Friday, April 3, 2015

March Madness - Searching for Spring - Part 1

After we came back from Florida in January, we got 17 inches of snow in one storm, and the entire month of February was significantly below normal (3rd coldest on record). Great timing! So we were looking for another getaway that would help continue on Allen's path to his 700th species in the ABA area. The Florida trip brought his list up to 692, and during a review of the ABA list it was discovered that the split of Sage Sparrow into Bell's Sparrow and Sagebrush Sparrow had not been accounted for, so without traveling anywhere the list increased to 693...literally an armchair "tick". Texas had four potential "target" birds that would be new, that were being consistently seen, plus a fifth species that was very irregular. On Tuesday, March 17 we started driving down, and made it just west of St. Louis, Missouri.

The morning of March 18 was rainy, so I guess technically we found spring! It was another long drive today, with a couple of stops in the Ozarks to look for salamanders. Temperatures were in the 40s and 50s, so conditions were actually ideal. But none of the Ozark endemics were found, only a couple of very large Spotted Salamanders, including one at a very odd location in a park along a river in a small city in northwest Arkansas.
Spotted Salamander. Bella Vista, Arkansas.

Spotted Salamander. Missouri.

Spotted Salamander. Missouri.

Thursday, March 19, was raining again. We drove into Oklahoma and got to the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge just after sunrise (click here for eBird checklist). As we started out on the auto tour, the rain lightened up considerably, and we saw an interesting shape down a dirt path. It was our lifer Bobcat!
Bobcat. Sequoyah NWR, Oklahoma.

Bobcat. Sequoyah NWR, Oklahoma.

It sat there for quite a while before finally casually walking away.
Bobcat. Sequoyah NWR, Oklahoma.

From there we drove south into Texas, and drove the auto tour route at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. The birding was fairly good there (click here for eBird checklist), but the rain and poor lighting made photography difficult. It was a long drive through and around Fort Worth to Waco where we spent the night, farther from our first target bird than we'd hoped.

We departed early from the motel on March 20, where it was raining again (still), to get to the stakeout location at the intersection of two county roads northeast of Taylor, Texas, where a Striped Sparrow had been seen since early January. This Mexican endemic has never been reported north of the U.S. border before, and would be a life bird for our world lists. We arrived at 8:30 and found the spot, where we waited. The first bird we saw well was a Northern Cardinal that perched on a wire fence just a few feet outside the car window!
Northern Cardinal. Taylor, Texas.

On one side of the road was a scrubby field, and on the other was a well vegetated creek. There were lots of birds in the area, as evidenced by the vocalizations coming out of the brush. As we sat still, eventually the birds came out onto the road, and road shoulder. The most interesting, at least for us, were the several Harris's Sparrows, which are rare migrants in Michigan. They nest in northern Canada and winter in the southern Great Plains.
Harris's Sparrow. Taylor, Texas.

Harris's Sparrow. Taylor, Texas.

Harris's Sparrow. Taylor, Texas.

Harris's Sparrow. Taylor, Texas.

After about 45 minutes, the Striped Sparrow made an appearance in a grassy part of the road shoulder. It only stayed about 30 seconds before flushing back toward the creek. There had been some vocalizations before this, a harsh chatter and some squeaky notes, that were likely from this bird. First target bird confirmed! But, the listing rules for this kind of thing will not yet allow it to be counted as species #694. The record must be reviewed by the Texas Ornithological Records Committee, as well as the ABA Checklist Committee, before it will be accepted onto state and ABA lists. After that, if accepted, it will be "countable". The identification is surely not in doubt, but there will certainly be some discussions about how a sedentary Mexican endemic wandered so far north of the border. If determined to be human-assisted, it could be rejected and then not countable. I imagine it will be a couple years before we know for sure. I'll keep it in escrow until then. From here we headed south to San Marcos, where we were planning to try to see the San Marcos Salamander at the Aquarena Center.
San Marcos Spring area, Texas.

We had hoped there might be a chance of walking around the lake and on a boardwalk to see this salamander. But we did not see one, though there were other things to see including several Texas River Cooters.
Texas River Cooter. San Marcos, Texas.

Texas River Cooter. San Marcos, Texas.

There were some birds around, but it was a bit misty-rainy so not many cooperated for photos except this female Great-tailed Grackle.
Female Great-tailed Grackle. San Marcos, Texas.

At this point, we decided to go inside the Aquarena Center, where they had some captive San Marcos Salamanders as well as Texas Blind Salamanders, which also occurs in this area. It is a research and breeding center for these species, so it was nice to see them in these circumstances. It is listed as a threatened species that seems to occur only at this one location, but in fairly good numbers (if you can find them).
San Marcos Salamander. Aquarena Center, Texas.

This species of basically blind salamander was being kept in a tank with clear plastic beads that mimic the floor of the spring. The flash photography acted almost like an x-ray, allowing the salamander's internal organs to be seen. Both of these photos show the underside of the salamander, but if you look closely (and click on the photos to enlarge them) you might see tiny eyes.
San Marcos Salamander. Aquarena Center, Texas.

The Texas Blind Salamander, as its name suggests, is totally blind, and is listed as endangered as it occurs in only a few places. It completely lacks eyes, and has lost most pigmentation, as it lives in mostly dark areas.
Texas Blind Salamander. Aquarena Center, Texas.

As we continued south, we started skirting the southeastern edge of the Edward's Plateau as we got near San Antonio. The Edward's Plateau is famous for the colorful early spring wildflower displays along the roadsides, and we certainly saw plenty.

South of San Antonio, near Pleasanton, we decided to stop at a picnic area to take a closer look at the the rain of course.
Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis)

Drummond's Phlox (Phlox drummondii)

Texas Prickly Poppy (Argemone albiflora)

Texas Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa)

Golden Smoke (Corydalis aurea)

From there, we continued south to Robson for the night, finally arriving in South Texas after four days of driving in overcast conditions and rain most of the time. The next installment will cover our first days in the Rio Grande Valley.

1 comment:

Kim at said...

Allen, what a great trip so far, in only the first installment! I love that Spotted Salamander. Thanks for sharing all the lovely pictures.