Post-Colorado Update

Its been quite a while since my last update (California). Certainly not a reflection of not having much to report on. In fact its hard for me to remember all of the places I’ve been and all the birds I’ve seen. There was a productive week in Arizona, a highly successful migration week in Texas, and a ten-day Colorado sojourn which I’ll talk about now. If I don’t skip to Colorado, I’ll never catch up.

But I’ll give a snapshot about today – 17 April (though I’m writing this ‘tomorrow’ [18th] from the boat at Dry Tortugas, Florida Keys). After getting back from Walden area in the mountains, unsuccessfully owling along the way to Denver airport – arriving 1:30AM, I managed to get to Delta check-in plenty early for my 9AM flight to Key West. But guess what? There’s a limit of one suitcase per traveller to Key West.

The good news was that occasional workmate and continuous pal Murray Scott joined me in Houston on 1 April for the above-mentioned big week on coastal Texas, whereafter we flew to Denver to commence our ambitious high-country mission. I’d been communicating Texas-based US birder and ABA board member Bill Sain since last year about meeting up during a so-called Colorado chicken-run. He and his cousin Sue drove up from Texas and got to the designated motel in Holly – a remarkable little town in the SE Colorado prairielands in time for a good night’s sleep before our pre-dawn rendezvous. Murray and I weren’t so lucky, getting in much later after our late arrival in Denver and the four hour drive to Holly. But we boarded the refitted yellow school bus at 4:30, and in a group of 13 or so birders, were driven by a veteran farmer and Lesser Prairie-chicken guide. As is would be the way two days later, a few hundred miles north, for Greater-prairie Chicken, we would sit quietly in a bus adjacent to known ‘lek’ (any area where game-birds congregate for springtime mating rituals) and await daybreak, and arrival of the pretentious males and seemingly disinterested females. At the Lesser Prairie-chicken lek, things were looking grim until well after sunrise, when finally, at quite a distance, we could see several males doing their odd dancing – tails up, chest balloons puffed to bursting, and little feet tap-tap-tapping. The experience with the much more abundant Greater Prairie chicken two mornings later was much more satisfying, in that there were at least forty birds, mostly males, that carried on with great pomp and dignity from pre-dawn until we’d had enough, two hours or so later. At this site we actually left the bus before first light and assembled in a converted trailer with an open front from ceiling halfway down to the floor. 24 of us sat on wooden benches and watched the show. At both leks Murray and I received a few ‘shooshes’ and sideways looks for wisecracking in whisper form that was supposedly putting the behaviour of the chooks at risk.

For the Greater Prairie-chicken mission out of Wray (another fantastic town, this one in the upper right corner of the State) we first had to attend a briefing by our guide – Wendy, from Colorado State Wildlife. Wendy is a conservation biologist who has worked with the Prairie Chickens and Sage Grouses for quite some time. That’s nice, but the more interesting fact is that Wendy is a dead ringer for Sandra Bullock. Murray talked her into posing for a photo-op behind steering wheel of the school bus, commemorating ‘her’ role in the breakout film in which she (Sandra) has to drive a booby-trapped bus through a major city, with the challenge that if the bus slows to below 50mph an enormous bomb will explode.

While out on the prairies Murray and I chased up a few leads and added some good birds to my year-list, the most important being Mountain Plover (remember my story about chasing Mountain Plovers (I mistakenly said Mountain Quail) way out in the boonies, based on an eBird report that was wrong – those birds, all 23 of them, were American Golden Plovers. Anway, Murray and I got up close and personal with several of the ‘real deal’ nomadic rarities. I’d left my camera at the motel, but Murray kindly made his camera available so I could ‘click’ a few rounds for my purposes.

After Holly in the SE corner of the state, then Wray in the NE, we headed west to the Pawnee Grasslands, where Robyn, Arnie and I had done some birding last September. We bumped into Bill and Sue, just as they got onto a small group of McCown’s Longspurs – a great bird, but not new to my year-list. I was after Chestnut-collared Longspurs, which sometimes mix in with the McCown’s. We also kept an eye out for Prairie Falcons and Ferruginous Hawks – these three being realistically the only species that would help my list. Although we managed to find upwards of a hundred McCown’s Longspurs in the critically important semi-natural grassland plains, we couldn’t manage to string any of these into Chestnut-collareds. But then we considered that there had been reports of Sharp-tailed Grouse in the northern part of the reserve, and since it was late afternoon and approaching twilight – a good time for grouse spotting, we let the GPS guide us to an area where most of the sightings had taken place. Bang! Two Sharpies out on a farm paddock (yeah, nature reserve is a loose term here). We only had brief views before they flew off, but long enough for a few photographs and high-fives. With encroaching nightfall we drove south to Denver, then west to a motel at the base of the Rockies in preparation for a big day of un-guided game-bird searches.

As we passed Idaho Springs on the way to Loveland Pass, the weather began to turn ugly, with winds and snow. Although Bill and Sue had initially planned to meet us up on the pass, the took the wise decision to go elsewhere for the day. But the two Aussies had a mission – find a White-tailed Ptarmigan without succumbing to frostbite, avalanches or pulmonary oedema. The pass is at 12ft elevation. By comparison, the Australian ski area of Thredbo is at 4478 ft and the highest peak on the continent – Mt Kosciusko is 7039ft. It was very cold, very windy, and very hard to not sink waist-deep in snow. But we persevered, and after an hour or so, after a couple of false-starts, I truly heard one, and the two of us ended up having killer views of this, my favourite bird for the year so far. Whew!

So with the Ptarmigan under our belts we coasted down through the ski-belt to Silverthorne, a ‘neighbourhood’ comprised mainly of spacious rental houses that are full throughout the ski-season – and one of the places where the Aussie Weigels reunite for a week or so every couple of years with the Yankee Weigels. Why Silverthorne for Murray and I? Because some of those mult-million dollar spreads maintain bird feeders year-round, providing the best and easiest way for birders to see all three Rosy Finch species: Grey-crowned, Brown-capped, and Black. Plus a few additional relative rarities such as Cassin’s Finch. So on Bill and Sue’s advice, following their visit to Silverthorne several hours earlier, we parked the car at the bottom of millionaires row, and walked up and down the streets, finding several areas where mixed flocks of birds were gobbling up birdseed. One of the best of these however was near the top of the hill, where a series of bird-feeders were well stocked on the side of the house, near the road at the end of a cul-de-sac. Two signs made it clear that though the feeders were strategically located in clear view, that birders were ‘not welcome’. Sure enough, no sooner had we read the signs than a gentleman, maybe best described as a walking grievance - just looking for a cause. A few choice words both ways and were continued our neighbourhood safari. But since all three Rosy-finch species were present in multiple flocks (though admittedly, Black Rosy-finches were a little bit tricky to find, we headed off to Gunnison, in preparation for the next morning’s search for Gunnison Sage Grouse. The location of the best-known lek is just a half hour out of Gunnison, but we still managed to get their a little late. This is a setup similar to the Greater Sage-grouse viewing structure, but owing to the popularity of this site, once the trailer is full (and it was), you are allowed to park your car in a designated position along the roadside adjacent to the trailer-ful of early-risers. It was dark when we arrived, and while figuring out how and where to position our car we nearly ran over a young female National Parks conservation biologist who was trying to quietly direct us. Oops. Double oops over the next half hour or so as the darkness slowly disappated, because one of us, I won’t say which one, kept brushing against various controls around the dashboard, with the result each time being that the exterior lights of the car went on. I’m sure the ‘shooshers’ in the other cars and in the trailer were having a field day. Thank Christ the horn didn’t go off, as it seemed to do so often in that vehicle if we made the slightest variance from the required routine for turning off/on the car and exiting/entering, or if keys aren’t where they are supposed to be.

This stakeout proved to be reminiscent of our first chook hunt – Lesser Prairie Chicken, where it was looking bad for the good guys, until eventually, at great distance, one or two birds could be seen. Using the scope, as with the LPC, I could see that the birds were males, and that they were doing their jigs – seemingly in solitary bliss. Nice birds all the same, and another great chicken adventure for Murray and I.

From the GSG lek we headed west of Gunnison to the Black Canyon North Rim of Gunnison National Park for an off-chance to see a real toughie of the Colorado chicken suite – Dusky Grouse.

Crikey! Time has gotten away from me. At this juncture, a week or so past the time I was writing above stuff about Colorado, Robyn and I have just got off our San Diego to Vancouver four day pelagic trip – and weathered my second shit-storm of US Customs challenge to my year-long visa. Poor Robyn had to sweat it out with me in the interrogation room. Good news is that I get to stay, bad news is I just about cried – again – and didn’t need the kick in the guts. Look, I’m going to write a rough and ready paragraph below to sort of bring you to speed – I just do hope that I get back to having time to write proper reports.

Since Colorado – which was a terrific time, with mostly ten out of ten results, its been a wild ride. But it wasn’t all wine and roses for Murray and I. We headed into a wild and crazy snow storm in the Rockies to tidy up a few final birds. The good news is we swerved and missed a Grizzley (I bet you don’t believe it was a Grizzley – but it was!) in nowheresville east of Steamboat Springs, but later that night, didn’t swerve quite so timely, and smashed into a Mule Deer. Lots of dramas ever since re insurance, but the car was driveable, and life goes on. Well, for us. Not the deer. We hit its hind quarters, which swung it around, so as to head-shmashed my door, and fling into oncoming traffic, a pickup truck, which ran over its head and neck. That was a good thing, as I don’t know how I was going to otherwise dispatch it. Busted up bits of plastic from my car, all around the scene of the crime, but most of the damage was confined to the front panel of the car – the bonnet didn’t have any obvious bending. That other car was one of the only cars dumb enough to be out on the roads that night – the timing was spooky. The deer appeared from nowhere, running up a steep mountainside to my right, and entering potential view really too late to miss. If I’d swerved, it would have been a head-on collision, so lets call it a better than worst-case outcome.

We spent a day too long in the mountains because of the deer episode, which had some unfortunate domino effects in the days to follow.

I get to the Denver Airport at 5AM, smashed-tired, after four hours’ sleep, and try to book into Delta for my flight to Key West, which was scheduled to arrive at 5PM – plenty early for the 7AM boarding of the MVV Spree – and my four day Dry Tortugas trip. But guess what? Key West has a short runway, and for some associated reason travellers are limited to one suitcase each. I was stunned. The Delta check-in people were adamant, and not very helpful. I suggested that they sell me a second seat – but that was too lateral. So they said there was a service in the airport to hold suitcases for a few days. That was wrong, and cost me nearly a half hour. Then they said I could post the suitcase somewhere via the post office. I got to the in-house post office, which was closed. Once again to the back of the line – no exceptions. I got to the same gal again, and she said, no worries, she’ll get me on my existing leg to Atlanta, and divert me then to Miami, so I could drive (four hours) to Key West. I’d still have gotten there at a reasonable time. I told her please hurry – as it was now just 45 minutes before scheduled departure. She said no problem, she’s already printed the bag tags, so the 45 minute rule wouldn’t be an issue. But she then said “oops!” We just missed the 45 minute cutoff and the computer won’t let me load your bags.” No apology, no heightened sense of urgency. Just “Ooops”. She explained that she had no additional suggestions, and that I could get on line and make alternate arrangements. I did! On another airline. I flew American Airlines (always the best) to Miami, with the view that I could get to the boat by 8PM. But that was just the start of the fun. I left Miami about an hour later than I’d hoped, and since I’d lost my sunglasses in the Colorado short-night debacle (leaving car with Murray, who could sleep in) and had a hell of a time driving into the settling sun. Google Maps reckoned the 4 hour drive from Miami International to Key West would take closer to six. I sweated the drive wondering why it was stop and go for what seemed like hours (because it was !^&%ing hours). Until I got to the southern tip of the state, just before the long string of Keys leading out from Key Largo to the final driveable island – Key West and could see massive smoke plumes ahead, with fire-fighting helicopters dropping water on a widespread blaze. I was getting pretty uptight by the time I got to the bypass and went the long way through Key Largo, and got a call from the guys on the boat wondering what the #$%^. I said I’d be there by 10, and they said they had to hold up the safety briefing til I arrived. Of course that made it five times worst, and when I finally found the boat docked at 10:30 I was at cracking point. Yeah, as often is the case, I started out as persona non-gratis, but sort of won a few over by the end of the trip. Especially after my photos converted a flyover Royal Tern into a hum-dinger of a young Red-billed Tropic-bird.

The legendary Fort Jefferson migrant trap was amazing – what an experience – lots and lots of Warblers, including tough-guy skulker Swainson’s. Saw most of what I needed at sea, including all-important Black Noddy (there are only two hanging out with hundreds of Browns – the same two presumably as were there last year. A bunch of Masked Boobies, but the Red-footed Booby that roosed there last year was a no-show.

Then another stuffup that cost me blood and birds: on returning to Key west, we got in a bit late at 6:15PM. The Key West airport, and my rental car, shut down at 6. I didn’ know that would happen. So whilst I went and got the first for US Cuban Vireo on Key West, I couldn’t drive to Miami, via the Antillean Nightjar spot, nor get the Thick-billed Vireo next morning that was well seen in Broward County. I would have then made it to California in time to see the Marsh Sandpiper and Little Stint, mega rarities, before getting to San Diego for the cruise with Robyn. Whilst I got the Thick-billed the next avo, I missed all chance for the two California rarities, which is a major setback.  I would have bumped into my California birding mates - Roger, Michael, Johnny and Matt - which makes me feel even sicker.  Briefly though, the cruise was great – saw the three rare petrels (Hawaiian, Murphy’s, Cooks), and the four Storm-petrels, and good list of Alcids, Phalaropes, terns and gulls (e.g. Sabine’s = last of the black-head types for my list).

I’m through speed-typing and will leave it at that. I know a lot of you are wondering if I’ve died or something, so better a half-baked report than nothing. Cheers all.

Couple of images - Greater Prairie Chicken, Ptarmigan (best bird of the year, I reckon!), Dusky Grouse (saw all possible 7 chook species in Colorado - kaching!). I’ll try to put some images off my iPhone below those shots - from travels. OK, I did it. You have Sandra Bullock in her career starting role as the school bus driver (in this case to a chook lek), and Civil War era Fort Jefferson, way out on the tip of the Keys - migrant trap most famous. Cheers all.

Update from California

Wow, talk about a continuing wild ride of sensational birding, now that there’s been a window in the ‘mega’ action.

Well, I’m writing this from Arizona, so… more about that shortly. Well, actually, I’ve just resumed from that false start sentence above. I’m now on a flight out of Tucson, heading towards Houston to meet up with Murray and do some early migration birding on the coast.

So California! Seems like weeks ago now. Hence I’ll keep it brief and let some pretty pictures hopefully make an impression of what it was like.  In one sense I can summarise the birding with two words: Michael and Johnny! I met Michael Woodruff and Johnny Bovee (rhymes with bull-fighting cheer “Olay!”in Texas a month or two ago on the stakeout for Hook-billed Kite. Michael’s dad Roger, and Matt Grube. Those four Southern California birders were all super-friendly, and obviously very sharp birders. We spent a bit of time gabbing atop the Bentsen State Park hawk-watch tower while the guys ensured we saw nine species of raptors (but not the targeted Hook-bill – the name reflecting specialised bill-shape that allows extraction of equally specialised principal food source– tree snails from their shells, and all four made generous offers of help, should the situation arise. Well arise it did, and sooner than later. Michael, well into his medical school program took a full day from studies to race me through a whole bunch of sites in San Diego area – some just over the Mexican border, to score a ridiculous number (35) of birds new to my year-list, including a large portion of the local specialty birds that can be very tough to find (like California Gnat-catcher). Also a couple of known rarities for the region such as Thick-billed Kingbird and Pacific Golden Plover. We had a hoot of a time, and I must say, Michael is one of the most talented birders I’ve seen in action. Like some of these guys (yeah, you know who I’m talking about in Australia) he’s also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, capable of skating effortlessly and buoyantly through life’s adventures. I hate those guys!

Michael and I had such a huge day, full of encounters with targeted birds. Highlights included lots of needed Red-crowned Parrots – and equal number of equally established Lilac-crowned Parrots, which for some reason are not on the ABA list of countable bird species. We went to a nearby coastal habitat in a scenic holiday setting to pick up a Wandering Tattler, several seabirds and beautiful Heerman’s Gulls. Nearby at rare undeveloped swathe of native vegetation (chaparral?) above a Pacific Ocean cliff-top overlook, a triad of namesake birds were found: California Thrasher, California Towhee, California Gnat-catcher. The other golden state birds - California Quail, California Gull, and California Condor would come later in my brief but intense trip. BTW ever wonder why don’t we have any New South Wales species? At the least our one endemic: New South Wales Rockwarbler? Never mind.

After a good night’s sleep, Johnny, another corner of the super-talented Southern California birding quartet, took the baton from Michael, and ran equally hard and effectively, generously giving me three long and intensive days of help. We covered an enormous geographic area in the vicinity of Los Angeles. Johnny took dedication to the extreme when he copped a bite on the boot from a Red Diamondback Rattlesnake. True story! We were excited about a bunch of birds along the slopes just downhill of dramatic rocky hillside – including a half dozen or more straggling Sage Thrashers. I was walking next to Johnny when I saw movement at his feet from the corner of my eye. The snake rattled only briefly, immediately after Johnny sensed that he’d kicked something strange. Within a few seconds I shot a few frames of the snake. But in true ‘ruber’ fashion, it soon became placid and relaxed, with no inclination for threat pose or rattling. This was always one of my favourite rattlesnake species.  Johnny overcame his nerves to lead me onto the scent of important California specialty: Lawrence’s Goldfinch. Power-tick! We’d hoped to find a known roosting Long-eared Owl in a thicket of olive trees, but all we found from the ideal cover was a Barn Owl. So on to a remote township in the desert that surprisingly has a modern small college, and a nice dense planting of mature pines where at least one Long-eared Owl had been seen regularly – at least up until a month or so ago. Johnny spotted an owl atop a stick-nest, something I’d not even realised owls could build. Whoo-whoo indeed.

We explored many incredibly scenic mountain habitats over the three days, with spectacular gorges from which we heard Mountain Quail and Chukars, and saw a huge number of rocky slope and montane specialties. We finished our travels up in the conifer forests (the last thing I thought about re Southern California) birding in the afternoon until too-dark with respected ‘king of the mountain’ birder Brad, who was another super-nice and generous birder. The continent seems to be full of them. We didn’t find any Cassin’s Finches or Williamson’s Sapsucker, but we did see a motley gang of 70+ Juniper Jays, a species that can be very tricky to find when you need them.

Oh, I meant to recount a side trip we made to Compton in Los Angeles. “Shtraight outta Compton…”. Not as rough and tough as the rap music paints, but we kept our time searching a small park for feral Spotted Dove – same species we have in Australia, to a minimum. This species used to be abundant throughout the LA area, but is rapidly fading away, maybe due to corresponding incurrence of equally feral Eurasian Collared Dove (looks like our African Collared Doves in Adelaide, but hugely successful over most human-stressed habitats in North America). It was a fun chase, and from there we hit the coast to find a range of shorebirds, grebes and loons.

After saying goodbye to Johnny, I did the long drive northwards to try for a Sooty Grouse, a really problem bird, that was reported on the previous day calling from deep in the northern California alpine forests above Ukiah. On Johnny’s advice, I made a late night traverse of the western Los Angeles fringes to get past the insane traffic regions to Bakersfield, which put me in good position to get onto ‘the’ place for re-introduced California Condors (hey, they’re ‘tickable’ and spectacular).

Guys, there are a whole bunch of things I could write about, from incredible encounters with Condors to a flat tyre way up in the boonies after finding the Sooty Grouse, but now that I’ve resumed the telling of the tale, I’m four or so days into my Texas coastal trip, which followed my Arizona trip – neither of which I’ve written up. So gonna cut it short there, finishing with my Bakersfield story, and hit the hay, with hopes of getting ‘round to the more recent trip reports in the next few days. I’ll attach some relevant California pix below. Sorry about the brevity.

What’s my Bakersfield story? Well, I can’t help but think of Buck Owen and Dwight Yoakum every time I hear the name of the town. Particularly Dwight’s lyrics:

Well you don’t know me, but you don’t like me…
You say you care less where I’ve been.

But I wonder how many of you who sit and judge me,
Have walked the streets of Bakersfield.

So I get to Bakersfield to a treat at a good hotel (Entertainment Centre Marriott) after my northern California adventures that I’ve run out of time to tell you about, pre my flight from LA to Tucscon to see about a Rose-throated Becard, Tufted Flycatcher, and most importantly, a little wren out of Sonora. I see upon approaching the hotel carpark that there are tonnes of young guys – a few girls as well, with black Slayer T-shirts milling around. The Hotel lobby is full of similarly garbed people. I do the usual sign in with the concierge (but in the fanciest hotel I’ve stayed in this year – by a long shot). I asked the concierge, a young fellow in a nice suit, what the go is. He say’s there’s a Slayer concert next door. I said – wow! I’m good friends with Kerry King (the lead guitarist/soloist of the group). I know Kerry through his passion for snakes – he and his wife have visited my house twice while Slayer toured Australia. The look from the concierge was obvious disbelief and apparent disrespect. That really burned for some reason.

I later considered my appearance: deshoveled hair, dirty face and clothes (relating to tyre story I didn’t tell you about). Feeling embarrassed and small – and had the Dwight ‘Streets of Bakersfield’ through my head staring at the ceiling from my wasted expensive bed.

Quick set of images, from top: Pelagic Cormorant with Brown Pelican, California Gnatcatcher, Super-birder super med-student Michael Woodruff sniffing out rarities, one of the many habitats Johnny Bovee took me - this was Big Bear, Spotted Dove ‘Straight outta Compton’, Surfbird, the Red Diamondback that Bit Johnny B’s boot, Johnny looking at the snake that nearly spoiled his day, California Condor, where I saw the Condor, iconic Golden Gate Bridge at rush hour

Update from Texas

Well, I’ve just finished a brilliant week in California – so this recounting of Texas last week, which seems like a month ago, will be brief, but with some hopefully interesting pix. Then I’ll get back to reporting on California – and it does involve condors! BTW I write this on a flight from San Diego to Tucson, with Phoenix as an hour-long stopover.

The point of the Texas trip was twofold: to get onto a tour of King Ranch – the place to see Ferruginous Pygmy-owls – and a lot of other birds inhabiting the tiny remaining vestigeous of once-widespread live-oak savannah woodlands; and to see Whooping Cranes at Port Aransas – I was booked on tours in both those places.

The only way to get onto the King Ranch properties is through their excellent nature tours program – which the juggle well with hunting guiding activities and running cattle. Though the ranch is enormous, the stocking level is very low, hence a great reputation as a genuine wildlife resource that can sustain hunting and ecotourism activities.

The day prior to my King Ranch Norias District tour was dedicated to tracking down a flock of Mountain Quail that had been reported the day before – about two hours north of King Ranch, making it a four hour drive from my Corpus Christi base. I got to the site at about 4PM, right on 24 hours after the first report – which provided details of 23 birds congregating on recently plowed field. This is a real tough species, especially since I’d fooled around and not gotten onto wintering groups reported through a number of States, but now are pretty much all in transit northwards, from easy to scan flat brown paddocks to much more challenging native grassland habitats. I’d arrived at one of the Arizona wintering sites a few days earlier, but was apparently a week or two too late. So this was an exciting opportunity. I’d find out later that another eBird report occurred from a visit just an hour before my arrival – again, 23 birds. I put up the scope in the high winds and soon had a group of Mountain Plovers. Er, well, they sort of looked like Mountain Plovers, but… The good news was that the count of 23 was correct; the bad news was that as hard as I tried, I couldn’t convert them from American Golden Plovers into the much scarcer Mountain Plovers. The eBird reports had been wrong. Bloody ‘ell. Maybe in Colorado with Murray in a few weeks.

So early morning and onto the King Ranch with in-house birding and nature guide, Tom. Tom had done some graduate research work on the ranch 20-odd years ago, and was so impressed with the properties that he worked with the owners to set up the nature tours that are now well established. Tom was a great guy and incredibly knowledgeable about all aspects of the ranch, from cattle to calculating Douglas points on a trophy White-tailed Deer. There were four others in my tour, and they were experienced birders – following the birding travels of a well-known birder couple who had passed away in recent years, following apparently many decades of birding country wide. Brad Bramblin, a grandson of the couple (I’ll try to recall names and add here – ‘Red’ was the grandfather) was in the group, and the journey was something of a pilgrimage for him.  Upon entering the ranch and stopping to get our bearings, we were immediately presented with the price bird on the property – a Code 3 Ferruginous Pygmy-owl. We would later see another, more photogenic FEPO. Also on no fewer than three occasions we saw Tropical Parulas – a Code 3 warbler that I went to a lot of trouble to see many weeks earlier. A reminder that doing a North American Big Year is like anything else, including Aussie big years – a second go at it would be much easier and more effective than the first time around. But then, as Apollo Creed said under his lost breath to Rocky after photo-finish win: “Ain’t gonna be no rematch”, to which Rocky mumbled: “Don’t want one”. And trust me, there ain’t gonna be no rematch for me either – which is why I’m throwing everything I can at it now, including a kitchen sink if that helps.

During my day in the 7-seater I saw a bunch of first-for-year birds, including Sprague’s Pipit and Grasshopper Sparrow. We heard a Western Screech Owl, which I’d already heard in Arizona, but without any witnesses – a scenario that I like to minimise.
Unfortunately, during the course of the day, the folks who run the boat trip out of Rockport to see the Whoopers cancelled due to impending winds. So I researched where to go, and made the two hour drive up to Goose Island. As always, the palms begin to sweat as I closed in on the exact street and paddock where the birds had been seen a few days earlier. I rounded a corner and could see that there weren’t any large white birds to greet me. Instead, a vehicle was pulled over on shoulder opposite my lane, and two ladies – one in front seat the other in the back were looking through binoculars at the cluster of waders across the road (on my side). I was in a nervous state, which sort of explains what I did: I pulled up next to them, blocking their views, saw their startled faces and asked “Haven’t seen any cranes have you?”. They were stunned at the rudeness, but muttered that there’d been a flyover earlier, and that a good place to look is 4th St. I didn’t know what else to say, so blurted at one of them “I think I’ve seen you somewhere previously – maybe South Texas?” She said “I don’t think so, and made it clear that it might be nice if I’d rack off so she can see the waders. I sped off feeling like a clown as usual, but soon found 4th Street. I could see two dirty big white birds off on the right, and a gentleman had pulled over where I joined him, as he tried to hold his camera high enough over the bushes to get a photograph. I busted my way through the shrubbery/hedge row, went ‘click’, then had a nice binocular  Tick! I went back to where I’d interrupted the gals to offer an apology – which probably would just get me in deeper. Although they were gone – three Whoopers had moved into the paddock – a pair with a young-un! Terrific – I began the four hour drive to McAllen for my flight to San Diego.

Feeling drowsy along the way, I pulled off the highway and scouted for a location to lower the seat back and have a snooze. I found a shade tree along a residential road, sort of halfway between two houses, as I like it – thinking that the neighbors of each house will think I’m visiting the other house. As soon as I dozed off I was awakened to rapping on my window by a young police officer. I was surprised how long it took him to be satisfied that I was who/what I said I was. He picked up on my Australian citizenship from my NSW drivers licence, and disappeared with my passport for a good five minutes. Unlike Australia where there are roadside rest areas galore, and an outright encouragement for people to pull over and ‘revive and survive’, there’s none of that here. He said “No sleeping in front of houses – next time get a motel or something”. “Yes sir.” Crikey.

Off to California! Following are some pix:
Big Year newbie at King Ranch (after the trip)
Texas Longhorn
View from bird tour van of beautiful oak habitat, and some volunteer turkeys at no extra charge
The reason most people come to King Ranch: Code 3 Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Barn Owl
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Upland Sandpiper - a nice find where the Mtn Plovers were a bust

Here they are: