Saturday, December 27, 2014

Dec 27 (Day 361) - Flying blind, more bad weather, thoughts photo big days/years

The last two days of effectively gearless riding really beat the hell out of my legs. They were as tired and as sore today as they have been in my recent memory. My physical condition coupled with cold temperatures, strong north winds, and forecasted rain made it very difficult to find the motivation to hit the road this morning. It took until 10:30 for me to find the 'activation energy' to actually get rolling. 

The other big problem I am currently facing is that I really do not have any viable leads on Smith's longspur. Lake Tawakoni, ~55 miles east of Dallas, has proven to be a somewhat reliable spot the last few years. However, access which is only possible on very select days throughout the year. This was actually one of those days as the Tawakoni Xmas count was scheduled for today. I was unfortunately not able to make it in time to participate. This is where those consecutive 2 days of strong north winds extracted their price. I had originally hoped to deal with Little gull on Thursday and then put myself in position for the Saturday Tawakoni count on Friday. When I lost that day to wind (and more time to the bike issues), my chances of making the count today evaporated. I did not have the energy last night to ride to Tawakoni, and thus the count went off without me. Right now, it does not look as though I would be able/permitted to try to refind tomorrow any Smith's longspurs that are found today. I am basically shut out of anything to do with the Tawakoni count. A bit frustrating, but there it is.

Smith's longspur sightings north and east of Dallas.
Orange pins represent sightings in the last month.

Looking at the map above, you can see that I really do not have many options. There just aren't enough data, other than from Tawakoni, to make a highly educated guess as to where might be a really good spot to find this species. There looks to be a decent cluster of sightings, but only 1 recent, from the Oklahoma City area. Strong north winds today and tomorrow would make that ride about as much fun as a swift kick to the genitals - with a steel-toed boot. I therefore decided to ride east out of Dallas and slightly past Lake Tawakoni to Emory and its very nice Best Western. Should someone tip me off as to where I could find and access longspurs near Lake Tawakoni, I could easily reach that area from Emory. I highly doubt this will happen, but at least it the possibility exists. I am instead banking on the single, small orange pin northeast of Dallas and west of Texarkana. 2 reliable observers reported loads of longspurs from this area about 3 weeks ago. More importantly, in a state where > 98% of land is privately held, it appears that I can actually access a good field for the birds. Texas has great birding, but, with such an incredibly high percentage of land being privately held, access is often challenging. Want to go birding in Colorado? Just walk into National forest anywhere you want. In Texas? Not so much.  While I have yet to have a shotgun pulled on me, I am sure that Texas stereotype exists for a reason. 

64 miles east to Emory

Best Western Plus Emory Inn - Definitely in top 5 BW's this year.
Certainly a welcome port in times of wind and rain.

Anyway, tomorrow I will ride to ~50 northeast to Mt Vernon which will serve as my base for the longspur search. I can spend a day or two there and then reevaluate depending on how the search goes. Should I find the birds, I will like ride north to Oklahoma just to go to Oklahoma. If I do not find the birds, things get more complicated. As the weather right now is TERRIBLE and is going to get worse as we get into next week, it could shut me down for good. Today was a high of 42C with constant 15-20 MPH north winds. Throw in some rain and you can see that today's ride was cold, windy, and wet (i.e. it sucked). Temperatures are supposed to drop further the next few days and culminate with freezing rain on the 31st or the 1st. I simply do not have the clothing to combat these types of temperatures. Right now, I think finding Smith's longspur is a very long shot. My pessimistic mindset has served me well this year, so I am not going to trying to start farting kittens and rainbows at this late stage.

Several people have asked me how many species I have photographed this year. The answer is I do not know. The follow up answer is that I do not care. As I consider myself a fairly serious bird photographer, I would much rather work for 2 hours with a single bird for one really good shot of it than come home with what I consider to be throw away photos of 100 species. This year I have kept crappy photos of birds for the purposes of documentation and personal memories. They also function to make the blog much more interesting. Sure, I am a bit of a photo snob, but your work is only going to be as good as the standards to which you hold yourself. One thing I have learned over the years is that posting fewer good shots on your Flickr/Smugmug/Picassa site will keep people much more interested than inundating them with marginal to crappy shots - even if the shots are of rare birds. 

All that being said, the idea of photo big days is kinda cool (for the reasons above, I won't be doing one any time soon though). In these cases, a species is counted as "photographed" if and only if the bird can be definitely identified from the photo and only from the photo. What the observer actually saw in the field is irrelevant. You may have had a Eurasian Hobby fly 3 feet from your face, but if all you get onto the sensor is a dark blur as it flies way from you, that ain't good enough friend! The above definition provides a very objective measure of what "photographed" actually means. I can certainly understand the excitement surrounding photo bigs days. First, you get excited when you see the bird. Second you get gear up as you switch into photo mode to try to document it. Third, you get jacked when you realize that you got a countable photo of the bird. Photo big days seem to compound the excitement of normal big days. I'll be curious to see if these catch on moving forward.

In case you haven't seen it yet, here is a Flickr gallery of the species I would count as "photographed" from this year using my own personal definition. This is my running photo collection from this and previous years.


  1. Your photographed species page on Flickr is fantastic. I'm really glad you linked to it. Beautiful work there.

  2. Can you make it to Shreveport? -Dave