Day 140: Gold and Black

Two summertime Texans in the hill country.

May 20, 2015, Port Lavaca, Texas — The state of Texas holds two birds that nest nowhere else: The Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo. Michael and I went looking for them this morning in the hill country of central Texas.

At sunrise we were at a park called Lost Maples with a heavy, damp overcast prolonging the dawn. As we pulled in, a Golden-cheeked Warbler was singing by the parking lot, and within a minute we had it on an exposed treetop. What a neat-looking warbler! I thought of the Cahill family, who I stayed with a couple weeks ago in Guatemala and who have been preserving habitat specifically for wintering Golden-cheeks. This bird probably spent the winter in that area, and now, like me, has flown north to Texas, perhaps also stopping en route in Monterrey, Mexico (where Golden-cheeks are commonly seen during migration). The warbler will stay only about three months in Texas before crossing the border again—just enough time to raise a family and fly back to the tropics. They hop borders all their lives… and I can barely keep it up for one year!

The vireo was just as easy: Two were singing a hundred yards from the parking area. I admired their crisp attire as they half-skulked in a juniper tree. A month ago, these birds were probably in northwest Mexico, where I was a few days ago. It was hard to imagine these tiny birds flying from here to there, over the rugged Mexican ranges.

In the afternoon we dropped south to the Rio Grande Valley, where we staked out some Red-crowned Parrots and Green Parakeets by a dumpster in the town of Weslaco. Michael and I met two other birders, Mary Gustafsen and Tom Ford-Hutchinson, for an abortive but interesting Elf Owl vigil at dusk. From there, we headed up the coast to look for Black Rails in the dark (about as hard as it sounds), arriving at a particular marsh to listen for the rails past 2:00 a.m. At 2:30, amid the sound of mosquitos and nocturnal-singing mockingbirds, we finally heard the rail's distinctive "kee-kee-KURRR," and headed for bed.

New birds today: 15

Year list: 2588

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