The Business Birder:  Forced Down in Lubbock

 

Somewhere between Raleigh and Lubbock, I lost springtime and sunshine.  I had just signed a new client in Lubbock and needed to be there Monday through Wednesday, March 26-28.  When you are a business birder, you go, you bird when you get there, and you suck it up and deal with it.  Four days of low clouds, freezing drizzle, fog, and strong winds.  I had no idea of what lay ahead.

 

I flew in on Sunday and stopped by a lake, just off Martin Luther King Boulevard.  The lake is part of a ribbon of parks, which runs the course of Yellow House canyon and the two streams that become the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River, as they travel through Lubbock.  Did I bring my Texas birding material and maps?  Not a chance.  I saw the ribbon on the rental car agency map and we all know how detailed and accurate they are.  I took a chance. 

 

I saw some good birds, including:  Redhead, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, and Ruddy Duck.    After checking into the hotel, I visited Buffalo Springs canyon and lake, a little southeast of Lubbock.  It is part of the same canyon and stream network as the previously mentioned site.  I used the aforementioned map and also relied on intuition.  More Shovelers plus I saw and then accidentally flushed two Pheasants.   

 

On Monday morning it had begun to drizzle and freeze; freeze and drizzle.  Funny how those words just seem to go together.  The trees were coated with ice.  Can you say “pea soup”?  I knew you could.

 

After work, I braved the elements and visited Buffalo Springs Canyon again.   The canyon is very beautiful in a wild and gnarled sort of way.  I had time to drive around the lake, looking for waterfowl through the freezing mist.  Shovelers to the right of me; Shovelers to the left of me.  Then I saw a pair of interesting herons.  They turned out to be Black-crowned Night Herons, a male and female.  I had just walked out on a floating dock to get a better look since they were across the lake, when from the reeds on my left swam a male and female Cinnamon Teal (a lifer for me!).

    

After work on Tuesday, I had limited time due to the fact that fog was settling in.  I returned to the first site.  I could not see well out on the lake but could make out several..…..you guessed it….Northern Shovelers!  As I drove around the lake, I checked all of the black birds.  I could see the birds at the front of the reeds clearly but the fog partially hid the birds in the back. 

 

How many times have I scanned a flock of black birds, hoping to see a Yellow-headed Blackbird?  I cannot do the math.  There he was.  In the middle-distanced reeds, among several hundred Red-winged Blackbirds.  “Startling” is the only word that comes to mind.  The fog did not disguise him, yet the fog gave him an eerie look.  A Yellow-headed ghost!  A needle in a haystack.   

 

Quickly he disappeared into the rushes.  I scanned until almost dark, wondering if my mind had played a trick on me.  I circled the lake again and returned to find the flock gone.  So on Wednesday morning before work, I was at the lake for sunrise. 

 

Of course, I never saw sun but it got light enough to see the birds and the fog had lifted.  A few hundred blackbirds greeted me.  There is nothing as beautiful as the cacophony of hundreds of Red-winged Blackbirds!  The birds kept coming.  Hundreds more that the previous night.  After a few minutes of scanning, I found him or possibly his cousin.  A little to the left I found another.  Wow, two!       

 

This time the Yellow-headed Blackbird perched at the top of the reeds, tilted his head back, and sat there singing at the top of his lungs for several minutes!  It is not like he could have been heard.

 

If you go, the Yellow House Canyon and streams form a wildlife corridor and it is probably a bird magnet all year along.  

 

The trip turned out to be one of my most enjoyable ever.  Had the “fowl” weather forced down some good birds?  Was I just in the right place at the right time?  Or had God smiled down on the Business Birder?

 

***

 

The author, John Ennis, is a full time healthcare consultant and a part time birder, who wishes that it were the other way around.  He lives in the Wilmington, North Carolina area.  An average birder by any measurement, he rarely finds his target bird but loves the adventure along the way. 

 

(During a subsequent visit, I discovered the Llano Estacado Audubon Society, located in Lubbock.  Visit their Web site at www.leas.bizland.com.) 

 

John B. Ennis ă 2001

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