McAllen to Big Bend TX
Okay, let me start out with a question: What famous actor below has NOT played the somewhat legendary Judge Roy Bean in a movie?
a) Paul Newman
b) Andy Griffith
c) Lee Marvin
d) Yule Brenner
More on that later......
Last year I wrote a novel. It took about a month to do the manuscript and I have done nothing with the manuscript since, I may add. It doesn't really have a title but let me call it The Big Bad Year. In it, the main character is doing a big year, he comes back from Alaska in June and cruises into the Texas Hill Country on record pace (nearing 700) in June and is looking for a black capped vireo. He is just driving north of a place called Utopia, and the character like me, has never birded in the Texas Hill country before. He hears one, then more and goes down a trail and photos one, but not well, but igt is identifiable and he fist bumps a tree as he is by himself. Then he thinks he hears the second endemic bird in the Hill Country, the golden cheeked warbler. So he works down some ranch road and he follows the sound. Bingo bird #700.
Before he can celebrate, the main character trips and senses pain, all is dark. He awakens in a strange bed and an alluring woman is nursing him. It turns out he has stumbled into a utopian commune (not to be confused with the burg, this place is off the map) but it is in the Texas Hill country. He falls in love and is slowly nursed back to health. He finally goes for a walk and even photos a Crescent chested warbler...wow! what a find, he thinks. The record is within reach. His head is not right and so he spends the summer as any thoughts of a Big Year are put aside and fades away plans on a day to join the self-sufficient community. He is going to ask the next day to join, you see he is fallen in love. His woman already has implied she'll marry him and a lonely birder needs such hints.
There is a big party, much merriment and well, a wonderful night with his beauty. The next thing, this birder awakens outside the petroglyphs in Bad Axe, Michigan. He is confused, dazed, where is he? Where is his woman. It is early the next spring, and he stumbles back to a rental car in his name. A map for a brambling sighting is pointing to this spot. His cell phone rings, it is an Audubon club asking if he can give a speech on his Big Year record. Was it all some sort of dream?
He looks up the place he was on his cell phone, it doesn't exist. He sees all sorts of emails, some he has even answered Then he goes home to Minnesota, all is strange, it appears he did set the Big Year record and he checks his camera and yes, every bird from the warbler is there, sea voyages, and so he checks his ebird logs, a couple were with a birder named Olaf Danielson. He calls me up and I act like he was right there with me. He then gets an overdue utility bill for a property in Iowa. The only thing is he doesn't own a property in Iowa. He doesn't know what to do but decides to drive south to check it out. He goes into the house, which he has a key for on his key chain. The house has one chair in the middle a single light, and every wall is covered with racy pictures of the woman he fell in love with in Texas....there is what looks like blood smeared on the floor and strange rambling writings on the wall...is he going insane.....then there is a knock on the door....he sees a deputy sheriff's car through the window.......
Okay, I'll probably never finish this but I'll leave you in suspense anyhow....
When I wrote this, I had never been in the hill country, I had seen the warbler north of San Antonio and the vireo in Big Bend.....so oddly and maybe coincidentally, after I had finally nabbed the hook-billed kite on hawk watch 4 at Santa Ana, bird #599 but failed to find a groove-billed ani anywhere, my friend Jim Terrill and I bugged out north. I was literally scratching all the way on the road as I got a really bad case of bedbugs from Texas Inn Weslaco.....crud....crap....scratch. S&*&^!!!! My second birding bedbug attack.
April 22, 2015, Texas Hill Country, Bandera County
I picked the road I had written about accidentally and the whole way I had deja vu. About the same spot I had prophesied about, there was a scenic view. I pulled over. Jim stayed in the car. The place is gorgeous...what a view.
There was what looked like a trail, beckoning me to go down it. Is truth also fiction? There were black-capped vireos everywhere, finally I got one to photograph, but it wasn't perfect. It was identifiable. Deja vu! Man were these guys skulky birds...noisy but they wouldn't come out for anything.
Bird#600..........it was a monumental bird, my 6th century bird. I was fist bumping a tree. Deja vu. I could hear a warbler but I was NOT going down that trail, no WAY!!!! Too much deja vu. We drove down the road and I spotted a Nature Conservancy Preserve, Love Creek. There was a gate, I didn't know if the place was public, or permanently closed but a guy had birded there as a hotspot the day before. The trail went up not down so NO deja vu. I climbed the gate and walked up the hill, Jim demurred and went back to the road. I was about halfway up the hill when I played the golden cheeked warbler song to remind myself again. Immediately a bird flew at me, the yellow on the head was obvious as it flew by me, bird #601, golden cheeked warbler. The bird hid and remained quiet. I didn't know what to do. Was I trespassing? The Nature Conservancy is funny about things. Could I use tapes, and Jim was down below, standing on the road. There was a criminal look to it all. I decided to turnaround and go back down. We left quietly.
We then ended up at Lost Maples Scenic area and it wasn't yet 930. We walked the trail as I wanted a golden cheeked photo. I heard one, then a second, then I saw a yellow-throated warbler, what was that doing here? Then I got my camera unlocked so I could use it again, it got jarred in the car. I shot #602 Philadelphia Vireo.
This was an odd bird. It looked odd I looked at the range map on my field guide, it wasn't supposed to be here, either. I checked the checklist on ebird. It was on it. I looked at the bird. I couldn't find any white wing bars. Black eye line, it wasn't a warbling vireo. I was trying to make it into a Bell's, but all it had was these olive wing bars. It had to be a Phily. It never wagged its tail or even made any noise. The Bell's I would and have seen in west Texas this time of year are like the noisiest birds. This bird was silent. I didn't initially even mark the bird on the checklist, as it couldn't be one. I then put it in thinking it would come back as "rare." It didn't. I don't know. I spent the entire day second guessing, myself and all the birds. I was still worried about the Nature Conservancy..me the king of Guerrilla birding. I even sent a rather odd hawk picture around for some opinions. A bird, I didn't even need, and I don;t know...it ended up being a juve Swainson's.
***I think I'm going to provisional this bird and pending concensus, as one of my friends whom I trust says doesn't look like a Philly he's ever seen, well me either, I thought the bill too thick for a orange crowned. Having the sun beating right on that tree doesn't help in the contrast.
During all this checking and rechecking, I skipped a photo I took mostly in frustration while I was trying to photograph the black capped vireo. I finally looked at it when I was writing this blog. Wait a minute......there is no eye ring on that flycatcher.
Bird # 602. Eastern wood pewee. I don't know what planet I was on when I took it, I didn't even log the bird. I needed that bird. I needed to wake up and get my head on, I almost lost a bird. I guess, though the Hill Country just gave and even kept on giving.
To conclude on the Hill Country, I like it, although I found myself thinking I was somehow living my fiction much like I found myself feeling back in January in Kansas. Despite this, I WILL come back at some point in my life. After finding my first beverage barn, a drive thru beer store which you don't even leave the car. Many poor sods were drinking beer in the parking lot, as you can't consume in the "barn." I picked up a quick six of Lone Star Beer, what else do you drink in Texas. I don;t think they make Pearl Beer anymore...I guess I could drink Shiner. We hit Hwy 90 and turned west into the desert of west Texas.
Judge Roy Bean Historical Site, Langtry TX
I have many people I admire in life and one of those is Judge Roy Bean. In general, this man was a scoundrel BUT he lived a life of being a true American. He made himself out of nothing, and no matter what the obstacles, he was a doer and went around all obstructions. I like that. When the Texas government refused to sanction a prize fight he was sponsoring, he just held it on a sand bar in the Rio Grande on the Mexican side of the border. He has the Can-do spirit that is America or at least was, now we like things given to us like we are all entitled.
He named his town after the famous sex-symbol personality of the day, Lily Langtry whom he wrote to repeatedly and she actually came to visit the small community after his death, although it was to actually visit him. The bar was named the Jersey Lily, too. It all seemed so perfect, a man admiring a woman so much he named his town and saloon after her.. but much of Bean's life is more fiction than fact. The town was named a few years before he even arrived after an Engineer George Langtry. There is nothing sexy about George Langtry. As odd as it may sound, any association with Lily Langtry was coincidental or contrived. What a better way to market a town than to create a distant love affair with a truly hot actress in England that he would never meet? Bean's claim of "the only law west of the Pecos," also made quite a moniker. He even stayed a judge when he lost an election. Who was going to say otherwise? He died in 1903.
I like this place even though since the last time I was here, April 1994, they had built a huge visitor center and added quite a bit of concrete around the garden area. I don't like big fancy visitor centers, I like the actual history. I remember a much more authentic looking western locale, not a museum, oh well, I enjoyed the pilgrimage to the shrine of this crazy man....oh and by the way, Lee Marvin never played him in a movie although he would have done a great job. Answer C. Marvin even looked like him, beard and all.
I photographed the elusive (sic) yellow-headed blackbird for the first time this year even though I got to count it two days earlier. They were in the tree to the east of the Visitor center over my rental car. This was much to my daughter's chagrin.
While Jim T was looking and reading the exhibits. I found myself thinking more clearly at Roy Bean's, then I began to scheme like Bean. I looked at tons of bronzed cowbirds.......I thought for a moment...these birds are only nest parasites or whatever the correct term is of orioles...Orioles...? I still needed an oriole. There must be some around. I went looking in the very few trees they have in the "garden" area and then I heard chattering. I saw orange in a tree, well that was the right color and then I saw the large male Oriole with a clear line of black through its eye, a Bullock's. Yes! Bird #603. Bullock's Oriole
I pulled up my camera checking my bad dial. then out of the corner of my eye, a female came into view and in a flash, she garnered his attention and off they flew. I couldn't relocate.
April 22-23, Big Bend National Park, Texas
I really like Big Bend in a stark sort of way. It is in the middle of nowhere. Jim T along the way, found out the name sake of Terrill County a Major Terrill is probably his great great grandfather. I'm not sure having the county that has the poor town of Sanderson TX as it's county seat being a family heirloom is such a good thing, but it is some thing. The 900 residents there (the whole county) are a hardy lot or just don't know enough to leave. Jim T is expecting to do more research. The man even helped Maximillian the Austrian Emperor of Mexico in the 1870s organize his army.
I complain about the hike up Pinnacle trail from the Chisos Basin as the most brutal morning in birding. I over dramatize, it isn't. The hike I did from Carr Canyon to get the Tufted last year was worse, but it wasn't hot today and I do this trail almost unlike anybody else, I leave about an hour or earlier before first light. You have to be down the mountain by noon or you risk melting, literally from the potential heat. Going early also gives you the best chance at singing birds, you can pack less water, need less calories to carry the water and you have a chance to hear owls if you need them. You also don't start on the trail, you hike up through the cabins and start the trail there, it saves a bit.
We arrived late afternoon and after the visit to Dugout Wells to see the skulkiest chattiest flock of Bell's Vireos, but nothing more...we went to our hotel in Study Butte, the Chisos Mtn. Lodge was full two months ago. Nearing dark, I took off to the Castolon Area to search for nighthawks. I had a nice chat with a ranger and saw more bats than nighthawks as the wind picked up, and it threatened to rain. At 80% darkness 3 common nighthawks flew low over me and then finally, a lesser, bird #604. They were all silent and weren't making ID easy. Then I drove back to the west entrance stopping at every turnout to call elf owls. I heard nothing. At 11pm, I gave up and then just at the west entrance, I flushed an elf owl from the side of the road, bird #605. I got out and tried to use my spot light. I stood in the middle of the road and never relocated the owl but heard lesser nighthawks in every direction. As birding went, I had driven 65 miles for nothing, to the river. It was time for a few hours of sleep and an early start.
Nemesis birds are tricky things, I guess now the Colima warbler may qualify as one for photography. Back in 1994, up here with Silja, we had tried to backpack, but alas there was no water at elevation and they had recently closed the spring. Staying for 3 nights we drank our water the next morning and said heck with it. Depresed and dejected resting near a cliff as I had not yet seen the warbler, Silja asked me what the bird looked like. I told her. "Like that one?" She pointed 8 feet to my right. I snapped a quick picture on my K1000 only to find out that when the roll got developed later that summer, I had double exposed the roll and a picture of me holding a fish was superimposed over the warbler.
I came up here in 2013 for my Boobies, Peckers, and Tits the day after "Arvid" Jim and I had invented a church, the Church of St. Ocotillo. I appreciated more of how I did it then this day and how many people I ran into but you can read the chapter on The Church of the Sacred Ocotillo in my book. We had hiked up 3.7 miles of the 3.8 miles mostly in the dark, and I was tired when we reached the madrone trees and I put my pack down. Then Jim said it. "There it is." A Colima came out to a tree and looked at us, i walked down a bit to see it clearer. My camera was up the trail 20 feet in my backpack, I hadn't even unpacked it yet. I ran, dug it out, and focused on the bird. Jim was pointing. I put the camera on it just as it flew. I have a picture of a blurry gray tail.
Then there was this year. Would I get the photograph? Would I even see the bird if no one was going to point it out to me. You see Jim T got about 3/4 the way up the initial climb which is harsh, if not brutal, before it levels off for 2 miles until the final mile plus of switchbacks and punted the attempt. I was then walking up alone. But I got up there without issue. I was actually filled with some resolve about making this a tradition. I made a vow to do this every five years, I would have this trail be my thing and if I could not do it, I deserved to be in assisted living somewhere. 2021, who is coming with?
There is a great relief in seeing that last switchback at the top of this trail
it is even a greater relief standing up on top. I had a couple of back packers take my photo
Actually clothed this time, and as it was a bit chilly, even clothed in a jacket, I heard 5 Colimas, saw glimpses of two and was almost exactly in the same spot as in 2013 when one popped out being the gimme bird, maybe even it was in the same tree. I had unpacked at the madrones this year. I brought up my camera. Hit the shutter and the damn camera tried to autofocus, damn! I had it still on auto from the backpackers 200 yards back on the top. I almost pushed that shutter through the camera but that damn camera wouldn't take a picture, it was still trying to focus. I fumbled for the switch to turn it to manual, and poof, the bird flew up into a crack in the cliff wall. I looked and there was a tree way up there. The bird decided to sing out of view. taunting? I heard another at a switchback down but it would not come out in 20 minutes and frustrated I just left. Next time bird...next time, in five years. But it was bird #606. Colima warbler.
I saw a broad-tailed hummer feeding on a cactus, I hoped it was a blue-throated but it wasn't.
Mexican jays were everywhere
I finished up what was an 11 miles hike just after noon and it took a while but I found Jim, he was cheerfully sitting in the car. I ate a big lunch and being too tired to continue to look for the missing hummer, we drove out of there. Like Macarthur said, I will return.
1) the Hill Country
2) The Pinnacles Trail (it hurt so good....?)
3) Beverage Barns....could they work in South Dakota?
4) State Troopers with in God we trust on the back bumper.
5) The Motto "Don't mess with Texas on their garbage cans"
Texas is so bigger than life......
What I didn't like about Texas
1) bed bugs
2) bed bug bites
3) Texas Inns with bed bugs
4) The scratching of bed bugs
5) That my crap will have to go out into the garage in quarantine when I get home
Well I need to get home next week to pick up my new camera and refurbished lens. This has been a hard year on equipment. I got a new 850 Nikon for my trouble, we'll see how bad I am with that.
I now only need a groove-billed ani in Texas. I will save it for a coded chase to the LRGV or July, whichever comes first.
Rare birds all around and back to letting Delat decide...the answer is....Sacramento, 1800 miles through Texas in 5 days, but the count is getting there... 606.........as I holding on the ID of that Hill Country bird (note will correct numbers between 601-607
Coded Birds: 45
Miles driven. 24550
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be more)
other animals seen: gray whale, dolphin, bobcat, ringtailed cat, elk, bighorn, jackalope, feral pig, California sea lion, harbor seal, bedbugs