Sunday, February 12, 2017

West Texas Trip, 2/3-6/17

Quite a few of the top Texas listers have been seeing good stuff out in the the Transpecos of West Texas lately so I figured I would run out there for the weekend.   I got an early start and was able to make it out to Lake Balmorhea in Reeves county, 600 miles away, with some daylight left.  I always like to stop and look for lost waterfowl at this desert oasis.  Not too much exciting going on.  I always enjoy the Clark's and Western Grebes.  Love is in the air for this pair of Clark's.

There was a nice mixed flock of Snow and Ross's Geese.

I overnighted in Van Horn.  My target for this trip was the first winter California Gull at Tornillo Reservoir south of El Paso.  I've chased a number of these over the years and always come up empty.  But that was to change.  It was the first gull I saw on the lake.

There was an amazing flock of Common Mergansers that I estimated to be at least 1200 strong.

Another nearby lake that I have always want to check out is the McNary Reservoir.  eBird has reported some good stuff there lately and upon arrival it didn't take long for things to get interesting.  As soon as I walked up on the dike I flushed a covey of Gambel's Quails.  I've seen very few of these in Texas.

And nearby I heard an unfamiliar thrasher-like song.  My guess was Crissal Thrasher and I was right.

The lake was loaded with ducks, Snow and Ross's Geese, Double-crested Cormorants and another big flock of Common Mergansers.  It was still before noon so I decided I would have time to run up to Dell City and look of Sagebrush Sparrows.  The drive up RR 1111 north of Sierra Blanca produced little but I started seeing more birds on RR 1437 to Dell City like this dark Ferruginous Hawk. 

I had to do some searching around Dell City to find the road to the sand dunes on the east side of the Guadalupe Mountains. I later found out it is named Williams Road.  In the process of wandering around I found this nice Prairie Falcon.

Once on William's Road I could tell the bleak terrain with scattered grass and saltbush was textbook Sagebrush Sparrow winter habitat.  Eventually I found a nice flock of about eight of them near a railroad tank car used for storing water for cattle.  

And nearby at the turnaround and parking area for access to the sand dunes I found three Sage Thrashers and some Brewer's Sparrows.

Another night in Van Horn and I got an early start to the Guadalupe Mountains.  After considerable thought I decided on walking up McKittrick Canyon rather than hike up Devil's Hall or up to the Bowl.  I figured there might be water up there and the walking is easier.  Turned out to be a pretty slow day.  Six hours and seven miles of walking only produce eleven species.  But one of them was this young Black-chinned Sparrow.

My only real activity of the day started with a couple of Townsend's Solitaires near the Pratt Cabin.

Then I heard tapping on a nearby tree that I hoped was coming from a Red-naped Sapsucker.  Turned out to be a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  Not sure which would be more common here.

I did some pygmy-owl tooting and a flock of birds landed far above me in a dead pine.  They included the solitaires, five Western Bluebirds and a Pine Siskin.  A little later I found the bluebirds in the stream.

A couple of White-breasted Nuthatches also responded.  But I never found the coveted Mountain Chickadees or Steller's Jays.

Got back to the motel in Van Horn in time for a great meal at Chuy's and an exciting Super Bowl.  The next morning I headed south towards the Davis Mountains.  Birding was a little slow except for the L E Wood Picnic Area on TX 118 north of Fort Davis.  There I had juncos, chippys, Acorn Woodpecker, more White-breasted Nuthatches and Western Bluebirds and a heard only Mountain Chickadee.

A brief stop at the bird feeding station in the state park found it deserted and a short run down to Fort Pena Colorado County Park south of Marathon turned up little.  There were both Say's and Eastern Phoebes, Swamp, Song, White-crowned, Chipping and Clay-colored Sparrows and a few Yellow-rumps.  So I decided it was dark and I had had enough and made the long drive back home.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Western Hidalgo County, 1/28/17

Every winter I like to make at least one trip out to western Hidalgo County to look for stuff for my county year list and maybe even an Hidalgo County lifer.  There's a quartet of birds I've not seen that are possible in the arid part of the county; Scaled Quail, Common Poorwill, Chihuahuan Raven and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  Chances are slim but I always hope.

I started my day on FM 2221 (AKA Sparrow Road) on the west side of La Joya and got lucky on my second stop, a gate along the highway with great visibility down two long senderos. Here I always stop and look for Black-throated Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxias and Lark Buntings.  Through my scope I was enjoying a group of Pyrrhuloxias and who should run out of the brush and into the open but a covey of four Scaled Quails.  Hot dang!  Hidalgo County species #390.

The second best bird of the day had to be the male House Finch at the same spot.  This was the first I've seen in the Valley away from Anzalduas County Park and the UTRGV campus in Brownsville.  It was nice to see one in the brush like they occur in the desert of west Texas. 

With the big score so early in the day I was going to be happy even if I failed to find anything else interesting. The first bird on Mile 7 Road was this sentinal White-tailed Hawk who dared me to take its picture.

 A bit down Mile 7 road I tuned up the expected Black-throated Sparrows.

And common Bewick's Wrens and White-eyed Vireos.

But the hoped for sparrows were pretty much absent in the extremely dry brush.  I got a few Black-throated, Cassin's and Savannah Sparrows and that was it.

The seven miles of Jara China Road were pretty barren.  I played recordings of Black-tailed Gnatcatcher  in appropriate habitat but got no responses.  A few Western Meadowlarks were the best I could muster.

A brief run west on Mile 14 turned up a nice flock of Lark Sparrows.

Then it was time for the plowed agricultural fields southwest of McCook and the search for Mountain Plovers and Prairie Falcons.  I did not see either but did manage to dig out a Say's Phoebe on FM 490 west of McCook.

The return home took me through Hargill where I found little on the playa and Delta Lake which had great mudflats for a change.  The good bird there was a Dunlin hanging out with the Least Sandpipers and Long-billed Dowitchers.

Ten Canvasbacks were the most I've ever seen in the RGV.

 A very satisfying day indeed!