A Race for the Gold(en)

As we are practically at the end of November, I’m starting to feel the pressure as I’m in a race against time. December is a mess with a planned travel early in the month, all the holiday events and then we head south to give our bones a rest from the harsh Midwest chill. That leaves little leeway to everything I “need” much less “want” to get done. The Average Year (link here) is coming to a close and what I thought was an impossible mark to hit – 300 – it now feels incredibly close. Currently sitting at 288, a mere 12 new birds away. Unfortunately, my easy options are pretty much tinned. Linda has a plan that might just push me over. The other race is more literal. For several years now, my running goal has been at least 1200 miles per year. Took a hit when I badly injured my left ankle and my running days were put on hold helping Mother the best we could (link here). With all that. I am still only ~64 miles away which should be doable (predicting a couple long runs in the snow). Lastly there is the sprint to get my “official” NA Bird Life List increased to hit a year-end goal. I have a lot of new lifer birds in the tin thanks to our trip to Texas in January and as a result of our efforts in the Average Year (51 in the latter alone). In a personal decision often regretted, “official” checks also require a featured here at Intrigued.

Not sure how many I am going to have a chance to get to before January, but I did want to at least get through the rarities from the January trip (to make room for all the new rarities in our upcoming trip ha). Let’s start by racing for a gold medal err, make that a crown.

Golden-Crowned Warbler found at Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX in January 2022

Hit the jump to read more about this rather rare Warbler to the US.

Before I go any further, do not reach for the cheaters or try to adjust your monitor focus from this point on. The initial plan was to submit this post last Friday or Saturday with hopes those of you stateside would still be tripping on Tryptophan. With a little luck, maybe you are still marching through all the leftovers. For those abroad, well, my apologies. In my slight defense, the bird wasn’t making it easy on me.

Golden-Crowned Warbler found at Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX in January 2022

These shots were taken at the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco, TX (link here). We discovered this place somewhat by accident on our first trip to Texas many years ago. They happen to be the oldest nature center in the Rio Grande Valley and rather oddly, sit in the middle of an urban development. The first time we visited there, we circled the area a couple of times before realizing the visitor center was located at the back of a park. I believe it is close to 6 acres (would think area would be a good tidbit to put on their website) of what I would describe primarily as dense thicket. The Beast has an awful time there, struggling to get a lock on a subject in very poor lighting. The shot above is pretty much how my days there go. Several times now I swore I wouldn’t go back and for some reason they keep getting rarities that draws me back in.

Golden-Crowned Warbler found at Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX in January 2022

This year’s rarity was the Golden-Crowned Warbler. Honestly, I had zero information about this bird when Linda and I went after it beyond obviously in the Warbler family and thus likely small – colorful if a male. It was also getting a lot of attention on the Texas Chase Bird app and by deduction, not a frequent visitor to the States. We initially did not have an clue where it was hanging out in the center, which meant we were wandering all over the place looking for a bird without a reference and no clue what it sounded like – typically a recipe for failure. We did run into others also on the hunt, surprisingly, all in the same predicament. Eventually found a couple of visitors with binoculars up to their eyes trying to get a peek at something moving below the thicket – this looked promising. Per a quick conversation, our target was seen about 20 minutes earlier, not confirmed since. Joined the hunt for another 30 minutes before Linda and I wandered farther down the path to a small water element. Then Linda exclaimed “is that it?” Would have been nice had the bird stayed for the full sentence to be completed. “Looked kinda yellowish, on the ground, don’t see it anymore.” A few minutes later a bird popped into view deep in the tangle – snap, snap, snap – bird gone for good. Compensation for lack of light that far in was way off and the shots were extremely dark. Was that it, was it a clear enough shot, was it even in focus? – NO CLUE.

Golden-Crowned Warbler found at Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX in January 2022

I left with just a thread of optimism and a fabric of doubt. Did some research as we drove away – maybe should have done that BEFORE we got there. It does have yellow on the breast through to the tail coverts and a grayish feathering. It has a black bordered golden/yellowish crown and, sure enough, likes to hand around the ground. Back at the RV, tried to interrogate the RAW files for the three shots in the tin. See two shots above for the best of the highly processed images – seemed to be close, but still heavy on uncertainty.

A week later we were running for our “water lines” to get below the freeze line developing in the San Antonio area. That took us back to the Rio Grande Valley and by definition, near the Nature Valley Center. The specimen was still being reported there – might as well take another go at it.

Golden-Crowned Warbler found at Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX in January 2022

Another overcast day causing ISO altitude dizziness. Made my way back to the previous sighting and met a couple coming the other way. They kindly passed on the update that they saw it maybe thirty minutes ago. Okay, the hunt is back on. Continued to circle the area getting more frustrated with each passing loop. A lot of birds, but nothing that seemed to match my recently learned color reference. Another individual (Jim) joined me in the search – the extra pair of eyes didn’t help spot the prize until a third individual came up to us and asked if we had seen it yet. Like the kid staring at the long line ahead of him wondering if there is enough time before Santa left for the day..we responded with a dejected NOPE. “Let’s remedy that” “Whaaaaat!?!” Turns out he worked there and was delighted to make our day.

Golden-Crowned Warbler found at Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX in January 2022

That dude knew his Golden-Crowned Warblers – more specifically, could recognize their call, a 5 note chirp that rises at the end. Less than 5 minutes later, he had pinpointed the call and directed us to a small opening in the brush where a Pixie Stick guzzling mini-bird was zipping back and forth, under branches, over branches, hell, through branches. Not sure how he kept his composure while I shifted and contorted my body in a desperate attempt to get a clear shot. Jim was having even more trouble as he couldn’t even get eyes on the bird.

Golden-Crowned Warbler found at Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX in January 2022

That worker was incredibly kind and accommodating, helping us track the Golden down as it flew from area to area. Eventually managed to get the shot at the top of this post which was far better than expected given the circumstances. Added in a few more shots just to give you a few different angles of this US visitor.

Tracked down the range of the Golden-Crowned Warbler and like most of the Texas rarities, this bird hails from Central and South America. Maybe not as rare as the Social Flycatcher (link here), but definitely prefers the warmer climates.

Golden-Crowned Warbler Region Map

Bring you in just a bit so you can see the US observations a little better. A few up in the Corpus Christi area and then a clump at the very tip where this one was spotted.

Golden-Crowned Warbler Region Map

I wish I could give you more information about this cute little Warbler, but alas, Cornell doesn’t recognize it as a US Bird (and thus no page) and there is little to no background on either eBird or (shudder) Wikipedia. Apologies again for the rather poor shots, but hope you enjoyed the brief introduction to this new bird. By the way, I did continue to help Jim finally get an “acceptable” shot as well. Ended up bumping into him at several other stops we made that week – very nice person.

Will wrap there and likely for November as well. Plan is to pop a few more posts off of Brad’s queue the first week of December to keep you entertained as Linda and I head out into the field for one last attempt at 300.

28 thoughts on “A Race for the Gold(en)”

    1. We could make a FORTUNE if we could write an algorithm to discard twigs (and other obstacles) from the autofocus – they now have eye detection, so it doesn’t seem to be a huge stretch to have an option where you take the detected eye as your focus plane… to the drawing board!

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      1. How hard can it be? If AI can pick out the kitten or bird(s) from the scene, how long will it be before camera bodies have enough intelligence to select an animate subject matter. I know my camera will follow a subject across the scene while keeping it in focus. Now we just have to teach it to ignore part of the scene. Hmmm. Far beyond my programming skills.

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    1. Be careful what you wish for Vic, if you saw my rehab and doctor visits over these many years you would probably think twice. – Although I will say those are far less than my years of intense martial arts … got to a point I wasn’t healing fast enough before the next injury and had to find a “gentler” sport …boy was I wrong ha! Appreciate you dropping in and checking out my secretive little friend.

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      1. Oh, I get rehab. Two surgeries on the left knee…and it wasn’t from athletics or an accident. Genetic misalignment. Runs in the family on my maternal side. All the women on that side of the family are tall and have knee issues.

        I was in martial arts for about three years. Isshin-Ryu karate…Okinawan style. Tried some Aikido but, had poor teachers.

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        1. Yikes, luckily I’ve been able to recover from my 3 knee injuries (ACL, 2 medials) with just extensive rehab – not so lucky with my shoulder which had to be surgically repaired. Spent many many years in different forms of martial arts – 2nd degrees in my primaries TKD and Hapkido and then various belts in Aikido with cross discipline studies in Jujitsu, Kempo etc. to handle mixed martial arts encounters (in ring and street). Had a bad falling out with my college Aikido instructor and we parted ways – tainted my opinion of what is probably a useful art, well, that and fat Seagal ha.

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          1. I dive in pretty hard when I decide to do something – that would be the obsessive element of my OCD. Bar defense as I say – bo, escrima sticks, knives (no practical use to learn sword) and when all else fails Dad made sure I could “take the balls off a gnat” with all things metal projectile – except the slingshot which I for some reason totally suck at – Goliath would own me.

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          2. I had some Sai & Bo training. We got a demonstration, once, of Wing Chun, Geisha fighting. That was fascinating and I would have loved to have learned that but, there was no one local and that team was from out of state.

            I remember playing with a metal frame slingshot as a kid. An uncle used it to smack squirrels.

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  1. Had to do the quick scan as I need to get out the door this morning to “work”, ah volunteer work!
    Sounds like to accomplish both goals you need to be running in a highly populated area of those 12 missing birds.😂

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    1. You are very welcome Luisella – you would think being that cute it would want to make it easier to be seen and not hiding out in the ground clutter – birds will be birds I guess ha. Take care and thank you for coming by and joining the conversation.

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    1. Felt like an ultra-marathon training run there traversing up and down their walkways just trying to get a glimpse. I guess good for me my other hobby allows me to chase these birds down all day. If I’m lucky it will be back when we get down there this January and I’ll get a better chance at a clear shot…maybe on a sunny day so I don’t have to go with the mile high ISO. Really enjoyed your Harrier post.

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    1. Excellent point – as you probably noticed, this blog is just as much about the hunt as it is the target so technically I win either way. I guess it is summed up best by whether I would choose a zoo or a forest and to answer your question, I’d choose the forest 110% of the time. Appreciate the visit Jerry, hope things are going well in Sioux Land.

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  2. You were able to photograph this beautiful small bird and that is a great achievement. I am sure it was not easy to get these wonderful photos. I usually struggle to photograph birds like this one and often not successful.

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    1. Definitely room for improvement, but I am pretty happy with what I was eventually able to get in the tin. Luckily in today’s world I can simply toss out the bad ones and keep shooting – those film days were extremely limiting – never knew if you got it until long after when the images were processed (tough going on those high school budgets). Today, snap, take a gander, delete, change settings and try again..wonderful. Appreciate you dropping in Kaya – have a great rest of the week.

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  3. Congratulations on your sighting and photos. Your contortions definitely paid off!
    Very improbably, one of these little beauties showed up on farm in the middle of Colorado’s prairie a few years ago and I was fortunate enough to see it, even if I wasn’t lucky enough to get a picture. I don’t know if the following link will open for you, but it contains more information (if you eBird regularly, you might be able to sign in without having to pay for a subscription, try clicking on the “sign in” link):
    https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/species/gcrwar/cur/introduction?login

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    1. Wow, that one was definitely off course – glad you were able to at least see it – I am an eBird regular (obsessive is probably the better word). Unfortunately not currently subscribed to the “World” offering they have although if we keep finding these Mexico based birds in Texas I might have to go ahead and sign up …for the annual plan – 8 bucks a month is steep for what they are offering beyond what I can get with my existing references. With my standard eBird subscription it at least lets me look at the reference pictures and region maps which I used for the maps in this post. Will have to see if this Warbler shows up again as we will be back down there in January and hopefully be able to bring you better images. Appreciate you dropping in Tanja.

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        1. No luck with me, it says I am logged in, but it is still limiting the data it is giving to just the pictures and the regions.. maybe that is all they have available for this bird in which case I am getting access … weird, but will investigate more.

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