Cruising down the interstate at 80 miles an hour felt pretty dang good after being cooped up for a couple days. I longed for the feeling of wind blowing through my mop of hair, but it was over 100 degrees outside and today I had the A/C on full-swing. Usually I try not to turn on the A/C as it doesn't help my fuel economy, but today it was fully warranted. I was back on the road again, after spending several days in New Mexico. These last few days were beautiful; I was privileged to be present at the wedding of my best friend since high school. In fact, my return trip from Nome was entirely based on attending his wedding, so I worked in my birding plans around the date, and soon an epic roadtrip emerged.
July 3rd Fly back from Nome to Chicago, IL
July 4th St. Louis, MO
July 5th Kansas
July 6th New Mexico
July 7th - July 10th Wedding festivities in Albuquerque and Santa Fe
July 11th San Antonio, TX
Recent reports of a Mexican Violetear (previously lumped as the Green Violetear) in San Antonio at a private residence had me googling the miles and checking my bank account to see if a side trip to Texas was feasible. It wasn't objectionable, so the gas went on the credit card. I'd already driven across the country, and so what was 700 more miles? It wouldn't be for just a single bird- I still needed Groove-billed Ani also. After one sprint across the desert, and some fortunate events- I got both birds the same day. That's a story for another post. Time to head West, again...
July 12th Big Bend National Park
I couldn't drive past Big Bend National Park without stopping. It was only 69 miles off my route, and I needed an excuse to get out of the car and hike for a few hours. On my last visit to the park in April, I saw all of my target birds in a less-than 24 hour birding blitz that included trail running and guiding two European birders around a park I'd never been to before. (Thank you, eBird) The trip resulted in me spotting two life birds, including Colima Warbler, and Blue-throated Hummingbird. It was a great trip, and a destination I couldn't wait to get back to!
Leaving San Antonio, I had hours before the turnoff to think about it, to plan, scheme, and weigh how stopping would affect my chances of seeing the Plain-capped Starthroat being seen in Arizona's Madera Canyon. When I reached the turnoff in the small Texas town of Marathon, I pulled over and slept in my car next to the tourist shelter. It was literally a shed full of photos and brochures highlighting the area's attractions. There were even Barn Swallows nesting on top of the right light inside the shack. Waking up early the next morning, I figured I could hike for a bit before the day got too hot. On a whim, I drove into the park to Chisos Basin, and jogged up the trail to Boot Springs. I spent the next hour and a half laying under a male Blue-throated Hummingbird, watching him defend his territory and attempting a decent photograph. Am I obsessed with photographing birds? No. I've passed on many opportunities for the "perfect shot" to just watch the bird. I won't come away at the end of the year having photographed the most species, but I will have a nice portfolio of images that help tell the story of the birds I've been fortunate enough to see and enjoy.
Here's a nice male Blue-throated Hummingbird. They are the largest hummingbird species that breeds in the United States- mostly within a limited range in the southern parts of Arizona and Texas. This species is quite vocal- I heard them far down the wooded canyon along a stream, and found nearly a half-dozen different individuals along my hike. It was a challenge to find the calling birds, which perched in the middle-elevations of the pine and oak woodlands. Most of my photos show the underside of the bird, like this:
I climbed across the stream on a downed tree to be closer to this male perched high on a limb. However, with some patience I was able to sit above the stream on a hillside, where the same male favored a low perch. After 15 minutes or so, he flew down and landed nearby, offering a great photo opportunity.
Hiking back to Chisos Basin, I stopped to take a drink and listen for Colima Warblers. (I saw exactly two) After a few minutes of enjoying the shade under a small pine shrub, I stood up and heard a wheezing grunt-like call followed by a snarl. Startled, I turned around and caught sight of a small cinnamon-phase Black Bear, mid-stride walking right towards me! I shouted at it, and waved my arms. That did the trick... the bear swerved its course after giving me a nasty look, and made a wide arcing turn around me, keeping his distance. I got out my bear spray just in case, and kept my cool when he looked like he may charge me. Luckily, the bear kept his cool too and crossed the trail less than 40 feet away.
July 13th Arizona
This morning I woke up in El Paso Texas, drove across New Mexico, crossed the border into Arizona, dropped my car off at a friend's house, and went birding. Truth be told, I paused for a moment, contemplating a shower before returning to the 100 degree morning to go birding. I decided to get the bird first.
Arriving in Madera Canyon, I met my friend and fellow Big Year birder Laura Keene, who had just seen the Starthroat. Literally. Right before we got there. Good thing we didn't stop on the way for ice cream... It was great to celebrate this bird with Laura, who had patiently waited two days to spot and photograph this bird after it had been reported. And she got great images! I ran into some other birders who were hoping to see the bird, and we all had quite a show when the bird returned, feeding right in front of us on a feeder, then flying up to a tree where a Broad-billed hummingbird harassed it before it returned to a nearby feeder. I didn't get any great photos, but these are acceptable for documenting the bird, which looked rather ratty as he was molting tail feathers and sounded by the raspy wingbeats that it was also missing primaries on both wings.
Onwards to 700
From here on out, only 8 birds stand in my way on my goal to 700. I could write a whole post on my thoughts/emotions and my plan for reaching 700.... However, it's late and I have a real bed to sleep in tonight. I think I'll explore Arizona tomorrow and do some more photography, just for kicks. I have the whole rest of the year to see more birds!
Summary of my plan to reach 700:
Finish birding Arizona. Then drive to CA, NV, WY, MT, and finally WA.
Relax at home in Seattle. Go to more weddings. See what is left. What's possible?
Anything you put your mind and heart into.
Confession: it's a hide-a-bed.