer view.† It was a good one for my trip list.† I added Least Sandpiper to my trip list there, too.
The bird walk moved along very slowly.† We had about a half dozen people, at various levels of birding expertise, so it was right for it to be slow.† There were a couple of species that I wanted to see, though, and I figured (correctly, as it turned out) that I would be more likely to see them if I just went along with the flow, rather than strike out on my own.† We saw a White-tailed Kite fly over, another one for my trip list, and I might not have noticed it if I had been on my own.
At the aptly named Alligator Lake I got this picture of a young alligator.† It was 5 or 6 feet long, but it still had stripes, which indicates it is young, I was told.
A little farther along, there was a mature alligator.† No stripes, but he looked like something I wouldnít want to mess with.
Our guide knew just where to look for one of the birds I really had hoped to see.† It is a night bird that roosts on the ground during the day.† I had seen one at this same place in 2012 and this year there were two chicks, as well as the parent tending them.† I briefly saw the two chicks, and got better views of one of them, as they moved around a little, and I added COMMON PAURAQUE to my year list.† I got a couple of blurry pictures, but it was back in some dense underbrush, and the camera wouldnít focus on the bird.† Even if it had, it wouldnít have been much of a picture, but I was happy to just see the bird.
After that we went up on a levee, and I got this picture of one part of Estero Llano Grande State Park.
They had recently put up some additional nesting/roosting boxes for owls, and our guide showed us a lovely little EASTERN SCREECH-OWL in the opening of one of them.† Here are a couple of pictures of that little cutie.
Itís facing a little to its right in that picture, and in this next one, it is facing right toward the camera.
I was told it was typical for an Eastern Screech-Owl to sit in the opening to its box during the day, dozing away.† The owl is only 8.5 inches long, which is smaller than a robin.
Eventually we made it back to the visitor center.† It had been a long, slow walk, and the temperature had risen while we were on it, into the high 70ís Iíd estimate.† I was hot and sweaty by then, and it was getting on for 11 oíclock.† There was a rest room break at the visitor center, and they went over a list of what we had seen on the walk.† I used the rest room and went to my car to drop off my birding bag, which I was tired of carrying.† The official birding walk was over, but there is an unofficial extension in the ďtropical sectionĒ, where they see a different set of birds.† I normally wear a T-shirt under my outer shirt to soak up the sweat, but I was hot enough that I took the T-shirt off at the car and left it to dry there.† I sat at a table in the shade while the rest of them made their bird list, and while I was waiting for them I saw what I believe was an Orange-crowned Warbler, for my trip list.† The yellow under-tail coverts were the tip off to me, for this rather plain gray warbler with a slight eyeline.† If it hadnít had the yellow under-tail color, I would have called it a Tennesse Warbler, probably, which we saw later in the extended walk.
My first new bird on the extended walk in the tropical area was a CURVED-BILL THRASHER, the other thrasher that lives here in the Rio Grande Valley.† Here is a picture of that one.
The Curve-billed Thrasher looks superficially like the Long-billed Thrasher.† They both have long, curved bills, so the names make no sense to me.† There is a difference in the color of their backs, but the biggest difference is that the Long-billed has dark streaks on its underside.† It would make more sense to me if they called one the Streaked-breasted Thrasher and the other the Plain-breasted Thrasher, but I guess there are other thrashers that live in other places, and some have streaked breasts and some have more plain breasts.† Bird names donít always make a lot of sense to me.
We were looking hard for another valley specialty, and we saw it fly once or twice, but finally got good looks at a CLAY-COLORED THRUSH, formerly called Clay-colored Robin.† That was a good one to add to my lists, but I didnít get a picture.
We looked for other birds that I would have liked to see, notably Altamira Oriole, Olive Sparrow, Green Jay, and Buff-bellied Hummingbird, but I never got a view of any of them.† There was a hummer at one point that was probably the one I wanted, but I couldnít get on it.† We did see a few migrant warblers, including Tennessee, Nashville, and a lovely Golden-winged Warbler that got everyone excited.† I had seen it at High Island, though, so it wasnít new for me.
We kept hearing and seeing Brown-crested Flycatchers, and I got this picture of one at one point.† I had counted that one the other day up at Park Chalk Bluff.
We were finally done with the bird walk by about 12:30, and I got my lunch from the car and ate it on the deck by the visitor center.† I was hoping to see a Green Kingfisher, another valley specialty that I want to see, but none showed up.† I did pick up WHITE-TIPPED DOVE, while I ate my lunch, though.† That completed my set of 7 dove/pigeon species, including Rock Dove, the common pigeon we see all over.† Here is a picture I got later of a White-tipped Dove.
During our walk we had talked to a guy with a big camera who told us about some ďgrass-pipersĒ he had seen that morning at a nearby sod farm.† When our walk ended, I got directions to the Progresso sod farms and after I had my humble lunch (ham and cheese sandwich today, etc) I drove on over there.
There werenít any birds where I had been told to look, but I kept on driving along the dirt track along the levee, and eventually I came to a place where there were sod field on both sides of the levee, and to the left, there were some birds.
There were a lot of plovers, I think American Golden-plovers, but I didnít try to identify them, so some might have been Black-bellied Plovers.† There were at least three Upland Sandpipers there, but I had seen that one last week up north.† There were also Pectoral Sandpipers, and finally I was able to pick out the one I wanted to see, BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER.† I had to study them closely through my scope, but eventually I got so I could distinguish the Buff-breasted Sandpipers from the Pectoral Sandpipers.† That was very satisfying, as I thought I probably wouldnít be able to tell a Buff-breasted Sandpiper if I saw one, but having the other grass-pipers (sandpiper-type birds that like to feed in grassy fields, rather than on shorelines) there really helped.† I went back to my field guide several times, as I figured it all out.
After that I stopped again at Estero Llano Grande and walked some more.† You would have thought I would have had enough walking on the bird walk, but I walked around again, looking for the birds I had missed earlier.† I didnít see any of them.† I did get this picture of a Couchís Kingbird on a wire.
When I gave up on that, I went on over to Frontera Audubon Thicket, a nearby Audubon preserve.† I paid my 4 bucks as a senior, and I walked around the trails a bit.† I saw a few warblers at one point, but nothing new.† I did manage to get a poor view of a BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD, though, my last bird for my year list for the day.† I got a couple of the pictures there that I have already shown, too Ė the Plain Chachalaca and the White-tipped Dove.
So, it was after four oíclock by then, and I threw in the towel.† As I drove back to my lodgings, I thought that a real birder would have gone on over to Santa Ana NWR, spent a couple of hours there and picked up a couple more species, and then gotten back to his lodgings by 7:30, which is still well before dark.† But, Iím a dilettante birder, and called it quits by 4:30.† I did manage to get my laundry done tonight, as well as process my pictures and write this report, though, so Iím not a total sluggard.
I need to review the valley specialties tonight and make a plan for tomorrow.† I think I will start at Bentsen, a reserve to the west of here that I passed up last time I was here.† I should at least see it, since I missed it last time, and there are certainly a few species I could pick up there.† They have a Hawk Watch, too, from a tower, and there are two or three raptors I would like to see, so Iíll try for them there tomorrow morning.† I will have to look at some lists and do some research to figure out what to do in the afternoon.
I added 13 species to my trip list today, to bring me to 207.† Nine of those were new for my year list, which brings me to 362 for the year, of which 8 are lifers.
For my BAD bird for today, Iíll take Buff-breasted Sandpiper, I guess.† Several birds would have been just as good, but I feel good that I was able to identify that species on my own, after being given directions to the general area where they had been seen this morning.† Thatís it for Easter Sunday 2014.
Monday, April 21, 2014
Iím continuing to keep early hours, for me.† I was up at 6:30 this morning, which is before sunrise and it is still quite dark out.† After 8, I did an online chat with a Sony representative and it sounds like I should be able to get my camera fixed (or replaced?) under the warranty.† Weíll see how it goes.† I initiated the process today, online, and when I get home I will ship them the camera.† Meanwhile, my old one has certain advantages over the new one and it is working out okay. †I do miss the 50X optical zoom, though (the old one is 30X).
My first destination today was Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park.† They do a hawk watch there in the mornings during migration, and there were several raptors I needed, so I thought I would give it a try.† The park is huge, but they have a tram that runs around the park every hour, and just as I got there at 9:30, it was leaving, so I hopped on.† On our way out to the hawk tower, the driver pointed out a bobcat on a side road.† I got some pictures.
It looks to me like it has something in its mouth, but I canít quite tell for sure.† I was surprised how long its legs were; I thought bobcats were stockier than that.† It was very cool to see it, I thought.
The hawk tower is a platform about 25 feet high, and itís only about a 200 yard walk from the tram stop.† I could handle that.† There was a park employee, a hawk expert volunteer, and two other birders there when I got there.
I hadnít known what to expect, and it turned out that most of the sightings were very distant.† You rarely could see any color on the birds, and the identifications were made based on wing shape, how the bird flapped its wings, how far the head and tail extended, and other things like that.† I didnít find it a very satisfying type of birding, but I learned some things and it was fun to do one time.† When I was paying my five bucks admission, the woman there told me they had seen hundreds of a particular species fly over earlier.† It was a species I was hoping to see, as it would be a lifer.† At the tower, I asked about it, and they said they all flew over in a huge group between 8 and 8:15.† Well, the tram doesnít even start running until 8:30, so to get there by then would mean walking a couple of miles.† This dilettante fat old fart wasnít about to do that.† They did say that yesterday they had had a few all day long, though, so I was still hopeful.
My first trip and year bird of the day was a distant SWAINSONíS HAWK.† I never would have identified it on my own at that distance, but the expert told me what to look for and how he could identify it.† I could see all the things he was talking about, so I decided that met my standards for counting it.† Later I got a better view of one, and I think I might have been able to identify that one on my own, but maybe not.
There was a pair of Bronzed Cowbirds in a tree.† I had counted that one up in the Hill Country last week, but I got a distant picture that I think is interesting because it shows the strange shape the male can have when he raises the ruff on his neck.
I donít think Iíve ever seen such an extreme example of a male Bronzed Cowbird with a raised ruff before.
Next there was big excitement as a bird flew over relatively close, compared to most of the ones we saw.† At first the expert said it was a heron or egret, until he got his binoculars on it, and then he identified it as a WOOD STORK (lifer).† I hadnít even considered seeing a Wood Stork as they mostly migrate through Florida, and in fact, they winter there, I think.† They normally donít come through here until June or so, so this one was very early.† I even got a couple of distant pictures, and they show it well enough to identify it.
It was really fun to see a completely unexpected lifer, out of the blue.
Next for my trip list was a Sharp-shinned Hawk that flew over.† Later there was a second one, and I got a much better look at the second one.† I might have known that it was either a Sharp-shinned or a Cooperís Hawk, but the expert told me what he saw that told him it was a Sharpie.† That was educational, and I might be able to use that knowledge out west, as we get them out there, too.† Iím used to the problem of identifying them when they are perched or when they are flying close by.† Distant flight views present a whole different set of problems.
The volunteer heard an oriole singing fairly nearby, and it was one I wanted to see.† It very cooperatively flew up and perched in a dead tree.† Here is a fairly distant shot of a first year ALTAMIRA ORIOLE, one of my target birds for Bentsen today.† It is a specialty of the Rio Grande Valley, and since Iím leaving here in a few days, it was great to get it.† Oh yes, the fairly distant shot.
If it was a mature bird, it would have more black around the face and would have stronger white wing bars.
So, that was good, and the hawk watch went on.† Then a group of five MISSISSIPPI KITES (lifer) flew reasonably close.† Thatís the one that they had had hundreds of this morning.† I could see the distinctive shape, especially the long thin wings.† The expert also pointed out how they flew and other points of identification.† Later three more flew over and they were closer.† I could see the colors (black and white, basically) on them, which made the identification much easier for the non-expert Old Rambler.† So, two lifers and one of my other target birds as well!† This was going great.
At one point a smallish raptor was spotted by someone (not me), and it landed in a tree.† It was pretty far away, but they got their scopes on it, and after a long while the expert proclaimed it to be another bird I had on my wish list.† The trouble was, the view was just too distant, and I couldnít see the things the expert was using for his identification.† I certainly believed him, but I wasnít satisfied enough to count it, really.† Iím not sure what I would have ended up doing about it, but a short while later someone spotted a small hawk, and it was almost certainly the same one we had been looking at when it was perched.† This time I could see for myself that it was a young GRAY HAWK, a species which I had only seen once before, in Arizona in 2011.† I was so busy looking at it that I didnít even try for a picture.
So, I had everything I was likely to get there, and I headed back to the tram stop.† Unfortunately, I had misunderstood and the tram only ran once an hour, not every half hour, so I ended up spending over a half hour waiting for it.† At least there was a bench in the shade to sit on.† It was getting well up into the 70ís by then, and very humid.† If I walked around at all, I started to sweat.
When the tram finally came, I rode it back to Kingfisher Overlook, to look for Green Kingfisher, another one on my wish list.† Several people got off the tram there to do the same thing, but we were unsuccessful.† We walked the three tenths of a mile to the blind that looked out at a little pool of water and some feeders, in the hopes of seeing another target bird I wanted.† We had about 20 minutes there until the next tram came along.† There were Red-winged Blackbirds and White-tipped Doves, but not much else, but then a GREEN JAY flew in Ė that was the one I wanted.† It proceeded to take a bath, flying away and then coming back for more time at the water.† I got this picture of it before it started its bath.† Iím bummed that the bill was obscured, but it does show the beautiful colors of the bird, anyway.
Here it is after its first dip in the water, somewhat wet.
Here it is back at the water a second time.
And here it is the third time it came to the water, thoroughly wet by then.
Iíve never gotten a good picture of a dry Green Jay, and these are my best efforts so far.
By the time the tram came again and I got back to my car, where my lunch was, it was after 1 PM, and I was very hungry.† Rather than walk back into the park, though, I decided to drive about 15 minutes down the road to Anzalduas County Park.† I hadnít been there before, and sitting at a bench in a park sounded good.† I found it, but the gate was closed and locked, even though the sign next to the gate said it should be open from 8 to 5 today.† I could see trucks in the park, but no people.† I suppose it is a budget issue, closing it on certain days, but the sign could at least be updated then.† I ended up pulling over to the side of the road and eating my lunch in the car, as I needed the nutrition.
After eating, I drove to the Hidalgo Pumphouse.† There were supposed to be nature trails and feeders, but I didnít see anything like that there.† I guess if I had walked a bit farther I would have seen them, but it was pretty hot by then (only high 70ís, but at almost 100% humidity, that is a sweat box for me).† We had had a few sprinkles from time to time, and there were dark clouds overhead.† I did get a couple of pictures of a Great Kiskadee there, though.† Here is a front shot of this striking bird.
Here is a picture from the side.
I decided to end my birding day at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, which was right on my way back to my lodgings.† Being a federal site, my old farts National Parks pass got me in for free.† I had visited there in 2012 and had gotten a few birds.† It was dry in 2012 and it was dry this year, too.† Most of the lakes were dried up.† I talked to the woman at the information desk, and she told me that a bird I hoped to see had been reported today along a particular trail that was only a half mile loop.† I had been asking about this bird at various places, and everyone kept telling how reclusive it was, and how hard it was to actually see, although you could sometimes here it singing or calling, which wasnít much help to me, of course.† I had seen it at Santa Ana NWR in 2012, though, and it was along the same trail this woman told me about, so I walked the half mile.
I saw a couple of Altamira Orioles, briefly, but nothing else until I saw a thrasher on the path out in front of me.† As I was getting ready to look at it, it scampered off, but I noticed a smaller bird along the path, and it turned out to be the one I was looking for, a lovely little OLIVE SPARROW.† I got one picture of it on the path before it saw me and flew off.† It is kind of an odd view of it, from the front, but I like it.
The bird is very drab and not strongly marked at all.† I saw it a couple more times, as it lurked in the undergrowth.† I got one other picture that shows the overall shape at least, although the light was poor so it isnít very good.
I really hadnít expected to see it, after all that everyone had been telling me, and I was extremely lucky.† It pleased me no end, of course.† I was dripping with sweat by then, even though the temperature was only 79 when I got back to the car.† It was raining a little, just from the high humidity, I think.† I gave it up, stopped at the store, and I was back here by about 4:30.
So, I have one more night here, and tomorrow I head for the coast.† I plan to spend two nights in Brownsville before heading back north to the Houston area.
I got 8 more species for my trip list today (and two of them were lifers!), to bring me to 215 so far.† At this point in 2012, as I was leaving this place, I had 221 species on the trip, but I had had four more days, too.† So, only being six species behind, in four fewer days is good.† From here on, the days are the same so maybe I can make up some ground.† That was a 25 day trip, and this is a 21 day one, covering the same ground.
7 of my species today were new for my year list, and two of those were lifers.† That brings me to 369 for the year, and 10 of those are lifers.† For my BAD bird for the day, Iíll take the Wood Stork, I guess, as it was so totally unexpected.† What a life!
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
I was sorry to leave my very comfortable digs in Alamo this morning, but I was out of there by about 8:45 I think.† I headed for the coast, to stay in Brownsville tonight.† I stopped a couple of times on the way to check out raptors on poles, but the best I did was a Harrisís Hawk, which is a great bird, but not one I need now.† I was going through an area where either Aplomado Falcon (would have been a lifer) or White-tailed Hawk was possible, so I had to check out everything.† I stopped at one point because I saw a nest on a powerline tower, but it turned out to be a ravenís nest, with a raven sitting in it.† In this area, it must have been a Chihuahuan Raven.
I also took a detour for 15 or 20 minutes onto Old Port Isabel Road.† It is an unpaved road that was too rough for me to travel on in 2012, but it is in much better shape this year.† I only drove down it a short distance today, but I might go back.† There are a couple of lifer sparrows that I could see there, although they are very tough to identify, except by song.† Oops, that isnít my strength, is it?† Anyway, today I saw a great bird on a fence, a NORTHERN BOBWHITE, and it sat there for pictures.† Here is a male Northern Bobwhite, which I had only ever seen twice before (once at the other end of that same road, interestingly enough).
Moving on, I got to my destination, South Padre Island, about 10:30, and my first stop was Sheepshead Street.† Some conservancy group bought up 6 or 8 city lots, in the middle of town, and there are trees and water features that attract the birds.† There were several people there when I got there, which was nice for me because one of them was a very knowledgeable woman who helped me with thrush identification.† There were three species of thrush there, and she helped me learn to tell them apart.† There were Swainsonís Thrushes and Wood Thrushes, both of which I had already counted, but there was also a GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (lifer).† Here is a poor picture of the Gray-cheeked Thrush.† I wouldnít normally show such a poor picture, but it was my only lifer of the day, so here it is.
There were quite a few other birds around, and it was fun to see them and identify them.† At this stage of my trip, most were repeats, of course, but new ones showed up from time to time, and I took a lot of pictures.† Hereís a picture of my first Yellow Warbler of the trip, taking a bath.
Here is a picture of a male Baltimore Oriole.
I added AMERICAN REDSTART to my lists, and here is a picture of a female American Redstart.† Check out the interesting color pattern on her wings and tail.
Males have red where she has yellow.† Maybe I can see a male later in the trip.
The helpful woman next to me pointed out a WORM-EATING WARBLER in the back that I wouldnít have noticed.† A Wilsonís Warbler flew around a bit, too, one for my trip list but not my year list, as I saw them in San Diego last month.† The helpful woman next pointed out a first year male BULLOCKíS ORIOLE, and I got a mediocre picture.
Pictures were tough there because there wasnít much light and I was pretty far away.† I missed the extra zoom of my new camera (the one that broke), but I was quite pleased with how well my old one did for me today.† It has some advantages over the new one, although on balance, I like the new one better, when it is working right, due to the extra zoom and the extra megapixels.
Sheepshead Street has lots on both sides of the street, and there was a lot of excitement on the other side of the street because they had seen a very desirable warbler earlier.† There were half a dozen photographers hanging around waiting for it to come back, but I had seen that warbler twice before, so I stayed on my side of the street.† The Golden-winged Warbler did come back, though, and I went over and got one picture of it.† It is a very striking bird, and this picture doesnít do justice to it.
Yellow, gray, white, and black.† There are a number of warblers with those colors, in various combinations, but the trick is to recognize the particular combination you are looking at.† I actually saw another Golden-winged Warbler later, on the other side of the street, or maybe it was the same one that moved across the street, but I didnít recognize it.† I wrote down the colors and where they were (yellow on forehead, black throat, black through the eye with white above and below that), and later I was able to look in my book and realize it was a Golden-winged Warbler.† That is what a real birder does when he sees a bird he doesnít recognize Ė he writes down the ďfield marksĒ in as much detail as possible.† I missed the yellow on the wing when I wrote down the field marks, but I had enough to identify the bird.† Maybe Iím becoming a real birder.
Back on the shady side of the street where there were more birds, I added BLUE-HEADED VIREO to my lists, and I got this strange picture that shows the birdís head, but for some reason it doesnít really show the rest of the body.† I think something obscured part of the body, and maybe the bird was moving.
The blue-gray head and the ďspectaclesĒ with the white running along the top of the bill are the keys to the identification.† In this picture, the head just looks gray, but that is the lighting, I think.
The last picture I got there at Sheepshead today was this Swainsonís Thrush.
I would have liked to get a picture of a Wood Thrush, but that is something I can work on in the next week.
So, after about 45 minutes or an hour, I moved on to the Convention Center.† It doesnít seem like a convention center would be a particularly good place to look for birds, but for some reason, they have put in a nice water feature and a lot of nice trees that arenít too tall, but they seem to attract migrants when they come in off the gulf.† They put out seed on the ground and orange halves on a lot of branches, as well as jelly in some of the orange halves when they are emptied.† It all attracts a lot of migrants.† Fortunately, there wasnít a convention going on today; I imagine the birding goes to hell when a convention is happening.† They have nice rest rooms and benches in the shade, and it is a very pleasant birding venue.
There were maybe 20 or 25 birders and photographers around for most of the time I was there, I would say.† Some of them have huge, very expensive cameras.† Iím talking 10 grand, 20 grand, who knows how much for the best of them?† I wandered around with my little point and shoot, super zoom, $400 camera and took pictures.† I had more zoom power than most of them, but the pictures are far less quality, of course, in terms of things like resolution, sharpness, clarity, etc.† I wouldnít want to lug one of those huge cameras around, though, and I sure wouldnít spend 10 or 20 grand for a camera and lens.† On the other hand, I would love to get the quality of pictures they can get.
One of the more common warblers is the very plain Tennessee Warbler.† They seem to like the oranges, so they were around a lot.† I got pictures of them, of course, and this is my favorite.
My old camera was doing pretty well for me today, wasnít it?
The next one for my lists was PROTHONOTARY WARBLER.† I struggled to learn how to pronounce that one in 2012.† Here are two pictures of that beauty.
It seemed to like the jelly in that orange half.† Here is the other picture.
Normally I donít crop pictures as close as those last two, but the bird seemed clear and it is kind of interesting to see it in such a close up, I think.
Someone said they had seen another warbler I needed and told me where he had seen it.† I looked there, and did see a male BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, which pleased me.† I got this picture, which isnít great, but it does show the bird.
Meanwhile there was a lot of birdsong coming from some trees in the background, and one of the photographers mentioned that that was the DICKCISSELS, a bird I rather like.† I couldnít get a picture as they were behind branches in the middle of the trees, but I added them to my list.† Iíll be looking for a picture of a Dickcissel.
Iíve mentioned many times that I like blue colored birds, so here is the best picture Iíve gotten so far of a male Indigo Bunting.
By that time I was really getting hungry, so I went to my car and got my humble home-made lunch Ė ham and cheese sandwich, tortilla chips, and peppers and peas, with a Diet Coke Ė sound familiar?† I was sitting on a bench in the shade trying to eat it, but I kept seeing this little bird on the ground across the way.† It turned out to be a new one for my lists, a warbler called an OVENBIRD.† I got this picture that I rather like, even though it is an odd view of the bird.
Here is a more conventional view of it.
It looks a lot like a thrush, and I was fooled at first, but it is smaller than a thrush and it has those stripes on its head, which you can really see in my first picture.† I was pleased about the Ovenbird because I had found it on my own, and then other people were quite interested and a number of them came to see it.† It kept coming back as I was trying to eat my lunch, and I kept jumping up to try for pictures.
At one point while I was trying to eat my lunch, a female Green-throated Warbler came by.† I didnít need it for any lists, but I got this close picture of her.
My old camera was doing very well for me.† Iím glad I kept it, and it was great that Christina could send it to me when the new one crapped out.† I guess Iíll travel with a spare from now on.
The next one for my lists was a male SCARLET TANAGER.† I had seen a number of Summer Tanagers, which are also red, but the Scarlet has black wings.† Here is a male Scarlet Tanager.
The red and black make it a very striking bird, I think.
Hereís another Swainsonís Thrush.
Here is an oriole of some kind, and I think it is a female Baltimore Oriole, for several reasons.† I could be wrong, though, of course.
At that time I walked out to the back of the Convention Center and took a look at the bay.† There were birds out there, but I didnít really need much in the way of shorebirds at that point.† I did need one, though, and there it was - a REDDISH EGRET.† It was pretty far away, and it just stood completely still, not moving at all, but I got this distant picture of it.
It had its neck all tucked in, but the color of the bill is diagnostic Ė pink with a black tip.† I had only seen two of them in 2012 when I was here, so it was a great one to get today.† In many ways, today was ďstealingĒ from the rest of my trip, because almost everything I saw today, I could have seen later in the trip, but that is how it goes.† You make hay when the sun shines, and you count the birds when you see them.
I got this picture of a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.† It isnít that great, because of the back-lighting, but hummers are tough, so Iíll show it anyway.
At about that time there was a little bird flitting around that I never got a picture of, but another guy there thought it was an interesting species.† We both got good looks and he went in search of someone with a field guide, to look it up.† He showed me the picture, and we agreed it was a PHILADELPHIA VIREO, a bird I had only seen once before, also here at the Convention Center, in 2012.† It is a tough ID, but we both thought that was what it was.† I wish I had a picture.
There was another blue colored bird showing himself, so I got this picture of a male Blue Grosbeak.
You can compare him to these two Indigo Buntings, who were feeding next to him.
The grosbeak is larger, but it also has those red-brown patches on his wings, and his bill is more ďgrossĒ.
There was another desirable warbler around that had everyone excited, but I had seen it before, so I chased other stuff.† Later I did see the Blue-winged Warbler, though, and I got this picture.
I was trying to tear myself away at that point.† I felt exhausted, even though I hadnít walked anywhere to speak of, and I had only really been birding for about 4 Ĺ hours.† It was the heat (about 80 degrees) and the humidity (about 100%, or at least it felt like that) that really got to me, I think.† New birds were showing up, and if I had stayed for another few hours, I would have seen more, but maybe nothing new for my lists.† It was after three, though, and I threw in the towel.† On my way out, I did see a bird I hadnít expected to see there, a male Yellow-headed Blackbird, not one for my year list, as I saw them in the Imperial Valley in California last month, but a good one for my trip list.† I got this picture.
I just looked them up, and they spend the winter in Mexico and then migrate north to the Midwestern and Western states.† I guess this guy was just passing through, on his way from Mexico to Kansas or something.
Also on my way out I saw a couple of birds high in the sky, and I think they were swifts, and the only swift here is CHIMNEY SWIFT, so that went on my lists.
It was a half hour drive to where Iím staying now, and I checked in to my motel about 4 PM.† As soon as I unpacked some stuff, I took a shower and cooled down.† Since then I have been working on my pictures and my report, as well as doing some Instant Messaging with Christina and my friend, Fred.
I hadnít thought I would see much today, but I ended up with 17 species for my trip list, to bring me to 232.† It is going to be pretty hard to see new ones at this point.
Of those 17 species I saw for my trip list today, 14 were new for my year list and one of them was a lifer.† That brings me to 383 for the year, of which 11 are lifers.
For my BAD bird, Iíll take Northern Bobwhite, because I like that bird for some reason.† I remember stories from when I was a child that had bobwhites in them.† I donít remember much else about the stories, but there were bobwhites in them, and Iíve always liked that name.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Iím running out of birds to add, and I wondered what I would get today.† I didnít get out of bed until after 7 today, and I headed for Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary first, at about 8:45 or so.† It is located on the border, which is the Rio Grande River, and you actually have to go through the border fence to get there.† I paid my 5 bucks and asked about some birds I had seen reported there.† He gave me some info, including directions to the scope they had set up that was pointing at an owl nest.† I walked around the building and added GREAT HORNED OWL to my lists.† Normally I would have seen one out west by this time of year, but this year I hadnít.† Here is the best picture I got, and I think it is the best owl picture I have ever gotten, because of the little owlet peeking around mama at me.† I was about 40 o4 50 feet away, so I wasnít any threat, but they obviously were aware of me.
So, with that one under my belt, I headed out onto the trails.† The guy had warned me about mosquitoes, so I had brought along my birding bag, with my Deet spray in it.† I thought my permethrin-sprayed clothes would keep them away, but at my first stop I had two on my arm, so I sprayed for the first time on this trip.
At the overlook where I was looking for a grebe, all I saw at first were a couple of Ruddy Ducks, which I needed for my trip list, but not my year list.† I hung around and eventually a couple of LEAST GREBES showed up.† Here is a picture of one of those little cuties.
A kingbird came around, and I got this picture.
From the fact that the yellow goes all the way up to the throat, I could tell it was either a Couchís Kingbird or a Tropical Kingbird, and the only way to tell them apart is by their call.† I played the Tropical Kingbird call to try to entice it to respond, but it stayed silent.† I am assuming it was a Couchís, as they are much more common.
The sanctuary was pretty quiet and it was hot and humid.† I stopped at the feeders, but not much was going on there either.† I had gotten three of the four birds I had come to find, missing the Green Kingfisher, which I knew was very tough, so I moved on.
My next stop was the Brownsville landfill.† It is a famous place to bird, and if you saw the movie The Big Year, they showed Steve Martin there, or somewhere simulating it.† I stopped at the entry building and they had me sign in and told me where to go. I parked right near where the trucks were dumping their loads, and I got out and looked around.† There were thousands of gulls, dozens of vultures (both Black and Turkey), about two dozen Cattle Egrets, some grackles, two Crested Caracaras, but no White-tailed Hawks, which is what I was looking for.† I had seen a Horned Lark on the drive in, though, and that was a good one for my trip list, anyway.† Here is a picture of the pile of refuse they were bulldozing into the ground.
Here is a picture I like of a Black Vulture flying overhead.
My next stop after that was at a Subway, where I picked up a tuna sandwich.† I had my own veggies, Fritos, and Diet Coke, but I ran out of sandwich makings.† I took my sandwich up to Old Port Isabel Road, and drove its length.† It is a dirt road, but it was in decent shape, so my car had no problem with it.† I left my window open, though, and the interior of the car is incredibly dusty now.† I wonder how they will deal with that at Avis when I return it next week.† The outside is dusty, too, and the dust is in all the cracks and crevices, like when you open a door or the back hatch.
My main reason for driving that road was that both White-tailed Hawks and Aplomado Falcons are seen along there.† Either one would have been fantastic, and the falcon would be a lifer.† I went along slowly, watching for sparrows, too, because a couple of lifer sparrows also are seen there.† One of them is a resident and one is a migrant, but it should just be getting back for the summer.
There were meadowlarks and a few mockingbirds, and maybe a few blackbirds, but not anything else, other than a Turkey Vulture or two in the distance.† Then one of the birds on a fence turned out to not be a meadowlark, but a sparrow.† I got as close as I dared and pulled across the road so I could look at it out of the driver side window, and it turned out to be a CASSINíS SPARROW (lifer).† I could barely believe it!† The two sparrow species out there are very similar in appearance and are quite drab looking, so I wasnít at all sure I would be able to identify either species, even if I did see one of them.† One of the differences between the two species is that Cassinís Sparrow (the more common one, and the one that is a resident) has dark streaks on its flanks, and the other one doesnít.† Here is a picture that shows the drab overall marking and the dark streaks on the flank of the Cassinís Sparrow.
The bird flew, but I played its song, to try to call it up again.† It did pop up again, back down the road, so I backed up and got another view.† This time it sang back to me.† I got this picture that time.
The streaks on the flank arenít as obvious in that picture, I notice, but you can still see a couple of them.
So, I was really thrilled by that little encounter (it doesnít take much to thrill a birder, I guess, even a dilettante birder), but I moved on.† I had eaten my lunch as I drove along the road slowly, but I wasnít sure what to do next.† I decided to drive up to Laguna Atascosa NWR. †I took another unpaved road (Buena Vista Road) that Google Maps had ignored when I tried to find a route this morning, but it turned out ok.† At one point, I got really excited because a couple of smallish raptors flew over the road and I got great views of them.† They were certainly something I wasnít familiar with, and my thought at the time was that they were the falcons I was looking for.† I looked in my field guide, though, and they werenít the falcons.† I realized then that it was a pair of Harrisís Hawks, a bird I have seen and have counted on this trip, but not one Iím very familiar with.† Mostly I have seen them perched, not flying.† They are very striking birds in the air, I know now.
So, I made my way to Laguna Atascosa, but it was a huge disappointment.† There was habitat, I guess, but I didnít see many birds.† I stopped at the visitor center, which is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.† I did get a picture there, near the feeders.† Here is a male Bronzed Cowbird with his ruff raised, making his neck very thick.† It is the best picture of a Bronzed Cowbird Iíve ever gotten, I think.
I drove out to the Osprey Lookout, but there was nothing to see.† The 15 mile drive was closed because there had been ocelot sightings along the route, and ocelots are very protected.† You could walk the route, but not drive it (yeah, a 15 mile walk in this heat and humidity.† I donít think so.).
Again I wasnít sure what to do.† I thought of just heading for my motel so I could work on what to look for in the coming days, but I decided to go back to South Padre Island.† I didnít really think I would see anything new, but there was a chance, and that is what birders do, take a chance.† If nothing else, I could take pictures, and I had come all this way to bird and take pictures, not to sit in my motel room analyzing the next six days.
So, I got to the Convention Centre (today I noticed they use the British spelling of Center Ė how pretentious is that?) about 2:30.† There wasnít as much bird action as yesterday, but there were some birds around.† Here is a picture of a male Scarlet Tanager.
Later I got this picture of a female tanager, and Iím not sure if it is a Summer Tanager or a Scarlet Tanager.†† They are very similar.† At any rate, it shows the difference in color between the male and the female.† I rather think that this is a Summer Tanager, but the color is the same.
I think the wings would be blacker on a female Scarlet Tanager.
I got a picture I like of a ďgoodĒ warbler, the best one I have ever gotten of a Black-and-white Warbler.
There were four or five men with huge-lens cameras looking at the tops of one set of trees, for a male Blackburnian Warbler.† I saw that one yesterday, but my picture was less than satisfying.† Today I took a number of pictures, and Iím very pleased with how well my old camera did with them.† I was 40 or 50 feet away from the bird, and it never stopped moving around, but I got this series of pictures of it.
One reason I showed that sequence (and there were several more I left out) is because it typifies what warbler watching is like.† You get a series of fleeting glimpses as the bird flits around in the tree foraging.† You have to put them all together in your mind to get a full picture of the bird.† Iíve said before that it isnít my favorite kind of birding, but the attraction is that anything can show up at any time, so there is this lottery element Ė always hoping for a great bird to show up suddenly.† Blackburnian Warbler is considered a good one, which was why all the guys with the huge lenses were clicking away.† I take one picture at a time.† When those guys press the shutter button, their cameras take 5 or 10 pictures in a second or two.† Click, click, click, click, click Ö My camera will do that, too, to a lesser degree, but I havenít ever tried to use that function.
It was pretty slow, so I walked out onto the boardwalk there, in the hopes of seeing a Least Bittern (very small chance).† I didnít see one, of course, but I did spot a few Redheads, a duck I hadnít counted yet on my trip.† Here is a picture of a male Redhead.
It just goes to show that if you get out there where the birds are, you will see something, and sometimes it is something you ďneedĒ.
Back at the convention ďcentreĒ, I heard of two warblers that people had recently seen (like in the last 15 minutes) that I needed.† I searched the trees, and eventually did get a series of looks at a male BLACKPOLL WARBLER, one I had only seen once on my last trip in 2012.† It was right overhead, but I tried for a picture, and this was the only one I could get.
It is a terrible picture, of course, with much of the bird obscured, but if you look closely, you can just barely see enough to confirm my call, I think.† I was extremely pleased to just see it, never mind get a picture of it.
I got this picture of a female Black-throated Green Warbler taking a bath.
A couple of birds flew into the trees I was watching for warblers in, and I got this picture of a Dickcissel.† I had counted it yesterday, but this is my first picture of the species on this trip.
I was trying to tear myself away, but there was always the chance that something great would fly in, so it was hard.† As I walked to my car, I got this picture of another one for my trip list, Western Kingbird.
The breast is gray, not yellow, and the tail is black underneath, with white feathers near the outer edges.† If you scroll back up to the picture at the beginning of this report, of the Couchís Kingbird, you will see how the yellow goes all the way to the throat on that one.† I had seen Western Kingbird in San Diego last month, so it didnít add to my year list, only my trip list.
I stopped at Sheepshead Street for 20 minutes or so on the way back, but I didnít add anything.† I did get good looks at a Worn-eating Warbler, though, better looks than I had gotten earlier in the trip when I counted it.† There was a Wilsonís Warbler, Painted Buntings, thrushes, Indigo Buntings, and a couple of waterthrushes, but it is getting really hard to add anything new now.
So, for the day, I added 8 to my trip list, which amazed me.† That brings me to 240 species for the trip.† As a reminder, I saw 253 species in 2012, but I had four more days to do it in.† I have six days left to add 14 species to beat that total.† It will be tough, and I donít know if I can do it or not.
Four of those eight today were new for my year list, one of which was a lifer, and that brings me to 387 species for the year, of which 12 are lifers.† Iíve now added 10 lifers on the trip, which is exactly what my spreadsheet indicated.† I have six days left to add to that, but it is getting very tough now, so I might very well not get any more lifers on the trip.† For that matter, it is going to be tough to add many more species at all.† I need to find the time to go over my spreadsheets and make a list of possible targets for the rest of the trip.† There arenít all that many, and I should have a list of them.
For my BAD bird for today, Iíll take the Cassinís Sparrow.† It is a very plain drab bird, but it was a lifer that I hadnít expected to see and identify, so it is special.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
I woke at 6 this morning, but I got up and took a leak and then went back to bed and just lay there for 45 minutes and enjoyed not getting up.† I got on the road about 8:35 and my first stop was at Old Port Isabel Road, to look for the falcon and the hawk I was looking for there the other day.† This was my best day to see the hawk, based on where I was going today, and the falcon was a real longshot.
I had checked my notes this time, and they said to go 0.3 miles past the railroad tracks to look for the falcon nesting box.† Someone had seen a falcon on the box in the recent past.† So, I set my odometer and when I had gone 0.3 miles, I did see what must have been the nesting box.† There wasnít a falcon on it, so I looked around.† I saw a bird on a yucca tree in the distance, but it was too far to identify with my binoculars alone.† I got out my scope, but it was quite windy, and it was hard to see the bird well at max magnification (60X) with the wind blowing so hard.† I moved the scope into the shelter of the car and that helped a little.† I checked off what I could see.† White breast Ė ok, it wasnít a Harris Hawk, then.† It kind of looked like an Osprey, although it would have been a very odd place for an Osprey.† I checked my field guide, and the Osprey wouldnít have bright yellow legs like this bird had, so that wasnít it.† It wasnít a White-tailed Hawk, one of the birds I was looking for there, because the belly was dark.† I checked my field guide further.† This bird had a dark crown on its head, white below that, and a dark line through the eye.† Bingo!† It was my APLOMADO FALCON (lifer) that I was looking for!† I took some very distant pictures, in the hopes they would confirm my opinion.† Then I thought of my new camera, with its extra zoom.† I got it out, but before I could get a picture, the bird flew.† I watched it in my binoculars as it chased a small bird, maybe 100 or 200 feet up.† The little bird kept dodging it, but the falcon twisted and turned and dove and swooped, and they flew out of my line of sight with the falcon in hot pursuit.† It was really cool to watch the falcon chasing the other bird.† Here is a picture with my old camera.† It does sort of show the bird, anyway.
So, it wasnít even 9 oíclock yet, and I not only wasnít going to get skunked today, when I thought it was likely, I had a lifer I hadnít expected.† I had it at a 40% chance in my spreadsheet, but I think I was pretty optimistic.† Some birders wouldnít count it, as it is so threatened that they have a captive breeding program going on, and they release the young ones bred in captivity.† Birds bred in captivity are not technically countable, but some Aplomado Falcons in the area are wild-bred ones, so there is no way of knowing if a particular bird is ďcountableĒ or not.† Personally, I donít care.† I saw the bird, it was free and obviously living on its own in the wild, and I donít care where it was born.
I hit the road again, heading north.† I had about 3 and a half hours of driving to do to get to my next home away from home, in Aransas Pass, near Corpus Christi.† Along the way I was watching every pole and in the air for White-tailed Hawk, but I never saw one.† I saw three Crested Caracaras, one Red-tailed Hawk, two Harrisís Hawks, and Turkey and Black Vultures, but no White-tailed Hawk.† I could possibly see one tomorrow, but that one is probably not possible on this trip for me now.† Here is a picture of one of the Harrisís Hawks I saw today.
I got a ham sandwich at Subway after I crossed the bridge to Padre Island, and I moved on up to Mustang Island and ate it in the car with the last of my Fritos, watching for White-tailed Hawks, which supposedly breed in the area.† No joy, though.
I moved on up Mustang Island to Port Aransas, and stopped at the wetland overlook that had been good for me in 2012.† This year it is completely dry.† So, I moved on to the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center to see what might be there.† The water there was lower than two years ago, and there were some water birds around, but not the one I really wanted to see, Least Bittern.† I hadnít expected it, as it is tough, but I had seen one in 2012, so I had to try.† I got this picture of a Pectoral Sandpiper there.
As I walked back to my car, there were some migrants in the few trees along the way.† I saw a male Painted Bunting, a male Yellow Warbler, a Tennessee Warbler, and a Common Yellowthroat, as well as better looks at a male Blackpoll Warbler than I had had yesterday.† There was even a Sora out in the open nearby.† It was pretty birdy for such a small place.
Next I moved on to Paradise Pond, a well known migrant trap.† There are trees, orange halves (mainly for orioles and tanagers) and a couple of drips with pools for birds to take baths in.† They have a chalkboard there, and there were about five or six birds I need that had been listed for today, which pumped me up.† Almost right away a thrush flew in, and I could see it was something different.† There was a Texan birder there who was more knowledgeable than I am, and he pointed out that it was a VEERY, a great one to add to my lists.† I got some pictures and here is one of them.
It looks very long-legged in that picture, but it is mostly how it happens to be standing at the moment.† I had had a thrush lesson the other day on South Padre Island, and this one was not included.† I could tell right away it was different.† Veery had been listed on the chalk board, and I would have worked it out on my own eventually, but it was nice to have a semi-local make the call at the time.† I call him a semi-local because he is a Texan and has a condo in Port Aransas and has been visiting there for years.
The semi-local guy and his buddy from Wisconsin and I moved on to the end of the boardwalk.† There was a flycatcher which my buddy called an Eastern Wood-Pewee, and I didnít see any reason to question that.† (More on that later)† A Dickcissel flew in.† I had seen that one at South Padre Island, and I showed a picture yesterday, but today I got a picture that shows the front of the bird.
A little later, while the Dickcissel was still there, a male Blue Grosbeak flew in, and I got this picture of the two of them
The Grosbeak is looking the other way, unfortunately, but I like to show pictures that show two species together, for size comparison and also just for interest.
Back at one of the drips, I got this picture of a male Baltimore Oriole that I like.
Continuing the theme of two species in one picture, here is the oriole with a male Indigo Bunting that is wet from just having had a bath.
Next we have a new player, a Nashville Warbler taking a bath with a male Indigo Bunting.
Note the flying water droplets and the blur of the buntingís wings.
Here is the Nashville Warbler after it has had its bath.
From time to time a grackle would fly in to one of the drips and chase all the little birds away, so I kept moving back and forth between the two drips.† At the other drip, a male Common Yellowthroat flew in and cautiously approached the water.† I got a series of pictures, but the best one is after he had bathed, so he was wet.
On my way between the two drips one time, I saw a flycatcher that looked interesting.† My first impression was that it was something extremely interesting, and I got some pictures.† After I got a better look, I decided it must have been the same Eastern Wood-Pewee that my semi-local guy had pointed out before.† It wasnít until I got to my room and looked at my pictures that I had second thoughts.† There were several things that argued against Eastern Wood-Pewee.† There had been another flycatcher on the chalk board, and this one seemed to be a much better fit for that one.† I studied the pictures and my field guide, and I decided it was a YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER (lifer).† The belly isnít very yellow, but it looks just like the pictures in my field guide, which also donít show a yellow belly.† Here are three of my pictures, for my future reference if someone challenges me someday.
The strong eye ring, the shape of the head and thickness of the neck, and the strong wingbars (yellowish) against the dark wing are good clues.† The belly isnít very yellowish, but the undertail coverts are.
The shading on the breast is wrong for wood-pewee, but right for Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.† The bird was small, too, which again argues for the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.
It was this view that really convinced me.† The locations of the wing bars and the contrast with the dark wing are just exactly what my book shows for the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.† Also the length of the wings and relative sizes of the various wing feathers are exactly right.† The shape of the head and neck is perfect, too.
So, I added a second lifer today and didnít even know it until I reviewed my pictures.† My camera is an important tool in my arsenal, and my old camera has been doing just great for me.† I would have liked the added zoom of my new one for the falcon picture this morning, but everything else today has been just fine with my old camera.† If I get the new one fixed under warranty, I might carry both of them in the future and use them both, in different situations.
On my way out, I got this picture, which I think is a Gray-cheeked Thrush.† That was a lifer a day or two ago, and now it is just a bird I see on my way out of a place and casually take its picture.† Such is birding.
Still on my way out, the orioles were having a field day with what remained of the orange halves that someone had put out for them.† There were at least two dozen orioles competing for 10 or 12 orange halves, with lots of jockeying going on.† Here is a picture of four orioles Ė two male Baltimore Orioles and a pair of Orchard Orioles, male and female.
The Baltimore Orioles are larger than the Orchard Orioles, so the poor Orchards have to make do with whatever they can glean.
It was getting on for four oíclock by then, and I had a ferry to catch. †I needed to gas up my car and stop at the supermarket, too. †I did all those things and was settled into my new little home by about five.† The ferry from Mustang Island is a small one; it holds about 13 or 14 cars.† It is free, and I havenít ever had to wait long, as they have four of them running usually in the day time, and it is only about a 3 or 4 minute run.† It takes longer to load and unload than to make the crossing.
So, I only added three species to my trip list today, but they all were new for my year list, and two of them were lifers.† I was very surprised and very pleased to get two lifers today.† I thought last night that I might very well not get any more on the trip.
I now have 243 species for the trip.† With the three new ones for my year list, two of which were lifers, Iím now at 390 species for the year, of which 14 are lifers.† Thatís 12 lifers on this trip, which already exceeds my expectations.† Can I get to 400 for the year on this trip?† Will I get skunked tomorrow?† All kinds of questions abound, and you will have to stay tuned to find out all the exciting answers.† Tomorrow is another travel day, like today, so it will be very tough to add anything new.† I plan to go back out to Paradise Pond in the morning to see if I can pick up some migrant warbler I need (not many left, either, but they saw two I need this morning, so I have hopes), and Iíll probably stop at the Birding Center place, too, to try once more for Least Bittern.† I have to check out of my motel by noon, so Iíll be limited in how much time I can spend looking in the morning.† Once I leave here to head to my next destination, there isnít much chance of getting anything new.† It is only about 2 Ĺ hours to my next motel, so I have some time, but there just arenít many birds I can get now, as I have done so well so far.† Iíll work some more on my plan tonight, and weíll see what I can come up with.
For my BAD bird today, Iíll take the Aplomado Falcon.† My field guide calls it a rare resident of South Texas.† It is a Mexican and South American Species, but it isnít common anywhere these days, according to Wikipedia.
Friday, April 25, 2014
My numbers were great again, after I thought I might get skunked today.† Iíve been very lucky on this trip, for the most part.
When I checked in yesterday, I had arranged to check out at noon today, so I could go back over to Port Aransas and visit three places.† I had researched the places last night, so I knew what I was looking for at each site.† I was out at 7:30, since I didnít have to pack up or make a lunch.† The hotel had a good breakfast, too, so that saved me some time.† I rode the free ferry across the channel to Port Aransas and was birding by 8 oíclock.
My first stop was a place called Charlieís Pasture.† I donít know who Charlie is or was, but now the city of Port Aransas has made a very nice nature reserve out of the area, which is quite large.† There is a good sized pond near the parking area, and I lugged my scope down the edge of the pond and took a look around.† It took me a while to get going because my scope lenses immediately fogged up from the heat and humidity, after being in my air conditioned room all night.† I kept wiping them off until they finally stabilized and I could use the scope.
My main target was a small sandpiper that had been reported there the last few days.† Most of the little peeps were across the water, but there was one that was on a close shore.† I studied it, and decided it was actually a Western Sandpiper, which had also been reported there.† That was new for my trip list, but not for my year list.† It was very small and had black legs, so there were two sandpipers it could have been Ė Western Sandpiper or Semipalmated Sandpiper.† Based on its reddish-brown color, I decided to call it a Western Sandpiper.† I saw others that I would call Semipalmated, and they were much grayer, without the reddish highlights of this one bird.† So, I had a trip bird, but I still wanted my year bird.
While scanning around I saw a couple of WILSONíS PHALAROPES, not the one I was looking for, but still one for my year list.† Iíll see them next month at Malheur anyway, but today they went on my lists, and I had avoided the skunk.† I also saw one male Northern Pintail, a duck I hadnít seen yet on this trip, so then I had three for the trip list.
Finally I saw a likely candidate, and it was in the same area as some other little peeps, so I could get a good size comparison, which was key to identifying it.† It was clearly smaller than the nearby Dunlin (8.5 inches long).† And as it moved around, I could see it was clearly larger than the Least Sandpipers (6 inches long).† My target species is 7.5 inches long, so this looked good.† As a final confirmation, I could see that its wings were longer than its tail and often crossed behind the tail.† It was my BAIRDíS SANDPIPER, one I was afraid I wouldnít see, and if I did see one, I was afraid I wouldnít be able to identify it.† Seeing it right next to a Dunlin and a Least Sandpiper, for the size comparison, was a huge help Ė without the other birds to compare it to, I donít think I could have made the identification.
Before I left I also saw a Black-crowned Night-Heron, my first of the trip.† It was out in the open with the shorebirds and ducks, which is unusual for a night-heron.
So, that was a heck of a start for the day.† Yesterday I had passed up stopping at Charlieís Pasture because I didnít think I would see anything I needed, and this morning I got 5 for my trip list, two of which were good for my year list.† Outstanding!
Next I moved on to Paradise Pond, where I had done very well yesterday afternoon.† This morning it was pretty dead, with more birders than birds.† I saw a couple of warblers, but not one I needed.† I moved on to the Birding Center, to try for Least Bittern.† I knew it was a longshot, and I didnít see one.† A local birder told me that they werenít around this year much yet, maybe because the cattails were dead and brown along the edges of the water, and they like to hang on a green cattail at the edge of the water.† I did get this picture of a male Ruddy Duck, just to show off his bright blue bill.† The bill is dark in the winter, but in the spring it turns this bright blue color and the duck itself gets quite ďruddyĒ in color.
I took several pictures and couldnít decide which one to show, so here is another one, since there are so few pictures today.
I saw 4 or 5 Soras there today, and I usually have to really work to see a Sora.† Iíve shown pictures of Soras a couple of times before on this trip, I think, but here is this morningís Sora, showing off its big yellow foot.
As I was leaving, there were a few warblers in the trees, and I got another look at the male Blackpoll Warbler that I had seen there yesterday afternoon.† At least I assume it was the same one Ė he wasnít wearing a name tag.† A local birder told me that a male Blackpoll Warbler had been hanging around there for the last week.† This time I also saw a female Blackpoll Warbler, which looks quite a bit different from the male.† There were a couple of other birders there who also saw it, and they made the identification.† I looked in the field guide later, and that is exactly what it was all right.
I made one more stop at Paradise Pond, but there still wasnít anything going on there, so I caught the ferry back to Aransas Pass, where my motel was.† I packed up and was out by noon.† I had arranged ahead of time to check out at noon, and I had asked the clerk to note the late checkout in their records, and I saw that she did so.† That didnít stop them from calling me on the phone and knocking on my door, asking when I was going to check out.† Youíd think they had never had a late check out before or something.† It was only an hour later than the normal check out time.
I had a couple of extra hours to look for birds this afternoon, but I didnít really have much to look for that I needed still.† After consulting my books, I decided to drive the back roads to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), because the book said that White-tailed Hawks live and nest in that area and you can sometimes see them perched on utility poles.† I had looked all day yesterday for that species and had never had a sniff of it.
There were remarkably few raptors around.† At one point, early on, there was a hawk on a pole, right by the road, and I pulled over and went back to take a look at it.† I thought I had found my bird, as it was all white underneath, from its chin to its tail.† Thatís what I was looking for, but the color of the head didnít seem quite right.† Before I could get a picture of it, it flew, and as it flew away I could see its typical Red-tailed Hawk tail.† Red-tailed Hawk has an extremely large range of plumages, more than any other raptor by far.† There are a couple of the plumages that are all white underneath like this bird was, but I donít recall ever seeing one like this before.† So, I continued on my way, with my hopes dashed, after I thought I had found my bird.
It was boring looking at every power pole and treetop, but thatís what I did, all the way to the NWR.† I saw a couple of Crested Caracaras and a couple of vultures, but no other raptors at all.† I had made a lunch back in my room before I checked out, and I ate it while at the NWR.† I drove around and got out a couple of times, but there were very few birds, and nothing of any interest at all.† I hadnít really expected any, but I thought I might as well check out the place, and I was mainly looking for the hawk, anyway.
I headed north again, watching the poles and trees.† Again there was almost nothing.† I did see another white-fronted Red-tailed Hawk, but it flew for me and showed me its red tail, which was convenient.† The white-fronted Red-tails had brown heads, and my target hawk has a gray head, so that was a help, once I realized that.
I was sleepy with the driving, and rather than fight it, I stopped at a Mickey Dís and got a senior coffee for 64 cents, including tax.† I wasnít sleepy after that, but I donít know how it will affect my sleep tonight.† I can still feel it now (about 6:30), but Iím applying alcohol internally to counteract it.
Back on the road again, as I was getting close to the end of my drive, my patience finally paid off.† There was a group of large birds on the ground in a field, so I pulled over to take a look.† I expected they would be vultures, but 3 or 4 of them were Crested Caracaras.† There must have been something dead in the field that they had been working on.† In the background, though, was another large raptor.† It was the right gray color, but its front was mostly the same gray, except for a white patch on its upper breast.† I looked in my field guide, and the look of the bird was perfect for a second-year White-tailed Hawk.† I got some very distant pictures before it flew, and two pictures as it flew away, to look at later.† As it flew away, I could see white on the base of its tail, which would be right for a second year White-tailed Hawk, too.† Meanwhile, a little farther down the road I saw three large raptors in the next field.† I moved on up the road and looked at those.† They were pretty far away, and they soon flew, too.† Watching them in the air, I could see that one was a mature WHITE-TAILED HAWK.† It was the right dark gray on its back, and the tail was all white with a dark terminal band.† It was a distant view, but Iím sure of the identification.† I would have liked to see a perched bird up close, but the looks I got today were a lot better than either of the two looks I got at the species in 2012, which is the only other time Iíve seen it.† They were both much more distant than todayís views.† I think I saw 3 or 4 of them today Ė one mature bird and 2 or 3 that hadnít yet achieved their full adult plumage (which takes three years, I understand).
So, I had gotten my target bird finally, only about 20 minutes from my final destination of the day, Bay City.† But wait, it wasnít over yet.† A couple of miles down the road there was another large raptor flying around low.† I pulled over as it landed on a fence post along the road.† I backed up my car (this was a two lane road with a 70 mph speed limit and a fair amount of traffic, mind you).† Fortunately, it had a pretty wide shoulder, and I could get completely off the road by 3 or 4 feet beyond the white line marking the edge of the lane.† Anyway, no one plowed into me, and I got a couple of pictures of the raptor, and here is one of them.
I wasnít sure what it was, but it flew as soon as I had taken two pictures, and as it flew away, I could see it was a male Northern Harrier, a good one for my trip list.† Looking at my field guide, I see it was probably a second year male.† A mature male would have been gray on its back and head, and this bird is kind of a combination of gray and brown, which is just like the picture of a second year male in my field guide.† It was all white underneath, which is typical of a male Northern Harrier.† It had the white rump patch of a harrier, too, which made the ID easy, once I saw it flying.
That was finally it for the birding.† I stopped at an H-E-B supermarket and got some Jimmy Dean ham and cheese omelets for my brekkie, and checked into my latest home away from home.
When all was said and done, I had gotten seven species for my trip list today, to bring me to a nice round 250 for the trip.† As a reminder, in 2012 I got 253 species, and that trip was four days longer than this one.† With three and a half days of birding left, it seems like I ought to be able to beat that 253 number, anyway, and that was my main goal of the trip.† There arenít a whole lot more that would be possible, but I have a list, and I should get some of them back up in the High Island area.
Of the 7 species I got today, three of them were good for my year list.† That brings me to 393 species for the year, of which 14 are lifers.† It would be great to get to 400 on this trip, but that seems unlikely at this point.† Not impossible, though, if my luck stays good enough.† Hope is a good thing Ė it keeps us going sometimes.† Chances are Iíll get skunked at least once in the next three and a half days, though.† Quite possibly tomorrow.
Tomorrow I have about three and a half hours to drive, and it includes a ferry crossing that could add to that, I guess.† That will bring me back to Winnie, which is near High Island.† I stayed there for five nights near the start of this trip.† There isnít much to look for there that I still need, but Iíll ramble around and get some pictures and give it a go.† It will be nice to be in the same place for the last three nights of the trip.† Iím tired of these one night stands.† It is a pain to lug all my crap into my room, and then have to pack it all up again and lug it back to the car the very next morning.† You wouldnít believe it if you saw how much stuff I travel with.† It took me three trips to lug it all in from the car tonight, for example.† That includes food (including a cooler for cold food) and my ďtraveling kitchenĒ of things like plastic wrap, baggies, paper towels, silverware, plates and bowls, etc.† I have my computer, my CPAP machine, water to drink and distilled water for my CPAP machine, my birding bag, my camera stuff, and my scope.† I donít like leaving my $3000 scope in the car overnight in a motel parking lot.† I travel very ďheavyĒ, as opposed to ďlightĒ.
So, this was a short report and I didnít have many pictures to process tonight, so I can work on my plans for these last days of the trip.† Iíll make lists and figure out where to go to optimize my chances.† The trip is winding down, but there is still one last push to see some more birds and get some more pictures.
Saturday, April 26, 2014
I set out this morning at about 8:40 and headed cross-country on back roads, toward the coast.† I got lost once, but I hauled out my phone and called up Google Maps, which straightened me out.† I hit the coast at a little place called Surfside Beach, and I started up the two offshore islands that are just south of Houston.† The idea of the route was twofold Ė I had a couple of birding places I wanted to check out, and the route avoided Houston.† It was a pleasant drive, although I had drizzle for the first hour or more today.† I crossed to Galveston Island at the toll bridge at San Luis Pass (2 bucks), and my first birding stop was a place called Lafitteís Cove.† It is a nice little preserve in the middle of a development.† Iím sure they made them put the preserve in as part of the permitting process to build the development of very nice homes.
It was pretty quiet there.† I did see a male Blackpoll Warbler when I first walked into the preserve, but then I didnít see much else.† There were some photographers at the drip, but no birds.† I did see a bird at the top of a tree, with the bright sky behind it, and I took a couple of pictures, despite the terrible conditions (bright sky).† I thought it must be a thrasher of some kind, as it had a curved bill and was about the right size for a thrasher.† It soon flew, after I got just two lousy pictures, and I didnít think much about it at the time.† Later I thought more about it, and Iíll return to it later in this report.
I soon moved on from there and tried 8 Mile Road and Sportsmanís Road.† I was looking for White-rumped Sandpiper or Sedge Wren, but found neither.† There are so few birds I still need that it is hard to even know what to look for or where to look for it.† It was getting on for lunch time by then, and I needed to get through the city of Galveston, so I moved on up the road.† Galveston seems to go on forever, driving along the beach front, with the resort hotels and lots of people out on a Saturday.
I needed to take a ferry to the Bolivar Peninsula, and when I got there, the cars were backed up about half a mile from the ferry holding area with its seven or eight lanes.†† I ended up waiting for about an hour and a half to catch a ferry for a 15 minute ride.† It was nice to avoid Houston, but while I was sitting going nowhere for an hour and a half, I was thinking maybe driving through Houston wouldnít have been so bad.† I was patient though, and the wait didnít get to me except when a pickup truck cut into the line in front of me, after I had been waiting for half an hour.† The driver of the pickup proceeded to let another car cut in front of her.† I honked and yelled out my window, but I soon let it go.† She is the one who has to live with her selfishness and rudeness, not me.† I donít believe that selfishness and rudeness makes a person happy, so I guess I should feel sorry for her.
I ate my humble lunch while I waited (ham & cheese sandwich, tortilla chips, and THREE kinds of vegetables Ė sugar snap peas, mini-peppers, and cucumber), all home made, of course.† When I got to the actual ferry holding lanes, I left the car and found the rest room at the terminal, too, which was helpful.
Over on the Bolivar Peninsula, I stopped first at the entrance road to Bolivar Flats reserve.† I had read a report from a guy who said he had heard at least a half dozen Sedge Wrens singing along that stretch of road the other day, so I drove slowly along, looking and listening and stopping to play the Sedge Wren song on my phone, in the hopes that one would respond.† No luck.† Nothing, nada.
I stopped at Rollover Pass, not because there was likely to be anything there I needed, but just to see the state of the tide and what might be around.† The tide was kind of medium, and there were lots of birds in view, but I knew there wasnít anything I needed there, so I didnít stay long.† I did get one picture of a Wilsonís Plover, because I donít think I got one earlier in the trip.
It seems like a pretty slow birding day, doesnít it?† It sure seemed like it to me, and I was thinking that probably this would be my day to get skunked.† As I was driving up the peninsula, though, I saw a bird flying that looked different.† As I went by, I saw the telltale white bands on the wings, and I knew I had scored COMMON NIGHTHAWK for my lists.† I wasnít going to get skunked today after all.† The streak was alive.
I turned around and went back to get a better look and to be sure of the identification.† There are two nighthawk species that are possible here, although the Common is much more likely here.† I had seen the other one, Lesser Nighthawk, when I was down in the Rio Grande Valley.† That was the species that nests on the roof of the place I was staying.† After I went back, I saw the bird again, and it was giving the Common Nighthawkís ďbeentĒ call as it flew, so that confirmed the identity.† (Iím getting to be quite a birder, arenít I?† Using birdsí vocalizations to identify them - amazing.)† I hadnít ever heard that call before, as far as I know, but I had read about it, and I played it on my phone, and that is exactly what the bird was calling.† ďBeent.Ē† As I watched it, it actually flew right across the road in front of me and landed on the beach nearby.† I noticed there was another one there, too, and it turned out there were a male and female.† Here is a picture of the male, with his white throat.
I got closer to the female and here is a picture of her.
Common Nighthawk was on my target list, and I was actually planning to stop a mile or two up the road where I had seen them in the afternoon in 2012.† They are a night bird, as their name implies, but they do fly in the daytime, too, especially in the afternoon, I think.
So, with the skunk off my back, I moved on into High Island, to try for one of the 3 or 4 potential warbler species I still need.† I went to Boy Scout Woods, and their whiteboard said that two of my species had been seen there today, so I took a seat in the grandstand and watched the drip.† I stayed there for 45 minutes to an hour, but never saw anything very ďgoodĒ, and certainly not one of the ones I needed.† I thought about going on the free 4:00 bird walk, but decided I would rather get checked in to my digs, and I moved on.† I stopped at the grocery store and now I think I have what I need for the rest of my stay, which is the next three nights.† My flight home leaves late on Tuesday afternoon, so I have 2 Ĺ days of birding left.
I got all my crap schlepped up to my room (not an easy task, but at least they have a luggage cart here, which helped a lot), and then I took a cooling shower.† It was only low 80ís outside today, but humid as hell, as usual, so I was sweating (also as usual).
I downloaded my pictures to my computer and when I looked at the first ones (from Lafitteís Cove) I realized that the bird was not a thrasher, as I suspected after I had thought about it.† I had been thinking about it this afternoon, actually, and I went right to the correct page of my field guide, to see the BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO (lifer) I had seen.† My pictures are terrible, because of the terrible light, but here is the better of the two.
I didnít know what a Black-billed Cuckoo looked like, since I had never seen one and I hadnít done my homework on it.† I assumed I would know it if I saw it, and I didnít think it was likely I would see one anyway, as they arenít very common.† They are just migrating through this area, and I happened to get lucky today.† I wish I had a better picture, but I just donít see what other bird it could possibly be, with that bill.† The coloration and the tail length are right, too.
So, at the end of the day, I had added two species to my trip list and my year list, and one was a lifer.† That is an outstanding result at this stage.† At 2 this afternoon, I assumed I would get skunked today, so adding two, including a lifer seems excellent indeed.
Now Iím at 252 for the trip, and I got 253 in 2012, on a trip that was 4 days longer.† I have 2 Ĺ days left to get more, so I expect Iíll do it.†† It does get harder and harder all the time, though, as I get more and more species.† For the year, Iím now at 395 species, 15 of which are lifers.† For my BAD bird for today, Iíll take the Black-billed Cuckoo.
I donít know what Iíll do or where Iíll go in the next couple of days.† I need to figure that out tonight.† I also need to update my spreadsheets, as I usually have a mistake or two in my counting, and I need to update the spreadsheets and crosscheck them to my notebooks to find the mistakes.† My numbers might very well change slightly when I do that; they usually do.
The next time I have to pack up and load the car, it will be to head for home.† Thatís a relief.† By the end of a trip, Iím always very tired of packing and loading, unloading and unpacking, etc, so that will be nice.† All I have to do on Tuesday is throw everything into my two suitcases and my backpack, and head for the plane.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Iím getting lazy, I guess.† I had an excellent nightís sleep, but when I woke about 6:15, I pulled up the bedspread to get warm and stayed in bed.† Next thing I knew it was 7:05.† I had turned off the a/c last night and opened the window, and it was about 73 in the room by morning.† I would rather have the moist outside air than the dry air conditioned air, as long as Iím not too hot.
Before I get into today, I need to mention that I did update my spreadsheet last night, and I found an error.† Back on April 19, I had neglected to write down in my little notebook the Lesser Nighthawk I saw at dusk at the Alamo Inn.† My corrected total for the trip became 253, tying my 2012 number, in 6 fewer days.† For the year, the corrected total was 396 with 15 of those being lifers.
So, I had thought about it and had decided not to go back up north where I might get some birds I had missed up there, and I just stayed local. †My first stop was Anahuac NWR, although I did stop along Farm to Market Road 1985 (called FM 1985 sometimes Ė I love the Farm to Market road names here, it seems so old-fashioned and descriptive) to look at some shorebirds in the recently flooded fields.
I didnít see anything there that I needed, in a quick look, but I thought I might go back later and look further.† At Anahuac NWR, I stopped at the entrance mainly to look at swallows flying around, and as I was going back to my car, a woman asked me if I had seen the (rarity).† I knew that bird had been seen a week or so ago, but I hadnít seen any mention of it online in the last few days.† She told me where it was seen, and I drove on down there and saw her and her partner (husband?† Who knows these days?) there.† We went out onto the boardwalk and there was a guy there already.† We asked about the rarity, and he said he hadnít seen it.† Mind you, these other people were less experienced birders than me, so you can see it was a case of the blind leading the blind.† We looked around and saw a number of shorebirds, including this White-faced Ibis.
That little fringe of white around the face is the basis for the name.
Soon another guy with a huge-lens camera showed up, and asked if we had seen the rarity.† We said no, we were looking for it.† He said itís right out there, with the orange legs, and pointed it out, about 30 feet away, right in front of us.† He had been there a half hour before and had already seen it.† Sure enough it was a female RUFF.† I donít know why we hadnít seen it, as it was obviously different from the other birds.† It wasnít quite a lifer for me, as I had seen one in Britain and one in Australia, but it was my first US Ruff.† They are rare in all three places, so it was an amazing sighting, one I had no way at all of anticipating.† Here are a couple of pictures.
I know, it looks like any other shorebird to most of you, but it is clearly a Ruff, and I was very pleased to not only see it, but get pictures.† All day I kept seeing other birders who asked about the Ruff, and most of them had also seen it.† People have been coming from all over to see it, for the last week, because they are so rare in the US.† It was the same in Australia, too; it seems to be a Eurasian bird, breeding the far north and wintering in Africa or India.† So, it was only about 9:30 AM, and I was off the schneid, in a completely unexpected way.† Amazing.
I drove around Shoveler Pond, which is a 2.5 mile loop, looking for a couple of other birds I still need. †I got this picture of a Green Heron at that point.
I stopped at a boardwalk I had been at before, a couple of weeks ago.† Today I was looking for a wren that is supposed to live there.† I played its song on my phone, and I got a response from a wren.† Here are a couple of pictures of that little cutie.
I cropped that one closer than usual, to show the brown and white feathers on the crown and the streakiness on the wing.
At first I thought it was my target wren, and the song it was singing seemed to be the same as what I was playing.† As I saw it more and listened more, I decided it was a Marsh Wren, which I had already counted on the trip.† I left there thinking it was a Marsh Wren, but when I looked at my pictures tonight on the computer, I decided it was actually the one I was looking for, the one I had played the song of ĖSEDGE WREN.† Marsh Wren is pretty similar, and Iím sure they live there, too, but Iím calling this little guy a Sedge Wren, for whatever that is worth.† The eyebrow isnít strong enough for March Wren, either.
I drove around more of Anahuac, but didnít add anything although I did get this picture of a male Blue Grosbeak.
I do love those blue colored birds.† My old 30X zoom camera is doing very well for me, Iíd say, as that bird was pretty far away, maybe 50 or 60 feet.
It was coming up onto noon, and I wanted to get back to High Island in case the noon shorebird free tour was going to look for inland shorebirds.† I got there, and they were going to the coast, not inland, so I went over to the grandstand and sat for a while.† It was really dead.† I saw a post tonight on TEXBIRDS, the Texas birding mailing list, which said today was the deadest day for migrants that the poster could remember in the High Island area, for this time of year.† I did get this picture of a male Scarlet Tanager, a red colored bird, to balance my Blue Grosbeak.
It was lunch time by then, so I went down to the coast to eat my humble lunch in the car.† Ham and cheese sandwich, tortillas chips, and three vegetables.† The normal Old Rambler lunch on the road.† Sometimes it is Fritos, though, and sometimes the sandwich is tuna, so it isnít always the same.
I wish I had taken a picture of the ďbeachĒ there.† The dirt road runs along about ten feet from the edge of the water at high tide, and normally there are only very small waves.† Today was extremely windy, though, and the waves were a foot or so high, I would say.† People were playing in the water and as I said, I wish I had taken a picture, because it seemed like a very odd beach scene to me.† Sitting in oneís car ten or twelve feet from the water seems strange to me, when the elevation difference is about a foot.† Tides are about a foot difference between high and low here, if that much.
After my lunch, I stopped again at Boy Scout Woods in High Island (they have a real rest room there, which makes it a popular stop for me), but there was still nothing going on there.† I decided to go look for a couple of shorebirds I needed, in the flooded fields I had seen earlier, near Anahuac, along FM 1985.
I stopped at a field where a guy had told me earlier that he had seen Buff-breasted Sandpipers, a desirable bird that I had seen down in the Rio Grande Valley.† I found them, and they were close enough for distant pictures.† I took the opportunity to do some comparison shots between my old 30X zoom camera (which is what I have been using for the last week or so) and my broken 50X zoom camera.† I think the 50X one is working OK except for the image stabilization function, which is a huge problem, actually.† Here is a picture of a Buff-breasted Sandpiper (I think Ė I have only seen this species a couple of times before, and I certainly could be wrong) taken with my old 30X zoom camera.
OK, it isnít good by any means, but you can see the bird, and I think it shows its small head and its coloration.
Here is one taken with my old (broken) 50X zoom camera.
That one clearly isnít as good as the previous one, but here is another.
Iíd say that one is comparable to the 30X one, but not necessarily better.† If the Image Stabilization was working, it might be better, there is no way to tell.
I got this picture of a couple of the birds, and one is displaying to the other, meaning it has its wings spread.† My field guide shows a picture (much better than this one, of course) of a Buff-breasted Sandpiper displaying, and that is what is going on in this picture.
The out of focus lines through the picture are due to the wire fence I was shooting through,
I moved on down FM 1985 to the place where I had seen some shorebirds earlier that seemed interesting.† There was a car there already, and a guy standing next to it with binoculars, so I stopped and asked him if he had seen any godwits.† He said he hadnít, but there were a lot of birds out in the field, and he hadnít scanned them all yet.† I drove on down the road to the end of the field and came back and parked.† By that time there was another car there, with three guys and a scope.† I approached them, and they said they had three godwits out in the field.† I got my scope, and the first guy got his, and we all got views of three HUDSONIAN GODWITS.† They winter in South America and breed in the extreme north of Canada.† They migrate through here, and they are considered a desirable bird to see.† It is a little early for them, and I have only seen a couple of reports so far this year, so I was very lucky to happen on these three birds today.
But wait, it wasnít over yet.† It was extremely windy today, so it was hard to even stand steadily, let along keep a scope steady, and that made the observations much more difficult.† But when the wind would let up for a second or two, you could get a good clear view, so you just had to persevere.† That is one thing Iím good at Ė perseverance.† After I was satisfied with my views of the godwits, I started scanning through the smaller birds, which were closer, fortunately.† Eventually I fixated on one particular bird that I thought was one I was looking for, and I watched it for a while. †I had two other birders also look at it, and we all agreed it was a WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER, my other target for the day.† I only had seen them once before, on my 2012 trip, and I wasnít at all sure I would be able to identify them, but in the end, it wasnít all that hard.† I guess Iím getting better at shorebird identification.† It was much paler than the other ones of similar size, and there were other birds for size comparison, which helped a lot.† The bird preened for a while, too, and it showed its white rump, which was the clincher for me.
With that, I moved back to High Island again.† I put about 100 miles on my car today, and I wasnít ever more than 25 miles from ďhomeĒ.† I was just going up and down the same roads.† I stopped at Boy Scout Woods again, and I tried Hookís Woods as well, as a warbler I needed had been reported there today.† There was nothing at either place.† I decided to quit early, but I would stop at Smith Oaks and try Donís Drip, to see if anything was coming in there.
There wasnít much, but some common birds were coming in to take baths, so I used the opportunity to try out my new 50X zoom camera (the broken one) with my monopod, to see if I could get good pictures if I could hold it steady enough.† The monopod gives me much better stability than just hand-holding the camera.† The rest of my pictures today were taken with the 50X zoom camera and the monopod.
Here is a Gray Catbird, just about ready to take a bath.
It was nice to have the 50X zoom again, after using my old 30X for a week.† The monopod was a definite improvement over hand-holding the camera, too.† In this case, I was sitting on a bench, so using the monopod was easy, but if you are walking around, you need to hand-hold the camera, and thatís when you really need the Image Stabilization.
A male Orchard Oriole came in for a bath.† Here he is soon after he arrived.
Here he is, splashing around.
And here he is, all wet after his bath.
I find it very interesting that birds like to get all wet like that, and splash around in the water.† Here is a female Northern Cardinal, getting ready for her bath.
Here she is, splashing around.
Next, she is wet but still splashing around.
About that time a MAGNOLIA WARBLER flew in and took a look-see, but it never went to the water.† I got several good looks at it, but no pictures.† I only needed two of the 15 or 20 warblers that were seen in the High Island area today, and I got to see one of them.† Again I was amazed.† I only saw two or maybe three warblers there at Donís Drip today, and one of them was one I needed.† Go figure.
A little later another male Orchard Oriole came in to bathe, and this time a female was with him.† Here is the pair of them, the male already all wet, and the female getting ready to take the plunge.
Here she is fully in the water and the male is completely soaked.
OK, so those were probably pretty boring pictures, but I wanted to test out my old broken camera on the monopod.† I got one last picture.†† A Blue Jay flew in briefly, but didnít stay or bathe.† It turned away as I took the picture, and his head is in the shade, so it isnít very satisfying, but I love blue colored birds, as I keep saying, so here is a Blue Jay.
So, that was it for today.† I boogied on home, stopping for gas on the way, and was back in my room before 5 oíclock.† A serious birder would have put in another three hours of birding, and then maybe gone looking for owls, but Iím only a dilettante, so I knocked off early.
To my amazement, when the day was done, I had added five birds to my trip list, and all five of them were year birds as well.† That puts me at 258 for the trip, exceeding my total of 253 in 2012, when I had four more days.† My main goal for the trip was to beat the 2012 total, and I have done that now, with a day and a half to go.† For the year, I have 401 species now, of which 15 are lifers and one more is a US first.
For my BAD bird, I guess Iíll take the Ruff, since it is a real rarity.
I donít know what Iíll do tomorrow.† There is just very little else for me to look for here.† Iíll almost certainly get skunked, but at this point, Iíll send a report anyway.† Maybe Iíll concentrate on pictures tomorrow.† It the numbers really mattered to me, I would drive an hour or so north and try for some of the birds I missed earlier in the trip in that area, but I donít feel like doing that, at this time.† We will see.† Most likely, I will spend my time between High Island and Anahuac NWR, with maybe an excursion down the Bolivar Peninsula.
Monday, April 28, 2014
Today was the day my dire predictions finally came true, and I got skunked.† I got not a single bird for either my trip list or my year list.† I know I sounded like the Boy Who Cried Wolf, but today the wolf actually came, finally.† It was completely expected, and it didnít bother me at all, actually.† Iíve done very well on this trip, and there are very few species left for me to see, and most of those are difficult.
My policy is to write a report on any day that I see a new bird for the year, but Iím violating my policy today because I have 25 pictures I want to share.
I spent the day at Boy Scout Woods in High Island, at Anahuac NWR, and in between.† I drove up and down the same old roads Iíve driven up and down a lot of times in the last three weeks.† I wonít try to keep track of my comings and goings, but Iíll just show the pictures as they came, telling where I was at that time.
My first destination was actually Boy Scout Woods in High Island (remember, High Island is a town, not an island). †I joined the free bird walk, but it was so slow I bailed out after a while.† This has been a pretty poor migration season here, due to the weather, presumably.† The winds have blown from the south mostly, which gives the birds a boost and they fly right over the coast to inland locations.† I had one pretty good day, the extra day I stayed here a couple of weeks ago, but other than that, the migrants have been scarce on the ground.
My pictures start today at Anahuac.† It was hot (high of about 90 and humid as hell, as usual), so I birded mostly from the car today.† My first 15 pictures were taken from my car.† Here is a Savannah Sparrow.
I love to look at the delicate legs of songbirds, and their cute little feet and toes.† This bird has a back toe on each foot that it uses to grasp the barbed wire.
There were lots of Meadowlarks today.† Eastern Meadowlarks live here all year long and breed here, and Western Meadowlarks winter here and then fly north to breed.† They look very similar, but their song is different.† I heard this one sing, and it wasnít the Western Meadowlark song I know, so Iím calling it an Eastern Meadowlark.
Note that today, since I was birding from the car, most of my pictures are of birds on fences or fence posts.† I like the way the camera blurs the background in these pictures.
Next a Green Heron flew in and perched for me.† I have shown lots of Green Heron pictures already, but can I do when one poses so nicely for me?† It would be rude to ignore it.
There were a number of Willets around, too, and the Eastern subspecies likes to perch on posts.
I was pleased and surprised to find three female Wilsonís Phalaropes feeding in the ditch along the road.† These birds spent the winter in Argentina, and now they are headed to the Northern US and southern Canada to breed.† It never ceases to amaze me that these little animals make such a journey every year, and then back again.† Phalaropes are shorebirds, but I usually have seen them swimming as they feed, like in this picture.
They do have shorebird legs, though, and they walk on them when needed, as this next picture shows.
Here is one of the many Eastern Kingbirds I saw today.
Kingbirds are flycatchers and fly out to catch flying insects then come back to a perch.
Here is a Barn Swallow stretching ones of its wings.
Here is a more conventional picture.
Here is a picture of a plover that I think is a Black-bellied Plover, due to the length of the wings.† The similar American Golden-Plover is supposed to have wings that extend beyond the tail† The wings are the black feathers and the tail is the barred black and white part.
I saw several Common Nighthawks today on my drive at Anahuac, but this was the first time I have seen them perched on fence posts.† I saw three on posts, two males and one female.† Here is the female Common Nighthawk (her throat isnít white).
Here is a male with a white throat.
Those are the best pictures of Common Nighthawk I have ever gotten, for sure.† I was enjoying this birding by car thing, too, since it was approaching 90 degrees out there, with very high humidity.† So far, all my pictures today were taken from the driverís seat of my car.
Here is a male Boat-tailed Grackle.† Grackles are very common here, but the Boat-tailed species is less common in this area than the Great-tailed Grackle.† AT Anahuac, they seem to be mostly Boat-tailed, though.† The forehead is steep in the Great-tailed, and the eye is dark, while in the Great-tailed, the forehead slopes right into the bill in a straight line and the eye is yellow.† This is a male Boat-tailed Grackle.
They usually appear just black when you see them, but in the right light, you can see some iridescence and a purplish color.
All those pictures were taken at Anahuac NWR at the main unit.† I stopped at the Skillern Tract and got a couple of pictures of Dickcissels, a bird I have a strange affinity for.† Here is a distant side view, showing the reddish patch on the wing and the face coloration.
Here is a frontal shot.
At that point I had eaten my humble lunch as I drove around Shoveler Pond at Anahuac, and I was headed for High Island again.† I stopped where I had seen Buff-breasted Sandpiper yesterday when I saw them near the road.† I counted at least 20 of them.† It is a very desirable bird, every birder wants to see it, so I decided to try to get better pictures than yesterday.† Before I could start the picture process, though, another birder came along and stopped.† It turned out he was looking for the bird, having gotten the GPS coordinates of where they were yesterday.† He expected them to be in a wet field, though and this was a dry field with short grass, so he would have gone on by if he hadnít seen me stopped there.† He wanted pictures, too, so we both took our pictures, first from the road, then across the road, and then right up to the fence.† I got some better ones than yesterday, partly because I was closer and partly because I used my monopod today.† Here is a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.
Here is a picture of four of them.
So, those were my first pictures taken from outside my car.† I headed for High Island and the rest of my pictures today were taken at Boy Scout Woods in High Island.† It was a very slow day at High Island today, but I got some pictures anyway.† The temperature was lower in High Island, anyway, only the low 80ís, I guess because it is nearer to the coast.
Here is a sequence of pictures of a Blue Jay taking a bath.† The Texas and Eastern birders ignore Blue Jays, but I like them very much.† Here is a Blue Jay in the water.
Here it is getting wetter.
Here it is after its bath.
Here is a Brown Thrasher that came in for a dip.
I was pleased with these pictures, as the drip at Boy Scout Woods is about 60 or 70 feet from the grandstand.† I was using my old 30X camera, of course, but I was using my monopod, which really seems to help a lot.† Here are four orioles bathing at once, with a female Indigo Bunting looking on, waiting her turn.
Here is a male Yellow Warbler, about to take a bath.
There was a little flurry of activity at the pond next to the drip, and I got this picture of a Philadelphia Vireo.
I had only seen that species twice before, and each time it was a poor look.† This was the best I have had, and to get a picture is a bonus.
And finally, to finish off the day, here are a couple of female Indigo Buntings.
Iíve shown a number of pictures of male Indigo Buntings, the very blue little birds, so it is nice to be able to show their less gaudy mates.
So, as I said, I got skunked today, with no new birds for my trip list or my year list.† Tomorrow is my flight home, but it doesnít leave until 5:30 PM.† I could go back to High Island in the morning and try for some miracle sighting, but I plan to just have a slow morning, pack up, and leave here by 11 or noon.† I think Iíll take a slightly longer route back to the Houston airport that will take me through some places where I might possibly see a Swallow-tailed Kite, a great bird I have only seen once before.† I missed that one a couple of weeks ago, so it would be fun to see one now.† Iíll have to figure out how to handle my birding clothes versus my flying clothes, and also figure out how to pack my binoculars and scope after I use them for looking for kite.† It will all work out, though, and by this time tomorrow, I should be on a plane heading home, God Willing And The Creeks Donít Rise.† Iíll put out at least one more report, though, to sum up the trip and tell about the adventure of flying home.† I remember when flying was really fun, but Iím talking about 40 or 50 years ago, and today it is just a pain in the ass that has to be endured.† I keep telling myself that it beats walking.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
This is the final report from my Texas trip.† Iím writing it on Wednesday morning, since I got in late last night and went straight to bed.
I had decided not to go back to High Island in the hopes of seeing one of the 2 or 3 possible warbler species I still needed, because it was pretty unlikely I would see one.† Instead I had a leisurely morning, catching up on some computer stuff and getting all packed up for the airplane.† I kept a few things out so I could bird on the way to the airport, though
I got away at about 10:15 and my first stop was White Memorial Park, which is only about 20 minutes from Winnie, where I was staying.† I had done some research online, and there were three species I needed that had been reported there in the last week or two, and it was on my way.† There were a lot of trees, but very few birds that I saw or heard.† I stopped at one point to check out some swallows flying high overhead, as I never got Tree Swallow on the trip, but as I was starting to look at them, I noticed a woodpecker on a snag.† It turned out to be the species I was hoping for there, RED-HEADED WOODPECKER.† I had missed that one when I was in its regular territory early in the trip, and I had given up on it until I saw they had been reported at White Memorial Park.† The light was terrible with a bright cloudy sky in the background, and these were the best pictures I could get.
It flew into an adjacent tree and joined another one.
So, I had a year bird, on my way to the airport.† Cool.
Next I went in search of Swallow-tailed Kite, but I never found one.† I drove to Liberty, Texas, and looked around there, then drove down the road to Dayton, Texas, and looked around there.† They nest in that area but it is a month or so early for them, based on the reports I see online.† There have been a few around, though, according to reports and also according to a guy I met last week who lives in Dayton.† At one point I pulled into the city park outside of Dayton and saw a raptor in a tree.† Itís back was the right color and the head was white.† I thought I had found my bird and was very excited about it.† I got out my camera and started taking pictures, and I also looked at it more with my binoculars.† The head didnít seem white enough Ė it was more of a smoky gray color Ė and the tail should have been white, but it wasnít.† The bird clearly had the kite eyes, though.† It flew and then I could easily see it wasnít my Swallow-tailed Kite I needed, but a Mississippi Kite.† A week ago that was a lifer for me at the Hawk Watch down in the Rio Grande Valley, but this was the first perched one I had ever seen.† Here are a couple of pictures of Mississippi Kite.
I continued my search and a little later I saw two more of them flying fairly far away.† I never caught up with a Swallow-tailed Kite, though.
Meanwhile, time had moved on.† I had eaten the sandwich I had made that morning, and I got to the airport about 3 for my 5:30 PM flight.† It was a good flight, as good as a 4 plus hour flight in coach can be.† The plane was a new one with new seats that were nice.† They were much thinner than the old seats, which gave you a couple of extra inches of leg room, and they were leather covered.† Best of all, though, I had an aisle seat with no one in either of the two seats next to me.† I was able to spread out my stuff and it made it a much more comfortable flight than if the flight was full.
It was a successful trip in terms of numbers.† My spreadsheet had indicated I would see 245.5 species on the trip, but I had hopes of exceeding the 253 I had seen in 2012, when I spent four more days on the same loop, visiting most of the same places.† I actually got 260 this time, after adjusting for an error I made early in the trip when I neglected to list Neotropic Cormorant, a bird I saw many times.
My other spreadsheet had indicated I would add 136.5 species to my year list, and that 10 of those would be lifers.† I actually added 152 to my year list and 13 of them were lifers.† For the year now, Iím at 402 species, of which 15 are lifers and one is new for the US.
OK, enough with the numbers.† I enjoyed the trip, although I donít much like Texas in general.† The drivers were terrible, the road signs were even worse, the weather was too hot and humid for me, and there are too many people. I much prefer Australia, although it can be hot and humid there, too, in the north.
I neglected to mention in Mondayís report that I took Scissor-tailed Flycatcher for my BAD bird on Monday.† For yesterday I took Red-headed Woodpecker.† Now that Iím back home Iíll have to start taking the common local birds when I canít find a ďgoodĒ local bird to use.† At least there should be some new ones to look for, as the ones that spend the summer here are showing up now, as well as maybe some that pass through in the spring on their way farther north.