Getting Close to Moving Day!

I have been so busy preparing to put our Texas home on the market and move to our summer place in the Great Smoky Mountains that I have not been able to chase some fantastic rarities that have shown up.

Fortunately for my sanity, most of the rarities that I have missed have been one-day wonders and I can at least rationalize my inability to chase with the “It wouldn’t have been there anyway.” excuse. But the string of rare birds has been impressive, and impressively frustrating, nonetheless.

Since returning from my trip to North Carolina (and missing the Texas flamingo pair along the way) there have been the following rarities:

  1. Marsh Sandpiper in CA – too far to chase
  2. Common Crane in NE – too far to chase
  3. Slate-throated Redstart in AZ – not refound
  4. Northern Wheatear in NM – too far to chase
  5. Thick-billed Vireo in FL – not refound
  6. Flame-colored Tanager in AZ – too far to chase
  7. Black-vented Oriole in TX – not refound
  8. Slate-throated Redstart in TX – not refound
  9. Bahama Mockingbird in FL – too far to chase
  10. Fork-tailed Flycatcher in FL – too far to chase
  11. Tufted Flycatcher in TX – not refound
That’s an amazing list for such a short time (12 days)! But it is depressing to think that I was unable to get away because I had to paint or clean something to get ready for selling the house! The activity that kept me stuck in the RGV instead of chasing birds was just too mundane!
This experience illustrates an important point about my Eight Years to 800!? project. I need to be patient. I still have over six years to reach my goal and if 11 rarities can show up in just 12 days, then that gives me hope that I will have many more chances to chase birds once we have made our move and I have the freedom to drop whatever I’m doing and head out after a rarity.
You’ll also notice that I have labeled all of the birds as “too far to chase” or “not refound.” The definition of what is too far to chase will change once we have sold our home and we are traveling more. Then, we can travel farther in search of rarities if we were heading that way or can make an excuse to head that way. But, I’ll still wait until a rarity is confirmed and is found to be fairly reliable before chasing. My budget won’t allow chasing if the bird turns out to be just a one-day wonder. I’d be out of funds very quickly with nothing to show for it that way.

So, patience is the word of the day. Yesterday, we listed the home and our move is just 10 days away. I think I can wait that long to chase rarities … unless some of those TX birds are refound!

Update on the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

San Miguelito Ranch is OPEN and they have owls in the yard!

In my post about finding pygmy-owls I mentioned San Miguelito Ranch and indicated that the website was not working and the ranch was for sale. That is true. The owner, Letty, is no longer using the website (Look for the ranch at San Miguelito Ranch Birding on FaceBook instead.) and the ranch is up for sale. But, after last year’s horrible drought chased away her birds, this year’s wetter weather has brought them back! So NOW is the time to go see them.

Don’t wait. Letty’s season is a brief one. Call her at 956-369-3118 and arrange a visit. The cost is $30 per person. (That’s a BARGAIN!)


Another Disappointing Chase

I tried to chase down the Texas flamingo pair but had no luck.

We are getting close to making the move to our summer place in North Carolina and I had to deliver some furniture and boxes of other stuff there, so I decided to combine the trip with chasing some birds along the way.

My first target was the famous Greater/American Flamingo pair that have been hanging out along the central Texas coast this winter. Almost all of the sporadic reports had been of sightings in areas where access is only by boat and no sightings were newer than several months, so I was excited to read an eBird report of the birds on a unit of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge that is accessible by land.

The birds were seen on the Whitmire Unit, and although the area is accessible by vehicle, unfortunately that unit is not open to the public. The area was not far off my intended route to North Carolina, so I decided to try to see what I could do anyway.

As it turns out, I couldn’t do much. At first I was encouraged by the fact that the Whitmire Unit is very close to the Cox Bay areas where the flamingos had been seen by several fishermen and a few lucky birders fairly recently. But a combination of bad weather, locked gates on every road near the unit, and poor visibility of the shoreline made it clear I was going to have to be very lucky to see my quarry. About the closest I could get to the birds’ reported location was three miles, so unless there was a miracle fly-by, I was out of luck. Alas, no miracles occurred.

I continued on toward NC and made a swing into Houston to check on some reports of manikins, both Nutmeg and Bronze, in the city. The eBird reports mentioned locations such as River Park and Schumann Trails so I was anticipating pleasant walks in city parks and along nature trails as I sought the birds. Wrong. River Park is an upscale, manicured housing development and Schumann Trails is a street in a gated community. The reports apparently were of birds coming to backyard feeders in those neighborhoods, but the birds were not readily accessible to me. Again I had struck out.

But, the remainder of my trip to NC was not without its share of birding adventure. I made stops at Peveto Woods in Louisiana and Dauphin Island in Alabama, two of the premiere spring migration birding spots along the Gulf Coast. The birding was good, but I did not find any rarities for my Eight to 800 quest.

As I made my way to North Carolina, Renee was keeping me up to date on the rare bird alerts and there was some discussion of sightings of a Ruff near Galveston. I had seen the reports but had not made a try for the bird since the jury was still out on whether or not it was indeed a Ruff. I unloaded the van and took care of some maintenance issues on the NC place and returned back to the road with a turn-around time of just four hours, intending to make a try for the Ruff on my return trip if it was confirmed. But, sightings ceased and the last I heard the consensus was that the bird was not a Ruff. Strike three on my rarity chase.

I returned to Houston and made yet another attempt at finding the manikins, this time at Buffalo Run Park in Missouri City, but again was not able to find them. I also made another attempt to see the flamingos, hoping that they had moved out into more accessible feeding locations, but it was so windy no self-respecting bird would be moving anywhere, except for long-distance migrants riding the southeasterlies up to Canada!

All-in-all it was a very frustrating trip. True, I saw lots of birds along the Gulf Coast, but none of them added to my life list. That’s the peril of being a “big number birder,” no matter how many birds you see, if they are not the rarities you need, you end up disappointed. I don’t like that kind of birding very much!

A Boring Map for Rarities So Far This Spring

I sure hope there are still some people following along on this blog. I’d understand, though, if I was writing to myself. There hasn’t been much to write about lately!

The primary constraint to my birding strategy for the quest for 800 species is the budget. Just because I started a new and crazy idea doesn’t mean I won the lottery or something. will stay true to its roots and I’ll only chase my goal with this question in mind: How could a “normal” birder (with a normal budget) get the most birds under the circumstances?

My definition of a normal budget is not a fixed number this time. During our Big Year we set a budget limit at the start. For Eight Years to 800!? I’m playing it by ear. I’m setting a target of trying to take at least one “chasing trip” each month and trying to keep the cost of each trip as low as I can. So far it has worked out to a little more than $500 per month. That’s a number I am comfortable with. Squeezing $500 per month from our regular retirement budget isn’t too hard, especially when you figure in the fact that we don’t have many other recreational expenses besides birding. (That is, we would be spending money to go birding anyway, so it might as well be chasing a rarity.)

If only there were more rarities to chase! Every day, and usually several times a day, I check NARBA and eBird to see what has been seen around the country. The maps have been very sparsely populated this year. I should rephrase that. The maps have been very sparsely populated with species I haven’t already seen this year.

In order to keep costs down, I have made a decision not to chase after a bird unless it is sufficiently rare to warrant it. That means that unless the bird is a Code 4 or 5 species I probably won’t chase it. Even then, I want to see a few days worth of data to judge whether or not the bird will still be there by the time I can reach it. So far, those two criteria have only been met a couple of times.

I can’t (or at least shouldn’t) complain, though. Since the start of the year, I have added 10 new species to my overall list. Three of those were “Code 0 birds,” my designation for non-ABA species (parrots in Brownsville, TX), but even seven birds is good for just three months. The trouble is, it is only going to get harder and harder to add new species as time goes on. I need to get as many species as possible at the start to account for the fact that I will get very, very few at the end.

Practically speaking, however, there is nothing I can do about. If the map is bare (or the birds are too far away to be chased economically) I’ll just have to live with my boredom!