Big Trip/Birder Interrupted, Ch 24, Migrants, Chickens and Finding Harvard

Migrants, Chickens and Finding Harvard

8 April 2005

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge loomed far on the predawn horizon. Pronounced anna-WHACK, the name of the refuge is Aztec for watery plain. However, the first people to the area, the Atakap and Akokisa nomads, had no connection with the distant Aztecs. The refuge began in 1963 with 12,000 acres, and with the help the Nature Conservancy, it grew to its present 34,000 acres. My trusty Pettingill guide, in 1963, listed Anahuac as an important birding place, and my ABA finding guide devoted a whole chapter to birding in the refuge. It is famous for its Yellow Rails, often seen by scores of birders participating during the Yellow Rail Walk. That is when a band of people tromp abreast through the Yellow Rail Prairie hoping to flush a yellow Yellow Rail. (Note to nonbirders: I am not making this up.) I saw this tiny straw-colored rail in 1962, and did not want to panic another one to fly more than I wanted marching giants to frighten me to flight. Whether I would walk the walk if I had never seen a Yellow Rail was moot. Finding a Yellow Rail on the Yellow Rail Walk in the Yellow Rail Prairie was not on today’s itinerary. There was no time.

LeConte’s Sparrow was the mission. In the meantime, a brief stop at the East Bay Bayou Tract, a discontinuous parcel of the refuge, was profitable, with Scissor-tailed Flycatchers on fence lines and American Golden-Plovers in a freshly plowed field. A volunteer at the information booth at the main part of the refuge was not confident about finding Neotropical migrants at The Willows but I drove the short distance, parked and searched the branches in an otherwise warbler forbidden zone. A couple of Palm Warblers were the only bird life. A nearby wetland attracted plenty of yellowlegs, both the tall and shorter variety, a probable Whimbrel, Long-billed Dowitcher, and the dike roads namesake, shoveler. It could not have the name Northern Shoveler Road since the road did not run north to south. Near the intersection of the western end of Shoveler Road is West Fence Line Road, aptly named since the road was just inside the western boundary of the refuge. A couple of Savannah Sparrows popped up from the taller grass tufts along the narrow road, but something caught my eye on the other side of the tight wire fence. Perched for an easy view was a LeConte’s Sparrow, a species I missed from my 1962 trek across the southern tip of its breeding grounds. The now cooperative life bird revealed its white central crown-stripe, orange-like face, pale straw-colored back…all the field marks I had mentally stored. If only I could hear that buzzing call, but the bird remained quiet, then it disappeared.

Sources stated that optimum birding on High Island would be in the afternoon. We arrived shortly after lunch. Terra firma surrounds 32-foot tall High Island, not water. The “island” is a salt dome, a region where ancient salt deposits 30,000 feet below pushed toward the surface. The result is an elevated land mass, with trees. Groups of trees called mottes are essential for food and shelter to northbound migrants. The mottes are the first trees birds find since beginning their 400-mile journey across the deadly Gulf of Mexico. The woods of High Island are also the targets of birders, some more hapless than others. So far, our luck in finding migrants was about the same as the dozen birders milling quietly in the Boy Scout Woods Sanctuary. This was one of the many patches of woods on High Island purchased by the Houston Audubon Society. We happily paid the entrance fee to support their important endeavor.

There were barely more birds than birders. A singing Blue-headed Vireo near the entrance was the herald of things to come as we strolled part of the 42 acres of woods. The vireo’s message was born on our eager optimism. Only four Summer Tanagers, a Gray Catbird, a few Common Yellowthroats and just enough chipping Yellow-rumped Warblers to be distracting adorned Virginia Live-Oak, hackberry and other plants. We drove up to the larger Smith Oaks Sanctuary. There were more birders and even fewer migrants. Several Roseate Spoonbills were flying overhead but it was otherwise disappointing. We found none of our targeted warblers.

We headed southwest to Bolivar Flats but it was crawling with Friday afternooners scurrying about preempting the weekend. Billed as a great place to see migrant shorebirds, the only shorebirds we saw were on the road to the beach where a couple of Pectoral Sandpipers and several Greater Yellowlegs needled the mud. Just to the south, we lined up with pick-ups, cars, SUVs and motorcycles for the free ferry ride to Galveston Island. Laughing Gulls followed the crammed ferry, hoping to catch left over picnic fodder from tourist. Great-tailed Grackles, a species we saw everywhere, rode the ferry. Although typically noisy, the half-dozen birds were relatively quiet, but called wildly to grackles that were riding the ferry traveling in the opposite direction. We were the last on and last off the ferry. Birding Galveston would have to wait; we needed to get to our Dickinson motel early. A steady hum of traffic, partially damped by the walls of the motel, reminded us to be thankful we were not traveling north to Houston. The behemoth, with emphasis on moth, is alive with over two million people occupying around 656 square miles. Ranked, with emphasis on rank, Houston is the fourth largest U.S. city, but sprawls into nearly 200 square miles more than the second largest U.S. city, Los Angeles. Linda had previous and not joyful experiences driving in Houston, a city half the size of Rhode Island. Thankfully, we had no reason to go north into the storm of urban sprawl where you can drive forever and still be inside the city limits. Dickinson was close enough.

9 April

The alarm sounded at 3:30 a.m. Yesterday evening I made a dry run to the Texas City Preserve, 2300 acres of the Nature Conservancy. We did not want to chance being lost and late for the tour to observe Greater Prairie-Chickens. The birds belong to the southern subspecies known as attwateri. Wildlife managers call the birds Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken but it is, by AOU and ABA nomenclature, a Greater Prairie-Chicken. To make matters worse, Heath Hen is the English name for the extinct northeastern subspecies of Greater Prairie-Chicken, aka Tympanuchus cupido cupido. English names for subspecies are often unnecessary and confusing to most, including birders and museum folks, even retired ones. The 1957 A.O.U. Check-list, which refrains from English names for subspecies, stated the southern subspecies ranged from southwestern Louisiana to Aransas and Texas. Odds on seeing the species in 1963 would have been better than now since only about 50 birds now remain in the wild and only in Texas. Our chances today increased only because of the goodwill of someone saving a few known survivors. Thanks to the Nature Conservancy, first for the preserve, and second for allowing us access, we had a great chance of seeing Greater Prairie-Chickens.

We arrived at the locked gate, the same one I found during yesterday evening‘s 15 mile dry-run between the motel and preserve. We were later joined by two vehicles carrying more birders and then by Brandon Crawford, our host. We followed him through the gate and to the office. He went in to open up the restrooms. While waiting in a darkened circle I asked if anyone had seen a Buff-breasted Sandpiper recently. No one had. I added, “I suppose no one has spotted an Eskimo Curlew.” In the dim reflection of flashlights, I could see a family of silent reactions ranging from incredulous to “should I believe that?” and “you must be pretty stupid.” Linda softly chuckled. Perhaps it was too early to joke about the death of a species.

Each person took their turn in the restroom, knowing that it might be hours before another opportunity. Following the last flush, we were bouncing down a dirt lane that took us deep into the preserve and to an 8 X 25 foot blind. One by one, we stumbled past the blind’s unseen door while feeling the cold inner walls as if reading brail. Linda and I held on to each other. A few minutes passed before the first bird began to call. Linda and I noticed immediately the differences in the calls between the Lesser Prairie-Chickens observed in Oklahoma and today’s lower pitched Greater Prairie-Chicken. As the sun came up, we were able to see our displaying chickens. Finally, we could see the dark barred plumage and golden neck sac. Could we count it? According to ABA rules, there must be wild individuals. Brandon said the lek contained both reintroduced individuals and luckily, wild birds. With that information, Linda and I accept our new life bird. By 9 a.m., the birds flew from the lek, and we left the blind.

Our return to Dickinson included viewing three adult White-tailed Hawks and a stop at a local grocery store. The beautiful hawks were too distant to appreciate that they are the longest legged of any North American buteo. At the grocery store, we reflected that foraging for food must be more interesting to the hawks than to us. With the aisle hunting out-of-the-way, we quickly nuked lunch in our motel microwave and physically crashed our tired selves to bed. We were tired! But not too tired.

We had been on the road, birding, visiting relatives, and up too early too many mornings. Our trip list now stood at a lowly 114 species since 3 April. Focusing on target species, our total is several dozen short, but that is ok. We were still hoping for Neotropical migrants but the south wind was not, well, in the wind.

Late afternoon slumber stopped abruptly when I heard our motel door partly open. The safety lock prevented anyone from entry. A woman’s face appeared, belonging, I assumed to a member of the motel staff. I yelled for her to heed our “do not disturb” sign but she persisted by attempting to hand us clean towels. We already had clean towel but needed sleep. The only way to get the person to understand was for me to get out of bed, take the damn towel, and shut the door. Without thinking, I jumped out of bed in my usual sleeping garb of nothing. She jumped back, I shut the door, was not arrested and I fell back to dreaming about Neotropical migrants.

10-12 April

People fishing this Sunday lined the Texas City Dike. Some had five or more poles in the water, the fishing lines shaking in a stiff southerly 15 to 20 miles per hour wind. A raft of unwary Eared Grebes floated near the dike road, their red eyes and flared golden ears making them look surprised. A second raft of grebes had two Horned Grebes in tow. Little and Kelp gulls had been reported on the dike in past years. More searching yielded two Common Loons, but the quest for any unusual gull was fruitless. Electricity lines supplied power to a café at the end of the five-mile dike where the wind was brisker in the middle of Galveston Bay. Two Least Terns paralleled the dike on my return to natural land.

Death and destruction have plagued Texas City and Galveston. A shipboard nitrates explosion, killing 576 people in 1947, and a 1900 hurricane, killing 8,000 Galvestonians were the most dramatic disasters. Several storms in Galveston have annihilated hundreds and destroyed whole parts of the city. Some the estates near Galveston’s Kempner Park seemed to survive just fine. Eurasian Collared and White-winged doves cooed in the park. A walk around Hasting Estate was worth one-half of a life species, a Gray-cheeked Thrush. In 1962, I recorded the same name but since the splitting of Gray-cheeks into Bicknell’s and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, I was compelled to delete either from trip list. Because of the season then, I might have observed either species. This time I felt reasonably confident. The late Henri Ouellet, who had proposed recognizing Bicknell’s and Gray-cheeked thrushes, and I had discussed these two birds over coffee and over trays of specimens. Today’s thrush had brownish spots and uniformly brown back and tail. Henri admitted that morphological characters overlap. Bicknell’s Thrush migrates along the eastern seaboard and Appalachian Mountains whereas Gray-cheeked Thrush migrates along the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, anything is possible, that is part of what make birding fun. Do those Bicknell’s Thrushes that winter in the Greater Antilles all avoid Texas? Because of its small breeding range, Bicknell’s is surely far less abundant than Gray-cheeks. The chance of finding a Bicknell’s on the coast of Texas is remote but not impossible. The only definite means for separating these thrushes is voice, and my Galveston thrush was silent. As taxonomic editor of Oregon Birds, published in 2003, I noted that the two state records were not certainly Gray-cheeked Thrushes. As a birder, I joined most other listers of the upper Texas coast, and added to the trip list Gray-cheeked Thrush.

After passing the crowded Galveston beaches, probably populated with Houston escapees, I turned north to check the inland marshes and tidal flats. None of the places I checked produced new birds. Further along the coast at Clapper Rail Trail in Galveston Island State Park was hot, windy, but had few people. A flock of eight male Orchard Orioles and a female Baltimore Oriole were the only migrants found. Two distant Crested Caracaras were waxing amorous in a distant tree, and I finally heard the insect sound that only a LeConte’s Sparrow could love.

Galveston on Monday was less crowded than yesterday, but the beaches we checked were mostly birdless. Our best birding was at San Luis Pass, where Piping, Wilson’s and Semipalmated Plovers, Dunlins, and Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers mingled on the sand. Some individuals of the sandpipers were grayish winter plumage but a few were rusty breeding birds. The two plumages required us to work twice as hard to separate drooping bills from stouter bills. Herons were abundant east of the beach, including an unafraid white Reddish Egret. It had the same unbalanced foraging behavior as its rufous and blue dark morph.

The closed tollbooth on the long bridge across San Luis Pass meant a free ride onto the Texas mainland. South of Freeport and more vistas of petroleum refineries, we crossed a high arched bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway onto Quintana Island. The destination was the Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary, a small grove of mostly salt cedars preserved by the Houston Audubon Society as an important migrant stopover. A Yellow-green Vireo, one of few found in the United States was found in the sanctuary in 1998. We did not expect any rarities but the north wind fed hope for finding some of the Neotropical migrants that so far had eluded us.

The sanctuary, occupying approximately one city-sized block, has trails, a couple of fountains with artificially running water and park benches for the weary birder. The trees, barely exceeding 15 feet in height, moved slightly under the northerly wind. The branches also moved under the steady flutter of groups of migrants. We ticked off Blue and Golden-winged warblers, species I missed from Ohio to New York in 1962. The two are famous for interbreeding, but we did not see any of their hybrids. We finally saw a Cerulean Warbler among the 17 species of Parulidae. Several yellow-faced Hooded Warblers swarmed the fountain about 15 feet from the park bench. While waiting for the next species to appear, a female Northern Parula foraged in a limb overhanging the bench. I pondered its strength and perseverance. The 4 ½ inch long waif appeared unafraid as her barred wings carried her from leaf to leaf. She was most likely famished from the long 500-mile non-stop flight from the Yucatan. Most of the birds we found in the Quintana woods were ignoring the humans. The Indigo and Painted buntings, the Swainson’s Thrush, three species of vireos, nighthawks and Chuck-will’s Widow had crossed the treacherous gulf, today, against a head wind.

Astounded by the little woods that could, we had finally witnessed a neotropical fall out. The trees, although not drenched by migrants or dripping warblers and tanagers, provided plenty of action. We were happy and headed inland, essentially up the Brazos River, to the little town of West Columbia, the chosen capital of the fledgling Republic of Texas. Sam Houston was inaugurated as president there in 1836. Columbia, as it was then known, was capitol of the Republic for three months, losing to the city of Houston. The new country was likewise short-lived, lasting from 1836 to 1845. Unaware of the historical aspects of West Columbia, we nonetheless enjoyed a quiet slumber in a local motel. The price, $58.89 including tax and a continental breakfast of waffles, cereal and or fruit, was near average for the franchised motels we frequented. That single night was a huge portion of my entire budget during the 60s leg of the journey.

A Streak-backed Oriole had been reported at the 5,000-acre Brazos Bend State Park. The aptly named oriole, breeding from Costa Rica to northwestern Mexico, is only occasionally a visitor in California and Arizona, and only in fall and winter. Today was 12 April, and the week old sighting held some promise of orioles to come. A ranger at the visitor center handed me a map labeled Streak-backed Oriole, with an arrow pointing from the name to the Hoots Hollow Trail. She added that the last sighting, which was unconfirmed, was of a female last Friday. Five days from an unconfirmed sighting was not promising but we hiked Hoots Hollow armed with hope.

A half-dozen birders crept around the trail, looking intently in bushes and high in the sycamores and cottonwoods. No one had seen the rare oriole. We searched for warblers, found a female Cerulean and Linda located a male Black-throated Blue. We gave up Hoots Hollow trail for a hike along the shore of 40-Acre Lake. A sunning Anhinga, with outstretched wings, perched on the opposite shore. Linda said this was her first since she did not count the one at Disney World. In 1962 and 63, orange groves and natural habitat flourished where the Disney amusement park would be built. I never saw an Anhinga in that part of Florida; maybe Linda’s suspicion that her early Anhinga was an import was correct.

American alligators were foraging among the Purple Gallinules and Common Moorhens, funny long-toed birds reminiscent of barnyard bantam chickens gone aquatic. One seven-foot alligator lurking in the flat dark water appeared slow and cold. Its mouth formed a smile, almost, as it laid waiting for a careless duck or heron. Gallinules stepped lightly. A pair of Least Grebe, a first, watched us stroll by, kept one eye out for food and the other for alligators. The pair also kept their golden eyes on two chicks. An observation tower afforded a better look at the smallest of grebes, almost three inches shorter than the small dark-eyed and nearly ubiquitous Pied-billed Grebe. Several Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks graced the scene. Two took to the air, with reddish bills ablaze and their white wing stripes contrasting with the black trailing ends of powerful flight feathers. I caught myself calling them by their old name, tree-duck. We also could see a heron and spoonbill rookery not far away to the north.

Several more Prothonotary Warblers nipped at unseen insects in the moss-draped trees along the dike. The hot and humid climate of eastern Texas was beginning to compete with our zeal for birding. We made one more try to find the Streak-backed Oriole, but found only a disappointed birder looking for shade. The car was steamy hot, but thanks to the air-conditioning that my old VW did not have, we headed comfortably west. Last night we were in the former capital of the Republic of Texas, and tonight we would be in the capital of the state of Texas. We would also be at our daughter and her husband’s home, and the home of little Sabine, the granddaughter whose name rekindled the completion of the birding trip.

*****

Our testing the waters of rare bird alerts did not help produce a Streak-backed Oriole. We tried. The alert on 14 March, the one read before leaving Oregon, listed the oriole. However, the oriole was not mentioned in the next two alerts, the last dated 12 April. An alert 10 days later stated that the elusive visitor was last seen six days after our visit to Brazos Bend. We missed a chance meeting. Other Rare Bird Alerts were checked during parts of the remainder of the trip. Mostly the reports tantalized us. We did not have the time to be at the right place and time for rarities scattered here, then there across a state as vast as Texas.

Primarily, we stuck too our researched itinerary, trying the find the maximum amount of targeted species in the shortest time. Wearing binoculars helped. They are a badge that often indicated either the need of or a source of knowledge. Most birders like to share, and we benefited from the polite comradery of strangers with binocs.

*****

13-14 April

Austin was cold and nearly birdless in January 2004. Today it was warm, almost hot, and hormonal White-winged Doves were cooing from hidden perches of leafed trees in the back yard of our daughter‘s home. Proverbial Great-tailed Grackles shrieked and Blue Jays joined in. Except for the doves, we were very much in eastern bird country. The west was not far away. As previously arranged, I called Balcones Canyon National Wildlife Refuge to make plans for a visit tomorrow. Realizing that our schedule was running behind, I also phoned our Harlingen motel to move our reservations ahead a couple of day as well as add an extra night to our lower Rio Grande headquarters. There were so many birds to see and so little time. I began to worry that we would not be able to be home by our scheduled 15 May.

Earlier in the day, I looked for birds in a city park a few blocks away. I was surprised that so many Ruby-crowned Kinglets were still wintering. Most were singing and would be gone sometime in May. In ninety minutes, I found a few summer or migrant species including our first trip White-eyed Vireo. It was also singing, but it was the typical vireo sound, loud and not at all sweet like a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

The next morning was an early one to beat the Austin rush hour and arrive at Balcones refuge at a suitable time. Linda stayed with her beloved daughter’s baby Sabine, trying to teach her to coo softly like a dove. I filled the 13-gallon tank for $21.27. The pump’s gauge spins so rapidly that it is hard to round off the cents when gas cost more than $2.00 per gallon. That $21.27 could have purchased 64 gallons of gas in 1962, enough to travel almost 2,000 miles in my long gone VW. We had already spent $77.66 on gas in Texas, where the price per gallon, along with Arkansas and Louisiana, is cheaper than most other states. That amount is around 41% of what I budgeted for gas in 1962. Perhaps it was more important to worry about the cost than meeting our timetable. I mused that we are here now; this is time to fish or cut bait, a time to bird or not.

Supposedly, it took an hour to get to refuge headquarters and I was an hour into nowhere. I was lost in the rolling Texas Hill Country. Although not a big fan of cell phones, I was glad I had one with me. A call to headquarters resulted in detailed instructions. By some accident, it turned out I was not far from the Shin Oaks observation tower. The gate was locked and a sign announced public closure to the tower. I decided to walk on in since the biologist of the refuge had emailed months earlier I should not be concerned about the closure. Just inside the cable gate, I heard a Black-capped Vireo sing but could not locate the songster in a 45-minute search. The species, once widespread from Mexico to Kansas, is now confined locally in Texas and three counties in Oklahoma. The dwindling population is victim to people, cowbirds and cattle. I returned to my vehicle at the edge of the main road just before a Texas car roared to an abrupt stop. Three men jumped out. They looked as if they had been caught stealing. Maybe they had not expected to see anyone. Noticing their binoculars, I wondered if they were anxious about finding the vireo. They kept looking past the fence and glancing up and down the empty road. One of them looked at me strangely. These guys reminded me a little of some of the secretive people I met when I was indentured to the Pentagon. For some reason, apparently feeling protective of the vireos, I blurted that the area was closed. One of them snapped, “Well, we can look from the road can’t we?” He seemed angry and I apologized for my intrusion. Were they bona fide birders in a rude hurry or disgruntled local landowners in disguise? Not everyone was happy about the refuge. Fortunately, I never saw the threesome again.

A stop southward at the Doe Tract of the refuge looked promising. I reasoned that a hike to stand of oak and juniper might produce Golden-cheeked Warblers, and after only walking a few yards from the parking lot, I heard the rare warbler. As with the song of the Black-capped Vireo, I had listened repeatedly to recordings of the song of Golden-cheeked Warbler. Again, no amount of searching would produce the bird. Frustrated, I left, nearly tripping over a pair of Black-throated Sparrows.

Not much later at refuge headquarters, I met Chuck Sexton, the refuge biologist. He asked if I had seen the vireo or the warbler. I told him I had heard them but not seen them. He said, “That’s not good enough—let’s go for a ride.” In minutes, I was jumping into a refuge pick-up. Not since the early 60s part of the trip had I been the guided visitor riding in the jump seat of a refuge truck. This time the trucks were bigger, far more comfortable and air-conditioned.

On the way to Shin Oaks, we stopped at a culvert where Cave and Cliff swallows were nesting. Chuck identified a few of the individuals as they flew overhead. I was much slower and less accurate in my identifications. We arrived at Shin Oaks as a Black-capped Vireo was singing. In a couple of minutes, Chuck spotted the bird. It remained in plain view long enough to see its black head and white spectacled eyes. The rarest of North American vireos soon disappeared in the thick leaves of shin oak thicket. The twittering song did not stop. The observatory, in a 200-acre plot known as Eckhard is one of several discontinuous tracts of the refuge scattered around the Edwards Plateau. Much of the region is or was cattle country. Before that, the region was the last bastion of Comanche and Apache until 1848 when there were more proto-Texans than American Indians. Brown-headed Cowbirds came with the cattle, and vireos have suffered ever since. The refuge now attempts to control cowbird populations and maintain shin oak suitable to vireos by controlled burns and pruning. The oak, actually sand shinnery oak (Quercus havarti) is a natural climax plant. Removal of it by cattlemen allows grass to grow, cattle to fatten, hamburgers to make, and people to fatten. I love a good hamburger but I also hope to live to enjoy vireos, Brazilian jungle, and other beef independent animals and plants.

We returned to the swallow colony and drove up a nearby driveway to a former working ranch house that had become accommodations for one of Chuck’s research assistants. The building sat high on a hill, overlooking Ashe juniper stands that Chuck thought might host Golden-cheeked Warblers. We did not hear any warblers but heard the plaintive song of local Canyon Wrens and Rufous-crowned and Black-throated sparrows.

It is harder each year to find Golden-cheeks. The entire population took a plunge from an estimated 15,000 to 17,000 birds in 1974 to only 2,200 to 4,600 in 1990. The population drop most likely started earlier, when, in the 1950s and 1970s, over 50% of the warbler’s juniper habitat was bulldozed and burned to make way for urbanization, cattle and cowbirds.

We zipped past headquarters to a new refuge endeavor, Warbler Vista, a wooden observation stand in the making. The contracted carpenters grinned as we looked at the progress. I followed Chuck down the nearby slope on a trail recently constructed through junipers. Somewhere, we heard the familiar refrain of a Golden-cheeked Warbler. We located the songster with little difficulty. A different song came out of the junipers further down the slope. Chuck announced that we were hearing song “B,” a song I would not have recognized. Again, we located the male, and I watched it sing.

During the drive between tracts I learned that Chuck, who said he was “a 60s surfer-guy from Orange County, California,” worked in the field with Joe Marshall on Botteri’s Sparrows and knew my former next-door office mate, Roger Clapp. We stopped on the return to headquarters at a private residence drive where Chuck showed me a plant he discovered in 1989. The small whip of greenery known as Croton alabamensis var, texensis is a variety of Alabama Croton, a rare shrub confined to none other than Alabama. I thought he was kidding when he laughingly called it the Texabama Croton, but that seems to be its “official” English name.

Failing to negotiate Chuck’s direction to the city center of Austin, I had to back track to find the Town Lake area. Monk Parakeets had nested in the area. I found an old nest heaped over a flood light of a ballpark. The nest and the clean ground below suggested it had been abandoned for considerable time. A passerby, curious about my binoculared attire, asked what I was looking for, and then commented he had seen the birds a week earlier. I searched for an hour before giving up and threading my way to the southern side of the city. Road construction in Austin, as in many rapidly growing cities, offers many unique opportunities for getting lost. As I rushed from light to rush hour light, I wondered why people often underestimate how much travel time is needed to go from A to B. I still do not understand how anyone but perhaps a lead-footed local resident could travel from Austin to the headquarters of Balcones refuge in 45 minutes. I also lamented the fact that so many people, excluding Chuck, have lost the ability to give proper directions, who do not know north from south or names of roads. Linda and I were becoming sadly aware that asking most people under 30 was asking for frustration. Then, we met a birder who planned to be in southern Oregon and was looking for Mountain Quail. We, I hope, told him correctly how to find a remote covey not far from our home. My only difficult time with bad direction in the 60s was trying to drive to Sapsucker Woods at Cornell University. Of course, there was a more recent encounter with a Boston police officer. Dick Banks and I had become lost on our way to the Museum of Comparative Zoology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I leaned out the car window and asked the officer how to I could get to Harvard University. He said, “Study hard.”

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