Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dec 17 (Day 351) - This is the worst way to end the year

I am looking for lodging in Lake Jackson and/or Freeport for the next few days. I'll be around the area Thursday to Monday (18th to the 22nd). If anyone knows anyone, please let me know!

I really thought that once I reached the LRGV and the Texas coast I'd be in for some good weather. While I did have a few nice days in the 2+ weeks I spent in the LRGV, most were marred by either rain or high winds; Neither of these is particularly conducive to good birding. I consider myself very lucky to have found the birds I did, particularly the Hook-billed kite. I was in the exact right spot at the right time (i.e. the only 2 hours of sun in a 4 day span). The days that followed were not at all conducive to soaring.

Since I left the LRGV 5-6 days ago, I have again run into relatively crappy weather. High winds have been everywhere, and yesterday they were coupled with rain to cut short what was turning into a nice roadside birding session. Yesterday I rode the very short distance from Palacios to Bay City. I made a nice detour through what turned out to be some very good birding areas. The most notable of these was the Saha Fish Ponds. The highlight of this session was an out-of-season Black tern. A full checklist of species can be seen here (43 species). Rain began in the early afternoon and forced me towards Bay City.

40 miles

I will take a minute to explain why I am in Bay City. Everything right now is being scheduled around the Yellow rail search that is/was supposed to take place sometime between 12am and 7am on Friday morning as part of the San Bernard Christmas count. Since the Rail hunt is/was going to take place near Sargent, TX, in the southwest corner of San Bernard NWR, I was setting myself up to reach that area on Thursday night. This meant I could take a short day today to reach Bay City and then continue the ~25 miles to Sargent tomorrow. There was no point in riding directly to Sargent since the town has next to nothing; Bay City would help bridge this gap in food and lodging. There is one small place to stay in Sargent, but it is very basic. That's where I had planned on going Thursday night in preparation for activities on Friday (12am-7am).

The problem is that LOTS of crappy weather is headed this way. We were hoping to find a break in the predicted thunderstorms in this 12am to 7am window during which we could try to scare up Yellow rails. Recall I am writing this on Thursday morning, so that "Today" below is Thursday, not Wednesday. It looks as though there is not going to be a break when we need a break. The "Rail Team" leader does not want to try to flush rails during thunderstorms since the birds will have presumably found safe, cozy places in which to ride out the inclement weather. It would not be fair to them to deliberately push them out of these areas. It's probably also wise that we avoid the marsh in thunderstorms for out own safety. 

In an ideal world I'd be able to tick the Yellow rail Friday and then spend the rest of Friday and all of Saturday and Sunday seawatching/searching for kittiwake (one has been seen recently in the area). The weather is going to force major modifications to this plan. 

So, as I sit here at McDonald's I have to make a mutually exclusive decision. I can either ride the ~25 miles to Sargent today, hunker down, keep on eye on the weather, and pray that the forecast changes and a suitable window opens up during which time we can try for rails. The biggest problem with this plan is that while there is supposedly a basic place of lodging in Sargent, they appear to be incredibly disorganized as I have not been able to get them on the phone despite repeated calls over the last 3 days. A friend did get a hold of someone who said they have space tonight. However, I am a bit hesitant to ride down there under the described circumstances unless someone picks up the #$%^&* phone! If the rail walk is cancelled (which it is almost sure to be) then I am charged with riding to Lake Jackson and/or Freeport in the Friday thunderstorms. This sounds about as much fun as a battery-acid enema. 

As an alternative, I could just ride directly to Lake Jackson and/or Freeport when I am done writing this. I could then hunker down in my motel for all of tomorrow. I was hoping to do some seawatching for kittiwake tomorrow afternoon, but that's clearly out. I will use most of what looks like a clear Saturday to look for kittiwake. As am alternative plan for the rail, I am going to attend to the rail portion of the Freeport Christmans count from 12am to 7am on Sunday. The weather for the is session should be fine. Yellow rail is certainly a possibility during this session, but historically the Sargent/San Bernard session has been significantly more productive. 

Beyond the Freeport Xmas count, we'll have to see what happens. A Little gull has appeared and been seen for 3 days in a row on a lake in Dallas. The logical thing to do would be to ride from Freeport to Dallas over 4 days (Mon to Thurs of next week) to search for this bird. Harris's sparrow will be easy along that route. I could get the gull, then continue north to try for Smith's longspur to end the year. If the gull disappears between now and Monday, there's no point in going to Dallas. I have local spies who will check the lake/bird each day for me. If I don't do to Dallas the question becomes what the hell do I do? If the flamingos resurface I could take another crack at them. I could also stay in Freeport a few more days and seawatch for kittiwake and try to schedule a special rail session outside of the Xmas counts if I am still missing this bird. The bottom line is that I am around Freeport at least until Monday. Depending on what the staked out rarities do over the weekend, I will formulate an end-of-year plan accordingly. 

I really wanted to finish the year strong. Right now it looks as though there is a very distinct possibility that I could only add 1 bird (Harris's sparrow) in the last 2 weeks of the year. It is the absolute worst feeling at the moment since there isn't a thing I can do about it. Maybe I get lucky on the Freeport rail session, but I am mentally preparing myself for disappointment at the moment. 


  1. Dude, the battery acid enema killed me. Also, I don't know how close you are to this, but FB "report[s] a COMMON CRANE at Muleshoe NWR off TX-214, S of Muleshoe (Bailey Co.), TEXAS."

  2. I think the tightening of possibilities you're experiencing is natural for the end to any big year, but especially so when you're on a bike. Instead of letting it get you down too much, try to accept the fact that this is guaranteed to happen, take it one day at a time and make the best of it. On the bright side, thunderstorms tend to have breaks in between them, and you'll probably be pleasantly surprised with the amount of birding time you can fit in between the weather systems! Kittiwakes love bad weather! -Dave

  3. Look man, you can control a lot of things--but you can't control the birds or the weather. So nut up bruh.

    Look at your options and write out a few different plans--realistically give yourself 3 or 4 options with backups for what to do, and set it in motion,. You've done this all year. I think you could snag 3-4 birds with a little luck and a solid plan. Kittiwake, Rail, Harris's SParrow, Smith's Longspur. Boom, there ya go!