Redux?Who knew I
would ever use that word?It is one of
those words that you have to hold your pinky out when typing it or reading
it.This is much like the time I
surprised Martha Stewart by using the word “garnish” without the word “wages”
following it.I was writing my recipe
for Uncle Juan’s Smoldering Mexican
Grits.But that is another story.
Some day, I may
turn into a wordsmith.I may even use
“draconian” in a sentence.Uh…..maybe I
should look that up before I use it.
In the meantime, I
make up some words of my own.For
example, “Dilbertesque” is an adjective qualifying anything your boss or fellow
workers have done or not done that should be immediately e-mailed to Scott
Adams.Like when Human Resources issues
a draconian personnel policy update that resembles the tax code in clarity.
I think I should move on to the real story.My primary client for the past year or so is
in Lubbock, so I have been
privileged to do a lot of winter birding around Lubbock
over the past two winters and to use it as a base for other trips.I made several trips in November and December
2001.The winter birds arrived and my
observations included: Ross’s Goose, Canada Geese (by the tens of thousands), Northern
Shoveler, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, and Gadwall.LubbockCounty truly deserves its
reputation as a winter goose resort.
On January 5, I visited the Muleshoe NWR, approximately
seventy miles from Lubbock.The previous October, I had visited Muleshoe
for the first time and heard of a Great Horned Owl who (“who” is possibly a
play on words here) lives near the ranger’s residence.It was mid-day then and there were plenty of
leaves on the trees and I did not find the owl.However, in cold and bleak January, arriving about dusk, I easily
spotted the owl.And as I walked down a
nearby trail, I passed its mate just fifty feet or so to my left.I got great looks!On my return hike, I accidentally flushed the
second bird and it promptly joined its mate and I was able to observe both for
another fifteen minutes, until my fingers turned blue.
Other Muleshoe birds included:Sandhill
Cranes (by the thousands), White-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow,
Curved-billed Thrasher, American Robin, American Kestrel, and Western
The next day back in Lubbock,
I birded around the CanyonLakes.There was a funny look to a flight of approximately
a hundred Canada Geese landing on CanyonLake 5.On the trailing edge was a white bird, a Lesser Snow Goose.Never seen that before!However, at Lake 6,
among a huge raft of Canada Geese, I found two pairs of Snow Geese, so maybe
this is not so rare.
I was back in Lubbock
on February 5.It snowed all day, yet it
did not stick on the roads, making it a winter wonderland for birding.I birded around BuffaloSpringsLake
and found: Cinnamon Teal, a Yellow-headed Blackbird among hundreds
of Red-winged Blackbirds, Black-crowned
Night Heron, and Ring-necked Duck.The best find of the day came as I was
leaving.A flock of Western Meadowlarks perched in small shrubs and on the ground was
highlighted by the backdrop of snow.Their colors were never more brilliant.
While birding at Buffalo Springs,
I heard of a Gyrfalcon in downtown Lubbock
from a guy from Fort Worth, who
came to Lubbock just to see the
Gyrfalcon and was also birding other areas around Lubbock.
I told myself that I would pick it up tomorrow.I should have left immediately for the water tower because it was a Texas
state record and the most southern sighting ever for the bird.Who knew?
You guessed it, I stopped the next day on my way to the
airport and the bird was out.Species
seen at the CanyonLakes
during this trip, included: Gadwall,
Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser,
Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Double-crested Cormorant, and Canada Goose.On
February 6, I added: American Wigeon,
Bufflehead, Wood Duck, and Lesser Snow Goose at ClappPark.
Back in North
Carolina, I looked at the Llano Estacado Audubon
Society (LEAS) Web site and found that an estimated
300-400 birders had traveled to Lubbock
to see the Gyrfalcon and many more were expected to come.The LEAS Web site reported that the
Gyrfalcon left about and returned
to its roost around
daily.I decided it was time to join
their listserver for the future.
Well, I joined their listserver
and, because I had trips planned to Rockport/Corpus Christi in March and HighIsland in April, I decided to also
join TEXBIRDS.And, since I planned to
go on my bird club’s WashingtonState
trip in May, I decided to go ahead and sign up for Tweeters.A day or so later, I discovered my
mistake.Suddenly I was getting 60
additional e-mails a day!
I had to temporarily unsubscribe
to Tweeters and just wade through all of the Texas
and Lubbock e-mails.There was some great stuff in these e-mails.
I had to print or delete just to keep up with incoming messages.While I enthusiastically recommend this
method of getting bird alerts and trip reports, just be aware of the volume.
When I returned to Lubbock
on Monday night, February 18, packing my scope, it was drizzling mud.You have to know the weather in West
Texas to understand.When
it rains or snows, it is often preceded by strong wind that creates a sand
The next morning was clear,
windy, and cold.I saw the Gyrfalcon the
moment I arrived near the water tower, about ,
just before dawn.It was hunkered down
on the lee side.I set up my scope a
block and a half away across 34th Street,
hoping it was a safe distance to prevent scaring the bird.As the light got better, I was starting to
get really good looks at the bird.The
bird turned around for me, preened itself, and at it hopped to the left on the rail, using its wings as an assist,
so I got to see its side and stomach. It traveled a few feet and rested for 30
seconds and then hopped again in the same manner.This was repeated a third time and, then
after another few seconds, it flew off for the morning hunt.
Her movements bothered me.I thought it may have moved to the left three times to clear the rail,
in order to fly perpendicular to my position.Each time it moved, however, it seemed that one of its feet was a little
gimpy.The moves were sort of a
combination hop and limp. The rail was narrow and slick, so maybe that is why
its movement looked funny.
Anyway, I visited the water tower again on the morning of
the 20th and again the bird was on the lee side but far enough to
the east that it could dive directly off the rail.It did not do the hop, skip, and jump thing
as it departed at .I was a little closer this time, using the
trunk of my rental car as a blind.I
only observed her for about ten minutes but during that time, I watched as she
scratched her ear with her left foot and then chewed on her right foot in
typical preening behavior, so I was probably wrong about the gimpy leg or foot.
In the afternoon, I headed out to Bosque del Apache NWR
near Socorro, New Mexico.I took a vacation day on Thursday so that I
could swing by the Bosque on my way to the Lubbock
airport.Swing by?Well, it was a twelve-hour round trip for
four hours of birding.But well worth
To get to the Bosque from Lubbock,
I took US 82 southwest to Brownfield and then took US380 to San
Antonio, NM.At San Antonio,
you take a left on to NM 1 and travel eight miles to the visitor center and
tour trails.The trip was approximately
340 miles plus approximately twenty more miles to the Holiday Inn Express in
The weather in West
Texas and New Mexico
can be very unpredictable this time of year.Following Monday night’s mud bath, a secondary front with thunderstorms
and heavy rain came through Lubbock
on Tuesday afternoon and it was cold and windy afterwards.Wednesday’s weather featured 30 plus MPH
winds and sand storms.Let’s see,
Gyrfalcon on the lee side, you know who had the wind in his face.
I was lucky on my drive.I received no tumbleweed strikes.I still vividly remember my first strike many
years ago while I was in the Air Force stationed at Clovis,
NM.I was hit from the right front by a tumbleweed, almost as large as the
Volkswagen bug I was driving.
The sand storm was pretty much
lost in New Mexico since the
scenery turned into range land and oilfields, instead of plowed fields.
The trip itself was worth the
drive.You pass through at least five
life zones.There was also Tatum,
New Mexico, which is undoubtedly the metal
arts capital of the world.Go and you
Just past Caprock,
NM, a town with two road signs and only one
house, you come over a ridge and immediately the landscape improves.In the distance you can see mountains that
are approximately 125 miles away, including the snow covered peaks of Ruidoso.
Shortly you will pass Mescalero Sands,
known for prairie chicken dancing from early March through mid-May, with peak
activity in April.
Next are the PecosRiver riparian area, Overflow
Wetlands Wildlife Habitat Area, and BottomlessLakesState Park,
all located in close proximity to US 380 and to each other.I will make time to stop on my next trip.
Bitter LakeNWR is only eight miles off US 380
and only a few miles before Roswell;
however, it had the same birds that I would see later at the Bosque so I kept
going.I need to go back to see the
Snowy Plovers and Least Terns that nest there in the summer.Also, I did not take time in Roswell
to see the UFO’s.Between the Texas
state line and Roswell look for
Pronghorn Antelope along the way
The next site of interest, just
after Carrizozo, is the Valley of Fires.It features the Carrizozo Malpais black lava
flow that is 44 miles long and 4 to 6 miles wide.It will wait for you; it is only 5, 000 years
old.Next trip I will hike the wildlife
trail, which has darker-than-normal animals, who have adapted to the black
rocks of their existence.
The trip over the mountain pass
takes you through the historic village
of Lincoln, the LincolnNational Forest, and Capitan, where
the Smokey the BearMuseum
is located.The area looks good for a
“quaintesque” summer vacation.
US 380 then crossed the White
Sands missile range.There was a
construction delay and the flag person told me that US 380 was scheduled to be
closed the next morning for a missile shot.I have managed to stay away from bears, rattlesnakes, quicksand, etc. on
my recent adventures but this was something else.I immediately decided to leave the Bosque a
little earlier than planned the next morning to escape a long delay or possibly
I made the Bosque by and had almost two hours of
birding time.The NWR is on the Rio
Grande and features numerous water impoundments,
marshes, and agricultural fields.The
number of cranes, geese, and waterfowl was incredible.
Returning the next morning, I set
up my scope.There were 40 plus MPH
winds from the Northwest gently caressing my face.How cold was it?It was definitely colder that absolute zero,
which I think is about 273 or 373 degrees Kelvin (from Kelvin and Hobbs
fame).Without any real scientific
evidence to cloud my impression, I would say it was as cold as the hearts of
the Pacific Legal Fund, the Mountain States Legal Foundation, and James Watt,
all combined.(And may Mr. Watt return
to earth someday as a Spotted Owl and face Gale Norton driving a
Cold?Little did I realize that, in only a few
weeks, I would discover something that was colder.The commode seats at the Padre
are stainless steel.Now that was really
Anyway, back to the Bosque.The fly-out that morning was as spectacular
as all of the pictures I had seen.My
birds observed on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning included: Pied-bill Grebe, Western Grebe,
Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Lesser Snow Goose (tens
of thousands), Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal (3 males over the
two days), Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Redhead,
Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck (one with a blue
bill), Northern Harrier, Swainson’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-necked
Pheasant, American Coot, Sandhill Cranes (tens of thousands), Killdeer, Greater
Yellowlegs, Mourning Dove, Red-winged Blackbird, and Yellow-headed Blackbird.
Bald Eagles, who had probably migrated with their food supply,
provided a show.On the first afternoon,
I was standing at the foot of an impoundment.My scope and I were partially blinded behind my rental car trunk.Suddenly, a large flock of Shovelers, who
were scattered around and foraging near me, took to the air as if shot from a
shotgun.There were Shovelers going in
every direction.All I said was “Where
is he?” and looked up to find an adult Bald Eagle bearing down on my
The next day I observed an adult
and two immature Bald Eagles opportunistically sitting in the marsh, waiting
for the fly-out.
My return to Lubbock
was not impeded by the missile shot.I
heard an announcement from a Las Cruces
radio station that the highways would be open all day.I am sure it was the wind. If they had shot a missile off in that 40 MPH
breeze, they would probably still be looking for it.
I as I approached the mountains,
Mother Nature had one more treat left for me. A beautiful set of snow clouds
formed and it started snowing once I attained a little elevation.The snow was worst at Indian Divide, which is
at 6900 feet.It continued to snow
through the LincolnNational
Forest, Capitan, Lincoln,
and almost to Roswell.It was beautiful; yet, if the snow had
started a little sooner, I may not have made it over the pass.As it turned out, the west-bound side of the
road and not my side was being plowed; so for the most part, I drove over the
highest elevations on the wrong side of the road.
For the Bosque trip, I used and recommend
the New Mexico Wildlife Viewing Guide by Jane Susan MacCarter.It covers all sites along the way, birds,
other animals, geology, and describes the life zones involved.Also, the Friends of the Bosque Web site
provided a map and other information.
During the trip, I was
unofficially field testing the Tattler Tri-pak from The Wandering Tattler
(800-231-9209).It is advertised in
several birding magazines.The Tri-pak
allows you to comfortably carry a large tripod and scope on your back and it allows
the scope to be quickly shed for set up.I have a relatively small, padded tripod bag.My tripod can be folded, with the Tri-pak
attached, and still fit the bag.I
recommend it to all.
What can I say?This part of the country offers excellent winter
birding.I cannot wait to go back to
Bosque del Apache, next time with more time and probably in early
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,
NC area.An average birder by any measurement, in winter, he goes where the cold
“trade” winds take him.
Note: I spent up to two hours of Web research on James
Gaius Watt, former Secretary of Interior.Hoping to find out, if nothing else, if is he still alive.I found him mentioned in many articles,
especially concerning the appointment of current Secretary of Interior, Gale
Norton.He is or was her mentor.One article even referred to her as “James
Watt in a skirt”.I will have to seek
professional counseling to erase that image from my mind.
I searched the History Channel, Biographry.com, and many
other sites.No luck.I finally found a site that had a short
biography of him.He was born in Lusk,
Wyoming.So I next journeyed to the Lusk Herald Web site and, finding no articles
in their archives concerning Watt, I sent them an e-mail asking for help.No response.
Well, if I had found that he had passed away, I would have
made some crass joke about how his heart had warmed greatly since he assumed
room temperature.Not knowing his
status, I would never stoop to the level of using such a line.