Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nov 30 (Day 334) - Closing out November with Red-crowned parrot!

After the great falcon triumph of yesterday, I spent a very windy night in Port Isabel, TX. These same winds were still blowing this morning albeit not quite as menacingly as yesterday's gales. One bird that I fully expected to see during my time in the LRGV was Red-crowned parrot. These birds inhabit several of the more urban areas in the LRGV. They generally roost in public parks or neighborhoods at night. During the day, they disperse to find food elsewhere. The best strategy to find these birds is to spend an evening near a roost sight where it is easy to tick the birds as they fly in for the night. There is a particularly predictable Red-crowned roost on the north side of Harlingen. I decided I would deal with this bird today as I make my second transit of the LRGV. I could then continue west to Mission tomorrow. I will use Mission for a base of operations the rest of the week as I try to locate Tropical parula and Hook-billed kite. I suspect that I will be able to find the parula but miss the kite. This prection is based on the pattern (or lack!) of recent sightings for each species.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. To reach Harlingen and the Red-crowned parrot, I would have to ride ~40 miles WNW from Port Isabel. This was no major headache today as there was a stiff SSE breeze to help speed me along. I did find 2 Aplomado falcons along Route 100 today. I tried to do some casual birding in Harlingen upon arrival, but the winds had built to a level that made this endeavor futile. I opted for a nap in a sheltered area of a public park instead. I was fortunate to secure a place to stay very near the parrot roost to which I alluded above. I arrived at the house this afternoon and spent a few nice hours hanging out with my hosts. I did fall asleep again at the house. I have now been at this for 11 full months, and I have noticed that I am napping more now than at any other point in the year. My body is really, really tired; The need for these naps seems to support this. 

42.5 mapped + ~1.5 unmapped while parrot hunting for 44 total

I headed the ~mile down to the roost area at 4:30pm. Sunset today was at 5:40, so I figured I'd have plenty of time. There was zero action until the sun had actually set. 3 parrots came winging over the neighborhood right at dusk. Their raucous flight calls gave them away instantly. 10 minutes later, they we're joined by 17 more birds, and over the next 5-10 minutes the party swelled to over 100 chattering, green guests. There were 2 other Amazona-type birds mixed in with the Red-crowns. My parrot ID skills are a bit deficient, so I'll have to rely on someone else to label these for me. They certainly won't count towards the species total whatever they are. It was nice to nail #607 down today as it unchains me from their roost sites in the future. I am completely free to chase whatever rarities might surface in the next few days.

Neighborhood in which parrots roost


***Don't let these photos fool you. It was nearly 
dark when I took these***
Very high ISO and breath-holding required

Red-crowned parrot for #607!

Squawking at one another

Some other Amazona-type - Red-lored has been suggested
1/15 at f/5.6, ISO 6400, and tons of lightening in Lightroom!

Tomorrow I will ride west to Mission. I will probably make another stop at Estero Llano Grande SP for some general birding. The honeycreeper was originally found on the 27th. It made brief afternoon appearances both on the 28th and 29th, but was not seen today as far as I know. I've seen it already, but it would be fun to see it again if it's around. Right now the word on the street is that the bird is probably a hatch year female. What this means for the countability of this bird is not for me to decide. However, it seems that if this bird is ever going to join the Texas and ABA area lists, this individual is as as good a candidate as any to make this happen. Who knows how it will all officially shake out - and it could take quite a while!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Nov 29 (Day 333) - Aplomado falcon a very windy day!

NOTE: I am looking for a place to stay in Harlingen tomorrow night, Sunday, November 30th. If you have any ideas or can make me a direct offer, please let me know at Thanks in advance!

I spent last night in Port Isabel, TX. This put me right in the center of the "Aplomado-zone" in the extreme southeastern portion of the state. This species used to be found throughout the southwest, but became extirpated as a consequence of habitat loss. Reintroduction efforts in Texas have proved at least partially successful, and the ABA made this species full countable this year. The treatment of Aplomado falcon from a "countability" standpoint is very much like that of California condor; All individuals, regardless of whether they are bred in captivity or wild-rasied, are countable, and a birder need not spend time trying to sort out the origins of individually identified birds.

Aplomado sightings from eBird

Just 28 miles today

Looking at the above map of Aplomado sightings in Southern Texas, an experience eye might notice that almost all of them come from along roads. These birds inhabit coastal savannahs over which they are often seen hunting. However, the far more common way to find these birds is to look for them perched on utility poles, antennas, and yucca plants along at the roadside. This was my strategy today. I would ride the very productive Route 100 that runs between Port Isabel and Los Fresnos. By slowly scanning the sky and poles along this stretch, I was fairly confident I could find at least one of these birds today. 

Route 100 roadside this morning - lots of nice poles!

My first pass of the most productive stretch of Route 100 yielded lots of raptors but no Aplomados. I recorded 8 raptor species: Turkey vulture, Red-tailed hawk, White-tailed hawk, Harris's hawk, American kestrel, White-tailed kite, Crested caracara, and Northern harrier. Other than these the only notable bird of the first part of the day was Stilt sandpiper chilling in a roadside pond. 

Old Port Isabel Road

After sticking to the 2-lane, paved, Route 100 for the first 13 miles of my search, I then detoured down the very rough and muddy Old Port Isabel "road" to extend the hunt. I could only make it about a mile down the road before a very wet and muddy stretch forced me to turn around. The fact that several 4-wheel vehicles made the same decision validated mine. I spent a stationary half hour scanning the savannah. Loads of other raptors came and went on the building winds during this time. I was slowly oozing back towards the paved highway when I saw 2 distant candidate birds. I quickly assembled the scope, but this proved relatively useless as there was a ton of wind and the birds were backlit at the time. I watched some incredible ariel acrobatics as they chased one another high above the ground. They eventually drifted out of sight to the west. They were too big and strong to be kestrels, yet not big or strong enough to be peregrines. These were almost certainly Aplomados, but this look was not enough to actually count them. I mean, it could have been 2 Eurasian hobbies, right? I really wanted to ID this bird positively versus just eliminating the other falcon species.

I stood around for a bit longer. A single falcon appeared out to the west about 5 minutes later. It was actually flying right towards me. I assumed it was one of the two birds I had seen a few minutes prior. This bird kept coming, and coming, and eventually landed in yucca not 80 yards from me! I was able to get a few shots of it both in flight and perched. This bird is strikingly beautiful, and I was stoked that I was able to get such a good view of it. This was my 30th life bird of the year! They are certainly amazing fliers, and the ease with which they cut through the steady 20 MPH winds only demonstrated this further. Despite this wind, it was a really nice morning of birding. It was a warm wind, and the myriad of raptors I listed above used it to hunt/soar at all points on the horizon around me. It was really relaxing and quite beautiful.

Aplomado falcon for #606!

Speaking of relaxing, since I was curious, the other day I measured my resing heart rate while pigeon-ing in Salineno - 52 BPM! I will also comment that I can feel that my blood pressure is below my normal. I have of late been getting a bit lightheaded when I stand-up to quickly. This never happened to me before I embarked on this adventure. Also on the health front, my right foot has developed a mysterious, daily ache. I cannot identifying a single incident that triggered this, but it is a mild nuisance that I hope does not evolve into anything more painful during the last month of the year. Otherwise, my ass is sore and my legs are tired. I guess this isn't even news at this stage of things though.......

By the time I was done with the falcon it was really windy. Birding and riding would be equally unproductive in these conditions. I decided to cut the day short and return to Port Isabel to strategize for the next few days. I saw what I presume was a 3rd falcon perched on a pole on my return trip along Route 100. While it seemed unlike that the Fork-tailed flycatcher would be seen today (it wasn't), I wanted to be within striking distance of Laguna if it was. 

Right at midday, I received word that a/the Tropical parula was spotted this morning at Quinta Mazatlan back west in McAllen. This bird had been around for most of November before disappearing this last week. I had hoped to spend time looking for it this weekend before getting pulled east by the flycatcher. I did not have time to make it to Quinta Mazatlan today, and it is closed the next two days (closed as in there's a fence around it and I can't bird it unless it open). So, I suspect/hope this bird will hang out in that area like it has done previously. As there isn't much I can do about it until Tuesday, I will spend the next two days biking/birding my way back towards McAllen. I should be able to tick Red-crowned parrot in Harlingen en route. The nice thing about the parula is that I have a free/nice place to stay right nearby. I can look for the parula every morning until I find it, and I can spend the afternoons of the days that I don't at Anzalduas and Bentsen looking for Hook-billed kites and whatever other rarities might turn up. I really want to do some general birding and walking around, and I think I'll get a few days of this during this week. This plan makes perfects sense, so I am sure some great rarity will appear and force me to throw it out the window!

Nov 28 (Day 332) - Worst tactical decision of year with a silver lining

After the honeycreeper triumph yesterday, I made the mistake of taking my foot off the gas; It really cost me today. I also learned that no matter how wed you are to a plan, in a place like South Texas it is really important to be completely flexible.

While we were waiting for the honeycreeper to return yesterday, we received word that a Fork-tailed flycatcher had been seen at Laguna Atascosa NWR. This is a South American species that appears in the lower 48 states with some regularity. It is an austral migrant which means it migrates north during the South American winter. Some of these birds apparently over-shoot and end up in North America. It's all a bit confusing to me to be honest. The birds seem to show up at all times of year in all areas of the lower 48 with a particular concentration in the Northeast. I have seen this species in lower 48 twice - both in Connecticut and both in the last 6-7 years. This Laguna Atascosa bird would surly be my only shot at this species in the last month of the year. It would also be a great and unexpected addition to the growing list.

Fork-tailed flycatcher
Photographed by me in CT, Oct 2013

Fork-tailed flycatcher range

However, for reasons that I do not completely understand myself, I never really got excited about this bird. First, this species is notorious for being a "one hit wonder". It seems that they are very often reported one day only to be gone the next. I chased several of them before I finally got my lifer. Second, chasing this bird would require that I make additional distance east when I really wanted to go west. Going east would ensure that I would have to traverse the LRGV 3 times: this chase, the return to Mission, and then the final exit to the east whenever that happens. I was really hoping to keep backtracking to a minimum so as to keep my miles down. Third, since it was Thanksgiving, I thought I might have a hard time finding food and/or lodging without advanced planning. What I failed to realize it that at this stage ANY new bird in ANY direction must be chased since there are so few birds left for me to add to the list. I had just scored a huge victory with the honeycreeper, and I was admiring my own luck versus stepping on the gas even harder. After leaving the honeycreeper, I should have biked east to Harlingen for the night. This would have put me about 25 miles ( < 2 hours) from Laguna this morning. I could have been at Laguna very early this morning had I done this. I was not there early, and this cost me dearly today.

Instead, I biked west, back towards Mission for the night. I figured I would take my time this morning as I waited for word on the flycatcher. If the bird was found, maybe I would chase it. If not, which is what I expected, I could finish the ride back to Mission and spend the weekend birding Bentsen and Anzalduas for Hook-billed kite, Tropical parula, and whatever else I could find. However, the flycatcher was refound at around 8am this morning. Crap. I had a 55-mile ride to reach the bird. It would have to stay put for > 4 hours for me to reach/see it. Had I headed towards Harlingen last night, I'd be half that distance. I should have done that and gone right to to refuge rather than waiting for word on the bird. I let other people do the dirty work of refinding the bird instead of doing it myself. I left Alamo, at 8am, and I arrived at Laguna at noon. The bird was seen once at 8am and again at 10am. That's it. Had I not been lazy and overly wed to my original plan, I would have almost surely ticked this bird today. I spent 4.5 hours looking for it this afternoon without success. Increasing winds during the middle of the day and afternoon likely forced the bird to hunker down or split completely. I have no one to blame for this but myself. After my futile effort at Laguna, I biked the ~20 miles southeast to Port Isabel for the night. This is the closest place to stay to Laguna. It is also a great place to use for a base to search for Aplomado falcon the next few days. This is a bird for which I wanted to search only AFTER I had dealt with the western LRGV. The falcon is here, it's not going anywhere, so it could wait. Since I've now come this far east, I may as well deal with it now.

A frustrating 71 miles today....

Tomorrow is going to be VERY windy. Winds will be from the south at ~15 MPH at 9am and cranking at a steady 22-25 MPH from the south by noon. Gusts could be 30-35 MPH. This means that much of tomorrow will be both unridable and unbirdable. I could ride back north up to Laguna very early in the morning to explore the small chance in hell that the flycatcher sticks for another day. Given that it completely disappeared when winds picked up today, I am not enthusiastic about this idea. Also, I would have to ride back south into the wind to get back to Port Isabel after searching for the bird. This might prove impossible given how strong the winds are predicted to be. Getting pinned by wind at Laguna without the flycatcher would be the worst possible scenario. Instead, I think I will bird the area around Port Isabel for Aplomado falcon. The wind will limit what I can do, but I should have a good chance of finding it. If I find the bird early, I might try to make it to Brownsville where I would like to spend Sunday birding Sabal Palms and Resaca de las Palmas for rarities. Should I miss the falcon tomorrow, I will likely return to Port Isabel tomorrow night and repeat the process on Sunday. I could then head to Brownsville on Monday. However, I've learned that trying to make a plan down here is sometimes pointless. Some great bird will probably show up back in west and I'll have to fight the wind to reach it!

Oh, I did add White-tailed hawk at Laguna for #605! I guess progress in any form is a good thing.

Despite missing the flycatcher today, some good did come out of last night. It came in the form of the Alamo Inn in Alamo where I spent last night. When he heard about my adventure, owner, birder, and all-around good guy Keith Hackland offered me a couple of nights lodging at this simply incredible Bed & Breakfast. Keith and his place cater specifically to birders. With rare bird sightings posted daily, a bird-centric decor, and an attached boutique that seeks bird books, bird art, and birding gear, this place is a birder's dream. I was so impressed with the place and the support from Keith that I made a video of the Alamo Inn to show everyone. Please take a minute to watch it. I threw in some amusing commentary as well. This is a business for birders by a birder, and it would be great if we could support it and others like it moving forward! I am really glad I was able to experience this awesome little corner of the LRGV!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Nov 27 (Day 331) - 600-species mark shattered, MEGA-SUPER-HELLA big news!

As I am sure you can see from the species count at the top right, I am now well over 600 species! There was an big explosion of birds today. Some of these were expected while others were not. Let's get to it!

The plan for today was to head 30 miles east from Mission, TX to Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco. There have been a number of Groove-billed anis seen at the park in the last week. As 99% of Groove-billed anis have moved south out of Texas for the winter, there is no telling how long these birds might stick around. Therefore, I made these birds priority #1 for today even though it would mean extra riding. The new bird deluge started en route as ~20 Green parakeets flew over my head for #599. I saw several groups of these on my ride to Estero this morning. Upon my arrival to Estero, I was met by the refuge staff and Bill Sain. The staff knew generally where the anis have been hanging out of late. We set off in the general direction of the birds, making several stops along the way for other year birds. These included Least grebe and Common parauque for birds #600 and 601, respectively.

Least grebe for the official #600

Common parauque for #601
These are so well camouflaged it's almost unbelievable 

The group of 6 anis that had been hanging around Estero Lake has dwindled from 6 birds to 2 over the last week. The remaining 2 birds were seen yesterday, and I had hedged my bets today that they would stick around. Once we reached the "ani zone" near the lake, we split up to cover more ground. It took about 20 minutes but the anis were located about a half mile away. A brisk walk brought two of them into view for #602. YES! This was a really key bird for me. This was even sweeter after the Red-billed pigeon derailment. This find put me back on track! Incredibly, as we were watching the anis, several more of them appeared.....and they kept coming. The most anis that I had in sight at one time was 7! I only needed 1, but 7 was really special today. The refuge staff were incredibly helpful and friendly. The only things as good as the staff were the birds!

1 of the 2 original Groove-billed anis for #602

5 anis!

Team ani

Bill and I hung around watching the anis for a while. As the temperature rose, we decide to head back to the Visitor's Center to relax a bit and meet up with my hostess from last night, Tiffany Kerstens. I correctly surmised that I would be able to add Buff-bellied hummingbird for #603 at the hummingbird feeders at the Visitor's center. Wow! 5 new birds in one morning (with more to come)! We were joined at the Visitor's Center by local and expert birder Mary Gustafson. The 4 of use were talking birds and casually scanning the ducks on the main pond when we received word of an interesting but not definitely identified bird in the topical/RV portion of the park. We casually headed that way with hopes of refinding this interesting bird that was originally reported as a vireo after only a very brief view. We spread out to find the bird. However, we initially met with little success. 

A very small bird eventually materialized in a small, leafless tree right in front of a group of us (there were 7-8 of us involved in the search by this time). Mary got on it an immediately shouted "Honeycreeper". I got my binocs onto the bird a second later. My heart completely stopped when I realized what I was seeing. The bird was generally greenish with a rather long, down-curved bill. It was dead on for a honeycreeper. As honeycreepers do not normally occur in North America, I knew we had found something REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY good. By the time my heart started again, the bird disappeared POOF! GONE! I had seen it for less that two full seconds. Several of my companions got similar views of the bird; Excruciatingly, none of use got a serviceably photo. One staff member, John, got some images with his point and shoot, but they were far from conclusive. We immediately located a copy of The Birds of Mexico by Howell and Webb. Mary took the book around to each person who had seen the bird and asked each of us what bird we had seen. We all individually pointed to the exact same bird: Female Red-legged honeycreeper. 

Waiting for the honeycreeper

The bird returned to this tree twice in the 4 hours we watched it

Red-legged honeycreeper range

As you can see, Red-legged honeycreeper is a Central and South American species that reaches is northern limit in Central Mexico. While some have thought this species might at some point surface in South Texas, to date this has not occurred. In fact, this species has never been recorded in North America before. Several previous sightings of males in Florida have been discounted as escapees since this species is very often kept as a pet. Looking at the photo of a male below, you can see why some people might want to do this.

Adult male Red-legged honeycreeper

Female Red-legged honeycreeper

Anyway, all of us were at this stage convinced we had seen a female of this species. When a rarity of this magnitude is found, it is imperative that photos are obtained. We were heartbroken that we had not been able to get good photos; We knew this bird would never stand a chance of being legitimized and counted without them. There was only 1 thing to do: Refind it. This is exactly what we set out to do, and 45 minutes later, the bird returned to the same tree where it had surfaced earlier. This view was also brief (less than 1 minute), but we were able to obtain several serviceable photos that seemed to confirm our ID of female Red-legged honeycreeper.

Head view A

Head view B

Uppertail, rump

Body shot


In theory, this bird should be year bird #604. However, when something this rare is found, there are going to have be a number of administrative reviews of the sighting to decide if it "counts". This could take a year or more as the record must be reviewed at the state level by the Texas Birds Records Committee and also at the Continent level by American Birding Association. I honestly think that our photos make a very convincing argument that we saw a female Red-legged honeycreeper. I think that the committee decision if this bird is "countable" will rest squarely on "Do we think it is an escapee?" While we will never know the answer to this with 100% certainty, that it was a female bird is a big plus for us. The 2 or 3 Florida sightings that have been rejected have all been of male birds which are more likely to be kept as pets. This is a species that is completely possible in South Texas, and we have good photos of it. As observers, we've basically done what we can at this stage. Now it rests in the hands of other to determine if it counts. I've already had one North American first record tossed out (Swinhoe's storm-petrel, North Carolina), so hopefully this one will count! Not bitter about that. At all. Totally fine. Not. For the record, I still count the Swinhoe's on my life list even though it wasn't accepted. Since this year is "for real", should this bird not count, it won't be on the year list. Hence it has been added as a "+1 Provisional" species below this main species count in which it is NOT included. 

While we were waiting for the honeycreeper to surface for a 3rd time - which it never did - a flock of Snow geese flew over Estero. It took until #604, but Snow goose is finally on the 2014 list!

I am not yet 100% sure what is going to happen tomorrow. There was actually a Fork-tailed flycatcher spotted at Laguna Atascoca NWR this morning. If that bird resurfaces, you can bet I'll head that way. Man, the LRGV is going to be exciting - and exhausting!

Incredibly, Red-legged honeycreeper wasn't even the best thing I saw today. That title belongs to the Disco Elephant I found along the road!

43 miles today!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Nov 25 and 26 (Days 329 and 330) - The streak finally ends...

First, for those that are counting, we reached 500,000 blog hits today! That's half a million! I am so glad people are enjoying this so much. I was hoping I'd be able to hit this mark on the same day as species 600 (or 602, however you look at it), but I'll take it any way I can get it. I know it's late in the year, but please continue to spread the word about this blog to others who might enjoy it - either this year or beyond. I will likely keep it going in some form into the future. Although 2014 will eventually end, the fun doesn't have to.

Also, another thanks to Sonia for standing in last night on late notice! She did another admirable job, as expected.

Now for the bird-related events of the last 2 days. Those of you who have been following this blog since earlier in the year might have noticed that I have not missed many birds for which I spent serious time looking. In fact, the last birds that I missed were on the Texas coast when I left before I had found Yellow-bellied flycatcher, Black-billed cuckoo, and Mourning warbler. I also missed Alder flycatcher, but, since that bird was not going to call on the Texas coast, I really don't feel that I (or 99% of other birders) would be comfortable IDing this species without voice. Even if I saw one, without voice I wouldn't be able to conclusively identify it. Incidently, I was able to tick Willow flycatcher out west during the summer. Anyway, it has been an incredible run since the the beginning of May. I did miss a few birds here and there (Flammulated owl, Sooty grouse, Pacific-golden plover, etc), but I eventually found each of them with continued searching. Additionally, I was lucky enough to see Yellow-green vireo on the last day it was present in San Diego. I rode 300 miles (round trip) to get Rufous-backed robin and that bird left the day after I saw it. Ancient murrelet appeared right in front of me in San Diego, and I found the needle in a haystack in the single Thayer's gull at the Salton Sea way earlier than it should have been there. I got all the grouse off-lek, and poached Slaty-backed gull while in Washington state. These are some of the highlights of what has been an amazing bird-finding run the last 7 months.

With this discussion, I am sure that many of you can anticipate the news that I did not find Red-billed pigeon yesterday or today. The Upper Rio Grande Valley (URGV) was my only shot at this bird, and, as I departed today, I knew I would not have another realistic crack at this bird. After all, I can't find them all no matter how hard I am willing to try. I did feel a bit helpless looking for this species though. As it is only ever seen along the river, all one can do is pull up a piece of river and watch and wait. Looking for Red-billed pigeon is thus not terribly proactive; You just have to get lucky and have one fly by (or near!) where you are standing. Anyway, that's the story on this bird. It's a real bummer to leave this bird on the table, but given the nature of the search and the complete lack of services/support in the URGV, I needed to get the heck out of there, stat. Barring a miracle, this bird won't be joining the 2014 party. I did see a number of other nice birds in the last two days. However, as a number of things on my bike have broken in the last week, I must spend some extra time piecing them back together. I'm just going to throw up a few photos of a few of the birds and leave it at that.

Zone-tailed hawk

Greater white-fronted geese

Gray hawk through branches. I actually saw 4-5 of these the last few days.

Audubon's oriole

While the above are for documentation only, these are much nicer!

They're not terribly exciting but they show the birds in their
ground-earth habitat where they are observed 99% of the time.

White-tipped dove

Common ground-dove

Inca dove

White-tipped dove in late afternoon light!

Putting the pigeon and the URGV behind me, I am now in Mission, TX. I have now officially reach the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) where I will be spending at least the next 10-12 days. Looking at the below, I will find the 7 easy species as I look for the 5 toughies. 

LRGV will/must get (7)
Snow goose
Least grebe
White-tailed hawk
Common pauraque
Buff-bellied hummingbird
Red-crowned parrot
Green parakeet

LRGV toughies
Hook-billed kite
Tropical parula
Ferruginous pygmy-owl
Groove-billed ani
Aplomado falcon

I will start this tomorrow as I will ride ~30 miles east from Mission to Estero Llano Grande State Park where 2 Anis have been seen for the last week. This species largely moves south out of the LRGV during winter, but a few linger a bit longer and even fewer spend the whole winter. As the 2 birds have been seen at Estero each day for the past week, I must pounce on them ASAP. This is what will hopefully happen tomorrow. If I can take care of this bird, it will be a strong start to my LRGV leg! After that it will be time for Tropical parula and Hook-billed kite around Mission/McAllen. Falcon will be dealt with closer to the coast, and Pygmy-owl will be handled after that (possibly on the King Ranch). One bird at a time, one bird at a time..........

Here are the maps from the last two days.

Nov 25 - just 14 miles around Falcon/Salineno

Nov 26 - 62 miles to Mission, TX

Feeder watching at Salineno with Larry, Yvonne, Cheryl, and Don (L > R)

Nov 25 (Day 329) - nada in Salineno

Hi everyone, it's Sonia. Dorian is currently held up in what is probably his worst accommodations for the year (or at least, I think so). His lush sleeping arrangements at the local Motel and Grocery in Salineno, TX doesn't have internet so he is not able to update the blog tonight. Yes, you heard me correctly. His motel tonight is also in the same building as the fine grocery he went to last night for his well balanced meal of Spaghetti O's and moldy bread. For tonight's delectable meal he dined on can of StarKist's gourmet tuna, savory canned peas and Philadelphia's finest Tastykake mini donuts. Mmmmmmm. I'm sure it's exactly what he was hoping for after a long day of NOT finding his Red-billed pigeon. I can't help but shake my head by the fact that he is enduring all of this to find a pigeon?! Birders, I really don't get you sometimes.

Photo of Dorians fine dining cuisine tonight

Room inclusive of heat...
Room catching on fire for no additional cost

It's hard to believe that we are nearing the end of November. It's weird and awesome to think that in about a month I will be connected with Dorian again to help push him through the last few days of his epic Big Year. I'll admit, to think about this year coming to a close is both incredibly exciting and a little sad. While I'm anxious to have Dorian close by me consistantly, part of me is really going to miss the strange daily "routines" we've adopted in this very non-routine year apart. Tonight was the first night that we really started talking about logistics for the end of this year. Questions like when and where am I going to meet him? Where will we go? How long do we want to take to get to wherever it is we're going? Where will we live? My head is honestly spinning a little. Isn't it funny how we have managed to find some sense of routine and stability in a lifestyle that is totally unstable? And now the thought of having to figure out an actual solid plan is a bit overwhelming and scary? It's really amazing how easily people can adapt to their environment and circumstances, whatever they may be.

Anyway, in the spirit of Thanksgiving I want to send a note of sincere gratitude to all you for what you guys have done for both Dorian and I this year. Seeing how this project has brought so many people together is such an incredible joy. And the support and encouragement you guys have given Dorian (and me) has been so important. Thank you for spending your time investing in this.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Nov 24 (Day 328) - Red-billed pigeon, Round 1

Red-billed pigeon is a Central American species that reaches its northern limit right at the Rio Grande. There is generally a single strategy to finding this species, and it entails pulling up a piece of riverbank and waiting. The key thing appears to be the time of day as the birds fly up and down the river during the very early morning hours. I saw this bird in Salineno on my 2008 South Texas trip, and it was here that I started the search today. I had to ride 30 miles from Zapata to Salineno, so I missed the all important early morning hours today. I was joined for the entire day by Texas birder Bill Sain. Bill and I birded together at Sabine Woods in April, and we have kept in close contact for most of the year. We spent the entire day rapping shop (talking) as we bounced between the riverbank and the Salineno bird feeding station jut a few feet up the hill. It was an incredibly nice, relaxing day or birding. I did not, however, find the pigeon despite scanning the river until sunset.

41 miles today

The Rio Grande at Salineno

Looking for this bird is sort of frustrating since there is little I can do to improve my odds of finding it. There are a few other nearby points at which the river can be accessed, but Salineno is as good as any of them. The problem is that I feel sort of helpless since I just have to wait for one to fly by my vantage point. It's not as though I can try another area since access is so limited, nor can I hike further or harder as I could for some other birds. I just have to sit and see what happens. The other consideration is that I am unlike to add anything else while I sit and wait. I will say that today was filled with raptors as I saw Black vulture, Turkey vulture, Crested caracara, Osprey, Red-tailed hawk, Harris's hawk, Zone-tailed hawk, Gray hawk, Sharp-shinned hawk, and American Kestrel. The Salineno feeders hosted all the usual suspects: sparrows, doves, chachalacas, jays, woodpeckers, kiskadees, orioles, and so forth.

Plain chachalaca - I had a heard-only one of these yesterday

Green jay

White-tipped dove

Clay-colored sparrow

Common ground-dove

Altamira oriole 

Golden-fronted woodpecker

I am going to make a nice early start to try for the pigeon again tomorrow. Should I not find it, things will get interesting. The town of Salineno has got nothing going on. There is one small store that sells candy and chips and crap (guess what I had for lunch). I am staying in another cluster of houses called "Falcon Heights". There is nothing here either. No restaurants. There is one "grocery store" (with two small shelves of food) where I bought dinner: a loaf of bad bread, peanut butter, a can of spaghetti-o's, and a box of cupcakes. Both breakfast and lunch will be peanut butter sandwiches and whatever cupcakes I don't eat tonight. I hope like hell I find this bird so I can get the heck out of here and back to civilization. McDonald's looks 5 star compared to this. If I miss the pigeon tomorrow, I think I am willing to spend 1 more night here tomorrow. I could then take one last crack at the bird Wednesday morning before I head east. It totally sucks to leave this bird since I have so few left to find. This is my only shot at this bird, but given the food situation, the fact that I am paying for each night and not enjoying the area, and that I have zero control over finding the bird since all I can do it wait for 2 hours each morning, getting out of here is really priority number 1. Oh yeah, the motel at which I am staying is cash only!??! WTF?!?! They wanted $60, and I could only come up with $58. The nearest ATM is 20 miles away! Of course they took what I had since I'm the only one here! I now have no cash left. This is not a good position to be in considering that credit apparently does not fly everywhere around here. The only other motel in town does takes credit but looks less-than-savory (i.e. nasty). Sounds sweet, huh?