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breeden
ursulav

Home at Last...

So Texas was wild and crazy and I stepped in a chigger nest, and boy, that's a thing, isn't it? My feet and ankles look like I have chicken pox.

But it was worth it! We saw marvelous and strange birds. Lots of them. 35 lifers* for me, out of over 150 species seen, between the hill country and the Rio Grande.

Of particular note--the Tropical Parula is beautiful, the endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler is stunning, the Common Pauraque is...um...a freakish mutant bark bird, and the Ringed Kingfisher is noble and magnificent. Green Jays are wonderful, Great Kiskadees are awesome. Wires full of Green Parakeets preparing to roost (in the trees around a Walgreen's, corner of 10th and Dove in McAllen, Tx) are bizarre and delightful.

But the dawn chorus of the Plain Chachalaca is really unbelievable--a half-dozen chicken sized dinosaur-birds, at the top of a tree, screaming a very unmusical "Cha-ka-cha-ka-cha!" A few of the birds do a kind of descant over the top--"Eee-ow-ee-ee-ee!" We stood in the parking lot watching several trees full, which would go in sequence--Tree One would scream for about fifteen seconds, then stop, Tree Two would scream, then stop, Tree Three would scream, then stop, and Tree One would start up again. It was a sort of round, done by an utterly tone-deaf choir.

Obviously I fell deeply and immediately in love with them.

Since they prefer dry scrub and I cannot immediately import an entire flock to North Carolina, I returned home with a somewhat heavy heart, and also I was exhausted because I've been getting up at variations of 4:30 for a week. But I came back to the best season, when the trees are full of new leaves and there is a blinding green haze of leaves and the dogwoods are blooming and the moss phlox is covered in flowers, which always surprises me, and the groundcover roses I'd planted around the birdfeeder to discourage cats have come back from the dead with a vengeance. And I am terribly, terribly glad to be home.

Could do without the chigger bites, though.


*In birding terms, that's a bird you've seen for the first time, and now enter into your lifelist, the record of all the species you've ever seen. My life list stands at around 450, with 427 of them what are known as ABA species--those appearing in the US and Canada, as recognized by the American Birding Association. If you keep such a list, you are what's known as a lister (and not all birders are) and you can aspire to see over 700 ABA species, although to get there, you have to chase after a lot of rare birds blown in from Asia and Europe. (Not counting rarities, there are probably 650 species that actually live in North America or immediately off shore.)

A lifelist at or over 700 ABA birds is very difficult and requires a great deal of dedication and travel. My buddy Tina is over 600, and the joke is that that puts her halfway to 700. At 427, I am in a respectable neighborhood, but not a terribly elite one.

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chiggers come in NESTS? I'm never leaving the house again.


I think it's safe up here on the ceiling, if you can climb. I seem to have teleported, myself.

My, how did you ever find the Common Pauraque? I had to Google it after reading your, er, colourful description. I am not a birder, so I don't know if there are particular techniques for finding such "freakish mutant" camouflagers.

Well, coupla ways. All the nightjars--Whippoorwills, Common Poorwills, Chuck-widows-will, etc--are tough.

You can A) get insanely lucky while looking at a different bird on a branch and see part of the branch turn its head. (I have done this ONCE. I do not expect to do it again in my lifetime.)

Or B) you go out to an area that they're known to frequent, at dusk, and listen for the calls. They call a LOT. If you've got the call, you know you're in the right area. You then get a flashlight and shine it down where the calls are coming from, and look for eyeshine. Their eyes reflect red, and when you combine eyeshine + call, you've got enough for most birders to call it a sighting.

There is also C) where you park the car, turn on the headlights, wait for bugs to come to the headlights, and the nightjars will come for the bugs.

We basically did D) and chased the call around until we saw a lump on the ground that wasn't a rock. Which also works, but isn't easy.

Sounds like an adventure! Heh.

I think it was Fenway Park that had nighthawks distracting the fans by chasing moths around in the park lights during night games. In general, it seems that some people have had excellent luck spotting nightjars in bug-filled lighted parking lots! (Maybe there's a seasonal element too---when they're getting ready to breed or beginning migration?)

Your garden sounds fantastic. This might be the VOOM year.

Welcome back home!

I saw Digger in the Kinukiya bookstore in San Francisco's Japantown!

(Deleted comment)
On my first trip to Australia I was assured I would see emus just hanging about by the side of the road in the outback. Ha, bitter, ha.

Chiggers are the bane of my existance, here in Texas. In about a month, I won't even try to walk around on my land anymore until oh, say, November.

Elementary

(Anonymous)
I don't collect bird sitings, but I do have an elements collection. Like birds they get exponentially harder. Some I thought would be hard turned out to be easy and some I thought would be easy turned out to be hard. I wonder what Tina's "easiest" missing bird is. BTW: 20 years going and I still don't have a sample of Chrome. WTF?

-jr

Well, there's what are called "Nemesis Birds." It's a common bird that you just cannot see to get--you show up and the flock was JUST THERE fifteen minutes ago kinda thing.

For a long time, mine was Baltimore Orioles. Dead common, could NOT get one. Finally the Sofawolf guys found some for me on Cape Cod.

Tina had a rough time with Bobwhite quail for a long time, but we finally got those on this last trip (I didn't have them either.)

I'm no birder, but I do enjoy spotting the wildlife around here.

I suspect the NZ Grey Warbler would fit into the Nemesis Bird category - if you go into almost any bit of even semi bush in New Zealand you will hear a Grey Warbler (to the point that not hearing one is worthy of comment), see the little sods? I'd been idly looking for one for over 20 years and only spotted one recently (in my own backyard even!) - they weigh a mere 8 grams and aren't much bigger than a large postage stamp, but their call carries for seemingly miles...

I suddenly noticed that "green haze" creeping up last week. It's that time of year... time to reread The Secret Garden!

Chiggers are bad, but not nearly as bad as velvet ants. My mom founds that out the hard way working with wildflowers.

chiggers

(Anonymous)
Where were you in Texas to get chiggers? If it was in the Valley it wasn't chiggers - there are none there. (I've never heard of a chigger nest, either - they are TINY little guys.) If you were, in fact, in the McAllen area and stepped in an awful nest it was more likely fire ants. They are very small, quick ants, reddish brown, and the bites hurt like fire, and continue to itch for way too long, and often develop into inflamed spots, with pus... And stepping in a nest of them is awful. Chiggers you get (farther north) when they crawl up onto you when you're sitting or playing in the grass and they get under your clothes and bury themselves in your (too often, intimate) skin... They don't do the pus, spot thing.
Congrats on the birds! The Valley has so many - being the farthest range north of a lot of southern birds, and the farthest range south of a ton of northern birds, and the flyway both ways for a lot of migrating birds...

Well, we didn't feel them biting, and everybody we talked to said it was chiggers. They went for the tight clothing and everything. I suspect we picked 'em up on the trip down, in tall grass at St. Ygnacio.

Re: chiggers

(Anonymous)
aha! The Valley is too dry for them, but anywhere that has some rainfall (more than the 16 or 17 inches a year the Valley gets) can grow chiggers. They are actually tiny little mites, and they were a (horrible) revelation the first time we, as a family, lolled in lush grass in more northern climes.

I'm surprised you don't have chiggers where you are -- I thought they were all across the Southeast. We certainly had them in Nashville. I don't think they actually have nests, but they do swarm heavily on the ground under tall grass.

You do know the standard trick for chigger bites, yes? Paint them over with clear nail polish -- as heavy a coat as you can -- and leave it until it wears off your skin naturally. It was the only thing that saved me during summer school one year, after I'd incautiously sat on the grass in my grandmother's yard and picked up a couple dozen of the infernal things.

Camphophenique works pretty well, too. We don't have them in West Texas, but my grandfather had them in Kansas. Rainfall really matters to those guys.

I get chigger-bit just walking down the driveway to the mailbox every summer, and heaven help me if I actually take a notion to work in the flowerbeds, but never have I ever stepped in a nest. Didn't know they had 'em. (I've had siblings step in fire ant nests when we lived in the deep South, but I managed to avoid it.) I'm heartily sorry for your discovering this for us the hard way.

I can't swear they make nests, actually--I just assumed that if I picked up sixty bites, there had to be a nest! *grin*

I got about 20 chigger bites as a child in Kansas City, Missouri. Walking through a small clump of woods. They were in my underwear!!

Gotta watch those dinosaur birds! "Look, walking food" they say, LOL. Glad you were not attacked.

Could one mix aloe vera with a little goldenseal and wrap the ankles in that-saturated gauze, or are you all better now?

That's our standard anti-surface-inflammitory here at the house. The larger sprout, Diane, is very lucious to bugs, so she gets the Treatment.

I had to Google most of these, thank heavens for You Tube! If you have Plain Chachalacas, does that mean that somewhere out there, there is a fancy one?

You should post pictures for us.

I googled all the birds you listed. But pictures of what you actually saw would be cooler.

Listers are known as twitchers here in the UK and, sadly, many other birders (which is what non-listers are called in the UK) look down on them because they think twitchers don't really look at the birds they see and just follow lifer birds around via twitter, SMS and so on, tick the bird off and then rush off to tick the next box on their life-list. Gotta catch'em all Pokémon-stylee.

I am not a true birder (I cannot get out to watch birds very often these days other then the magpies and crows/rooks that I can see from my window) but I do not have a list either. I love to see new birds but am happy to just sit in a hide (or my desk chair) and see what I can see.

I think the only rare-ish bird I have seen/photographed is the Chough (pronounced chuff, apparently) in my userpic. Not very clear but he does have a red bill/beak.

But the dawn chorus of the Plain Chachalaca is really unbelievable--a half-dozen chicken sized dinosaur-birds, at the top of a tree, screaming a very unmusical "Cha-ka-cha-ka-cha!"

Maybe they just all really, really like Land of the Lost.

I had to look up the Plain Chachalaca on the Cornell Ornithology site. I listened to the "song". My dog tried to save me from the carnivorous-sounding laptop.

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