Monday, January 14, 2008

Wish They All Could Be California Gulls

Sorry. That pun was cruel and unusual.These western (interior breeding) Willets were photographed yesterday at Sea Rim State Park. Willets have two allopatric breeding populations, one along the eastern/gulf coast, and the other in the western interior. The eastern and western birds differ in behavior and morphology. How different are they? Even I can tell them apart. And that means I smell a split coming. The question isn't Willet happen, but when. Hear me now and believe me later, they will be split. Oh yes, they will. Look closely at the birds in the photo. They know.

The Smallest Twitch continues at breakneck speed. Yesterday I looked around our yard and added 5 more species - Wood Duck, Inca Dove, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Red-winged Blackbird. Nothing exceptional, although Wood Ducks are at best infrequent visitors to our pond.

After church MIchelle gave me leave to go birding in the afternoon. Since I had limited time I opted for Sabine Woods and Sea Rim State Park, which are reasonably close to home. On my way to Sabine Pass I picked up some easy ticks - Brown Pelican, Belted Kingfisher, etc. Sabine Woods was quiet, but I did get my first Anhingas, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and mosquito swarms of 2008. Even in winter Sabine Woods can be hopelessly buggy. Not that all the bugs were unpleasant; some were more decorative, like this Red Admiral that I photographed along one of the paths.I did better at Sea Rim State Park, which is still closed due to Hurricane Rita (apparently they can't reopen until they get the toilets fixed, which more than two years later still aren't working...there's such a fine line between government in action and government inaction). I'd been told that the beach at Sea Rim was a good place to look for scoters, and so I tried my luck. There were indeed scoters, in fact I got all 3 species in a single large flock (1 White-winged, about 15 Black, and approximately 40 Surf Scoters). I don't know if these are unusual numbers for the Upper Texas Coast, but considering that I had never seen any scoters in Texas before, they certainly seemed high to me. A male Greater Scaup bobbing offshore was also new for the year (and for my Texas list).

There was a large gull flock stretched along the shoreline, and I sifted through them hoping to find something other than the usual Laughing, Ring-billed , and Herring Gulls. I had Lesser Black-backed in mind, since they seem to be on the increase. Instead I was surprised to find an adult California Gull. For a California Gull its mantle was relatively pale, and it had just a little gray mottling on its nape, so it was probably from the Northern Great Plains population. I tried to get closer for a photo, but it wouldn't wait around for that.

Not only was California Gull new for the year, it was my fifth state bird of the day! Actually my fifth state bird in less than an hour - that doesn't happen very often.

Of course there were the usual gulls, terns, and shorebirds, including a Ruddy Turnstone and a few Snowy Plovers. On the drive home I added Osprey to the list.

This morning, while lying in the dentist's office having my teeth cleaned, I watched a House Wren (species #73 for the year) popping in and out of the front wheel of a Mini Cooper in the parking lot. I get 'em wherever I can.


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