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Archive for November, 2011

Birding Uvalde

It was a cold morning when we set out from Castroville last Saturday. Ten of us were in the van, probably not all of us awake. Glenn scanned the sky as it turned yellow with dawn. He spotted a Crested Caracara, and Alasdair sitting behind him spotted four Red-tailed Hawks.

Red-tailed Hawk photo by Alasdair Brown.
 The sun was up by the time we arrived at a feedlot north of Sabinal. Dove and blackbirds swirled above the cattle, who blinked at us as we aimed our binoculars over their backs. Now and then a pick-up truck rumbled by and we covered the lenses of our cameras and binocs to keep them from the dust.

Glenn led us past the feedlot toward some open fields, his scope on his shoulder and his gaze toward a fence behind which stood a wild array of trees and bushes. Suddenly he froze—he turned and motioned. “Come up here,” he called. We crept forward and stood still behind him. We waited. We thought we saw a flutter, but nothing appeared. “It was a Pyrrhuloxia,” he said. “Let’s keep looking.” We walked down further, all ten of us scanning the scrub, but he didn’t reappear.

Glenn turned our attention to the fields, where we saw Great-tailed Grackle; Red-winged Blackbird; Brown-headed Cowbirds in a live oak, their calls sounding like dripping water; Brewer’s blackbirds with their alarming yellow eyes—and then, to everyone’s delight, two Say’s Phoebe that landed near the top of a hackberry to look about and leave us breathless and stunned. Alastair pointed north, where a flock of Sandhill Cranes etched a silent line. Then to the west we saw a fast and looser line Glenn told us were Greater White-fronted Geese.

Savannah Sparrow photo by Alasdair Brown.

Nearby we caught a Savannah Sparrow perched on a fence, then the piercing cry of a Killdeer rang out—we looked up to catch five or six rushing south; later we watched them feeding in a nearby field. We headed back toward the feedlots, where along the way Chipping, Clay-Colored, and Lincoln’s Sparrows hopped into view—but only for an instant.

We drove to Concan, where along the Frio River’s

Eastern Phoebe photo by Paula Dittrick.

white-pebbled shores we saw Black Phoebe, Eastern Phoebe, and a Belted Kingfisher perched to rest between hunts. Here we caught Lesser Goldfinch and Common Ravens that soared above the red and yellow foliage of cypress and sycamore.

Next we drove to some cabins nearby where under an oleander we watched in wonder as White-crowned and Lark Sparrow hopped about amongst the branches—and then, much to our delight, in came the nondescript but utterly elegant Canyon Towhee, a rare sparrow-like bird that was “A Lifer” for almost all of us. We saw some movement in a tall clump of yucca—we approached carefully, for it seemed like they were sparrows. They were, but they were House Sparrows—beautiful, but available any day of the year out any window.

When we finished looking, Glenn said, “Okay, guys, we have two options. Do you all want to eat lunch, or did you just want to skip it and bird until dinner?” Glenn smiled at the look of concern he aroused in us. It was almost noon and we hadn’t eaten since before dawn, but nobody wanted to be the first to demand our rights and possibly sound like merely a casual birder.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker photo by Paula Dittrick.

A brave member of our group, Henri, spoke up: “Let’s have lunch,” she said.

 “Okay, fine,” Glenn said and headed back toward the van. “But you’re going to have to blindfold me.” None of us had a blindfold with us, so within fifteen seconds, Glenn was on another bird. “Male house finch in that sage,” he said. He pointed and we raised our binoculars. There it was, a spray of red amidst silvery green leaves small as petals. Amazing.
 
He flew and we looked for him in a cedar, but some Eastern Bluebirds distracted us, then a Golden-fronted Woodpecker landed on a bare trunk not forty feet away. He hopped in view a long time, as if daring us to snap more pictures.

Henri pointed at Glenn, who was near the van. “Look, he’s gone on without us and here we are still birding. This never happens. No one would believe us,” she said.

For lunch we ate at Neal’s Lodges, then afterward from a bridge caught a Green Kingfisher plunging back and forth above the Frio, in search of his own meal.

Great Kiskadee photo by Bill Matthews.

We headed on to Cook’s Slough outside Uvalde where we saw Pied-billed Grebe; Double-crested Cormorant; Green and Blue-winged Teal; Harris’, Cooper’s, and Sharp-shinned Hawks; the Ringed Kingfisher; Great Kiskadee; and Long-billed Thrasher, which made a rough, raw call from a bush, which Henri said sounded like someone clearing his throat. With the sun heading down, we drove back to Castroville, happy at having seen sixty species since the last time the sky was yellow.

Written by Elizabeth White.

Note: More of Paula Dittrick’s photos may be viewed at http://pmdittrick.zenfolio.com. Alasdair Brown’s photos may be viewed at http://skepticalscot.smugmug.com/Nature/Nov11-Uvalde-Trip/20022138_r9CVSW.

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