The Eyes Have It

Good news, our latest base camp location finally has some decent connectivity. Unfortunately, we also happen to be in the path of a pretty nasty storm that is barreling down on us rather fast. Tornado warnings from Galveston Island (where we are currently camped) to Houston with expected steady high winds, rain and now Linda tells me there is an opportunity for hail. Quite the quandary, hunker down, raise anchor and head for less exposed land or…make a quick walk out to the beach and take in nature’s power. Okay, so there really wasn’t that much of a quandary.

Approaching Storm from Galveston Island, January 2023

Still an hour or so away from the bad stuff, but the sea gods are starting to get restless. Assuming the storm doesn’t grow out of hand, hoping to go back out when the eye passes over and see what the bird situation looks like or if there are any quality shells the Gulf puked up. Fingers crossed for some fallout activity or high seas blow-ins like a Frigate or Jaeger. Until then, need to take advantage of the connectivity and talk about another “eye” of sorts.

Common Goldeneye found at Goose Island State Park in Rockport, TX, January 2022

Hit the jump to read more about today’s featured feathered friend.

Continue reading The Eyes Have It

Beast Mode

Not sure where this myth about vacations being relaxing originated from. Obviously not from one of our outings, that’s for sure. We have been basically in birding “beast mode” since we headed south right after Christmas. The days leading up to the new year was focused on trying to reduce the gap from 300 – the days since have been a whirlwind of checks as the Average Year slate was wiped clean. Definitely two sides of the same coin. Every check at the end of the year felt like getting teeth pulled versus the check extravaganza beginning on the first. While Brad was entertaining you with his +1, Linda and I (and Ron while he was down here) were hitting the south Texas hotspots trying not to miss any key birds that are only accessible in this particular region. Time after the sun went down was spent trying to catch up on my mail (Sisyphus could relate) and doing my best to clean up the Birding Chronicles to close out 2022 and reset for 2023. I need to update the text, but I did get the plot captures updated – 2022 can be found here and the 2023 shell can be found here (note, for ease I added a quick summary on the title page (link here). Thanks to an amazing day today at Brazos Bend State Park, the 2023 stats are already out of date – my latest count is 170! Pretty good for only 20 days into the year.

In honor of the birding “beast mode”, thought I’d go with a beast of a different kind.

Nilgai Antelope found off highway between South Padre Island and Brownsville on our January 2022 trip to Texas

Hit the jump to learn more about our surprise while driving to one of our base camps on South Padre Island.

Continue reading Beast Mode

Solitaire Anyone?…by Brad Marks

Greetings everyone! We are essentially at the midpoint of our winter trip south and I must say this has been quite a productive start to this year’s Average Year efforts (not updated yet, but link here). Ron was able to meet us down here for a week and recently headed back (ironically on the day the FAA grounded all planes). Now Linda and I need to head back to get all the birds we hid from him hehehe. We’ll be moving our base camp soon and that means connectivity may be in jeopardy. While we get that straightened out, I’m going to leave you in Brad’s capable hands to keep you entertained. In case you notice a green tint to this post, that’s due to the fact Brad has managed to tin a bird neither Ron or I have…I’ll let him tell the story.

Take it away Brad!

As you may have guessed, Jan and I have traveled to Colorado a few times recently.  Our daughter lives there so it gives us a very good excuse to frequent Colorado and all it has to offer.  During our visit last spring, we decided to check out some local hiking.  Many of the guide books lists dozens, nay, hundreds of hikes from casual walks to the much more adventurous challenging hikes, some involving ropes and harnesses.  We decided to see what was close by our hotel near Boulder.  After a brief All Trails app search, Jan found Eldorado Canyon State Park.  We first went last April, but Jan was hobbled by an injury and couldn’t hike far.  We headed back this fall to more fully explore.  Once leaving the Boulder area,  the highways turned into county or village roads (no center stripes in some cases) and then very quickly into unimproved roads.  By “unimproved” I mean not paved but graded every now and then.  Oddly enough the roads “improved” a bit once we were inside the park (still not paved though).  We’ve learned from last April not to make the rookie mistake of stopping at the very first pull-off. 

Hit the jump to read more about Brad’s Colorado adventure at Eldorado Canyon State Park!

Continue reading Solitaire Anyone?…by Brad Marks

The Wet Realm

It has been a whirlwind of birding since the start of the new year. When it comes to our Average Year efforts (link here), the most exhilarating birding is at the the start – when the counter resets to zero, everything you see with wings means a +1 for the year. Yeah, a Northern Cardinal – check – wow a Carolina Chickadee – check – is that a Grackle, why yes it is – check – IS THAT REALLY A Robin, color me thrilled – check, check, check and on and on. Ron was able to meet us down her for a week to get his year started off on the right foot as well. To be honest, if you miss the border birds, you are probably in a deep hole with tall slick sides. I am still trying to get caught up, but as of January 7th Ron is at 87 and my counter sits at 108. For those keeping track that is over 1/3rd of last year’s total. Ron had to get back home today (of all days, one where the FAA grounded all flights). We have several weeks before we start heading home which will allow me to pad my lead… oops, I mean turn my attention to other creatures…

Blowfish seen at Roberts Point in Port Aransas, TX, January 2022

Hit the jump to see a few more shots from the Gulf waters.

Continue reading The Wet Realm

When Less is a Plus

First off, Happy New Year everyone! Apologies for the long delay between posts, hopefully Brad was able to keep you entertained while I was away. Been a bit of a whirlwind around Intrigued since Christmas morning. Our plans to leave the day after ripping open our presents was altered by Mr. Freeze who found out we were attempting to escape his clutches. Started hearing about carnage on our path out of the state due to black ice/blowing snow and opted to hold out a day. Safer for sure, but made for some very long drives trying to get back on schedule. On top of that stress, I was still clutching a thread of hope on the Average Year front (not updated, but link here). My counter was stuck on 290 thanks to the storm and canceled Arizona trip coming into December. Picked up two strays in a small pond about an hour away and FINALLY tinned an elusive winter Sparrow. Even managed to add one more in Rochester during Linda’s checkup setting the counter at 294 for Christmas. Drove Linda nuts with all the possible scenarios that could lead to 6 ticks while on our trek south. Heart was tested by my first experience with a totally pissed off Rattler cocked and ready to take me out in Waco (more on that in a future post) – totally worth it as it led to a new bird lifer.

“Look at him go. This boy can really fly! He’s rounding first and really turning it on now, he’s not letting up at all, he’s gonna try for [300].

Worked my ass off in Austin trying to find something/anything that would put me at the finish line. Thanks to a very helpful birder who took me to within 5 feet of a bird I needed and a “pay $10 gimme” at another park got the excitement up.

“Here’s the pitch-he’s going, and what a jump he’s got,
He’s trying for third, here’s the throw, it’s in the dirt-safe at
Third! Holy cow, stolen base!”

297, 3 to go. Poured over the eBird sightings trying to find targets…4 possibilities remained – all with recorded sightings the previous days. Up early on New Year’s Eve with a glimmer of hope. Search, search strike one, go to next place, search, search, whiff, on to another place — optimism fading fast as frustration pushes to the forefront. Wait, is that one – YES, 298.

“The suicide squeeze is on! Here he comes, squeeze
Play, it’s gonna be close, holy cow, I think he’s gonna make it!”

Well, I think you probably already know the next line in the song, but night fell and I was..

“Stop[ped] right there!”

Sooooo close. Two less than I wanted. Bittersweet having the finish line in sight, still elated at the same time as I had no ambitions when I started this endeavor I’d be anywhere near a perfect bowling score. By the way, Ron clocked in at 296 with an incredible late surge.

Enough of my challenges, you are really here for this!

Lesser Goldfinch found at Guadalupe River State Park, San Antonio in January 2022

Hit the jump to read more about less.

Continue reading When Less is a Plus

Birdz n the Hood

We are now officially deep into the holiday season. Christmas will be here before we know it and the New Year stands ready to pile on disappointment for any unfulfilled ’22 goals. For a change, I happen to be in fairly good shape on the resolution front. As mentioned in a previous post, my 1200 mile goal has been met (currently at 1221.6 to be exact), and technically, my Average Year goals has been blown out of the water. Ron always reminds me that I thought it would be impossible to crest 200 birds in a single year. Stunned the count currently sits at 294 to the point I’m optimistic there’s an outside chance to crest 300. Two possible birds were on the hunt list for the end of this week (Prairie Falcon/Snowy Owl). Unfortunately, Mr. Freeze has decided to snow on my parade. The Four Snowmen of the Blizzpocalypse (link here) arrive tomorrow followed by the next “Ice Age” (-1F degrees base with 55mph gusts belching windchills to -30 and below). In those conditions, both Scrat and I would both lose our n….oses (link here). Fingers crossed we can get 6 checks the week after Christmas while we head south. In recognition of the “Hoodie” layer weather forecast – as in t-shirt, sweater, hoodie, coat, scarf, mittens and snoot-boot… how about we “check” out today’s featured feathered friend.

Hooded Oriole found at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville, TX January 2022

Hit the jump to read more about our orange flavored specimen.

Continue reading Birdz n the Hood

Miss Magnificent

Hope you recovered quickly from Brad’s lava hike. In stark contrast, today’s post comes from the cold snow of Rochester, MN. We are up at Mayo for Linda’s annual heart checkup – which means ample time to get a post (or two) penned while we navigate Linda’s battery of pokes and prods. One positive, it allows me to continue researching a concerning phenomenon. It is a human behavior topic so it will be targeted for the mothership. Here is a teaser. We are historically social creatures, yet we are evolving to isolation as demonstrated by Waiting Room Entropy (which sounds a lot more appealing than my previous title Men’s Room Urinal Selection Principle link here). This is on full display in Mayo Clinic waiting rooms. Every grouping seeks to maximize space between themselves and others. It is an elaborate ballet as they cleverly try to disguise the task, hawking from the main aisles as they calculate the best spot. Circle backs are occasionally required when personal items are strategically placed. Quite fascinating to this life voyeur. Someday I’ll post the full multi-year analysis, but the New Year is fast approaching and I want to maximize distance between Ron and I’s “official” bird count.

Magnificent Frigatebird found at Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas, TX in January 2021

I can assure you Ron and I have not decided to start including Mosquitoes in our bird count – that blotch above is definitely a bird…well, not just any bird, rather a Magnificent bird!

Hit the jump to get a better view or our fork-tailed lady.

Continue reading Miss Magnificent

A Wizard in King B’s Tin

Greetings everyone from the warm state of Arizona…wait, why am I wearing winter clothes and looking out at a cold, overcast, dreary day – CRAP, I’m still in the broke state of Illinois. Unfortunately, there is an explanation for this change of plans. We are supposed to be in Mesa, Arizona this week giving our bones a preview of what’s coming in January and more importantly – pushing my Average Year (link here) over the absolutely shocking 300 threshold. Linda and I decided to get some of our Christmas shopping out of the way on Black Friday – picked up a few presents, a few bottles of wine and apparently a case of Covid. A complete non-event for me, a night of joint/bone aches and a sharp headache passed off originally as just another night after a long run doubled with time in the gym. Linda took it harder with more of an extended flu-like experience. She’s coming out of it now, thankfully, but we had to make a decision to cancel our trip before we lost the flex option. Going to take some magic for me to get to 300 birds for the year – maybe with the help of a Wizard!

Merlin found on 8 Mile Road, Galveston Island, Texas in January 2022

There are probably at least 3 or 4 winter birds that should be relatively easy to get as the temps continue to drop – Snowy Owls being one of them, which had its first sighting yesterday a few hours away. That should put me in the 290s, waaaaay above my projection at the begining of the year. The dark horse is the fact we will have a week of birding opportunities in Texas before the new year hits – fingers crossed. In light of the “magic” that needs to occur, thought this would be a perfect time to bring out another addition to my life list.

Hit the jump to read more about The Wizard!

Continue reading A Wizard in King B’s Tin

Ravenpalooza…by Brad Marks

Somehow we are officially in December and as far as I can tell, we must only be getting one maybe two weeks top per month being no other explanation for how fast time is flying by. Yesterday I was wondering whether to isolate my Turkey from the rest of the fix’ns or just make one big scrumptious pile and douse it with the entire contents of the gravy bowl. A day later wondering if I’m going to get my shopping done before Christmas Eve (which, at this pace might end up being tomorrow). Thankfully, we can lean on Brad to keep us entertained while I wage battle with the hourglass. I must say, our new staff member is doing quite well on his goal milestones – especially the bonus counter for the use of “craptastic” – we never imagined it would find its way into a post in the “literal” sense. Editor note, he would have pulled a mega-score if he had replaced bird “pose[ing]” with a Python reference to the Norwegian Blue nailed to the perch – now that would be Senior Corporate Staff Writer at Intrigued material hehehe. Enough of my rambling, let’s get to Brad’s latest offering, the Ravenpalooza (or should that be Ravenpooplooza?).

Take it away Brad…

The Fall of 2021 was our first visit to Pikes Peak in Colorado.  Jan and I had high hopes of spectacular views from the top. The sun was shining in Manitou Springs at the base of the mountain where you board the cog rail to ride to the peak (visit here for more details on the cog rail).  We booked our tickets for the cog rail while driving to Colorado the day before, so we didn’t end up getting the best seats.  In fact, we ended up sitting backwards on the train as it headed up the mountain.  We were fighting gravity the whole way because the average incline is a 10% grade (up 10 feet for every 100 feet forward) with short runs of 25% grade.  This also means that while we were facing forward on the way down, we were still holding onto our seats so we didn’t fall into the laps of the people sitting across from us.

Unfortunately, the weather can change very quickly around the Front Range of the Rockies.  That visit was no exception.  As we approached 9,000 feet on the ride to the top, clouds settled in and the view diminished quickly.  At about 12,000 feet, snow started to slant past the windows.  By the time we reached the peak, we were in a full-on blizzard.  The snow was falling so fast, and the wind was so strong, that we had to follow the handrails to the visitor center for fear of getting lost in the white-out.  Understandably, we were disappointed not to have a good, or any, view at the top.  Jan and I did decide to run outside for a quick selfie in the blizzard, then ran back inside just as quickly.  After a quick break in the visitor center, we boarded the cog rail for the ride back down the mountain.

Fast forward to Fall 2022.  We bought cog rail tickets months in advance to try for better seats.  Jan and I  ended up with two front row seats.

Hit the jump to read more of Brad and Jan’s “clearer” return to Pikes Peak.

Continue reading Ravenpalooza…by Brad Marks

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.

Continue reading A Race for the Gold(en)