Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bolivar Peninsula CBC, Christmas, Bah Humbug

Well Christmas is over, and not a moment too soon. I had to work Christmas Day, and it was a grim ordeal. I opened and closed the store, and we were so busy in between that I didn't get a bite to eat or even a sip to wet my parched lips all day. On top of which one of my cashiers wanted to leave early, and when I took issue with her she made some calls...her boyfriend's mother happens to be a store manager with some authority in our district. So guess who starts calling to set me straight? When I finally left work it was with a raging headache. Don't tell me about comfort and joy, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and all that sentimental drivel. I was drinking last night, not in celebration but to deaden my nerves. Bah. Humbug.

God willing I won't be doing this next Christmas - there's a New Year's resolution I mean to keep.

Ah, but be of good cheer, for we still have Christmas Bird Counts, the real reason for the season! On Thursday (12/21) I took part in the Bolivar Peninsula CBC. This year I went without Michelle, who had a good excuse not to go (doctor's orders), but Troy joined our group for part of the day. After some pre-dawn rain and drizzle the morning was fairly decent. Dry and not too cold - even warm enough for a few mosquitoes. Then the weather turned to crap in the afternoon.

We started the day as we always do, following a narrow strip of woods along a little bayou. The trees were full of American Robins. Thousands of them. Inside the thicket their abundance and constant motion was very distracting. I’m sure other birds got overlooked in the robin-incited chaos. I had better luck on the woodland edges. A small flock of Vesper Sparrows were the only ones found on the count. Further on we came upon three Palm Warblers, which seemed a bit excessive (they were perched together, no less!). After that finding a fourth nearby was just plain piggish. On our way back to the cars we crossed pastures where we scared up a couple of Sprague's Pipits. Watched one fly off into the distance, then plummet to the ground like a rock. Troy and I walked back to the spot where it dropped but found nothing. Excellent disappearing act.

After that we explored some dirt roads and visited an abandoned ranch. Highlights included two small flocks of Sandhill Cranes and a Wilson's Warbler. While I was chasing sparrows Troy saw a Barn Owl fly out of one of the old derelict buildings. Sadly I didn't get any pictures on the count. I left the camera at home because I was already encumbered with binoculars, scope & tripod, etc. Bad decision, because I would have gotten some nice photos.

After lunch we parked by a little building at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, and used its cover to get out of the rain. Troy wisely called it a day at that point - he's a a good sport but a non-birder, so the idea of getting drenched didn't hold as much charm for him as it did for the rest of us. When the rain temporarily stopped I walked behind the building to search the marsh there for LeConte's Sparrow, a species I'd seen a couple of times in North Dakota but still needed for Texas. As luck would have it I spotted one. I ran back to tell the group, and subsequently we all got nice looks at a pair of LeConte's lurking in a patch of tall weeds. What a colorful little sparrow!

We spent the remaining daylight hours on the refuge, where we had a couple of surprises awaiting us. Farther down the road we had an immature White-tailed Hawk perched in a bare tree (one of two found on the count; another group had an adult somewhere on the refuge), and flushed a Short-eared Owl out of a roadside marsh. We left the refuge with darkness closing in. All in all we had a pretty good day - I personally tallied 75 species, including 6 species of warblers.

The countdown was again held at Al-T's in Winnie, which is known for its Cajun food and zoological decor, featuring a menagerie of taxadermied birds and critters. I had the crawfish étouffée, yum. Now that's the way to celebrate Christmas.


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