Jan. Species Seen
Journal - January, 2008
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This log is in chronological order and the most recent entries
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The last update was on Thursday, January 31, 2008
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Happy New Year to one and all. I hope that 2008 brings you some wonderful birding experiences.
I birded just a little more this year (231 field days compared to 225 last year) and recorded 436 species (up from 396 in 2006). I managed to see 8 new (U.S. or life) birds on a trip to New Hampshire and Maine in June (Greater Shearwater, Northern Gannet, Roseate Tern, Atlantic Puffin, Bicknell's Thrush, Philadelphia Vireo, Bay-breasted Warbler and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow); and I added 3 new species to my Arizona state list (Ruddy Turnstone, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Hooded Warbler). As usual, I could have added many more had I bothered to chase them.
I've also added a "Year Summary" that produce a similarly formatted list for the entire year (this is where the state info is more useful). Year summaries can be invoked from any of the "Journal" "Species" or "Photo" index displays -- just click on the year header. Note: this applies to all years back to 1996.
Please let me know if you find any discrepancies. By the way, all these files are machine generated -- I didn't type all that crap but I probably spent more time and keystrokes writing the software to create the files from my AviSys database and photo gallery! However, creating the lists from now on will be just a click away. A bit like teaching someone to fish rather than giving them a fish.
Out again today with Mike Smith. Although we dipped on a major target (Baird's Sparrow), we found all of our other targets and the first day of 2008 was a far better day than the last day of 2007. After a cold start, it was a warmish afternoon marred by wind.
As we drove out of Fort Huachuca west gate in darkness, a BOBCAT crossed the road to get the new year off to a good start. Sadly, the mammal karma didn't pass on to Baird's Sparrow and a three hour effort in San Rafael Valley was unsuccessful (we also tried again in the afternoon).
It was finger numbing cold at the west end of the valley from 7:00am to almost 9:00am and sparrow activity was minimal. (If this were a populated area, the ground would have been littered with frozen asses.) The next hour was a little better but still pretty poor as the wind picked up. We eventually saw three GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS (stunning views of a very close bird) and perhaps 20 SAVANNAH SPARROWS. Our only target bird success was CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR (a small group of 6 perched on a fence wire). Only EASTERN & WESTERN MEADOWLARKS and NORTHERN HARRIER could be called common and even the normally plentiful COMMON RAVENS were scarce. A couple of still-roosting WHITE-TAILED KITES were my first birds of the year.
I've made five previous trips to the valley this sparrow season (October 3, 23, 30; November 17; December 6) and found Baird's Sparrow relatively easily except for the first visit. The November 17 visit yielded an amazing 12 Baird's. Today, nada.
In Patagonia, a stop at the RV park feeders on Harshaw Canyon Road produced lots of PINE SISKINS and a lone AMERICAN GOLDFINCH in with many LESSER GOLDFINCHES.
A late morning visit to Kino Springs was very productive. Although we only stayed long enough to find our target species -- RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, GILDED FLICKER and LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCH, we still managed almost 50 species. After yesterday's Sapsucker debacle, what irony to see two RED-NAPED cavorting together along with a scarce-in-Arizona YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER as a GILDED FLICKER foraged on the grass in front of us. All near the club house. Great views of LAWRENCE'S at the first pond.
Factoid: This was my third three goldfinch species day. Some time ago I wrote software to determine stuff like this -- I can select a list of species and up pop all the occurrences on the same day. After I had added this feature to my repertoire of tools, I actually found it useful for analyzing a target list -- it answers the question "have I ever managed to see them all on the same day?". But I digress.
Other species included HOODED MERGANSER (large club house pond), GREAT HORNED OWL (first pond), GRAY FLYCATCHER & RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (both in club house pines), PHAINOPEPLA, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, ABERT'S TOWHEE, CARDINAL & PYRRHULOXIA.
Next, we made a sacrilegiously short visit to Patagonia Lake -- just long enough to find DUSKY FLYCATCHER. A bird was in the same group of willows where I've seen one (presumably the same bird) on the last two visits. This was just as well since the wind was now becoming a problem.
We finished up by returning to San Rafael Valley. Unfortunately, the wind ensured that we had little chance to recover from the morning failure. CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPURS were a little more numerous but most of the other birds seen this morning were not in evidence. Three COMMON MERGANSERS at the Vaca Ranch stock pond were only my second sighting in the valley.73 species recorded:
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
The third and final day with Mike was much cooler with increasing clouds and a sprinkle or two in Sierra Vista late in the day.
We started in the underbirded Dragoon Mountains northeast of Tombstone. This is the closest reliable location to Sierra Vista where Juniper Titmouse and Black-chinned Sparrow occur together. Although it was very cold here just after sunrise (but not as bad as yesterday), we easily found BLACK-CHINNED SPARROW at the first time of asking. Unfortunately, we then proceeded to dip on the titmouse despite considerable effort.
Except for MEXICAN JAY, SPOTTED TOWHEE and DARK-EYED JUNCO (Oregon & Pink-sided), birds were generally hard to come by. Other species included PHAINOPEPLA, RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW and PINE SISKIN.
After leaving the mountains, we made a quick check of nearby St. David Monastery for the Cackling Goose. Mike had also looked for the goose last Sunday. As far as I am aware, there haven't been any positive reports since I saw the bird on December 24. Among the 20+ species noted around the main pond during our brief stop were GREEN HERON, WHITE-WINGED DOVE, BELTED KINGFISHER and ABERT'S TOWHEE.
Our next destination was Sawmill Canyon for Williamson's Sapsucker. Lots of ice on upper Garden Canyon Road and a seriously gray sky conveyed a very wintry feel to the proceedings. At least it wasn't windy! A very vocal HEPATIC TANAGER near Scheelite Canyon parking area was a major surprise -- a first for me in the Huachucas in January. Not much else on the drive up save for the usual MEXICAN JAYS, HERMIT THRUSH and calling CANYON WREN and STELLER'S JAY.
As is normal at this time of year, Sawmill Canyon was deathly quiet. We adopted a walk-a-little then pause-to-listen method of operation as we headed up canyon. As if the irony of yesterday wasn't enough, the first weak tapping that we tracked down turned out to be a RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER!
Although success soon came, it certainly wasn't because we heard a bird first. A check of what has become my second most reliable "sapsucker tree" produced a silent adult male WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER. Further up canyon, a check of the primary tree was also successful -- this time an immature male WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER that did make some tapping noise. Two for the price of one. It was about time that something went well.
The only other species noted in the canyon were RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH, DARK-EYED (Gray Headed) JUNCO, YELLOW-EYED JUNCO and PINE SISKIN.
GREATER ROADRUNNER in lower Garden Canyon was the last bird of a quiet day.50 species recorded:
Sunday, January 6, 2008
Back on the air again today. Since I last published the journal, I've added entries for December 30 & 31 and January 1 & 2.
Not many people at Sierra Vista EOP this morning, most likely due to the weather that actually wasn't too bad in retrospect. Although it was extremely cloudy and a little blustery at times (with the hint of a sprinkle), the mild temperature of ~50 degrees was certainly a mitigating factor.
The birding was quite slow and even the normally reliable and abundant YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS were AWOL. I only saw a couple.
It's been three weeks since my last visit and the absence of ducks was very noticeable (and surprising). In particular, NORTHERN PINTAIL numbers were way down. On the plus side, several LESSER SCAUP and BUFFLEHEADS continue. KILLDEER was the only shorebird. One SORA seen, many heard. VIRGINIA RAIL heard.
Perhaps the best bird (and certainly the least common) was a continuing GREEN HERON seen perched in the open on a fence rail. A swallow species seen in flight before I arrived would probably have been a better bird had it been close enough to identify.
Both PEREGRINE FALCON (in flight) and PRAIRIE FALCON (perched on an irrigation rig) were seen.
The current weather system is expected to produce plenty of snow in the northern mountains tonight.42 species recorded at Sierra Vista EOP:
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Although it was a really grungy morning (quite chilly with heavy, low clouds over the entire area), I definitely needed to get out of the house. I've been bogged down with planning three weeks worth of California birding in March. Trying to keep the target lists for four clients straight in my head and work the itineraries around Island Packers boat schedule is a challenge to say the least. That's why it's called work. I'm sure that your heart just bleeds for me. I managed to get a little birding done in Garden Canyon as well as buy a couple of new tires. Who knew rubber could be so expensive, doesn't it grow on trees? Cold and gray while I was birding, cloud free and beautiful by midday. Murphy is still dogging me.
Several birds of note at Garden Canyon fishing ponds, but only within the scope of my own isolated world.
Although GREAT BLUE HERON is seen year round in Garden Canyon, it's still quite scarce here so a bird carrying nesting material was a little surprising. I'm not sure where they might be nesting, perhaps somewhere near the relatively inaccessible Woodcutters Pond.
I was delighted to see a VERMILION FLYCATCHER working the gravel pit pond (one of my three favorite birds). The flycatcher was an after hatch year female with a pale yellow lower belly. It has always puzzled me why the Vermilions that stay for the winter leave their breeding areas in favor of ponds that are often in very cold places (such as Whitewater Draw). Perhaps it's due to competition from the influx of wintering empids at places like Patagonia Lake State Park.
A lone AMERICAN PIPIT was the least common bird that I saw (only my second record for the Huachucas). The receding water level and increasing shoreline is certainly producing good habitat for them.
Sparrows were almost absent, perhaps due to the presence of two juvenile COOPER'S HAWKS.
Other species at the ponds included 7 GADWALLS, 8 RING-NECKED DUCKS, a male ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD in a regular spot, LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER, PHAINOPEPLA, a few PINE SISKINS and LESSER GOLDFINCHES; CANYON T TOWHEE and RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW.
I hardly saw any birds at all during a brief sortie further up Garden Canyon. I watched an AMERICAN KESTREL repeatedly dive-bombing a RED-TAILED HAWK perched on a pole. The hawk didn't fly but it sure flinched!38 species recorded:
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Out today with Gordon Chastain from Indianapolis, IN who I've birded with on two previous occasions. Today we had but two target species in San Rafael Valley -- Baird's Sparrow and McCown's Longspur. Although I made a special effort for the much requested Baird's during the last few months of 2007 (5 trips with 100% success), my crash and burn on January 1 made me a little apprehensive about our chances for success today. As for McCown's, they have been so scarce this winter that I wasn't hopeful at all. I'm happy to report that my fears were completely unfounded on both counts.
Today was one of those winter weather days in SE AZ that are difficult to comprehend for those who haven't had the pleasure of experiencing it. The temperature swing from early to late morning was quite dramatic. I left home early for the drive to Patagonia to meet Gordon and had to get rid of some ice before leaving. As we started up Harshaw Canyon at 7:30am, Gordon had a hard time believing me that the temperature was in the low 20s (low humidity = lack of frost = perception of warmth!). Later, we talked to the lady who has the feeder setup at the RV park on Harshaw Canyon Road. She told us that the temperature there this morning was 19 degrees and has been 13 recently. By midday we were able to shed several layers and enjoy the sun's warmth.
The sun had been up about 15 minutes or so when we started birding at the west end of the valley and I was pleasantly surprised by the mild temperature (especially compared to my last visit on January 1). However, pristine viewing conditions under a clear blue sky and the complete absence of wind didn't bring early success. We worked my best two locations for almost two hours without a hint of Baird's. Many SAVANNAH and a couple of GRASSHOPPER were the only sparrows on offer. Other species seen were 2 NORTHERN PINTAILS, 6 WHITE-TAILED KITES (roost trees near old windmill tower on the Meadow Valley Flat Road), a couple of NORTHERN HARRIERS, several HORNED LARKS, a half dozen CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPURS and both EASTERN and WESTERN MEADOWLARKS.
We moved to the east end of the valley where HORNED LARKS and CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPURS were far more plentiful. In years past, I've had success on the southwest corner of the FR 58/FR 799 intersection and it didn't take long to rustle up BAIRD'S SPARROW there this morning. (Melody Kehl reported seeing the sparrow here a few days ago.) We had excellent scope views from a reasonably close range for over a minute.
Next, we turned our attention to longspurs. There's a great section of short grass habitat on the south side of FR 58 about midway between the 58/799 intersection and the Vaca Ranch corral. It's ideal for HORNED LARKS (scads of them present) and McCOWN'S LONGSPUR and after lots of scanning and a few lost birds, we eventually had a decent scope look at a male already with a black crescent on the upper breast. Persistence often pays dividends, especially with grassland sparrows and longspurs!
With the morning's work now concluded, we headed back to Patagonia and spent 30 minutes in Marion Paton's yard. Early afternoon is perhaps not the best time to be here but that's what was available to us. A large contingent of GAMBEL'S QUAIL and INCA DOVES were the most conspicuous birds. A few PINE SISKINS were the least common species. A little splash of color came from lots of LESSER GOLDFINCHES, PYRRHULOXIA and CARDINAL. No recent reports of the Blue Grosbeak.
Not a day of many birds but certainly a very successful day.41 species recorded:
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
First of three days with Alan Van Norman from Bismarck, ND. When Alan first contacted me to schedule this trip back in October, his only objective was owl photography -- specifically Barn, Spotted (primary target), Northern Pygmy and the Screech-Owls. Alan has seen all these owls before, pictures are the order of the day. While this is far from the best time of year for the little guys, the answer to the question "when's the best time to go birding" is always "whenever you can". As events have transpired, Rufous-backed Robin and Aztec Thrush are now on the menu.
Alan arrived in town at midday and we started out with an afternoon visit to the Huachucas for Spotted Owl. Although my success rate in January and February is often significantly lower than my overall yearly average, last winter I had a particularly terrible time finding an owl in Scheelite. I struck out on my first three visits of the year (January 13, 14, 17 for those who want to go back and read the tales of woe) and I didn't find an owl until visit #4 on January 31.
I fully expected a challenge today and was prepared to work long and hard. Mercifully, we had instant success and didn't even have to visit Scheelite! As we drove through Garden Canyon, I no sooner told Alan that we might be able to find an owl here -- when he looked up to see this SPOTTED OWL sitting in the same sycamore roost location that a bird used last year at this time; presumably the same bird (in fact, there were two present last year). I won't publicly disclose the spot as others stupidly did last year -- contact me for details. [Publicly disclosed, easily accessible owl locations lead to pressure on the birds -- to wit: the Whitewater Barn Owls.] If there was a downside to this "easy owl", it was that photographically, conditions were far from ideal. Heavily backlit from one viewpoint, obscured by twigs from another, or just plain poor light and a bad angle from another. No such thing as a free lunch. I compromised in the published image. The bird looks quite comfy and paid us little attention.
We used our new found time by walking the road to Sawmill Canyon entrance and back (3 hours), trying to raise a Northern Pygmy-Owl without success. We bought a raffle ticket but didn't win a prize. Some decent birds for our efforts included an adult (probable female) NORTHERN GOSHAWK (great views as the bird crossed the canyon); a male ARIZONA WOODPECKER in the owl sycamore; and a HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER. Species heard and not pursued included RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, CASSIN'S FINCH and HEPATIC TANAGER. This was only my second January record of the tanager in the Huachucas, the first being earlier this year (Jan 2). It appears that a few have stuck around in several locations this winter.
In the evening we made an unsuccessful attempt for WHISKERED SCREECH-OWL. A couple of hours of effort produced just one non-combative, calling bird. The bird started out some distance away with sporadic calls and then retreated even further.
I've revised the Sun and Moon data page that now contains accurate, complete current year sunrise-sunset and moonrise-moonset data for selected Arizona locations. Let me know if you'd like me to include data for additional locations. This was another "sausage grinder" exercise -- the first one requires lots of time and preparation, but it only takes a small crank of the handle for all the rest. I've also added moon phase data for the current year.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Out again today with Alan for a double dose of my least favorite kind of birding as we (successfully) sought Rufous-backed Robin and Aztec Thrush.
Catalina State Park was a bit of a circus early this morning with plenty of birders and photographers seeking the RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN that first put in a definite appearance around 8:30am. It had been extremely cold until the sun peeked over the mountain around that time. We stayed around until about 9:30am as Alan tried to get some decent photos. The bird stayed low and was quite elusive for long periods spending some time along the edge of the wash and feeding underneath the hackberry trees across the street from the parking area. I obtained a mediocre image of the bird on the ground.
Other species present among ~20 noted included BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER, 6+ LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCHES (in the wash), lots of HERMIT THRUSHES and SPOTTED TOWHEES, CARDINAL and PYRRHULOXIA.
In Madera Canyon, the Old Baldy Trail had plenty of people but they were well spread out. We started up the trail around 11:00 and got plenty of confirmation that the AZTEC THRUSH was present from folks already leaving. Alan contracted acute life bird fever and hurried on ahead of me. This lead to a serious cock-up as eventually I thought he had gone too far up the canyon. I glimpsed the bird (in the recently well reported location some distance below the "X"); then continued on trying to find him. As things turned out, he had left the trail and I had walked past him. I ended up walking an extra mile for naught and missed out on photo opportunities. No matter, Alan saw the bird well and got plenty of photos which was why we were there in the first place. I saw the bird with difficulty (on the ground) when I came back down canyon but the light was poor and it didn't stay long.
Other species included a few ARIZONA WOODPECKERS, MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD (Chuparosa Inn), several not-so-very WILD TURKEYS (more like serious moochers) at Santa Rita Lodge; and a small flock of PINE SISKINS and a calling PAINTED REDSTART, also at the lodge.
It was a good day for raptors with 4 HARRIS'S HAWKS and a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK on Ina Road in Tucson; a low hunting WHITE-TAILED KITE and a soaring GOLDEN EAGLE on Box Canyon Road; plus several HARRIERS, KESTRELS and many RED-TAILS.
A lone WESTERN SCRUB-JAY on Box Canyon Road (east side) was of note. It's been 10 years since I last saw one while traveling this road.60 species recorded:
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Third and final day with Alan working on photo opportunities. We made short morning and afternoon visits to Whitewater Draw and spent the rest of our time in the Chiricahuas. It was generally a decent weather day (beautiful at Whitewater in the afternoon), although we did encounter colder temperatures and snow in the mountains.
At Whitewater, Alan worked on getting BARN OWL images. On the morning visit, I used the time to locate a LONG-EARED OWL. Alan estimated about 30 Barn Owls were present; I only saw one Long-eared. He took another shot at the Barn Owls in the afternoon and saw a second Long-eared near the first. Three GREAT HORNED OWLS were roosting within sight of each other.
Many thousands of SANDHILL CRANES were present in mid afternoon (mostly on the ground with occasional flights). I singled out the closest bird I could find and tried my photographic luck (I've never had much success with standing birds, only flying). I was still a long way from the bird and used my larger lens with a 2X converter. The image is fair but lacks detail. I counted approximately 150 SNOW GEESE, 10 ROSS'S GEESE and a lone GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE in with the crane flock.
I didn't walk my normal route so I expect that I missed more birds than I saw. In addition to geese and cranes, I recorded less than 30 species including a handsome male CINNAMON TEAL, an adult BALD EAGLE, calling GREATER YELLOWLEGS and several male VERMILION FLYCATCHERS. Highlight was an amazingly placid juvenile COOPER'S HAWK that perched completely in the open for 30 minutes within feet of every visitor walking by (and there were many). I shot so many images that it will take me a month of Sundays to sort through them.
Species seen in Sulphur Springs Valley while traveling back and forth to the mountains birds included BALD EAGLE, FERRUGINOUS HAWK and BENDIRE'S THRASHER (all on Central Highway), SCALED QUAIL, LARK BUNTING and SAGE SPARROW (Coffman).
In the Chiricahuas, several hours of concerted effort on Pinery Canyon Road failed to produced a hoped for Northern Pygmy-Owl. Although it was very pleasant low down on the mountain (cool, sunny and very little wind), conditions deteriorated as we climbed. Much colder, a little more wind, packed snow on the road in places and light snow falling from time to time. We worked as far as the campground but mostly focused lower than this where the small bird action was (no food=no owl). MEXICAN CHICKADEES were very common (all at low elevation) with a fair number perhaps two miles lower down the mountain than I had seen them previously.
ACORN WOODPECKERS were numerous and vocal throughout the lower, sycamore section. YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS outnumbered DARK-EYED. Small flocks of WESTERN BLUEBIRDS worked the mistletoe areas along with PHAINOPEPLA. Species at higher elevation were scarce and included HAIRY WOODPECKER, STELLER'S JAY and BROWN CREEPER.
An interesting few days with which Alan was well satisfied despite not finding the smaller owls (somewhat expected at this time of year without a stake-out). He was able to photograph four owl species along with many other opportunistic species. Rufous-backed Robin and Aztec Thrush were unexpected lifers while all three accipters, both eagles and several other raptors were gravy.65 species recorded:
Friday, January 18, 2008
Out today with Steve Bobonick and Dave Helm, both from Cincinnati, OH. I've birded with Steve three times previously, Dave just once. This trip was scheduled some time ago without firm targets. Steve and Dave had some success yesterday (Casa Grande Jacana, Catalina Robin); today we went after Crescent-chested Warbler and Aztec Thrush.
We started with what was really a token effort for Black-capped Gnatcatcher at Patagonia Lake State Park. With limited time available, we focused on the first wash and the hillside above the bench. Out biggest problem though was that we started too early (so as not to waste any daylight) and bird activity was minimal. Birds were just becoming active when we had to leave for Madera at 9:30am.
Birds of note during a short visit (no trail work or lake scanning) included a fly-by MERLIN (top of steps), a very bright CASSIN'S VIREO (first big mesquite at start of trail next to first campsite), BLACK-CHINNED SPARROW (top of steps) and a few YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS (generally scarce here).
On the way north, the only bird of note was LEWIS'S WOODPECKER on South River Road in Nogales. The bird was high atop a power pole about two miles from highway 82.
Lots of people on the Old Baldy Trail again today. We arrived at what has been a regular spot for Aztec Thrush just as the CRESCENT-CHESTED WARBLER appeared. [See the BIRDWG05 archives for details of this location, link on News page.] The bird worked the area in and around the "thrush" ravine from about 12:00-12:30pm and for almost all of that time stayed very close to the ground foraging in the lowest oak leaves, sometimes on the ground. Although the bird came incredibly close several times and was extremely confiding; due to a combination of circumstances I only managed a fairly poor "documentary quality" image (very bad light, unstable footing, lots of leaves and twigs and a constantly on the move bird). It's interesting to note that the bill looks entirely dark in this image but a couple of other images show a very pale bill when looking from below. Also, the apparent extent of the crescent is highly variable depending on the posture of the bird and viewing angle of the observer.
Steve was well down trail when the warbler was sighted and I had to call him via radio. [Ironically, during the trail cock-up on Wednesday, I had the radios in my backpack but failed to give one to Alan. We live and learn.]
The Aztec Thrush was not seen from mid morning through about 2:00pm in the area that it has regularly frequented. However, it was seen about 0.5 mile lower down canyon feeding on a trailside Madrone at 9:00am. Slowly but surely, the Madrone trees higher up the trail are becoming depleted by Hermit Thrushes and Robins. The lower canyon trees still have lots of fruit so I expect the Aztec Thrush (assuming it sticks around) will soon be working lower down the canyon.
Despite plenty of sunshine, the canyon was cold in the shady spots and not many birds were on offer. A few CASSIN'S FINCHES (1 female, 2 males) and ARIZONA WOODPECKER were the only birds worth a mention.
We finished up with a quick check of the old Pima County Maintenance Yard in Sahuarita. This location is a shadow of its former self now that all the weedy habitat has been cleared for construction (opposite side of the road beyond the railroad tracks). The water trough is still attracting birds but no Lawrence's Goldfinches checked in while we were present.60 species recorded:
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Out today with Gordon Payne from London, ON, who I have birded with on one previous occasion. This is a very brief trip for Gord - yesterday he saw the Northern Jacana in Casa Grande for ABA species #700, then added two more on the Santa Cruz Flats. Today we managed to add three more before he headed home. A brief report follows.
We spent the morning (8:00am to 12:00pm) on the Old Baldy Trail in Madera Canyon and had great success.
Location: "Aztec Thrush Ravine" -- this is the location described in the January 11 edition of the Tucson RBA. [in which the location was referred to as a wash; it's much more than that so I'm calling it a ravine.] Other birders had seen the warbler here at 8:20am. While Gord viewed the thrush (see below), I was able to relocate the warbler at 10:15am. Initially, the bird was on the down canyon slope of the ravine well away from the trail with a Bridled Titmouse flock. Over the next 45 minutes, the flock and warbler worked the area up and down canyon from the ravine, close to and on both sides of the trail. Other than location, this is completely different from yesterday's sighting when the warbler was alone.
Location: some distance (guesstimated at 1/2 mile) below the original location referred to above. This location is along a "sandy" colored, fairly flat section of trail sandwiched between two right angle turns. The area has a sunny exposure first thing in the morning. If walking up canyon, it's immediately after making a sharp angle turn. Just before the next (left hand) turn is a fruiting Madrone tree on the right side of the trail. There are additional fruiting Madrone trees on the (not particularly steep) hillside and ridge above this section of trail. Today, the thrush was seen on the hillside at 10:00am. Hermit Thrushes and Robins are using the area so the fruit will likely become depleted fairly quickly forcing the birds to move elsewhere (hopefully down canyon near the trail!).
As a further aid to identifying the location, if you make the left turn beyond this trail section (to continue on up canyon towards "Aztec Thrush Ravine"), there's a vertical bank on your right that has several long sections of water pipe visible in the bank. I'll be in the canyon again on Monday and I will attempt to identify some better landmarks.
It was a pleasant sunny morning on the trail with more activity than of late, although not much species diversity. We saw at least 3 female CASSIN'S FINCHES feeding on berries (contributing to depletion!) and ARIZONA WOODPECKER. Other birders saw a female WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER.
Unfortunately, we were unable to complete a trifecta of rarities. We spent from 1:30-5:30pm at Catalina State Park unsuccessfully trying to locate the Rufous-backed Robin. We met other birders who had tried in the morning, also without success. However, we did see a large cross section of the population of Tucson (and their dogs). Hackberries are still plentiful so the bird is probably still around (this species has a history of being faithful to a location until the food source is depleted).
A sighting of LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCH ensured that we don't leave the location empty handed. Other species included WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS overhead late in the day, a GRAY FLYCATCHER working in the hackberry trees and several colorful CARDINALS feeding on the ground. All four regular towhee species were present.
[Jan 20 - WHITE-WINGED DOVES are singing my neighborhood; happens every year at this time. Spring is on the way!]35 species recorded:
Monday, January 21, 2008
Out today with Lud Deppisch from Tucson, AZ who I've birded with on 10 previous occasions (he's a glutton for punishment). Our most recent outings were back in November (13 and 20) when we tried for the rarities on the Old Baldy Trail in Madera Canyon, Today we tried again, my 4th time on the trail in the last 5 birding days. Lud contacted me when the thrush and warbler resurfaced after a long absence. Unfortunately, he couldn't do the trip until today so I was desperately hoping that my recent successes would continue for him. Alas, that wasn't the case. If not for bad luck, he'd have no luck at all.
Just before leaving this morning (after I saw some bad advice posted to the local list advocating a delayed start), I made my own post advising folks to go early to maximize their chances for success. I should have followed my own advice. I left home at 6:15am to meet Lud in Madera and after a fairly brisk hike in the morning chill we arrived in the upper section of the Old Baldy Trail at 8:35am. Too late! Crescent-chested Warbler had been seen at 8:00am.
Aztec Thrush is a nemesis bird for Lud so he decided that he wanted to concentrate on that species. I'd planned to split up and look for the warbler while he waited for the thrush to show, but in the end I deferred to his wishes and we both stayed. As it turned out, that was a mistake. When the warbler resurfaced around 11:00am, we learned about it too late and by the time we reached its location the bird had disappeared.
The 11:00am sighting was where most recent sightings have occurred -- at the old "Aztec Thrush Ravine" (this is the location described in the January 11 Tucson RBA). Apparently, the bird was in the area for some 20 minutes (with Bridled Titmice and Bushtits) and easily seen as it foraged trailside and on the ground. The earlier sighting was a little lower down canyon (closer to the "new" thrush location) and only lasted a minute or so.
The "new" thrush location (that I described in Saturday's journal) was alive with activity until 9:00am. Loads of AMERICAN ROBINS (50+) and plenty of HERMIT THRUSHES were feeding on Madrone berries (about 6 trees with decent fruit in the area). Although it was a beautiful, sunny morning, a cold wind was blowing the entire time we were in the canyon which made detecting movement in the trees very difficult.
I placed a marker that defines the start of this area. Just before making the right turn that leads into the relatively flat, sandy colored section (see Sat above), there's a very large rock (6+ feet high) on the left side of the trail. This is the only such rock in the area on the left side of the trail. I placed a 4 foot log at the base of this rock and piled some rocks on top of it. As I mentioned, this straight stretch of trail ends with a sharp left and is only 100+ yards long. You'll know you are in the correct area if you look down the slope to your left -- about midway along the straight section, there's a leaky water pipe about 30 feet away (flowing strongly today). Several species were coming in to drink.
I'm now officially done with these bloody birds for a while. Good luck if you go.
Starting in a day or so, I'll be traveling for most (if not all) of the remainder of January. Updates may be daily, sporadic, or non existent until I return. Depends on how much fun I'm having.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
A little later than I had hoped, I finally got my winter break underway today. Although I had blocked out this period some time ago, Aztec Thrush and Crescent-chested Warbler threatened to put a stop to that. However, I put my foot down with a firm hand. As I get older, I realize that I've got to get these trips done while I'm still mobile! I had identified Texas as my destination but I was still undecided as late as yesterday. A couple of years ago at this time of year I spent a week on the San Luis Obispo coast and I seriously considered a return visit. However, I'll be in California for almost the entire month of March and that's definitely enough California for me for one year. Decision made, I pointed the blue Trogon east this morning and headed to Texas. It took some will power to drive past Willcox pond without stopping but I had a long way to go.
I plan to spend 3 or 4 days in the valley then work my way up the coast to destinations as yet undecided. My objectives for this trip are very simple. There aren't any lifers to look for so I'll just enjoy a change of scenery and birds. Although I've birded in Texas in seven different years since the early 90s, I haven't been here since I have owned a camera so I hope to be able to photograph a bunch of new species.
I don't have any birds for you today -- I put 750 miles behind me (overnight in Junction, TX) and recorded exactly 11 species. Interstate 10 isn't good habitat on a good day and today was far from a good day! New Mexico was cloudy and windy. The wind was enhanced with rain and poor visibility east of El Paso. Freezing rain kicked in around Van Horn -- I saw a sign that read 31 degrees and thought "that can't be right" just as the windshield started icing over. The mid afternoon temperature in Fort Stockton was only 35 degrees. Definitely not a fun ride.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Today I continued my journey to Mission in the Rio Grande Valley where I'll be based through at least Monday. Even though I still had some 400 miles to drive, I had planned to linger in the Hill Country for a while this morning. However, widespread heavy overcast blanketed the area and I decided to get on the road immediately. The overcast stayed with me all day and is forecast to continue over the weekend. A light annoying drizzle (the kind that you can't set the wipers to adequately deal with) lasted until Laredo. Roadside raptors were the only obvious birds -- many KESTRELS and RED-TAILED HAWKS, a few RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS; BLACK-VULTURES in the Hill Country and valley; and increasing numbers of CRESTED CARACARAS as I traveled south (starting on I-35 after I left the Hill Country).
After a dismal drive to Laredo, I finally escaped the traffic and made my first stop (and main birding for the day) in San Ygnacio. Despite the depressing weather, a few enjoyable hours along the river at the end of Washington Street were very productive and I was able to find a number of common species. This area is now "protected" (but not from one moron with an ATV) and is now called San Ygnacio Bird Sanctuary. There's a fair amount of weedy habitat and some cane here with trails and feeders. I was easily able to see the expected birds such as PLAIN CHACHALACA (~6), WHITE-TIPPED DOVE (common), GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKER, GREAT KISKADEE (~4), many GREEN JAYS; CLAY-COLORED and a few OLIVE SPARROWS (including this bold as brass individual at my feet); and a beautiful AUDUBON'S ORIOLE. The light was awful for photography but I managed a few usable images.
Like Greater Pewee, the Kiskadee vocalizations are at first endearing but soon turn into an annoyance (at least to me as I listened to unfamiliar sounds that I need to quickly re-learn). In the more like home category, INCA DOVES and EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES were both common, especially the former. CARDINALS were easily in double figures and I saw a few PYRRHULOXIAS. Both cormorants were back and forth along the river as boats disturbed them. It doesn't take much to piss off a BELTED KINGFISHER whether you're a Mexican or a Gringo. GREAT EGRETS and CATTLE EGRETS didn't seem bothered by the boats.
My only other stop was a little further south on highway 83 in Zapata where I was disappointed (to put it mildly); disgusted would be a better word. I had read about improvements to the habitat in the City Park but what I mostly found was trash. Other than GREEN JAYS, I saw very few birds. I'd seen White-collared Seedeaters in San Ygnacio and Zapata before but had no success today.
The journey south to Mission in Friday night traffic wasn't much fun (oh for a Roma and Rio Grande City bypass!). Roadside birds included a few HARRIS HAWKS and many CRESTED CARACARAS, including one group of 12 working a roadkill.51 species recorded:
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Today I spent the entire day (8:00am to 6:00pm) at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, my first visit since the major changes that occurred some years ago.
<soapbox>Warning - if you are a Texan, this may offend you (but it wouldn't be me if I wasn't offending somebody, now would it?). Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and a number of other birding locations throughout the valley are now part of the "World Birding Center" (WBC). Judging by what has been achieved, I have to infer that this is a very well funded organization. The concept, implementation, staffing, publicity (on the ground in the valley and on the internet) are all excellent; far better than anything I've seen elsewhere in my travels throughout the US. Okay, so there must be a "but". Actually, the only aspect that I have a problem with is the name which, even by Texas standards, is way over the top. The guy that came up with "World Birding Center" has certainly got a set of brass ones. There are so many levels between where this is and "World". Why not RGV Birding Center, South Texas BC, Texas BC or even International BC since Mexico adjoins it. Anything but World. C'mon now people. Talk about a serious superiority complex.</soapbox>
Name complaints aside, my Bentsen experience today was excellent. I remember reading all the objections and tales of doom when the park was closed to vehicles, particularly campers. However, common sense mandates that the absence of crowds of people, radios, dogs and the like make for a far better birding experience. Sure, there's plenty of walking involved but the tram shuttle service certainly alleviates that for those who can't get about easily on foot. The visitor center (bookstore, cafe, gardens, etc.) is a good focal point for information and taking a break. Multiple feeding stations in the park more than make up for the lack of feeders previously provided by campers -- and the birds sure don't care who's feeding them.
I didn't have any objectives other than photographing the common valley birds and I spent large amounts of my time in a small number of locations. Consequently, my day list is not commensurate with the number of hours expended. The only rarity present (that I am aware of) was Tropical Parula (seen by a few people today). I didn't look for the bird (I have seen it before in Texas). My prey was much simpler and I stuck with my plan, shot lots of images and had a very enjoyable day, It makes a pleasant change for me to only be looking for low hanging fruit. If there was a downside it was the weather. Actually, I liked the cool conditions. I just didn't like the absolutely crappy light that went along with it and lasted nearly all day, but at least it didn't rain and it wasn't windy. Heavy overcast prevailed until mid afternoon when a few sun breaks occurred. Photography was difficult to say the least and I wasn't very happy with any of the images that I obtained.
PLAIN CHACHALACA (image #2) was the most cooperative species but they were in a very dark place as were WHITE-TIPPED DOVE, GREEN JAY and ALTAMIRA ORIOLE. [Plain Chachalaca could legitimately have been called "big galoop".] I spent an inordinate amount of time chasing around after BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, BLACK-CRESTED TITMOUSE and BLUE-HEADED VIREO without much success -- add constant movement to bad light and it's a losing proposition. You'll notice that all today's images have a flat look and lack "pizzazz" for want of a better word. Some "real" photographers that I saw were using flash.
Just outside the park proper, the light was a little better for this TRICOLORED HERON but I couldn't get close. It's always something. I also found a GREEN KINGFISHER in the same location but a photo on a rusty pipe doesn't do the bird justice.
I didn't visit the hawk tower and the only raptors that I saw were COOPER'S HAWK, immature GRAY HAWK and a fly-over WHITE-TAILED HAWK. Apart from many ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, I saw a few YELLOW-RUMPED and just one BLACK-AND-WHITE. Hybrid Altamira x Hooded Orioles" (locally called "smudgies") were interesting.48 species recorded:
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Today I spent most of the day (8:30am-3:00pm) at Estero Llano Grande State Park. This wetland area (near the river south of Weslaco) is part of the WBC and while it's not on the same scale as Bentsen, it offers a completely different environment. The state park is relatively compact and the trails around the ponds are easy to negotiate. Although I spent almost 7 hours here, most of that time was on photography. From a birding standpoint, anyone with a limited time budget could easily bird the area in a few hours and it would definitely be time well spent. I finished the day with a couple of hours at Anzalduas County Park near Mission. It was another relatively cool and very cloudy day with just a little sun late in the afternoon. Very pleasant but once again lousy for photography.
LEAST GREBES were easy to see and quite confiding. I saw about 10 in three separate ponds; most were at Alligator Pond which was the best location that I checked. I stayed at Alligator Pond (none seen) for 4 hours enjoying the comings and goings of several species. In addition to the grebes, a female RINGED KINGFISHER (quite monstrous looking when you don't see them on a regular basis), a male GREEN KINGFISHER and a female GREEN KINGFISHER provided entertainment. Not to be outdone, a BELTED KINGFISHER briefly checked in. This was only my second three kingfisher day (something that is probably easy to achieve if you bird regularly in Texas). Compared to the "scared of its own shadow" Belted (which took me 5 years to get a usable image), Ringed was very tolerant if not cooperative in terms of pose (damn the crappy light though). In my experience, Green has always been fairly tolerant and often allows close approach.
I also enjoyed the antics of several ANHINGAS (female, male #1, male #2) sharing the pond with DOUBLE-CRESTED and NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS; and a bunch of SNOWY EGRETS (including the nicely posed individual pictured here). A couple of PIED-BILLED GREBES seemed like giants compared to the delightful little LEAST GREBES that I rarely get to see (5+ present). COMMON MOORHENS were as common as their name implies. Four or five raucous GREAT KISKADEES tested my tolerance as they tried to outdo each other. Half an hour of back and forth kis-ka-dee calls drove me bonkers. Apart from TURKEY VULTURES, raptors were not conspicuous at the pond. A juvenile COOPER'S HAWK made one pass and a WHITE-TAILED KITE hovered in the distance.
The appropriately named Grebe pond had Least and Pied-billed along with a little-too-distant-for-my-lens LITTLE BLUE HERON.
Although I didn't see any unusual species, a few PURPLE MARTINS seemed a little on the early side for the valley and are probably noteworthy. I'm not sure how unusual a flyover CASPIAN TERN is at this location. A male VERMILION FLYCATCHER, a chattering VERDIN and a fly-by CURVE-BILLED THRASHER provided a little taste of home.
Among the other species in the state park from a total of 58 that I recorded were BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, a smattering of ducks including BLUE-WINGED TEAL; SORA, a few BLACK-NECKED STILTS, SPOTTED & LEAST SANDPIPERS, COMMON GROUND-DOVE, EASTERN PHOEBE, numerous CAVE SWALLOWS, AMERICAN PIPIT, MARSH WREN, LONG-BILLED THRASHER, BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, BLACK-CRESTED TITMOUSE, ORANGE-CROWNED & BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS, many SAVANNAH and a few LINCOLN'S SPARROWS.
The light at Anzalduas in late afternoon was diabolical and I wasn't able to add to my photo tally for the day. I recorded 32 species; 6 not seen at Estero Llano Grande included BLACK VULTURE, LONG-BILLED CURLEW, NORTHERN BEARDLESS TYRANNULET, BLUE-HEADED VIREO and WESTERN MEADOWLARK.72 species recorded:
Monday, January 28, 2008
Today I headed upriver to Salineņo to work on a few final photo targets before departing the valley and moving to the coast tomorrow.. Although early conditions continued quite poor for photography (very foggy and drizzly when I left Mission), the sun finally broke through around noon (first time that I've seen the sun for more than a brief moment since I arrived in the valley). The temperature climbed to 85 degrees in the afternoon and it became quite windy. I spent most of my time at the feeders in the RV park down by the river; then made a short visits to nearby Falcon State Park and Anzalduas County Park back in the lower valley.
Activity at the feeders was frenzied early in the morning then tailed off towards midday. However, there was always something going on. Highlight was a CLAY-COLORED THRUSH that made a couple of brief appearances at 10:30am and again at noon. Here's another image at a feeder (especially for the lady I met who looked at me as though I was from Mars when I told her that this species came to feeders). Apparently, the bird first showed up late in the day yesterday. I've only seen this species a few times so it was certainly a treat. As you can see, they are nothing to write home about plumage-wise and won't win any beauty prizes like Rufous-backed!.
ALTAMIRA ORIOLES were extremely common and several were always in view. A couple of AUDUBON'S ORIOLES were far less frequent visitors and much harder to photograph (image #2 at a feeder). A single HOODED ORIOLE came by occasionally. Throw in a bunch of GREAT KISKADEES scarfing peanut butter, the omnipresent GREEN JAYS and CARDINALS and you've got quite a kaleidoscope of color.
LONG-BILLED THRASHER was a skulker for much of the morning but I finally caught one in a weak moment. BLACK-CRESTED TITMOUSE was in and out like a flash regularly and I eventually caught one that paused for a millisecond too long.
While GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKER is just as raucous as the similar looking Gila, they are definitely more reticent and I had trouble catching one in the open.
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS in various plumages were also common feeder visitors (easily double figures). Five species of doves stopped by over the course of the morning.
Birds down by the river included GRAY HAWK and RINGED KINGFISHER. Another birder saw Red-billed Pigeon.
I stopped at Falcon State Park just long enough to eat lunch. It was pretty warm and bird activity was low (as was my diligence so I only picked up the big stuff!). Species here included OSPREY, ROADRUNNER, HARRIS'S HAWK and CRESTED CARACARA.
The wind was blowing hard at Anzalduas so I just cruised through and headed for home. I saw LEAST GREBES and LONG-BILLED CURLEWS but very little else.61 species recorded:
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Today was pretty much a wasted day -- every trip seems to have at least one. In addition to a fair amount of travel (from Mission in the valley to the central coast near Rockport), I also made unproductive visits to Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville and Laguna Atascosa NWR on the lower coast. Another cloudy morning followed by record high temperature (90) as I traveled north on highway 77; then quite windy on the coast in late afternoon. I don't really care for Sabal Palm Grove or Laguna Atascosa and I'm not really sure why I decided to visit these locations (other than the fact that they were generally on the way). In retrospect, I wish that I had made a beeline for the Rockport area which would have added at least a half day of coastal birding .
On the way to the sanctuary, I saw a distant and backlit kingbird that I thought would most likely turn out to be Couch's. However, as I maneuvered into a better viewing position, the familiar calls of WESTERN KINGBIRD dashed my hopes. Ironically, "A Birder's Guide to the Texas Coast" shows Western as casual in early January, absent from mid January to mid March becoming uncommon after that. Couch's is shown as uncommon in January.
I didn't spent much time at the sanctuary and saw only the common feeder moochers including PLAIN CHACHALACA, WHITE-TIPPED DOVE, GREEN JAY and BLACK-CRESTED TITMOUSE. I asked about Buff-bellied Hummingbird and didn't get much input from a disinterested volunteer "no I haven't seen any around here". Perhaps the empty hummingbird feeders had something to do with that.
Laguna Atascosa refuge is a little off the beaten path and the road is very bumpy in places making for a very unpleasant drive out to the coast. It was extremely windy here and I didn't see much out on the water which certainly lived up to its name (atascosa = muddy). I beat a hasty retreat ruing my decision to come here.
[Here's a tip -- study local birding discussion groups on the web before making a trip. This will give you an excellent picture of where the locals go birding. For example, in SE Arizona there are very few reports from Ramsey Canyon and Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary. This is a big red flag (famous name places but most locals never go there, so why should you?). I knew that Laguna Atascosa fell into this category; I just need to follow my own advice.]
A fast drive north on highway 77 produced plenty of raptors. Most were TURKEY VULTURES with a few scattered BLACK VULTURES, HARRIS'S & RED-TAILED HAWKS and CRESTED CARACARAS. The temperature really soared here; in fact it was a record breaking day in Jim Wells County (west of Kingsville).
I arrived in Ingleside (about 15 miles south of Rockport on the central coast) in late afternoon to find plenty of sunshine and very windy conditions. Despite the wind, a few hours working the marshy habitat as far as Aransas Pass produced a fair number of common coastal species. LAUGHING GULL was probably the most conspicuous species but GREAT & SNOWY EGRETS weren't far behind. I also saw COMMON LOON, both PELICANS, LITTLE BLUE HERON, a few WHITE IBISES, MOTTLED DUCK, LONG-BILLED CURLEW, SPOTTED SANDPIPER, WILLET, CASPIAN & FORSTER'S TERNS, BELTED KINGFISHER and LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE.51 species recorded:
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
I spent most of the day in the Rockport-Fulton Live Oak Peninsula area with a brief trip over the causeway to Lamar Peninsula. My focus was on finding and photographing the larger waterbirds, an endeavor in which I enjoyed some success. I didn't look for landbirds. Although the weather was once again far from ideal for photography, a reversal compared to recent days helped a little. The day began sunny (hurrah, light), cold and windy (boo); heavy clouds developed as the morning progressed and the light was dismal by mid afternoon; finally, it rained! Other than that, perfect.
I began at Oystercatcher Point, a location that I checked several times during the day (sadly, no Oystercatchers). This a small, gravely area at the (southeast ) base of the LBJ causeway that runs between Rockport-Fulton and the Lamar Peninsula. Gulls and shorebirds were numerous and it's possible to get quite close to them, presumably due to the high human activity which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because the birds are used to people. A curse because they flush when dogs are around. Nevertheless, I took advantage of the early morning light to shoot a few images when fewer people were around.
LAUGHING GULLS were very common. Most were sub-adults or adults in winter plumage; only a few approached breeding plumage as the pictured bird. RUDDY TURNSTONE and SEMIPALMATED PLOVER were the most common shorebirds. BROWN PELICAN was another common species, some already in breeding plumage. Later in the day was busier with people and the light was awful as evidenced by this image of a winter plumaged PIPING PLOVER (superficially like a Snowy Plover but with orange legs). Most of my sightings have been of winter plumaged birds with only one seen in breeding plumage when they are distinctive.
Other species from a total of 30 at this location (and/or across the road on the west side of the causeway) included COMMON LOON, WHITE PELICAN, WHITE IBIS, WILLET, my only CINNAMON TEAL of the trip, REDHEAD (very common here and everywhere along the coast), OSPREY, BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, LEAST SANDPIPER, several CASPIAN & one FORSTER'S TERN, BELTED KINGFISHER, AMERICAN PIPIT and SAVANNAH SPARROW.
Across the bay on the north side of the causeway, in the community of Holiday Beach and at Lamar Beach, I found a few additional species including an immature WHITE-FACED IBIS that I tried to make into a Glossy that would have been a lifer (one day). Other species included BLACK VULTURE, RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (screaming away at something); PINTAIL, COMMON GOLDENEYE, BUFFLEHEAD, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, SPOTTED SANDPIPER; and RING-BILLED & AMERICAN HERRING GULLS in addition to the abundant LAUGHING GULLS.
I crossed back over the causeway and worked along Fulton Beach Road where I saw plenty of the same common coastal species and added a few more. Among them were AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (the bird on the right is saying "do you shit here often"), LONG-BILLED CURLEW and a handful of BONAPARTE'S GULLS.
Down the road in Rockport came the only image I managed of a WHITE IBIS. Ironically, in addition to being a really poor "photo first" image, it was a brown immature just starting to get some white. I added a few more species in Little Bay including LEAST GREBE, MARBLED GODWIT and MOTTLED DUCK (very like a Mexican Mallard but plainer faced and with a black area on the gape). What a stunner -- I can't say that I've paid much attention to this species in the past (I wonder why?).
Next, I worked the Cape Valero subdivision west of Rockport. This is an extensive area of marshes and shallow ponds with (as yet) very little development; however, all birding is from the road. I saw WHITE IBIS and ROSEATE SPOONBILL, both too far away for a photo and stumbled into a close TRICOLORED HERON at the roadside. I fluked a shot as the bird took off (I don't know who was more surprised, me or the bird!). Plenty of birds in this area battling the increasing wind including more TRICOLORED and two LITTLE BLUE HERONS, many GREAT & SNOWY EGRETS, BLUE-WINGED TEAL, CANVASBACK, LESSER SCAUP; LONG & SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS (thankfully, both species were calling); GREATER YELLOWLEGS, WILLET, LEAST SANDPIPER, FORSTER'S TERN, the only MOCKINGBIRD that I saw all day (amazing for the normally abundant state bird!); LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT and the only definite (i.e. singing) EASTERN MEADOWLARK of the trip.
My next stop was Port Bay Club Road where the wind was now a serious problem. More raptors in the grassland here than I saw elsewhere including both VULTURES, CRESTED CARACARA, KESTREL, OSPREY and NORTHERN HARRIER. Scrubby habitat yielded LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER, CARDINAL and PYRRHULOXIA. I saw more GREAT and SNOWY EGRETS, WHITE IBIS, TRICOLORED and LITTLE BLUES but Reddish Egret still eluded me.
I headed west towards Bayside and finally caught up with a REDDISH EGRET in the extensive marshy ponds that line both sides of F-M 136. I got the full dancing display but the experience was diminished by windy conditions and being in fear of my life from big trucks whizzing by at high speed. Although there are a few pull-offs, this is a dangerous area to bird!
I was still lacking Oystercatcher and Roseate Spoonbill photo opportunities. I checked Oystercatcher Point for a final time then I worked along Fulton Beach Road again. I'd now pretty well kissed of the Oystercatcher until tomorrow but was still hopeful of a Spoonbill. Traffic was much lighter in the late afternoon and the birding was easier, however, the light was now diabolical ahead of the rain. Eventually, I came across a colorful and cooperative ROSEATE SPOONBILL that was relatively close compared to earlier sightings. Eureka.
As darkness fell and the rain began, BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK was my final species of the day. Lots of them were milling around a pond and sitting on the roof of a building on Traylor Street in Rockport.84 species recorded:
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Today I had what I thought would be a very enjoyable day mapped out before beginning the long drive home. I intended to take the ferry to Port Aransas then work my way south down North Padre Island then back west to the mainland to bird several Corpus Christi locations. Sadly, it was foggy and very wet this morning and the coastal rain was forecast to increase throughout the day. Reluctantly, I decided to start my journey home and do the whole drive in one shot.
As I worked my way inland, I broke out of the rain and encountered sunshine after 100 miles or so. Sunshine, great! Not so fast said mother nature and it was then that some serious wind kicked in (malditos frijoles refritos). I'm not just talking a bothersome wind, I'm talking a constant and dangerous wind that stayed with me for over 400 miles. Part of I-10 between Kerrville and Junction was closed due to smoke from a fire, fanned by the wind. It was amusing to see people stopped at the side of the road looking at maps (me included) trying to figure out how to get where they were going without the interstate. [I bet there are folks who live in LA who can't find their way to work when the Freeway is closed!]
I managed to cover 1025 miles from Ingleside to Sierra Vista (including detours) in 17.5 hours despite some very difficult driving conditions. Needless to say, roadside birds were few and far between and they certainly weren't my priority. Early species away from the immediate coast as the rain diminished were CATTLE EGRET, KESTREL, WHITE-FACED IBIS, RING-BILLED GULL and WESTERN MEADOWLARK. As I progressed northeast (but still south of the Hill Country), CRESTED CARACARAS became quite noticeable. They along with TURKEY and BLACK VULTURES were being blown every which way. One stretch of road with a grassy median had at least 100 KILLDEER.
Not the ending to the trip that I had planned. However, despite a week of very poor conditions for photography, I managed to add a number of species to my photo list and very much enjoyed the change of environment. Some people don't like the culture in the Rio Grande Valley. However, I like it -- Mexico comes to you without having to cross the border.19 species recorded:
This log is in chronological order and the most recent entries
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The last update was on Thursday, January 31, 2008
Jan. Species Seen
Journal - January, 2008
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