Sunday, January 15, 2017

Five Mile Challenge

Well, I lost. For real. It wasn't a blowout, in fact I ended with just one species less than FJ. She had 60, and I had 59. Seagull Steve's total is as of yet unknown, but my understanding is that it was closer to the 70 range, and that was with him bailing halfway through to chase (and get) the Ross's Gull before a Peregrine sent that bird to it's own purgatory. The consensus over/under for me was 56, so I covered the spread, and I feel good about that.

This is my five mile circle. A mile or two to the southeast, and I'd have been golden.
I started the day at the hands down best birding spot in my circle, Roy Guerrero Park and the Longhorn Dam. Despite the water levels being higher than I had seen them in several years, basically overrunning the normally productive spillway, I was able to pull out Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Belted Kingfisher, and a few others. From there, I tried and failed at picking out a Neotropic Cormorant at the hostel, and then dipped on Black-crowned Night-Heron at Waller Creek. I worked my way to the UT tower, incidentally the inspiration for this documentary that my good friend Ren worked on, and got the resident Peregrine Falcon without much trouble. By this point, I needed to pee out all of the coffee I had been drinking all morning, and more importantly, I needed to begin to refill myself with more coffee, so I stopped by my friend Lizzie's barbershop for the much needed toilet and caffeine hookup.

Least Grebes at the Triangle have never been crushable before, and it was kind of hard to leave this spot considering.

This Peregrine Falcon has been reliable at the UT tower year round for the last 4 years or so.

Okay, so I left The Haircut Store and went to the Triangle Pond mainly for Least Grebe, but also picked up a few ducks and an unexpected Sora. I fucked around a few more places before picking up my buddy AJ (and adding his resident female Rufous/Allen's) and birding the ponds at the Mueller development. Many clutch birds ensued including Cave Swallow, Marsh Wren, and Harris's Sparrow. At this point, I was sitting in the upper 50's with several easy birds to pick up. I took and vigorous and much needed nap before heading out to grab the last few stragglers, and with the exception of American Robin, I couldn't find any of them. Much shame.

I may have lost, but FJ will be jealous of this Harris's Sparrow. Eat shit, FJ.

So yeah. I finished with 58 species plus the selasphorus and a hybrid titmouse (they're all hybrids here). Better than I had expected, and could have been close to 65 if I hadn't missed so many gimme birds. Black Vulture, Killdeer, Red-winged Blackbird, and Black-bellied Whistling-Duck are all birds I can get within 20 minutes on any day other than yesterday. But, that's the way shit goes sometimes. Fair enough. I finished the day trying and failing for the third time on a staked out Eastern Screech-Owl and some semi reliable Great Horned Owls at my friend Kenny's house. And that's it. I'm still tired from yesterday, so I'm going to stop writing now and fuck off to sleep. Later, nerds.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Desafío de cinco millas

Hey nerds! Look at me, I'm blogging! Many fascinating things have happened since the last time we met in the dark underworld of the internet birdosphere. For one, the Cubs won the world series! On a side note, I bested the notorious Seagull Steve and others in fantasy baseball, which not only provided me the funds to drink myself into a reckless stupor, but gave me bragging rights for an entire year based solely on the fact that I dorked out on sabermetrics regarding holds, outfield assists, and sacrifice bunts. In other news, I left my old job and started a new one. Oh, and I got a first pressing of Rocket to Russia from a friend of mine. Big things happening here in the ATX.

American Pipit in a decidedly un-pipit like pose.

Sabine's Gull. In central Texas.

Lesser Nighthawk. #goodbird
Anyways, I'm not here to tell you about my fascinating and scandalous adventures. I'm here because a gauntlet has been thrown down. Now, if you guys know me, you know that I am historically a very passive and non confrontational soul. I don't easily get riled, and the red mist does not often envelop my face like a west Texas thunderstorm. But, you should know that when I am directly challenged, I will face it with the force of one thousand suns. So, when and Seagull Steve and Flycatcher Jen (whom recently resurrected her blog, and trust me, it's one of the best things on the internet) recently came to me with the notion of a 'five mile challenge', I naturally said, "Fuck you! You're not my real dad, Jeff!" and vowed to violently defeat the both of them by any and all means at my disposal (except stringing, what do I look like, a Jeopardy contestant or something?).

Zebra Heliconian

Julia Heliconian

So yeah, here's the deal. On January 7th (or maybe the 8th, weather depending), Steve, FJ, and myself will have 24 hours to bird the five mile circles directly surrounding our respective residences. While the location of my bed does afford me the ability to walk to the best old-fashioneds in Austin, it does not do me many favors as far as diversity of bird life. I have a little bit of river access, but my circle is mostly filled with Whataburgers and the UT campus. Regardless, I feel that I can be somewhat competitive, and if not, fuck it. At least I'll be out looking at birds. So, mark your calendars, nerds. Shit is going down
. Full report to be expected from three different bird blogging nerds who have all seen each other do embarrassing shit. Be ready.

Oh, and there are pictures of things in here.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Here Is Stuff

Swainson's Hawk


Hudsonian Godwits

Smith's Longspurs

Blanchard's Cricket Frog

Blanchard's Cricket Frog

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Existential Crises, The Sodium/Potassium Pump, and Glorious Bird Crushings

This Grasshopper Sparrow, as well as all of the other birds in this post, was extremely accommodating during a rainy ten hour day of birding on the east side.
It has become both something of a running joke and a source of internal conflict how infrequently I have been birding of late. In addition to the general moroseness my lack of birding has installed in me, it has also brought about a certain amount of shame. Not necessarily a disproportionate amount, as with so many other shame tinged aspects of my life, but enough to cause me existential discomfort. I wish that I could say that I have devised a plan to reconcile this shortcoming, but alas...I have as yet been unsuccessful. 

Lark Sparrow, a bird whose back streaking I may have never really noticed/appreciated until now. 
This Upland Sandpiper was one of the small proportion that are seen; the vast majority are heard as nocturnal flyovers.
You see, birding for me is something that needs to be balanced. It is often a constructive effort to be sure, but this pastime of mine (ours?) also has a nasty tendency to lend itself to overindulgence and the line between those two states can become virtually invisible at times. Don't get me wrong, I heartily enjoy birding, more so every day that I partake, but I (we) must also be cognizant of the fact that we are all much closer than we'd like to admit to falling into an irreversible state of madness. We all have a finite amount of free time in our lives, some more than others obviously, but it would be a tragedy if birding consumed more than it's fair share of our time at the expense of gainful employment, sleeping, nourishing, and socializing. I would even go so far to say that this may be what is so offensive about so many birders today. Overindulgence, bordering on obsession.

After seeing maybe 1,500 Red-shouldered Hawks, I finally had one sit still.
I assume this Summer Tanager was a very recent migrant, frantically eating and not residing at the very top of a tree.
You see, this is the root of the problem I've been trying to work out. Everything in life has to be balanced. Here is a metaphor. Your heart beats because of sodium and potassium. And although sodium and potassium have completely opposite goals and objectives, they must find a way to balance themselves out and work together (the sodium-potassium pump). If they don't do that, we don't live anymore. In my life, and some of yours, I would assume, I struggle to maintain the same sort of balance between the serenity of solitude I achieve whilst looking at birds and the sanity I retain from conversing, cavorting, and consuming whilst in the presence of those people whose presence I enjoy. Sometimes I am successful. Other times (the past year for example) I am not. Life is a struggle. Nothing is forever. Things change around us and we must adapt. If not, we will die. Or, we could all just write blog posts about it.

Spotted Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper

Monday, March 28, 2016

Birders are Stupid Assholes

Today was not a good day for Texas birders. Many Texas birders acted like stupid assholes today. Unrepentant, self-involved, stupid assholes. I realize that I may be speaking specifically about some of the people who read this blog, and that those people may stop reading this blog. Good. Fuck you. You're a stupid asshole.

Heermann's Gull - Half Moon Bay, CA 2014
Uggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh. So, what happened today, This Machine? Well, the internet blew up. What do you know? The internet blew up because a man from Illinois (a bird cop, actually), photographed a Heermann's Gull in Texas and didn't post anything about it until three days later. The nerve!!! This guy deprived countless birders the exhilarating experience of driving to the coast to tick another bird off their list. Instead, these poor busters had to stay in their homes, where their lives are filled with shame-masturbation, Mountain Dew, and sadness.

So yeah, who knows why this guy didn't report the bird immediately. There could be a myriad of reasons; I'd assume that he's just not a big lister/chaser and that kind of shit doesn't cross his mind. Fair enough. A bunch of these assholes have implied that he's a piece of shit for keeping it to himself, like he was being intentionally malevolent and had something to gain from not telling people, other than to not have to be around these obnoxious motherfuckers. They blew him up when he posted about it. Not, "Wow, nice find! Thanks for letting us know!" No, they were blasting his ass like it was fucking Galaga. Point is, this dude owes nothing to anybody. He's bird police, and he'll submit a report. But for the average chaser, who the fuck do you think you are? Do you think everybody's brain works exactly like yours? If that were the case, everyone would listen to Creed and no one would ever get laid because they'd be afraid of vaginas. That'd be a shitty world to live in. No, this guy doesn't owe those pricks anything.

Anyways, that happened today and it was nasty. Don't be those birders. If some random guy taking three days to report a rare bird gets you upset, then you've got problems, and you should probably take a step back. If not seeing a bird gets you fuming like that, you're kind of fucked. It's just a goddamn bird. Nothing is that important. That's all I've got.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Valley Blitz

Some of you may not be intimate with the geography of Texas. Let me help you out. Texas is fucking big. Like, really fucking big. Just because a mega shows up in the state, it doesn't mean it is in any way feasible to chase it. I wish that weren't the case, but it's hard enough for me to get a day off of work with a week or two advance; next day chasing just isn't in the cards. I also like to have some kind of balance in my life; I work at the children's hospital here, which is often an emotionally and physically exhausting endeavor. I need a day over the weekend to chill/rage/sleep/etc. Thus, I'm not often prone to driving 7 hours each way to chase a bird. But, what about more than one bird? Okay, I can do it for the possibility of seeing multiple good birds. And that's exactly what I did a couple weeks ago.

This Common Pauraque is the most photographed and most reliable bird in the Valley. I have photographed it numerous times. Notice that I have not named it. That's because I'm not an asshole.
Long-billed Thrashers are most often seen posing on barren branches in good light. This is fact.
Many people don't realize that February is one of the best times to bird the valley. Migration isn't roaring, but for some reason, a lot of those birds that are abundant just 20 or so miles south of the border decide to fuck off and head north in the second month of the year. Recently, those birds included Blue Bunting, White-throated Thrush, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, and several Northern Jacanas. Any and all of those birds would be new birds for This Machine. Naturally, I blitzed the valley, hoping to score at least one, but keeping expectations in check; I am good at dipping on birds in the valley. I was joined in my adventure my two close friends who are incidentally big fans of Bobcat Goldthwaite.

Clay-colored Thrush. At another spot, I saw one of these birds and called it out, and a lady loudly told me to make sure it wasn't a White-throated Thrush. Fuck you, lady.
White-Throated Thrush, a bird that we had all been quietly looking at and photographing for several minutes before an old man named Leo yelled out "There it is, on the left!" Goddamnit, Leo.
We only had daylight Saturday to look for the good shit, and a few of them were pretty far apart. Additionally, the geri presence was strong, which made it rather difficult to sit in one place at a feeder waiting for a skulky bird to appear amidst the smell of moth balls and the chic fashion of white socks pulled up high over pasty, veiny legs. Long story short, we went 2 for 4, which isn't bad considering the nature of the specific birds we were searching for. We also saw cool valley birds, which is something I can live with. Blue Bunting and Crimson-collared Grosbeak made brief appearances that day, but not in our presence. One man did call out a Blue Bunting while we were there, but it ended up being a leaf or something (high up in a tree, obvi). Because it looked blue, I guess? Anyways, that was Valley Blitz

Something cool about birding in the valley is walking around and hearing these things calling all around you.
I suffered without having seen an Ovenbird for way too long in my early birding career. Now, they are drawn to me. I am the finder of Ovenbirds.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Back From The Dead

Knock knock knock.


Um, hello? Is there anybody in here? Jesus, it's musty as fuck in here. Let's clear out some of these cobwebs and get back to fucking work.

Okay, thanks. Well, here we are. Elephant in the room, I know, but obviously I haven't posted anything here in a couple months. By far the longest stretch of silence since I started this thing up. I'd rather not get into the specifics of what's been going down, but know that shit is good, I'm energized, and I'm hopeful that we won't fall into a barren stretch like this again. It's weird, but with the exception of responding to a few emails, this is most I've typed into my computer in a long time.

Alright, birds...let's see what we've got. Well, Saturday was the Austin CBC, but I've recently come out as anti CBC, so I ate oysters and steak tartare and drank rye whiskey instead. I think I won. I may look into a different CBC this year, but honestly, I hate the commitment of spending all day in a specific, smallish area without getting to choose who's there with me. It's like that Sartre play, No Exit. "Hell is other people." (I know that's a loose, simple, and somewhat mistaken translation, but that shit just rolls off the tongue.) So yeah, no CBC for me. That said, let's get to some fucking birds.

Least Grebes bred a mile or so from my house. This is the first of two broods.
I found a Prairie Warbler this fall, with the legendary Thunderbolt Moreno.
Oh yeah, and I watched a Yellow-throated Vireo eat the shit out of a bug.

I saw this handsome Common Nighthawk whilst unsuccessfully searching for a Lesser Nighthawk. 
And this is a Yellow Warbler.
Okay, I've got some other things I could share, but I think we should start off a bit slow after such a long break. Kind of ease our way back into it all, you know? I appreciate your understanding. Until next time, nerds!