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Biggest Twitch
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Barred Owl goes on the list!  It’s 5.30am and we’re out again in the pitch dark trying to locate Barred Owl but despite the calm morning, there’s just a calling Chuck-will’s Widow in the distance which refuses to show, and still nothing from the owl, our latest nemesis bird.  So after half an hour of trying, we jump in the car together with Sam and Susan, and head off towards our first destination.  We’ve a list of target birds for the day and there’s no time to lose.  

A big flock of sparrows in a ploughed field brought us screaming to a halt for our first stop of the day.  Sifting through hundreds of Lark Sparrows we searched for our more subtle cousins.  Soon after we pick up our first sight of Dickcissel for the year and also added Clay-coloured Sparrow and Vesper Sparrow which we detected lurking amongst the sods.  A Lazuli Bunting added a splash of colour to proceedings.  

Leaping back into the car with no time to linger, we sped off to our next stakeout, courtesy of excellent info from Ken Behrens of Tropical Birding.  No sooner had we stepped out of the car than a male Scott’s Oriole swooped in over our heads and began to feed on a discarded apple impaled on some fencing.  Feeling euphoric with our heady success, we flew on to our next Oriole stakeout, only to have the wind taken out of our sails as the Audubon’s Oriole refused to perform in any way.  But our time here wasn’t wasted, as one of the first Yellow-billed Cuckoos of the season came in to compensate.

With no time to dwell on this we hastened to our next stop, a town park in the small Texan town of Utopia.  Nerves were frayed as we headed for yet another attempt to meet our latest nemesis, Barred Owl.  The usual rumours of easy sightings, birds perched on ladders in broad daylight, etc surrounded this bird before we arrived.  We even bumped into a local resident who regaled us with tales of no less than four Barred Owls feasting on fishheads on his shed roof every night.  Having heard such tall tales before, we were no more optimistic as we trudged into the trees and walked slap bang into a Barred Owl, staring down at us with his dark haunting eyes.  A flurry of photos later and we were on our way to the legendary Neals’ Lodge in the heart of the Texas Hill Country.   We headed straight to the famed Cattle Guard feeders and took our positions on the chairs overlooking the feeding frenzy at the station.  We soon picked up one of our target birds, Pine Siskin, feeding amongst the Clay-coloured Sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches.  But not the longed-for Long-billed Thrasher so we decided to check another spot for this striking speciality, when we suddenly heard a Canyon Wren calling from behind the cabins.  This handsome wren was soon enjoyed seen clinging onto the side of said cabin a few minutes later.  

A short drive and a few wrong turns later we found ourselves seated outside the renowned Cabin 61 watching the feeding station with Thrashers on our mind.  In amongst the dull flocks of sparrows, a flash of orange suddenly raised our pulses, a gaudy male Hooded Oriole feeding right in front of us.  Then suddenly the Long-billed Thrasher appeared from nowhere and literally thrashed about in full view for several thrilling minutes.

A short time later and we were at another Ken stakeout, a site for Red-shouldered Hawk.  Again Ken’s information was spot on and within minutes we had the bird and we were on our way again.  

Our final successful stop of the day was through another Behrens’ tip-off where we soon found ourselves watching a singing bright pink-billed Field Sparrow brought our spell of frantic birding to a close.   We headed back on the long drive to High Island for a few hours kip before we set off for our next birding destination, California.

We can’t thank enough our fabulous hosts for the last couple of days, Susan and Carl Evans, who let us stay at their totally amazing home.   Susan and her friends, Shirley, Ann, Joanne and Colleen also made some very special arrangements and showed us a magical seldom-visited site in the Hill Country which we would never have discovered without their help and generously shared their special birds with us.
Bird species list: 2105
Posted 11.30pm, 24th April, High Island, Texas


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