Texas – Crakes and Colimas

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Our route (beginning in Houston and ending in San Antonio).

Dave Hursh and I just returned from a fantastic ten day trip to Texas. Our two primary goals for the trip were to see Black Rail and Colima Warbler. We achieved both of them. Along the way, we also got to enjoy 238+ other species and the varied landscapes and cuisines of the Lone Star State.

Over the course of our adventure, I picked up five life birds (plus one ABA life bird) and got to see many great western species for the first time in a while. Dave is so well-traveled in the ABA area that Black Rail was his sole life bird, but his expertise with many of the locations we visited helped out big time.

Ever since my first trip to California (and the Pacific coast) in July-August 2012, I have embarked on a series of “cleanup trips” to try to connect with some of my remaining life birds in the Lower 48. Texas was the latest of these trips, which have also included CA/AZ in March 2013 and Washington in September 2015.

Because of the low number of life bird targets, we were able to spend a good deal of time enjoying and learning more about species we have already seen. We spent a morning in Salineño to see some of our favorite RGV species, an afternoon at High Island to witness the spectacle there, and a walk through Blue Creek Canyon at Big Bend to try for Lucifer Hummingbird and Gray Vireo.

For birds both new and familiar, our trip was a complete and overwhelming success, in which we connected with some pretty hard-to-see ABA birds. Our itinerary is below.

Day 1 (April 15) – Flew into Houston and drove out to our accommodation for the night in Winnie. Spent the late afternoon and evening birding the Skillern Tract portion of Anahuac NWR.

Day 2 (April 16) – Yellow Rail walk at Anahuac NWR followed with a couple of hours spent birding the remainder of the refuge. We spent the early afternoon birding High Island before moving on to Lake Jackson for the night.

Day 3 (April 17) – We birded the coastal plain en route to Laredo, stopping at congregations of shorebirds in farm fields or whenever we saw a raptor. Upon arrival at our destination, we spent some time birding the Las Palmas trail, directly across the Rio Grande from Mexico.

Day 4 (April 18) – Began the day at dawn at Salineño where we enjoyed a host of RGV specialties. We then drove back through Laredo to the Uvalde area and spent the afternoon birding the vicinity of Neal’s Lodges in Concan.

Day 5 (April 19) – Started at Neal’s Lodges before moving over to Lost Maples SNA mid-morning. We spent the middle part of the day making the long drive to the Davis Mountains, which we birded at the end of the day.

Day 6 (April 20) – Spent the day birding the Davis Mountains and environs.

Day 7 (April 21) – We left early for Big Bend National Park, hitting Blue Creek Canyon, Cottonwood Campground, and the Basin.

Day 8 (April 22) Made the climb for the Colima Warbler, making it all the way to Boot Spring. A tiring but exhilarating hike!

Day 9 (April 23) – Drove the almost seven hours back to San Antonio, stopping briefly to bird along the way.

Day 10 (April 24) – Flew home.

Many readers of this post will have heard about the devastating rain and floods that hit Houston last week. Dave and I managed to leave Houston a mere hour before the rains started, one of the many fortuitous occasions of this trip.

Texas is a fantastic birding state, with a giant avifauna and many awesome birding regions (including the coast, Rio Grande Valley, Edward’s Plateau, and Trans Pecos). I highly recommend it to those who have not yet visited.

-Alex

Goosanity

On Saturday, Aidan Kiley and I witnessed a pretty amazing spectacle: five species of goose, all sharing the same pond. Perhaps in some parts of North America (California comes to mind), such an event is not that uncommon. But in any of the eastern states, an occurrence like this one is unheard of.

The pond in question is Broad Brook Millpond in East Windsor, Connecticut. The goose species: Cackling, Canada, Greater White-fronted, Pink-footed, and Ross’s. Add to this tally the Snow Goose and three Barnacle Geese seen on the pond just a week before, and you’re looking at unprecedented goose diversity. Sure cleans up the goose section of my eBird Needs Alerts!

Our trip up to the pond was precipitated by the finding of a Ross’s Goose by Paul Desjardins the day before. Ross’s would be a life bird for Aidan and a state bird for me, so just this bird alone would’ve been enough to ensure a three hour plus round trip chase. Add to that three other highly-desired goose species, and you have the makings for quite a day.

When all was said and done, we spent almost three hours with the geese, at two different locations: the aforementioned pond and a cornfield around two miles away where the flock goes to feed. Our initial looks at four of the species (not Cackling) were had in this field, before portions of the flock began erupting into the air and making their way toward the pond.

Once at the pond, we eventually notched the Cackling Goose (after lots of thorough scanning that started at the cornfield) and were able to put up to four species of goose in the same scope view.

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The Ross’s Goose at Broad Brook.

All told, it was a pretty epic day, with a goose tally I’ll be hard pressed to match again in Connecticut.

-Alex

The Gap

I graduated high school in June, and have since been taking some time off formal schooling in what is commonly termed a “Gap Year.” A gap between schooling it may be, the name in no way indicates that this “year” (June 2015-August 2016) is any less fulfilling. On the contrary, while still living with my parents and not yet in school or work, I get the opportunity to be as free as I’ll probably be in life until I retire. Scary.

My decision to take a gap year was partly made for me. I missed a lot of time during high school due to treatment, graduating on time with the minimum credit load. The mere accomplishment of graduating on time despite all of that missed time and adversity is something I’m extremely proud of, but because of my light course load, I wouldn’t have had much to send to the colleges in the middle of senior year (a term really does make a difference). Therefore, I put off the college application process last year, both to put all of my energy toward finishing on time and also in order to give the schools a fuller picture.

With this said, I also felt that a gap year would be good for my state of mind. Battling through high school and treatment at the same time is by no means an easy thing. I therefore felt that it might be a good choice to remove one of the weights from the scale, and dedicate my weeks off treatment toward taking some time for myself.

Over the course of the summer, that time was spent working at the Bird Watchers General Store in Orleans, Massachusetts, with the fall being dedicated toward college apps. With only the waiting time of the application process to go, I now can begin the third and final phase of my year: travel.

And I’m getting off to a roaring start. One week from today, I leave for Australia for twenty-six days. I’m ecstatic, but also a bit nervous. It’ll be my first time traveling alone internationally, and halfway across the world to boot! I’m definitely getting my feet wet with this whole independence thing, that’s for sure.

-Alex

Addendum: Don’t worry. Despite six years of writing at a different site, I have not forgotten that this is my first post here! Welcome to all of you, and thanks for continuing to follow my journey in the birding world. Also, thank you to Jim Hagani for helping me get this site going.