Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Wild Towhee Chase


            “Harriet and Kiefer” from Houston had been to the Valley before, but they had a small list of birds that they wanted to see again, as well as get some help identifying some of the more difficult groups, like sparrows and hawks.  What better place to take them than Sparrow Road! J

            Kiefer opted to drive, so we took off in their red Jeep, crawling along FM 2221 heading north from La Joya.  Once the fog burned off, we started to get flocks here and there, the first of which that had both a Verdin and a White-eyed Vireo that actually came out in the open!  A little later a White-tailed Hawk was perched on a post-like tree, and it was then I noticed that Harriet and I both had a Canon Powershot, so I got to show her a few pointers with her PAS!
"Harriet" shoots a White-tailed Hawk (below) that's sitting on the broken-off palm tree between the two full palm trees above.  Shows you how powerful the zoom is on this camera, as you can't even see the bird in the above shot!

            Except for phoebes and shrikes, things were kinda slow along the paved portion (even the famous Grasshopper Sparrow Field didn’t produce this time), so we headed north past the intersection and onto the dirt portion of Jara Chinas, where it was a little more productive:  Lark Sparrows sat in the open, and a beautiful Black-throated Sparrow popped up as well.  Lots of Savannah Sparrows were around, and at one point a flock of Vesper Sparrows gave decent views.  Caracaras gave great looks as usual, and we witnessed a Harris’ Hawk go after a Jackrabbit at one point; the rabbit got away, but the hawk flew back to a pole where another hawk was sitting, and pretty soon three more came in to join them, so we figured it must be a family group!  I could just hear the dad saying, “Okay, junior, here’s what you did wrong…” J
Loggerhead Shrike

Female Kestrel shows off


"Harriet and Kiefer" look for sparrows along Jara Chinas Road

Crested Caracara
            About halfway up the road we noticed a white car behind us that was also crawling; Kiefer presumed it was another birder, and sure enough, Dan Jones (a prominent local birder) pulled up alongside us and announced he had some Green-tailed Towhees along Seven Mile Road (which is the westbound dirt road at the intersection)!  He also mentioned Cassin’s and White-crowned Sparrows, but he was looking for Lark Buntings, which we hadn’t seen yet.  But we were all interested in the towhees, so we made a Uie and headed back to the intersection!

            I have to confess I was curious about this road anyway, and it turned out to be a very birdy road!  Not long after we made the turn we had more Lark Sparrows, a couple of Chippies,  and the Cassin’s, and on the telephone wire a male Vermilion Flycatcher sallied forth continually!  Further down we had a large flock of Pyrrhuloxias, and as Harriet and I got out to enjoy them, suddenly a Kestrel blasted in and sent the whole flock scurrying, and one of them came right for us and almost ran into us!  Continuing on we did find a young White-crowned Sparrow, along with more Savannahs, Vespers, Black-throateds, and even a couple more Cassin’s.  Alas, we couldn’t pull out a towhee, but we saw lots more hawks, caracaras, and a couple of cooperative Bewick’s Wrens.  The road twisted and turned through ranchland and next to natural gas fields, but a floppy bird on one fence turned out to be a Say’s Phoebe!  There were great patches of habitat, but it was getting to be the time of day when things were quieting down (and we were having a heat wave of sorts with 90-degree weather),  but a little patch of vegetation near a farmstead had a Field Sparrow, along with another immature Whitecrown!  That was pretty special!  We also finally picked up a Roadrunner somewhere along there…
Vermilion Flycatcher

Typical habitat along Seven Mile Road

Female Pyrrhuloxia

Bewick's Wren
            The road finally dumped us out on Pipeline, and Kiefer was pretty tired by then (the road was pretty dicey in spots), so we headed north towards FM 490 to head to the freeway, but not before spotting a handful of Long-billed Curlews by the road!  During a potty break (and out there that means hiding behind the car) we happened to spot a covey of Bobwhite!  All in all Harriet and Kiefer were very happy with the day, and we ended up with about 52 species for the day.  Bird List:
  Northern Bobwhite                    
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Harris's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Long-billed Curlew                   
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  Mourning Dove                        
  Greater Roadrunner                   
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Say's Phoebe                         
  Vermilion Flycatcher                 
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Loggerhead Shrike                     
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Green Jay                            
  Horned Lark                          
  House Wren                           
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  American Pipit                        
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Cassin's Sparrow                      
  Chipping Sparrow                     
  Field Sparrow                        
  Vesper Sparrow                       
  Lark Sparrow                         
  Black-throated Sparrow               
  Savannah Sparrow                     
  White-crowned Sparrow                
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Western Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Lesser Goldfinch                     
  American Goldfinch                   
  House Sparrow                        

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