Crossing Texas in a Day
Doing a Big Year involves a lot of travel, regardless of one's financial constraints. I'm fortunate that I have been able to keep myself on the road and continue to bird- and I give credit to the price of oil. Today I saw gas for $1.29 on my way through some small towns on I-37 outside of San Antonio. I feel triumphant every time I fill up my gas tank for under $25, partly because it makes easy math and is easy on my wallet. I figure 3 tanks of gas is equal to the price of a hotel room, and so nights spent in my car now translate into thousands of miles on the road...
Today I drove over 700 miles, from virtually the bottom of Texas, to the top. It was a necessary haul, as I am now headed to Colorado for several days to focus on the Engage part of my EPIC Big Year, promoting learning through birds and birding at a small school in Colorado. A Common Crane was recently re-located within several different large Sandhill Crane flocks south of Lubbock, Texas- so I had no time to waste in heading north! Driving across Texas may seem daunting, but after driving over 10,000 miles already- another 700 didn't seem like a big deal. It would be a solid 10-hour day, and that's not counting stops for gas or stretching my legs.
I started my day before the sun, first driving east to the Atlantic coast near South Padre Island. Before leaving, I had unfinished business from the day before: Aplomado falcon. This medium-size falcon used to be abundant on the grasslands across southern North America, but the conversion of grasslands to farmland decimated their population, with the last breeding pair seen in New Mexico in the 1950's. 30 years later it was listed as an Endangered Species, and The Peregrine Fund was instrumental in captive breeding and release programs in south Texas and New Mexico. Recently the ABA ruled that they are now countable, so it was a bird I had to see during the year, and personally it was my last falcon species for North America, so I was eager to find one. With scattered reports across the area on eBird, my strategy was to go to the appropriate habitat and hope I found one fast.
My "falcon game" was on point, as I pulled over on a side road and scanned a large open expanse of coastal savannah. A steady stream of birds began moving right after sunrise, and soon a dark sicke-shaped bird appeared high in the sky, making a long arcing run down against the earth. I could tell immediately by the shape it was a falcon, but with three other possible falcon species, I didn't want to jump so quickly to my target bird. Getting the scope out from the back of my car, I scanned fence posts and tall shrubs, until I found the falcon I had seen, perched on a fencepost showing off his handsome white vest and long tail: Aplomado falcon.
Moving on down the road, (just to see what else I could find, putting off the long drive ahead) I saw White-tailed and Harris's hawks.
Before I knew it I was along the Gulf of Mexico, scanning through shorebirds, gulls, and terns to see what I could add to my year list. It was sparse, but I managed to see a Gull-billed tern. At about noon, I realized I needed to get back on the road, if I wanted to try early tomorrow morning for the Common Crane on my own. Already my GPS was putting me in Lubbock past my bedtime, so I turned my back to the salty breeze coming off the water, and started driving.