Monday, Dec. 14, marked the beginning of a three-week period during
which "Citizen Science in Action" is in high gear across the continent. This is the 110th year of the Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society. Tens of thousands of birders fan out to compile a measure of the early-winter status of birds in their favorite neighborhoods, parks, refuges, ranches, lakes, seashores, etc.
The Refuge's count is made in a 7.5-mile radius circle which encompasses all Refuge tracts and surrounding lands.
Our Friends Laurie Foss and Shelia Hargis graciously took on the task of organizing and compiling this year's count. I invite you to check on our Balcones CBC
web page for more details of the spectacular outcome produced by our 38 participants on that mild Monday! (Hint: A record 111 species!
As with every CBC, several unexpected species were encountered. Documentation of rarities, either by detailed written descriptions or by photos, is a
lways important in such endeavors. Shelia and her team identified two Sage Thrashers
on Peaceful Springs Nature Preserve
, one of the "hot spots" of birding on private lands within the Refuge area. Karen Kilfeather was there to get super documentation of one of the thrashers (left) and other finds. Another good discovery was a Green-tailed Towhee
, found by Marjorie Dearmont and the Whitewater Springs team. We have had a few unconfirmed reports of this species previously, but this adds a solid record for the Refuge bird list. Another new bird for our overall CBC list was a White-eyed Vireo
, a species that is common in the spring and summer but a rare winterer in the Austin area. (Information was flying around so fast and furious at the countdown dinner that I failed to make note of who reported the "WEVI" or where it was.) A couple of other reports still being evaluated--Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Sprague's Pipit--would represent more new species for our overall CBC list.
I was assisted by Mike and Pam Goolsby as we covered the HQ area and nearby tracts. About 10:30 a.m., we started on the now-obligatory hike up the primitive, back-country trail which follows Post Oak Creek upstream. Birding was very quiet until we finally stirred up one nice mixed flock along the creek not far from Bottom's Up Hunt Camp (...subject of a future blog). Among the chickadees, titmice, kinglets, and other birds attracted to my screech owl tape, was one Hutton's Vireo
. This is a species of west Texas and the western Edwards Plateau which had only been recorded on the Refuge once before, on the CBC in 2000 by Bill Reiner Jr. and his team. I recognized the significance of this bird and worked to see (and confirm with Mike and Pam) all the salient field marks. After a few minutes of study, it dawned on me that I had my new point-and-shoot camera on my hip! I fired off about 5 frames of the "vireo", four times documenting the perch from which the bird had just departed
. Though not of Audubon magazine cover quality, my one successful yet fuzzy image of the bird can actually be said to document the Hutton's Vireo, distinguishing our bird--with some technical points of plumage, proportions, etc.--from the similar but smaller Ruby-crowned Kinglet. For comparison, I found a nice photo from west Texas which shows what a Hutton's Vireo is actually supposed to look like:
My Hutton's Vireo documentation (left)
and what the species really looks like (right; courtesy of Greg Lasley)
We couldn't have had such a successful CBC without the efforts of our 38 counters and especially the cooperation of several private landowners including the Landherrs, Howisons, Canyon Ranch, Hickory Pass Ranch, Peaceful Springs Nature Preserve, Camp Balcones Springs, and our enthusiastic neighbors in "the subdivision formerly known as Whitewater Springs". MANY THANKS to one and all!