Total ABA Species Recorded During 2010 - 731

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Viera Wetlands

First phone call last night told me that the flight crew for my early Sunday flight was not going to make it to Norfolk in time. So I'd miss my flight from Charlotte to Orlando. They rescheduled me and I was ready to get two more hours of sleep before going to the airport when the second phone call came telling me that it was possible that something would be arranged and that the flight might take off as scheduled and that I should be there at the early time. But I should check with the computer in the morning to get the latest info, which I did and it told me that the flight was on time. So since I was up, I showered, dressed, cleaned two more inches of snow off the car, and drove to the airport. You guessed it! My flight was listed to depart three hours late. I spent the time reading the newspaper. USAir did put me in first class for the Charlotte to Orlando flight which helped since I used that time to update my records. In Orlando I got my cheap rental car, it has no cruise control, and drove to Melbourne and the Viera Wetlands. I had envisioned a vast wetlands with nobody around and I would have to meticulously search the impoundment for a secretive bird. It wasn't that way. Because it was Sunday and because the Space Coast Birding Festival was happening, there were buckets of people many of whom had their scopes and camera lenses trained on a particular spot in the water. There it was! The male Masked Duck (photo). It couldn't have been easier. So looking for birders who were looking at the bird proved to be the search technique of choice here. Yes, it would have been cool to have struggled and found it myself, but... I spent another hour moving slowly around the impoundments. There were many waders, thousands of coots, and hundreds of gallinules, Tree Swallows, American Robins, and the first Wood Storks of the year (photo). The big black thing lying down is not a bird, but evolutionists say it is a relative.  I got on the road south after picking up a senior coffee for lubrication. On the way to Homestead where I'll stay for three nights with Audrey and Bobby, I passed the football stadium where the crowd was assembling for the Pro Bowl. Fortunately I was able to skirt the crowd. The species total is now 272.
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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Itinerary departure - Good or Bad?

Tomorrow I fly to Florida for a little bird chasing with my good friend Audrey Whitlock.  I'll fly into Orlando and drive to Melbourne for a try at the Masked Duck that's been at the Viera Wetlands.  I would have gotten a nice late morning start to my birding, but the snow storm inflicted on Norfolk today has meant a delay in my early departure tomorrow.  All part of the Great Adventure.  The La Sagra's Flycatcher that's been on Key Biscayne is the other target.  I realize that this bird chase is a departure from my well thought out itinerary, but my car tragedy has apparently tilted me toward a bit of reckless abandon.  We'll have to see how it works out.  Of course I'll come back with a bushel basket full of new birds.  But most all of those will be species we'll pick up in April on our "scheduled" Florida run.  It is true that Short-tailed Hawk is easier in winter than spring, and it has been true that Flamingos have been easier in winter.  Apparently the latter is not true this winter, but Audrey and I will give it a go at Snake Bite (Bight).  Maybe we'll stumble onto a Key West Quail-Dove like the one that was along the trail a couple of decades ago.  Anyway, I'll post from Florida.  So if you stay tuned, you'll find out how it goes.  BTW I apologize for no posting yesterday.  That's right!  There's nothing wrong with your computer; there simply was no Bob's Birds for Jan 29.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

How did we do in Texas?

A little analysis of our Texas trip.  We actually spent less than I had budgeted, which was nice.  That doesn't mean I'll stop trying to keep down the cost on the next leg.  If I don't keep a lid on costs, I may be sitting on the sidelines during the last half of the year because the piggy bank is empty.  The sixteen days cost about $800 for the two of us.  That doesn't include meals which we each handled on our own probably at about $15/day out of pocket.  It's mainly gas and overnights.  The gas was kept low because we used a Prius and the overnights were low because friends helped out by putting us up for six of those nights.  We also camped for two nights at a state park for $10 per night.  It surprised me how expensive some of the commercial campgrounds are even without hookups.  The wear and tear on the car is not figured in, although in this particular case that's probably irrelevant following the accident in Norfolk.  So we did it for about $40/day per person including food which had to be consumed no matter where we were.
The evening meals although not lavish by any means gave us a chance to sample a bit of the local flavor, both food and people.  We didn't ever ask somebody for the "best restaurant in town,"  but managed to find an interesting place most nights.  A lot of the food in Texas is of the Tex/Mex variety which I enjoy.  But after a few nights of the same type of meal, there's a hunger for variety which is a little hard to come by.  Every once in a while we got a surprise like the sushi restaurant we fell into.
With Arizona coming up we'll probably not change the basic strategy except perhaps trying to camp a bit more (photo).  Camping is a big advantage, not only in cost, but in putting us out with the birds first thing in the morning.  The disadvantage is that you have to pack up and move the tent.  But John showed how it can be done even with a wet tent.  And it didn't seem to take a lot of time.
And how did we come out with the birds?  Very well, thank you!  The only bird we really missed was the Bare-throated Tiger-Heron and it seems to me that during our time in the Valley the bird was never reliably seen.  Then there's the Amazon Kingfisher that appeared in Laredo a couple of days after we left.  But that's the way birding is.  It would have been nice, but...  This was just not the super vagrant year.  And birds like the Red-billed Pigeon and Muscovy Duck which hadn't been reported for over a month are more easily seen later in the year.  We're returning to Texas in May for the breeders and a trip to West Texas so we've got an excellent chance for those birds and any others that may appear.  And after all, in addition to the commonly seen South Texas endemics, we did see Hook-billed Kite, Northern Jacana, Tropical Parula, Clay-colored Thrush, and White-collared Seedeater plus good wintering birds like Mountain Plover, Sprague's Pipit, and LeConte's Sparrow that will save looking for them in the midwest during the breeding season.  So I give us a high grade.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thanks and Nothing New

Thanks to all who wished me well after the car incident.  I too am glad there were no injuries to anyone.  Most of the day was spent making arrangements to have the car repaired.  That meant calls to the insurance company, car repair places, and a towing company.  The bashed Prius left our driveway this afternoon for its stint in the repair shop.  I have nothing but good things to say about the way USAA assisted me in the process.  After some errand running, I stopped by the Bay where Andrew Baldelli was scanning for birds along with a couple of out-of-town birders looking for the King Eider.  We didn't find it, so I ended the day with no new year birds.  I don't really call it being skunked.  The image included here is of a Peregrine Falcon on the gate to the Cobb Island facility of The Nature Conservancy on Virginia's Eastern Shore taken in the fog a couple of years ago.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I Stopped, He didn't!!

My beautiful new blue Prius survived the 5500 mile trip to Texas and back, but couldn't make it around Norfolk safely. I had stopped behind a Greyhound bus which had stopped at the railroad track on Granby Street. In my rearview mirror I could see the stepvan behind me wasn't going to stop. He wasn't even thinking about it. I was screaming inside my car, I was yelling, I was crying, but it all did no good. Wham! Kabam! I was a vehicular sandwich, crunched both front and back. I was civil to the stepvan driver, although it took all my reserves to pull that off. The bus driver was very nice and helpful. We exchanged all the requisite details and called the police. I didn't want to move the vehicles until the police came, but they informed the bus driver it would be better and safer to move the car and stepvan into the nearby parking lot. They would be there shortly. It was a little longer than that, but eventually they came and took all the same information again. They were very nice and the officer in charge was very sympathetic toward my tragedy. After the formalities, I slowly drove the car home. The rear tire rubbed the wheel well because of the damage. It's now sitting in the driveway where it will be until I can get someone to fix it. The insurance people took care of the arrangements over the phone and I'll be picking up a rental car to tide me over. Ah yes! Just another chapter in the great adventure.
Birds? David Hughes and I did the impoundment survey this morning at Back Bay NWR, but we couldn't get either a bittern or a rail to make themselves known to us. However, after the survey, we walked over to the beach where David spotted a Razorbill. It eventually flew, landing near a second Razorbill. Although there were few scoters flying, a group of five male Black Scoters were scoped out, adding two new species for the day. Species total is now 270.
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Birding in Norfolk

It was nice to be home with a cup of coffee and a morning paper....and a big list of things to do. I worked my way through the emails, the snail mail, paid the bills, put away the trip stuff, lightly cleaned out the car, and finally took a jaunt up to Ocean View on the Chesapeake Bay in Norfolk. It was a gorgeous afternoon after being a really ugly morning with heavy rain and high winds. Plenty of people walking dogs on the beach. There were groups of Lesser Scaup, Red-breasted Mergansers, Buffleheads, and a few Surf Scoters. The female King Eider found by Andrew Baldelli didn't appear, but several Horned Grebes kept me from being skunked.
Tomorrow I'll help David Hughes with a survey at Back Bay NWR and hope we chance on an American Bittern. The species list is now 268.
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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Back Home in Virginia

Tonight with a great sense of relief and satisfaction I drove into our driveway after 5500 miles and 14 states and 267 birds in 16 days.  This morning in Indianapolis IN my sister Judy fixed us a great breakfast.  She likes to cook just as our mom did.  Last night for dinner it was an old family favorite, turkey tetrazinni, which we enjoyed.  The hospitality was great, but at about 7am this morning we hit the road and after nine hours, I dropped John off in Staunton, VA.  It took another three plus hours for me to reach Norfolk where Joyce was waiting with some homemade soup.  Yumm.
The only new bird added to the list today was Common Raven, Calvin Brennan's email name, which we spotted soaring as we came through Green Sulfur Springs WV (web photo).  It rained pretty much the whole way and the rain only stopped during the fog episodes.  Yes, fog again.
It's good to be home, but I've got plenty to do.  Our next major out-of-area trip is to Arizona.  In the meantime I'll do some local birding in between the many local errands and appointments needed to get ready to go again.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Greater Prairie Chicken

Wishing away the fog didn't work. We got an early fogged start away from the motel in Newton, IL and were in place to begin the chicken watch by 6:30am, well before sunrise, if ever the sun could get through the fog. The harriers and Short-eared Owls were there again. Finally at 7:15 I spotted the chickens through the fog on a ridge some 300 yards away. I called John who had wandered away; he came back quickly to see his next life bird. From time to time the fog thinned and we could see the males strutting their stuff with their head quill feathers erect, their tails cocked, and their air sacs inflated. We could also hear them calling even at that distance. After quite a while, they stopped the strutting and started feeding. At that point five of them flew a little closer and we were able through the scopes to see details of their plumage. Our high count during the morning was 17 birds. I've posted a terrible picture (photo) that I shot in an ineffective attempt to capture the birds. They are there, but you may have to take my word for it.
We celebrated with a Hardee's breakfast using discount coupons Joyce had given me before I left. On through the fog to Indiana, the state where I grew up. We decided to stop at Turkey Run State Park for a little midwest birding. We recorded some firsts for the year such as Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Black-capped Chickadee. The park has a nice museum and nature center plus some well-stocked birdfeeders which we enjoyed. It was a nice outing and gave us a break from driving.
At our lunch stop a stretch limo pulled in and disgorged a dozen boys and a father. It was the birthday for one of the boys and more important they were St. Louis Cardinals fans. The birthday boy had a Pujols shirt on and I wished him and his team the best.
The rest of the drive to Indianapolis, where we will be staying with my sister Judy, went smoothly although the weather hardly changed.  Tomorrow we'll head for home and Virginia.  Our species total now stands at 266.
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Friday, January 22, 2010

A Tale of Two Tree Sparrows

More fog!  Gee whiz.  And the temp was only 37F.  Randy Korotev joined John and me for a morning of birding in the area of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.  Our target bird was the exotic Eurasion Tree Sparrow which was introduced into the St. Louis area along with other European birds sometime during the late 19th century by the local German community hoping to create an atmosphere like "back home."  The sparrow was the only one of that introduced group of birds that made it, but they haven't expanded a whole lot further than the area around St. Louis.  We tried several weedy areas before we heard a note that sounded like our House Sparrow.  Indeed there were two Eurasian Tree Sparrows perched atop a bush where a good look was had by all (web photo).  After the pressure for the big bird was off, we went to some areas near one of the lock and dams of the Mississippi River where we saw many Trumpeter Swans, one Mute Swan, Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, plenty of Bald Eagles on the ice, and a lot of Ring-billed Gulls.  Near the end of our stay a flock of Canada Geese flew over.  The flock contained one very obvious Cackling Goose.
Around noon we took Randy back to his house and thnaked him for his help and hospitality and headed for Illinois.  The area to which we were going was the Prairie Ridge conservation area near Newton, Illinois where they have one of the largest remaining groups of Greater Prairie Chickens.  I learned about the site from checking the Christmas Bird Count results over the past decade.  Last year the count recorded nearly a hundred chickens.  We arrived at the site and checked out the viewing area.  Almost immediately Short-eared Owls began popping up.  We tallied eight in all.  In addition there were several flocks of American Tree Sparrows (photo), which are not related to the Eurasian Tree Sparrows, and a couple of Lapland Longspurs flew overr giving their ticky-tik-tiu calls.  As expected for our late afternoon viewing, the chickens didn't show.  We drove to Newton and settled in at the River Park Motel.  Having a motel in Newton saved us the extra drive back to Effingham and makes an early start tomorrow a better possibility and enhances our chicken sighting chances.  Total number of species is now 262.Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Smith's Longspur

We spent last night in Greenville TX, arising early enough to get on the road an hour before sunrise.  We were headed to Stuttgart Arkansas.  Why Stuttgart?  In 1971 I made my first visit there with Gary Graves.  After picking him up in Little Rock, we drove to this huge World War II airfield near Stuttgart where we hunted for a special bird.  At that time it was a life bird for me.  Then three years ago Harry Armistead and I took our day off from searching for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Arkansas to visit the airfield, now spruced up to handle the hundreds of goose hunters that fly in and out during the hunting season.  And today John and I drove into the airfield, introduced ourselves to the day manager, signed in as a birder, and headed out to search the grassy areas for the target species, Smith's Longspur (net photo).  This is the only location in the US where I've seen this bird.  I have seen it each of the half dozen times I've been to Churchill, Manitoba, where it breeds.  But Stuttgart is a most convenient place to see them.  The manager told us the longspurs had been seen in the closest triangle of grass to the office.  I found that hard to believe since three years ago we had to walk all the way out to the furthest corner in order to find them.  However, we had taken barely a hundred steps when the first birds flew up, giving their rattling call as they flew.  The white wing patches of the males and their buffy tummies made the identification easy.  They circled us for a minute or two before heading a ways north, dropping back into the grass.  We ended up seeing 21 birds and we were back in the airport office in less than half and hour.  The Smith's Longspur was the sixth life bird for John on this trip.  With the early success we decided to press on to St. Louis,.  After a total day's drive of over 600 miles, we arrived about 7pm.  We're staying with Randy Korotev, a friend from my sabbatical year in Wisconsin in 1976-77.  Tomorrow we'll venture forth to look for the bird for which St. Louis is famous, the Eurasian Tree Sparrow.  The species total is now 254.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Harris's Sparrows

Fog.  The morning began with dense fog.  It wasn't at all obvious we'd be able to see any birds.  We drove back to the place near New Braunfels where the Harris's Sparrows were supposed to be.  What a difference a day makes.  Yesterday when we searched the road edges and hedgerows we couldn't find a single Harris's Sparrow.  Today we had over 30 at our first stop.  They were calling, a piu piu downslurred pair of notes.  The black bib was quite variable and the buffy face was striking.  There were a few White-crowned Sparrows there as well.  Harris's Sparrows are our largest sparrow, a bit bigger than Fox Sparrows.  They were the final bird we had to get in Texas.  Their winter range fits nicely into the center of the country, but their breeding range is at the edge of the tundra and I'm not planning to visit there.  So it was get it now or never, since they will have all headed north before we return to Texas in May.
We headed north to  Lake Whitney State Park where there is a seldom used airstrip.  The purpose for going there was to hunt longspurs along the grassys edges of the runways.  Although we walked the entire length of the two runways, we encountered no longspurs.  There were American Pipits and lots of sparrows including Field Sparrows, which we had hitherto not seen this year, and many more Harris's Sparrows.  Some of these birds were singing their plaintive two-note song, a song I had heard only on my many trips to Churchill, Manitoba, where they breed.
This blog was posted a little late because I had trouble with Google last night.  I tried another approach this morning which seems to have worked.  Total species so far 253.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Number 250 - Mountain Plover or should I say 69 Moutain Plovers!

This morning it was perfectly clear unlike the total fog-in yesterday.  However, the tent was still covered with dew and this was getaway day.  So...John folded up the tent inside the tent fly and put it all in the back seat for a later drying session.  We were on the road before sunrise and reached our first stop at Zapata quickly with relatively little traffic on the highway.  However, the result at the pond next to the library was the same as yesterday's - namely no seedeater.  So we drowned our sorrows in a mexican breakfast (huevos rancheros) and headed to our last hope for the seedeater in Laredo.  On the way we saw our only Chihuahuan Ravens of the trip.  The ravens go south during the winter.  The Laredo location for the seedeater is the Lamar-Bruni-Vergara Environmental Science Center, a relatively new project on the Rio Grande River.  We checked in, got a map, and headed for the river area.  We weren't having much luck until we ran into Prof, Jim Earhart from the local community college who is working on a project of finding an alternative to having all the shoreline vegetation removed by the US Border Patrol - an interesting challenge.  If he is not successful, the future of the seedeater at the Laredo site is limited.  He was not a birder, but knew a person, Penny Warren, who was.  We called her and she gave us directions to the best location.  Sure enough!  With a little work we popped up a bird in immature plumage and accomplished it before noon.  (web photo very similar to our bird)  We tried to get out of town, but the community college had just had a class change which trapped us for half an hour.  Eventually we were underway heading north toward San Antonio.  We had been given information on the location of some Mountain Plovers on a sod farm south of San Antonio in Frio County by Dwight Peake, the son of Dick Peake, who had helped us in Galveston a week earlier.  We found the location, and among the pipits and Horned Larks were 69 Mountain Plovers, a lifebird for John and number 250 for the year (web photo).  Back in the car and heading north, we visited a spot where Harris's Sparrows were known to occur.  We got there a little late in the day, so we decided to try again tomorrow and went to a nearby motel where we spread out the tent in our room to dry, cleaned up, and went to a German restaurant next door.  There is a large German population in central Texas.  In fact one of John's cousins lives nearby.  The species total is now 251.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Agony and Ecstasy

Last night after finishing the blog, I switched over to the Texas bird report only to discover that at Bentsen State Park, 3 Hook-billed Kites had flown over the exact spot where we had been standing five hours earlier.  And to further the agony, the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl appeared and put on a show.  Obviously we had to go back to Bentsen.  That's the way things are done.  So this morning after a Cheerios breakfast and a visit to the feeders here at Falcon SP where there was a Green-tailed Towhee (web photo) and some Northern Bobwhites, we hit the road with only a stop for my requisite cup of coffee.  At Bentsen we checked in and walked the road to the area where the owl had been seen.  I don't know whether you, dear readers, know what looking for a small owl is like, but take it from me, it's tedious but necessary if the owl is to be found.  So when the second tram rolled up, we took a break from the owl, jumped aboard, and rode to the hawk platform.  We had been there only ten minutes when two hawks appeared to our west.  After a couple of circles, it was clear it was a pair of Hook-billed Kites (web photo).  We watched them until they disappeared to the north with several people nearby madly fumbling with their cell phones in attempts to alert friends in other parts of the park.  We took the next tram back to the owl area and spent some more time carefully searching.  Admitting defeat (again, but temporarily!), we accepted our consolation prize of a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak
I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and we drove north to Zapata to look for the seedeaters.  We found the library and the nearby pond where they were supposed to be, but not for us.  We also went to San Ygnacio where they are also sometimes found, but it was very quiet.  So we stopped in Zapata for supper (fajitas, in case you're wondering), and returned to our campsite at Falcon State Park for another great night's sleep.  Tomorrow we'll try the seedeater spot in Laredo.  Species total now 246.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Western End of the Rio Grande Valley

Early this morning we trekked into Bentsen State Park in the dark to see if the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl would call. Since the temperature was 46F, it was not likely, and in fact did not happen. We heard Eastern Screech-Owl and Great Horned Owl, heard the birds of the park come to life, talked to several park walkers, and left at 7:45am. We drove west on US 83, stopping at a Denny's for breakfast, and proceeding on to the Roma Bluffs unit of the World Birding Center. It's an urban viewpoint overlooking the Rio Grande where some good birds have been seen. We did see a variety of riverine birds plus some passerines flying across the river. Nice spot. The riverside locale at Salineno was next, the highlight being a set of feeders that used to be maintained for many years up until recently. Three years ago another couple from Massachusetts took over the chore of tending the feeders and for that we are all appreciative. It is one of the easiest places to see Audubon's Oriole (photo). There were also Hooded and Altimira Orioles there too, and a Long-billed Thrasher that loved to bathe, seen here in an apparent mad dash to get away from something (photo). We also checked out the river edge viewing at Chapeno, slightly upriver from Salineno. The owner has built a nice tower that gives a great view up and down the river, something you need when looking for Muscovy Ducks and Red-billed Pigeons. Unfortunately for us at this time, neither of these birds has been seen by the locals in over a month. Next May when we return to Texas should be a better time for both species. We ended the day by going to Falcon State Park where we finally set up our tent. We will sleep there tonight. Tomorrow we'll bird a little around the park and go to Zapata to look for the seedeaters. Species total is now 241.
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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Good Birds, Bobcats, Snakes

Today we were back at Bentsen State Park near Mission TX, where we were hoping to stumble onto the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl reported earlier. We worked the trails carefully, but the owl was not to be ours. We did see again the Rose-throated Becard (photo), Altamira Oriole (photo), and Clay-colored Thrush (photo) plus many other birds. New birds for the day included Gray Hawk, Greater Roadrunner, Verdin, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Indigo Bunting. But the main attractions were the other critters like the two Bobcats, one of which I barely caught with my camera (photo) and the other got away. And like the Indigo Snake which looks like a giant Black Rat Snake, this individual being over six feet long.  And like the green iguanid hanging onto a mesquite tree. Of course there were also the Collared Peccaries that hung out around the feeders, including the one tiny piglet, but they didn't seem very wild.
In the afternoon we made a run to the La Sal del Ray tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR north of Edinburg TX. This is an area where Dorie Stolley, former Back Bay and Eastern Shore NWR biologist, did some field work before coming to Tidewater. We got a bit confused about where the entrances were, so we had very little time and didn't get the good view of the shorebirds we came to see. We did, however, see Lark Sparrows, Western Meadowlarks (a challenge to tell from Eastern in winter when not calling), Harris's Hawks, White-tailed Hawks, Crested Caracaras, and our first Pyrruloxia.
The total species list now stands at 237.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Big Lows and Big Highs

Today was a day of tremendous ups and downs. My day began much earlier than it should when I ejected my previous evening's meal. But recover I did and after a McDonald's breakfast, we went to Estero LLano Grande State Park, another very new but extremely rewarding bead in the necklace which is the World Birding Center. It's in Weslaco TX and has some woodland but is mainly impoundments and grass. We arrived in the fog and immediately got information on where the participants in their recent Christmas Count had found the 6 Le Conte's Sparrows. Yes, that same species! After getting our info, we headed out to the area and after a couple of hours of flushing Grasshopper, Savannah, Lincoln's, and Lark Sparrows we finally had our quarry pop up into a scraggly bush where we drank it in for several minutes, carefully noting the important field marks and making no mistake this time. We also had a flock of about 65 Red-crowned Parrots fly overhead somewhat later in the day than anticipated, but recorded nevertheless. We also met former Waynesboro resident Huck Hutchins who asked about YuLee Larner. He's volunteering at the State Park. While at the park we also had twittering Tropical Kingbirds, a Lesser Goldfinch, the cute Black-crested Titmouse (photo), and flushed a roosting Common Parauque. In the afternoon after my peanut butter and jelly sandwich we headed north to a spot that had been reported to have Mountain Plovers. We found the place, turned off the road, went 0.2 mile and got stuck (photo). After some calls to AAA, we discovered that no tow truck would help us since the truck might get stuck too. However, along came a nearby resident who had a towing business who helped get us out and ended up charging less than the amount originally agreed to. He told us he had towed another car a short time ago that contained birders searching for Mountain Plovers. He wanted to know what the bird looked like. When shown in a field guide, he wasn't too impressed. While waiting, we had Horned Larks which was new for the year, a small consolation prize. After we were back on the road, we drove to Port Isabel and back to Brownsville. Along the way we saw no new species. Overnight in Brownsville. Species total now 230.
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Thursday, January 14, 2010

South Texas

You may not have heard of Quinta Mazatlan. I hadn't until this trip. It's a 30's mansion and property that the city of McAllen has acquired and turned into an environmental education center. They have extensive plantings that have unfortunately been hit hard by the recent freeze. It is a great place to bird. We went there today in part because we had heard there was a Tropical Parula on the grounds. We found it at some oranges they had put out for the birds. We also found a couple of Black-and-white Warblers and Curve-billed Thrashers which were new for the year. There were many Plain Chachalacas and of course Great Kiskadees (photo).
After a late breakfast at IHop, we went east to Santa Ana NWR. Over forty years ago I visited the refuge for the first time and had many lifers, but I hadn't been there for years. In the old days you could drive in, but now you park in a lot at the entrance and walk the refuge which is what we did. I checked at the office to see if Carolyn Stenberg was around. She and her husband were volunteers at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR and she went on several of my Fisherman Island surveys. She wasn't, but she called me later to wish us well on our Big Year. At Santa Ana we found a pair of Green Kingfishers and some new shorebirds (Solitary Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Stilt Sandpipers, and Long-billed Dowitchers) and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow among the Cave Swallows. We also saw many Least Grebes (photo).
Returning to McAllen we stopped again at Quinta Mazatlan where the young naturalist showed us an Eastern Screech-Owl in a hole in a dead palm. On the road again we passed under a wire loaded with Great-tailed Grackles and Bronzed Cowbirds. But the final spectacle of the day was reserved for 600 Green Parakeets who assembled on wires in McAllen before going off to roost for the night (photo). Current total is 220 species.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In the Rio Grande Valley and Le Conte's Sparrow revisited

We left Alice, TX early this morning after our first night in a motel on the trip.  It was raining, but we had a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee in our bellies, so we were prepared.  It rained all the way to the valley where we went straight to Bentsen Rio Grande SP and took the tram to the hawk tower which is the most recent location for the Bare-throated Tiger-Heron.  After an hour of no T-H, we decided to walk the trails.  That was a good decision because we ended up seeing most of the RGV birds we needed to see.  Highlights included a Rose-throated Becard male, a Clay-colored Thrush, and an Audubon's Warbler.  Of course we saw plenty of Green Jays (web photo), Altamira Orioles, Least Grebes, Plain Chachalacas, and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers and a family group of Collared Peccaries including a tiny piglet.  An interesting aspect of winter valley birding is the presence of hummingbirds.  We saw several Buff-bellied and  Ruby-throated and single Black-chinned and Allen's Hummingbirds.  The latter is a male that was banded three years ago and has returned each year.  We're in a motel again getting soft.  Tomorrow we'll look for more valley goodies.
I got a comment from Ned suggesting I look at the photo of the Le Conte's Sparrow again which I did.  Upon more careful scrutiny it proved to be a photo of a Nelson's Sparrow.  It's clear that in the euphoria of the moment and with my focus on trying to get a good photo, none of us took a real quality look at the bird we thought was the bird we were seeking.  In short we let our guard down and believed what we thought would be true.  Point well taken.  The good news is we had a photo that showed which species of bird we actually had.  As it turns out we didn't yet have Nelson's for the year, so the tally remained the same.  However, we will have to find a genuine Le Conte's at some point, and we will.  It's all part of the fun of our pursuit.
Total now stands at 207 with Black-crested Titmouse being #200.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On the way to the Rio Grande Valley

We left Lake Jackson early and drove to Aransas NWR. Along the way we saw our first pair of White-tailed Hawks (photo), gorgeous buteos with a striking white breast, tawny wing patch, and as their name suggests a white tail with a black band. At Aransas we went to the observation tower which overlooks the marsh adjacent to the intracoastal waterway and from which we were able to see a pair of adult Whooping Cranes. They weren't as far away as some of the ones I've seen from the tower, so the view was quite nice. There were many waterfowl in the surrounding waters including Redheads and a nice sprinkling of shorebirds including Long-billed Curlews, Marbled Godwits, and American Avocets. Back at the headquarters we were told about a Townsend's Warbler that was frequenting the live oaks in front of the visitors center. After a short search, we found it (photo).
After the usual lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwich, we headed west to Choke Canyon State Park. Since it was on our way, we decided to try for the Northern Wheatear near Beeville. We spent only a half hour waiting for it not to show up and left, figuring we'll get it later in Alaska. We got to Choke Canyon with a little more than an hour of daylight remaining to look for the Northern Jacana which has been there. It took about twenty minutes until the bird flew up and landed in front of us. The rest of the time was spent adding a few more new species.
Today we got the first of the southern Texas specialities, Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Least Grebe. Tomorrow and the next few days we'll get ALL the rest. It's on to the RGV. Maybe the Tiger-Heron will make an appearance.
Total species to date 192.
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Monday, January 11, 2010

Le Conte's Sparrow.....yes!

This morning, led by transplanted Virginia birder Dick Peake, John and I walked grassy fields near Galveston, searching for the somewhat elusive Le Conte's Sparrow (photo). The first field didn't produce any candidates. However, while crossing the second one, a sparrow of the right color and flight pattern took off from beneath our feet, flew out in front of us, and lit in a small bush. It was a eureka moment. The bird then flew off and dove back into the grass. I raced ahead to get the sun to my back, then waited while Dick and John walked slowly toward me. Would you believe it! Mr. Elusive flew up and into the bush directly in front of me allowing a great photo to be taken (photo). The bird was a lifer for John. After high fives all around, we spent the rest of the day adding birds to our growing year's list. We left Galveston mid-afternoon and drove to Lake Jackson where Sue Heath, a recently departed Virginian, is working for the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. We met Sue after work and she gave us a tour of the sanctuary adding more birds to our list. We all went out to dinner to celebrate John's lifer and ended the day overnighting at Sue's as her guest. Thanks Sue! Tomorrow, the Whooping Crane.  Current total: 174.
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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Louisiana and into Texas

This morning it was 18F at Steve Cardiff and Donna Dittmann's house. They were busy early thawing and repositioning all their hummingbird feeders. We managed to see several Ruby-throateds and one male Black-throated Hummingbird. They also put out seed of various kinds and had many Chipping and White-throated Sparrows. Their Red-shouldered Hawk ate Brown-headed Cowbirds. The freeze had a strong impact on Donna's fantastic garden, but most of the plants will come back. We were served boudin, a Cajun sausage, for breakfast. Together with the fresh-brewed coffee, it really hit the spot. After leaving Steve and Donna, we stopped at a car wash, and after a small panic about getting the transmission into neutral, we rode through the surreal flapping, whirling parts and emerged with a clean car. I think it actually ran better, too. We headed across Louisiana stopping at various spots. At a mowed grass air strip we found a couple of Sprague's Pipits (photo). We managed many more species particularly around some of the rice fields and crawfish ponds including Roseate Spoonbills, Mottled Ducks, Glossy Ibis, Sora, Virginia Rail, and Common Moorhen. At about 5pm we entered Texas and drove to Galveston where we dined on Mexican food. I got my usual Chile Relleno which didn't match others I've had. We are bedding down at Dick Peake's tonight. Dick is an old friend who grew up in the Tidewater area and became a Shakespearean scholar, taught at Wise College, and with whom I have birded internationally for many years. Tomorrow we're going to look for LeConte's Sparrow. After today's birding, the list totals 149.
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Saturday, January 9, 2010

On the road to Louisiana

 The Prius left Staunton at 5am with the temperature at 10F and drove south on I-81 passing through a snow flurry in the Marion VA area. Lots of road salt. Through Tennessee, a corner of Georgia, across Alabama and Mississippi and into Louisiana. The temperature most of the day was below freezing. We arrived at Steve Cardiff and Donna Dittmann's home at 8 pm CST where we chatted for several hours with the Dallas/Philadelphia football game in the background. Donna and Steve maintain a large collection of hummingbird feeders which they have to take in and thaw in weather like this. It's an extremely involved operation. They have also created habitat for many birds, which we'll see tomorrow.
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Friday, January 8, 2010

Heading to Texas via Staunton, VA

Spent the morning getting my stuff together and reading on the web how cold Texas is right now. But with all those great birds there, any weather won't be a deterrant. Left Norfolk about 11am and drove to Portsmouth where I found the peregrine (photo) on the West Norfolk bridge that David Hughes had spotted during the Nansemond River CBC. Tries for a Common Merganser at Burbage Lakes and Redheads at Big Bethel reservoir were not successful. On I-64 heading west two Black Vultures flew over adding an easy bird to the list. When I got to Staunton, John jumped into my car and we drove over to a farm with a barn with a Barn Owl. The owl was home (photo), but there were no interesting sparrows among the White-throated and Songs along the road edge. However, a Wilson's Snipe was probing in a wet spot along the road giving me four new birds for the day. Brings the list to an even 120. Tomorrow we head to Louisiana at 5am. It's 1000 miles to Baton Rouge, so it will be a long day of counting Red-tails and other roadside and wire birds.
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