Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Great Texas Birding Classic: Day 5, the end

Our final day of birding dawned with us heading to San Leon, a small fishing village to look for Monk Parakeets. Two large nests had been built under some lights near a fishing pier and restaurant. We thought maybe the birds would get up early, since there was so much light. We were wrong. Who knew parakeets liked lazing in bed on a Saturday morning? We had to get to the Texas City Prairie Chicken preserve by 730AM. so we were feeling impatient. To top things off, it was really foggy. Finally, just as it started lightening up a bit, I spotted a parakeet on a phone wire across the road. We wasted no time in heading to the Prairie Chicken refuge.

We pulled up to the gate and were actually early. Another single birder was there to do volunteer work. We waited a few minutes and a staff member came and let us in. We drove up to the headquarters and piled into a pick up truck and took off for the lek. It was getting late in the season for leking (breeding displays) but our guide told us she had seen them the day before when she took one of the other teams in. (grrrr) We pulled up at a safe distance from the lek and pulled out our scope. Tony got up on the bed of the truck and scanned. My knees were aching, so I stayed on the ground. Finally a couple of birds stirred. David heard one call. I didn't see or hear them, but it was ok, as the others did, so we could count it. We felt a real sense of urgency, so we took off.

Tony had access to an industrial site where his wife works that has some fantastic wet lands. We registered and went in and very quickly scored Eared Grebes. There were some good ducks, but nothing new. I was scanning through the fog and caught sight of a swimming bird with a longish pointed tail. I called out "Pintail!" and then quickly realized that it was a Laughing Gull. Needless to say I was more than a little embarrassed. So much for my credibility! We were happy with the grebes, so we took off for Galveston.

Offatts Bayou is an excellent place for loons of all kinds. We got out the scopes and started scanning. Common Loons were very easy to find, fairly nearby. Our target was one of the Pacific Loons that had been seen in the last couple of weeks. It was still fairly foggy, so the distant birds were difficult at best. David mentioned a bird across the bayou looked a bit different and looked to have a chin strap. I got it in my scope and concurred. We watched it a bit longer and could see it was smaller than a nearby Common and had a smaller bill. That was enough to seal the ID, so we jumped back in the car.

Galveston is on an island accessible by causeways or ferry. We needed to get back to Boliver Peninsula, so we had to take the ferry. We stopped at East Beach, an excellent place for gulls and found a Bonapartes, a gull we didn't think we would get. The line to the ferry was a bit daunting, but we had all seen worse. We patiently waited and finally got on board. We jumped out of the car and scanned for mergansers, with no luck. Our trip back across was a bit slower than the night before. We did see a few dolphins, which didn't count for the Classic, but were still fun.

We returned to Bolivar Flats, hoping for Red Knots, but it was not to be. We walked a way down the beach and ran into a friend of mine, Curt Harweth, who was doing the one day Upper Coast portion of the Classic with some friends of his. He told us they had just seen some Bobolinks in front of the Boliver Lighthouse. Bobolinks are a hard species to find in Texas. In fact, I have only seen them once. We hurried back to the car and headed back towards the lighthouse. We jumped out and there was a big flock of Bobolinks jumping in and out of the reeds! It was probably my favorite moment in the entire 5 days. Unfortunately we couldn't savor the moment, as time was rapidly ticking away.

We worked our way down the peninsula, birding side roads. We picked up a few birds, including a much wanted Long-billed Curlew. We stopped briefly at High Island to see what was around. It was a bit slow, so we pushed on to Anuhauc NWR to try for the Barn Owl again and to drag the prairie for rails. This consists of dragging a rope with milk jugs full of rocks through the spartina, hoping that rails will jump up in front of us. I have very mixed feelings about doing this, as I fear it disturbs nesting birds, but I went along with it, as everyone else wanted to do it. I needn't have worried. We didn't see a single bird. We did hear a Black Rail call, though, which was enough to count. We had no better luck with the Barn Owl again.

We decided to head back to Beaumont for the Fish Crows and then finish at Sabine Woods. We planned on "trolling" for the crows with french fries, something Bob Berhstock had recommended when we ran into him earlier in the day. Fortunately we didn't have to waste any of our fries. We turned to go back to Tyrell Park, when we spotted a crow in the parking lot of the hotel on the corner. We pulled in, determined that it was a Fish Crow and very happily started for Sabine Woods.

Sabine was a bit quieter, but we worked it hard. There were not many birders around. We decided to go to the Willows at Sea Rim State Park, just down the road for Sabine. We noticed several cars parked on the side of the road. We worked the trees and found a few warblers. Then we heard their had been an Olive-sided Flycatcher seen earlier. We searched up and down the board walk and finally found our quarry perched, as Olive-sideds always seem to be, in the top of a dead tree. The afternoon was turning into evening, so we decided to give Sabine Woods one more shot.

We got there only to hear that a Mourning Warbler had been seen just before we got there. We looked long and hard, but had no luck. We did see another Olive-sided. We worked several groves of trees hard for the Barn Owl, but they didn't produce. We decided to head out and check a location at McFaddin NWR, which is nearby. We found a shed that was recommended, but only found pellets. We stayed until dark scanning the fields, still no Barn Owl. Reluctantly we headed back to Beaumont to turn in our list. I wish I could say we found our owl on the way, but it was not to be. We did our paperwork at an I-HOP, eating the first sit down meal in a week. We got to the Courtyard Hotel, the headquarters for the Classic, turned in our paperwork and had a much appreciated beer at the bar next door.

The next day we went to the celebratory brunch, wondering how we did. We sat through lunch and all of the other awards. We found that the group of college students we had helped in Jasper came in first in the one day Upper Coast division, which pleased us. It seemed to take forever to get through all the awards and door prizes. Finally it was time for the week long awards. We ended up in second place with 306 species. The Reliant Energy Team won, AGAIN, with 316 species. (They always seem to win!) The Butcher Birds were a distant third with 286. Our prize was a $10,000 conservation grant to award to the project of our choice from the requests submitted. We are still working on which proposal to accept.

I had planned on flying back to San Antonio, but there was a little glitch in that plan. It seems one of the teams that did the Central Coast one day event found a bird that stirred a lot of interest, a Piratic Flycatcher! This is an extremely rare bird any where in the United States. I found out Martin, my spouse, was there looking at it. I was aching to see it, as was Lynn, who is doing an ABA big year. She suggested I cancel my flight and drive down to Corpus with her, meet Martin and get the bird. I called Martin, who had the same idea, so that's what we did! It was a three hour drive, so we hustled out of Houston. We had gone about 20 miles when we got a call from Tony, who was also on his way down, with his wife! We got there at the same time, ran up to Martin's scope. Saw the bird and heaved a huge sigh of relief. We all thanked Martin for waiting for us. It was a great ending to a grueling week.

1 comment:

mon@rch said...

Such an amazing adventure you had and I am so glad you took the time to share all this with us! You did an amazing job and I congratulate your whole team!