I got off work this morning after a pretty busy weekend, made a quick stop at Jesse’s Burritos for breakfast, headed out to the lake. I like to get early morning pictures at Spring Canyon—it’s somewhat protected from the southwest wind, and the light from the rising sun reflects off of the canyon walls and onto the ponds giving me a beautiful backdrop for photos. Now that it’s warming up (37°C for the high today, 5/5/2014) it’s a great place for a morning walk so I can get my exercise, enjoy the morning and take pictures of birds.
It was a beautiful morning and in an hour and a half I walked about 3 kilometers and logged 25 birds. I’ve been looking forward to the return of the songbirds and they’ve been straggling in for the last week or so. Flycatchers and warblers and blackbirds fill the Canadian River Canyon with their songs. I like to find a spot in the reeds and salt cedars and just stand for a few minutes and listen to the birds calling. Red-winged Blackbirds are the loudest, but as I stand there and listen, I start to pick up the quieter calls Common Yellowthroats, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, the chittering of Western Kingbirds, Ash-throated and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, and this morning, I heard the song of a Blue Grosbeak for the first time since last summer. I listen for the grunt of a Virginia Rail that I’d heard last year. At the time I was unaware of what it was and thought that it was, in fact, a frog of some sort. I learned just recently that is was a rail, and have been hoping to hear it again and, just to prove to the people that know me that I am, truly, an optimist and not a grouchy ol’ bastard, I hope to see and photograph it.
On the large pond there was a dozen or so Northern Shovelers swimming in formation, heads below the water, as they browsed for their breakfast. There was also a couple of winter hangers-on—a Snow Goose and a beautiful male Common Merganser that keep each other company. Both have been at the ‘Stillin’ Basin for the last couple of weeks. For some reason they seem reluctant to head north, so I enjoy the Goose’s silly grin and the striking white and iridescent dark green of the merganser while I can.
On the east end of the “Stillin” Basin a gang of Wilson’s Phalaropes takes flight while Killdeer and a pair of Spotted Sandpipers and a half dozen Baird’s Sandpipers browse the water’s edge. Eared Grebes and Ruddy ducks dive a few yards off the shore and a small flock of Blue-winged Teals and a pair of American Wigeons parade by a little farther out. Clouds of Cliff Swallows swirl around the spillway where they are building nests, and a few dozen Rough-winged Swallows chase mosquitoes out over the water.
As I walk around the north side of the basin I see Chipping Sparrows flitting in and out of the mesquite and reeds that line the pond. They’ve taken over that job from the White-crowned Sparrows (who held it for the winter) over the last few weeks. And then, as I climbed up from the pond-side path to the picnic area above something caught my eye.
It was small and quick and quite vocal and I first thought it to be another of the Yellow-rumped Warblers that have been passing through for the last few weeks. Like birds nearly always do, this one waited until I almost had my binoculars focused on him before taking off and landing in a cottonwood a dozen yards away. I followed with the binoculars and was able to get enough of a glimpse to see that it wasn’t a YRWA and, picking a rather circuitous route so that he wouldn’t think I was interested in him, I sidled up to a picnic table under an awning and was able to get close enough to capture the photos below.
I sat on the picnic table for 10-or 15 minutes looking at the photos I had just taken and thumbing through the Sibley’s on my phone trying to find a match. I finally settled on Palm Warbler and when I entered it into BirdLog it flagged it as needing verification. I didn’t submit the list right away and now, after transferring the photos to my computer at home and looking a several other guides, I still think that it is a Palm Warbler. According to eBird there has never been a report of a PAWA in the Texas Panhandle. There was one in the Oklahoma panhandle a few days ago and several in Lubbock and Clovis and Vernon last year, but nothing, ever, in the Texas Panhandle. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the completely inconsequential fact that, counting me, there are only two birders in the entire panhandle.
So, now I’m pretty stoked, and if there is anyone still reading this, here’s the photos. I’ll post pics of the other birds I mentioned later.