Friday, November 7, 2014

Nov 7 (Day 311) - VERY LONG - Plan for Texas, lots of help/input required!!!!

In an ideal world, today I would have ridden the 89 miles from Patagonia, AZ to Wilcox, AZ. This would have set me up to ride the 78 miles from Wilcox to Lordsburg, NM tomorrow. The problem is that big east winds (steady at 20-25 MPH by late morning) are forecast for tomorrow, and I do not think I could do the ride from Wilcox to Lordsburg without either going crazy, hurting myself, or both. I instead decided to take 3 days to cover this stretch given the wind issue tomorrow. Today I rode ~55 miles from Patagonia to Benson. Tomorrow, in the heavy wind, I will ride just 35 miles to Wilcox, and, on Sunday, once the winds have died down (but still light from the east), I will do the 78 from Wilcox to Lordsburg. Starting Monday, the winds are supposed to shift to the west. This should help push me along for the first part of next week. As I said the other day, wind is going to be the number one variable in how the rest of the year goes. 

I was slowed by annoying, moderate east winds in the morning

First, a housing plea! I am looking for hosts in ANY of the towns listed in the table below. I have heard from a few folks who can host me in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV). I am going to be in the valley for at least 2.5 weeks, so if you would be willing to host me for a night or more, please, please contact me at If you have contacted me already, and you feel particularly motivated to do so again, please do so. Many of you contacted me months ago when my focus wasn't yet on the LRGV, so please do not hesitate to send me a reminder email. If your dog has a dog friend with a spacious doghouse in the LRGV, I want to hear from him too!

OK, onto Texas. There are a lot of birds that I will need to find in South Texas. Some will be very easy and others will take much more time. Most of the species I need to get are down in the LRGV. There are also a couple a bit further up the coast that I will need to leave time to chase down nearer to the end of the year. With that in mind, here is a sample itinerary to get me to the LRGV. There is not much leeway on the miles since there is NOTHING between the listed towns. Again,  I am forced to go station to station even if the rides are shorter or longer than I would idealy like. I spend tons of time every day looking at this map to get an idea of what the winds along the route are doing. By studying it every day and night, I can get an idea of what is happening over time in different areas.

Day   Route                                                         Distance            Lodging
1)      Benson AZ  >  Wilcox, AZ                         37 miles            Local motel

2)      Wilcox, AZ  >  Lordsburg, NM                  74 miles            Best Western

3)       Lordsburg, NM  >  Demming, NM            61 miles            Best Western

4)       Deming, NM  >  Las Cruces, NM              60 miles            Host

5)       Las Cruces, NM  >  El Paso, TX                43 miles            Best Western

6)       El Paso, TX  >  Fort Hancock, TX             63 miles            Local motel

7)       Fort Hancock, TX  >  Van Horn, TX          73 miles            Local motel

8)       Van Horn, TX  >  Balmorhea, TX              69 miles            Local motel

9)       Balmorhea, TX  > Fort Stockton, TX        54 miles             Local motel

10)     Fort Stockton, TX  >  Sanderson, TX        65 miles             Local motel

11)     Sanderson, TX  >  Comstock, TX              89 miles             Local motel

12)     Comstock, TX  >  Eagle Pass, TX              87 miles            Local motel

13)     Eagle Pass, TX,  >  Carrizo Springs, TX    43 miles            Best Western

14)     Carrizo Springs, TX  >  Laredo, TX           81 miles            Host or Best Western

15)     Laredo, TX  >  Zapata, TX                          49 miles           Best Western

16)     Zapata, TX  >  Salineno, TX                       33 miles            Local motel

17)     Salineno, TX  >  Mission, TX                     59 miles            Host

This is 1,040 miles total in 17 days, or ~61 miles/day. Days 11-14 are particularly worrisome.

In a perfect world, this plan would take 17 riding-days to execute. Very little, if any, birding will occur during the first 14 days/legs. Birding will start south of Laredo, so legs 15-17 might require 2 days each depending on how the birding goes. So, this means this plan might take 20 days to execute assuming no days are lost to wind. I cannot imagine that I won't be blown out at least a few times during these 20 days. Let's add 4 days of wind cushion to bring this to 24 days total. Days when I am blown out will function as rest days. If I am not blown out at all (Hah!) I will probably take a day or two off here and there to rest. So, I am looking at 22-24 days to reach Mission. If birding near Zapata and Salineno goes well, I should have a bunch of key species knocked out by the time I reach Mission. It is now November 7. Assuming roughly 3 weeks to reach Mission, that leaves me with all of December dedicated to birding. I think I will be able to find just about everything I need in the LRGV in that time. I will also have plenty of time to head back up the coast after the valley (more on this in two seconds). So without further ado, here at the birds I am looking to find in the LRGV.

LRGV will/must/should get (20 species)
Snow goose - easy - crazy not to have this yet, huh?
Least grebe - easy
Plain chachalaca - easy
White-tailed hawk - easy
Aplomado falcon - Laguna Atascosa, other recommendation appreciated, might be tougher than I expect
White-tipped dove - easy
Common pauraque - easy
Buff-bellied hummingbird - easy
Green kingfisher - will get somewhere, specific spots needed though (I have RIKI from Austin in May)
Red-crowned parrot - McAllen
Green parakeet - McAllen
Green jay - easy
Great kiskadee - easy
Couch’s kingbird - easy
Long-billed thrasher - easy
Clay-colored thrush - Seems like this is more common that it used to be, so I should get it
Sprague’s pipit - I might get this in NM, but specific spots appreciated
Olive sparrow - easy
Altamira oriole - easy
Audubon’s oriole - Salineno

LRGV "special birds" - each of these is certainly possible with info/effort (7 species)
White-collared seedeater - seem to be a lot round this year, I think I have a really got shot at this
Groove-billed ani - Need help on where to get this at this time of year
Hook-billed kite - Santa Ana, Andaluzas
Red-billed pigeon - Salineno and vicinity
Muscovy - I've seen this at Salineno before, ut not sure what the best spot is at the moment
Tropical parula - a couple hanging around, one specifically at Quinta Mazatlan
Ferruginous pygmy-owl - need to get onto King Ranch with someone
Bonus bird - Brown Jay, Blue Bunting, Crimson-collared grosbeak - How lucky could I get?

As I said there are some birds on the coast that I will need to leave time to find. These will require a ride of at 250-300 miles north from Brownsville. I could even ride up toward Houston and Dallas should time allow (Smith's longspur).

Central coast will/must get (3 species)
Whooping crane - Aransas
American flamingo - HDNT is back in Port Lavaca, could get this and crane in one swing
Harris's sparrow - I might have to go further north and/or inland a bit to get this. This bird could be a real headache. I put it in this category even though I might have to get off the coast to find it.

Central coast very long shots (2 species)
Yellow rail - Need to get onto a Xmas count to stomp for these. Any and all ideas welcome.
Black-legged kittiwake - Seems there is always one on some jetty somewhere on the Gulf coast in Dec

OK, I will/should get the first 20 LRGV species I listed above. I really think that if I spend enough time hunting for the 7 birds in the next category, I should be able to get 3-5 of them. Even if I need to push 3-4 days into each of them, that's fine. I'll be ticking the 20 more common LRGV birds as I do this. Plus, the spots for these birds are not all that for apart, so I have the chance to see more species without doing hundreds of miles of additional riding. Let's say I get 4 of those 7. With the 20 species from above that's 24. OK, let's say I can get all 3 of my Central coast birds, and we'll say for now that I miss the last 2. That would put me at an additional 27 species added in Texas. 585 + 27 + 1 for Egyptian goose  = 613. I will probably get at least one additional bird that I haven't foreseen. Texas has HUGE potential. I really think I can be right there between 610 and 615.

This being said, several people have asked me if I plan on trying to add Lesser prairie-chicken in Eastern New Mexico or Northwestern Texas. The answer right now is "No", but this could certainly change. Unless I hear from someone who is going to take me to or meet me at a spot where he/she KNOWS we can find the birds, this detour is going to be too much riding through remote, unsupported areas to make it worthwhile. I would rather have the 3 extra days in the LRGV to chase the 7 special birds I designated above. The final decision to chase this bird will made in Las Cruces, so I have a few days to make it. I look at it this way. If you tell me that I get to Texas with so much time that I find every species I have listed below and still have extra time at the end of the year, I say "where do I sign?". The decision to skip Prairie-chicken will only seem like a bad one if I run out of birds in the flat, well-supported LRGV and Texas coast. Harris's sparrow could require a bit of time, and, right now, I'd rather chad that bird around Central Texas with all the other birds in hand than chase the chicken around before I even reach the LRGV. I will certainly listen to folks who have thoughts on chasing the chicken, but just remember, I'm the one doing all the riding!

So, I will basically spend the next 3 weeks getting to the LRGV. I will then spend the next 2.5-3 weeks in the LRGV getting whatever birds I can in that time. Around Dec 20, I will head north to get the crane and the flamingo (fingers crossed it stays as it did last year!), and then further north to deal with the sparrow and whatever other funky birds might have turned up on Christmas counts. Who knows, Little gull, Smith's longspur, maybe even Speckled hatchback!

Again, I am totally willing to listen to the thoughts others have on this plan, so share 'em if you got 'em! I would love to get some discussion going between readers in the comment section. You can also weight-in on what you think the final species count might be?!?!?


  1. Dorian, is there any reason you're not taking the I-10 route thru Kerrville and I-35 to Laredo? Seems like better infrastructure and more familiar terrain than the border route? It would also open up the possibility of snagging Harris's Sparrow at a feeder in the San Antonio area on the way down. You might also consider hitting up Aransas on the way down, so that you can push back your LRGV visit a little later in the season, when more rarities tend to get found. On the other hand, I can also see why you'd want to save the northward trek for the end--because you never know exactly how long the LRGV will take you to cover until you do it, and the plan you laid out will give you a little more flexibility in the final stretch of the year. At the very least, consider coming south through San Antonio, especially if a Harris's Sparrow parks it there between now and when you leave I-10. -Dave

    1. The I-10 option is certainly a possibility. I need to do a bit more research on the road quality on the route I planned out. I am also going to watch the bird posts accordingly as I move east. It looks as though the sparrow bird gets much more common in the center part of the state in Dec/Jan. I am highly skeptical that I can get one on the crossing to the LRGV. If I could it would be a huge help since I would't have to go back north to chase it around later.

  2. I see you have Muscovy on your specialty birds list. Did you not see them in Florida? I know they aren't as exciting as the wild birds, but the ones in Florida are technically established and countable, they've been on the official Florida checklist for a while now.

    Good luck down in Texas!

    1. I did see tons of Muscovy in Florida! Even if they are countable in FL, that population still might not be ABA countable. I will have to look into this, thanks.

    2. Unless I am mistaken, according to the latest version of ABA checklist, the Egyptian Goose is countable.

    3. Salenino is a must at pre-dawn/first light. The Muscovies and R.B. Pigeons will be in flight then. It is a magical place.
      -Sam Plew

  3. Dorian, I've FB messaged some birders I know in Texas. At least three of them are crazy busy right now with the Rio Grande Birding Festival, which ends on Sunday. That event might have scared up some rarities - it's happened before! Anyway, hopefully, one or more of them will be in touch with you.

  4. Congrats on getting so far Dorian! The prospect of getting 610+ is truly remarkable! You may need some planning for the Flamingo - I'm not sure it's visible without boat access to the bay. You may need permission to enter the private (Aluminum plant?) nearby. Worth checking. WCSE should be easy at Latedo. Also - don't ignore Brown Booby. There are multiple birds now around Houston. And FL Muscovies and Egyptian Geese (in certain counties) are ABA countable. Good luck! Neil Hayward.

    1. Hey Neil

      Yeah, I am starting to work on the Alcoa thing now. As for booby, I had loads of those in San Diego. Thanks for the heads-up on Muscovy, I will need to do a bit more research on this. Hope all is well back in Boston!

    2. Dorian -- Neil mentioned Egyptian Goose is countable in "certain counties" -- do those allowable counties correspond to where you had the flyover?

  5. Hey Dorian; FEPO seems to be reliable and much cheaper at San Miguelito Ranch. You should be able to get WCSE down the Las Palmas Trail from Zacate Creek in Laredo. Good luck.

  6. Hi Dorian,
    I'm the Park Interpreter at Lake Casa Blanca SP in Laredo. I'd love to bird around with you and look for the seedeater. I will send you an email.