Sunday, November 23, 2014

Nov 23 (Day 327) - New birds all over! Knocking at 600!

There was some good and some bad today. I'll start with the bad. I have talked at length about how bad the road food has been this year. The worst case scenario though is when I have to walk a long way to get dinner after I arrive. This is exactly what happened tonight. My hotel is 1.5 miles from the nearest food - McDonald's (which I also had for breakfast UGH UGH UGH UGH UGH. They were out of ketchup to boot. Out of ketchup? At McDonald's? That the only was to make make the food palatable. BBQ sauce was a poor substitute). This made for a really unwelcome, 3-mile roundtrip walk to fetch dinner after a long, hot day. The road was very poorly lit, and I decided biking it would be lethal. I elected to walk instead. The worst part was on the debis-littered, busted up walkway on an old bridge; The rest was on the highway shoulder. It was not fun. I think people might forget that I do ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING on bike and foot. My "green" birding does not end at the end of the day. I have to "green" forage as well, and on nights like today when food is far away, it really, really sucks. I think this is a hugely underrated aspect of doing a content wide bike big year versus a locally bike big. A local bike-birder might ride his ass off on the weekend, but then he gets into his car to go to work, buy food, take his kids to school etc. There is zero break for me, and the physical and psychological toll this takes cannot be understated. I think tonight was the most I've wanted to get into a car all year - UGH, again.

The walk to dinner - no lights on walkway 
side of bridge.

Anyway, when something like this happens at the end of the day, it really colors my day in a negative way. Luckily, today was such a good birding day that even this nonsense can't take the shine off of it. The plan for today was to ride from Laredo to Zapata with a couple of birding stops along the way. The most notable of these was going to be at the La Laja Ranch, a private tract to which I had been granted access. The landowners have been opening the ranch for birding festivals, and they are going to be looking to open some form of Bed and Breakfast on the property in the near future. Please keep your eye on La Laja Ranch moving forward. After my visit today, I can say with certainty that LOTS of good birds are going to be found on this property in the next few years. It has a full mile of riverfront that really looks like a rarity magnet. At present though, the ranch's best claim to fame is the reliability with which visitors see White-colored seedeater. Although I saw seedeater yesterday, I still really wanted to bird this property today. I met the owner, Edward Herbst, and his son, Ed Jr, as the Ranch entrance at 9:30 this morning. Ed Jr and I would spend a very nice 3 hours wandering around the property. We did see 2 seedeaters, and, just as exciting, I was able to add 4 year birds during my visit. The first of these was a White-tipped dove that flushed from the roadside for #594. During the walk, I was also able to add Altamira oriole (#595), Audubon's oriole (#596), and Plain chachalaca (heard-only for #597). It was really nice to find the orioles without the aid of a feeder today. I will certainly see more chachalacas in the next few days. Otherwise, even during the late morning on a hot day, the ranch was filled with birds. This is definitely a place to watch in the next few years!

Rio Grande view from La Laja Ranch

Tour guide Ed Jr

Altamira Oriole  (#595)- was playing around with 
the camera when this guy appeared. The settings 
were all funky!

Audubon's oriole (#596)

In the afternoon, I continued south towards San Ygnacio. This is another well-known seedeater spot that I was hoping to bird for at least a while today. However, as this has been a very wet year around here (shocking, huh?), the seedeater area was so overgrown that I decided not to fight my way through it. Instead, I continued south to my final destination of Zapata. I was last in Zapata in 2008 when I saw my then lifer seedeater in the pond behind the Zapata public library. I decided to return to this small park today to do a bit of laid-back, end-of-day birding. It was filled with Kiskadees and Vermillion flycatchers, Green jays, kinglets, and assorted doves. Walking around the pond, I stumbled onto a brown bird perched on a stick. A quick glance with the binocs showed a Clay-colord thrush for year bird #5 for the day and #598 for the year! Technically this is a code 3 bird, but it was become increasingly common in the LRGV in the last few years so maybe its due for a downgrade. Regardless it was a really good find to cap off a very nice day or birding and riding. On my way back to my bike, I found my 3rd seedeater of the day. This was actually a decent looking male. He vanished after only a few seconds, but I did get a shot of him before he took off. When all was said and done, I biked ~60 miles and walked about 6.5 after the dinner fiasco.

Clay-colored thrush #598!

Bonus male White-collared seedeater at day's end

Tomorrow I am going to head to Salineno. I was going to try for the orioles there, but with those in hand most of my focus will be on Red-billed pigeon. It would also be nice to see a wild Muscovy even though I already have the counted the introduced Muscovy from South Florida. Interestingly, I saw the Pigeon and the Muscovy in the same 10 minutes when I visited Salineno in 2008! There are a bunch of places to bird in the Salineno area, so I'll spend the entire day there tomorrow. I might need to spend a day or two more depending on how the big pigeon search goes, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there. It is totally possible that I could reach 600 species tomorrow - Woo Hoo!

60 miles 


  1. Oh baby! 598 + 2 ... Sounds suspiciously like 600 to me! -Dave

    1. If you count the Muscovy and Egyptian Geese, then CC Thrush was 600. A nice Code 3 for that milestone!

  2. 600 species of bird, 16,000 miles, 500,000 page views, $30,000 raised: there or very nearly there with all these big numbers! Congratulations on the unrelenting quest, and may the next month bring you much more fulfillment in this kind.

  3. It just floors me to know that the clay colored thrush is the national bird of costa rica. Congrats on all the good finds (and missing the snow that's bearing down on new england).


  4. Your killing it! Today I had to pull out my bird guide to look up the birds you saw. All new for me.