Thursday, January 31, 2013

January Hummingbird Summary (part 2)

Via Kelly Bryan, whose project can be followed at
Part 1 of his winter hummingbird report can be found here:

We completed our second round of banding sessions in the lower Big Bend area these past two days. This is an unprecedented January for hummingbirds in the region. If Anna's Hummingbirds continue to be present in these numbers there will surely be a few nesting records to be had in the next couple of months. Texas has only three, one from Jeff Davis County and two from El Paso County. Their California cousins are already on nests where birds are resident year-round. We do not know exactly what portion of the west coast Anna's population is migratory, but it is likely the northern portion.

Totals for the month of January: 5 species and 60 birds including 45 new birds and 15 returns/recaps.

- Black-chin - 1 new bird on 1/17 (SY M)
- Anna's - 44 birds including 37 new birds and 7 returns/recaps (2 from last year and 5 from Nov/Dec)
- Costa's - 1 new bird on 1/14 (AHY F, last seen on 1/19)
- Rufous - 11 birds including 4 new birds and 7 returns/recaps (all from Nov/Dec)
- Allen's - 3 birds including 2 new birds (1/14 and 1/28 from Lajitas) and 1 return/recap (originally banded 12/8 near Willow Mtn)

Kelly B Bryan
Fort Davis, Texas

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Solitaires of three

... in an odd season of zero.

This Winter Season, in our very immediate tri-county area (Brewster-Jeff Davis-Presidio), Townsend's Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) has gone virtually un-reported.  Or I've just missed the notices.  No matter, but odd.

Where it matters relates to the previous blog post of knocking out each Texas Target species for a birding friend/client/guest/customer/friend these last couple of days.

During the initial contact, when that species was brought up, I explained to him that Townsend Solitaire has been scarce-to-zero for us so far this Winter Season.   We aren't going to be misleading just to get any person out here.  We tell the truth of what's going on, prospects, potential successes, and so forth; even when we wish it weren't so.

While in transit from Reeves County back to Brewster County, I received a call from Heidi. She had just gotten her state Townsend's Solitaire on a friend's property.

This was the truth yesterday afternoon, the 23rd:

Townsend's Solitaire, Brewster County.
One of three at this single location, south of Alpine, TX

I actually took these photos at that location today, 24 January 2013, because I "needed" them for Brewster County.

Still three.
Still foraging on juniper berries and fly-catching insects.
Still mumbling to themselves and each other.

Way to come through, Heidi!  Muchas gracias to the property owner!
A nice little surprise to slip in at trip's end for the visiting birder.

As always, thanks to the birds.  It is, after all, at some point each and every time up to them.

So, in continuing form from the previous post ... :

23 January 2013:  Townsend's Solitaire, Brewster Co., TX - CHECK

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Around here, we aim to please.

Sage Sparrow (Amphispiza belli), Reeves County, Texas

A birding friend/customer/guest/client/ friend's target Texas species:  Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) and Sage Sparrow.

22 January 2013:  Red Crossbill, Brewster Co., TX - CHECK
23 January 2013:  Sage Sparrow, Reeves Co., TX - CHECK

Red Crossbill, male, Brewster Co., TX.   photo by Harry Forbes, 22 Jan. 2013

Red Crossbill, female, Brewster Co., TX   photo by Harry Forbes, 22 Jan. 2013

Red Crossbill, male, Brewster Co., TX   photo by Harry Forbes, 22 Jan. 2013

Friday, January 18, 2013

West Texas Hummingbirds

Via Kelly Bryan, whose project can be followed at
Edit: the 2012 banding report is now up!


I finished my second round of banding efforts in the Terlingua Ranch area today. For anyone headed to the Big Bend area, this is a remarkable winter for hummingbird abundance and diversity. A lot of folks are telling us there are hummingbirds at locations were no feeders are hanging. Anyone birding the area should expect to encounter some, especially along the river. Obviously, the most likely species is Anna's. I have five sampling sites in the area just west and northwest of Big Bend National Park that I band at on a regular rotational basis. Today I finished those sites. The totals for the week are:

- Black-chinned Hummingbird - 1 SY Male today (first January record for the region)

- Anna's Hummingbird - 19 new birds banded and 6 returns/recaps (4 from Nov and Dec, 1 from Dec 2011, 1 from Nov 2011)

- Costa's Hummingbird - 1 AHY (adult) Female on Monday as reported previously (there will be folks checking on it tomorrow)

- Rufous Hummingbird - 3 new birds banded and 7 returns/recaps (all from Nov and Dec)

- Allen's Hummingbird - 1 new bird banded in Lajitas on Monday and 1 return/recap today (banded in Dec)

Total = 39 birds, 25 new birds banded and 14 returns/recaps


Kelly B Bryan

Fort Davis, Texas

To see other blog posts related to Kelly's work, or banded birds in the region in general, check out the rest of the posts under the "banding" label/tag!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Coffey, Reid and Sekula - West Tx highlights

Emphasis on "RBA" birds has been added, some formatting changes have been made.

10 Jan 2013 Female Evening Grosbeak at Dog Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains National Park - Willie Sekula
"Today Willie Sekula, Martin Reid and I are at Dog Canyon in the Guadalupe 
Mountain NP. Willie found a female Evening Grosbeak between the ranger station 
and the corral. We hiked up the canyon and found Stellers Jays, Mountain 
Chickadee, and two Townsend's Solitaires." - Sheridan Coffey, 19 January 2012
Posted with permission from Willie Sekula - we're not really sure how to 'tag' this post because we've had so little coverage of the Guadalupe Mountains and Pecos County on this blog before! We're quite grateful to this intrepid crew for their coverage of the region and allowing us to post their sightings and photographs here. Many, many thanks!

Red Bluff Lake is just south of New Mexico, so a bit of a trek from our proverbial neck of the woods, but is similar to Lake Balmorhea in terms of strange and wonderful things turning up... which brings us to Willie's post:

Red Bluff Lake, Friday January 11th

Martin Reid, Sheridan Coffey and I birded Red Bluff Lake (~38 miles north of Pecos) today. We had a good day of birding with the highlight being an immature Northern Shrike which was on the northern (no pun intended) of the lake off County Road 453. The bird was pretty flighty. Martin and I had to work to get some record photographs of the bird but we finally succeeded. Other highlights included two Red-throated Loons and 1900 Common Mergansers.

Selected Bird List:
37 Snow Goose
25 Northern Shoveler
12 Northern Pintail
2 Greater Scaup
50 Bufflehead -- Probably a low estimate
100 Common Goldeneye -- Probably a low estimate
157 Hooded Merganser -- Large group at dam. Well seen
1900 Common Merganser -- Counted by both Martin Reid and Willie Sekula.
Massive rafts
100 Red-breasted Merganser
100 Ruddy Duck
2 Red-throated Loon -- Photographed
300 Double-crested Cormorant -- Low estimate
140 Bonaparte's Gull -- Feeding with mergansers and cormorants
40 Ring-billed Gull
10 Herring Gull -- Well seen
1 Northern Shrike -- Photographed. Young bird.
1 Say's Phoebe
25 American Pipit

Please note that Sandy Beach (other side of dam) was not accessible. The gate was locked.

Willie Sekula
Falls City

This is the FIRST Trans-Pecos record for Northern Shrike in 25 yrs!  This young bird is the fourth Trans-Pecos record.  Prior records coming from El Paso County (2) and the Guadalupe Mtns (1).

For further Texas Northern Shrike discussion, including this bird, see Martin Reid's page -

Northern Shrike, Red Bluff Lake, Friday January 11, 2013 - Willie Sekula

Northern Shrike, Red Bluff Lake, Friday January 11, 2013 - Willie Sekula

Northern Shrike, Red Bluff Lake, Friday January 11, 2013 - Willie Sekula

Sunday, January 13, 2013


We reside in the happy confluence of all three bluebird species (Sialia spp) during the winter months.

female Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)

This morning I happened upon 40 Mountain Bluebirds drinking from a water tank guzzler in northeast Brewster County.

It was a great sight and sound, even from a distance.

Mountain Bluebirds, male and female

Now for the other two species of bluebird this year ...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Prairie Dog Town in January

A Prairie Dog town in a vast grassland in north Brewster County in the month of January equals:

Hundreds upon multiple hundreds of Chestnut-collared (Calcarius ornatus) and McCown's Longspurs (Rhynchophanes mccownii)

Above are just a few of the hundreds of Chestnut-collared Longspurs this morning.

Also, in the winter above this grassland resides the largest species of North American hawk..

 Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis)

One was soaring above Prairie Dog town this morning.  This hawk often perches directly on the ground.  However during my observation today, it only soared.  I imaging it feeds well, winter after winter.

The wind really began to kick up and I was just about to return to my truck and head back to town when a pleasant acquaintance flew across the road.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)

Burrowing Owls are fond, among other places, of inhabiting old and vacant Prairie Dog burrows.  We don't always see Burrowing Owls at this location, oddly enough.  However we are often asked about them and this location.

Nice to see one.  Nice to see one in January.  Hopefully it will find, or has already found, an adequate domicile.  They are great birds.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Crouching Longspur, Hidden Warbler. Patch birding challenge.

This post has been in the works since Christmas Bird Counts started; it has only materialized with the prompting of a challenge from David Sarkozi to Texas birders. (Helpful links to participate in the Texas Local Patch Challenge are listed at the bottom of this post.)
I would like to challenge others to an interesting game for 2013, I'll call it the Local Patch Challenge. Pretty simple, how many species can you find in a 7.5 mile radius circle around your residence. If you have more than one "residence" that's fine, do either or both. The idea is to see what you can find close to home without out burning a tank of gas. There are several ways to find whats inside the circle around your home, just Google "draw circle google maps" and you can find several tools to do that. An easy one I found was

Not every circle is going to be competitive with every circle, this is mostly about what you can do. No everyone can generate the species totals of folk like Clay Taylor and Brush Freeman can with their locals, but most of use would be surprised with what is in 7.5 miles of our homes (essentially a CBC circle around your home). In fact I would like to through down a challenge to Brush and Clay directly to participate just to make it interesting. Out In West Texas, I'd love to see Carolyn include her Oasis, and Heidi to participate. Love to get "Fat Tony" on board too! Susan Schaezler you should do this too,

I don't think one needs to post every bird you find to TEXBIRDS, but certainly those interesting birds you find and milestones like 100. 150, 200 species would interest many. I know many OCD types like myself would like to see lists though, so to keep the chatter to those most interested I did start an open Facebook Group call "Texas Local Patch Challenge" where you can post all you want. hase some good tools for keep track of what you find in your patch. Just go to "Explore Data" in the top tool bar, then select "Patch Totals" in the right hand box. Then click on Add Patch and select the locations in your patch. eBird will keep your patch total for you.

What are you waiting for, 2013 has already started!

That circle above? Other than Marathon and Post Park... it's all inaccessible private ranch.

I'm really thankful that David issued the challenge. The timely nature of a new year and the blossoming/festering expansion of the facebook birding community (not just among Texas birders) as well as the eBirding increase has been something I've been curious about.

Curiosity has, in a few places, given way to exasperation: I've only been a reviewer for eBird for a few months and already I've become disheartened with the lists riddled with errors. ID errors are one thing, but listing 3-4 counties worth of sightings from one 'hotspot' is another. Perhaps it is a symptom of birders traveling outside of their home turf, unaware of county lines; locals seem immune to this error. Perhaps it is a symptom of trip-list or day-list or year-list accumulation. County listing - the Texas Century Club (100 species in 100 counties) - would virtually eliminate this issue if folks were adhering to county list protocol... but I digress.

 What little I've seen in the process of reviewing is that many, many errors are made in the name of Lists - Texas Big Year, Big Year, etc. Several species accounts have brought this to light. A hasty survey in unfamiliar territory leads to many assumptions and many glitches in the data. "Common" birds are overlooked even though they may be out of range (Common Grackle is... uncommon. 75 reports *can* be wrong!). "Rare" birds are reported because of naive excitement (Mexican Jays are not Western Scrub Jays).

Big Years (and Bird-a-day Years) are exhausting, expensive, tail-chasing and sanity-draining. Big Days are lovely substitutes!

Being intimately familiar with one particular territory, on the other hand, lends itself to expanding knowledge. Thorough coverage of a birder's home turf leads to much better regional abundance and diversity and arrival/departure information that is so often overlooked by target birding. Target birding may result in Patagonia effect, but how many "Patagonias" are being overlooked? Competitive listing is killing citizen science* (unless you are doing a county big year, then tip o' the hat and carry on!)

In the name of personal lists, I fear that a lot of useful information and truly interesting sightings are slipping through our collective fingers. Instead, chasers and listers are converging in places that are known, instead of charting new territory. There's certainly data in heavily birded areas, but the more people cover them, the less consistency there is (perhaps the consistency is inconsistency?)

Lest this post further gripe about how everyone enters Brewster and Jeff Davis County birds in Reeves County, here's a lovely screen shot of my plans for 2013.

This circle includes zero traffic lights, 3 train crossings, a cemetery, Post Park, the entire town of Marathon, and one border checkpoint. Should be interesting! Apparently we've already recorded at least 208 species in this area in the last 2.5 years. It's a happy combination of competitive (because apparently that's how birding is these days) and the opportunity to get intimately familiar with your closest surroundings.

 Getting started with your own patch challenge:

Texas Local Patch Challenge - the facebook group

Pick your location - (7.5 mile radius, please!)

New to eBird? It's fascinating.

Instructions on setting up a "patch" in eBird, via David Sarkozi

(shortcut to eBird's patch page if you're already a user)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Looking back on 2012

2012 in review... something of a daunting task, but we generally do a semi-annual update and the timing is about right for one. Let the festival of links begin!

Changes and challenges:

In somewhat exciting news, we've decided to branch out a bit - we've always done informal guiding, but now we've actually listed regional guiding here on the blog. Regardless of skill level, we're more than happy to introduce folks to the birds (and butterflies) or general nature of the region; Marathon is our home turf, but as long as our schedules work out, we're quite happy to help out with Balmorhea, the Davis Mountains and whatever else suits you. Year listers, county listers, target birding or simply soaking up the region - we'd be happy to help. 

It was also in 2012 that eBird reviewing for Reeves and Pecos Counties fell into play: Pecos hasn't even been touched yet, but the learning curve has gone from vertical to... still pretty steep. It's all in the name of progress, right? Speaking of progress, there's another Sul Ross State University grad in the family! After 9 years, 7 moves, 3 schools and 2 states, Heidi finished ~160 hours of a B.A.

This was also the first year that both of us were recruited to co-lead trips for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. For 2011 we were tied up with a booth, so 2012 was a bit more freeing, even if that free time was used to track down speaker/sponsor/leader people for the summer festival!

Last year saw 131 blog posts here, peaking in July with 20 posts. Can't imagine why... we only assembled the finest crew of Texas birders with Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman in attendance!

From left to right: Cameron Carver, Kelly Bryan, Matthew York, Heidi Trudell, Kimberly Kaufman, Kenn Kaufman, and Steve Gross. Mark Flippo disappeared in the photo; ninjas do not show up in photographs. Photo by Patty Pasztor.
Blog factoids and people aside, it was quite a year for birds in our region (roughly Brewster, Jeff Davis and Reeves Counties), including but not limited to:
January - Nutting's Flycatcher, a life bird for both of us!)
April - Swainson's and Hermit Wablers
August - Black-billed Cuckoo, Black-throated Green Warbler
October - Sabine's Gull - another double life bird, Varied Thrush, Surf Scoter and Red Phalarope
November - Williamson's Sapsucker* (usually in Jeff Davis Co, not Marathon!)
December - Red Crossbill - it most certainly has been Winter of the Crossbills, and not just for our region. They've been reported all over the southern states and throughout much of Texas. In December we also snuck off to Lubbock to see a double-life Northern Shrike!

Most cooperative non-passerine of the year goes to a pair of Zone-tailed Hawks that cooperated for the festival, tending to their large nestling (still in nest) in front of a group of ~15 or so folks!

Zone-tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus), photo by Matt York.
...but let's not forget the butterflies that made this year amazing:
Palmer's Metalmark stole the show for the entire summer and well into fall. Common Mestras made an exceptional appearance nearly daily in our yard - not that they ever landed - and made a surge throughout the state. And Big Bend? Diversity was fantastic, and we only made it down there a few times! The festival list was also quite impressive.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia), photo by Matt York.
Moths took on a whole new meaning to us in 2012, with regular sessions: Summer was great for blacklighting big moths and medium moths and little moths, but the fall threw amazing diversity at us. Biggest miss of the year: Mexican Agapema. We must have slept through it. But, really, the mothy highlight of the year: Plagiomimicus olvello, our beloved Planet Arium Moth.

Planet Arium Moth (Plagiomimicus olvello), photo by Matt York.
It will be interesting to see what 2013 brings; we're already off to a good start with more Red Crossbills and a Rough-legged Hawk! Rumor has it that August 8-11 will be the next birding festival out here, but details are still in the works.

Happy New Year and happy trails,
-Heidi & Matt

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Red Crossbills - Hooray

Only have phone camera - Aww

Yesterday, 2 January 2013:

It has been an irruptive species kind of winter.  The birds leading that momentum in west Texas and the trans-Pecos have been Red Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra).

Yesterday, after running errands to beat out the winter precipitation of today, Heidi and I stopped at previously reported Red Crossbill location.  A place rife with conifers. 

Soon after our arrival we saw and heard a loud cloud of a flock flying well above the pines.  They turned back and we lost track of where they landed.

Eventually they descended upon a couple of trees, one of which was near a water hose that could not be completely turned off.

Sweet.  That meant some standing water at a patch of manicured grass.  Twenty-six Red Crossbills were drinking from that spot. All of these photos were taken, by that phone camera, at that water-sourced location.

What was particularly amazing was that they descended to that tree within twenty feet of where I was standing.  Of course this happens when the SLR camera was left at the house.  They were SO CLOSE.  Loud and communicative, they certainly seemed to have a water-drinking hierarchy. 

This led to a very satisfying observation for about 10 minutes.  As far as memorable observation occurrences are concerned,  we should leave that camera at home more often.

Heidi posted about the Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) one post earlier than this.  It was a left-behind camera kind of day, and a great start to a New Year.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Rough-legged Hawk, Brewster Co!

There must be some law of birding (similar to Murphy's) that indicates that the better the bird is, the worse the photos are. Our old blog did feature a lovely collection of really, really good birds in the worst photos ever... this is getting there!

Knowing that tomorrow's weather would likely prevent our run into Alpine for groceries and the weekly CowDog ritual (eat there, it's amazing), we headed into town. With binoculars, but no camera, and the firm intent to pay the internet bill, eat at Cowdog, pick up a few odds and ends and stop at the cemetery before heading back... we got derailed not 10 miles out of town.

Red-tail-sized hawk, pale, streaky head. Bright white breast, SOLID DARK BELLY.

Turn the truck around!

These photos are from Matt's cell phone.  Not too bad, all things considered.

It flushed as we approached; overall pale below, DARK (but not solid) 'wrist' squares stood out the most, along with the dark belly. Tail was pale at the base above and below, with fine barring above, getting darker at the tip... below it was more of a gray smear, without defined barring, but becoming a broad band at the tip of the tail.

My amazing sketching skills from that one time when I thought about being an art major apparently reflect my good decision to NOT be an art major. I blame the running truck on anything that does not appear entirely legible or artistically sound.

...oh, and then after a delicious ritual at CowDog, we ended up face-to-face with 26 Red Crossbills from about 10-15 feet away. But that's for another post!

Edit: For folks curious about the normal winter range of Rough-legged Hawk, they're normal in winter in NW Missouri, where we spend Thanksgiving. I was thrilled to see them every winter when I lived in IL... they're a darn good bird for Texas - here's a map.