Monday, May 20, 2013

West Texas pt. 2

Alright, back to it.  Wake up in Boot Canyon to find that AJ had not been eaten by a bear or cougar overnight, despite an impromptu 11pm trek to the edge of the canyon after having dumped sardine juice all over his pants.  Quick hike around the campsite before heading down the mountain gave us Cordilleran Flycatcher, Hutton's Vireo (junk birds right over our tents), and another look at the Dusky-capped.  Load up our packs and start heading down the mountain.  So, as horrible as the hike up was, the hike down was completely fucking amazing.  Seriously, it was one of those things you know you won't ever forget.  As we came through the pass, we could see for what seemed to be 100 miles.  The weather was perfect, clear, upper 50's with a perfect breeze, and there were Violet-green Swallows and White-throated Swifts soaring all around us.  It was absolutely perfect.

Cordilleran Flycatcher - two birds just down from our campsite.  Good thing they were calling; I'm shit with empids. 
Hutton's Vireo - all over our campsite, these were life birds for me after unsuccessfully chasing a few in Austin. 
The "Boot" of Boot Canyon - if you want to see a Colima Warbler in the States, you'll most likely see this boot as well. 
Canyon Wren - not a stellar bird for the trip, but I like this shot.
Okay, we had done this hike for several birds, but the biggest target, the bird whose only range in the United States was in this single, fucking canyon had been eluding us.  Colima Warbler.  Other birders had seen it.  Even the birders who had dipped on Painted Redstart, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Townsend's Warbler; these birders had all seen Colima.  I was getting nervous, and had actually started to convince myself that it would be okay if I missed the most obvious fucking bird of the trip when AJ's patience paid off again.  Taking a closer look at what I had been writing off as a singing Nashville Warbler, AJ finally said, "Dude, get on this bird."  And there you go.  Colima Warbler.  PS - if you ever find yourself up there, looking for this bird, do yourself a favor and don't study the iBird song.  Totally different than what we heard.  Finish the hike down the canyon, adding a few new trip birds and lifer Black-chinned Sparrows, and we were straight off to Blue Creek Canyon.  

Violet-green Swallow - shit picture of my new favorite bird.
Violet-green Swallow 
Colima Warbler - Good bird.  1300 miles.
Phainopepla - Having never seen this bird before, I quickly learned that it wanted fuck all to do with me and my camera.
At Blue Creek Canyon, we did a nice desert hike a couple miles up a dry creek bed and picked up another Lucifer Hummingbird, male and female Phainopeplas, Gray Vireo, and a flock of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers.  After a quick bit, we made our way to Rio Grande Village to camp for the night.  As the sun went down, the Elf Owls started up, and we got a good look at one in a nest cavity.  We got up again around 1:30 and got great looks at them around the campsite.  In the morning, I got looks at a Western Screech-Owl that I had heard sporadically calling throughout the night.  We had intended to do a quick hike before hitting the road, but we ended up finding some stellar shit.  Vermilion Flycatchers were junk birds, we found a Lesser Nighthawk, we had Verdins feeding fledglings, and then we found this magical little warbler spot.  Nashville, MacGillivray's, American Redstart, Yellow, Audubon's, Wilson's, Chat, and, amazingly, we had a Golden-winged.  Has to be the best bird of the trip.  Great spot.  We spied on the nesting Common Black-Hawks on the way out of the park and booked it back home.  The last life bird of the trip was a Chihuahuan Raven a few hours down the road.
Elf Owl - Wish I had some size comparison; this thing isn't much bigger than a can of Coke.
Elf Owl - It has been deemed by someone much grander than myself that this individual shall henceforth be referred to as "Francesco." 
Common Black-Hawk - Both birds were in the nesting area. 
Crap picture, but it gives a good look at the flight feathers. 
Common Black-Hawk
So, that's it.  Pretty hard to sum everything up.  Amazing birds, amazing views, and good fucking times with AJ, who always does a damn good job when I start getting pissy after a long day.  Seriously, that dude is the most positive person I've ever met, and his motivation going up the mountain and persistence and patience in pulling out good birds are qualities I lack and admire.  Solid dude, that one.  So, yeah.  Big Bend.  There you go.

Oh yeah, also... watch where you shit.
This lady was under a crapper at Rio Grande Village.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

West Texas pt. 1

Alright, here we go.  4 days and 4 nights with AJ in west Texas, looking for birds from sunup to sundown.  120ish trip species, 108 Brewster County species, and 37 life birds for This Machine.  That's something that doesn't happen too often, and I can't really think of many other places in the US where I can pull that off again.  Best bird was probably the insanely lost Golden-winged Warbler at Rio Grande Village, but the Dusky-capped Flycatcher was pretty wild as well.  Fair warning, the pictures aren't the best, but that's because I am a birder, not a photographer, and I find it really difficult to put the bins down from a life bird.  Okay, let's get into it.  Things will move fast; try to keep up.

"ACK!!!  It's not a bird!!!!"  No, it's a Cholla, and it's fucking awesome.
Black-headed Grosbeak - not only did we see amazing birds, we had most of them singing.
Acorn Woodpecker - probably the coolest looking woodpecker I've seen. 
Plumbeous Vireo - um, it's a vireo.  And it's gray.
So, we cut out of Austin at noon and headed straight for the Davis Mountains, not even stopping for a couple of probable Zone-tailed Hawks seen on the way.  After dipping on Montezuma Quail that evening, we set up camp among Cassin's Kingbirds, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and Common Poorwills.  Next morning, we hit The Nature Conservancy trail and the Lawrence E. Woods picnic area at the trailhead.  Montezuma Quail heard, small flock of Bushtits, Acorn Woodpeckers, and a Western Bluebird seen.  Good times.  Drove south to Christmas Mountain Oasis (and off-roaded through some crazy militia country) and had Scaled Quail, Blue-throated and Lucifer Hummingbirds, Plumbeous Vireo, MacGillivray's Warbler, and Lazuli Bunting.  

Gray Hawk - this hawk is so fucking metal.
Lucifer Hummingbird - the under tail feathers reminded me of a Cuckoo.
Lucifer Hummingbird - snazzy looking dude.
Lucifer Hummingbird - female.  I loved the curved bill.  So different than anything I see at home.
Next, we left for Big Bend, where we made a quick, unsuccessful stop at Cottonwood Campgrounds for Lucy's Warbler, but still had Gray Hawk and Western Wood-Pewee.  Grabbed a beer and some dinner at Chisos Basin, picking up nesting Say's Phoebes in the process, before making camp.  Quick trip down the Window Trail the next morning, where we had Varied Bunting and Mexican Jay.  Okay, this is where it got rough.  To get to the canyon (you know, the one that usually has Colima Warblers and all the other badass Big Bend stuff) you have to hike your ass off up a mountain.  To camp in the canyon, you have to hike your ass off up a mountain while carrying a pack with water and a tent.  I'm not going to lie.  This hike sucked.  Not fun at all.  The Virginia's and Townsend's Warblers helped, but not as much as you'd imagine.  It was brutal.  Gorgeous and breathtaking, but completely fucking brutal.

Varied Bunting - horrible picture of a singing bird.  The fact that I even put it here should tell how how beautiful I think this bird is.
Scaled Quail - I was glad to get my eyes on these birds, after having heard only Montezuma Quail.
Mexican Jay - the loudest bird in the canyon.
Back to quick speed.  Cross the pass, hike another mile into the canyon, and hit our campsite.  I pass out and AJ runs down into the canyon.  Dude comes back twenty minutes later with stories of Painted Redstarts and a probable calling Dusky-capped Flycatcher.  I jump up, run down with him for Painted Redstarts, and get ready to go find the Dusky-capped.  So, Dusky-capped Flycatcher just came off the Texas review list a few years ago and is still a damn good bird in the state.  We started walking out of our campground when I saw a Myiarchus flycatcher in a tree right above us.  Quick look through the bins showed grayish tail with very limited rufous edging and very weak wing bars.  Way too easy.  We did a bit more hiking before eating dinner, and as we settled in with our whiskey for the night, we heard the Mexican Whip-poor-wills start up.  Not long after, we heard the unmistakable hooting of a Flammulated Owl in the canyon.  B.A.D.A.S.S.

Painted Redstart - seriously, this bird let me just demolish it with the camera.  Complete stunner, perched 5 feet away.
Texas Madrone.  Again, not a bird, but you're a piece of shit if you don't think this tree is beautiful.
Dusky-capped Flycatcher - super exciting find.  Get out your field guide and look at the tail feathers.  I was jazzed to get such a shot to study.
That's it for now, I'll get to the second half of the trip soon.