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Home at last…

Posted by | April 14, 2014 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

So Texas was wild and crazy and I stepped in a chigger nest, and boy, that’s a thing, isn’t it? My feet and ankles look like I have chicken pox.

But it was worth it! We saw marvelous and strange birds. Lots of them. 35 lifers* for me, out of over 150 species seen, between the hill country and the Rio Grande valley.

Of particular note–the Tropical Parula is beautiful, the endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler is stunning, the Common Pauraque is…um…a freakish mutant bark bird, and the Ringed Kingfisher is noble and magnificent. Green Jays are wonderful, Great Kiskadees are stunning. Wires full of Green Parakeets preparing to roost (in the trees around a Walgreen’s, corner of 10th and Dove in McAllen, Tx) are bizarre and delightful.

But the dawn chorus of the Plain Chachalaca is really unbelievable–a half-dozen chicken sized dinosaur-birds, at the top of a tree, screaming a very unmusical “Cha-ka-cha-ka-cha!” A few of the birds do a kind of descant over the top–”Eee-ow-ee-ee-ee!” We stood in the parking lot watching several trees full, which would go in sequence–Tree One would scream for about fifteen seconds, then stop, Tree Two would scream, then stop, Tree Three would scream, then stop, and Tree One would start up again. It was a sort of round, done by an utterly tone-deaf choir.

Obviously I fell deeply and immediately in love with them.

Since they prefer dry scrub and I cannot immediately import an entire flock to North Carolina, I returned home with a somewhat heavy heart, and also I was exhausted because I’ve been getting up at variations of 4:30 for a week. But I came back to the best season, when the trees are full of new leaves and there is a blinding green haze of leaves and the dogwoods are blooming and the moss phlox is covered in flowers, which always surprises me, and the groundcover roses I’d planted around the birdfeeder to discourage cats have come back from the dead with a vengeance. And I am terribly, terribly glad to be home.

Could do without the chigger bites, though.

*In birding terms, that’s a bird you’ve seen for the first time, and now enter into your lifelist, the record of all the species you’ve ever seen. My life list stands at around 450, with 427 of them what are known as ABA species–those appearing in the US and Canada, as recognized by the American Birding Association. If you keep such a list, you are what’s known as a lister (and not all birders are) and you can aspire to see over 700 ABA species, although to get there, you have to chase after a lot of rare birds blown in from Asia and Europe. (Not counting rarities, there are probably 650 species that actually live in North America or immediately off shore.)

A lifelist at or over 700 ABA birds is very difficult and requires a great deal of dedication and travel. My buddy Tina is over 600, and the joke is that that puts her halfway to 700. At 427, I am in a respectable neighborhood, but not a terribly elite one.

2 Comments

  • Darla says:

    I grew up in Texas, albeit in the Greater Houston area, and had never heard of the plain chacalaca. Now that I’ve heard of them, and their mad (and wonderfully horrible) song, I must say my life is better. How, of course, I’m not exactly sure, but I’m still smiling, and I’ve pushed the button on the “hear the sound” widget a few times already. So, thanks for that.

  • Don Hilliard says:

    I’m not a birder – I don’t have the time, gas/travel budget or, to be honest, inclination to be serious about it – but I thoroughly enjoy reading YOUR adventures.

    (I will admit that a copy of the Golden Guide to North American Birds and my grandmother’s Better Sears binoculars are in a drawer handy to the back deck, because I like to know what I’m looking at. Since my house backs up to a small canal, it’s generally “So OK, what kind of duck is this”…but even so I’ve seen a few apparent rarities.)

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