The Business Birder:
Fall Outing (or Falling Out) in
I just flew in from the east coast. Boy, are my arms tired. Old joke; old jokester. I actually fell out in
My company, located near
I flew up the weekend before the Monday meeting and stayed
Well, the outbound migrants were mostly gone and the inbound wintering birds had not arrived and the hanging around birds had taken shelter. I actually saw a flock of ducks checking into a bed-and-breakfast. I sometimes have luck under these conditions by working the lee side of the trees. The wind was so strong, for all practical purposes there was no lee side. The wind, however, did not stop the cable televised football games nor the pizza delivery.
On Sunday, I managed to tease out Black-throated Green
Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Northern Harrier, and Northern Bobwhite Quail
at Wellfleet plus a few other birds around the
The trip had its benefits. I was unofficially field-testing a Coleman soft cooler (packs in your luggage) and the large field guide cover for Sibley’s (www.fieldfare.com). They proved to be wonderful products for this business birder.
The Big Cover enables me to now use Sibley’s as my main field guide, versus leaving it in the car due to its size and weight. The Sibley’s guide is all about “quality birding”, with its detail, its treatment of subspecies, and the quality of its pictures. We will talk more about quality birding later.
Why did I begin a tale about
I had a trip planned to
Prior to my trip, I had consulted two members of the Lower
Cape Fear Bird Club, Bruce Smithson and Maurice Barnes, about where to go
I recently discovered the Llano Estacado Audubon Society
(LEAS), located in
I contacted Rich Kostecke from the LEAS via e-mail for
suggestions about birding around
On Wednesday, October 17, I birded around
Armed with birding suggestions and driving directions from
the hospital barber, I left for
Arriving in Junction, I proceeded to the
I was welcomed to the park by turkeys and deer standing everywhere. In addition to many White-tailed deer, a family of spotted deer crossed the road. I could not believe my eyes. The bucks, does, and fawns all had spots like I would expect to find only on fawns. The buck had a huge rack and was as tall as my Blazer. No, I have not sustained a recent head injury. I believe they were an exotic species imported from overseas by a nearby rancher. Unfortunately, I do not have a world field guide for deer. Someday I will have to look up this brand of deer.
As it turned out, much of the park along the river is
closed from October through April because it is roost for up to 800 Wild
Turkeys (the Western or
Given my change in itinerary, I luckily had two of my Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail maps with me: the Central Texas Coast (CTC) and the Lower Texas Coast (LTC). Plus my binoculars and field guide, now standard accoutrements for the draped crusader on any business trip.
As with most of my trips, I had no reservations, emotional nor accommodation-wise. I knew from my Internet research that the Cayman House was closed for the winter; however, I jotted down Michael’s number just in case I could schedule an impromptu birding trip with him.
On Thursday night I fell out around at the Comfort Inn and Suites at the junction of
I37 and US77 outside of
We covered the
There is a distinction between power birding and high
quality birding and sometimes a trip can be both. This trip for me was not about numbers
because I had seen most of the birds earlier in the year on trips to High
Island/Bolivar Peninsula and the
Since the Cayman House was closed, I stayed Friday night
at the Best Western Inn by the Bay in
All year I missed the Green Kingfisher from
Our first destination was the area around
At this site and along the road to Refugio, we added: Cattle Egret, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Crested Caracara, Common Moorhen, and Boat-tailed Grackle.
The kingfisher site was Lion’s/Shelly Park (CTC 38), in
Refugio, on the
Mind you, the Green Kingfisher was not a target bird, just a four-hour obsession. There was a sign that said “Green Kingfisher Point”, so I sat there a while having a picnic lunch purchased from a nearby Subway. While I ate, I noticed a Red-shouldered Hawk feeding just below me. I could not make out what it was eating. Could it have been a Green Kingfisher? Which brings up a birding ethics question, if I identified the meal as a Green Kingfisher, could I count it? Just kidding.
I heard two kingfishers along the river but never found them. Finally, on my final pass along the trail, I heard one and snuck up on it. Wow, I was not prepared for the size difference! Michael, it was just off the bridge where we first looked. Judging from the white stuff on the branch over the water, it is a favorite perch.
Next, I journeyed to Aransas to check it out even though I knew the Whooping Cranes had not arrived (mind you, they were not a target bird). I understand there is a pair of cranes that can be seen from the observation tower and that they are bringing a young one with them this year. Whooping Cranes are like Sandhill Cranes in that they roost in shallow water overnight; however, they need a lot of territory and do not travel daily to other sites for food. Therefore, you may see only one pair of cranes from the tower so the best way to see them is on a boat tour out of Rockport. Whoopers are five feet tall, compared to a little over four feet for the Sandhill. I will return next spring to see one of these monsters!
I drove from Aransas to the
My first stop Sunday was Laguna Atascosa. I was met at the entrance by about 70 Sandhill Cranes flying out to the fields adjacent to the entrance road.
I took the lakeside car tour first. Laguna Atascosa itself was very dry. I could barely see the birds across the lake at the small remaining puddle of water, even with the telescope provided by the refuge. I almost gave out of gas and would have if I had taken the bayside trail first. The refuge ranger provided a gallon of gas, which got me 15 miles to the nearest gas station. I will have to take the bayside drive next visit.
Unfortunately, I gave up trying to find the Aplomado Falcon to run for gas; however, I was happy with seeing a Common Black Hawk! I also saw: Harris Hawk, White-winged Dove, Green Jay, and Couch’s Kingbird.
After gassing up, I took the back county roads to Sabal
Palm. The sanctuary was extremely dry
and there were few birds. At this time
of the year, the small birds, even at Sabal Palm, were organized in little
feeder waves. I managed to add: White-eyed
Vireo, Tufted Titmouse (Black-tufted
If you go to the
Michael Marsden had given me an
I was forced to buy a detailed map of the
There was a note on the front door, welcoming all birders
and giving courtesy directions. As I
began observing the feeders, a car pulled up and couple number one got
out. Shortly thereafter, a man returned
to get his sunglasses left earlier that afternoon. He told the three of us that a Mango
was at a site about a mile away, so the three of us followed as he took off in
the wrong direction. After a wicked road
turn that reminded me of Bruce Smithson, we found the new site. As we drove up, three people were sitting on
the front lawn staring at a feeder. Now
there were six. I waited about 20
minutes and then returned to the first site.
As I left, a couple arrived to take my place on the lawn. When I returned to the first site there were
two people observing the feeders. They
talked of a third site and one asked the other if they could follow them to
that site. Unfortunately, I had to get
back on the road. As the three of us
departed, couple number one reappeared and said the Mango had shown up
at the second site after I left. I was
already very late departing for
Mind you, the Green-bearded Mango was not a target bird, just a two-hour obsession! I did find Rufus Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, and an American Redstart.
After returning to
Muleshoe is the winter home of up to one hundred thousand Lesser
Sandhill Cranes plus many waterfowl.
There is a Prairie Dog village near the visitor center. Prairie Dogs are a keystone species, like
Gopher Tortoises, providing home to many other species. I saw no Burrowing Owls and I also did not
see them as usual with the Prairie Dogs in
I added: Rock Wren, Lesser Prairie Coyote, and a Pale
Adult Western American Robin. There
were several thousand Sandhills and a few Pintails at Paul’s
A couple of years ago, when I lived in Gainesville, Florida, I was honored by about two thousand Sandhills flying over my house each morning for about three weeks. They had discovered a fresh cattle pasture just on the other side of our sub-development and worked it hard before moving on. I love with their different sounds.
I have a copy, somewhere in my files, of a
Next visit, I plan to include the Grulla
(the Spanish word for crane) NWR, which is 28 miles northwest of Muleshoe
NWR. It is near the
One last look, on the way to the
As usual, I thank all who gave me advice and birded with me. It is always an education and you are my teachers!
The author, John Ennis, is a full time (and free-range)
healthcare consultant and a part time birder, who wishes that it were the other
way around. He lives in the
Postscript: The day
I returned to
John B. Ennis © 2001