Tuesday, January 29, 2013

North Texas Crossbill Trip

Alright, so the past weekend was spent pissing around up north of Dallas with AJ, the oddity yard list champion of central Texas (seriously- Long-eared Owl, Red-naped Sapsucker, and a Virginia Rail walking across the driveway, plus many, many more crazy yard birds).  Target bird was Red Crossbill, a good bird for Texas which has been rocking a pretty irruptive year; life bird for me, and Texas bird for AJ.  

Red Crossbills have been a bit irruptive into Texas this year.  This flock has been reliable for several weeks now.
Lighting wasn't the greatest, but I got some diagnostic shots, and we watched the flock for a good while.
These things are pretty damn cool.  Evolution is badass (sorry, Texas Board of Education).
We hunkered down to camp in the bitter cold on the first night at Lake Ray Roberts, bellies full of bourbon, and hit the Crossbill trail not long after sunup.  A bit anticlimactic, but we got the birds within the first two minutes of the trail, initially noticing the Red-breasted Nuthatches (another pretty good bird having an irruptive year), before hearing the pine cone munching crossbills.  After watching the crossbills for a bit, we checked out the lake and found a Common Loon and a couple Horned Grebes. 

Brown Creepers were pretty easy to come by.
Kind of lost in the Crossbill hype, these Red-breasted Nuthatches are having a pretty good irruption of their own. 
White-throated Sparrow 
Dark-eyed Junco at the Hagerman feeder, where I tried really hard to turn a distant Red-tailed Hawk into a Rough-legged.
Harris's Sparrow - found a large flock mingling with some White-crowneds.
Winter Wren - AJ pulled this little dude out of nowhere.
These Cedar Waxwings were going back and forth from a pond to a tree.  We had well over 300 on one trail.
The rest of Saturday and most of Sunday was spent at Hagerman NWR, where we had 7 species of woodpecker in one area, as well as a few Harlan's Hawks, White-breasted Nuthatch, and a good variety of sparrows.  Surprisingly absent were geese; we had hoped to stumble into large flocks of Snow and Ross's Geese, but we only had one Snow goose on the ground, and a flyover group of 9.  Total trip count was 87 or so.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - one of seven woodpecker species.  Gold star if you can guess all seven.
Pileated Woodpecker - we had two Pileated's on the weekend

Red-headed Woodpecker - turned out to be one of our favorite birds of the trip; not too many around Travis County.
These birds were harassing all the other woodpeckers. 
Snow Goose
Common Loon - I had to digiscope this bird.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Random winter birds

Ok, so it's been a long time since my last post, and although I don't really have too much to share now, I'll put in a few pictures for the sole reason that I don't want to fall out of the habit of updating.  Honestly, I've seen some awesome birds the last few weeks, but most, if not all of them, have been unphotographable.  I've spent quite a bit of time birding Northeast Travis county, and kind of stumbled into some badass shit up there.  My favorites were the mixed flocks of longspurs, where my buddy AJ and I were able to pick out McCown's, Chestnut-collared, and Lapland.  Great scope views of Laplands in the scope.  I also finally caught up with the Red-naped Sapsucker that's been hanging around the area.
Red-naped Sapsucker - finally caught up with this bird, one which was a return from last winter.
Canvasback - one of the most reliable sites for this bird is in the fancy pond right next to my hospital.
Bufflehead - This good looking dude was hanging out there, too.

Yellow-rumped Warbler - I'm trying to think of a summer bird that is as ubiquitous as this butterbutt, but I'm at a loss.

Golden-crowned Kinglet - this is the best shot I could get of one of my favorite winter passerines.
Black-throated Sparrow - Get used to this bird.  Every time I see one, I'm posting a picture.  How could I not?
Verdin - rocking the chinup bar.
Cactus Wren - seen at the same spot as the previous two birds; probably better to keep that spot on the DL, or else county listers will tear it apart.

Last weekend, I hit up Western Travis County, picking up the usual suspects (Black-throated Sparrow, Cactus Wren, Verdin, etc.) with the additional highlights of finding our target Common Loon, and being fucking blown away when we picked out a Zone-tailed Hawk from a group of Turkey Vultures.  Great looks as the bird flew right over our heads, a life bird for me, and maybe one of my favorite county birds.  Anyways, I have no shots of my best birds from the last couple of weeks, but I'll throw a few pictures here, just for shits and giggles.

Merlin - at Hornsby
Watched this young Cooper's Hawk for a good bit at Commons Ford.
It was hunting the high grasslands.
Bald Eagle - at Mansfield Dam.  Sadly, the luster of this bird was somewhat lost, as I had seen a Zone-tailed Hawk just prior.
With lunch.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

El Valle

The last few days of my 2012 were spent in the Valley, driving back and forth between my hotel in Brownsville and preserves to the east and west.  Over two days, I birded Santa Ana, Bentsen, Frontera Audubon, Estero Llano Grande, Sabal Palm, and the South Padre Island Convention Center.  I had 115 species for the weekend in the Valley, and even added on 4 life birds: Long-tailed Duck, Altamira Oriole, Tropical Kingbird, and Rose-throated Becard.

Saturday started out at Donna Reservoir, where I searched for the Long-tailed Duck and Surf Scoter.  The former was easily found floating in a raft of Lesser Scaup, but I could never pinpoint the Scoter, and must assume it was in one of the rafts that was out of scope range.  American White Pelicans and Tree Swallows were other nice birds to start off the morning.

American White Pelicans at daybreak

Long-tailed Duck - digiscoped

Least Sandpipers being cooperative and completely fucking adorable

Least Grebe - this bird is a sinister looking fucker

After my time at Donna Reservoir, I made my way to Estero Llano Grande, a park which is quickly becoming my favorite in the Valley.  There's a great variety of habitat, and it was here that I was able to pile on birds for my Hidalgo county list.  Bonus: we were able to relocate the Rose-throated Becard, a badass flycatcher that's been hanging around the park for some time now.

Common Pauraque - master of camouflage 

These day roosting birds are all around Estero; some were close enough to pick up, if I were an asshole.

One of two bright as shit male Vermilion Flycatchers this weekend.  Not nearly as subtle as the Pauraques.

Ahh, the Rose-throated Becard.

We were actually pretty lucky to get a look at this bird.  It's almost always in the same area of the park, but it can be very hit or miss.

The park staff was very grateful that we found the bird, as it was within the CBC count week, and who doesn't want a Becard on their CBC?
 The rest of the day was spent at Bensten, followed by an unsuccessful stake out with about 8 other birders for a Zone-tailed Hawk at Frontera Audubon.

There must have been about 13 million Turkey Vultures, but I couldn't pick out one fucking Zone-tailed Hawk for the life of me.

Green Jay looking dapper.
Curve-billed Thrasher - I was glad this bird was cooperative, as the only other one I've seen was in and out in about 10 seconds.

Long-billed Thrasher - this dude was skulking around some shrubbery with a couple of Olive Sparrows.

Black Phoebe - not a bird I had counted on seeing, and the first one of the year for me.
  Sunday saw me hit the Convention Center for waders and ducks, the jetty for absolutely nothing, and Santa Ana, which put on a pretty good show near Pintail Lakes.

American Widgeon - there were a few of these ducks mixed in with about 600 Redheads.

Tricolored Herons were skulking around the boardwalks at the Convention Center.

I had all three Kingfisher species this weekend. Here's a Belted Kingfisher flying off with some breakfast.

Quite a few Common Gallinules around; I believe I had them in both counties this weekend.

Good look at a Royal Tern on a horrible trip to the South Padre Island Jetty.

Tropical Kingbird at the Convention Center

I went back and forth on this bird, the Tropical/Couch's complex not being an easy one.  This bird never called, just like the other 4 Tropical/Couch's I had this weekend, but it had an obvious greenish tint to the breast, the bill looks thinner and longer in the profile view, and a really nice girl I met at Santa Ana had, most likely, this exact bird two days prior and heard it vocalize.

And here it is taking a shit.

Nice looks at White-tailed Kite

Saw this bird and another as I was driving to Santa Ana.  Also came across a field of about 20 foraging Long-billed Curlews.

Green Parakeets - completely unexpected.  A few miles north of Bentsen State Park.

Red-crowned Parrots - seen in the backroads of Brownsville, on my way out of town.
I quickly hit Sabal Palm on my way out of town, bright and early Monday morning, and was able to top 100 birds on both my Cameron and Hidalgo county lists.