Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nov 11 (Day 315) - Pipits, owls, real food!

Cold mornings have delayed departures the last few days. Milder temperatures and warm sun helped break this trend this morning. I was able to hit the road at 7:30am. The plan for today was to ride the ~65 miles from Deming, NM to Las Cruces, NM. I would break the ride into two bits centered around a midday birding session during which I would look for Sprague's pipit. I would be joined by one of my hosts for the night, Las Cruces birder Nancy Stotz. If that name sounds familiar it's because I also birded and stayed with Nancy (and her husband Ralph) on my westward transit through New Mexico in May. She was instrumental in helping me track down Crissal thrasher in her neighborhood.

The morning biking session was very enjoyable. A nice tailwind built, and this, coupled with a decent shoulder surface, helped speed me eastward along I-10. The only blemish on the record was a beautiful, apparently freshly killed barn owl on the shoulder. I stopped my bike, walked back, and picked up the lifeless bird. I spread its wings and admired its form for a half a minute before placing the bird to rest under a roadside bush. I figured it was a more appropriate resting spot than the shoulder of the highway. The number of dead birds I have encountered this year, albeit less-so in the west than the east or south, has been truly astounding. I am sure my dead-on-road list is well over a hundred (maybe as high as 150). Barn owl was actually a new addition to this list where it joined Eastern screech-owl, Barred owl, Burrowing owl, Great horned owl, and, most painfully, Long-eared owl. Yesterday's addition was a gorgeous male kestrel. It's so sad, and I can surely say that I have witnessed this carnage more closely than just about any birder in the country ever has. 

64.3 to Las Cruces + 10.5 on side/dirt roads 
during birding = 75 total

I met Nancy and her friend, Donna, at around 10am. Since they brought bikes with them, we quickly departed to cruise some of the dirt roads through grasslands midway between Deming and Las Cruces. Sprague's pipit was the target. These sneaky birds winter in these grasslands, and by walking through them we hoped to flush a few of them this morning. The wind did complicate things as it made hearing their distinctive flight calls more difficult than normal. We had several flyovers, but I was generally unable to get a decent look at one of the pipits. We finally found one somewhat cooperative bird that gave us a few decent views as it repeatedly flushed and flew only short distances. I never did see one in the open on the ground, but the decent flight views coupled with the flight calls were enough to nail this down as year bird #586! Here is the best photo I could manage. I might see more of these in Texas, a more traditional spot for this species.

Nancy and Donna in the grasslands

Sprague's pipit. It's pretty useless, I know, but hey I'm trying!

As a bonus, we also flushed a Short-eared owl from the grasses. Given my Barn owl experience earlier, it was a really nice feeling to see a living, fully-functioning owl later in the day. The bird flew directly away from us and wheeled around a bit. We had very nice looks at it, and got I few pics of it. Short-eared owl was actually bird #2 on the year list on January 1st. That particular bird was actually being chased by a Snowy owl! Today's encounter represents just the second of the year with this species. The only other birds of note were a handful of Chestnut-collared longspurs that we flushed as we walked about the grass.

Short-eared owl!


Today was a much needed birding session. Nancy also made some incredible green chili and salad for dinner. It was my first dose of real food in a couple days, and it very welcome. Birds and real food make for a great day! Tomorrow I will ride the ~50 miles south to El Paso. I had hoped to be able double-up, save a day, and ride the 110 to Fort Hancock tomorrow, but I think that sustained SSE headwinds of 10-15 all day will put pay to that idea. It will also take some extra time to navigate the traffic lights and whatnot of El Paso. The wind will again be from the southeast on Thursday for the 65-mile SE ride from El Paso to Fort Hancock. Starting Friday, the winds are predicted to blow from the south and west. This will be a big help as I head due east over the weekend. Right now, I may not be able to double-up to save days, but I'm also not getting blown out completely. Steady progress is fine with me.

20' tall Las Cruces roadrunner made out of recycled trash!


  1. You say " winds are predicted to blow ... " "This will be a big help as I head due west." Please, go east, young man, go east!!

  2. The road kills are the saddest things to see. Thank you for taking that barn owl and placing it off the road. It's a kind gesture, and will also help save the lives of the carrion eaters. Safe travels to you and may the winds be at your back.

  3. Sadly you probably will hold the world record for the Big Dead Bird Year for quite a while. I wonder if most of these deaths are from migrants, from nocturnal movement, etc. Interesting topic which would make for an interesting grad school thesis for someone.

    1. A guy I worked for actually did do his thesis on roadkill Barn Owls. He ended up documenting more dead Barn Owls on one stretch (over 100 miles) of road than there were thought to be in the entire state... I don't remember what the exact conclusions were, but most of the roadkill seemed to be migrants, likely young birds, if I remember correctly.

  4. Call me troll or hater, but all the help your craving for and get by motorized people bringing tents, tubes, food or helping you finding those more difficult species transforms your year from green to something like greenish with a distinct crude oil-black tinge.....
    Otherwise good job
    take care
    David Sturm, Germany

  5. Dorian, you and your readers might be interested in Roadkill Across America. In 2008, some cyclists traveling from San Diego to St. Augustine recorded the roadkill they found on the journey.

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