Friday, January 29, 2016

A Broken Pencil

In the afternoon Paul had to make a run to the McAllen airport to pick up Carolee who was returning from a business trip to Minnesota, so we decided to drive the five miles down to the Santa Ana NWR and spend the morning birding, particularly trying to see if we could get a look at the Groove-billed Anis which had been sighted there. They would not be first life sighting for any of us, but they are interesting birds and are relatively rare. 

Due to my affection for sleep and love of my morning coffee it was about 8:00 before we actually got on the road. (My lollygagging would later prove to be an issue.) Arriving at Santa Ana we walked the shortcut road toward Pintail Lake. As we emerged from the path through the scrub we were greeted by a beautiful morning.

I do not pretend to be a great photographer. I do my best with the equipment I have and I try to post interesting photos and occasionally some reasonably good pictures. With modern equipment it would seem to be easy. Here is reality, for every picture that looks like it fell out of the National Geographic, there is a boatload of pictures that are out of focus, an empty perch for a bird that just flew, a bird turned around so it doesn't seem to have a head, branches blocking eyes. Etc. Etc.

Almost a Ruby-crowned Kinglet
A mixed bad of headless ducks
Find the Pipit

Pipits - let's talk about Pipits. Pipits look vaguely like sparrows, but they are not closely related. Distributed worldwide, in America we have two species, the Sprague's Pipit and the American Pipit. The books list the American as "common" (yeah, common if you happen to see them), the Sprague's as "uncommon and local". Yesterday on the Brushline Road we saw a couple of Sprague's doing a spectacular mating flight, the pair flying straight up 10 or 15 feet, twisting, turning, spinning about each other - then dropping straight down out of sight into the weeds. Last night Paul reported the location sighted to a rare Texas bird sight. They are uncommon enough that in the next couple of days there will likely be birders up on Brushline to see them and check them off their life list or simply look at them. The Sprague's are doing their mating rituals because they nest here. Do the American Pipits do a mating flight too? Hell, I don't know; probably, but they nest far up on the Arctic tundra and I am not sure what they do up there.

American Pipit

Birders across the marsh, up to and including a Mennonite mother and her babies.

A broken pencil on the trail

Paul is a diligent counter, recording every bird species and the number of each species sighted in his little spiral bound notebook. He enters them on Excel spread sheets for his own information, reports them to eBird maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the unusual ones (yesterday a Green-tailed Towhee and the Sprague's Pipit) to the Texas rare bird alert. 

Why is this an issue? We had to leave and we had 69 species for the morning. Because I was slow to get started this morning we didn't have 70 or 75 species or whatever frickin' even number you want to pick. ;-) I am not a bird counter. Most experienced birders seem to be. That Ticonderoga No.2 in the path may have been dropped accidentally, or it may have been broken in frustration, either by a bird recorder or by the people who birding with him who may have selected it as a potential murder weapon.  

Who's counting?, Gunnar

P.S. We didn't see the Anis.

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