Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dec 9 (Day 343) - Ferruginous birthday-owl!!!

First, I have received many, many kind notes from readers on this day, my 36th birthday. In a "bonus post" penned by Sonia (below this post), she encouraged readers to send me special birthday notes and comments. There has been deluge of these, and rest assured while I do not have the time or the energy to respond to each of them, I have in fact read all of these incredibly touching and informative snippets. I love hearing a bit about my readers, so feel free to keep these coming. I often read these at roadside stops as I rest to catch my breath or temporarily seek shelter from the rain. Fortunately, the rain held off today. This permitted the great Ferruginous pygmy-owl search to go-off as scheduled!

I have spent the last week securing the necessary permissions to organize this search. There is a very healthy population of the owls on the King Ranch, a HUGE private tract of land here in Southern Texas. If I remember the statistic correctly, the Ranch is ~1,300 square miles. To put this into perspective, Wikipedia reports that Rhode Island is 1,212 square miles! I was fortunate enough to visit the King Ranch when I was 15-16 years old. My mom has always been interested in horses, farms, and the such. As a result, she signed us both up for one of Victor Emanuel's King Ranch Weekends when I was in high school. This tour emphasized the history and workings of the ranch along with the birds found on it. It was on this trip that I got my lifer Ferruginous pygmy-owl (and Tropical parula and a host of others!). The only other run-in I have had with this species was at Bentsen SP in 2008. Unfortunately,  the big flood of 2008 seems to have pushed the birds out of Bentsen. This means that essentially all the remaining birds are found on private lands such as the King Ranch.

The best time of year to see this diurnal owl is March through May when the birds are nesting. At these times, it's as simple as getting into a known territory and waiting for one of the birds to call or fly by. This is when most people look for this bird. However, at this time of year, the birds are relatively inactive and require a bit more effort to find.  In fact, the folks at the King Ranch do not normally do pygmy-owl viewing at this time of year for this reason. Given my incredibly unique situation though, they made an exception for me. Today I was aided by ranch bird specialist Tom L. We met at 8:30am and headed off to a particularly productive area. It took about 5 minutes and one quick whack on the tape to find 2 owls! We actually heard a third one as well. Year bird #610 was one the books. Great scope views were had and decent photos were managed! They are really cute little guys.

Front view owl #1

Rear view owl #2

Me and Tom

I have discussed the use of tapes several times this year. This is prime example where limited access is actually great. Since these birds hear tapes so infrequently, responses are fast. As I have said before, I am fine with taping provided there is some structure to it. Taking an organized tour into a controlled area and taking a quick whack on the tape is better than each of these people taping individually. It's also better than all 30 of these people stomping through the habitat in search of the bird. So, my stance on taping is it's OK if it's controlled to some degree. 

With this bird ticked I now have even more time with which to play. I have decided to head to Brownsville for a few days of general/casual birding around Sabal Palms and Resaca de la Palma. There aren't any new species I expect to find, but I wanted to bird this area even though it will require a bit of backtracking from where I saw the owl. I haven't been to Brownsville since my 2008 South Texas trip. Like the rest of the LRGV, anything can show up at any time in Brownsville. These days will also help me fill up a few of the 9 days between now and when I need to be in Freeport to search for Yellow rail. I have the inside track on rails in this area and I feel very confident that I have a very good chance of seeing this species in the few days I spend in the area. 

66 flat ones!

A sample itinerary for the next week might look like this:

Wed 10th     Ride 35 miles to and bird Brownsville (moderate east winds)
Thu  11th     Bird Brownsville (moderate southeast winds)
Fri    12th     Bird Brownsville morning, ride 50 miles north to Raymondville on SE winds in PM
Sat   13th     Ride 75 miles north from Raymondville to Kingsville on SE winds
Sun   14th    Ride  75 miles northeast to Rockport. Forecasted BIG SE winds might complicate this ride though. They might be too strong (20-30 MPH sustained) to ride safely since they'd be crosswinds blowing me into the traffic lanes
Mon  15th    Ride 80 miles northeast to Palacios across light NW winds
Tue   16th    Ride 70 miles northeast to Jackson/Freeport

You can see that this timetable still gives me a few days to spare. If I reach Freeport early, I can do a bit of casual birding on my own. If something really good appears in the LRGV while I am still down here, I can use these extra days to chase it before heading north. 

Several people have asked if I would think about using these extra days to go back for Red-billed pigeon. I certainly thought about it but decided against it. The last report of the pigeon was on Nov 9 - a month ago. It would also require a 200-mile (100 out and back), dog and traffic light peppered backtrack. As badly as I want to add this bird, it just does not seem worth it right given the risks of traversing the traffic-laden LRGV again compared to the chances of finding the bird. 

The other thing that has cropped up is a particularly interesting job opening. I only have until Dec 12 to apply, so some shorter days  around Brownsville will leave me with time and energy to do this. I might even spend another full day in Brownville (the 12th) should I need extra time with the application. This is reminder that that return to real life is just around the corner!

Bonus shot of Eastern screech-owl from 
Bentsen the other day.
So well camouflaged!


  1. Dorian, we have a pretty good idea now on the approximate species total you'll end up with by New Year's, give or take a few. I'm interested on your own take on the question: How beatable is your big year using your same set of rules? -Dave

  2. Dorian, if you are in and around Brownsville you should consider a trip to the Brownsville Dump (not far from Sabal Palm). Who knows, you might find a crazy gull or maybe a Mexican Crow! At least it is worth a try.

  3. Are the parrots in Brownsville countable? Or maybe you already have them...

  4. eating at the Boiling Pot restaurant in Rockport is a good idea!

  5. I've got an unused gift card for Rudy's BBQ you can use in Brownsville if you want it.