We've worked closely with Paul C. of Ohio during the planning phases of his trip - in exchange for a trip report! No modifications have been made, save correcting Lark Buntings from a typo of Lark Sparrows as requested.
TEXAS TRIP (CENTRAL, SOUTHWEST) - 2 MAY 2015
I confess it has been awhile since I have done a trip report. For a long time, over a span of 18 years, I had enjoyed doing week-long birding trips in the Lower 48, getting lifers by, well, by the 'bunches' (the smallest was 5 - the largest was 28) - well, the last such trip was to Western Washington in 2009, and I knew after that it would be at most two or maybe three lifer prospects per 4-or-5 day trip (and thus less to write about in a trip report...) but at Heidi Trudell's suggestion, I 'take up keypad' once again, and write a few things about my recent Texas trip:
My lifer prospects for this trip were Colima and Golden-cheeked Warbler - wouldn't mind a Black-capped Vireo, but I had that one from a (incidental) visit to Austin in 1994. I flew in to San Antonio Sat 2 May - arrived about 10:50 AM. Wow, an early arrival, certainly early enough to do some birding prior to getting settled in for the first night. I plan ahead for these trips, but I would not say 'meticulously' - as one might suppose, deciding in what ORDER to try for these two birds was no small part of the planning - driving times, overnight stays, etc. would depend greatly on which order was chosen. Months ago, I picked Sun night as my Chisos Mtn Lodge reservation, i.e. sort of in the middle (to hedge my bet). With the help of eBird, I saw a few places in/near San Antonio that had recent reports of multiple G-C Ws, and by this time such reports would surely mean birds on territory.
After getting the rent-a-car, I immediately set out to the closest stop, noticing that the ubiquitos White-winged Doves seem to replace what would be pigeons in the eastern and midwest US cities. I arrive at Crownridge Canyon Park at about 12:10, and start hiking around - don't know exactly where to look, just looking for oak/juniper areas... Most bird species here are eastern, except for a (uncooperative) Hutton's Vireo or two. After about two hours here, I decide to hop just a few miles north, to Friedrich Wilderness Preserve. An Audubon's Oriole is a nice find, at a small water bath - more Hutton's Vireo's are heard but not seen. At about 3:20, I hear a warbler song that sounds something between a Black-thr Green and Black-thr Blue - some persistence results in a great look at a Golden-cheeked Warbler! (lifer 645)
This is working out great! I was close to having to consider cancelling my reservation at the Fort Stockton Motel 6, in order to allow for an early AM outside Austin at the more reliable Balcones Canyonlands NWR spot for G-C (which in turn would leave the remainder of Sun for the long drive to Big Bend, which in turn would push my first try for Colima into Mon AM...) ...OR having to consider heading to Big Bend without the G-C yet - but instead, I stop and buy food/supplies, have supper, and it has been a long day but, with the G-C now 'in the bag', the drive to Fort Stockton doesn't seem too bad at all!
Overnight at Fort Stockton, then it's US 385 south toward Big Bend National Park. Although trying to make time, I do a bit of light birding as I head south - the habitat is mostly grassland, and Cassin's Sparrows are on territories. After awhile, I come across some Scaled Quail - COOL, have seen only one before this, in Arizona 22 years ago! A few lingering Lark Buntings in breeding plumage - also a sight rarely had prior for Yours Truly. The grasslands later give way to semi-arid desert vegetation, and I enter for the first time the famous Big Bend NP.
Before long, I am into the Chisos Mtns starting up the Pinnacles Trail. White-throated Swifts are one of the most conspicuous birds on the way up, both visually and vocally. A Dusky Flycatcher is identified as much by elimination of other empidonax as it is by its own appearance. This is no leisurely hike, as I was warned about, made no easier that I'm trying to make time, to maximize time to look for the Colima... It is about three hours in, about 1:00, and - an unfamiliar warbler song, and shortly thereafter, a small crowd of birders informs me that, YES, they have a Colima there! A diagnostic look in bad light, then shortly later, a better look - Colima Warbler! (646) They usually say sounds like Orange-crowned Warbler, but to me this one was more reminiscent of a different red-capped congener, Nashville. A calling Whip-poor-will in this same area was a neat bonus.
I hiked a bit further, past the end of the Pinnacles Trail and onto the Boot Canyon Trail, but found no further Colima's - a Canyon Wren was nice... but what can I say? It is mid-afternoon in my second day, and I have both target birds checked off! Couldn't go much better. I am back down at the Lodge about five hours after I started. The hike didn't surprise me too much, had much similar in years past living near the southern California mountains - but I'm older now and certainly wouldn't want this hike every other day! Some storm clouds to the west eventually arrived with a rain shower. A nice nap, supper, and a bit more leisurely birding (and Scott's Orioles!) finished off the evening.
Overnight at the (expensive) Chisos Mtn Lodge. After very cooperative weather so far, this morning is very windy, and so I abandon plans to bird the Park more today, and start heading back to San Antonio. A nice Varied Bunting was found before I left the park - but bird-finding was much reduced for the rest of the day, including even at Amistad NRA... some Lesser Nighthawks near dusk near Del Rio were seen but not heard.
Overnight in Del Rio, and plenty of time to get back to San Antonio for the final night. Some rain /drizzle was now added to the wind, but all this finally let up a bit later in the day. At one stop, heard what sounded like a Bunting - would it be Lazuli? or Indigo? - was I far enough east? Got on the bird, and the surprise for today, a STUNNING Painted Bunting! Gee, didn't even think about THAT one, didn't know they occcur this far west - only the second breeding male Painted I have ever seen!
Overnight in San Antonio, and a very early flight back to Detroit. Just under 1000 miles on the rental car. The trip list fell short of 100 - was pleased to get to 96 considering the poor weather the latter half of the trip (which sure made me think "Geez - sure glad I got Golden-cheeked out of the way first - wouldn't want to have to track one down in THIS weather.") I saw more roadrunners this trip than my entire life previously. Lastly, the person who encouraged me to do this report is the same person whose information and tips were critical to my success (THANKS AGAIN, Heidi).
Getting life birds: has been a bit like doing a very long set of push-ups - the early-on ones came easier and quicker, but the later ones, although more spaced-out and tougher, are a bit more gratifying when they DO come :-)