Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Very out-of-area: Texas, December 2008

I flew to Dallas mainly for personal reasons, but predictably I was unable to resist tacking a little birding onto the trip while I was there. Missing my outbound flight compressed the schedule somewhat, and the occurrence of two rarities (Crimson-collared Grosbeak and Blue Bunting) in the lower Rio Grande Valley led me to go there yet again, skipping most intermediate sites.

1,500 miles later I flew back out of Dallas in the afternoon of the 30th.

The trip added a few new year birds (LeConte's Sparrow, Sprague's Pipit, Sedge Wren etc) and one life bird (female Crimson-collared Grosbeak). I ended the year at 612 USA species (all lower 48) and a 2008 list of 367 - actually my highest total outside the big year 450+ totals.

Trip report (in edit):

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Catskills - Dec 7th - Crossbills

Rolling out of Ewing at 6:30am I was a little late to get to Califon (NJ) for dawn in search of Barnacle Goose. And Lo! it was not there. Fortunately it didn't put me too far off my main destination of the day: the Catskills.

Sullivan Co NY has been very productive the last two winters - I had fun seeing the Pine Grosbeaks at Grahamsville last winter, and this winter a mini-invasion of White-winged Crossbills had also hit the same general area. After some traffic on Rt-17 after a tractor trailer accident I finally got onto the roads climbing into the Catskills around 10am. The Accord isn't exactly optimal for driving on challenging snowy roads, and the antilocks got somewhat of a workout today, but after a little messing around I found myself parked on Brown Settlement Road hearing White-winged Crossbills calling from the spruce grove. A little while later I saw one, then 7. In fact I think I saw the same 7+ several times, despite the fact that there are allegedly close to 100 in this location. Perhaps they were clumping in groups of 7. Never mind - I've only seen White-winged Crossbills once or twice before.

The weather was relatively harsh - a rising strong wind, snow falling about 60% of the time, so there were no photo ops and viewing conditions were sub-optimal to say the least. I didn't find any Pine Siskins and the other notable sightings were two Bald Eagles and a few distant Common Ravens. I doubt the weather bothers the Crossbills - these birds nest during the winter in areas of good food sources.

Leaving the Catskills the truck crash had turned into a hazmat issue, so I lost 45 minutes to slow traffic through that area on "The Quickway" (I love that name). Filling up the tank on Rt-17 in NJ my iPhone proved its worth once again with confirmation of sightings of the Franklin Lakes Ross's Goose (earlier in the day there were negative reports). After winding through the recommended route I immediately saw the Ross's Goose in with the Canada's - no doubt that this flock is wild since it was relatively spooky with passing cars (and even with me opening my passenger side window for photos). Interestingly the only other adult Ross's Goose I'd seen in the east was with a flock of Canadas at Jones Beach, although perhaps this has something to do with the challenge of pulling out a small white goose in another flock of nearly identical white geese - the immature that I saw at Jamaica Bay WR was in a flock of Snow Geese but at least easier to find.

[Edit: a Ross's Goose with a Canada flock was also seen on the Princeton CBC on 12/14 but so far not relocated]

After Franklin Lakes the sun was getting pretty low but I decided to make a sprint for Califon once again, getting there just as the sun set, and after a couple of minutes of searching I did locate the Barnacle Goose at the back of the pond. Seems that sunset is better than sunrise.

I assume this is the same bird that I saw last year, which I took as USA #600. It's interesting to ponder that, given that Barnacles are vagrants from Greenland. This bird must have taken up with this flock of migratory Canadas and stayed with it. A post on JerseyBirds suggested that there was a goose in that flock that showed intermediate character between Barnacle and Canada Goose, which would make sense since hybrids are more likely to occur between an out-of-range Barnacle that finds itself within a Canada flock at breeding time with no other options to pair up with. I didn't see this possible hybrid, but that will lead me to go back and look for it myself.

[Edit: I didn't find either the Barnacle or any potential hybrid on 12/13 at Califon, despite checking multiple times]

Good day, although a tiring one with many road miles.