Wednesday, December 19, 2012

White-throated Sparrow, how are you doing?

It's been awhile.

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) adult of the white-striped morph.

White-throated Sparrows are generally considered "Occasional" species through the Winter months in the trans-Pecos of TX.  

I was beginning to wonder if they even show up anymore.

"Occasional" = normally encountered a few times during season indicated; may also occur in a narrow timeframe within a season or in very specialized habitat. (Bryan, K.B. Birds of the Trans-Pecos a field checklist, TPWD, 2002)

At Post Park, at least two White-throated Sparrows (this adult and a 1st winter bird) were hanging out where White-throateds generally habituate:  bramble/thicket understory.  That made it difficult to photograph, as I had to get through a lot of stuff.

There may have been more than the two I could get views on, however Lincoln's Sparrows, a Field Sparrow, and even a Green-tailed Towhee where all scratching around the same location.  So I can honestly just call it two identified.

The winds were predicted today to be 35-45 mph.  That forecast was realized as soon as I got on these sparrows, which was as soon as I got to the park.  It cut my effort short.
So this is our third winter since returning to the region.  These are my first White-throated Sparrows since  our return.  Great!  I hope they stick around for the winter.

It would be nice to have them here, even if only occasionally.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Last Minute CBC announcement!

 Hueco Tanks CBC information!


Hi everyone,

Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site will have a Christmas Bird Count and birding tour at 8 a.m. Saturday, December 15. Our volunteer birdwatching guide will start his CBC outside the park, and then meet any interested visitors at park headquarters at 8 a.m. to continue inside the park. If any of you are in the area, I'd love to see you at the park for the CBC!

The CBC and birding tour will go into the guided area of the park. Please arrive at 8 a.m. to register for the tour. Fees for guided tours are $9 for adults, and $2 for ages 5 to 12.  Call 915-849-6684 if you'd like to make reservations for the tour. Space is limited.

I apologize for the late notice, and happy birding!

Jane McFarland
Interpreter/Resource Specialist
Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site

Sunday, December 9, 2012

West Texas Christmas Bird Counts

Sorry we're a bit late geting the Christmas Bird Count schedule posted!
Click here for Texas-wide count information.

Participation fee of $5 in the past... is a thing of the past!

Straight from Houston Audubon itself:

West Texas CBCs, by DATE:
Davis Mountains (TXDM) 12/15
Balmorhea (TXBA) 12/16
Comstock (TXCO) 12/26
Del Rio (TXDR) 12/27
Chisos Mountains (TXCM) 12/28
Big Bend NP (East) (TXBG) 12/29
El Paso (TXEP) 1/1 (probable)
Guadalupe Mountains (TXGM) 1/5

Count details:

Balmorhea (TXBA): Sunday, December 16, 2012
The Balmorhea CBC traditionally falls on the day following the Davis Mountains. The count circle includes the state park, Phantom Springs, Balmorhea Lake, and wide open spaces around town. The count routinely records 100 species and, as with most rural counts, more observers are always welcome. If possible, please contact Mark Lockwood ahead of time of your interest in participating in the Balmorhea count. Meet at the Balmorhea State Park entry station at 7:30 AM CST. Compiler: Mark Lockwood (

Big Bend NP (East) - Rio Grande Village (TXBG): Saturday, December 29, 2012
We will meet in front of the Rio Grande Village Campground Store at 7:15 AM. Birds of note seen during recent counts include: American Bittern, Sora, White-throated Swift, Green Kingfisher, Red-naped Sapsucker, Gray Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, Sage Thrasher, Crissal Thrasher & Green-tailed Towhee. Participants always appreciated and needed. Please contact Bryan Hale at (email preferred) or phone 512-474-5499 (h) 512-912-4412 (w) 512-426-6033 (cell) for further details.

Chisos Mountains (TSCM): Friday, December 28, 2012
We will meet in the Basin in front of the grocery store at 7:15 AM. Areas will be assigned. Birds of note seen during recent counts include: Golden Eagle, White-throated Swift, Anna's Hummingbird, Red-naped Sapsucker, Plumbeous Vireo, Hutton's Vireo, Mexican Jay, Townsend's Solitaire, Sage Thrasher, Crissal Thrasher & Green-tailed Towhee. Participants always appreciated and needed. Please contact Bryan Hale at (email preferred) or phone 512-474-5499 (h) 512-912-4412 (w) 512-426-6033 (cell) for further details.

Comstock (TXCO): Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Located 45 miles west of Del Rio, the count circle includes parts of the Rio Grande and Pecos Rivers. Meet at the Visitor's Center in Seminole Canyon State Historical Park at 7 AM. Some routes on this count require a lot of walking. Should anyone wish to assist please contact compiler Sue Wiedenfeld at or phone 830-995-2300 to sign up and for further details.

Davis Mountains (TXDM): Saturday, December 15, 2012
Davis Mountains counters will meet at 7:30 AM at the Jeff Davis County Courthouse unless otherwise noted below. There will be no potluck on Saturday evening this year because Marty is unable to host it, and Chris needs to leave town the next day. Since there will be no potluck, counters should plan to get their tally sheets to Chris within a week or two after the 15th. We can meet up later in the day, you can scan and e-mail, or send them to Chris via regular mail to PO Box 2073, Ft. Davis, TX 79734. If you would like to participate please contact the compiler, Chris Pipes ( or 432-413-1554).

Del Rio (TXDR): Thursday, December 27, 2012
Open to all participants. Please preregister. Interested persons can e-mail compiler Karen Gleason at Please include your phone number in your email. Your participation is appreciated. Within the count circle there is Lake Amistad, Rio Grande River, San Felipe and Spring Creeks, Amistad Recreation Area, Laguna de Plata, and much of Del Rio. We will be meeting at Fisherman's Headquarters at 7 AM on count day.

El Paso (TXEP): Tuesday, January 1, 2013 (probable date)
If a new or returning participant, please contact the compiler, Jim Paton at prior to the count or phone 915-585-2628 for more information about joining. El Paso / Trans-Pecos Audubon Society.

Guadalupe Mountains (TXGM): Saturday, January 5, 2013
Please contact the compiler, Michael Haynie, at before count day because coverage areas will be assigned before count day. Most areas require moderate to strenuous hiking. Participants will meet at 6:45 AM at the Pine Springs Cholla Chateau (call 915-828-3251x2314 for directions) to be sure all areas are covered. This is one of the few places in Texas you can find Stellar's Jays. Other birds of note from recent counts include: Golden Eagle, Mountain Chickadee, Juniper Titmouse, Pygmy Nuthatch, Mountain and Western Bluebirds, Townsend's Solitaire, Sage and Crissal Thrasher, Green-tailed Towhee, Sage Sparrow and a variety of Dark-eyed Junco ssp. Preliminary post-count tally will be at the Cholla at the end of the day. Some dormitory style shared housing or RV space may be available for Friday and Saturday nights for $8.00 per person per night. Advance reservations required (phone number above).

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Red Crossbills Fly-by, Chisos Mtns, Big Bend National Park

The afternoon of 7 December 2012, I saw and heard 4 Red Crossbills fly over while I was hiking the Chisos Basin Loop Trail.  From my naked eye observation all 4 appeared yellow.  Take whatever mix of age and gender possibilities that could be made of.

If someone reading this is in the Chisos Basin cottages or lodge, or is heading up there today, maybe you'll be lucky during your hike.  The Red Crossbill invasion this year has been great, if not frustrating.  Frustrating because in all, but perhaps a single case in Van Horn, these birds suddenly appear then don't stick around for a following day or evening a following hour.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

December 1st, Big Bend National Park bird sightings

After birding Marathon on November 30, Catherine Winans headed to Big Bend National Park on December 1 with a few target birds in mind. With her permission, here's her note with observations from Rio Grande Village (Daniel's Ranch) and the Chisos Basin:

Matt and Heidi,

As promised, here is my Big Bend report, keeping in mind that I was target birding and did not make any complete surveys. Let me know if anything does not sound right.

About halfway between Panther Junction and RGV about ten quail on the side of the road quickly ducked into the brush. My impression was Bobwhite, but the maps in National Geographic suggest that Scaled would be more likely. [Scaled is the most likely quail in BBNP, though Gambel's becomes common further west. Bobwhite in the Trans-Pecos region tend to be small populations that have been released for hunting on private ranches. -h]

At Daniel Ranch, a juvenile Gray Hawk, 2 Black Phoebes, 1 Marsh Wren, 3 or 4 Yellow Rumps, 2 Common Raven, 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 1 Verdin. One Coot at the silt ponds, and two Inca Doves. Quite sure I heard a Rock Wren on the hillside, but could not see it.

In the campgrounds, 3 or 4 Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, 7 Cardinals, 2 Great Blue Herons, 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, 2 Roadrunners, more Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

It took me four hours to find one Black-throated Gray Warbler. The ones reported last week were with flocks of Yellow-rumps. There were not as many Rumps as I expected, a few singles, and a couple of small flocks. Finally found a few foraging birds in the grove behind the store, Yellow-rumps, Ruby-crowneds, and the lone male Black-throated Blue. [Fantastic sighting! Last report of Black-throated Blue Warbler out here was 23-24 September 2011, but while fall records are slightly predictable, this may be the first December record for the region!]

I did not see any male Vermilions. I think one female, but looked away and she moved before I had a good look.

So I did not get to The Basin until 2:45. Immediately remembered how much I love it there and booked a room for the night. I decided to skip The Guadalupes this trip, since I no longer needed Sage Thrasher. I looked for Black-chinned Sparrow for two hours. There was very little bird activity, a couple of calling Mexican Jays and an Acorn Woodpecker. Two Say's Phoebes and a Flicker near the dinning room just before dark. I was out at first light. White-winged Doves calling. Then four Mexican Jays flew in and landed in a tree for nice looks. A Cactus Wren calling. Several Ruby-crowned Kinglets. A Pyrrhuloxia was rustling around in the brush below a bush a few feet off the trail to the campground. I moved closer and he hopped up into the bush. I realized there was a second bird in the bush and got my binoculars on it in time for a good five second look at a Black-chinned Sparrow.

Three Black-crested Titmice near the cabins.

Then home in time to have a late dinner with my husband, daughter, son-in-law, and grandsons.

It was a great trip. Thanks so much to both of you for the good birds and great company.

Send me a picture and keep in touch.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Longspurs, Sapsuckers, and Thrashers...

30 November 2012, the final day of Fall Bird Reports.

All in an afternoon of tough birding.

Sage Thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus)

I met with a birder who needed a few tougher birds for the year.  Her targets were Chestnut-collared Longspur, McCown's Longspur, and Sage Thrasher.  

If we couldn't get Sage Thrasher, she was headed to Guadalupe Mountains National Park to try for the ones reported up there.

First up, the prairie dog town north of Marathon and still in Brewster County:
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
Ferruginous Hawk Buteo regalis
possibly a second bird. however it was too far off to read the silhouette to my liking.
Prairie Falcon Falco mexicanus
Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus
Chestnut-collared Longspur Calcarius ornatus

McCown's Longspur Rhynchophanes mccownii

For kicks, we also got the male Williamson's Sapsucker Sphyrapicus thyroideus that has been hanging out at the Marathon Cemetery.

Regarding Sage Thrasher, her final target:
Sage Thrasher appearances can be somewhat Irruptive.  Last year we saw many all winter long, as they are a Winter Resident here.  Two years ago, we didn't see nearly as many.  This year, zero so far and it was the last day of November already.

As the sun was near setting, and so was our afternoon afield, a silhouetted bird was perched atop a short mesquite.

Sure enough, it was a Sage Thrasher.  There was another one singing (which is very cool) further into that particular field.

Target Sage Thrasher, 2, First of Fall.