Gulf Coast report and Long-tailed Duck

2007 November 22
by David J. Ringer

GREENE CO., MO — Thanks for your well wishes in response to my Gulf Coast target list last weekend. Unfortunately, they weren’t enough to bring success in the venture.

It’s not really fair to complain about a trip that included Long-billed Curlews, Marbled Godwits, avocets, Snowy Plovers, and Roseate Spoonbills, but the fact is, Saturday just wasn’t one of those lucky days. I stared into cattails until I started hallucinating, but we couldn’t even find a Sora, let alone a Virginia Rail. And anis remain a jinx bird for another year.

Thousands of Snow Geese fed in the fields at Anahuac, and we picked out a few Greater White-fronteds too. The tide was way out at Bolivar Flats, so shorebirds were dispersed over vast expanses of sand. The saltmarsh, which should have been crawling with Seaside and sharp-tailed sparrows, was very quiet. Ah well.

The two most interesting sightings, for me, were the Neotropic Cormorants in breeding plumage and three Horned Grebes in flight over the Gulf.

I don’t recall ever seeing a grebe (of any sort) in flight before, but as I scanned the water from Bolivar Flats, I picked up three birds moving low over the water, flashing white secondaries. They didn’t seem right for loons or ducks. They finally landed, and I was able (barely) to get them in the scope. They bobbed in and out of sight on the waves, but as far as I could tell, they showed the black-and-white faces of Horned Grebes. Cool!

So, all of my target birds will have to wait for another day.

I have seen 386 bird species in Texas. Depending on your frame of reference, this may sound pretty good, until I tell you that the current Texas big year record is 522 species. Yeah, 522 species in one year.

Now, if you know me at all, you probably realize that accumulating a huge state list is not of particular interest to me. I am more interested in habitats, biomes, and ecoregions than in arbitrary political borders, but the fact remains that arbitrary political borders do sometimes slice up the world into convenient little chunks. So, it makes sense to look for gaps in my life list, identify species that I should be able to find in my current little chunk of the world, and concentrate on finding those species.

So I’ve made a list of birds I’d like to find in Texas between now and the time I leave the country again in late winter:

  • Greater Scaup
  • King Rail
  • Virginia Rail
  • Groove-billed Ani
  • Sprague’s Pipit
  • Smith’s Longspur
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur

You’ve already seen most of those names. I didn’t include species that occur in distant corners of the state (for example, Steller’s Jay and Spotted Owl), because I doubt I’ll be able to travel that far in the next couple of months.

So that was my list as of last week, and of course, the very first new bird I got was one I’d chosen not to put on the list. Sunday, a Long-tailed Duck was reported from Village Creek in Fort Worth. Monday morning, I stopped by on my way up to Missouri, and I found a crowd of other birders already there.

Scanning hundreds of Buffleheads, pintails, and shovelers, I finally found the female Oldsquaw (Can I just say it, please? There, I said it. Oldsquaw.), who was diving frequently and staying under for long periods. Eventually she came up and stayed for awhile, preening and offering nice, if distant looks. Her stubby, “rubber ducky” shape and white face with a dark cap and cheek patch were very striking. Long-tailed Ducks are reported a few times a year across Texas, and I didn’t expect to be in the right place at the right time to see one. But this little gal was sitting pretty. Score!

I didn’t get any pictures because of the distance, but here’s one from another Metroplex birder: female Long-tailed Duck.

So, hurrah for Long-tailed Ducks! I’m a fan. Now, let’s get busy on those other species. Anybody want to join my team? A-pipiting we’ll go!

Related posts:

  1. Gulf Coast Day 1: Spectacle and color
  2. More Gulf Coast photos
  3. Gulf Coast targets
  4. Senate poised to waste billions that could aid Gulf Coast
  5. Fan-tailed Warbler discovered at Big Bend
3 Responses
  1. November 23, 2007

    Long-tailed Ducks are amongst my favourites. They combine a truly beautiful plumage at all seasons and ages with – as you said – that charming Rubber Ducky shape.
    Quite unique.
    Thanks for sharing and happy trails and good luck finding your “target” species.
    Of course I#d join you anytime, but the flight tickets…

  2. November 26, 2007

    I see Steller’s Jays all the time. Trade you one for a Horny Grebe.

  3. November 26, 2007

    So where are you headed next, David?

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