Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dec 21 (Day 355) - Stop! Jetty Time!

Between my fatigue yesterday and my focus on the Yellow rail, I completely forgot to thank Sonia for stepping up last minute to handle the blog. As per usual she did a great job. I will make sure she gets at least one last guest appearance before the year is complete. She is scheduled to join me wherever I am on or around December 29. Perhaps we can sort out some form of joint post. Also, while speaking of the blog, I intend to put together several "year in review" posts once 2014 is over. I hope to make several "Top 10" lists as well as present some graphical/numerical analysis of my year to appease geek-types like myself.

As for today, there were 2 intersecting goals for today. The first of these was to take one last crack at Black-legged kittiwake. I really should have been able to find this bird in the northeast  in January, but each time I went to look for it I was thwarted by one arm or another of the 'Polar Vortex': snow, ice, wind, or extreme cold. This was a painful bird to miss, but, given how well I did on the other species, I survived. Finding this bird here in Texas would literally be a miracle. They are seen each year along the length of the Texas coast, but only in single-digit numbers. To do away with any suspense, I did not find one of these rare birds today. During my seawatch, I did see many other birds that will be counted towards the Freeport Christmas Count totals. Aiding in this event was my second goal and would be achieved with or without the appearance of the kittiwake. 

Without going into too much detail, Christmas Counts occur during December and January of each year. Each count is essentially a winter bird census for a given area. More specifically, each count occurs within a historical circle that has a diameter of 15 miles (or ~175 square miles). There is a bit of friendly competition between different counts, and the same people generally turn out to do the same counts each year. I would imagine somewhere around 60-80 people participated in the Freeport count today. Groups of people are assigned different areas within this 'count circle' . Birders record the number of individuals of each species they observe over the course of the day, and the results are pooled and presented at a banquet dinner at the end of the day. Thus Christmas counts perform dual functions: scientific and social. As I was going to be on the North Jetty all day, I kept track of everything I saw as part of the Freeport count that occurred today. I found a few nice birds: Bald eagle, Sandwich tern, Common tern, and Common loon, to name a few. When it was all done, I spent 7 solid hours in the chilly wind today. At times it was less than pleasant, but it was all for a good cause. My personal highlight of the day was probable the sea turtle that swam right by the jetty.

My perch -  The North Jetty at Freeport harbor

Sea turtle of some sort - we think
it might be an Atlantic green turtle

Common tern

Sandwich tern with shrimp lost by fisherman

Those that have read "Kingbird Highway" by Kenn Kaufman might remember that Kenn was swept of this same Jetty by a huge wave when he participated in the Freeport Christmas Count in 1973 during his own Big Year. In this year, Kenn hitchhiked ~90,000 miles around the United States and Canada. During this adventure, he found 671 species and set what was then the North American Big Year record. "Kingbird Highway" is Kenn's extremely entertaining account of this year. Perhaps the most interesting thing about his year was that he did it when he was only 19 year old! I thought that birding this same jetty during Freeport Christmas count might add a bit of interesting historical significance and/or parallelism to my own efforts this year. 

Looking ahead, tomorrow I will ride ~85 miles to Brookshire where I will likely get pinned by wind on Tuesday. If I do move it will be only a very short distance. I am hoping to Reach Dallas Friday/Saturday. The Little gull was seen today, and there is possibility that it was been joined by a second bird. As long as one of them stay for 5 more days, I should be in good shape. We all know that there are no guarantees in this this game though!

Just 28 miles - with 7 hours standing on the jetty


  1. For the last few weeks I've been thinking.. I hope Dorian posts some top ten lists of his year. Guess that means I am said "Geek-type!"

  2. Just a note to remind all of Dorian's followers that it's not too late to find a Christmas Bird Count to participate in. AND, you can do as many as you have the energy for. I am newish to birding and have found that participating in CBC's is like taking crash courses taught by great mentors who know the local area birds and are more than willing to share. I have met several new birding partners at CBC's and encourage everyone to take part. CBC's continue thru January 5th. Feral Cyclist.

  3. Thanks for mentioning the connection to Kingbird Highway -- I wo not have realized it was the same jetty. Also looking forward to the "geek lists". It'd be fun to have a couple from Sonia. Maybe 5 best stories she heard from you this year? Or 5 things she was most proud of you doing?