Thursday, July 30, 2015

"Fuck That Alligator" (A Trip Home To Corpitos)

"Fuck that alligator." How do you feel about that sentence? It's powerful, obviously. It's to the point. Nobody should be confused as to the information that you are trying to convey. Personally, I don't have anything against alligators; I don't think many readers of this blog would. Still, I like how confident it sounds. I can get on board with that sentence. were my last sentence. Like, ever.

Turns out, that was most likely the last thing a brave man said earlier this month, when sometime after midnight, he decided it would be a good idea to go swimming in a marina in Orange, Texas. There had been an 11 foot alligator hanging out, and advisories had been duly posted in attempts to deter drunk east Texans from swimming there. Our intrepid explorer, full of confidence and testosterone, need not heed warnings about a goddamned gator. This is America, and Obama wasn't going to take a moonlit romp in the water from him. So, despite the pleadings of marina employees, this man rationally gathered all the information at his disposal, his knowledge of living in alligator territory for his 28 manly years, and decided to say, "Fuck that alligator." It didn't work out. And thus, this man was the first Texan to be killed by an alligator in two centuries. (I'm not making this shit up, those were his actual last words, aside from the probable "Ouch" and/or "Oh no!")

This is a different alligator, obviously. I have no intention of swimming with it.

A little while back, I packed a bag and headed down to Corpus Christi, that dirty little city which turned me in to the man I am today. Birding was not a priority, but I did spend a few hours in Port Aransas and the surrounding area.

Common Gallinule at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center, Port Aransas.
Roseate Spoonbill. People like spoonbills. 
Least Bitterns are often difficult to photograph.
I wonder how many Texans have perished in the gaping jaws of Willets. Surely, more than one in the last 200 years. 

Couch's Kingbird at Hazel Bazemore Park in Calallen.
Black-necked Stilt. Shorebirds at Hazel Bazemore don't often number very high, but they're usually cool with being crushed.
And, that's a small taste of Corpus. Birds are hard to come by in mid-July. I've noticed many blogs giving more attention to leps and odes. Makes sense. That's all I've got today.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Kiss Me, I'm Iowa-ish

It's true. You may think of me as the quintessential Texan (assuming you even think of me at all), but I can not lie. I am half Iowa-ish. On my mom's side, from a small town next to another small town, next to another small town. I've been visiting Iowa sporadically for the duration of my entire life. One christmas in Iowa I got a Nintendo, the original one with Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt. One summer, an obscenely large woman somehow created enough downward momentum off of a diving board to spring her heaving body up in the air and onto my sister in the water below. We thought she was dead. She wasn't. These are all things that have happened in Iowa. And now that I'm a grown man and not content to bide my time swinging on a swingset or watching trucks drive by the front porch, I find myself spending free time in Iowa looking for birds.

This is one of the two Upland Sandpipers I saw at Dunbar Slough WMA.
Bald Eagle is a bird that abounds in Iowa, however many Iowans seem to not be aware of this fact.
Iowa is not all corn and soy fields. Iowa is only mostly corn and soy fields, but there are some patches with preserved prairie habitat, and this is where one looks for birds in the summer in the midwest. Too far east for Baird's Sparrow, there are not a lot of target birds for me in Iowa, but there are a few that I don't see too often. With the help of local birding dude, Matt Wetrich, I was able to see some of those birds.

Bobolink is as close to a target bird as I could get; a bird I've seen very infrequently and rarely well.
There are also many Dickcissels in Iowa.

So, on the off chance that you ever find yourself with time to kill in northwestern/central Iowa, there are a couple of places you should check out. First, Dunbar Slough WMA. It's pretty sick. A couple roads to drive and some spots to walk along the shoulder. Second is a very small place called Harrier Marsh WMA. It's really just a road to walk along, not more than a mile across, but there are a shitload of good birds, including a ton of Marsh Wrens that were doing this weird hunting/flight display type business that I had never seen before.

In Iowa, Ring-necked Pheasant is a bird that flies in front of your car on country roads.
Red-winged Blackbird is an antagonizer of Bobolinks.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

MAYNE RAYGE: Part Five - Nothing is Funny

And like that, it's done. This is the last post covering MAYNE RAYGE, and I have to admit it hurts a little bit to bring this chapter to a close. I mean yeah, the trip has been over for a month now, and many things have happened in my life since then, but I've been reliving it in sharing these stories and photos with you, and I'm sad to see it go. I can honestly say that MAYNE RAYGE was the best vacation I've taken in years. I have not laughed as hard as I did during those 11 days in quite some time, I have not pounded through so much beer and whiskey over and over and over, and I have not reveled in so many unfamiliar birds for such an extended period of time. For all those things, I am grateful to my 3 travel companions, Flycatcher Jen, Seagull Steve, and Dipper Dan. So, let's get to it.

Common Eiders were abundant in Maine, but we only really had one opportunity to crush them... and crush them we did.

And these are baby Eiders.
The first place we stayed in Maine was at a house near Pine Point Jetty. After birding the Portland area during the day, FJ, DD, and I birded the beach near the jetty while SS stayed at the house and showered up. We had good birds and as the sun started to fall and we were making our back to the house, Bonaparte's Gulls started showing up, something that got us thinking that the Little Gull from the previous night may soon be joining them. FJ and DD were beat, but SS was drooling at the prospect so he and I took the car back up to the jetty as the gulls and terns started coming in. We had a few Roseate Terns and were looking for the adult Little Gull from the night before when Steve somehow picked out a distant, different Little Gull, this one a first summer bird. As we watched it, we saw a birder on the beach, and correctly assumed he was looking for the adult Little Gull we had reported. Then we saw him run. Naturally we followed and saw our adult bird, and our second Little Gull of the night. 

I assume this is the same Little Gull from earlier in the day.

A dark underwing is a good underwing, 
So, this is where shit gets kind of crazy. As we were looking at the adult LIGU, we were vaguely paying attention to a flock of Bonaparte's Gulls on the beach, no more than 15 feet away. And then #7 did what he does best. "Wait, what the fuck? That's a Black-headed Gull." Yeah, there was a Black-headed Gull walking around directly in front of us. Because, this is Maine and magical things happen in Maine. As you can tell, we got terrible, grainy shots of it. We called FJ and DD, who hoofed it back up to meet us. Oddly enough, Black-headed Gull was not a life bird for any of us. ABA bird for me, but that's as close as we got. And that's the story of gull heroics at Pine Point Jetty.

Moral of the story is that next time you see a Little Gull, look closely at all the other gulls and you will find a Black-headed Gull. Every time. 

It actually looks quite different from the Bonaparte's Gulls.
And that was Maine. Sick trip. Sick birds. Sick rages.

Friday, July 3, 2015

MAYNE RAYGE: Part Four - Nate's Glory, or Passerines in Maine

The scene: Seagull Steve and I are at the summit of Big Moose Mountain, shielding ourselves from the sleet coming down around us by hiding in a shed that serves the radio tower which stands atop the mountain, its apex lost in fog and only recognizable by a blinking red light. Hope is taking its bloody, stunted last breath.

Steve: "What's the best bird you've ever gripped somebody off on?"

Nate: "Fuck, man. I think this is it."

Steve: "It's a really good one."

Nate: "Yeah...sorry about that."

The bird was a Bicknell's Thrush.

This is obviously not a Bicknell's Thrush. American Redstart at Capisic Pond, Portland.

This Blackpoll Warbler was a long overdue life bird, and one which earned Seagull Steve a sweet, sweet HJ.
We saw this bird and many, many other warblers near Biddeford Pool in a disgusting hour long flurry of warblers.
We had spent the last 2 nights in Greenville at the suggestion of one Ryan Shaw, WA bird police, a recent Travis County Big Day teammate, friend, and lover of many. Big Moose Mountain would be the spot for the 4 am trek for Bicknell's Thrush, a somewhat easier hike than others for this bird, and as such, one which would better accommodate the four of us after many late nights of drinking much whiskey and doing embarrassing things that involved elbows, belly buttons, and timid baby deer. Meow.

Prairie Warbler is a bird I am familiar with, though not intimately. Perhaps if I got toilet paper involved.
This bird was seen at Kennebunk Plains.
In Maine, there are many Common Yellowthroats. This is one of them.
Upon arriving the first night in Greenville, we saw that the forecast for the next morning was heavy in rain, so none of us put up much of a fight when we voted to postpone the hike to the following morning, which was forecast to be clear and cool. Raging took place, and we were able to sleep a bit later in the morning than we had for any other time during the trip. The thing is, Maine weather is unpredictable. When we woke up the next morning, the skies were clear, and the weather was cool. Perfect conditions for a Bicknell's Thrush hike, but too late in the day for us to conceivably have any luck. We birded around Piscataquis County, picking up a few trip state birds, and seeing/not seeing a White-winged Crossbill before heading back to Greenville for dinner and more raging. FJ's alarm woke her at 3:45 the following morning, and she in turn woke me with 100 watts of incandescent fury in my face. Shortly thereafter, Seagull Steve and Dipper Dan knocked at our door, and shared with us the weather forecast, which called for heavy rain. Because, of course. Undaunted, yet unenthusiastic, we drove to the trailhead and began our hike around 4 am. I'm more in shape than I was 6 months ago, but the 2000 feet gain in elevation over 2 miles was pretty rough, especially after the first 20 minutes, when the rain started coming down heavy.

Black-and-white Warblers were relatively abundant, to the point where they kind of seemed like an afterthought at some points.
Black-throated Green Warblers. Everywhere. "Heroes in a half shell."
After an hour or two of climbing over slippery rocks and walking past creepy houses built in the deep forest of the mountain, we reached the top which opened up to give us a beautiful view of fog and radio towers. "This is it. This is where Bicknell's Thrush resides." With not much territory to cover, we slowly started exploring and I found myself about 30 yards ahead of the others. I saw something dart across the trail and behind some dense trees, but was not convinced it wasn't one of the White-throated Sparrows that we had been hearing. I worked myself around the trees and saw a bird perched up. I pulled my binoculars up to find that they were slightly foggy and dripping with melted sleet and rain. Wiping them down as fast as I could, I got them up again to see the bird, and goddamn. Bicknell's Thrush. I looked at it for just about 10 seconds before backing up so I could holler at the other three, "Bicknell's!" Not as subtle as "grouse grouse grouse grouse grouse grouse grouse grouse", but I figured it would do the trick. FJ, SS, and DD came racing to where I was, and, as things things tend to go, the bird flew off just as Dan was turning the corner. Balls. "It was right here; it couldn't have gone far." False. We all gave it a good shot, probably 30 minutes or so before FJ and DD decided they'd had enough of the sleet and cold and started to work their way back down the trail. Seagull Steve and I gave it another half hour, but we knew. It was obvious. I had gripped the rest of them off. I felt bad. I still feel bad. But, such is life. Steve made peace with the inevitable, and the two of us started our long hike back to the car. By the end, we were basically walking through what had turned into a running creek, and I was soaked and freezing to the bone.

My other life warbler, and with a shitty picture to boot. Black-throated Blue Warbler near Greenville. 
This was the one of the last cool birds we saw, a Brown Thrasher hanging outside of our hotel in Portland.
We made our way back to Portland and got adjoining rooms at a Travelodge before heading out for dinner, where we drank sour beer and I spent way too much money on a shitty hoodie because I couldn't get my body warmed up. Mayhem ensued at the hotel, but those stories (and videos) are best kept between the four of us. Just know that we raged. As you can probably tell by now, there are no pictures of a Bicknell's Thrush in this blog post. None were taken; the bird was gone. These are some of the passerines we saw during Mayne Rayge. I hope they will suffice.