Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Thrashering

A Bendire's Thrasher surveys the eponymous Thrasher Spot.
Thrashering. Thrashering is a unique experience. Even in an endeavor as esoteric as birding, thrashering somehow reaches a different magnitude of excess. It's odd. It's not comfortable, but it's pleasing. It's not productive in the marxist sense of the word, but it's rewarding. It is what it is. It is thrashering. It begins with a singing Bendire's Thrasher.



It cannot be argued that the Thrasher Spot provides thrashers. A better argument can be made in regards to the types of looks birders typically get. Verdict: poor, as demonstrated by this Le Conte's Thrasher.
Although this photograph of a Crissal Thrasher is definitively sub-standard, I would argue that its inclusion here is important in that it may help temper standards of what types of looks to expect at the Thrasher Spot.
Much like baseball is better enjoyed when played on real grass, much like tacos are better prepared by an abuelita in a taqueria on the shady side of the street, thrashering is at its best at the Thrasher Spot. If you want to bask in the ethereal experience of thrashers, there is only one place to really do this. West of Phoeniz, in the shadow of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generation Station, there is habitat inhabited habitually by thrashers; Crissal, Bendire's, and the grail thrasher, Le Conte's.


As evidenced by these Sagebrush Sparrows, not all birds at Thrasher Spot are thrashers.

Many people have made this trek; I was not the first, and I will not be the last. The voyage was rough, being stuffed as I was between an open-mouthed, snoring, elderly woman and a portly gentleman with arms that protruded from their root more horizontally than most. But as perilous as the Southwest voyage was, the reward was only that much more sweet. These birds are here, begging to be seen. Wanting to be seen. Yearning, even.


I have long been an advocate of western Red-tailed Hawks. They are objectively more attractive than their eastern brethren.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Vacation: All. I. Ever. Wanted.

Vacation: Had. To. Get. Away.



A return to Arizona, the land of distinguished cacti and undistinguished Melanerpes.
As those of you well versed in the world of scumbag bird bloggers may know, I recently had to get away. This getaway took me to the land of Bulleit Bourbon and The Cornish Pasty Company. It took me to thrashers and grosbeaks. It took me to The Laurence and The Amber. It took me to Arizona.

Palmer's Curve-billed Thrasher
Birds are good in Arizona. Not necessarily better than Texas;  just different and good. Although several different places were birded in the central Arizona region, today we are focusing on one spot. Papago Park. Adjacent to the Desert Botanical Garden, Papago Park has two features that compelled me. 1) It was close enough for me to catch a cab. 2) It hosts good birds which I don't see often enough/ever.


"Look on top of Saguaros. You can't miss them." I saw two Gilded Flickers; one on this barbed wire fence, another on a light pole. People are stupid. Gilded Flickers are stupider.
One of the resident birds at Papago Park is Gilded Flicker. Gilded Flicker is a bird I should have seen last year. I did not. So, even though I've seen my fair share of both Red-shafted and Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers, it was incumbent upon me to see this weird combination of the two. Trouble is, Gilded Flicker did not want to be seen by me. After successfully not finding this bird all weekend, an out of the way stop finally paid dividends just a few hours before my flight back to Austin was scheduled to leave. It was drumming. On a lightpost. Because that makes sense.


Black-tailed Gnatcatcher - As gregarious as its Blue-grey kin.
Black. Tail.
Other birds of Papago Park may not have been new for me, but they were not appreciated any less by the fact. Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Curve-billed Thrashers, Anna's Hummingbirds...these are all important for the spirit. And even though I fought it, even though I said I wasn't going to look, I have now seen Rosy-faced Lovebird. And, it's actually a pretty sexy bird. Trust me, it wasn't my fault. It lured me into the dense foliage, buried deep and singing its strange dying vireo call from cover. It drew me in like Homer's sirens drew in the sailors, and I followed.


The ring of a Ring-necked Duck. I have no more reason to photograph this bird.

And that was Papago Park. More birds were seen in Arizona, which we'll get to in the near-ish future. Much appreciation to my good friend The Laurence at Butler's Birds for hosting, driving, filling my glass with whiskey, etc.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Highly Local

Like a missile in the night, Ringed Kingfisher will slip under the radar of many Travis County birders.
Some birds are better than others. Some birds require work. Some birds must be actively sought, as opposed to being stumbled upon. I have these birds in my county. You have these birds in your county. Do you know where these birds are?



Many local birders will live their lives without adding Verdin, a year round resident, to their county lists. Is it apathy? Is it lack of knowledge? We may never know.
We are each fortunate in our own way to have a small number of low density residents and visiting birds annually. Some of these birds are limited to one or two known breeding pairs in a county. Sometimes, they are inner circle. Many times, they are not. But...they are there. Your mission is to find them.

Black-throated Sparrow is not nearly as celebrated locally as it should be. Obviously, it is not for lack of aesthetic quality.
Highly localized birds are a source of pride for the county birder. These are birds you show to out of owners. These are birds that require extra stops on big days. Learn these birds. Find these birds. Know these birds.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Some Kind of Big Year

Rusty Blackbird is only recently an "annual" bird in Travis County. I include this bird here a lot, for good reason.
I don't think it should come as a surprise to anyone that I'm all about the county birding. A big reason for that is that Travis County has a shitload of birds. Maybe if I lived in some isolated county, I would be more willing to venture outside of the borders, but here I really don't have to. Situated as we are, Travis county has the Edwards Plateau to the west and Backland Prairie to the east. In birding terms, this means that we get western birds like Black-throated Sparrow, Verdin, and Cactus Wren as well as Eastern birds/migrants such as Blackburnian and Canada Warblers and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in decent numbers each year. We're also far enough south that there are reliable valley-ish birds like Couch's Kingbird, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, and Least Grebe. Add in migratory shorebirds, raptors, and random vagrants, and there are over 300 species seen in Travis County annually. There are not many counties in the country where that is possible, especially away from the coast.


This Bullock's Oriole was found on the Austin CBC. It has been seen a few times this year, and there is a good chance it will be the only one of its kind seen in Travis County this year. 
Eared Grebe is neither an exceptional bird, nor a particularly sexy bird, in the common sense of the word. Regardless, it is not unappreciated.
But just how many birds can get documented in a given year? This is what people like me think about. It's a sickness. This conversation came up recently over beers. How many birds can be documented, either photographically or audibly, in one calendar year? 260? 275? Surely not 300. Things get reported every year that are outstanding records, but have no evidence, other than varying degrees of description. Undoubtedly, many of these reports are legit, but not all of them. So, as we continued drinking beers, the conversation evolved in to discussion about a big year. And that's where we are now. In a not quite sober state, I was volunteered to compile a 2015 Travis County Photographic Big Year. It's collaborative, and only birds with evidence of photographs or audio recordings count.

There are many birds that I normally don't find myself trying to photograph. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is one of those birds, which I see now is a mistake on my part. 
Killdeer is another of those birds. The big year has found me photographing birds that I rarely look at. It's disconcerting.
After this first month of the year, we are at 165 birds. Not bad, right? We still have all the passerine and shorebird migrants to come through, in addition to summer breeders and random vagrants. More impressively, so far, there are 29 different people contributing. It's working out pretty well, so we'll see where it goes. After a busy first couple of weeks, things have died down. It won't be long, however, until migration starts up and that number will skyrocket. Check it out here: 2015 Travis County Collaborative Big Year.

This may be the first time a Northern Mockingbird has made this blog. Odd, in that fewer birds are more ubiquitous here.
And, the ever present Red-tailed Hawk.