Friday, December 26, 2014

Dec 26 (Day 360) - It's the Little things......

Yesterday I experienced my most major bike malfunction to date: a snapped rear derailleur cable. This left me with effectively 2 gears during the last 44 miles of yesterday's ride. The bike was certainly ridable, but it took significantly more effort than when fully geared. My legs were really sore this morning as a result. Despite the sore extremities, I needed to continue pushing towards Dallas and the remarkably well-behaved Little gull that has taken up at least temporarily residence on White Rock Lake just east of downtown. The bird has been seen regularly for the last 10 days or so. One of my local spies informed me the bird was present yesterday, Christmas, morning. I had pushed 4-5 days and 320 miles into this chase. I was not going to let one broken cable stop me from reaching White Rock Lake on Friday afternoon as originally planned.

51 miles + 3 unmapped trying to find lunch = 54 for today.

With my two functional gears, I hit the road at 8am this morning. I had just 40 miles from Ennis to reach the lake. There was a moderate amount of south wind aiding my efforts today. It was not nearly as windy as yesterday, but, on only two gears, any bit helps, right? I made decent time north. I dodged a few raindrops along the way, but managed to reach the lake around lunch. The bird has most predictably been seen at the lake "spillway" early the morning where its keeps company with the resident flock of Bonaparte's gulls. Every time (3x) I have previously seen Little gull it has been mixed in with Bonaparte's. So, the mission was simple: check the spillway for the Bonaparte's gulls. I did exactly this and found exactly zero Bonaparte's gulls. Not a major problem as the birds were likely out on the lake feeding. The circumferential bike bath around the lake would provide the perfect artery for a wider search of the lake. 

Close-up of White Rock Lake portion of ride

White Rock Lake looking north from south end

Biking a few mile north along the lakeshore, I soon found the Bonaparte's gulls. I would guess there were ~75 of them, but I am not very good at estimating bird numbers when the birds are this active and spread out. The birds were dispersed over roughly the northern third of the lake. I picked a shore point that I thought was about mid-flock, set up the scope, and began systematically culling through the larger Bonaparte's gull in search of the smaller 1st year Little gull. Several immature Bonaparte's gull caused momentary excitement before I realized they weren't the sought bird. Recall this image of an immature Bonaparte's gull from a few days ago on the Freeport jetty.

1st winter Bonaparte's gull

After several false alarms, I eventually spotted what was surely the Little Gull foraging on the far side of the lake. HELLS YES!!! The 300-mile ride was worth it! The snapped cable had been overcome, and I had ticked bird #614 for 2014! This was a bird at which I had an outside shot in the northeast in January. However, the hellish winter severely limited the time I could spend looking for this bird and also Black-legged kittiwake. Today was a bit of redemption, at least for the Little gull. I rode around to the other side of the lake hoping to obtain at least a record photo of the bird. It always stayed at least 100-200 yards offshore, but I was able to get a few shots of it. The first photo below is the uncropped version, the bottom is a crop from that frame. I'm just glad I walked away with anything given the distance and the light rain!

Compared with Bonaparte's above, this bird is noticeable smaller 
in the field. It has a darker carpal bar on its shoulder and more 
black in the primaries. Both birds show the black "M" pattern 
on the wings, but the Little gull's is much more pronounced. Bonaparte's has a dark trailing wing edge that Little lacks. Little gull also has a very faint bit of black on the cap.

1st year Little gull for #614!!!

Crop from above frame

After ticking this guy, the next priority was to get the bike fixed. It just so happened that there was a really good bike shop about a mile from where I found the Little gull. A half-hour pitstop left me with a fully functioning rear derailleur. The guys at the bike store had a good laugh at the bike. They said that if my bike was a car, there's NO WAY it would pass inspection! I told them I just needed to squeeze 5 more days out of it. They all thought I should be able to do this. I hit the road after the repair to spend a bit more time kicking around the lake. Nothing terribly notable surfaced, but I did have a fun run-in with what appeared to be a large group of resident Monk parakeets. I have only seen these at the tops of trees, on power lines, or in their huge communal nests. It was nice to see them so well today. Shots came back OK what with continued light rain and all. Full checklist from today is here.

Yum, grass!

Got right up in his/her grill for this shot.....

I will now turn my attention to what I think should be the last "getable" bird of the year: Smith's longspur. There are some spots north and east of Dallas where I might be able to tack on this species. I am going to do a bunch of research tonight and hopefully formulate some feasible and attractive plan to track this bird down in the next 4-5 days. Any ideas for this bird are certainly welcome. I am going to try to get onto the Lake Tawakoni CBC tomorrow which should give me a decent shot assuming I haven't let it go too late or I am too far away to participate. After Smith's longspur.....Daddy is closing up shop!

8 comments:

  1. Way to go! That's just so sweet after the bike problems. Congrats and good luck with the longspur! Nancy

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  2. That 300 mile quest took a lot of will power. Congrats on pulling it off.

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  3. Are you going to get a new bird next year?

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    1. I'm sure I'll get one or two. No idea what they'll be though!

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  4. The question is: Did you dance the Hully Gully after finding the bird?

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  5. Well done Dorian! And although this may sounds weird - thank you for staying safe - the last thing I wanted to do was read about you in some horrific accident... and yes, I think the birding gods have their hands full...

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