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. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Miles and Milestones, Photo Giveaway

It is hard for us to believe that this is our third winter in Marathon. Never mind that the high on December 1st is supposed to be pushing 80 degrees (it was cooler in July!)'s technically winter enough by Texas standards (fake snow in stores = winter, right?)

We moved out here as a back-up to a back-up to a back-up plan D or E or F or something, and anticipated no more than three months out here. My, how plans change. After living with Aplomado Falcons for a while, and with a small town that had no stress and less traffic... well, we're still here. Sometimes we wonder why, but then we realize that we know - and like - the neighbors!

Aplomado Falcon, ~1 week pre-release. July 2010.
For those of you who have offered words of encouragement, support, and gratitude for our coverage of the region; thank you. It has really meant a lot to know that people gain something from this mad experiment we're calling life - we've met some fantastic people who have passed through the region and taken the time to look us up. Admittedly, it's a small enough town that folks passing through have been easy to track down as well... some of y'all have kind of become familiar, if not family (many of you we see more often than our own families!)

Mexican Metalmark (Apodemia duryi)

Just for kicks:
Since adding Site Meter (Nov. 2010?), we've had over 26,600 page views and 43,400 page hits. I'm sure a few of you just sit in front of the computer and hit "refresh" constantly (hi, Mom!) but that's still really cool. To further amuse you, we've recently added the little spinning globe from revolvermaps (it's a bit over 1,800 at the moment).

Regardless of the reason, we'd like to thank y'all - the readers, commenters, lurkers, friends, neighbors, family, strangers, birders, butterfliers, naturalists and those of you who accidentally googled your way over. I don't think we ever quite expected to have more than three or four followers on this blog, yet we're inexplicably up to 39! We've even ended up on our local NPR station twice as a result of the blog (if indirectly on the second round).

So between now and New Year's we'll giving away a few 8x11 prints of our images (some images are from the blog) as a "thank you" to our blog supporters, one or three of which will go to a randomly selected name from the comments (unless only one person comments, though I guess sending three prints to one person would save on postage!). Only one comment per person, please! Once we have the names, the choice of a bird, a butterfly, a moth or "other" print will be given. To give folks plenty of time to comment, we'll leave this thread open through at least Dec. 15th.

For our most frequent commenter, one has been set aside for you - Laurence, please send your contact info to heidi at!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Type 2 Red Crossbills - the Texas Crossbill Conundrum

11/29 UPDATE - Steve Collins was able to record the Lubbock cemetery Red Crossbills:
Those of you unfamiliar with Texas and/or the Trans-Pecos region, Lubbock is several hours NNE of us. Here's the triumphant Facebook post (screenshot - no link) from around 7:30 pm.

11/28 UPDATE - Williamson's Sapsucker still present at the Marathon cemetery. Ferruginous Hawks, McCown's and Chestnut-collared Longspurs still present at Prairie Dog Town. Green-tailed Towhees at Post Park in several spots.

Back to your previously scheduled post:

Apparently the ultimate crime against ornithology is failing to record a Red Crossbill... well, it's up there on the list at least. Maybe. It seems that of all the crossbills being reported in Texas so far, not one report has attempted to determine the 'type' of Red Crossbill, or noted the calls, much less gotten recordings.

eBird has a lovely post from Matthew Young on the mess of Red Crossbill identification.

I suspect that most Texans are simply too overwhelmed with the sheer joy of "RED CROSSBILL!!!" to get the recording thing figured out - or even if we're keenly aware of it, it's just not an immediate kick to the brain's priority list. Next time...

Regardless, here's a snippet of correspondence that may or may not be helpful, seeing as the previous post covers the loud, clear "tew tew tew" just about as well as this one.

...from three separate enthusiasts:

Which call type? / Record that sucker! [description/link] I'd guess type 2 based on that description and likelihood there.

What call type is it?  No one has mentioned the call type for any of the Texas Red Crossbills.  I know more about the ones in New Jersey!!  I hope you can record it.  Apparently even an iPhone will do, but an external mic would be an improvement.  A videocamera will also have a good mic.

[Note, we managed better recordings of Nutting's Flycatcher from a point-and-shoot than with a 'real' video camera.]

I noticed that you had a Red Crossbill and was wondering if by chance you recorded the bird with an iphone? The Red Crossbill complex is made up of 10 distinct call types with some perhaps being good biological species.


Given bill size and description of call as a tew-tew-tew, a very likely type 2. This type says it's name. Usually there's a husky quality to type 2, but occasionally they can have more of ringing quality to them.


So until further notice, we've had 4-5 quiet birds (making crunching noises on pine cones) around 11/15 or so and 1 very loud bird on 11/27 that falls into the type 'tew' category.

Next time, crossbills.... next time.....

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Texas Red Crossbills, Marathon style

Oh, we do have "winter finches" in Texas... we have American Goldfinches, Lesser Goldfinches, Pine Siskins and a smattering of not-so-finchy Dark-eyed Juncos when we're lucky (Slate-colored, for much of the state).  But crossbills of any kind? They're an irruptive treat. Matt saw Brewster Co's first reported Red Crossbills of the season back on November 14th but we've seen nothing of them since then, until today.

The image below? Taken just to the east of the house, yard bird #101 for the Double Bacon. No idea if it was a dull first year male or a super bright female, but check out the shadow of the crossed bill!

Red Crossbill, 27 November 2012, Marathon, TX
My first encounter with the Red Crossbill craze was when they descended upon Buffalo Gap, TX in the winter of 2007-2008. The town lies about 30 minutes south of Abilene, where I was living at the time, and our close little group of Big Country Audubon Society (BCAS) birders kind of went nuts. For one, Red Crossbills aren't your standard winter finch fare in Texas. Prior to the 2007 sightings, the Abilene area had not harbored Red Crossbills since 1997.

There may be a need for tissues, starting with the next paragraph.

Laura Packer, my friend, mentor, and all-around mother-figure for my time in Abilene captured some breathtaking images of Red Crossbills that winter. It was her second-to-last winter with us, and her images live on through the Big Country Audubon page. One of these days, after student loans have been paid and the world of employment catches up to the rest of us, I'd like to set up a pile of gift student memberships for BCAS in her honor... I think Laura covered my membership the entire time I was out there (and only a student for a year of it - during that year, she was an absolute godsend). Her presence in the birding world - especially her bluebird monitoring at Dyess Air Force Base - has left a lasting impression on those of us fortunate enough to have known her.
Click here to see Laura's photo of a male Red Crossbill.
Click here to see Laura's photo of a female Red Crossbill.
Heck, click here to see a pile of BCAS crossbills.

After feasting your eyes on those, you can use your imagination on these - mostly taken from half a block or a block away and heavily cropped. No sign of the rest of the flock from earlier this month, just a single bird that, for roughly 45 minutes, circled the block to the SW of our house.

Red Crossbill, 27 November 2012, Marathon, TX
The bird was very active and calling incessantly (rather clear compared to other recordings, almost a shorebird whistle in clarity and quality of 'tew-tew-tew' for what it's worth). Unfortunately, it was silent and/or absent by the time the first chaser showed up. Figures!

Red Crossbill, 27 November 2012, Marathon, TX
In all its grainy glory, the photo above shows a pretty rockin' eyebrow for an otherwise bright, yet muted bird. Photo below shows what it looked like when photographed without the sun cooperating (because one can never fault a bird for its location - the sapsucker at the cemetery prefers shade, you just have to time your visit and/or angle better!)

Dark and grainy, just the way we like 'em. Red Crossbill, 27 November 2012, Marathon, TX.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving in the Trans-Pecos

From Willie Sekula, with permission... and a note of "The sparrow numbers were amazing especially on FM 1832!" 

Date has been modified to reflect the 25 Nov post, so it may appear out of order for the RSS feed.


Derek Muschalek, Tim Lenz and I birded West Texas over an extended Thanksgiving.  We birded Marathon, Big Bend National Park (Rio Grande Village, Dugout Wells, The Basin, Sam Nail Ranch, Cottonwood Campground, Santa Elena), Carolyn Ohl Johnson's Christmas Mountain Oasis (Many Thanks to Carolyn!), Alpine, Davis Mountains (Lawrence E Wood Picnic Area, McDonald Observatory), FM 1832, Balmorhea (Cemetery & Lake).  We also made numerous stops along the various roads whenever we saw birds.

Overall the birding was very good.  The number of sparrows and diversity was excellent with FM 1832 producing incredible numbers of Clay-colored, Brewer's, Vesper & White-crowned Sparrows along with Cassin's, Savannah & Grasshopper Sparrows. Overall we recorded 17 species of sparrows!

It was pretty exciting to arrive at Panther Junction on Wednesday afternoon while it was raining!  A pretty rare sight in November. I think The Basin received 0.18" of rain that day/night.

There were still lots of blooming wildflowers (for Thanksgiving) with an amazing variety and number of butterflies (including a Mexican Silverspot at Rio Grande Village) along with a decent number of odonates.

Birds of Note:
Montezuma Quail (several calling birds at Lawrence E Wood)
Wild Turkey 4 (Lawrence E Wood)
American Bittern 1 (Lake Balmorhea)
Snowy Egret 1 (Lake Balmorhea)
Osprey 1 (Rio Grande Village)
Bald Eagle 1 adult (Lake Balmorhea)
Greater Yellowlegs 1 (Rio Grande Village)
Common Poorwill 1 (calling at Rio Grande Village)
White-throated Swift 24 (Casa Grande)
Anna's Hummingbird 4-5 (Rio Grande Village); 1 (old sewage ponds - The Basin)
Selasphorus sp. 1 (The Basin)
Williamson's Sapsucker 1 male (Marathon Cemetery - initially spotted by Derek) & another male (Lawrence E Wood)
Gray Flycatcher 1 (Cottonwood Campground)
Western Scrub-Jay 1 (The Basin)
Nine species of Wren (Thanksgiving Day):
Sedge (Rio Grande Village)
Varied Thrush 1 (Christmas Mountains Oasis)
Chestnut-collared Longspur 35 (Lake Balmorhea)
Black-throated Gray Warbler 5 (Rio Grande Village)
American Redstart 1 female (Cottonwood Campground - seen along Rio Grande River)

I may have left out some birds of note due to being very tired from a lot of driving!  We ended up with 153 species for the trip.

Willie Sekula
Falls City

Williamson's Sapsucker, continues in Marathon

*Update:  sapsucker continues in PM, 25 Nov 2012.  Same location on same pine.
26 Nov 2012, seen in AM at same location. (Bill Sain)
27 Nov 2012, seen in AM, "one tree to the left" (that would be to the west) of the previously preferred tree - Alton Patton.
28 Nov 2012, present.
29 Nov 2012, present.  It was successfully fending of a male Red-naped Sapsucker when I arrived at 1242 hrs.  I was then flitting between the 3 trees to the left/west of the short pine.
30 Nov 2012, present.  Seen by PM observers.


Updated Marathon: Williamson's Sapsucker-- first sighting: Nov 21; last update: Nov 25
On the afternoon of Nov 21 Willie Sekula found a male Williamson's Sapsucker in the cemetery at Marathon.
Latest ReportsNov 22: continues. Last report at 5:30pm by Joe Fischer. Nov 23: present early morning. Nov 25: 9:45am, present until 10:15am when was flushed & pursued away by overly aggressive photographer.

**when was flushed & pursued away by overly aggressive photographer.

**this was not the two of us (myself and Heidi), however I will make brief mention at the end of this post.

Willie Sekula told me it was actually Derek Muschalek that found it.  Nice, Derek!

This bird is generally found in higher elevation, mixed-pine forests.  They do come down in elevation in the Winter.  The "best" spot to generally see a bird or two in Winter months in Texas is at Lawrence E. Wood Picnic Area in the Davis Mountains (Jeff Davis Co.). That's on the scenic loop a few miles past the McDonald Observatory.

What often happens when Heidi and I leave to visit my grandparents during Thanksgiving is that cool stuff shows up.  Sure enough...

A male Williamson's Sapsucker rolled down the hill and was reported by two aforementioned knowledgeable birders on 21 November.

Here are a few pics from this morning, 25 November, when Heidi and I finally returned to observe:

Williamson's Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus), male

Sapsuckers are woodpeckers, Family Picidae, that specialize in drilling evenly spaced holes in trees.  They then re-visit these trees for the sap and the insects attracted to it.

This guy has been working this particular tree for days, as it was this morning.

This bird was focused in on this shadow-side of the pine.  It was also well sheltered.  Limbs and pine needles obscured a clear, open photo.  However, our 40 minutes of observation were absolutely perfect.  Watching a beautiful male Williamson's Sapsucker do what it does best, in fact, do what it MUST do.

It found a portion of that pine's trunk that was (must have been) entirely suitable for it's specialized methodology to obtain food.  It was working on that little, shaded, somewhat obscured nook for our entire observation.

**As we departed we noted a periwinkle SUV parked directly beneath the bird's favored tree.  The two individuals in the vehicle preceded to flush the bird several times, as we were leaving.  
The man's camouflaged lens, a huge lens the size of a small child, was wielded out the vehicle.  So as not to go into a complete rant of a vignette I'll keep it short. 
The couple flushed the bird from its favored pine.  It was then pursued to a nearby pine where it was flushed again.  The man, with the Light Anti-tank Weapon of a lens, walked toward the new pine it flew to.  Never stopping his progress toward the base of this pine or any other, the sapsucker was flushed again.

As birders, as ehem.. photographers (we carry a camera, too), as those interested in the native wildlife around them, we have some moral obligations.  It all comes down to not harassing the very subjects we are so interested in.  

Sometimes our moments of observation are not as desirable as we would have hoped:  that's how birding goes.
Sometimes our moments of nature/bird photography are not as desirable as we would have hoped:  that's how nature/bird photography goes.

Anyhow, what a beautiful bird to observe.  We hope it continues to stick around.  There exist plenty other pines in that cemetery should its noted "favored" tree be left behind.  
I would still listen for the light tappings and point your optics toward that particular tree for starters.

We found that parking in the bare area near the center of the cemetery gave us ample room to begin scanning and listening.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Williamson's Sapsucker, Marathon Cemetery


Updated Marathon: Williamson's Sapsucker-- first sighting: Nov 21; last update: Nov 23
On the afternoon of Nov 21 Willie Sekula found a male Williamson's Sapsucker in the cemetery at Marathon.
Latest ReportsNov 22: continues. Last report at 5:30pm by Joe Fischer. Nov 23: present early morning.

Edit: please check recent posts for further updates!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Balmorhea Lake's constant beauty

Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis), Balmorhea Lake, Reeves County, 31 October 2012

Along with its genus-mate the Clark's Grebe (A. clarkii), Western Grebes are year-round resident eye-candy at the lake though fewer in number in the summer months.  We shouldn't take these birds nor the lake for granted.  We in the region are fortunate to have them.

I snapped this photo as an afterthought while enjoying the Red Phalarope rarity back in latest October.  Cleaning up our camera card, I had forgotten about it.  Shame on me.

Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival...

ALL the way down the rio to farthest-South Texas.
This past weekend, 7-11 November.
Click here for a link to the RGV Birding Festival.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna bicolor) at Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco,  TX
Heidi and I helped lead a couple of field trips for the festival.  Heidi led at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.  I led at a closed-to-the-public tract of Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

It was great to see old friends and counterparts and nice to meet new ones.  This festival is becoming a big extended family for us.

However, we are now back up at the big bending of the river.  Glad to be home and back helping folks find, identify, and otherwise enjoy the bird life here in Brewster County and elsewhere in the region.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming:  BIG BEND of far-West Texas!

Edit: the "Lend a Hand" field trip, led by JD Cortez (far right) and Matt (second from left).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Red Crossbills, Marathon, Brewster Co.

**NOTE:  Red Crossbills not seen at this location during following days.  But, keep your eyes out for them this year.

Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) is considered an "Irruptive" species in the trans-Pecos of Texas. Irruptive:  with a meaning in this context as "might be seen, at times abundant, in some years but absent in all others."  Even in irruptive years, its abundance is not Common but Occasional.

Already this fall Red Crossbills have been reported in El Paso, Frijole Ranch in Guadalupe Mtns Nat'l Park, and Van Horn.

As the sun was quickly heading toward the Del Norte mountains (from my vantage point), I spotted at least a flock of 5 in Marathon.

Two of which are below.  I hope to have time for better photos and just more personal enjoyment with them tomorrow.  All this rather than racing my favorite star.

Red Crossbill, male

Red Crossbill, female

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sightings around the region

Since we're heading to the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival as of 4:30 am, we thought the site could use some distractions in our absence. A few reports have been trickling in from around the region, so here's a batch from Jeff Davis Co.

L.E. Woods Picnic area:
Williamson's Sapsucker
Red-naped Sapsucker

Davis Mts State Park:
Fox Sparrow

Posted with permission from Kelly Bryan -


FYI, Marc and Maryann photographed four Evening Grosbeaks at their feeders in the Davis Mountains on October 28. They only stayed a couple of days. Also, a female visited a feeder here in Fort Davis for at least two days this past weekend. For those planning to visit west Texas in the next couple of months keep you eyes pealed. Hopefully, there are more coming down the pike. There appears to be a large influx of Red Crossbills and Western Scrub-Jays are pushing out of the mountains and foothills into the lower desert. May be a good winter overall out here. KBB

And from the Christmas Mountains Oasis in south Brewster Co, where the Varied Thrush continues, also via Kelly Bryan -

Once again the Christmas Mountains Oasis in south central Brewster County has produced an outstanding bird for Texas. If you have never been there then you do not know and cannot appreciate the amount of work it took over the past 20 years or so for Carolyn Ohl to produce the "habitat" there.

I made my weekly stop there this morning to sample her hummingbirds as part of my overall banding study here in west Texas. The first bird in the trap this morning was a male Costa's Hummingbird. He had completed his flight feather molt and was in the process of completing his body molt including his head, gorget and crown. Carolyn will provide an update on this bird on her website and/or on Texbirds later today including the status of the Varied Thrush there. She will have some pics posted to later today.

Save for one juvenile male that we likely banded last week because it was trap shy, there was a complete turnover of hummingbirds there today from last week. We caught four Anna's Hummingbirds including two new birds and two returns. One adult female was previously banded on 12/12/11 (our last Anna's banded last year) and the other, also a female, was banded as an adult on 11/13/09 at CMO. KBB

(The Costa's was at the feeders all afternoon at CMO after it was banded.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Red 'rope. Balmorhea Lake, Reeves Co.

31 October 2012
Balmorhea Lake, Balmorhea, Reeves Co., TX

Red Phalarope (Phaloropus fulicarius)

** Excerpt from TX-Birds list-serve**

RED PHALAROPE pics from this morning at Balmorhea Lake.  
Found initially (FOUND AND ID) by
Heidi Trudell, I like to think I was slightly distracted driving.  :)
This bird was first noticed on the eastern half of the lake, as we were on
the east dam.  Easily enjoyed through bins, a scope is great.
After a lunch break in town, we re-located the bird at 1:18 PM on the
western quarter of the lake.  Also could be enjoyed through bins during
this observation

NO Surf Scoter was seen.  In fact, the raft of scaup, ruddys, and redhead
the scoter sought refuge in was gone as well.
**Excerpt from TX-Birds facebook note originally from Heidi Trudell**

Seen from 11:20-noon at the dam, seen from 1:18-1:25 at the total opposite end of the lake (near reeds on west end) before it headed back toward the middle of the lake.

Here's the combined morning/afternoon list from Lake Balmorhea (apologies for lack of numbers here), perks from the town and cemetery are at the bottom!

Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
Redhead (Aythya americana)
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata)
Common Loon (Gavia immer)
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)
Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)
Clark's Grebe (Aechmophorus clarkii)
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
American Coot (Fulica americana)
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)
Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius)
Bonaparte's Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)
Franklin's Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan)
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya)
Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Verdin (Auriparus flaviceps)
Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus)
Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis)
Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (Polioptila melanura)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)
Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus)
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)
Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)
Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus)
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)
Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)


Town highlight:
Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) - heard only

Cemetery, complete list:
Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre)
Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)
Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata)
Sage Sparrow (Artemisiospiza belli)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Balmorhea mystery bird

Until Tripp is able to post further details, this is the only shot we have at the moment of an all-dark gull with pale rump at Lake Balmorhea on Saturday, October 27.

The bird on the left is a Ring-billed Gull, and the dark bird was described as slightly larger and loosely associating with them. So far it sounds like a fairly good fit for a Heermann's Gull.


Tripp Davenport's Flickr album -

Edit: as of 2 pm on Sunday, October 28, that particular dark gull (Herring/CA type) was not refound in spite of three people searching. Two sub-adult Herring Gulls, one darker than the other, were present but very un-Heermann's like. That said, I was cooped up at work, so the following list is via Cameron Carver -

**Edit by MWYork:  NO ALL DARK GULL present during our obs. Three people gave it a heck of an effort.  HOWEVER, an excellent consolation prize was the later-in-the-day presence of a 1st winter SURF SCOTER.**

Date and Effort - Sun Oct 28, 2012 9:10 AM
Protocol: Traveling
Party Size: 1
Duration: 4 hour(s)
Distance: 5.0 mile(s)
Observers: Cameron Carver

Species - 67 species (+2 other taxa) total
11 Snow Goose - Counted
50 Gadwall - Est Likely undercount
10 American Wigeon - Est
20 Northern Shoveler - Est
2 Northern Pintail
20 Green-winged Teal - Est
10 Redhead - Est
14 Lesser Scaup
1 Surf Scoter - 1st winter female. photos and video. Bird had white on the side of the head and at the base of the bill. Bill was large and "roman". Bird was seen diving a few times and later associated with diving ducks.
2 Hooded Merganser - Adult Male and female.
44 Ruddy Duck
5 Pied-billed Grebe - Est
15 Eared Grebe - Est
15 Western Grebe - Est
30 Clark's Grebe - Est
5 Double-crested Cormorant
19 American White Pelican
7 Great Blue Heron
2 Great Egret
3 Snowy Egret
1 Golden Eagle - Adult bird being harassed by Ravens on north side of lake.
4 Northern Harrier
1 Cooper's Hawk
1 Red-tailed Hawk
25 American Coot
10 Sandhill Crane - Est by sound
18 Killdeer
1 Spotted Sandpiper
4 Least Sandpiper
3 Wilson's Snipe
3 Bonaparte's Gull - At least 2 adults and 1 immature. Smudgy thumbprint on side of head and tern like behavior.
4 Franklin's Gull - Appeared to be either first winter birds, or just winter birds. Slightly bigger than BOGU with some black in head and big white crescents around eye.
30 Ring-billed Gull - est
2 Herring Gull - 2 large, mottled gulls. Much bigger than RBGU
2 Eurasian Collared-Dove
3 Mourning Dove
2 Belted Kingfisher
3 Northern Flicker
1 Prairie Falcon
1 Black Phoebe
3 Say's Phoebe
2 Vermilion Flycatcher
4 Common Raven
2 raven sp.
1 Tree Swallow
2 Barn Swallow
30 Cave Swallow - Est
2 Rock Wren
2 House Wren
5 Marsh Wren
1 Bewick's Wren
1 Northern Mockingbird
2 Curve-billed Thrasher
9 American Pipit
1 Common Yellowthroat
11 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's)
1 Green-tailed Towhee
3 Brewer's Sparrow
40 Lark Bunting
10 Savannah Sparrow
3 Song Sparrow
1 Lincoln's Sparrow
1 Swamp Sparrow
19 White-crowned Sparrow
1 Pyrrhuloxia
10 Red-winged Blackbird
1 Eastern Meadowlark
10 Eastern/Western Meadowlark
40 Great-tailed Grackle

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Varied Thrush, part two

After a mad dash on October 22, a more leisurely* trip was in order. Having finally slept like a rock, slept in late, and tended several batches of neighborhood creatures, one more trip to CMO seemed like a good idea - if the Varied Thrush stuck, more looks at a life bird would be icing on yesterday's cake.

* in this case, there was also an attempt to snag the wayward San Antonio racing pigeon, but it had superior evasive maneuvers - the alternate title for the post was "outsmarted by a pigeon" but the photos wouldn't be nearly so exciting

Upon arrival at just about 2 pm, a Northern Mockingbird chased a dark blur away from the water; the thrush was at least present! Settling in on the bench and getting distracted by Common Mestra antics was next on the agenda - sorry, no photos of the Common Mestras.

Varied Thrush, as seen from the bench.

Between intermittent pigeon antics and Varied Thrush sightings, the afternoon was a lovely combination of Western Scrub Jay visits, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher scolding (a pair were disturbed, but I'm not sure by what), and constant Pyrrhuloxia chipping. Goldfinches and siskins were also about. One black-necked garter snake was in the big tank. Very nice to see!

Several minutes of observation came from the other side of the water feature - the behavior was very reminiscent of the Swainson's Warbler from the spring; kicking, shuffling, flipping leaves and bark and mulch and generally fussing around in less than photogenic ways. There are dark, leafy blurs as evidence of this behavior, but they're a challenge to decipher.

Stunning markings are effective camouflage in dappled shade.

This is one lucky bird. Welcome to the oasis, buddy.

Extended eyeliner; this photo is for Tony.

Flight feathers are amazing from all angles.

The thrush was still present at 4 pm, when I headed out, and it headed back into the shade to kick around the mulch again.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Varied Thrush! Christmas Mtns Oasis!

Carolyn Ohl-Johnson's Christmas Mountains Oasis
Terlingua Ranch area 
south Brewster County.

^^click link above for her Christmas Mountains Oasis blog.  It is worth the look.^^

What an important area for Texas ornithology.  Carolyn has worked incredibly hard for her habitat over the years.
An important area.
An important person.

Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)

Heidi and I got there in the heat of the afternoon.  We had to see this bird, but schedules weren't fitting together.  It was decided to push to go to Carolyn's this afternoon.

We got out of the car at around 2:50 in the afternoon.  We were on the bird by 3:00.

The thrush flushed up into the dead cottonwood and perched.
Actually showing some methods of thermoregulation.

Like lifting its leg, and thus foot off the surface, maybe catching some breeze.
Still regulating it's temperature, it was just about half asleep for a moment.  We observed the thrush half "shutting its eye", slow blinking on occasion.  The photo above shows the thrush's nictitating membrane.
nic·ti·tat·ing membrane 
A transparent inner eyelid in birds, reptiles, and some mammals that closes to protect and moisten the eye. Also called third eyelid.
Another commonly seen method of regulating temperature for birds is "panting."  This thrush is doing both in the pic above.

Anyways, after some great views it decided to drop down and we lost sight of it.  We likely could have found the bird but decided to let it be for awhile.

This gave us a chance to catch up with Carolyn and K.B. Bryan.

After awhile Carolyn and I decided to get more looks.
The thrush dropped down to one of the water features that is in its favored area

Check out the bead of water between mandibles near the tip end of the beak.  Might have to click to blow up the photo a bit to see it.

Eventually the bird hopped up and out, without much bother, and scampered away.

This is a bird I definitely needed for Texas.  'Twas a lifer for Heidi.

A species I haven't seen east of the Pacific Crest of mountains in western portions of North America.  A secretive bird, perhaps I've hiked right by it in moist montane woodlands out west.

Nevertheless, at Christmas Mountains Oasis, Heidi and I sat, watched it, and eventually left it.

Great bird.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Confusing Fall Warblers

What happens when you take two decent birders, a yard with regular MacGillivray's Warblers, some bright evening light, and a "Mac" in size and behavior that has no gray on the throat?

7 pm - Something in the giant mallow - very brown back... Wow, that's a BRIGHT MacGillivray's...! Wait, it's not a Mac... or do you see any gray on the throat? Look at those eye arcs... and the bicolored beak, that's too big for yellowthroat. Bright yellow vent and belly, must be a Mourning! *scrambling around kitchen window with bins and books while puppies whine about a late dinner*

[They walk dogs, return when light is fading and take photos. And then all ID chaos breaks loose.]

8-9 pm - this:

...but its vent was bright yellow? Why is the beak so thin and short and dark?

...the throat was so BRIGHT. Why is the belly faded?
The bill looks quite different from that first photo...
Why doesn't the bill appear bicolored? What happened to the YELLOW belly?

 ...and that is how bright light and a positive ID at 7 pm, followed by photos around 8 pm, turned a perfect-on-paper Mourning Warbler into a Common Yellowthroat. 


Could there have been two birds yesterday?  A bright yellow undersided and a duller one.  The one in the photos was far duller than the bright bird we watched.

This morning?  The duller bird, quite like the photos at times, still inhabited the area.

We did not see it this evening to compare its looks in bright light.

It is important we check ourselves from time to time; even those among the most confident.  In reality, perhaps most importantly among the confident.