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: A Texas Cannonball Run  ( 11375 )

frakerpovc

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A Texas Cannonball Run
« : February 01, 2011, 09:20:39 PM »
A beautiful sky on this last morning of January at 1312...purples, lavenders, rose...
 
Murders of crows were marauding about making their pre-dawn morning rounds. One of the Cooper's Hawks was making single "Keks" from the yard over.
 
A lot of anticipation in the air this quiet, crisp morning; anticipation for the climactic beast headed our way; anticipation for a spontaneous roadtrip, finalized the night prior and given solid blessing from my lovely wife after Fraker made sure all cats, dogs, and wives that would be on call would be cared for.
 
I took Meredith to meet her mom at Farmer City then returned for some final loose end stuff. I officially entered "The Garden" at 9:03am.
 
My first driving run took me 343 plus miles -- just short of my record from last year; my second run destroyed it at 390 miles non-stop. By day's end, I had covered 915 miles in 13.25 hours for an average driving speed of 69mph. Caloric intake provided by Combos, cheddar popcorn, pistachios, beef jerkey, and a pepper jack deer stick with lots of Sobe 0 calorie Life Waters. No sugar, and no caffeine, and no alcohol (except for the single Fat Tire had while I type this). You can't have any of those and survive 390 miles...
 
My route was I-55 to just north of New Orleans, then west through Baton Rouge to Jennings, La., where I am at now, road weary and numb.
 
No place west of the Gulf is safe from this meteorological monster headed this way. The Rio Grande is expected to see lows in the teens on Thursday. The Texas coast is expected to be total mayhem.
 
 Just my luck...
 
Texas has been hopping with rarities recently. Looks like all of my lifer targets are going to get swept right out the door just as I enter the room.
 
That's why we have a Plan B. If Snow Miser's bigass brother wants to stay in my face and chase me to the LRGV, he's going to have to bring some winter raptors with him.
 
There will be hard-earned adventure either way, even if it means getting skunked on lifers and having to scour howling blizzards for Ferruginous Hawks.

Gonna find something out there...
 
Matt Fraker
Jennings, La
« : February 02, 2011, 10:13:20 PM frakerpovc »
"Temperance, like chastity, is its own punishment"
Pliny the Elder

frakerpovc

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Re: A Texas Cannonball Run
« #1 : February 01, 2011, 09:22:42 PM »
5:30 am. A little sooner than hoped for...
 
Radar check. Drats. My first target bird of this cannonball run was a Fork-tailed Flycatcher at Galveston Island State Park that had been present for three days. Currently about eight severe thunderstorms in a band parallel with the Texas Gulf Coast packing winds up to 60 mph were bearing down on Galveston Island. Fork-tailed Flycatchers don't really need an excuse to depart a sighting location -- they seem to live for it. Add a Texas screamer to their already messed-up reverse migrant mentality and I knew this bird was a goner. But 914 miles into this run, I thought I had better go make sure.
 
I hit the storm band on my way over and it was....interesting. I felt like calling all of the southeast states to give them a heads up that a Fork-tail should be making landfall in about 90 minutes.
I arrived at Galveston Island State Park and drove over to the area that the bird had been frequenting. The storm band had moved on, leaving us with 45 degree weather and howling winds, but decent skies. I and four other birders wondered along the grassy mowed path which the bird had been frequenting for the last couple of days. An Osprey wheeled over our heads:
 

 
And then, shortly after:
 

 
I was completely dumbfounded. This was the only picture I took that wasn't blurry due to the winds -- it was like having a person hitting my elbow every time I tried to take a shot. This bird kept pretty hunkered down and tight to this pond's shoreline. After observing in awe for some period of time, we departed and I took a run up the road looking for a local Ferruginous Hawk that winters here, without success. On my way back, I decided, perhaps selfishly, to go look at this incredible bird one more time, this time having the bird to myself. How often does THAT happen? I think the only person who has a Fork-tailed Flycatcher to themselves is that person who finds one. Whether that's actually true or not, it made sitting with this bird alone for a bit very special. A little sun broke into the tumultuous arena, and the bird maintained its cozy windbreak:
 

 
My next target was about three to four more hours down the coast -- a Yellow-faced Grassquit that had been at Goose Island State Park for the last two days. En route, I encountered a roosting mixed flock of a Great and Snowy Egret, a Little Blue Heron, two White Ibis, about 20 to 25 Roseate Spoonbill, and this Yellow-crowned Night-Heron:
 

 
I arrived at Goose Island at about 2:30pm. I spent just under three hours in the camp loop where the bird had been frequenting with some Goldfinches; in that time, four other birders came and went. The Grassquit never did appear probably because the gusty winds were pretty much keeping most of the sparrows and finches in the thickets. I did find an adult Harris's Sparrow at a nearby feeding station -- I don't think these guys are usually found here on the coast, but I am not completely sure. Either way, it was a bright spot. So was this Great Egret absorbing the setting sun:
 

 
I then finished the day with a drive to Weslaco, which put me just at 600 miles for the day. I'm not mentioning any more target birds because I am afraid I will curse them; or me. That first drop-jaw target bird made this trip worth it.
 
As does knowing what polar apocalypse I left behind in Illinois. My word -- let me know when people start eating each other...
 
Matt Fraker
Weslaco, Tx

Fork-tailed Flycatcher: ABA 662; Texas 236;
« : February 02, 2011, 10:14:15 PM frakerpovc »
"Temperance, like chastity, is its own punishment"
Pliny the Elder

bill rudden

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Re: A Texas Cannonball Run
« #2 : February 02, 2011, 06:52:39 AM »
Cool trip Matt.  Enjoyable read.
Thanks.

Ethan Gyllenhaal

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Re: A Texas Cannonball Run
« #3 : February 02, 2011, 07:50:14 AM »
I hope some of these rarities stick for my spring break trip down there! Not sure how well these tropical rarities will fare, though.

Fran Morel

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Re: A Texas Cannonball Run
« #4 : February 02, 2011, 08:08:02 AM »
thanks for the trip details Matt, and as always, well written

Since I can't see a Fork-tailed, as soon as I get out of this wintery mess, I'm going for some Combos.....

be safe

Fran

Amar Ayyash

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Re: A Texas Cannonball Run
« #5 : February 02, 2011, 03:47:04 PM »
Congrats on the Fork-tailed, Matt. I was recently reading about their "messed-up reverse migrant mentality". I long to see one - sooner than later, I hope.

The miles you put in blow me away! I know birders that fall asleep after 200 miles.

Safe travels!
Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.  -B. Russell
http://anythinglarus.com

Nathan Goldberg

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Re: A Texas Cannonball Run
« #6 : February 02, 2011, 08:16:48 PM »
Great photos!

When I can drive, it may get a little scary on how many miles I will drive.... Good luck on your future excursions!

Nathan

frakerpovc

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Re: A Texas Cannonball Run
« #7 : February 02, 2011, 09:57:24 PM »
Thanks, Bill -- hope it stays entertaining. As soon as the roads allow, I'd go perusing Illinois Longspur flocks if you can...

Ethan -- don't fret -- the current rarities are all dead or gone. Just hope for the next wave of stuff once it warms back-up. There will be a new wave for sure...

Fran -- Combos rock. Not as delicious as a Fork-tailed, but a lot more delicious than cold, empty subtropical forest. The pretzel outer covering is a MUST.

Amar -- Thanks for the congrats, dude. You might actually need the secrets to 300 plus mile driving for your next "Rare Gull" drive. If it's a box I need to check, would you let me drive?

Nathan -- on these long drives, urinary catheters are not allowed by the rules. Thanks for the good luck wish. Few know how desperately that blessing is needed on these adventures. And I think we all agree wholeheartedly that it will definitely be a "little scary" when you can drive... ;)
« : February 02, 2011, 10:15:33 PM frakerpovc »
"Temperance, like chastity, is its own punishment"
Pliny the Elder

frakerpovc

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Re: A Texas Cannonball Run
« #8 : February 02, 2011, 10:04:46 PM »
I love it down here. Even if the windchill is in the twenties. Even if this is shutting all bird activity down. This is a unique place.
 
But wait...there's an odor here; it's acrid. It burns my eyes. Last time I smelled this I was....on Lake Erie...
 
Let me explain. Years ago, on one of my many wonderful walkabouts with "Hobbs", we were on our return from a late Fall east coast run and we camped on the south shore of Lake Erie just east of Toledo. As I set camp, I let "Hobbs" cruise around as always. Nearing the finish of getting our tent up, I saw him getting into that weird excited "Hobbs" as the light had faded. Then I saw the dancing skunk that "Hobbs" was using his nose to perform a rectal exam upon.
 
"HOBBS NO!!!" but it was too late, and my canine companion was rubbing around in the grass fruitlessly trying to remove the skunk butt pasting he had just absorbed.
 
Now....I had to sleep with this unfortunate beast in my little tent and then drive 8 hours back home to my first wife. It was...rough. But by morning, I realized that he actually had not been tagged that bad. I could barely smell any skunk upon him. So I drove home, hitting a McD's on the way, make it back, yell up to our second story apartment to my wife that we are thankfully home...
 
And she says -- from the TOP of the stairs -- "DO NOT come up here!! You are both HORRIBLE!! GO WASH THAT OFF!!"
 
What I failed to realize is that if you expose yourself to strong skunk stink you can completely desensitize to it. So I had driven eight or so hours, stopped at a McDonald's and made my small talk, bought gas, all while burning out skunk stink unknowingly. Lord only knows what the people thought who were stuck dealing with me. Hobbs and Fraker...a moment in time...
 
I digress to make a point. That point is that this day in this wonderful surreal and borderland valley almost...ALMOST....reeked of skunk today...
 
Let me explain...
 
I started this day -- 30's on the thermometer, teens to 20's with windchill -- at the Estero Llano Grande State Park seeking the White-throated Thrush that has been regular here. I think I am going to start a new list of "People Who Just Had Great Looks at the Bird I am Seeking"; I might co-title this list, "People I Shot While Birdwatching".
 
I spent about two hours looking for this bird to use the privately owned bird bath that it had been frequenting, and looking for it in the surrounding brush, trees, thickets, and park "water features", all without success. I did find an Ovenbird skulking about which I think is not a common wintering bird here.
 
I would also like to note that light was TERRIBLE today -- please forgive that upon the following pictures.
 
Next was that Texas mistress, Santa Ana, to look for Groove-billed Ani (which is fairly becoming a nemesis bird for me based on the time I have spent in this valley sans Ani) and Blue Bunting (of which a pair had been found within a mixed group of wintering buntings). Nobody was hoofing today because of the chill. I roamed all the way out to the Jaguarundi Trail where these bunting flocks had been seen.
 
Early on, after crossing the bridge (where a nice Clay-colored Thrush posed briefly), I encountered this Black-crested Titmouse (like I have said before -- unlike our Tufteds, these guys always shyly seem to be one layer in):
 

 
and this Blue-headed Vireo:
 

 
Way out on the Jaguarundi Trail, I took this pic of a Common Ground-Dove -- I like this pic because it shows a most underappreciated plumage feature of our Common Ground-Doves -- the deep blue "spattering" on the wing feathers:
 

 
I also encountered two Pyrrhuloxia, including this humble beauty:
 

 
On my return, I stalked this Long-billed Thrasher:
 

 
I am very upset as I accidentally deleted a much better photo than this of this bird.
 
After whiffing on both Blue Bunting and Groove-billed Ani, I next headed to the Allen Williams Landscape in Pharr, Tx. This two acre privately owned yard right smack dab in the middle of Pharr provides some lovely city-isolated natural landscape. Here I found several Orange-crowned Warblers including this bird:
 

 
and this Curve-billed Thrasher:
 

 
and this wonderful Golden-fronted Woodpecker:
 

 
BUT...the reason I came to this yard was for this:
 

 
a female Crimson-collared Grosbeak (World: 1006; ABA: 663; Tx: 241)
 
Suddenly that skunk odor began to dissipate...
 
After this place I headed to Bentsen to expectingly await the regular afternoon feeding of the Black-vented Oriole. I did manage some fading light time at the Park feeding station where this Altamira Oriole teenager was citrus grubbing:
 


After going to sit and watch the Coral Bean Trees for 90 minutes, I was thrilled that today was the first day in almost two months this bird was not seen.

Tonight I did confirm some recommendations. If anyone is down here and wants an insanely delicious four-five star meal, go to the Santa Fe Steakhouse in McAllen on 10th street behind the IHOP; try to get Irma as your waitress (they have a salad dressing that is phenomenal in her name). No hats or caps!

Tomorrow is supposed to be colder. I know that no sympathy flows from Apocalypse Central. Do know it's weird as Hell having been down here several times to be down here when it's like this. Your mind tells you to look for wintering Illinois birds; not Pauraques, doves, Green Jays. Anis, etc.!

It's like describing Gary Busey by using the weather...

Gary's going to be on his stuff tomorrow, y'all (as freezing rain is the forecast)!

Matt Fraker
McAllen, Tx
02/02/11
« : February 03, 2011, 05:17:40 AM frakerpovc »
"Temperance, like chastity, is its own punishment"
Pliny the Elder

Dan Williams

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Re: A Texas Cannonball Run
« #9 : February 03, 2011, 09:36:30 AM »
Hi Matt,

Terrific pix!  Thanks for sharing them. 

I can feel your pain (no, not the skunk odor) regarding frozen conditions in the Valley.  February 1989--Captain Ted had to cancel his Whooping Crane morning trip because the crew was scraping 1" of ice off of the boat!  Causeways in Corpus Christi closed because of ice on the bridges and they ran out of sand.  Entrance at Santa Ana NWR had a sign:  "Caution: trails may be icy."  If you seen stuff like that, please get some photos!

Glad to hear that you are having fun!

Dan

DDolan1075

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Re: A Texas Cannonball Run
« #10 : February 03, 2011, 10:39:23 AM »
Hey Matt, posted on NABF but thought there may be more response here.  If you are coming back up through Houston, let me know.  I would love to meet you.  Was planning on being out there for the flycatcher at the same time that you were there but had an emergency surgery come up, so actually missed you by 24 hours on the flycatcher as I went yesterday.  Was thinking of going to see the grassquit this weekend, but the weather may be a factor even if it is still there.  Good luck on your trip.

Bruce Heimer

Re: A Texas Cannonball Run
« #11 : February 03, 2011, 11:18:34 AM »
Fraker,you animal!

I can't wait for your next post! You written any books?

frakerpovc

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Re: A Texas Cannonball Run
« #12 : February 03, 2011, 06:34:11 PM »
Dan --

I am now seeing stuff like that...

It's a disaster down here. Everything started icing up around 5pm; LITERALLY -- almost every bridge down here had a 1 to 7 car wipe-out. They closed 83 and 77 (the main east-west and north-south) because of the bridges and moved all traffic to those parallel service roads. I tried to make a break north but finally called it quits by Raymondville. I've been doing this way too long to know when I HAVE to be stupid and when I can CHOOSE to be stupid.

My first trip down here I was in college; heck that was before cell phones. I know this because on my return, a massive ice storm froze everything from the Missouri bootheel to south central Texas. I drove like 30 plus hours or something -- 20 mph max on the frozen interstates from Texas to Missouri on an otherworldly all nighter. It was mind numbing -- I'd see a place was "only" 20 miles away (e.g 20 minutes) and it would be over an hour before I got there. There were Red Cross stations everywhere. The trailers on the semis would broom sweep to the sides on the ice clearing anything in their path off the road. I was in a little Honda Civic. I was trying to get home before Christmas (which is why I chose to run this alien gauntlet). I couldn't get to any pay phones because everyone was using them. My parents knew I would be smart enough to get off the roads. That's why I waited until the next morning to tell them I made it to thawed road and would be home soon.

And now I hear we may have another blizzard coming in this Saturday. Maybe Sherri and the boys need some more bonding time...

...while Dolan and I go CHASE MORE BIRDS YAAAAAY!! It would be like "The Shining" at my house if I pulled that...

Doctor Dave -- sorry we missed each other on this run! I might try to swing back through here in March "on my way" back from Florida to try to catch Golden-cheeks and Black-caps. Maybe we can get our paths crossed then. WAIT! I KNOW! Let me see one of your clients while I'm in Texas so I can write the entire thing off!

Heimer -- do you have to buy the photo the police take of you or do they give it to you for free? By the way -- I'm having one with you right now, Mr. Heimer!

Alright -- time to get working on today's stuff...

« : February 03, 2011, 09:25:11 PM frakerpovc »
"Temperance, like chastity, is its own punishment"
Pliny the Elder

DDolan1075

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Re: A Texas Cannonball Run
« #13 : February 03, 2011, 08:37:31 PM »
My first driving run took me 343 plus miles -- just short of my record from last year; my second run destroyed it at 390 miles non-stop. By day's end, I had covered 915 miles in 13.25 hours for an average driving speed of 69mph. Caloric intake provided by Combos, cheddar popcorn, pistachios, beef jerkey, and a pepper jack deer stick with lots of Sobe 0 calorie Life Waters. No sugar, and no caffeine, and no alcohol (except for the single Fat Tire had while I type this). You can't have any of those and survive 390 miles...


Hey Matt,  I know that you are in the medical field, as I  am, and so I will let you know as well as anybody else reading this post, that you need to get out of the car for a couple minutes every hour or so to get the circulation going in your legs.  I know from personal experience.  I got a Deep Vein Thrombosis (blood clot) in my legs which then broke off and went to my lungs (Pulmonary Embolism) from driving non-stop round trip from Houston to Dallas and back.  For those who don't know, a lot of people die from this.  I recommend aspirin before and during trips like that, but I am not an MD, so ask your doctor what to do in those cases.

 OK back to the trip report!

frakerpovc

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Re: A Texas Cannonball Run
« #14 : February 03, 2011, 10:28:09 PM »
And I thought yesterday's weather was bad....

I've had warmer hugs than this from topless witches...

As I write this, winds outside are pushing water out of the pool (which is why I did not go for a swim tonight). "Winter Storm Warning". Texas is NOT where one wants to be during a Winter Storm Warning unless you are driving your demolition derby car to your next event.

I started this day at the RV park next to Bentsen to see if the Black-vented Oriole would choose to feed on the "dependable" Coral Bean Trees. The couple from Ontario that was going into its third multi-hour watch for this bird was present; we three were it. For about an hour we chatted and recounted; it was during a Fraker regaling of the 1998 Attu trip that the bird landed in the right Coral Bean Tree; (World 1007; ABA 664; Texas 242)



If pooping one's britches is a form of prayer than these two, who deserved this bird more than anyone, were kneeling at the altar. This bird fed for no more than three or four minutes and it was off. We headed out and relocated the bird in another Coral Bean Tree located at the spot called "the post office":



No skunky funk ambience today...

I then headed back to Estero Llano Grande State Park to do a White-throated Thrush watch at the private residence just off the south side of the Park. The bird was most dependable hitting a bird bath these folks had out. I first went to the visitor's center; there is a nice pond overlook that provided diverse waterfowl including the South Shore Fulvous 'Hood:



and the North Shore Black-bellied 'Hood:



On my way out I heard a Buff-bellied Hummingbird behind me and I found this gemstone with feathers:



Here is a YouTube video of this bird:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_ItgufgevY[/youtube]

Hiking out to the Thrush spot through the Tropical Area, I found this female Pine Warbler:



Cooler yet by a long shot was this "dominica" Yellow-throated Warbler:





This is the southeastern race of this Warbler (notice the yellow lores and the yellow chin -- no white at all below the bill) and apparently there are very few documented records of this race in the LRGV area. (Some quick clean-up notes -- Harris's Sparrow apparently is regular along the coast where I found one; Ovenbird is uncommon to rare as a wintering bird here; this Winter has seen more reports than usual -- I want to thank Susan Billetdeaux from NARBA for providing me such prompt feedback on all of my questions and reports).

While doing my first two hour stand and wait and get real damn chilly Thrush watch this male Pine Warbler came in:



One of the Park volunteers, Huck, took me to this yard -- look in the red circle:



Here is a closer look at this Common Pauraque:



Back at the stand and look at the birdbath spot, this Lincoln's Sparrow gave me brave viewing:



I decided to take another run at Santa Ana for Blue Bunting and Groove-billed Ani. Anis LOVE really cold weather...

At the Visitor's Center, I managed these two pics of a couple of LRGV iconics --

Altamira Oriole adult:



and, of course, Green Jay:



Both of these birds are color phenoms.

Hiking the mile plus out to the Jaguarundi trail, I encountered these two Long-billed Thrashers:





I actually did find a Bunting flock right where the Blue Buntings have been being seen, but today I could only discern three Indigos; this probably was THE flock that had the Blues, but by now a very fine mist had started and these birds were staying tight to cover. I continued on into further decent Bunting habitat and found this wild feline on the path:



Here is a short clip of this sauntering Bobcat:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sp9NdBtEmA[/youtube]

It had just ingested a Common Ground-Dove, which I confirmed with feathers, gizzard and intestines.

On my return to the parking lot, I found another gorgeous male Pine Warbler:



a fluffing Yellow-rumped Warbler:



and another "one layer back" Black-crested Titmouse:



I then returned to the Estero Llano birdbath and spent yet another hour watching a White-throated Thrush not come into view.

I had initially planned on returning through north central Texas and SW Oklahoma to look for Ferruginous, "Harlan's" and Rough-leggeds. Judging from the howling wind outside, I might be looking for that Thrush some more...
« : February 05, 2011, 12:10:33 PM Greg Neise »
"Temperance, like chastity, is its own punishment"
Pliny the Elder

 

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