Saturday, August 9, 2014

Collared Plover!!

Once again the Rio Grande Valley in Texas has been the most recent birding hotspot in the ABA area.  You may remember that last November the second ever recorded visit from Mexico of an amazon kingfisher delighted birders for many days (click on any photo to enlarge).  I was able to make the trip down to see the kingfisher as did many of my birding friends from around the country.

Last Saturday, a collared plover--an equally rare code 5 bird from south of the border--was found at a small playa near Hargill, TX.  And like last fall, its discovery brought in birders from all over the U.S. since the only other time it had been found in the ABA area was in May of 1992, and was seen by very few birders over a 4 day period .

As soon as I received the NARBA email alert I began to check on flights to McAllen Texas which is about 30 miles from Hargill.  The airfares were all too high, and all the economy frequent flyer seats were already booked.  Also, I could not leave until Tuesday because of commitments at home.

John Vanderpoel, who I first met when he was doing a full ABA area big year in 2011, called me on Monday to see if I was going to try for the bird.  He was driving home from Michigan to Colorado, and the earliest he could get to Texas was Wednesday.  I found out that Neil Hayward (MA), who completed his record setting full area ABA big year in 2013, was already in Texas that day.  I talked with him that evening while he was still viewing the plover.  He told me that the 3 top ABA area life listers (Macklin Smith (MI--893), Paul Sykes (GA--889) and Larry Peavler (IN--885)) had already come to see it.  Another birding friend and avid chaser, Liz Southworth (MA), was there with Neil while we talked.

I also got an email from Dan Sanders and Doreene Linzell (OH) asking if I was thinking of going.  The earliest they could go was on Wednesday, and they also were having a hard time finding an inexpensive airfare. I checked other Texas cities, and was able to get an economy frequent flyer seat into San Antonio that left at 7:15 AM on Tuesday morning.  While enroute I found out that Liz reported seeing the plover again early that morning.  She also said that a farmer who had a cotton field adjacent to the playa had warned birders that he would be spraying his field that day, and no one could be near it for 48 hours.

My connecting flight out of Chicago was delayed, but I still made it to San Antonio in time to make the 225 mile drive down to the Hargill before sunset.  I arrived about 6:30, and was surprised to see no birders at the prime viewing location.  I concluded it must be because of the spraying issue.  There were a few birders parked on the other 2 roads that bordered the playa.  I set up my scope and began to look for the bird.  I called Neil who was already back home to get some more pointers from him about the bird's habits when he had seen it.

Soon after I began scanning the playa, a second birder joined me--Carol Thompson from Stephenville, TX.  She said that the farmer had gotten very upset with the birders mid day.  Because of his demands that the birders move, and the 100 degree heat, most people had left.  A bit later another birder joined us, and we all spent the next hour scanning the area for the plover.  The sun set at 8 PM, and it looked like we were going to need to return the next morning to try again when I saw a small bird walk out from behind a small clump of vegetation.  We all got our scopes on it to find that it was the collared plover (the 3 photos of the collared plover were taken by Neil).  We were able to watch it feeding on the sand over the next 10 minutes before dusk finally had us packing up our gear.

I returned on Wednesday morning, arriving at 6:50 AM in hopes of seeing the plover again.  There were 2 snowy plovers with 2 chicks running around on the sand, but no sign of the collared plover (photo above taken on Monday by Neil shows a snowy plover in front of the collared plover).  About 7:30 Carol joined me.  We kept looking without success for the plover.  I drove over to the other side of the playa to check a small water area in which it also had been seen, but only found a perched common nighthawk.

I returned to the north shore of the playa, and soon after the other birder from yesterday evening also arrived.  A 4th birder then joined us who had been there also yesterday, but had left before I had reached the site.  While we kept looking we enjoyed many other birds that were visiting the playa.  At 9 the farmer drove up in his truck, and read us the riot act.  I asked him why we had to leave since he had finished spraying the day before.  He told us that there was a federal law about spraying which could cause him to be fined if we did not leave.  We asked him when birders could return, and he told us Thursday morning.  We packed up and departed.  I began the drive back to San Antonio about 9:15.  I called John Vanderpoel who was enroute to Texas to warn him about the farmer.  I made it home Wednesday before midnight.

John tried to see the bird Wednesday evening, along with some others.  The farmer did not come by, but the plover also was not seen at all on Wednesday.  John met Mary Gustafson and Dan Jones (who had found the bird initially) on Thursday morning, and they relocated the plover.  When Dan and Doreene heard that it was seen again, they and another friend, Jay Lehman from Ohio who just completed a full ABA area big year in 2013, bought tickets, and flew to Texas on Friday morning.  All 3 of them were able to see the plover yesterday as did Monte Taylor (CA) who is at the top of the ABA life list for photos (840).

John Vanderpoel called me this morning to say that he, Dan and Doreene were on their way to another area close by to look for a yellow-green vireo that had been found yesterday--it would be a life bird for Doreene.  Like here this morning in North Carolina, it is raining in south Texas.  I have no new birding trips planned at this time, but who knows when another rarity might show up that I will want to try to see.