Thursday, November 27, 2008

I'll See You On The Beach

I had the opportunity to travel again to Texas this year. Even though I had great success in June, I missed some birds and hoped to jack up my Texas list a bird. The purpose of the trip, however, had nothing to do with birds, really. It was family stuff, but more on that later. So, in the grand tradition of a birder, I accidently took extra time off of work, accidently flew to Texas a few days days early, and accidently birded the Rio Grande Valley before I met up with family in San Antonio.

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

My Northwest flight left at some stupid hour of the morning. Breakfast was in Memphis and helped to establish why I don’t usually do Starbuc
ks. I paid 1.8 million dollars for a bagel and coffee and they couldn’t even toast the bagel! What the hell! Once airborne, I had the chance to really dip into “Sky Mall.” You know it. That crazy sales magazine that is crammed in the seat pouch? Where do they get that stupid stuff? It was a toss-up between the ultra-sonic eyeglass cleaner or the toaster that toasts hot dogs and buns. Who buys that crap? Worse yet, what a waste of brainpower designing it...

Even after the layover in Tennessee, I was in my rental car and on the road by about 12:30 (the flight was actually 20 minutes early!). My first stop was NOT the Rio Grande Valley as I was originally planning in the weeks before leaving. Instead of heading 4 hours south, I shot four hours east to the beach at Quintana Jetty, south of Houston. The target bird was a gull. Yes, folks, I drove 4 hours out of my way for a gull. But not just any gull. A Kelp Gull, a rare north American wanderer (A Code 4 for ABA folks) from various locations across the Southern Hemisphere (in this case, likely South America). For whatever reason, it decided to hang out on the beach south of the jetty, especially at sundown. Perfect timing.

Surprisingly, no other birders were on the beach. I eventually found Mark, a photographer who had taken some stunning photos of the bird. He was certain the bird would be on the beach by sundown. We talked shop the while birds were slowly coming in to roost. His camera was rig was huge. I think he was field testing a second generation Hubble Telescope, but he swore it was only a 500mm rig with a 1.4 extender. I still don’t believe him. More gulls were coming into the beach behind us, backlit by the sun. The sanderlings were just too cooperative to pass up. They were basically at our feet. Those back lit gulls were not. There was even a Franklin’s Gull in front of us, too. That was a state bird for me. More gulls flew in behind us. Finally, the day was slipping to night quickly. “Ya know, Mark, I think I am going to check these gulls behind us. I will walk up the beach and look back so the sun it to my back and see what I can get.” There it sat. The Kelp Gull. Life bird #621. Who knows how long it was sitting there.

While waiting for the Kelp Gull to show, I managed a photo of a Sanderling. They are just so damned photogenic. I wish we could get this close to shorebirds in Michigan!

With a key bird secured for the trip and photographed, I immediately left when the sun was gone. My evening meal was the Dinner of Champions - Funyons and a Coke. I made Kingsville. I was hoping to get all the way to Zapata, but exhaustion said otherwise.

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