Friday, December 8, 2023

Three for Texas!

In 1962, Dean Martin and Anita Ekburg (my favorite actress of the Sixties) signed on for the movie Two for Texas. Later on, Frank Sinatra signed on and the title was changed to Three for Texas. After Sofia Loren turned down a cool million bucks to do the film, Ursula Andres agreed to do it and the movie title was changed a fourth time to Four for Texas. The movie is famous for just one anecdote, originally given a bit part, Peter Lawford was edited out after he was expelled from the Rat Pack in 1963 and does not appear in the movie despite having movie credits for it.
Much like the movie, my recent trip to Texas had its title changed a few times. and to be honest, this did NOT start out as a birding trip.  I am building a garage/ shed in South Dakota and my gravel pad was screwed up and the project needed my immediate attention. On Monday morning I flew off into the tundra where on most years, I would not even be able to get to my cabin but snowfall has been absent generally and although the lake is long since frozen, it wasn't that bad out side.  I signed a work order and mysteriously the problem abated and the new gravel showed up, apparently they did not like the way it had been done.

The hoar frost was neat to see, 
By the end of the day on Tuesday, the pad was done, and Dino, the Dinosaur and me watched the sunset on a productive day 
Do I wait for the builders to come back?  The last of the locals pulled out for the winter on Tuesday, and I did not want to get stuck out there, so I checked rare birds and there was not one but astonishingly six birds I needed in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, so I booked a ticket for San Antonio and at two in the morning I rewinterized the cabin and zipped off to Sioux Falls to fly south.

I made it to Corpus Christi at two PM and went right for the first bird, a Cattle tyrant, a bird from quite a bit south of Texas.  I saw one on a cow in Uruguay.  How did a bird like this, a never before seen bird, get here?  Not only that, it has been handing out in front of a sushi bar in some palms.  The belief is it caught a ride on a ship.  The main shipping channel goes right in front and I saw a tanker heading to South America for crude and then a container ship coming in from the Panama Canal the edge of this bird's range.  So who knows how it got there, but there is an avenue for one to hitch a ride.

a cattle tyrant

  I walked across the street and was getting settled to look when a guy came running up to me worried that I would not see it.  It was right over my head, ten feet away.  The whole process took longer to get across the street than to find the bird.  But there it was, bird to be lifer 826 (it is not on the list yet, I assume it will be).  I do not know about this tyrant.  It is hanging around in an odd area in downtown Corpus living in palms. I guess there is enough to eat but if a Cooper's hawk is in the area, he is going to be dinner I fear.  It has been here for a while and I am lucky it is still here and the house sparrows survive.  

I went to the marina to walk around and I needed a new hat, I had left a favorite on the plane.  Downtown Corpus is non-existent for shopping.  I hit paydirt in a tourist shop for a cool Bahama style hat.  Then I walked to pay homage to Selena Quintilla-Perez, the local singing sensation who was killed in 1995 by her former manager.  She was 24.

The statue is a bit slutty (sexy?), with her shirt open.  I took her
 memorial from a more appropriate angle

but then I looked how she dressed and that is what she performed in

 While I was taking a nap at the pier, a long billed curlew flew in and looked me over.
A favorite bird and then  I had a beer with Craig Casper and old frat brother who works in the local government and then drove south for more birds (hopefully).

The drive to Resaca de la Palma State Park north of Brownsville was an odd one.  The clerk at the flea bitten motel in Riviera was taking a shower, so I had to wait to get in my room.  I watched a BMW pull off the road towing two cars bound for Mexico, one of which was hardly worth the gas to pull it.  The three way towing looked unsafe and would never fly in almost every state but here.

The lady finally came out in a towel and gave me a room.  That ordeal was worn off when I saw my room.  I think the bedbugs had moved out already and the A/C heater had broke, so it smelled of stale motel room.  Dead, tired, I left everything in the car and just crashed at 730.  I woke up at 430, washed the grime off me and then changed in the parking lot as the clerk had on less than me.  It was just me and the garbage truck anyhow.  I was heading south at 0500.  Sunrise set for 0703.  

All driving south, I was having deja vu, like I was doing something over again.  At Olmito, exit 10 north of Brownsville, I hit a favorite Stripes/ Laredo Taco for my birding  breakfast, to breakfast tacos for 3 bucks and a large coffee.  I was in line with 40 Hispanic workers of all sorts doing the same thing and buying the same things.  The trouble with Resaca is that it is only three miles down there so I have to woof down the tacos and so I was in the parking lot before the coffee was cool enough and the second taco down.  All the other birders were looking at me weirdly, like what was I eating as I was putting on my fine new hat and getting camera stuff on.  I ate the second taco as I was hustling to where my intel said the bird was last seen.  The intel on the really good Becard the local crowd there had was stale and despite there being thirty birders eventually, these guys did not know how a stakeout worked.  This was sort of a deja vu moment from Portland ME when myself and another birder had to take it upon ourselves to go dig out the bird as everyone was standing around talking and no one was really birding.  Oh they said well it was in the parking lot the last night but that was not what I read, and okay, they need to space out and look for it.

It ended  up just two of us were by the feeding station where it seems to always be reported in the morning.

Advice on stakeouts, and I have some experience in this.
I have gleaned pointers form birding aces Larry Manfredi, Chris Feeney, Thor Monson and others
1) do your homework before you get there, 
2) get there early.  Yes, Texas state park birder spots open at 0800 BUT all of them have gates open before dawn.  Tropical birds are active in first hour of light and then sporadically and a little towards evening.  It had been hot the day before so sunrise in 0703 and I cruised into the parking lot at 0701.  You got to be on stake out when you can see.  Don't wait until eight!  Sometimes I'll come to a place like this in the afternoon to scout for the morning attack, and that is okay, sometimes you get lucky and find the bird
3) look around and see a keen eyed and most persistent birder or a known alpha-birder (of course in Florida if you spot Larry Manfredi, I am never going to be too far away even if he is guiding someone. Usually pick a young guy if you do not know anyone, and if you think where he is looking makes sense, go with him.  Be the next guy on his left or right as if you don't find it usually he will.  During the course of the morning, you may need to swap guys.  Looks do not always pan out.  I saw the kid and we covered a corner
4) do not bunch up and stay away from the conversation circles.
5) really work at it, for the first hour, and do NOT assume the others know more than you do.  

The crowd at here was not a good one and it ended up 20 were bunched in the parking lot, and two of us were working the trees and then I spotted it.  I called to the young guy, he zipped over and we both were on it.  An old guy without a pair of bins and just a camera on a tripod was within visual range so I got him to come over.  

This was no tripod bird.  It was feeding a bouncing all over a think tree.  I am not sure he ever got on the bird.  We worked on photos for five maybe ten minutes, it came in and out and a couple came but by then it was deep in the trees and then gone.

Gray collared becard, lifer 827 a really really rare bird.  I have never seen one in Mexico either. two of 35 got great looks at it and photos the others...?

By the time the hoard arrived it was gone.  fifteen minutes late it came out for a brief cameo for maybe 20 seconds.  There was no way any one would get a photo and then...that was it.  One guy seemed happy as he had been there for three days.  I'm thinking missing it for three days means you need to change your plan of attack.  He was the guy looking at me funny when I was eating on the walk and drinking coffee.  

"I can eat with my eyes open watching" did not seem to change his odd look at me.  Like I said the key is watching.

I always say I am a lucky birder.  I can find this stuff pretty easily, not always but usually.  Many give up and never get it when it does come by.  Maybe I have some skill in this and I make my luck, 

I then walked out for the next bird, a roadside hawk, a bird seen every few years down here, but one I had never gotten in the USA, although I had seen a few in Brazil last month.  It was a two hundred yard walk and then in the Resaca, there it was a hundred yards away and feeding, I then came back after a couple of birders left and waited for a better photo.  It then decided to come closer and closer and finally right next to us, maybe 15 feet away.

The roadside hawk is ABA continental bird 828, a double 20 minutes apart, astonishing.

Then I went for lifer butterflies
American snout

A really cool Mexican bluewing a lifer for me

northern sicklewing another lifer

A common mestra, seen one of these before

a really sharp Queen

a fiery skipper, seen these guys everywhere

a clouded skipper another lifer

Then I called a friend and went to lunch, and then we toured SpaceX.  Wow, what a crazy deal...Blowfeldt meets Edison.  Tesla meets Ford.  Gilligan meets the Professor.  You cannot imagine what is going on down there on the US border.  Right in the middle of a wildlife refuge

rocket factory under construction

Standing on a public beach and this is the view

they get 1000 a day for an RV spot to view a ricket blast from here, crazy.  Yea Don't panic....Another guy I met was selling scrapped stainless rocket parts for big bucks or that was the plan, somewhere he stumbled upon the stuff in Mexico.

Billions spent and this is just the beginning.  Rockets to Mars!  Is the goal, but is it a boondoggle, well it is, but will it become something?

It reminds me of another movie, Contact  They are also building million dollar cabins on the Rio Grande for SpaceX shareholders con watch 4 miles away.  Huge rockets can sometime go boom!  Will all of the employee houses a mile away survive?  All of this down 30 miles on a little road that is taking a beating and absolutely NO services, no gas stations, stores, just a company mess hall.  Guess it is mostly his money.....We will see if it happens or maybe Elon will find a new passion.

The deja vu was answered when i noticed a dent on the rear quarter panel of the rental car, wait a minute.  This is the very same car I rented in Tampa in September.  The dent was exact. Back then I had to argue about the dent, and apparently someone had driven it one way to San Antonio.  It still got crappy gas mileage.
I decided to not go to the other side of the valley to see three more potential lifer birds, I needed to see my wife.  Those others can wait, so we stopped at three in Texas.  After yet another argument with Avis with photos, they let me go.  "Like I just knew I'd get a similar car so I made a dent in the same spot on the same shape to sneak out of this.  Look me up, to see if I did not rent this exact car three months ago."  I flew to Florida today, crazy flights, wing issues, a plane swap, a one minute connection, but safely is good to be home

There is always another bird, and this time three of them, three for Texas!


Golden dreams and memories

  Today brings me to the north suburbs of Chicago.  Although not for a bird even though a lifer bird had been flying tantalizingly close to ...