Thursday, December 31, 2015

Weslaco CBC, 12/30/15

With all the crazy hairstreaks at the National Butterfly Center, I have not birded too much lately so I thought I write a post about yesterday's Weslaco Christmas Bird count.  As usual I was covering the flood channel between FM 88 and Mercedes.  And for the third year in a row it was muddy making access difficult.  But I fired up the old truck and slip-slided around the muddy fields and wound up doing pretty good for the day.

It looked pretty grim to start with.  The access to the flood channel from FM 1015 was locked but luckily the area between the bridge and the gate had been mowed.  So I was at least able to scope the west end of the lagoon by the highway and got some shorebirds in the rain and even a Green Heron.  However I could not get into the flood channel and it was wet anyway so the muddy tracks were probably impassable. Changing my usual route, I ran over to Mercedes to check the cemetery but it  was rainy, windy and absolutely birdless.  Well at this point I decided I would just do what I could and try to bird any open levee roads.

So I headed west on the levee out of south Mercedes, still seeing very little, but the gate I reached was open and in minutes there I was at the Short-eared Owl field.  Things were looking up!  I started wading through the thigh high wet grass, trying to avoid the two feet tall fire ant mounds, and scared up a Grasshopper Sparrow.  Pretty good bird.

And a little bit later I flushed my primary quarry, Short-eared Owl.  That makes nine years in a row I've been able to find one at this spot.  Here's a link back to the first one I found in 2007.

The gate here was also open so I finally able to get into the flood channel and got a Sprague's Pipit on the levee in the usual area.  

Then I ran into twenty White-tailed Kites perched low on the leeward side of the levee.  I usually see a couple here but never this many.  I have heard about people seeing large communal roosts.

Pishing up Lincoln's Sparrows, Orange-crowned Warblers and Common Yellowthroats from the ditch along the levee, I was happy to have this Nashville Warbler respond.

The mud on the dirt tracks around the fields and along the water south of Estero was only an inch deep so it was slippery but I didn't have to worry about getting stuck.  But it was a mucky mess with big clods flying out from my tires.  It was fun!  Even more so when I pished up this rare in winter Yellow Warbler.

With the flood channel now pretty much covered and the rain having stopped, I decided to use my last bit of light at the Los Ebanos Cemetery in Mercedes.  It was still slow but I finally got some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Northern Cardinals.  Then a flash of orange over my head.  Turned out to be a Bullock's Oriole.  Not a great photo but it will do.

I finished the day wet and tired with 89 species.  Not too bad. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

West Texas, 12/5-6/15

The Nature Conservancy had an open house at their Davis Mountains ranch on Dec. 5 so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to access this wonderful piece of habitat.  After checking in I drove up through Madera Canyon to the trailhead parking area.  This smart Rufous-crowned Sparrow posed  nicely along the way.

My goal was to see if there was any interesting wintering birds and maybe add a few west Texas birds to my year list.   I found nothing really unusual but it was still a beautiful day.  Near the parking area for the trail to Tobe Springs I saw this Northern Flicker of the red-shafted variety.

An explosion of wings signaled a flock of Montezuma Quail.  They have a bad habitat of standing invisible still till they are almost underfoot so getting a photo is really tough.  I ran into the flock of five again on the way down and this fleeing female was the best photo I could muster.

Bewick's Wren was common.

Mountain Chickadee and Steller's Jay are resident in Texas in only the higher elevations of the Davis Mountains and Guadalupe Mountains.  Luckily I saw both of them in Tobe Canyon.

Canyon Wrens can be invisible but are usually betrayed by their curiosity.

After exiting the preserve, a stop at the nearby Lawrence E. Woods picnic area turned up Western Bluebirds, White-breasted Nuthatches and a nice Acorn Woodpecker.

I spent the night in Alpine and drove back up towards Fort Davis again the next morning.  A stop along Musquiz Creek was successful.  Phainopelpla was a new year bird for me.

This Belted Kingfisher waited in the frosty air for a meal.

Ruddy Ducks are not usually worth a photo but I liked the reflection on this one.

On two trips to Big Bend this year I had missed Bushtits so I was happy to find a nice flock.

A sapsucker turned out to be a surprise Yellow-bellied.

From there I drove through Fort Davis and up toward Balmorhea.  I had seen reports on eBird of Sagebrush Sparrow at the cemetery in Balmorhea so I thought I would give it a try.  I didn't find much in the cemetery but turned up my sparrow in the creosote and sage desert habitat across the north fence.  Rather than escape by flying these drab little sparrows run between clumps of vegetation like little roadrunners.

Other desert sparrows included Black-throated and Brewer's.

The lake at Balmorhea had nothing unusual.  I got my Clark's Grebe for the year and saw a Horned Grebe with the many Eareds.  It was nice to get a decent photo of Scaled Quail.

And then it was 600 miles back home.  Pretty nice little three day trip.