Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My 2013

Well nerds, 2013 is quickly drawing to a close, and as such, I think it's a decent time for the obligatory "summary" post.  Unlike many 2013 summaries, this post will not involve "twerking."  I mean, feel free to "twerk" if you like, just don't expect me to join you.  Blah blah blah.  Anyways, 2013 happened.  There were birds, love, whiskey, and jams, not necessarily ranked accordingly.  There were also unsuccessful attempts at pulling off a moustache.  It wasn't my best year; it wasn't my worst year.  It kind of just "was."  But, you're here for the birds.  And on that front, 2013 was pretty stellar.  Let's review.  Also, please take note that my camera setup has vastly improved since the beginning of the year. Power through the shitty pictures at the beginning of the post; I promise they get better.

Purple Martin Roost - hundreds of thousands of birds.  One the most impressive spectacles I saw this year.
Quite a few birding trips were made this year, many of which were with my good buddy AJ.  I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I want you all to know that AJ is a badass dude.  Most positive and energetic person I've ever known.  I'd like to think it makes me a better person for just knowing him.  So, we started the year with a Red Crossbill trip to North Texas (although really, I consider anything north of Waco to be Oklahoma).  

Red Crossbills were as easy to locate as they were difficult to crush.  Good bird for Texas.
Cedar Waxwings in North Texas
In May, AJ and I did the Big Bend trip.  This is something that everyone needs to do, and I think Texas birders probably need to do it annually.  It's completely fucking breathtaking.  Birds are sick.

Painted Redstart - We literally hiked over the mountain and through the woods before we saw this bird.
Dusky-capped Flycatcher - super cooperative bird; just came off the Texas review list a few years ago.
Colima Warbler - the reason so many out of shape nerders climb the grueling Pinnacles Trail.
In conjunction with a Texas pelagic, AJ and I pissed around the valley for a few days in September.  The Valley is one of my favorite places.  The birds are nuts and the tacos are excellent.

Long-billed Thrasher - South Texas specialty
Caspian Tern - this was my first outing with my new lens.  I was stoked.
This is AJ.  I swear to God, he could have his legs chopped off and still make it up a mountain before me.  And he'd be smiling the whole damn time.  My life would be vastly different if I had 10% of the enthusiasm that he has.
In late May, I attended my roommate's wedding in Cape Cod.  It was a great opportunity to get together with my original birding mentor/tutor, Jake, a great dude, and a hell of a good birder...and lepper...and oder.  Good birds were seen and good beer was ingested.

This is Jake, my original birding mentor.  That means I could call him about Lesser Goldfinches and he wouldn't tell me to fuck off.  As you can see, he's also the ultimate multi-tasker.
This is a young dead Diamondback Terrapin.  One of the coolest things I've seen this year.  Not the being dead part, though.
Common Eider - Stunning life bird.
Piping Plover - I did a nice walk one morning in Cape Cod, in the midst of a relatively strong hangover.  There were nesting Piping Plovers, Least Terns, and Willets.  It was cool.
Least Terns - although I stayed far away from the roped off nesting area, they were still less than enthusiastic about my presence.  I gave them a wide berth.
The major trip this year would have to be California, where I reveled in amazing birds and drank good whiskey with the nefarious Seagull Steve.  I also got yelled at by an incredibly angry old man.

Yellow-billed Magpie - I rented a car to see this bird.  It took me way longer than it should have to figure out how to drive a Prius.  It was worth it.
Pink-footed Shearwater - on the Half Moon Bay pelagic.
Northern Fulmar
Pomarine Jaeger - one of my favorite photos I took this year, and the reason I now only shoot in RAW.
Obviously, most of my birding this year was centered in my beloved Travis county.  I did a decent job in bringing my county list closer to 300, and had good times birding with a nice selection of non-weirdo local birders: Sam, Arman, and Kenny, to name a few.

Nelson's Sparrow - this googly-eyed fucker was one of the bigger surprises in the county this year.
Golden-cheeked Warbler - if I ever get a tattoo of a bird, this will be the one.
Rock Wren - not the easiest bird to see in Travis, let alone photograph.  Good luck on this day.
Wilson's Phalarope - one of many fine looking birds you can see in the county.
One of my favorite things this year was finding Scissor-tailed Flycatchers nesting in the parking lot of my hospital.

I feel like I had a good year for owls, notching up 11 species.  Many offered decent looks and opportunities for crushing.

Barred Owl fledgling.
Northern Saw-whet Owl - My mom saw this bird.
Long-eared Owl - I know I just posted this a few weeks ago, but I'm still not over it.
Elf Owl
Eastern Screech-Owl
This is a Barn Owl.  I don't think it was even a full day old.  AJ monitors the nest, and invited me up to document the birds.
That little bird would shortly turn into this.
So, let's look at the numbers, shall we?  If you're a vehement "anti-lister" feel free to ignore this part.  Go look at House Sparrows or something.

Year numbers:
ABA - 416
Texas - 349
Travis county - 262

I'm happy with that.  Not stellar, but I saw a lot of shit and learned a ton about identification and distribution.  I also added some pretty great life birds this year.  Here are my favorites, ranked not in order of rarity status, but in my own level of mental freak-out when I saw them.

10. Golden-winged Warbler
9. Varied Bunting
8. Nelson's Sparrow
7. Painted Redstart
6. Wrentit
5. Dusky-capped Flycatcher
4. Flesh-footed Shearwater
3. Elf Owl
2. Blue-footed Booby
1. Zone-tailed Hawk

So, what does 2014 hold?  Not sure.  Ideas float around in my head.  Southeast Arizona?  King Ranch for Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl?  Hopefully, those will be in the handful of trips I make.  Until then, I hope you nerds have a good new year and all that jazz.  

Brown Pelican - I think this was my favorite photo I took this year.




Thursday, December 26, 2013

Random Winter Goodness

Another dose of random shit, courtesy of your current TCG champion.  Hahaha!  Sorry, Jen.  Had to throw that in there.  Last time, I promise.  Anyways, I'm sitting here at a coffee shop, shooting the shit with my friend Angie and going through random photos from the past several weeks.  Nothing necessarily stands out, but I think I need one of these potpourri posts every other month or so.

Rufous Hummingbird - this bird required some due diligence in regards to its identification.  The countys first Allen's Hummingbird was found last winter, so all Rufous/Allen's types are getting heavily scrutinized.  After some discussion and good pictures of the tail feathers, it was determined that this is more than likely an adult female Rufous.
Monk Parakeet
Buffleheads - frequent visitors to TMWB, and why wouldn't they be?  They're so fucking gorgeous.
Mourning Dove - Common bird.  Pretty bird.
Least Sandpipers 
Again, Least Sandpipers.
Least Sandpiper.  As you can see, there really aren't a lot of other sandpipers to see in central Texas right now.
Spotted Sandpiper - I mean, other than Spotteds.
Christmas came and went without much fanfare.  I exercised my liver on Christmas Eve, and then hit several places on Christmas day.  I poached an Eastern Towhee, a county bird for me, and one that I had chased probably a dozen times before.  Also, I finally picked up my county year Harris's Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco.  How embarrassing.

Eastern Bluebird
Rusty Blackbirds - okay, so this is actually exciting.  Rusty Blackbirds are not common birds here.  This is the third winter in which they've been at Hornsby Bend.
I've never seen them in numbers like this.  On this day, I counted at least 22.
 
Common Grackle
Common Raven - I saw this first thing Christmas morning.  
Black-throated Sparrow - as previously stated, every time I see one of these birds, it will be put on this blog.
Lincoln's Sparrow - one of my favorite sparrows.
Yea, so that's all I've got for now, nerds.  Stay tuned for a year end wrap up, and an interview with a county big year birder.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

TGC: The Results Are In! Also, I Found a Good Bird.

Texas! Texas! Texas!  Come and Take It!  Remember the Alamo!

Huzzah!  For those of you who don't know, the TGC, a challenge between myself and Party Don't Stop! Jen, took place today.  And... I crushed it.  Well, I didn't really crush it. I got 2 out of 6 birds, but I won!  Oregon beer will be in my belly soon!  Here's the breakdown.  If you need a refresher on the rules, here you go.  And be sure to check out Jen's awesome blog, i used to hate birds for her story.

Birds for Jen:
Thayer's Gull
Bushtit
Evening Grosbeak
Band-tailed Pigeon
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Northern Pygmy-Owl

Birds for Nate:
Greater Roadrunner
Blue-headed Vireo
LeConte's Sparrow
Cave Swallow
Ringed Kingfisher
Sedge Wren

Here's what we learned.  This was waaaaaaaaaaaay too difficult.  We tried to be fair, but it's really hard to pick birds when you have no idea of what's expected in a county across the country.  Here's how it went down for me.

Greater Roadrunner: tough bird, especially in winter, but super hit and miss all year long.  You never go looking for a Greater Roadrunner; you just see them when you're driving somewhere.  I tried a few places, but really, the only way I was going to see this bird was to luck into it.  That did not happen.

Blue-headed Vireo: The only real "gimme" bird on my list.  There's always one mixed in with chickadees and yellow-rumpeds.  I got it pretty easy.



LeConte's Sparrow: So, ammodramus sparrows are tough to see, let alone photograph.  I started my day looking for this bird, with no luck.  I later hit up Commons Ford with Sam, thinking it would be my best bet, and confident to have another person tromping through the tall grass with me.  Problem was, the grass had been mowed, and the sparrows wanted nothing at all to do with it.  So, no LeConte's.

Cave Swallow: If there are any swallows in Travis county right now, they are Cave Swallows.  I'm not convinced that there are any swallows in Travis County right now.  I looked, but had no luck.

Ringed Kingfisher: Not a "gimme" by any means, but there is a reliable spot.  Had it fly by early this morning, but my damn camera was turned off.  Ended up running down the trail chasing it like a mad man.  People stared.  Fortunately, I had better looks later in the day.


You see how that whole belly is rufous colored?  Yea, Ringed.
Massive bill.

Sedge Wren: Nope.  Honestly, there was like a .1% chance I was going to see this bird.  I tried.  I failed.

I have to extend many thanks to my good buddies Kenny, Sam, and Arman for helping me out today.  I don't like a lot of people, but those dudes are solid and a blast to hang out with.

ALSO, I found a badass bird today.  While I was staking out the Ringed Kingfisher, I scanned a flock of American White Pelicans and found one juvenile Brown Pelican.  Good bird for the county.  Pretty jazzed.


The White Pelicans didn't like the Brown Pelican.  I thought we had come so far.