Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Thank You For The Memories

I have been writing on the road from various locations around the US.  Currently I'm in Maine getting eaten alive by the black flies.  

A sacred moment.  We watch the Eastern Screech-Owl appear from the box.  Gordon finds his lifer. 
Several months ago, I had planned a trek with Gordon Karre and Austin birding guru and mutual friend Laurie Foss to find some Austin endemics. 

Black-crested Titmouse
Any chance to take the U.S.S. Betty White on the road trek with friends to find birds is a no brainer. 

We began planning this trek at the end of December with much of it getting worked out over the course of several months.  I remember one day speaking to Gordon about Texas and then on the same day, organizing my trek out to Machias Seal Island with Kathie in Maine.  It was a bit funny trying to keep it all straight. 

We had several birds on our list of "must sees" and thankfully in this post and in the next, I'll be able to show you all of our target birds:) The first one is above and it was probably the easiest of the birds to find. Back in 2002, the Black-crested Titmouse was split from the Tufted Titmouse and recognized as its own species.  The two species can hybridize so it was imperative that we found this species outside of the Austin area where they do hybridize. 

Texas Paintbrush
Our birding was made so much better by having friend Laurie with us.  We stayed with Laurie and Bucky and it was so much fun.  Our first night in Austin was rain and thunderstorms!  

Each day we planned a target bird.  In the Austin area, there are two really important endemics, the Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo.  Both species are vulnerable as they breed in very specific habitats in and around the Austin area. 

Because of successful conservation efforts, the Black-capped Vireo was moved from the Endangered status to Vulnerable. On a beautiful rainy day, we walked into this lovely gazebo. 

I looked into the verdant landscape. 

And then I turned around to find this sign and as promised by the birding gods, the Black-capped Vireos made themselves known. 

Perhaps Laurie had done a rain dance.  Either way, it was exciting to see this beautifully distinct vireo perch out in the open.  We were patient and were super happy when this bird popped onto a branch. 

It was also nice to learn about Texas birding.  There were plenty of birds and Laurie shared lots of information about habitat and migrating birds. 

She took us to some great places including a gas station known as Bucky's. Bucky is a beaver. But not to be confused with Bucky the dog named after the beaver.  Got it?:)

Grasshopper Sparrow
We continued birding in great weather all week long. While I'm not a big fan of Texan knick knacks or BBQ, I did enjoy the birds and incredible wildflower show.

the USS Betty White in all her glory. She's a beauty
Oh!  And "people watching" was fun!

Evenings were lovely.  Gordon and I went outside at night searching for Eastern Screech-Owls and Chuck-will's-widows. We saw and heard both. 

Laurie taught us about Cave Swallows.  My biggest question to Laurie was about how Cave Swallows could breed outside of caves.  Then I saw their habitat requirements and it made sense.  They like underpasses with streams where the vegetation locks both openings up creating a "cave like" environment.  Cool!

Cave Swallow
I looked forward to Gordon observing his first Upland Sandpipers. He had tried several times finding these birds in other places. And it would be in Central Texas that he'd mark down his first UPSA tick. 

They really are amazing birds. 

In the same field, Pectoral Sandpipers hung out.

On our last day, we went for the Golden-cheeked Warblers.  These birds were difficult!  Most people told us, "Oh, you'll have no problem finding those birds!  Easy!"  Um.....

We even followed rocks with their pictures on them.  They were tricky to observe out in the open as they liked to perch out in the open on the very top of the trees out of view behind a million branches. This bird requires very strict vegetation types to breed.  Across the city of Austin, tracts of Ashe Juniper forest have been preserved or are being restored for this very sensitive warbler species. They strip bark from this tree to create their nests. 

And what's a visit without seeing the Texan favorite, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher?

It would be on this trek that I would develop a bunion.  Or maybe a fractured big toe?  Either way, it's feeling much better.  But OMG!  The pain!  It happened on that rocky trail for the Golden-cheeked Warbler.  I slipped on a rock in tight shoes and remember thinking, Ouch.  That didn't feel good. Several days later, I could barely walk. 

My favorite thing about the Austin area was Laurie's place. She lives in beautiful country surrounded by magnificent wildlife.  She also has the most wonderful pooch. 

I enjoyed the Central Texan endemics, but it was driving my Betty and hanging out with Laurie and Gordon that I liked best. So thank you Laurie for taking us around and showing us your piece of paradise. 

On a sad note this week, we say good-bye to our dear friend Kathy Cooper.  Over the years, I have been lucky to call Kathy and her daughter Mary Ann friends.  Thankfully, I was able to say good-bye to Kathy before leaving for my summer treks. It's one of the saddest things I've had to do this year.  This year we all celebrated New Years together and she was looking great. 

We have coffee during one of our many treks to Rancho Aribabi
I never took any of it for granted, but sometimes I wish I never had to say good-bye.  We are going to miss her.  She has made the world a better place.  And she has made me a better person by her friendship.  I will always be grateful to Kathy for her teachings. 

Kathy at our New Year's party this year
You are loved and you will not be forgotten. 


  1. So sorry to hear of Kathy's passing, Chris. I know she meant a lot to you.

    My very best wishes to you and Micheal - - - Richard

    1. Thank you Richard. It's hard saying good-bye to wonderful people.


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