The Bird Chasers #2, Texas Jaunary 2014

When I was out on the Salton Sea in September, I ran into a birder from New Hampshire also looking for the Blue Footed Boobies that had arrived somewhat misplaced to the ABA area.  I mentioned I was doing a big year.  He asked me….”are you doing a real big year?”  I sort of asked what he meant by that.  “Did you sacrifice all, dedicate your life to nothing but birding for a year?  If you did, the you did a real big year otherwise you were sort of just pretending.”  I didn’t know what to say to the guy.  I kind of answered “well sort of” and since then I’ve been thinking about that and about Neil Hayward’s (746 plus) record big year in 2013 and Jay Lehman’s almost record (735 Plus).

Since I had spent most of the year doing the nude thing, I couldn’t focus on rarities.  I also went out of the ABA area for three weeks, and I went fishing in Canada for a week twice (although I cleaned up a couple of missing birds).  I also scrapped a trip to Key West in the end that cost me 15-20 birds.  After thinking about the NH guy, and getting 610, I have now come to the conclusion that 700 is a pretty easily achievable number assuming two things.  One, you have $100,000 to spend without worry and you have to have a free year, no commitments no reason to be home, just you and the road.  I had the first part but decided I also tried to keep a small bit of a life, so didn’t do the second part as full as I could.  Hayward having just sold a company had both as did Lehman, just retired.

Both great achievements, something to be proud of and put on license plates but with Ebird and NARBA, added exotic species 700 birds or more is easier than used to be. I’m still a fan of Kaufmann who got the record 35 years ago hitchhiking and with a budget of $1000 or so.  Maybe that is just the urban legend and how he views it?  I don’t know him personally.

I don’t know, it is just too lonely being on the road to ever do this again, maybe I’ll go for the ABA record some year, but I doubt it.  Every once in a while I do get the urge now to just go maniac birding.  I may not be the best birder but I’m getting better, but in terms of logistics (which is what I do for a living on a massive scale) and planning, and just go-go stamina I don’t think I have an equal.  I can live on 4 hours sleep and drive 6-800 miles a day for days, point to point birding days on end and even go all night if need be for a day or two to get birds.  I can be efficient in the field and just see count and move on.  I am about the most competitive person around and that is why I have grown a couple of businesses up from scratch.  I also fish this way always have, and my fishing partner the last four years is one of the few that can keep up with me.  I don’t really fish, we pike hunt, point to point, drive the boat hard and we catch massive truly massive pike.  I think I go fishing because I’ve made a addict out of my boat partner Greg.  10 20# pike in 4 years does that.  Our goal next year is a 30 pounder, as I’ve only broken 30 once in North America.

Birding is my new hunting and trapping which I was trained for in my youth.  I had a trap line at age six.  Daylight you just go, stalk, move animals around.  I was the ‘dog’ of my hunting party replacing my Grandfather, but as a family we sort of lost the hunting tradition, too many hunters, not enough things to hunt and I just sort of moved on.. We don’t live in NW Wisconsin either, I guess, but birding replaces this for me.

My friend Thor told me that the goal for birding is 700 life ABA species by 70 years of age.  I’m 47, and after subtracting what I know I didn’t see in ABA areas and also getting rid of birds I’ve seen but cant remember where, I have an ABA life list of 619, so I need to get that padded a bit to get towards 700 and I need to see more new birds.  Thor is 150 species ahead of me, and as we are going to Alaska together in September I need to get my bum in gear to catch up.  Jay Lehman is 200 species ahead of me, as he is over 800.

It was with this in mind that after I had a really miserable and frustrating week last week and I needed to go.  Friday at five the thought that there was a flamingo to be seen in Texas and it was warm so I bought a ticket, and left on Saturday to Austin Texas.  At the airport I did some research and emailed a couple of people.  Unfortunately one of the emails was that on Saturday a guy named Bob who had been leading people to get the Flamingo had no luck and you needed a boat to get to where it was anyway.

Despite this I went to Port Lavaca and then to Lavaca Bay anyway, I had flown 1000 miles and driven 350 to get there so I was going to at least take a look for this rarely seen bird.  This is why you need money, if this was a real Big Year, no boat no problem.  You go to the boat landing at Olivia TX on the west of Calhoun Bay and you find a hunter or a fisherman and you get out your wad, $100, $200, $300, whatever it takes for them to take you out.  If the guy says $500, you smile and pay him, and ask if you can use his lifejacket.  Unfortunately there was not any Flamingoes around, money changed hands but no pink bird.  Undeterred I decided to just tally lots of species and drive like heck around Texas.

One of the birds I missed last year when trying quite hard to get was a Piping Plover, many nest in the Missouri River Basin and could not locate one, logged about 10 hours driving and looking.  I’d seen them before but as of yet I had never gotten one photographed……….no pictures.  I found a good mixed flock on the beach, killdeers, semipalmated, and piping, snapped a bunch of photos and had the motion compensator off on my large lens, and got exactly one clear photo….at first I thought it was a semipalmated plover, then I decided it WAS a piping plover: other agree so at least I saw it.  Identifying plovers in winter is not a stress free call

piping plover

I saw a lot of coast birds, Reddish Egret, gull-billed terns, Roseate Spoonbills which fishermen think are flamingoes, and other stuff and then I drove east to see my oil well on the east side Jackson Cty line just off of 35, which in three weeks I will be co-laying a pipeline, at least paying for my share. reddish egret There were Crested Caracara everywhere and in a tree near the drill site.

crested caracara 2

Greater White Fronted Geese were feeding in the field nearby and even a couple of Ross Geese too far away to picture.  Smaller versions of Snows we see quite a bit flying overhead at home.

greater white fronted goose

I drove east to a  coastal city wasn’t sure of the name and found a bird watching sign towards the Gulf and it was bird central.  Loggerhead shrikes were everywhere…loggerhead shrike

I walked around and got a nice photo of a swamp sparrow….

swamp sparrow

I spied American Pipits and photoed a nice volunteer……….

american pipit

And even got a photo of a blue headed vireo dancing in the trees blue headed vireo 2I logged the haul of birds, the last a Seaside sparrow and then it was time to high tail it west……..this hawk stared me down west of Port Lavaca in a powerline.  I kept watching white-tailed hawks, red-tailed hawks, caracara, vultures, on powerlines everywhere

white-tailed hawk2

but the real prize was a Couch’s Kingbird seen near Green Lake at about the same spot others have seen it on Ebird.  Bird #620!

couch's kingbird 2

I next headed to Aransas NWR, I have seen Whooping Cranes before but not the Alberta/Texas Populations which are the better ones, as although I’ve counted the Wisconsin birds previously, never sure they are really supposed to count, these do and since it was just 40 miles, I drove at 85 over, saw counted and left.  They were a ways away but whoopers none the less.

whooping crane

There was also a misplaced Painted Redstart which was displaying in the tree unpictured and I got a shot of this sora….

sora texas2014

Which I wasn’t 100% sure was a sora until I looked at it later and got rid of glare to see it better.

I went at 85 MPH to walk around a park in Refugio looking for an Audubon’s Oriole but all I found was kids, lots of kids and then I drove down to Corpus to look at some minerals I owned near the airport.   I got a NARBA email alert for a Crimson Collared Grosbeak at Santa Ana NWR down in the Rio Grande Valley.  100 miles later I was tucked in my hotel in Harlingen waiting for the assault the next day to get this rare bird.

I ate breakfast in the car at dawn in Santa Ana like I had done nude birding here.  It would have been easy to pick off a nude species or two here, I know the routine and it hadn’t changed.  I went looking for the Grosbeak, with clothing ON, and stood at the exact spot with another birder, she didn’t see it either, the original guy had at 3 pm the day before.  I didn’t see it the whole day and after a good six miles in the refuge decided it was a one day wonder……but there was a consolation prize:

5 Groove billed Anis, bird #621, they usually head south for the winter but this cooch or silliness of Anis (who makes up these things?)  had not heard the message

groove billed ani groove billed ani2I tallied all the usuals, including a Northern Beardless Tyranulet, Gray Hawk, and tropical kingbirds…..tropical kingbird2It was odd down there, there were no kingbirds, flycatchers of any sort last year, and this year they were here but no neotropical cormorants and few hawks, and for that matter little water at Santa Ana and not that many ducks either here or at Estero Llano Grande.  Here is the Golden Fronted Woodpecker………..Hummingbirds reported but nobody would fess up that they were anywhere.

golden fronted woodpecker

A green Jay………..greenjay  Plain Chacalacaplain chacalaca  I also saw 8 olive sparrows but most of them were too close to photo and where essentially standing by my feet.  But they were cool to see!

I got tired of Santa Ana and went to Estero LLano Grande to see what was up, but no volunteers there and none at Santa Ana that knew much anything about birds, so got no useful intel and they were asking me questions, but spent 30 minutes and saw the usual….

Common Pauraque looking like a piece of wood…


Green Kingfisher and Least grebes at same spot I left them in 2013……..the green kingfisher who refused to let me see him naked.

green kingfisher least grebe

I also saw Bird #622 a Cave Swallow, however I was playing around with close in shots of this Gadwall so I couldn’t get the focus right on a swift flying swallow……..oh well

gadwall texas

The gadwall photo ended up nice at least, then back to Santa Ana I went, and looked for three more miles for the grosbeak……………no grosbeak, just mottled ducks, whistling ducks (both), and well aching legs.  Finally getting sick of no rare bird, I went to look for parrots, but alas I made a mistake.  I went to a park in Weslaco and waited, ended up at dusk, two hours later, with nothing, as no parrots flew overhead and no parakeets or parrots were heard.  I should have went to Brownsville but the entertainment of watching a vagrant listening to conservative talk radio (Sean Hannity) while he watched his shopping cart of stuff was special.  I got the feeling he was against Obamacare too…………

I drove up to Kingsville to stay.  I picked the Hampton Inn for the simple reason that they didn’t have any bedbug alerts and I guess they didn’t have any bugs, as no bites.  Bedbugs were another memory of the Salton Sea  Kingsville has a odd history as Kleberg County is almost totally owned by a single ranch, the King Ranch.  As such there is little public space.  I went to a spot called the Santa Gertrudis Wildlife area that was maybe 40 acres and I tromped along and looked and watched, the trail was very short and with my snake boots I made my own path.  Someone had reported a Tropical Parula but alas no parula showed up.  The highlight was the 8 am National Anthem at the Naval Air Base nearby, the song echoed in the miles to the base, at every high point in the song, like rockets red glare……….100 coyotes howled, ….bombs bursting in air…..same chorus………….it was laugh worthy……..I even joined in on the last howl.  Beyoncé needs a coyote backup for the next big game she sings for…..

I did finally start to see some Harris Hawks around Kingsville.

harris hawk 1

I guess the Hawk was “King” property since he was on Ranch land but by his look, he doesn’t think he is owned by anyone.  Some day I need to do the King Ranch bird tour.  I went to a lunch in Corpus with a Older oil man with hearing aides that didn’t work and it was tough to talk about our Port Lavaca project, since I don’t think he heard half of my words.   It appears I also own a well almost in Santa Ana NWR, with the same older partner, or maybe I ‘heard’ wrong.  I know I have a well in Hildago County, just not where, exactly.  We discussed the rules this well was required to pass with greenery placement after it was drilled.   I then drove hard to catch a plane in Austin home.  In the end, 122 species of birds, nearly a thousand miles in a car, all in sixty hours, it was a maniac adventure.  I added three to my life list but for the bird chaser, Flamingo and Grosbeak 2, Olaf nothing……………..

I sat on the plane home in first class.  Great discussions can occur in first class and today was no exception.  A woman sat next to me.  We talked birding, and although no birder she was a big fan of the movie, “The Big Year,”  She really liked the Attu portion of the movie and then I talked about my big year and then she ordered us more alcohol, since she giggled, this was her husband’s seat and he gave it to her so she might as well enjoy it.  Well on drink three, I was feeling good and then she asked….what was different about my big year?  Then I fessed up and answered..I was nude, “fascinating”  So I fessed all, she loved the idea and wanted my book. She was planning on having it for her book club.  I showed her pictures and she even said I had to have more nude pictures in the book.  She then said this was just about as much fun as her last first class flight, she sat by Garrison Keiler.  She introduced me to her husband and her 10 year old and then we went separate ways.  The trip ended on a positive note.

I don’t know….maybe I did a ‘real big year’ after all…………..






7 thoughts on “The Bird Chasers #2, Texas Jaunary 2014

  1. You need to come and see us, parakeets fly over ever day in the morning and make a return trip in the evening, recently a sole bird has landed and attacked our seed feeder but yesterday we had four birds squabbling over the sunflower seeds

    • Big Year Europe is 2015 and so I will need to add you to the schedule
      Not sure if London Parakeets count so need to do a little research, since I doubt London parakeets are natural population

  2. A lot of nice photos Brad…..good trip for you. Who wouldn\\\’t have a bad week with your weather. I just don\\\’t know how you guys handle it. GERAT to see and all the kids over the New Year……

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