Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dec 19 and 20 (Days 353 and 354) - The big Yellow rail hunt!

Recall that on Thursday, based on a terrible weather forecast for Friday, I opted to bypass Sargent, and instead ride to Lake Jackson. I had hoped to look for Yellow rail in Sargent very early Friday morning, but, with the terrible weather and lack of lodging, this did not look like it was going to be possible. I figured I would hunker down in Lake Jackson during the heavy Friday rains and start fresh on Saturday. As it turned out, we did get a lot of rain on Friday (over 2" in most areas around Lake Jackson). However, this rain did not last as late in the day as expected. Because of this, we rescheduled our Rail Hunt for 8pm on Friday. Importantly, I was able to secure a place to stay in Sargent for Friday night. I reached Sargent at 5pm and prepared for the 8pm excursion. 


27 + 5 unmapped for 32 total

I was met on Friday night by San Bernard NWR Biologist Jennifer Wilson, her husband Woody, their friend Connie, and bike-birder Ron Weeks. We immediately set to task. It was cloudy and damp, but, with low winds and temps in the mid-50s, it was really quite pleasant. We used a traditional 'bottle-line' to aid out goal. A 'bottle-line' is a rope with cans of screws tied to it at periodic intervals. The idea is to that two people drag the noise-producing line between them to scare birds out of the marsh. As Jennifer is an expext rail bander, those rails that we could capture and band would be used in her studies. This foray was scientific! It took us about 5 minutes before we flushed out first Yellow rail. We subsequently flushed 2 more, both of which we captured and banded. I got great looks at them scurrying around the marsh. However, this was certainly the best look I'll ever have at this incredible surreptitious bird! A huge 'thank you' to everyone who helped to make this possible. This was redemption since I missed this bird, despite huge effort, at Anahuac NWR in Texas in April! I have videos of all of this, but the internet where I am tonight is too slow to upload them. Hopefully in the next few days....


Yellow rail for #612!
No, I did not eat it even though that looks
like what's about to go down!

I had to get this bird on it's wintering grounds since
I was nowhere near its breeding range this summer.


After the rail banding session, I returned to my place of refuge in Sargent. It was from here that I today departed to head east to Freeport and it's famous jetties. I had scheduled a few hours of sea watching from this locale. Even though my chances of finding Black-legged kittiwake were tiny (probably < 5%), I needed to spend what time I could looking for this bird from the jetties today. In all honesty, I had no desire to look for this bird today. It was cold and windy, and it would require a disproportionate amount of riding considering how small the chances of finding the bird were. The problem is that if one did fly by and I missed it, it would be a total disaster. Although my chances of seeing the bird under today's conditions were tiny, tinier still were my chances of finding it from the comforts of a hotel in Lake Jackson. If I used a car, today would have looked like this: Drive 30 mins, bird 3 hours, drive home in warm car. My day looked more like this: Ride 2+ hours in stiff, cold wind, bird 3 hours while getting even colder, ride 2 hours in same cold, stiff wind. Driving 1 hour to bird for 3 (or more!) is a good deal. Biking for 4 hours to bird for 3 is not. I just cannot explain how much easier a car makes birding. Take how easy you think a car makes things, then double it again to reach how much easier a car actually makes things when compared to a bicycle. There is simply no comparison. It goes without saying that I did not see a kittiwake today. Highlights were a single Franklin's gull and 2 Common terns (checklist). I did have some nice company though as I was joined my Ron Weeks (again) and Texas/Oklahoma birder Caleb Frome. Seawatching is certainly much better with others in tow. I will return to this same spot tomorrow for my last, tiny crack at kittiwake before I head inland for the last 9-10 days of the year. 

Ron and Caleb

The light on the jetty was simply awful today, but I did manage 2 fair shots.

Immature Bonaparte's gull - underside

Immature Bonaparte's gull - upperside

58 miles today (Saturday)

The Dallas Little gull was seen yesterday, Friday the 19th. I am not sure about today yet. It will realistically need to stay put for another 5-6 days for me to have chance at it. I know that I am going to be blown-out on Tuesday when the winds are going to be 20-30 MPH from the north, the direction I will be headed on that day. I am hoping to get Harris's sparrow on Monday, hunker down on Tuesday, and then continue North towards Dallas Wednesday through Friday. If the gull disappears this plan could change. Right now though I am proceeding under the assumption it will stick around. As per usual, fingers crossed......

2 comments:

  1. Shouldn't Yellow Rail be #613 because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush? Sorry. Couldn't resist. Nice bird. Keep rolling.

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  2. This is really a great meeting with a biologist and it was a lovely time having business with birds. I hope you had a wonderful time. Thanls for sharing this sweet story !

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