Sunday, October 27, 2013

Granger Harrier Crushings

A 7 hour trip to the Granger Lake area yesterday yielded some early wintering stuff (Kestrels, Shrikes, etc.) but none were as cooperative as this juvenile Northern Harrier.

So, the unstreaked orange chest and belly help identify this Northern Harrier as a juvenile.
This bird was harassing a couple of crows and had them pinned down underneath a tree before it gave us a couple Top Gun style flybys.

Okay, so to be honest, this isn't a great crush, but it shows the dark inner secondaries of a young bird.
In other news, Burrowing Owl is a bird that I had not seen before, although this one is very reliable on a concrete pile in a very remote spot an hour from me.  It's a bird I could have easily seen quite some time ago, but the county lister in me is pretty stubborn.  I finally said "fuck it," and ventured out of Travis county, successfully looking for this bird and unsuccessfully looking for Mountain Plovers.

I like digiscoping birds.  They're definitely not crushes, but I'm a big fan of the aesthetic.
Loggerhead Shrike - check out the delicate undertail coverts on this decidedly undelicate bird.
First Hermit Thrush of the fall.  Pretty sure I got poison ivy here, but I won't know for a week or so.
Also, we stumbled across some vulture food.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake roadkill

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Nelson's Sparrow in Travis County... What the fuck?!?!?!

Yea, no lie.  A Nelson's Sparrow was found at Lake Travis this weekend.  For those of you unversed in the nerd talk, that's a big fucking deal.  Not so much because it's out of range (although it's a bit off of its migration route), but because seeing an inland Nelson's Sparrow at all during migration is a pretty uncommon thing.  There are three subspecies of Nelson's Sparrow which itself was only relatively recently split from Saltmarsh Sparrow.  This bird is most surely of the nominate Ammodramus nelsoni nelsoni subspecies, which tends to be brighter than the other two subspecies and breeds in the central Canadian prairie.

Killer looks on this hard to see bird.
Best shot I got; please take in the glory that is the yellowish wash and streaking on the breast and flanks.
The thing about Ammodramus sparrows, which include Nelson's and Saltmarsh among others, is that they're really fucking hard to see.  They have this annoying habit of running around underneath thick grasses and reeds, and they usually only seem to pop up and sing when they are trying to get laid, which doesn't happen too often in Texas.  Because of this, the best way to find these birds is to partake in the dorkiest of waltzes, the Ammodramus March.  The dance requires at least two people, although more people yield better results.  You basically slowly walk through the grass or reeds until a bird flies up and away.  The first bird you flush will be a Savannah Sparrow, which you can identify by the fact that it actually seems to know how to fly.  Don't be fooled.  Keep it up, and you'll see a small grey/yellow/orange bird flush up and awkwardly away.  That's it!  The next step is to gather the nerds into a slowly closing circle around the bird until, finally, you all get shitty looks.  Super fun times!

It had some shit going on with its left eye.
Just because you can't see the face doesn't make this a shitty picture.  Things to take note of here are the gray central crown stripe, the gray neck sides, and the streaking on the back.  Fucking stunner, yeah?
Typical view of an Ammodramus sparrow in Texas.
I actually went to see this bird twice on Sunday; once for myself, and the second time to help a buddy get on it.  No regrets.  Gorgeous bird.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sora! Sora! Sora!

It's not too often that I devote an entire post to one bird, but then again, it's not too often that I get killer looks at a Sora.  I mean, I've seen them many times before, but it's always been near dark, or they've been on the other side of the water, or they've just popped out for a second or two before quickly wandering back into the reeds.  I know it's not a Black Rail, which is nearly impossible to see, let alone photograph, but I was pretty jazzed.

Sora - for those of you non-nerders (aka those with social skills), Soras are in the Rail family.
This is how I'm used to seeing them; quickly scurrying from reed cover to reed cover. 
Those feet trip me out.  They're big and ugly, and they blend in with the reeds amazingly well.
What was cool about this bird was that I first noticed it when it flew into the reeds, body upright, wings flapping awkwardly; I only got a quick look but it was enough to know it was a Sora.  It was the first time I've seen one fly.  I watched it out in the open for about 15 minutes, until a Great-tailed Grackle came after it, leading to an intense and awkward chase scene with the Grackle trying to push it underneath the water before it escaped deep into the reeds.  Wild times.

Jamming the creamy white undertail coverts.

I know this post is Soracentric, but I had to throw this last image in here at the end.  I walked up to this tree and just started cracking up.  

So a House Finch, a Starling, and a Monk Parakeet walk into a bar...
That's all for now, nerds!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Half Moon Bay Pelagic

I don't see much of a point in dicking around with a lot of narration here.  Birds were seen.  It was fucking amazing.  Here we go.

Heermann's Gull - Stunning bird, a species I've been wanting to see for a long time. 
Marbled Murrelet - Represented one of five Alcid species, a new family for me.
Common Murre - the most abundant Alcid sp. on the trip.
I was offered the opportunity to crush this bird.
And then came the shearwaters, starting with Sooty Shearwater.
Buller's Shearwater
Buller's Shearwater - this is the best shot I could get of the striking upperside pattern.
Pink-footed Shearwater - by far, the most abundant shearwater species of the trip.
Pink-footed Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater
Northern Fulmar - gave us great looks as it was eating whale shit.
Tufted Puffin
Humpback Whale - we lucked into groups of Humpbacks and Blue Whales. 
Blue Whale - "A small child could crawl through a Blue Whale's aorta!"  Best quote of the trip.
South Polar Skua
Pomarine Jaeger harassment is the best kind of harassment.
Pomarine Jaeger
Pomarine Jaeger
And that was that.  Overwhelming, to be honest.  Other birds on the trip were Flesh-footed Shearwater, Cassin's and Rhinoceros Auklet, and Sabine's Gull.  Disgusting.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


This was my response to Flycatcher Jen when asked, "How was Cali?"  

California Towhee - first California bird and a sign of good things to come.
It was fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucking incredible.  Remember how, when you were a kid and like once a year your parents would take you to Toys'R'Us and it was this magical place, with amazing shit you never dreamed of seeing, much less playing with?  Yea, that's what it's like when a Texas birder touches down in California.  Magpies, goldfinches, towhees, quail, jays.  Just completely ridiculous and disgusting.  And that's not even mentioning the pelagic (which we'll get to in the next post.)

Western Bluebird
Steller's Jay - as crippling as I had imagined.
California Quail
Wrentit - at this point, the target list was shattering.
So, I did a couple of days land birding before the pelagic.  Day one, I rented a car and hit Mines Road, which is kind of southeast of San Francisco, maybe an hour away.  Mines Road is a goldmine, bird wise.  Fortunately for me, I had a good buddy (and insanely good birder) who had birded Mines Road within the last month or so.  This buddy was kind enough to let me on to some spots where he had crazy stuff.  Let me be clear; there's no way I could have found these birds without the assistance of the humble King of Texas Birders.  Ever grateful, I am.  So yea, I pissed around the area for 5 or 6 hours and turned up some amazing shit.

Yellow-billed Magpie - this bird was on my "not likely" list until Kenny Badass came through with the Mines Road tip.

Lawrence's Goldfinch - in the middle of nowhere.
Day two was with the nefarious Seagull Steve, who was not only generous enough to drive my lazy ass all over Marin County, but gave This Machine a place to crash and drink whiskey for the weekend.  Much appreciation to number 7 and his lady for tolerating me.  Scumbag Birders Unite!  Day two started with a Blue-footed Booby.  A fucking Blue-footed Booby.  Do you need to read that again?  Yea, my timing couldn't have been better, with an irruption of these crazy looking seabirds up the California coast.  Rest of the day pulled in some pretty magnificent stuff, including Eurasian Wigeon.  Good times had.

There is a Blue-footed Booby in this picture.  You probably shouldn't believe me, but what would that say about the relationship we've developed?
Brandt's Cormorant - one of two life Corms from the trip.
Black Turnstone
Day three was pelagic day.  We'll have to get to that another time.  Stay tuned, nerds!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Rest of the Valley

Well, I'm sitting here in the Austin airport, reveling in the joy brought forth by a Bloody Mary or two, on my way to San Francisco for some California land and pelagic birding.  I love Bloody Marys almost anytime, but there's something about them in the airport that strikes a chord with me.  Maybe it's routine, maybe it's nostalgia, or maybe it's just my own private little thing, but man...that shit hits the spot.  It's kind of like my Bright Eyes routine. You remember that Bright Eyes album, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning?  Yea, it was a great record, but I just burned out on it after awhile.  But, anytime I'm birding in the Houston/Galveston area, that record just works.  It's the only thing I listen to.  Honestly, I never put it on outside of that area.  But, when I'm in Houston, it's perfect.  I don't know, maybe I just like to have my own private things.

All that said, Boca Chica Beach wasn't the only place I birded in the valley last weekend.  It was just one of like 3 places I birded.  Estero Llano Grande was hit in the morning, followed by Santa Ana in the early afternoon.  The rest stop near Raymondville was a nice quick trip on the drive back, as well.  Here are some pictures of birds and leps seen in those places.

Green Kingfisher - we hit the Kingfisher trifecta in the first 15 minutes at Estero.
Great Kiskadee - nice to see that bright yellow crown patch.
Long-billed Thrasher - I keep hoping to turn one of these up in Travis county.
Wood Storks - We had a circling flock of 19 Wood Storks at Estero.
White Peacock - I've been wanting to see one of these for quite some time; they were actually ubiquitous on this trip to the Valley.
Giant White - limited range in the country.
White-tailed Hawk - one of only two we saw on the trip.
Harris's Hawk - for those of you keeping score, I also got a picture of this bird taking a shit.
Red-crowned Parrots - fucking loud at the parrot roost in Brownsville. 
Cloudless Sulphur - At the rest stop.
Eurasian Collared-Dove - coming soon to a state near you.

So, that's all I've got this evening.  I'm off to CA with a Tolstoy-like target list of birds.  See y'all back in Texas.