Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dec 3 (Day 337) - Weather + birding improve, Parula alert!

Yesterday started at 46F and ended at 58F. Today started at 57F and ended at 70F. This made a world of difference on today's birding front. I returned to Quinta Mazatlan to continue the search for the Tropical parula that has been seen on and off for the better part of the last two months. This bird is tricky to find in the LRGV at this time of the year because, much like Groove-billed Anis from this past weekend, almost all of them move south of out the area for the winter. There have been 2-3 individual birds seen around the valley these last two months, but none of them are particularly predictable. In fact, other than the Quinta bird, all the others have apparently moved on as there are no recent sightings of them. So, this left Quinta as my best (only?) shot at this bird. Yesterday at Quinta (and probably everywhere else for that matter) was a complete waste of time given the very cold temperatures and wet north wind. Today was overcast, but with the noticeably elevated temperatures compared to yesterday, there was significantly more bird activity.

Jusr 29 miles today, but I probably walked 7-8 as well

I arrived at Qunita at 8:15am, and save for a 45 minute McDonald's run, I pounded those trails hard until 4:30pm. This morning session yielded a few nice birds including Wilson's warbler, Pine warbler, and Western tanager. Birds were moving about and making noise, so I was encouraged that I had at least a chance of finding the bird. I had originally planned to go somewhere else in the afternoon, but I decided to keep the hammer down at Quinta and continue the search after lunch. The problem is that although Qunita is good birding, it is really small. It sets up well for short outings of a couple of hours, but an entire day is really overkill. For perspective, the entire property is only 15 acres. One one hand it means that if a bird is present it doesn't have too many place to hide, but at the the same it can get a bit repetitive walking the same trails over and over and over. Luckily, I was joined for the entire day by another birder, Sheri. She was good fun and we interspersed chatter with birding to help break the walking up a bit. She unearthed 2 Summer tanagers for us during our afternoon session.

Sheri and me. She drives a Smartcar! I have wanted to 
ride in one these for years. She offered me a ride to 
lunch, and I had to turn it down - Damn!

The big excitement of the day came very late in the afternoon. At around 4pm, the sun finally came out of for the first time in 2 days. With this event, there was a short burst of bird activity. I positioned myself under what looked like a nice feeding flock of small birds. I spotted a small warbler with a blue back and a bright yellow throat. Booyah! This was certainly a parula! However, as I repositioned myself on the other side of the tree to get a better view, I realized that this bird was the much more common and widespread Northern parula. I saw thousands of these on the Gulf Coast this spring. ARRRGGHHHHH! By this time I was exhausted. I had only a few minutes to spare before I needed to start the ride back home. Nonetheless, it was a nice day out and about. Sheri was very nice, and I was able to walk away with 2 photos with which I am happy. Given the horrendous lighting for the entire day, I am just glad to have captured anything worth keeping. Working at 1/200 (and no IS!) is really tough at 400mm, but that's as fast as I could get it at f/5.6 and ISO 1600 today. 

Curve-billed thrasher portrait. He was sitting on a fence 
so I decided to go headshot. Since the lighting today
was TERRIBLE, here's the capture info.
f/5.6 (wide open on my 400), 1/200,  ISO 1600 (on 7D)
The image isn't noisy since this represents 50% of the frame.

Clay-colored thrush being thrushy on the ground.
Exact same capture settings as above. 

I will probably return to Quinta for at least the morning tomorrow. I am working on getting pygmy-owl lined up for early next week. This would give me 4-5 more days to chase the parula and possibly Hook-billed kite. Importantly, this timetable would give me another weekend in the LRGV. Lots of birders out birding means more people to find something odd!

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