Thursday, March 30, 2017

Texas Volume One: Hill Country

Texas happened.  It was filled with piles of lifers, bigger piles of ABA birds, and even bigger piles of year birds.   There was sweat, ticks, chiggers, thorny plants, slippery slopes, border patrol, and a mishap at the mouth of the Rio Grande resulting in a drowned phone (not mine).  None of that matters.  The birds were worth it.  It all started last Wednesday afternoon.

Audrey and I flew into San Antonio, after passing over these interesting patterns on the landscape which I learned were roads made to get to potential oil drilling locations.  Welcome to Tejas.  We figured out where to pick up our rental car and headed west to the Lost Maples area of Texas Hill Country where we stayed two nights at Foxfire Cabins

It was still light out when we arrived and the birds were quite active so instead of going to find food we wandered around chasing everything that chirped. 

Ladder-backed Woodpeckers sound like Downys

A Carolina Wren sang over and over from this perch:

After following around Black-crested Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, and a beautiful Yellow-throated Vireo, we realized we needed to track down some food.  This turned out to be an ordeal that involved a very long drive to Leakey where we found Bear's Market, which has a fancier website than I anticipated.  On the way back we saw either feral pigs or javelinas on the side of the road.  Back at the cabin I decided to try some night sky photos.

Sabinal River

 Putting the hill in hill country

The next morning we woke early to head to Lost Maples State Natural Area, less than a mile up the highway from our cabin.  We parked at the overflow lot by the bird blind and hiked in along the river where we heard Golden-cheeked Warblers singing almost immediately.  It took awhile to lay eyes on them but eventually we did.

Many bad photos of these warblers were taken but I will only show you one.  There were plenty more good birds around and we looked at them also.

 White-eyed Vireo

Yellow-throated Warbler

 The trail led us up a steep rocky section to some beautiful views of scenery as well as a fly-by Zone-tailed Hawk.  The hawk was too quick for photos, so here's the view instead:

That's the trail we hiked in on

Along the trail at the top we found a Merlin, more Black-crested Titmice, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and a grasshopper so big it looked like a bird when it flew off.

We failed to locate any early Black-capped Vireos and hiked back down to the main trail area where a Carolina Wren was letting loose.

Other creatures around:

Giant swallowtail plus bee

 Bad photo of a lizard tongue


Back at the parking lot we checked out the bird blind looking out at a feeder station.  Most of the birds were Chipping Sparrows but we also had cardinals, a White-tipped Dove, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay, Lincoln's Sparrow, American Goldfinch, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow.

Full Lost Maples eBird checklist here.

In the afternoon we drove over to Kerr Wildlife Management Area, another area that's good for warblers and Black-capped Vireos.  We took a wrong trail turn and ended up in this big random field that had a cage in it.  A Turkey Vulture cage.

You might be thinking, wtf?  Well we happened to run into a fellow who was checking on the cage and so we asked him about it.  He said they were trapping Turkey Vultures for research, though the trap was having some issues and they were able to escape.  He seemed to be working with the Wildlife Management Area.  It was odd.

In the same field were these lovely cactus flowers:

We drove the main road through Kerr WMA and explored an area that was supposed to be good for the Black-capped Vireos.  No luck on that front, but other good birds included our only Field Sparrow of the trip, Lark Sparrows, gnatcatchers, Vermilion Flycatchers, and Eastern Bluebirds.

Male delivering food to the female

On the drive out we stopped for my lifer Louisiana Waterthrush feeding along a pond which was a very pleasant surprise.

Full Kerr WMA eBird checklist here.

On our way back to the cabin we failed to get gas at this closed gas station, but succeeded in finding more birds.  Peacocks. 

It was the end of a great beginning to our Texas adventure! 

Good times!!!!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Driving east.

We have entered the season of driving east.  There are early wildflowers blooming in the gorge, there are year birds waiting in the high desert, and most importantly, there's a better chance of dry weather east of the Cascades.  On my recent weekend I drove east to Larch Mountain to cry over new clearcuts and poke around.  Bird activity was minimal though a Chestnut-backed Chickadee came in to check me out.

On the edge of a clearcut I saw a Red-tailed Hawk flying and it eventually came over and soared right over me for awhile.  It had a stick. 

It soared with two other Red-taileds briefly before cruising down straight to the trees on the edge of the clearcut and depositing the stick somewhere.  It reappeared soon after without the stick.  I can only hope on my next visit those trees are still standing.

On Friday Jacob and I drove east to Catherine Creek to look for wildflowers and birds.  Grass widows were the main attraction flower-wise. 

Prairiestars were also in bloom along with gold stars and desert parsley.

Oregon saxifrage?

I probably should have switched to my bird-friendly camera lens because the birds were great that morning.  We had lots of Western Bluebirds, a flock of Red Crossbills, a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches and even a couple Pygmy Nuthatches.  At one point a crossbill landed low on a dead tree but the macro lens is not of much use in this situation.

Oh well.

On Saturday Jacob and I drove east again and ended up in all kinds of random places as far east as Morrow County.  We took the scenic highway out of Mosier which was mostly a nonstop deer parade.  The trio of excited dogs in the car did nothing to dissuade this young deer from creeping closer and closer to us. 

Right before the turnoff for Rowena Crest there is a lovely little bridge I like to stop at.

On the other side of the bridge a small grassy area held a number of wildflowers with a stunning view of the gorge.  I was walking out to the edge when I caught sight of something about fifteen feet in front of me.  A pair of sleeping Turkey Vultures!  One woke up, looked at me and jumped.  Then the other did the same.  They sat, looking at me, looking at each other, for almost a minute before flying off to the opposite side of the canyon, not far away.  I grabbed my camera from the car and went to get a few shots.

The vultures had landed apart from one another, but soon one flew over to join his or her companion.  They were quite sweet and far more striking up close than I remembered.

We kept on heading east and began taking side roads and dirt roads and muddy roads, exploring all over the place.  I was especially excited to see a Chukar standing on the side of the road at one point though it quickly took off into the tall grass.

This reminds me, I now have a public Instagram account!  Click here to find me, or search the handle "whatthechukar." 

Back to the birds, we began seeing a lot of Loggerhead Shrikes in one area, which is always pleasant.

Horned Larks can be total jerks, like this one flipping me the bird.


Other birds seen throughout our travels included a lone Mountain Bluebird, Black-billed Magpies, a Golden Eagle, plenty of Say's Phoebes, and tons of Rough-legged Hawks.  One raven decided to fly in front of a rainbow for me which was appreciated.

Somewhere along the Heppner Highway we found a yellow-bellied marmot which of course ran away from us.

A little bit farther up the road we stopped to look at a dead porcupine.

We made our way back towards town via Highway 14, stopping for some pink skies.

A solid day of exploring with my favorite crew. 

Good times!!!  Coming soon:  tales from Tejas!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The 5MR continues.

Earlier this afternoon I picked up my 99th 5-Mile Radius bird for the year, a lone Pine Siskin stuffing its face on my tray feeder in the pouring rain.  I had not seen one in the yard since last July.  I certainly was not expecting one to show up today while I grumbled (to myself) about the rain and my inability to stop eating this box of samoas.

Other than the siskin not much of interest has been happening in the yard.  One recent rainy day I took a million photos of my local hummingbirds because I didn't want to go outside.  I learned that if one perched on my Japanese maple I could line it up with my neighbor's porch light to create a cool effect.

Edit:  I'm adding this crazy junco that showed up in the yard yesterday (3/11).   Before I had bins on it I turned it into a Rustic Bunting which was fun.

Back in January I discovered a Barn Owl in my 5MR and was bummed to learn it would flush at the slightest glance.  I saw it once in February, and it flushed again.  Finally, it is March and I snooped around in its territory once more.  Amazingly I caught the bird dead asleep way up in a cedar.

I worked my way around to its front side and found a spot where I could sometimes see it.  The branches around it blew in the wind and every once in awhile they blew just right and I could see the whole bird.

This time the bird did not flush, nor did it seem that concerned with me.  Miracle.

On a pleasant and sunny dog walk last week I noticed a Cooper's Hawk perched in a tree, under attack by crows.  I took a few quick photos and noticed it was sporting a leg band.

A couple months ago I saw a Cooper's Hawk on the bike path along Alderwood with a similar metal leg band, and in August of 2014 I photographed one in my yard with a band (photo in this blog post).   These hawks were all within a couple miles (or less) of each other, which seems odd.  A bad photo of the one from January:

Interesting, eh?

Anyway.  Yesterday was the first warm and mostly sunny day we have had in awhile and I was excited to get out birding.  I began the day at Chinook Landing where a Spotted Towhee was singing its head off. 

A Horned Grebe was swimming rather close to shore for once.

Some geese flew in to the flooded field south of the parking lot and I was psyched to notice a Greater White-fronted Goose in the mix.  5MR bird #98 for the year!

From Chinook Landing I went over to Blue Lake for some more sunny birding.


In the winter it's easy to forget that Yellow-rumped Warblers ever look good, that they could even dream of holding court with the likes of Magnolias and Yellow-throateds.  Then one day you go birding in March and a fancy bird catches your eye, and it's a lowly Yellow-rumped but DA-AMN it's looking fine.

You still got it. 

Lesser Goldfinches are starting to look fancy too:

On another recent outing to Blue Lake I was realized that there are California ground squirrels living there.  This surprised me.  The only other place I recall seeing them in my 5MR is at the Sea Scout Base. 

 That's about it for my 5MR lately.  I am guessing my 100th bird will be a Tree Swallow but it would be way cooler if it was something else.  But what?

Good times!!!