Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Arkansas to Muleshoe NWR in Texas

November 10 - 11, 2008

I left Arkansas via Ft Smith after a nice drive down the Pig Trail, Highway 23, and stopped for gas at one of the cheapest stations in the state. Very pleased to fill up at $1.82/g. I took a byway that paralleled the Interstate into OKC, looped south of there, more byways to avoid a Turnpike, and was eating in Lawton before heading into the Wichita Mtns NWR somewhat before sundown. It had rained the whole way from Arkansas, but the sun came out as I got onto the refuge. I stopped at a parking lot at one of the lakes there, just looking for ducks, but found an unfamiliar looking gull.

Dark gray back and wings, black wingtips, medium size judging from the pace of the wingbeats, bright white tail, and duller white head. That's looking through the windshield before stopping the engine. I jumped out hoping for a closer look, went out to the end of a dock there, but couldn't find it again. Field guide study came up with the closest fit as Lesser Black-backed. That's a remarkable bird for OK, so I knew it wouldn't be something folks would be inclined to believe. Figured I'd get somebody to check it out and see if they could refind it. I headed for the visitor's center, thinking there might be something in the sightings book, but arrived minutes after closing. I tried a call to Eric Beck, a top-notch local birder that I had a number for, but could only leave a message.

Anyway. I was hoping to maybe find either a Burrowing Owl or a Short-eared Owl. Drove by a couple of Prairie Dog Towns, but had no luck. At the second I did meet a couple of guys who were also looking for owls. One turned out to be the former Super of Malheur NWR in Oregon, a place I'd stayed years ago and found excellent. Ended up camping and falling in love with Steen's Mountain in the distance. They hadn't had any luck with the owls either, and the list showed both as occasional, ie, not easy to get. I later found that there were BUOW at another dog town on the refuge. The habitat seemed good for SEOW, tall grassy big fields with indicator Harriers about, it may have been too early in the season, we hadn't seen any real cold weather yet.

I stayed there until almost dark, then drove back slowly watching the fields for the big bat-winged birds. Stayed at Doris campground, no owls there either, and was back to the dogtown before first light. I love watching the sunrise on the prairie, and quite a few birds started showing up in and around the dogtown; the short grass and bare ground must be attractive in low light. Finally it got late enough for the visitor center to open, and I checked the sightings book. Nothing about LBBG. I wasn't about to commit anything to the book, I hate that stuff after experiencing the disbelief of people who weren't present. I don't know how those asswipes can say I have imagination when they imagine that they can do remote viewing. Possibly unfortunately, I ended up mentioning the sighting to one of the staff, and as I was leaving he stopped the truck and put me on his phone to a guy who was a local prof. So I went through the description as clearly as I could, without trying to sound sure. He said he'd alert some locals to look. Also got a call from Eric finally, and he said he'd look too. There never was anything about it on the list-serv. so I guess nobody found it.

From the Refuge to the Texas border isn't too far, and I was trying to decide whether to go to Palo Duro Canyon, or just head on straight to Muleshoe NWR. Decided on the latter, more direct, free camping, and probably better birding.


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