Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Apr 15 (Day 105) - Migrants and Lifers everywhere!

Yesterday afternoon at Sabine Woods was very good. Today was even better. The severe weather that went through yesterday evening and night set the table for a fantastic day of birding today. I spent 11 hours walking around the woods, and at no point did the birding slow down. Orchard and Baltimore orioles were everywhere, and I probably saw 25 Summer tanagers over the course of the day. Wood and Swainson's thrushes lurked in great numbers below the high oak canopies that held Yellow-throated, Warbling, White-eyed, and Red-eyed vireos. I have never seen as many Yellow-billed cuckoos as I did today. However, it was the warblers that really stole the show. Collectively we had ~27 species. I saw most of these, and the only ones I missed are common migrants I should find at some point in the next two weeks.

The highlight of the day was my lifer Swainson's warbler (#313). This very cooperative bird spent the entire afternoon foraging in the same, very small area. Everyone had a chance to observe this secretive little bird as (s)he foraged relentlessly in the understory. I took quite a bit of time to watch the bird as it methodically sifted through the dead leaves on the forest floor looking for food. This was going to be a tough one for me to tick, so I am glad I had this opportunity! He stayed pretty well-buried in foliage too thick for photos, but at one point he did stick his head out onto the path for a few brief seconds. I was able to grab this shot!

An appropriately camouflaged Swainson's warbler

Besides this Swainson's warbler at #313, I did add a number of birds to the year's list. Most of these are birds I expected to find at some point in my Texas visit. These were:

#308 Least flycatcher (H)
#309 Acadian flycatcher
#310 Warbling vireo
#311 Canada warbler (a bit early for this species so a bit unexpected)
#312 Chestnut-sided warbler
#313 Swainson's warbler
#314 Ovenbird
#315 Yellow warbler

I did take a number of other pictures today. Most were taken at high ISO in poor light, so I present them just as an example of the variety I encountered today. 

Scissor-tailed flycatcher

Kentucky warbler

Summer tanager


Yellow-billed cuckoo (lots of these today!)

Female Cerulean warbler  - There were 3-4 
Ceruleans present today

Male Cerulean warbler

Worm-eating warbler (saw 3 of these today)

Canada warbler

Golden-winged warbler

Swainson's thrush

 Blue Grosbeak - not bad!

I saved one bird for last since it will require a bit of explanation. I have no idea who actually found this, but it stayed it in the EXACT same place all day. This is an Eastern whip-poor-will (photo below). It is a member of a cryptic family of birds called "Nightjars" that includes several similar birds. All North American nightjars are nocturnal, and rely on their amazing camouflage to keep them hidden during the day. The only reason this bird was found was because it was sitting on a branch versus the forest floor. When they sit on sea leaves, they are literally invisible.

Eastern whip-poor-will

Here is what a related nightjar looks like in leaves - 
can you find it?
(Answer at end of blog entry)

This bird presented a very unique situation. This is NOT a year bird for me, but it IS a life bird. Confused? I will explain. I heard an Eastern whip-poor-will in Central Florida on March 19, and while year listing conventions stipulate that a I can count birds I hear on my year list, I require that I see the bird for it to be places onto my own personal life list. Thus, this Florida bird went onto the 2014 year list but not my life list. I counted the viewed bird today as my "Lifer". Hopefully this makes sense. 

The Eastern whip-poor-will (C. vociferous) was split from Mexican whip-poor-will (C. arizonae) a few years ago; The two used to be considered a single species called simply Whip-poor-will. I have seen Mexican whip-poor-will in Arizona.

Here is the nightjar!

Tomorrow I will be back at Sabine Woods for a third full day of birding where I hope to scrape out 2-3 more new species. Right now we are still in the early stages of migration, and I have ticked quite a few of the early migrants. This means it will get tougher to add species in the next few days, but this should change as migration continues. There will be some different species coming through Texas as the month progresses, so I should generally continue to add birds over the next 2 weeks. There is no way that I will be able to find every (or even close to it!) species I need to find here in Texas. At some point I will have to decide to pull the plug on Texas to start the LONG ride to Arizona. This will certainly be no later than April 29, but it would be great to find species at a rate that would get me out of here a few days earlier than that. 


  1. Congratulations on a fabulous day. Hope it continues for you. Isn't Texas in the spring wonderful?

  2. Good to see that you're having a blast in texas. Very jealous of the birds you are seeing and hopefully they will arrive here in MA soon! I look forward to reading your updates every morning while eating breakfast!

    1. Hey Man! Yeah, its nice and warm down here right now! The birds will be in MA soon enough. Ge your rig ready!

  3. OK, now suffering Bird Envy. Nice pics!

    And did I mention that I had to scrape snow off my car this morning?


    1. My girlfriend was dealing with snow in Boston. She wasn't happy either....

  4. Might the long ride to AZ include Big Bend, or is Colima Warbler a write-off for the year? --Dave S.

    1. Big Bend is hard to bird in a car, so I'll be bypassing the Colima. Big Bend is great, but not on a bike!