Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Morton County Bonanza

May 8, 2007

I got out of there pretty early since Morton County awaited. Maybe a hundred yards over the county line I found my first Kansas Lark Bunting. That was the beginning of a great day. Basic grassland highway birding down to the Cimarron National Grasslands, then west along the north side of the river, which was mostly dried up, to the pit ponds. The birding was good there and at Middle Spring too. Somewhere along there I got the Cassin's Sparrows singing, and got looks using the tape to call them closer. A Chihuahua Raven flew over. At Point of Rocks, I poked along the edge of the bluffs, finding Rock Wren and Green-tailed Towhee. Climbed down into the floodplain below the point and found more Rock Wrens and then a Say's Phoebe as I climbed back up. I followed the dirt on west to a fence-line at the Colorado border, see if I could get a Colorado tic looking over the fence, but that didn't work. Went across the river just a a little east of there, and followed dirt roads back to the pavement and then to the Highway, and south into Elkhart. Had lunch at El Rancho, a birder rendezvous in that part of the country, and then searched for a store and a mirror to buy so I could shave. My tendency is to get crusty on these trips, since I'm traveling alone and don't feel much pressure from the opinions of strangers. I have noticed that folks are a little friendlier if I'm newly groomed.

The main point of being in Elkhart is to get to the sewage ponds, which are magnificent for such a small town, and they have a shelterbelt tree planting that has produced numerous zooties. There were some lingering ducks, the inevitable Night-Herons, a Black Tern that was new for the state, and caught me by surprise resting on the concrete bank of one of the lagoons. The shelterbelt was really birdy, and I managed, should say lucked into seeing a Black-headed Grosbeak as it flew into the trees. They have an orange triangle on their upper back that I saw well. Poked around hoping to flush it again, but no luck.

Then I went back north to the Grasslands, east from the highway this time, to the camping area and fishing ponds. Punched some data into the computer, shaved with my new mirror, a classic, two sided, round plastic case with a dual purpose hook that could hang or act as a stand, with one side magnifying, made in China. I'm so proud. Then spent a couple of hours poking around in the big trees in the area, studying the Bullock's Orioles. There are more of them there than anywhere I've ever been, and I had a quest. The previous year while running a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) route, in northwest Arkansas, I'd found an oriole that I decided was a Bullock's, based on that being the closest thing in the books, though I couldn't find a perfect match. The look was close and long, and the bird was singing, so I felt pretty sure. More on that later. Now I was hoping to find another individual that matched the one I'd seen. The time of year was almost a perfect match, maybe a month earlier, but I was in a warmer place. I must have looked at thirty or forty individuals in that area and elsewhere on the trip, but I never did see another like my suspect. I started thinking then that maybe I'd seen some kind of hybrid.

I had planned on camping there, but was getting bored and edgy. For some reason, I recalled a description in Patti and Zimmerman about a good place to find Common Poorwills being along bare rocky ledges. Like Point of Rocks. Maybe. So it seemed like a good idea to watch the sunset and maybe wait around to listen for night critters. It was a gorgeous sunset, and I had the presence of mind to take some pictures. Now I can't find them. Anyway, so I'm walking along the bluff edges, relocated the Green-tailed Towhee, perched on a rock looking at the sunset. Then I found yet another pair of Rock Wrens, and these were singing at the sunset, or so it seemed. And then behind me a Sage Thrasher started singing, facing the sunset. I have to say that was unforgettable. I hung out waiting for dark, watching a pair of Common Nighthawks doing what was presumably courtship, one would do the whirring dive every minute or so, and then fly back near the other. I was in love, and hope she was too. Didn't hear the Poorwill, and finally went to sleep after playing some recordings of night birds, hoping for a response from the woods below along the river. In the middle of the night, I drove back from where I was sleeping to check again. Bingo, Poorwill calling. I had nine new tics for the day.


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