Tuesday, July 9: The main event this morning was driving to the Pawnee National Grassland. I tried to follow the directions in the Birder's Guide to Colorado. Unfortunately, the key road to enter the grassland on was closed for repair. I tried to improvise a way in, which ultimately ended with me studying the DeLorme to find the right way... However, I got my first glimpse at a McCown's Longspur in the area outside the grassland. There was also a chicken-like bird that did a short hop over a farm field. However, it was too small for any grouse. After some study, I concluded it was likely a Bobwhite.
Eventually, I got on the right path, and Pawnee yielded several nice McCown's (lifer #11), including a cooperative pair that allowed me to compare both male and female plumages. I also added a few shorebirds, including Mountain Plover. This brings the trip total to 224.
La Junta, CO
On to Texas!
Wednesday, July 10: Today was mostly a travel day. I thought about doing a little birding in the Comanche National Grasslands. You never know...I might find a Lesser Prairie-chicken. But then a Lesser Prairie-chicken flew across the road near Springfield, CO (not far north of the grassland). With lifer #12 in the bag, I decided to skip the stop.
The rest of the day was just travel. I did add a few hard-to-miss birds to the triplist: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Great-tailed Grackle and Chihuahuan Raven. The trip total is now 228. The day ended with 8 Western Kingbirds hanging out at the motel.
San Angelo, TX
Thursday, July 11: The first stop today was Lost Maples SP, to look for Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo. I dipped on both, but a Green Kingfisher provided lifer #13 for the trip. I found a number of new trip birds there: Eastern Phoebe, Acadian Flycatcher, Canyon Wren, Yellow-throated Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Louisiana Waterthrush, Red-crowned Sparrow, Canyon Towhee. I understand the Black-crested Titmouse is supposed to be split from Tufted when the next AOU checklist supplement comes out, which would be an additional trip bird.
There was one other new bird at Lost Maples. While hiking the Maple Trail, I heard an unknown bird call. Sometimes, you don't need to know the call to ID the bird. I could tell it was a raptor call, and the only likely raptor whose call I didn't know at all (I not only couldn't name the call, it didn't sound like one I should know) was Zone-tailed Hawk. A little farther down the trail I got a look at one of the calling raptors, and was not surprised to see a Zone-tailed Hawk.
I had to use my NEOS on one of the trails at Lost Maples since the recent floodwater has not entirely subsided. On the way to Garner SP, I found the road had more running water on it than I was comfortable driving through (up to the bottom of the car), so I turned around and went the other way. While driving around, I was impressed by the amount of debris that was so high above the river. I then recalled hearing a snippet on CNN about the water being down to 20 feet above flood stage, which fit perfectly the relation between the flood debris and the local rivers/creeks. When I finally got to Garner, it was closed.
I did find a Roadrunner while doing all this. I stopped at Pedernales Falls SP late in the day, but it was still hot and most of the birds weren't real active. The trip total is now 243.
It's been about 20 years since I've been to Austin, and there have been some changes! After dinner I decided to take a drive around. At one point I missed a turn, and even though I had been unsure which way to go before the turn, I was immediately aware I'd missed it. I didn't know I'd spent enough time here for that (my brother used to live here). In spite of considerable changes, I was mostly able to find my way around.
Hotel birds included Great-tailed Grackle (many) and Common Nighthawk.
Balcones and Attwater
Friday, July 12: The plan was to start early at Balcones Canyonlands NWR to look for Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler. Balcones is the nearest place to Austin that has both birds. Problems immediately arose. 1) I got up late. 2) Balcones was farther than I thought. 3) The guidebook didn't mention the place I should have started. 4) There was flood damage that made access to some areas more difficult. After overcoming this, I finally found myself at the "Warbler Vista" area. Unfortunately, although I heard the Golden-cheeked Warbler, I could not find the bird (there was one singing downslope, and later a call note I thought was a second). ABA rules say you can list it. That may be ok for the ABA game, but that is hardly satisfactory! Summer Tanager was new to the trip.
I then headed east. Attwater Prairie-chicken NWR was only a few miles off I-10, and I decided a stop was in order. The start of the auto route brought a perched White-tailed Hawk (not Kite), which was lifer #14. Other easy additions to the triplist were Caracara, Black-necked Stilt, Stilt Sandpiper, and Black-crowned Night-Heron. As I got near the end, I noticed some funny-looking cormorants...shouldn't a cormorant be a lot bigger than Cattle Egrets? Not if it's a Neotropic Cormorant! The trip list is now at 250, including the warbler as a heard bird, even if it isn't on my regular life list.
Saturday, July 13: Today mainly a rain day, and it's no fun driving in rain. There were 3 major stoppages on I-10, and lots of rain. I only made 500 miles today. I did get some Mississippi Kites on the way, when it wasn't raining.
I did make a birding stop at BB-60, the Battleship Alabama, at Battleship Park in Mobile. There I added Marsh Wren (about 10 heard, none seen), Glossy Ibis, and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and some others, bringing the trip total to 258.
I was somewhat puzzled by the birds at BB-60. I heard what I would swear was a House Wren scolding, but a House Wren should be nowhere near there this time of year. Also, it seemed to me that both Boat-tailed and Great-tailed Grackles were present, although only Boat-tailed is supposed to be there. But two males had yellow eyes, lots of tail, and looked skinny compared to the Boat-taileds. There were also young present that appeared to be Great-tailed. If this bird is breeding in Mobile, I'd expect it to sometimes show up in Pensacola.
The drive over the portion of I-10 on stilts in the Atchafalaya Swamp was quite interesting.
Sunday, July 14: Not much birding today, but I was glad to be back home! Monk Parakeet in Broward county provided the final trip bird, #259. Total miles today, 501; trip 9,244.