On the Way to Balmorhea
Following the gain of one ptarmigan, me not being there when a Black-tailed Gull visited Washington and losing a dead grassquit to the ABA rules, my trusty ABA life list is back to 643. While the total goes down, Linda and I began discussing a trip to Texas. We had not been there since 2007. Linda’s reasons for going to Texas came mainly in the form of wanting to see her daughter and family, including two granddaughters. The visit will be enjoyable to me too. Linda and I have not even seen the younger of the two tikes. We were at the birth of the eldest in 2004, and her parents say she is now crazy about watching birds. Maybe I can nurture that interest. Speaking of crazy about birds, the notion of birds and Texas go hand in hand, and I immediately thought, I’ve got to take some time to get down to the Rio Grande. There are a handful of species just waiting my gaze, including a seedeater, Muscovy Duck and more to dream.
Sabine, the eldest granddaughter whose name inspired me to complete my youthful 1962-1963 U.S. trip in not so youthful 2005, needed a good bird book, so I bought what may be her starter field guide. The stated recommended ages that the tome might inspire are very slightly beyond Sabine’s age, but she is enthused, intelligent and I hope she‘ll love the book. Previewing the volume made me wish I had something like that during Ralph, the early years. My starter bird books were the tiny separate booklets, the green one, the red one and the yellow one. Was there a blue one? It is hard to remember back in the day when reptiles were just beginning to grow feathers, but I think there was also a blue one. I will not admit my lapses to Sabine, just in case she thinks she is going to hear one of those stories relating us oldies who walked 10 miles to school in a snowstorm, without shoes. My old red, yellow and green publications, back when birds had teeth and scales, seemed wonderful at the time and I thumbed their pages back and forth for over a year until I discovered something even better, a Peterson. It was better than parting the Red Sea, better than sliced bread. My world ballooned. It was the big bang of the universe of birds. By then, I had discovered a colony of Burrowing Owls within bicycle range of my home, called the public library and got in touch with one of the handful of birders in the southern Oregon County. One of the birders came to see my owls and subsequently adopted me. With a mentor, I began to crave to master my new world. Just maybe I can do the same for young Sabine.
Since thumbing the green, yellow and red booklets, and tattering pages of several editions of Peterson, my thumbs have grown. Even though those opposable digits are now ever so slightly arthritic, I continue to round the corners of the pages of the latest edition of the Geographic guide. That is because there are birds, birds, everywhere, and little time to see them. My apologies to Coleridge, but it is true, there are birds to drink. Moreover, I am heading to be an ancient birder. Since hitting 600 species, I have yet to break the halfway mark for my goal to see 100 more species, to reach 700 ABA birds. “700 by 70” is my mantra.
Perhaps my goal is conservative, or at least it might seem to be on the low side since, and I could not believe my eyes when I read in soon to be Sabine’s first bird book that 800 species of birds are regularly seen in North America north of Mexico. Huh? Regularly by who? It is not possible to agree with the author of Sabine’s book even if the author meant 700 instead of 800 species regularly found in the ABA area. Most birders know that 800 species is pretty darn hard. That is why it is such a big deal to make the 700 hurdle, let alone checking off 800 species. To see 800 species regularly, a birder would have to do some serious traveling. Traveling these days, especially flying is not regular, it is costly, and flying, especially with all the birding gear is difficult and stressful as airplane security continues to ratchet upwards. Anyone going for a big ABA year has to have patience and not look suspicious.
All the ratcheting up of airport security pointed to Linda and me to drive to Austin. Flying would be faster, but having to take off our shoes, being nearly felt up by a uniformed stranger without a finishing cigarette, flying and the phrase “have a great trip“ do not mix. Linda and I were not prepared for a possible cavity search, although that might have been helpful to avoid a Christmas traveler planning to blow up a plane. Explosives were in the noel guy’s underwear, specifically in the crotch of his shorts. Not boxers. They were briefs. My guess is he avoided eating beans the day before boarding the plane. Even so, his shorts somehow caught fire during the flight, which not only captured his attention but those of his captors. The plane landed safely. The ring of fire that even the best hemorrhoid ointment could not put out is hard to imagine. The asinine terrorist stunt now puts a new meaning to wearing clean underwear when you leave home. Besides taking off our shoes, is someone now going to check our underwear? Flying just keeps getting more burdensome, so much so that we decide to drive to Austin, Texas, to have a real road trip.
6 April 2010
Yesterday, a Fork-tailed Flycatcher appeared on the north coast of Oregon, a site about six hours away. Although our departure date for Texas is not fixed in stone, I decide to forgo the flycatcher. The bird turns out to be a one-day-wonder; I would have driven 12 hours and remained Fork-tailess. Yesterday was also the anniversary of my 66th year on earth. Somehow, being 66, going on 67, is not particularly exciting. There will be no pleasure or sense of pride announcing, this fall that I am not just 66; I am 66 and a half. I am not ready to relive a second childhood, a time when one is giddy about being older. Of course, I hope to continue future anniversaries. After the scary bout in 08, my lungs have improved and the doc said I am just fine to go forth and see more birds and enjoy sharing life with my Linda. At my request, there was no birthday cake to pack in extra calories. That day’s activities were devoted gathering needed or what we think might be needed traveling paraphernalia and stuffing it in our birdmobile. Since road tripping is familiar, although we continue to learn, we attempted to rule out many of the “what if we need that” items and still make room for one of us to lay back and relax while the other does the taxiing.
There are very important rules about how to the leave the nest, or more precisely what not to leave and what it take. One rule is to get rid of all perishables. If the perishables are not candidates for the freezer, they either should be put in the garbage or, when possible, brought on the trip. Some of the refrigerated items that are fodder for an ice chest must remain cool by the use of blue-ice packs. The blocked cheese is diced and put in a plastic container. Eggs are hardboiled for breakfasts along the route. Small amounts of yogurt and cottage cheese have space in the ice chest. The last pieces of sliced lunchmeat, along with cheese and a piece of fresh lettuce become a sandwich to fill last cubic inches of the ice chest.
Nonperishable foods such as canned green beans, fruit cocktail and chili con carne become inventory of a file box known as the food box. A can of spinach and several cans of chicken help round out our traveling food. Plastic utensils, a can opener, a roll of paper towels and maybe a box of crackers and some high fiber dry cereal sit next to a container of unopened soymilk. We even have cereal bowls and a large bowl for tossing a salad, a meal on to itself. Considering the other end of a meal and knowing what some motels offer, we stash a roll of our gentler toilet paper.
Water, usually in a canteen or two, perhaps an energy drink, and plenty of fruit are handy, usually within easy reach of driver and passenger. I threw in several canteens, a box of crackers to go with or without a jar of crunchy peanut butter. The fruit has to be prewashed since you never know when and where it will be convenient to rinse away the toxins the apple picked up or what might be on the outside of whatever is in season. Today it is apples and nectarines. It makes me hungry just knowing all that food is within arm’s length and that there is plenty of it to supplement our diet across the Great Divide.
We check the computer to look at the road cams of the Siskiyou Summit pass. Unusual amounts of blustering snow had been falling the last few days. The idea of putting on the chains is not appealing and fortunately, the reports say the interstate is clear of snow. Backing out the driveway, we motor to the onramp to southbound Interstate 5 and pass the last exit before the long climb to the Siskiyou Summit. The view into California is tingling. We are really on the road again, and I enjoy driving, soaking in the scenery, imagining our destinations and reaching for new goals. It feels especially satisfying knowing my lovely copilot sits next to me.
What is exciting for us is not for our domestic pet, now in her 14th year. Our cat, named Cat, obviously stays home when we go away. She began the usual sad forlorn look as she soon realizes we were packing for a trip. Of course, we have someone check on her, make sure the food hopper is dispensing feline morsels and the automatic water tank gurgles to allow ad libitum kitty libations. The human visitor, Linda’s kind brother, also changes the litter in her offal box and pats Cat on her lonely head. It all works out since our fat cat is an indoor creature. She will lounge the days and nights mostly and will not be too worse for wear, although I have noticed she historically has nearly lost her meow during long episodes of calling us home. Maybe we should have turned on the bird clock. It had long since been silent after the umpteen song of one of twelve species of birds marking the hour. Just how many times do you want to hear a poorly amplified Carolina Wren song from too tiny a speaker? The recordings were initially enjoyable for us and exciting to Cat. Leaving the clock to chime the twelve bird songs might keep her alert until we returned. No, that would be cruel. Besides, it might interrupt her time sleeping.
Our route down the Siskiyous into California brings familiar but beautiful scenery, especially of Mt. Shasta. It is second to Mt. Rainier as my favorite mountain. Just a few months ago, the region was smothered with foot after foot of snow, food for glaciers. As with many giant mountains, the view of Shasta is at first disappointing as moist, snow-laden clouds surround it. Interstate 5 curves along the foot of the mountain, the clouds lift, finally affording us what we knew was under the gray mist. Now, the summit of Mt. Shasta rises with a fresh coat of glistening white. What beauty.
Inspiring panorama of conifer-forested hillsides, oaks beginning to show budding life and views of occasional wildflower are left behind as a more straightened freeway cuts through the boredom of the Central Valley. I keep my eye on the road as I recall what Texas can offer a hungry birder. While we planned the trip, some wonderful birds had made themselves known there this winter and early spring. A Bare-faced Tiger Heron was in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, an Amazon Kingfisher angled just outside Laredo and Roadside Hawks were reported along the Rio Grande in a couple of places. Winter is sometimes a great time to be along the river for birders and birds alike. By now, the heron has long gone. The Amazon Kingfisher, a species checked on my life list, was suspected to have died sometime during its Texas foray. Why dead? More than likely, or at least as possible, the visiting kingfisher cast a route south for a better fishing hole. Both the heron and kingfisher are brand new to the ABA area, possibly pushed north by unseasonably cold temperatures to the south or victims of global climate changes. These previously unrecorded waifs remind me of Arizona last year when the state had more rarities than I care to admit that I did not see. I wonder if Paul Sykes saw the Texas newcomers. I hope so.
All these new birds in Texas led to speculations among mostly Texan birders on what might be the next new species to the state. Texans are rightfully proud of their habitat. Of course, sungrebe is a contender since one showed up in New Mexico last year. Mangrove Swallow, Ruddy Crake and Boat-billed Heron climb aboard the list of dream birds. One soothsayer wrote that the valley offered habitat where some of these aliens may possibly light. The writer meant the Rio Grande Valley, but much of that habitat is being lost to Mexico, habitat north of the border, that, if not now, soon will be behind the border wall, a giant fence accompanied by a wide swath of devegetated land mowed down to allegedly enhance security and space for a road patrolled by border agents. On the bright side, perhaps some of the new species recently observed might land on the right side of the fence and just maybe, I could be there to identify them. I would not be unhappy with a Plumbeous Kite, Laughing or Bat Falcon, a Blue Ground-Dove, assorted tanagers, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, lots species of wrens and warblers, fantastic grosbeaks, a foreign blackbird and, and more and more species to fantasize. Some of these I have seen or heard outside ABA land, such species as the speculated Squirrel Cuckoo, Vermiculated Screech-Owl and Lesser Greenlet. Most of the species to feed great expectations would be new to me, largely because my negligible time in Mexico. Should I rush out and buy a field guide on Mexican birds? I will take my chances, besides will the violence from the drug trade allow good birding in Mexico and just how many more times will I bird the border?
At the last minute, I had told the home computer to print out the latest rare bird report for Texas. There are no tiger herons, but maybe there is a chance to find a Northern Jacana and a Northern Wheatear. The jacana and wheatear were last seen on 3 April not far south of San Antonio and on the way to a planned trek from Austin to the Rio Grande. A Purple Sandpiper, not a new species, but one I have not seen in around 47 years, would be nice. Seeing it would feel almost like a life bird. Also duly noted on the four printed pages of rare birds are the seedeater and Muscovy Duck, my primary targets. Time and luck remain to tell the story.
Soon, we reach Sacramento, which requires attention for navigating the crowded route. It had been five years since driving a California freeway this far south of Oregon. In five years, millions of new driver’s licenses throughout the world have been issued to the only species lacking a natural birth control. There is more traffic, more trucks, and more people traveling the interstate today. Comparing stored memories of places revisited, it is easy to recall marshland and forest regressing in time to fields, perhaps orchards or vineyards or acres of crops, landscapes of scraped earth being prepared for houses. It does not seem so long ago, actually a few decades ago, when interstates did not exist, when, traveling with my parents when railroad crossings required caution, we traveled a different California. The then occasional steam locomotive reminded us of an even earlier era, but now, the extra people, those children and grandchildren of our past have to live somewhere; somewhere they can nest and have even more children. The traffic thins and I shift fond thoughts to my daughter in Virginia. Am I a hypocrite? Naturally, I cannot imagine her not on earth, but she is my only direct descendant. What if I produced two offspring? They might then each produce two more. Now I have helped add six new humans. Barring mortality, if 100 million also each produced six more new lives, the simple mathematic story problem becomes simpler than calculating the speed of a train traveling from Chicago to Boston. However, the knowledge of the result is far more reaching. Now, there would be 300 million more people produced just in during about 30 years of my life. Help! Even the population of European Starlings goes only so high until some ecological regulation occurs. Climate change, if it does not totally exterminate life, might actually save the planet. A car speeds by, going faster than I am pushing the speed limit. Suddenly, my mind lets go the worries of the world and back to simple thoughts such as will we make it to Bakersfield before dark.
Once south of Sacramento, what seems flat becomes even flatter. Thankfully, the interstate is along the edge of the heart of the big valley. The benefit is that less valuable agricultural land is used up by the road and it skirts through the edge of the valley where at least a few hills help keep drivers awake. Even so, hurdling southward along the mind numbing peneplain of acres of agricultural endeavors offers little for birds or birders. Most native habitat was plowed under decades ago. Now the original habitats are fields, smelly and crowded feedlots to help nourish hungry people living in crowded housing projects. The birds are gone.
Do not try this at home, but when the driving gets more boring than watching House Sparrows eating all your bird food, letting part of your brain drift while most of your gray matter attends to safe driving is better than falling asleep at the wheel. My brain, such as it is, drifts to a hummingbird I once saw near Corpus Christi, Texas. Mark Lockwood, Secretary to the Texas Bird Records Committee, emailed that my March 2007 sighting in Texas of a Violetear was not accepted, and “Some of the members who did not vote in favor of the record thought the details were suggestive, but wanted a better look for such an early record.” During life before there was a was, time beyond dirt, when birders walked and did not have shoes, I took a stint at being a Christmas Count Compiler, collected observations from local birders before editing and sending them off to what then was Audubon Field Notes (originally, in 1899, Bird-Lore, now North American Birds). Later, I compiled local Oregon records for early papers published during my day job. Dick Banks made certain no participles dangled. Otherwise, I was a committee of one, an autocrat, even though I knew I could have used help, but it was not there. Now, with older gray matter, I fully understand the Texas Bird Records Committee giving the old thumbs down. My sighting was lion fodder. Had I been a voting member, I would not accept the record either. The bird was not photographed or witnessed by another birder and was found about one month earlier than any known records in Texas. However, I am not on the committee and I know I saw a Violetear. I also recall that since my sighting, Violotears have been seen in Texas near the time I saw mine.
Evaluating birds from Texas was not new to me. Harry Church Oberholser, who at the museum was known by Storrs Olson and a few others as H0, was author of The Birdlife of Texas, published posthumously in 1974. It is densely packed, with small print font and detailed pages from decades of research. The publication is a momentous two-volume treatise that Oberholser labored on until his death in 1963. Oberholser was known as a splitter, having described hundreds of subspecies of birds. In earlier publications, he named many of the subspecies for North American birds recognized in the 5th edition of the AOU Check-list. However, many others subspecies he proposed are not recognized. Oberholser described over 30 subspecies and even named a new species of hummingbird in his 1974 magnum opus.
Before the work was published, John Aldrich, U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist and once director of my outfit at the museum, had been working with Edgar Kincaid of Texas on Oberholser’s lone-star sized manuscript. I arrived on the scene in early June 1971. John, who was then retired from Fish and Wildlife, was a Smithsonian Research Associate and had an office in the museum. He had worked with Oberholser, as had Roxie Laybourne, whose office was within earshot of mine. John, always the gentleman and professional to a respectable t, did not speak ill of his late colleague. However, Roxie was more forthcoming about some of Oberholser’s eccentricities. That is not to say Roxie was not a lady. She saw things as they were and said so. Apparently, Oberholser was once a ribbon salesman and became quite adept at discerning color between his goods. Although generous in recognizing differences between museum specimens, he was beyond thrifty, or so it was said. Although probably an exaggeration, he supposedly saved string, bread crusts and entirely lacked humor. He was a martinet and expected his underlings to tow the line. He would have likely fired me for having too much fun.
Some of the later drafts of Oberholser‘s book, typed by hand, with carbons, hinted of things to come. Every now and then, I would hear that the book on Texas would be out any year, and after considerable paring down, the book became a reality. Once it hit the newsstands, the question became what to do with all those newly proposed subspecies and new species of hummingbird. Are any of the new names based on verifiable evidence? Are there new taxa to be recognized by various checklists, including, someday, a new A.O.U. checklist listing subspecies?
During most museum days, my taxonomic focus was the taxonomy of birds of North America, especially those occurring in the Pacific Northwest. Some of the newly proposed subspecies affected the birds of the Pacific Northwest, thus forcing me (not really) to take a poke at Oberholser’s work in my paper published in a Washington state journal. Why not go for the whole batch of new names? Why not tackle the remainder of the 30 untested taxa? The late Ken Parkes egged me on. Dick Banks and others were also encouraging. Eventually, I took the plunge. Luckily, H0 left detailed notes that just happen to be located just on the other side of the bird range from my digs in the office of the Biological Survey. That organization sent me my paycheck. From the notes, I was essentially able to duplicate Oberholser’s assessments, specimen for specimen. Many of the names were based on comparisons he made decades ago, and subsequently additional specimens were available for further comparison. More specimens were evaluated by visiting or borrowing from other collections. During the ensuing four years, tucked in among, as they say, “other duties assigned,” my 37 printed pages evaluating the new names proposed in Oberholser’s Texas tome was published. Only two or three subspecies stood out as recognizable. My search for any specimen forming the basis for Oberholser’s new hummingbird was in vain. The validity of his hummer rested solely on his published description. Perhaps the bird was a hybrid. It is uncertain. My paper is even cited in the Seventh Edition of the A.O.U. Check-list, and whether the usefulness of all my work on evaluating the proposed subspecies remains to be seen in a subspecies level AOU check-list.
Oberholser’s book was a wonderful contribution despite the frequent controversial taxonomic treatments. It summarized the state’s avifauna like never before. H0 would surely muster a smile at the bevy of today’s publications on the great state of Texas. My years of worrying through his book were a lesson in not only Texas and North American geography and avian distribution but also in the fine intricacies of variation is so many species. It was a lot of ribbon to unravel. It was fun. Moreover, I suppose Oberholser would have had me fired.
Back to the present, I shift to the hope of a Lawrence’s Goldfinch for Linda’s life list. A rest stop near the foot of sweeping hills surrounding the southern end of the endless Central Valley looks at least marginal to my inexperienced concept of Lawrence’s Goldfinch habitat. Hope springs eternal, but only House Finches, wind and people dominate the rest stop. Over the wind is the noise of the steady grind of commercial trucks, their tires whining over the paved lanes. Interstate rest stops usually lack interesting birds. We had found that true earlier, further north today; at a rest stop, that I had been told might produce Nuttall’s Woodpecker, a seldom seen species by either Linda or me. Used water requires rest at the stops, but we were not relieved by the lack of any good birds at these stations.
By dusk, we are off the fast track and rolling into Bakersfield. We have a motel in mind and check in at dark. It has been a long day, with about nine hours of driving. This is not the first time in Bakersfield. In recent time, actually back in the Twentieth Century, I flew here to be ferried miles up Kern Canyon for an annual meeting of the Western Field Ornithologists. Linda and I drove through Bakersfield on our 2005 journey. Last summer I thought of driving to Bakersfield and the town’s Rose-ringed Parakeet, a nice plus on my way to southeastern Arizona. However, I decided to leave the birdmobile home and fly to Phoenix.
This trip is going to be the one, the one that I will get my Rose-ringed Parakeet. I even think I see one as we angle through the darkening western reaches of town. Something flew into a palm. All I see is a shape and it is not a grackle.
7 April 2010
The Garden Inn provides us with a good sleep, but a little shorter for me than Linda. The alarm, set for 6:15, urges me up for a jaunt to Beale Park, a short distance from the motel. Before arriving, I see plenty of grackles, the Great-tailed kind. These birds sound different from the Texas Great-tailed Grackles, and the female California birds are smaller and grayer than the eastern birds. Exactly what is going on with these grackles is not settled. The western and eastern birds may prove to be two distinct species.
I leave the motel for Beale Park, a location Alison Sheehey had provided on a web site and the same location she emailed that should produce Rose-ringed Parakeets. It was Alison’s oral paper on the parakeets, given at that meeting in Kern Valley that peaks my interest in the parakeets. The paper and subsequent surveys show that Rose-ringed Parakeets are well-established breeding birds in the Bakersfield region. The species is also established in southern Florida according the latest A.O.U. check-list as well as Los Angeles according to my geographic field guide. Neither source mentions Bakersfield. A committee paper in a 2000 Auk (117(2):549–561) on conservation stated “The Committee believes that ranking all species is a laudable goal, but it recommends that exotic and introduced species be treated differently because maintaining their populations and decreasing their relative risks of extinction are not conservation concerns.” Introduced species do not garner the same status as native ones. The AOU does consider an introduced species, whether it is on a list separate from natives or not, to be established as long as there is “satisfactory evidence” showing establishment. The ABA has rules that are more stringent before accepting a species on their list. To get on the list, an introduced species has to be established for 15 years, it has to have a viable population and someone has to publish a paper that includes data to support that status. It sounds simple, but that proof of establishment is by state. If parrot x has a viable breeding population in Florida and California, a published paper substantiating establishment of parrot x in Florida only means the California bird is not countable. No one has ever published on the status of the Rose-ringed Parakeets in Bakersfield even though the species population has been growing there for decades. However, even if someone did publish a paper showing the establishment of Rose-ringed Parakeets in Bakersfield, the committee on the birds of California could vote to omit Rose-ringed Parakeet on their list of birds.
Kimball Garratt, who is heavily involved with the California committee and introduced species, emailed me that the acceptance and rejection of introduced species is more political than biological. Some birders refuse to count any introduced species, even using the designation “NIB” in their total, meaning no introduced species are counted. That includes long established species, with House Sparrow, European Starling and Rock Pigeon for starters. Others accept introduced species as part of their lists, some noting that such species, like it or not, are part of the avian ecology. It is hard to ignore the more successful species. House Sparrows, also called invasive species, compete for nesting cavities and are well-known to be detrimental to bluebirds. I have never liked House Sparrows, but exactly what is an invasive species. For several years, I lived near the end of the grid in the Cascades. I adorned a couple of posts of a fence surrounding a meadow with bluebird houses. Tree Swallows usually routed the Western Bluebirds. Of course, many species may be invasive, so we need to be more precise. House Finches are invasive to many species, especially in the eastern part of their range. In my early days, Phil Angle, who sat one thin wall to my east at the museum, tried to contain the bully House Finches over-running his Maryland feeders by collecting the finches. The bully birds became a series of specimens used to study the eastern House Finch that were introduced and the invading native western cousins. Just where and when was the House Finch introduced to the east and just where and when is it invasive? Is it invasive now? How long must an introduced species exist as not being part of the avifauna? It seems they are part of the avifauna and will remain so long as their numbers survive.
Years ago, back in the day when a person who identified birds after shooting them, people, some homesick, others just misdirected or looking for a new game bird to hunt, introduced all kinds of birds. Nightingales and, yep, starlings, reminded some of the home they left across the water. These people often dubbed as members of acclimation societies, thrust species after species on sometimes suitable and sometimes hostile environments. Bobwhites went to the Pacific Northwest. It is apparently too wet for them. Various pheasants and other succulent galliformes came and went, leaving us only with the hardy Ring-necked Pheasant and later with such species as Gray Partridge, Chukar and even Himalayan Snowcock. Even native game birds were introduced where they had never made a natural step. For example, Wild Turkey in Oregon represents the subspecies from the Rio Grande Valley. Sometimes it is nearly impossible to know just what was introduced. As a taxonomist, I can attest to the extreme difficulty in determining subspecies identifications of many species of native quail because of chaotic introductions practiced by individuals and various state game departments.
It is a taxonomic mess in places. That is understood concerning nonnative introduced species that are not game birds. Records on the exact origin of a given population are often unknown. What subspecies, if there is one, represents the introduced birds is often a guess. Like the study of eastern House Finches, a good series of specimens of an introduced bird would be helpful to ornithologist, but, paradoxically, collecting even a possibly hated introduced bird is not always considered humane. Is it that people love to hate introduced birds or they hate to love them?
As for my life list, the count cannot be labeled as a NIB one. There are, at the end of the systematic order, House Sparrow, with my New England Mute Swan at the other end of the list. I count my Chukar and Gray Partridge, and if I live long enough and have the energy for the hike, I will count the Himalayan Snowcock. Does counting introduced species on my ABA list make me a bad person? I will take the good and the bad. That is the bad European Starling and good Ring-necked Pheasant, which are to love and to hate species. Well, not really, hate, but I have a strong distain toward starlings, but I once hunted Ring-necked Pheasant for their succulent meat. Yes, I have taken the life of more pheasants than starlings. Ring-necked Pheasant are delicious and are also great to watch. However, I hope efforts to keep out nonnative species continues. I do not want another pheasant to identify. However, again, if there happens to be another pheasant or starling to count, it will go on my list.
As for the Rose-ringed Parakeet, it is excluded presently from Bakersfield’s avifauna, since no one is willing to document its establishment with a publication. Nonetheless, I am here, in Bakersfield and so is the parakeet, now, realistically, a part of the local avifauna. After a few blocks of driving residential streets, I begin to worry I drove past Beale Park. Because it is so early, the neighborhood seems abandoned except for a couple of men working on a yard. I stop for directions. There is a language barrier between the first person and me. The second introduces another barrier. He simply does not know. One block away from the uninformative encounter, I see a street name that is on my map I printed from the web. In one more street to the right, I see the park. It is about one block square, hosting a lawn and a few bushes and palm trees. Feeling as if any moment Bakersfield’s’ finest will be rolling up, red lights flashing and guns drawn, I am relieved that my stalking pays off. Parakeets are squawking. Grabbing my binoculars, I take eight steps into the quiet cool morning, look up and see two Rose-ringed Parakeets sitting on leafless branches. A Western Scrub-Jay sits in a branch three feet above the noisy larger parakeets. I hurry back to the car, grab my camera and snap a few photographs. The two parakeets remain on their open perches. Four more birds shriek from trees in the center of the park. My walk towards them makes them fly. Yes, I now am even more positive, at least, 90%, that the bird I saw yesterday while entering Bakersfield was a parakeet. Today, I am sure, 100% that I am seeing Rose-ringed Parakeet, a species I add to my escrow list since it is probably just a matter of time that the species will make it on the ABA list. Whether that happens before I am done remains unanswered.
Rush hour is humming while making it back to the motel to retrieve Linda and rush to Barstow, down U.S. 95 along the abused Colorado River to Interstate 10 and into Arizona. We arrive at a motel just south of Phoenix where day temperatures reached into the 80’s. This is familiar, but not quite the 100 plus degree-days last July when it was so arid that your antiperspirant roll-on ball became stuck in place.
My wish that someone would pick up pen and paper and publish documentation of the establishment of Rose-ringed Parakeets in the Bakersfield region of California might never happen. Some people are actually fearful to publish, being unwilling to accept constructive criticism during the process of writing an acceptable manuscript. Sure, there is no such thing as a final draft, but we all have to bite the bullet and at least try. A couple of unwilling investigators worked in birds at Smithsonian. One person finally although reluctantly succumbed to peer review and published a few papers. Another person sat on their data, but never came to grips with the idea that failure to publish is irresponsible. That person was essentially fired. Did I get up that earlly morning for nothing?
8 April 2010
Before driving from the Tucson motel parking lot, a cooperative Cactus Wren appears. This is the bird heard so often-in movies when something menacing is about to happen and just as I told Linda I wish it would sing, it did. It was a good way to start the day that improves as we clear the traffic. We rush onward, past island mountain ranges. We zip past the Whetstones where I failed to find Rufous-capped Warbler in 2005. Soon, we ride past the Dragoon Mountains, its name from of a heavily armed cavalry soldier, and the Chiricahua Mountains, a larger range probably named Chiguicagui by the Opata Indians for mountain of wild turkeys. Just how chiguicagui went to Chiricahua is probably another story for someone else to tell. My not so distant memory to the far-off Chiricahua Mountains remind me of last year’s good fortune in southeastern Arizona and what other bird stories might the states’ mountains reveal.
While traveling through eastern Arizona, we see three different hawks belonging to the genus Buteo. Two are dark below with whitish tails and one white-bellied bird, with dark wing tips and also with a whitish tail. We make wild guesses. Ferruginous? Maybe. Short-tailed Hawk? That is even better. That would be a new bird for Linda, and I had not seen one in decades. Linda pours over our Hawks of North America. We are stumped. At 70+mph, field marks have to be readily apparent, and the Arizona hawks are not giving up their identity. Somewhere in New Mexico, Linda decides to ignore the boring scenery and naps. The gas gauge seems stuck on half-full, or is it half-empty? Finally, it moves slowly down in millimeters. I feel relief that the gauge is working. Having to guess, as I did in 1962 with the gas gaugeless 1955 Volkswagen beetle, is not in the cards. So far so good. Our Honda birdmobile seemed to guzzle the tank to empty while going almost the full length of California where gas is sky high. Gas is cheaper in Arizona and New Mexico and an appreciated few pennies even less in Texas. Linda wakes up just inside the lone star border. Getting past the traffic and the twisting interstate through the hills and dales of El Paso that hangs on the slopes of the Rio Grande is welcome to earlier flatness. We still have miles to go. We gas up at a station a distance east of the city. I complain to a fellow customer filling his vehicle that there is no means to clean the many bugs from the windshield. He replies, “We are lucky there is gas.” Perhaps, but driving to our destination while peering around bug entrails, wings, and splattered compound eyes is not easy. It is dark when we finally pull it to the hamlet of Balmorhea. Pronounced bal-mor-ay, the town may be worth the stop.