Many people have been asking me, "Where's day four?" The truth is that I've written this post three times now. Twice it was somehow deleted by the computer. That sort of sucks the will to write out of you for a while. Now on to the birds!
Wednesday morning we awoke bright and early, excited about another amazing day of birding. It was to be just Tony and Curt with me as Erik was off setting up his booth at the Rio Grande Birding Festival. I should probably point out that while I've been talking about all this birding being part of the festival, it really hasn't been. The Festival runs Wed-Mon but we were birding Sunday-Sunday. The festival hadn't even started yet and we'd been out seeing all kinds of great birds.We were at 116 for the trip so far.
Tuesday had been a wonderful day of birding on South Padre Island but now I was ready to go chase the Fork-tailed Flycatcher. It would be a lifer for me and a great one too as they are not a bird commonly seen.
We headed down to Port Isabel in the morning and then planned to work our way up 48 to Brownsville. This was a waste of time. The maps looked good but 48 was pretty devoid of both places to stop and birds. When we got to Brownsville we turned onto "Boca Chica Boulevard" and headed toward the last known location of the flycatcher.
If you want to picture where this is, think about the shape of Texas and where it comes to a point at the bottom where it meets with both the gulf and Mexico. That's where this road goes. We were headed into the Boca Chica Unit of the Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area. The whole southern side of the WMA is the boarder which here is also the Rio Bravo River.
There were certainly plenty of birds and we tallied them up while slowly driving down the road trying to figure out where the flycatcher had been seen. I was trying to cross reference the BirdsEye app on my phone with the google map showing our current GPS location. The maps differed a bit so it was tricky but we eventually made it to the correct spot.
Along the way we saw our first Altimira Orioles of the trip.
|Altimira Oriole at Boca Chica|
We also spooked up several coveys of Northern Bobwhite along the roads. These were nice as they were a sort-of lifer. I'd seen one in Minnesota before at my work at the nature center but I am 99.9% sure it was a bird that had escaped from a game farm.
At the flycatcher spot, we drove around for a while, parked for a while, drove, parked, waited, scanned, waited more. It was early in the morning and the resident Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were all perching low. We carefully looked at each and every one of them. Alas, no fork-tailed. There were plenty of mockingbirds to rub it in. Had we waited to long? Should we have come yesterday like we planned?
After an hour or so of searching we decided to head down to the end of the road. It leads though some good shorebird habitat then out to the beach. Along the way at a good shorebird spot we passed a car and Curt said, "Hey, I think that's Kelly!" He pulled over, leaving the car mostly on the road as birders do, and started to walk back to the car behind us. Sure enough, it was Kelly. Curt and Erik had met her at the festival last year.
She gave us all kinds of tips and suggestions for birding the rest of our trip. While Curt and Kelly were chatting about last year, Tony and I set up a scope and got to work IDing shorebirds. There were many we'd already seen but we were able to tease out a lone Black-bellied Plover. There were also an impressive 200 American Avocets hanging out in a group.
We told Kelly we'd see her later at the opening party that evening and headed down to the end of the road. At the beach I added a lifer Ruddy Turnstone along with a handful of gulls and terns for our Texas list.
We decided to take one more crack at the flycatcher so we turned around and headed to the spot. We weren't hopeful. We'd left our phone number with birders who were staked out and no one had called us. We pulled up just as all of the other cars were leaving. Nothing had been seen. Just after the last car left a lone flycatcher flew up to the exact spot it had been seen on Tuesday. Could it have returned to roost now that everyone was gone?
We slowly rolled a little closer and using the car as a blind looked a the features of the bird. We started to get excited. Some of the field marks were a match. "That's it! That's it!" someone exclaimed. I wasn't convinced. The day had worn on and the sun had risen higher in the hazy sky. The lighting was terrible. I was pretty sure the head was grey not black. We took a couple of photos and then drove closer to reveal that it was, in fact, a simple Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. I think we just wanted it to be the Fork-tailed too much.
It would be easy to say the morning had been a bust. We'd birded the area for three hours and not seen the one bird we were really looking for. Everyone dipped on the flycatcher that day. No one saw it the rest of the week so we weren't the only ones. Most people out that day had just arrived for the opening of the festival. I had regrets about not going to look for it Tuesday, or Monday or even Sunday when I heard about it. Such is life.
I closed out my list on the BirdLog app and to my surprise we'd tallied 41 species in three hours. Considering at least an hour of that was dinking around looking for a non-existent bird it was more like 2 hours to get those birds. That's a different species every three minutes so I can't complain. I'd even added three lifers.
The list for the morning had been Northern Bobwhite, Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelican, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Northern Harrier, Harris's Hawk, American Avocet, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Bonaparte's Gull, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Caspian Tern, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, American Kestrel, Tropical Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, House Wren, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Lark Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Meadowlark, Great-tailed Grackle, and Altamira Oriole,
We decided to make up for our big dip in classic birder fashion by going to a garbage dump and missing everything we need there as well. "I told you so" probably seemed appropriate at this point. My birding buddies were hoping to see Chiuahuan Raven or Tamaulipas Crows at the dump. I already knew the two birds we wanted to see at the landfill probably wouldn't be there. The Bird's Eye app shows all sightings for a given location. The Brownsville Landfill may be the famous location for Ravens but according to the app it had been over a month since one had been seen there. I'd already double checked on this with our host Claire and she confirmed ahead of time that it had been well over a month since anyone had seen them there.
|A small group of birds at the dump. Click to enlarge if you feel like IDing them all,|
|Neotropic Cormorants are smaller than Double-crested. Note the white on the face as well.|
I was still feeling like we'd been burned by the lack of the Flycatcher and we needed to make up for it. Parrots were our last hope for the day. It was getting late and there were a couple of places where parrots roost in Harlingen. Armed with a map provided by the conference organizers, we set out.
We drove all around looking for the parrots at the spots marked with no luck. We looped back to where we'd stared, a church parking lot, and decided we we needed to wait. It was still too early for the parrots to roost. We set about killing time by updating checklists and discussing birds. We all had our noses buried in books or glued to our phones when all of a sudden I realized I was hearing a strange noise. I looked out the window and I shouted "Parrots!" We didn't have to find the parrot roost, they had found us. We'd parked right under the power lines the parrots had chosen to roost on. We watched as hundreds flew in and we got down to business taking photos.
Soon more birders were closing in on our location. Without planning it, Erik drove by and we flagged him in. We were soon joined by our birding friends Annette, Robert and Paula from Tuesday. We all scanned the birds and marveled at the noise. There were 160 Red-crowned Parrots. I don't remember who spotted it first but someone pointed out that a couple of the birds looked different. We took more photos and scanned all of the birds. Hidden in with all of the others were two Red-lored Parrots as well. Not too shabby!
|Red-lorred Parrots in some really tough lighting.|
It was good to meet other birders and officially kick off the festival. This brings us back full circle to me washing down owl cupcakes with wine.
We'd added 15 species to our trip list Wednesday. We'd already seen 131 species of birds, the festival had finally begun and we had three days left. The clock was ticking and a cold front was moving in.
Today, Sunday February 2nd is Groundhog's Day, here's your official Twin Cities Groundhog Report.
It was a beautiful day with clear skies. We'we had an incredible winter so far with several visits from the dreaded Polar Vortex. As all the real groundhogs are still hibernating in Minnesota, we cog course need a stand-in groundhog. Alas, as I now work at a different nature center, Stuffed Stanley is no longer available.
Just like last year, shadows were plentiful.
|According to legend, the sudden appearance of the shadow scares the groundhog back into hiding and we will have six more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow then spring will soon be here.|
The official Twin Cities Groundhog Prediction:
The groundhog DID see his shadow in the Twin Cities so we have six more weeks of winter to look forward to.
What's the connection between Groundhogs, shadows and the seasons?
The connection is tenuous at best. Further south than Minnesota, male groundhogs do come out of hibernation early to scope out and check on their breeding territory. In Minnesota, February 2nd is usually too early for this to happen. Seeing the first groundhogs checking out their territory is surely a sign of spring though. Okay, but what does seeing a shadow have to do with it? The connection to shadows has to do with prevailing weather patterns. We often associate sunny days with warmth and the coming spring but sunny days in the winter aren't always warm. Clear winter days are often the result of cold Canadian air that has settled over the state. A shadow in the winter often means we're in a pattern of cold air flowing south. It can take many weeks to break that pattern and warm the area. All of the snow we have will also keep us cold longer.
Celestially, February 2nd is an important day. According to the solar calendar, it should mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
Forty-two days ago was the winter solstice, the day of the year when we have the least sunlight. From that day on, the amount of daylight increases until the day when there are equal amounts of night and day. We call this day the equinox and it falls around March 21st. February 2nd falls half way between the solstice and the equinox so in theory it should mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
Has anyone seen any crocus flowers blooming?
Obviously the winter solstice is not really mid-winter. Why do we call the solstice mid-winter if it is really more like the day winter begins? This has long been a puzzle and even caused a few arguments between astronomers and meteorologists. The answer is something we call the lag of the seasons and it affects Groundhog’s day as well. Yes, it is true that Groundhog’s day technically marks the beginning of spring from a celestial point of view but our experience tells us otherwise. Our seasons lag behind what the sun tells us in the sky.
Saying spring starts on Groundhog’s day is a little like saying a frozen dinner is ready to eat as soon as it is pulled out of the freezer. The northern hemisphere has been cooling down for months by the time the solstice arrives. Forty-two days with just less than a minute more sunlight each day is not enough to thaw out the frozen landscape into a lush vernal garden.
The established pattern of cold weather continues for many weeks after the beginning of the increase in daylight. This lag makes it seem like mid-winter actually falls on Groundhog’s day rather than the solstice. Rest assured though that on Groundhog’s day, even if it feels like the middle of winter, we are getting an hour and seven minutes more daylight today than we did just forty-two days earlier.
Groundhog’s Day may marks the beginning of spring according to the sun but it will be about forty-two more days until we feel the change enough to call it spring. It may seem like winter has a grip on the land but the sun has been working hard to reverse the trend for over a month and we’ll soon start to see those effects.
Incidentally, the legend tells us that if the groundhog sees its shadow it will be scared back into the den and we’ll have six more weeks of winter. Why six weeks? How many days are there in six weeks? Forty-two. Six weeks takes us exactly to the spring equinox.
Be sure to keep up with other nature news by following Twin Cities Naturalist on Twitter. Follow @tcnaturalist
I was sad to hear this morning of the passing away of Pete Seeger. It reminded me if this article I wrote six years ago. It appeared in the March/April 2006 issue of The Interpreter magazine.
I am a hammer
On the way to work last spring I heard Pete Seeger singing “If I Had a Hammer.” I hadn’t heard that song since I was a child and I was overcome with emotion. The station played it to remind listeners what the original sounded like as this classic activist empowerment song had been co-opted as a GOP battle cry for the then- embattled Tom “The Hammer” DeLay.
The song brought back emotional memories of my childhood because I grew up singing it with my parents and I grew up believing in “love between the brothers and the sisters, all over this land.” I learned to be the bell, I learned to be the hammer. I learned my values from that song.
Songs are a powerful form of interpretation.
The song brought back memories of this past year’s May Day parade in Minneapolis where I witnessed a young girl beginning to form her values. Each year my wife and I host friends for breakfast and then walk the eight blocks to the parade route. The parade features kids and adults working together, twining the green root of spring re-awakening with the red root of humanity’s struggles.
As part of last year’s parade, people dressed in black carried black banners with the names of every person who had died in Iraq as a result of the war. Thousands of names passed by in silence. It was very moving, but even more so because I had a friend’s 10-year-old daughter at my side. It was her first time at the parade and I was helping to interpret the changing scene of characters parading past our grassy street corner. She knew what the names meant and she understood it was supposed to be sad. Frankly, I think she was also a little bored. How did this war in a far away place she had never been link to her everyday experience as a 10-year-old American girl?
Three-fourths of the way through the banners, a young boy in black walked by with a sign around his neck. Written in white paint was the name of a young boy, the same age as the girl to my side. She read his name, his age and how he died from a shot to the head. “That boy was my age!” she said, half excited to have made a connection and yet profoundly confused and saddened. She turned to me and said, “What was he doing there?”
It never occurred to this child that there were kids, just like her, living, learning, and growing up in this place called Iraq where this thing called a war went on each day.
Parades can be a powerful form of interpretation.
Don’t ever doubt that interpretation done right can have a powerful, life-changing effect on the lives of the individual people that make up an audience. This is especially true for children. As a naturalist, my interpre- tive bias is toward nature. Author Rupert Sheldrake points out that, “Even if we cannot remember an intuitive sense of connection with nature in childhood, the fact remains that in our formative years we establish patterns of relationship with the natural world that continue to influ- ence us unconsciously. They affect our desire to get back to nature. They shape our subsequent careers.”
Those patterns of relationship are formed to a large degree by how the world around us is interpreted through music, television, parents, friends, professional interpreters, and, yes, even the occasional parade. Like many of my colleagues, I am an interpreter both on and off the clock. Interpretation is a way of seeing and being in the world, which doesn’t stop when we punch out for the day. An interpreter strives to help others make a connection to the world and it is through those connections people form their values.
Pete Seeger dreamed of a hammer to hammer out danger, to hammer out warning. He wanted to make his voice heard. As professional interpreters, we make our voices heard every day while we forge emotional connections between the audience and the resource. We help people understand their world.
What sense of vision and values will your interpretation instill in future generations?