Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Kansas and Oklahoma CBC trip, Day 2

Well before first light I was driving into Texas, angling Southwest toward Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. I had fond memories from a trip quite a few years ago. All National Park Service units call for a visit, preferably for at least one overnight, and I had found a rough campsite on a dirt road in a canyon leading to the lake. The next morning while making breakfast I started hearing a bird singing that I couldn't place. New to birding, that was a common description. So I headed up the side of the canyon, rough travel over boulders and cactus, but at each stop the bird seemed to have moved due to the strange acoustics of the place and the song. It might even have been moving, but at least kept singing steadily. After about twenty minutes it finally showed up on top of a stunted tree. It was the first Painted Bunting I'd ever seen, one of the very most colorful birds in the country, and not that easy to find. After the first, I found several more. Other birders have seconded my theory that finding a critter the first time seems to open a door, and some kind of karmic access is switched on. I've had the same experience with quite a few species, for instance the first Hooded Merganser and Hooded Warbler both took years to find, and now seem no trouble at all. Anyway.

But I found very little of interest there, and was more interested in getting to New Mexico where I knew I could find many new species. That's in spite of having lived two years there when I first started birding. I had no written records, and clear and certain memories didn't cover all the species I'd probably seen. The only notes I'd made were for lifers, which were also the most salient memories. Something about the first sighting really sticks; I can still see clearly that first Cinnamon teal in a borrow ditch glowing in the sunrise at Bosque del Apache. But I ramble.

Briefly, or so, since Texas is one of my most birded states, nearly 400 species, there wasn't a whole lot to try for. But the Panhandle sticks up into the Prairie habitat, and Brewer's Blackbird and Lapland Longspur were new. More than I hoped for when I noticed a flock coursing over a plowed bare dirt winter field, and stopped on the shoulder.

I passed on Palo Duro Canyon too, much as I'd like to spend more time there. It's always on the way to somewhere else, and it seems I'm always short of enough time to camp and kick back. Someday. Once I got into New Mexico I hit the jackpot, and by the next day's end had 24 new species for the state. I was using the new edition of the NM bird finding guide, Parmeter, Neville, & Emkalns. Very good and I stumbled on treasure in there, more about that later.

I headed pretty directly for Tucumcari, and from there northwest toward Las Vegas figuring on spending some time at the NWR there and staying at a state park just north of the town. First stop was a Lake on the outskirts of Tucumcari, with some obvious tics there, like a Pintail, but also Cackling Goose (what a rich trove of new tics that's proven to be). Lakes provided sitting ducks, which I had few records of in NM in spite of the time at Bosque del Apache. That was a place with lots of sightings lost to memory, so some of this stuff was recovery of the faded memory. Farther up the road at Conchas Lake it was different. A great Grebe sweep, four species, Pied-bill, Eared, Horned and Western. If it weren't so remote, I'd recommend it highly, there were nice hardwood groves and Riparian woods as well as the open water.

The real jackpot came at Las Vegas NWR. I stopped in the office to talk about a trail there with a good reputation, but the kind woman, who seemed to be running the place by herself said it was too late that day to go in, and he didn't think it was that good at that part of the year. I figured I'd try in the morning, it required waiting until some gates were unlocked. I went out and drove the loop, it was getting darker, caught a few ducks on the water, and my first definite Ross's now that I know how to pick them out of the thousands of Snow Geese. Drove back into town for another reliably-unsurprising-but-also-uninspiring-redeemed-by-cheap-and-fast McDonald's meal. One of those curse/blessing aspects of budget road trips. It was about 7pm, so I headed the few miles up to the state park. It was closed, many are in the dead of winter, but this one was closed and locked. Drat etc. Muttering imprecations at the government of NM, which is a study in unimaginative authoritarian policies coupled to mercantilist management (you can see that I've lived there), got back on the Interstate and drove quite a ways to a roadside rest area to crash in the camper-shell. This area was undeveloped, meaning mostly idling trucks and NO LIGHTS. That more than makes up for the rumbling background noise. Caught up the records in the computer and of to bed

In the middle of the night I woke to a Screech Owl outside the truck, there was some brush bordering a little dry wash. An Eastern Screech Owl. I had been hoping for the bouncing ball call of the Western, but this was just that familiar descending horse whinny. O well.


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