Friday, April 18, 2014

Apr 18 (Day 108) - Kicking around Anahuac NWR, early to bed

I was scheduled to arrive at Anahuac today, but I decided to fold my hand on my last day of birding at Sabine Woods to travel here to Anahuac yesterday. This meant that I had an extra day in this area, and I decided that I would use today for two purposes. First, I wanted to familiarize myself with Anahuac NWR since I will be riding into it in the dark tomorrow morning for the rail walk. Second, I wanted to search the agricultural fields around Anahuac for one of my main target birds, Buff-breasted sandpiper. The first task was relatively straightforward, but the second was less so.

38 miles today

I am actually staying a just a few miles up the street from Anahuac NWR. This made for an easy commute down to the birding areas this morning. I wanted to get an early start since I figured that heat shimmer over the agricultural fields where I would search for the sandpiper would be a major problem starting around 10:30 or 11:00am. The spotting scope on which I would rely to scan the fields magnifies everything by a factor of 32. This includes the heat waves rising from the earth as it warms over the course of the morning. What this means is that the telescope is most useful when it is cool, and as the day progresses, this heat shimmer phenomenon renders it less effective. Basically the heat shimmer cuts down the effective range of the scope by 1/2. So, if there is a Buff-breasted sandpiper very far out in one of the fields, it will but much easier for me to find it early in the day. 

I spent 3.5 hours scanning fields along State Road 1985. This was the same road that I birded on my way into this area yesterday. I was able to find lots of plovers, Whimbrel, yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpipers, stilt, avocets, and other common shorebirds. I also found a lone Solitary sandpiper, but I was unable to locate either the Wilson's phalarope or Hudsonian godwit from yesterday afternoon. I did hear several Northern bobwhite calling (#319), but was unable to find any of them. I will almost certainly see these as I head west in Texas n the next few weeks. By 10:30, the heat shimmer was starting to be a real problem. I was ready to close up shop and head into the refuge proper when I spotted a small, buffy bird way out in the field. I immediately recognized it as the Buff-breasted sandpiper (#320)! The bird quickly worked its way back into the field and out of scope range. I could count this bird, but it was a very unsatisfying look. I will return to this in a moment. Soon after this, 2 pinkish Franklin's gulls passed over the field for year bird #321. It was clearly a very successful morning!

Panorama of agricultural fields

During the middle part of the day, I headed into the main part of the refuge. I will be going on one of the famous Anahuac rail walks at 7:00am tomorrow morning. I will need to bike to the far side of the refuge (everyone else will carpool), so I wanted to check the condition of the access road. The road is actually in very good shape, and I have decided to ride it before sunrise to listen for rails before the walk actually commences. 

The afternoon at Anahuac was very relaxing. Birding casually I found lots of Stilt sandpipers and dowitchers, and a large number of American white pelicans were observed circling over the main impoundments. There were quite a few Northern Shovelers today, and the usual cast of ibises and herons rounded out a nice assortment of water birds. The highlight of the day was a family of King rails that ran right across a walkway at a spot where several people have told me to look for King rails (it nice when that happens, isn't it?!?). I was able to get the camera out for the last chick as it sprinted across the path only to vanish into the adjacent reeds. I also observed Sora and Virginia rail today. Hopefully I can pick up Yellow and/or Black rail on the rail walk tomorrow. I was generally very impressed with Anahuac NWR this afternoon, and I think it won't be hard to spend a few more days birding the area. On my way home, I did find a Common nighthawk snoozing on a post. I cracked off a few frames and left the lethargic bird as I found it. 

King rail chick at high speed!

King rail adult before it vanished into reeds. 

Adult King rail I photographed in Massachusetts 
a few years back. The above photo was taken at 2pm. This was 
taken early in the morning. This is why I do all my shooting early 
and late in the day; The colors aren't washed out.

Sleeping Common nighthawk from today

As I was leaving Anahuac, I decided to take a 9-mile detour to return to the same fields where I had found the lone Buff-breasted sandpiper this morning. I really wanted to find a few more and to get a better look a this bird. As I was biking along, I saw 2 Upland sandpipers. I stopped to have a look at them. When I did this I saw that there were 8 smaller birds with them. These all turned out to be Buff-breasted sandpipers! They only stuck around for a second before they flew off, but at least I got a better look than this morning. I continued down the road when I spotted 6 more suspicious looking birds not far from the road. These also turned out to be Buff-breasted sandpipers. They stuck around for a few minutes which gave me the chance to get a record shot. It was really nice to finish out the day strong by finding these bonus birds!

Buff-breasted Sandpipers from today

A Buff-breasted sandpiper I photographed in
Massachusetts a few years back.

Ok, that's all folks. I am going to hit the hay early since I have a very early start tomorrow morning.

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