Looking Forward to a Year-ending Trip to the Eastern US

The RGV has quieted down after the excitement of the Thanksgiving holiday and we have been under the weather with “chest colds” so there is nothing new to report. But, we hope that we’ll have a chance to see some eastern specialties over the Christmas holiday.

Our son, Allan, graduates from Cornell University in December and we’ll be there to see his big day. Following that, what better way to celebrate than a visit to the famed Sapsucker Woods for some winter birding? (Well, for us anyway.) Then, it’s off for holiday visits to family in New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Florida – a regular smorgasbord of East Coast birding opportunities (with free lodgings to boot!) Let’s just hope that a rarity or two turns up during our whirlwind tour.

This final birding opportunity of 2014 will easily push my Year List over 500 species, but I’ll have to be extremely lucky to hit my Life List goal of 700 species by the end of the year. Still, in the first year of my Eight Years to 800!? project, I’ve done fairly well. I have added 32 species to my list during 2014, bringing my total to 693, just 7 less than my round-number goal.

Unfortunately, I have not done too well on the Code 3+ rarities. For the most part, I did not chase many rarities unless they were very close to me; and when I did chase later in the year I had a success rate of only about 35%. Let’s just say it has been a learning experience. I hope I’ll do better from here on out. I’ll need to to get anywhere close to 800 in just 5.5 more years!

On the budget front, I did fairly well. I expect my birding-related expenditures will be about $6000 for the year. That’s about what we normally spend for travel in a given year. Future expenses will need to be much higher, especially since we will be making some trips to Alaska in the coming years.

We have planned a two-month visit to AK for 2015 and our costs estimate is about $12000. Not all of that will be for birding, but considering that we did an entire Big Year for about $10000, Alaska is a budget buster!

The RGV Comes Through …

… with not one, but two rarities during our first month back!

The Thanksgiving holiday was a pretty spectacular one for birds in the Rio Grande Valley. First, at about noon on turkey day, a MEGA rarity was reported at Estero Llano Grande State Park. About a half-hour later the Red-legged Honeycreeper was reported on NARBA. This is a potential Code 5 rarity that has appeared in the ABA area before (in FL) but which has, so far, not been accepted by the state bird record committee and, therefore, is not yet on the ABA list. It is possible, even likely, that the Estero bird will also be rejected as an escaped cage bird, but it’s presence sparked a birding frenzy during a busy birding holiday!

I was home nursing a chest cold, not wanting to infect the whole holiday gang, while Renee was at Thanksgiving dinner with friends. I wasn’t feeling too well and birding was the farthest thing from my mind, but when Renee called to tell me that she had just received a phone call from our friends Larry and Judy Geiger (as relayed by Ben from the Parks and Wildlife Department) that a honeycreeper was at Estero Llano Grande, I recovered remarkably fast and was out the door in 10 minutes!

The bird had been seen two or three times by the time I arrived at the park but it was far from regular and the views had been fairly brief. A small group of birders were staked out at the original site and we settled in to wait. Throughout the afternoon the birder numbers grew, but the honeycreeper did not reappear on Thursday.To add the the excitement, during the stakeout a report came in that a Fork-tailed Flycatcher was at Laguna Atascosa NWR, about 50 miles away.

On Friday, Renee and I went to Laguna first. We arrived at about 7:45 and drove along the entrance road where the bird had been reported. On our first pass we spotted one Scissor-tailed Flycatcher but not the Fork-tailed Flycatcher. We turned around at the end of the entrance road and headed back for a second pass. This time, we spotted a small group of cars ahead of us and hurried up to see what had attracted them. Sure enough, it was the Fork-tail!

As you can see from the photo, this was a beautiful adult bird with a splendid forked tail to live up to its name.

Since we had seen the Laguna bird at 8:20 am, we still had plenty of time to head over for another attempt at the honeycreeper. We arrived at Estero about 10:00 and I joined the stakeout again. This time, after about two-and-a-half hours, the bird made another of its brief visits to its original “favorite tree.” The view was brief, but definitive, but there was definitely not enough time for a photo. Throughout the rest of the day, and even on Saturday, I spent more time trying to get a photo, without success. The bird was seen during that time but it never became a regular visitor to any location.

As I write this, I have not seen a positive report on the honeycreeper for two days and the flycatcher also appears to be gone. I was certainly fortunate to see both of these rarities in one day on Friday.

It almost makes up for the horrid luck I had earlier this fall.