I have plenty of news to tell you since I published my last post!! Here's the low down on what's happened:
The bad news: 4 out of the 5 Christmas Bird Counts that I was scheduled to participate in got cancelled. The Albuquerque, Atascosa Highlands, Peloncillo, and Portal counts all didn't work out with my schedule and I ended up just doing the Las Vegas CBC.
The good news: The Las Vegas CBC was a total success and I had the most fun I've ever had on a Christmas Bird Count! I got up at 5:30 am on the morning of the 26th and drove into Las Vegas with my dad (I live about 25 minutes outside of town). We met up with all the other counters at Charlie's Spic & Span and had a quick breakfast. Then the compiler passed out all the data sheets and maps and we split up into our teams. I was with two excellent people and birders: Christopher, who came from Albuquerque and Martha, who lives in town. We were assigned to bird about a 6 mile area from the middle of Las Vegas to the neighboring community of Montezuma. I had never thought of birding in town as being very productive for birds but I certainly have a much different perspective now! We ended up seeing about 45 species (I think that’s pretty good for Las Vegas) and having a ton of fun. We also saw some pretty good birds such as a Green-tailed Towhee (great for that time of year) and an Eastern Winter Wren. We got the regulars such as Black-billed Magpies, Dark-eyed Juncos, Western, Mountain, and Eastern Bluebirds, (it was pretty cool to see all three bluebirds species in one day!) Ring-necked Ducks, Canyon Wren, and lots of other species. The reason I had such a good time is because of the people who I was birding with. Martha and Christopher are both great people and also very accomplished birders. Christopher especially knows his stuff. Just that one day I learned so much from him! He has an excellent ear and knows his calls very well. He also is very tuned in to the latest updates pertaining to taxonomy and other aspects of ornithology. He pointed out the differences between the calls of the eastern type of White-breasted Nuthatch and a the western, told me the subtle differences between a Pacific and Winter Wren, and much more. Martha also has an excellent knowledge of birds and in nature in general. She just moved to New Mexico within the year so she didn’t know her western birds at the level Christopher did but she showed a great knowledge of birds in general. They also both had great senses of humor and I don’t think I could have wished to bird with cooler folks. The only downside was that for pretty much the entire count, we were trespassing on private property. For some of the people, we had talked with them before to check if we could go traipsing through their land but for the majority we couldn’t negotiate with them at all. About halfway through the count we met a dog that had an acute interest in all of us. It followed us for about a quarter of a mile and at that point we thought it would leave us. But that it did not. For the rest of the count (three to four hours) this dog kept following us and erm, trying to help us. And dogs are not meant to assist in Christmas Bird Counts. Maybe 100 years ago they could have helped, when a CBC consisted of going out on Christmas Day to shoot as many birds as you could; with the help of a few dogs. He (or she) never seemed to tire of plodding along behind us and whenever it seemed as if we would finally lose it, it found a way to keep following us.
You may wonder why the title of this post is called what it is. Here is why:
Some people reading this post will think, “Why the heck is this guy so hyped up over a Brant”!
Well, let me put it this way - a Brant showing up in northern New Mexico is similar to the possibility of it not raining in the Pacific Northwest! I think this was the 7th or 8th record of a Brant in New Mexico and the first one I’ve ever seen away from the coasts! I’ve seen Brants in Massachusetts and California but that’s it. This Brant was not easy to find either. I arrived at the location where it was last spotted (Las Vegas NWR) and met up with some birding pals from Albuquerque. We drove around the refuge loop for about 2 hours and found lots of Snow/Ross’s Geese, Canada/Cackling Geese, but no Brant. We even saw two Tundra Swans! My companions decided they had to get back to Albuquerque and get some business done so they left in their car for Albuquerque. I, meanwhile, got picked up by my dad and we were almost ready to head home (this is about and hour later) when we got a call from one of the people I birded with saying the Brant had been found at a lake on the refuge! I guess the group of birders who had come down from ABQ had been halfway back when they got a call from another birder who was trying to help us find the Brant in the morning! So they turned around, and came roaring back to Las Vegas to see the Brant. I went with my dad to the refuge and there we met a group of birders stationed below the observation deck at the lake where the bird was. They kept telling me to look right in the middle of the focus area and that I’d see it but I always missed it! Finally, the Brant decided to lift it’s head up and take a stroll on the ice. That got all of us pretty excited: “IT’S UP!!!”, “WALKING LEFT, GOING BEHIND A SLEEPING MALLARD,......”. We all got a pretty adequate look at it before it resumed its meditation on one foot. When my friends from ABQ arrived they immediately rushed to a scope and tried to find the bird. Unfortunately, by now the Brant was completely obscured by a bunch of Canada Geese. But luck favors the weary! After about 15 minutes of straining their eyes to see the Brant, it decided it needed to stretch it legs a bit more. That got them REALLY excited! I’m glad to say that they all got great looks and immediately packed back into their car and drove all the way back to Albuquerque.
After seeing the Brant and looking at it for awhile I headed back to my house (about a 25 minute drive). I updated all my lists and then decided I needed to catch up on some rest. And that’s the end of that story......zzzzzzzzzzzz....