What’s in a number: Towards Texas 500

I am not an overly obsessive “lister”, at least by the standards of what I personally have observed in the birding world. While I have dozens of spreadsheets and notebooks, I actually never managed to compile the assorted information into one list. Well, I am almost embarrassed to admit, I don’t even know my exact life list. (On several rainy days I have attempted to sort it all out, but double checking in a field guide would get distracted, forgetting what I was doing and I rather just write about an experience) I have tried to keep day lists, but usually get bored by the second day, I have tried to keep backyard or place lists, but get distracted by the memorable birds and forget the common ones, I have even failed at year lists year after year. I think there is lots of value in simple trip lists, of course notes and a journals are better, but a simple trip list often suffices to bring to live memories, birds, and places. Currently, I do keep careful track of at least two lists, my ABA and Texas list. I have tried to keep an eye on my home patch, El Franco Lee Park, but just discovered that I had been forgetful here too and just added a bird while looking through old notes. At least I didn’t have to face the summer heat for a “tick:. (Wow, just added another looking through some old notes)

I have birded in Texas on and off for seven years, with long absences of several months, totaling about four years (I promise I am not listing days outside of Texas). I have chased rarities in Texas whenever possible and have birded in almost every corner of the state. There is really nothing special about 500, except that it is a nice round milestone. By no means does that number take me to meteoric heights, in fact, probably more than one hundred people have observed over 500 bird species in Texas (I have no way to confirm this!), but as an achieved goal it gives me reason to celebrate, not just yet! Here I am listing the final countdown, for pure entertainment, at least it finally gave me a reason to dig through my notes and remember dates and details.

Count Down:

# 490

Tufted Flycatcher, Big Bend National Park December 2010

After a long drive well past midnight we arrived at Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park. Even though I needed the sleep I was up before sunrise and walked over to the picnic area where the Tufted Flycatcher had been seen for about two weeks. Morning came slowly and I shivered for about an hour before there was enough light to start looking in earnest. Another birder pulled up and soon we were joined by a third, good, I thought, more eyes looking. I marched up and down, searched every tree and along the edge of the mesquite all the way back to the store. I observed a family of bobcats and several Gray Flycatchers, but no Tufted. Around ten I meandered to the starting point and saw the others look intently up into one of the large cottonwoods. I quickened my step and within minutes was looking at the Tufted Flycatcher perched on bare branches, calling quietly, and snapping insects out of midair in dramatic sallies. We watched the bird for nearly thirty minutes, before we lost sight of it.

Tufted Flycatcher Big Bend National Park, Texas Photo Stephan Lorenz

#491

Rufous-backed Robin, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge December 2010

Closing out the year I spent a day at Laguna Atascosa. I patiently waited at the main water feature, which a Rufous-backed Robin had been frequenting for over a month. After about two hours it turned out I had picked the wrong of two right drips as the bird had just been seen at another pond across the parking lot. I rescinded my loyalty, left the flocks of grackles and Green Jays and jockeyed for position on the narrow trail. After minutes of anxious waiting the robin snuck in for a quick drink and I could at least catch a glimpse of it, looking over two sets of shoulders. The bird was extremely shy and didn’t appear again.

#492

Great Black-backed Gull, East Beach Galveston January 2nd 2011

For the New Year I headed to Galveston to chase a Great Black-backed Gull that had been reported a few days earlier, this is a species I looked for several times in Texas, but never had any luck with. If it’s too easy, just make it harder, was the theme of the day. I passed the remains of Apfell Park and figured I check the base of the jetty first. There weren’t any large gulls there and I started wandering along the beach back towards Apfell Park, periodically scoping the gull flocks ahead. Halfway there, I picked out a gull still hundreds of feet distant, but its hefty size was apparent. I trudged on and finally got within range of seeing detail, it was clearly the Great Black-backed Gull, a juvenile of white and black. It loafed separated from the main gull flock and then flew out onto the water only to return to the beach. If I would have pulled into the parking lot at old Apfell Park I could have probably spotted it from the car, but I didn’t mind burning the extra calories hoofing it back to the jetty.

#493

Black-legged Kittiwake, Ferry Landing Galveston January 7th 2011

This was going to be the year of the gulls for me in Texas. When a new bird is less than an hour away, it’s easy to drop everything, but I had been reluctant to chase a Black-legged Kittiwake in Galveston, mainly because I have seen my fair share of them (see pic below). Eventually the itch to add a new bird to my Texas list prevailed and I sped along 45 towards the island. When arrived at the ferry landing in the late afternoon another birder there informed me that the bird had just disappeared, but after a few minutes of waiting it circled above us. It landed a few times on a distant break wall and post, then settled in its favored spot on the piling. It was a good year for the species in Texas with several being reported and I was glad I had made the trip. After watching the kittiwake for half an hour a small gull settled on the water just in front of us. My initial though was Bonaparte’s, but I quickly realized that this was a juvenile Sabine’s, another great bird in Texas and only the second I had seen in the state. Needless to say I had left the camera in the hurry. In March I was able to catch up with two Little Gulls in Port Aransas, adding another great species to the gull year. I was able to get much better views than the distant glimpse at Lake Tawakoni years ago and this time a few photos.

thousands of kittiwakes at Kittiwake Lake, Photo Stephan Lorenz

Little Gull Port Aransas, Texas Photo Stephan Lorenz

#494

Black-vented Oriole Bentsen Rio Grande Valley, January 2011

The next bird required a road trip. Fortunately Claudia was up for it and we headed to the Rio Grande Valley, by now a familiar routine for us. The following morning we met up with Chris Feeny, who I had run into in Dutch Harbor. This was my second time trying for this beautiful oriole and I was hoping that it would be easier and successful, since the bird had been visiting the RV park. We walked in right after sunrise and waited at the location the bird had been observed the previous day. After nearly two hours, someone spotted it in a tree near a feeder. Everybody present, at  least a dozen people, got great views of the bird, as it came down to the feeder twice before flying off.

#495

Yellow-faced Grassquit Goose Island State Park, February 4th 2011

The bird had settled in next to the dumpster and was reluctant to move, almost tame. I crawled up to it as close as I could and started snapping pictures. At least five more birders were enjoying incredible views. Interestingly the next morning I found it in the same vicinity mixing in with Field Sparrows, but by the afternoon the sparrows were sheltering in the thickets, while the grassquit continued feeding in the mowed areas next to the paved road.

Yellow-faced Grassquit Goose Island State Park, Texas Photo Stephan Lorenz

#496 Hook-billed Kite Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, March 2011

By hour number eight I was questioning my sanity. I had climbed up onto the hawk tower at Santa Ana NWR right around sunrise and while I had spotted nearly every possible hawk species, including Zone-tailed, there was no sign of the Hook-billed Kites. Well into the afternoon I calculated I had been standing watch for almost ten hours, it was time to give up, but I knew I would be back the following day. The next morning I wasn’t faring any better after six windy hours I started walking the trails, but returned during the evening, when I finally spotted a very distant raptor that approximated the shape of a Hook-billed Kite enough to be counted. This was about my tenth try for the species and I know one day I will actually get a good look at it.

#497

Long-tailed Duck Bolivar Peninsula, April 2011

After all day birding at Texas City Dike, leading a group for FeatherFest, I ran over to the Bolivar Peninsula to catch up with the Long-tailed Duck. When I arrived it sat on the beach among hordes of Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls, before flying to the point of the jetty where I studied it at just six feet distant, while it dove actively. A great bird to finally catch up with.

#498

Black-throated Blue Warbler High Island, May 2011

I had missed almost all the good days this spring, always working when things were falling out on the coast. Late May and I was pushing my luck, hoping to catch the tail end of migration. The previous two days had been spectacular and when I finally arrived at High Island things were looking promising, warblers were still present in abundance and diversity. During late morning I received word that a Black-throated Blue Warbler had been seen the day before and I headed towards the back corner of Boy Scout Woods, hoping it was still there. Black-throated Blue Warblers are not just one of my favorites, but the species had so far eluded me in Texas. It took less than ten seconds of a bit of squeaking before a stunning male Black-throated Blue Warbler materialized from the dense foliage, add to that dozens of other migrants for an amazing spring afterall.

#499

Snail Kite El Franco Lee Park, June 17th 2011

An unexpected bird for several reasons, read previous post.

Snail Kite El Franco Lee Park, Texas Photo Stephan Lorenz

What will number 500 be? I will keep everybody updated. Unless something unusual shows up within the next week, I will most likely reach 500 during the pelagic trip out of South Padre Island on the 16th. Happy and good birding to all.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Judy Behrens on July 6, 2011 at 6:49 am

    Enjoying all your posts, Stephan. Looking forward to reading about TX #500.

    Reply

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