Big Birding Saturday with Sue Oliver

Who is Sue Oliver you might ask.  She is a friend of ours and one of the best birders in this area.  We had been talking about doing this for the past several months.  I also promised that I would put her name in headlines.  (Hence the title of this post).  She works at her job all week and only has time to get out on Saturdays.  We set it up to leave about 8:15AM, and we should have decided on going after a “Big Day” number.  We ended up seeing 51 species, and it could have been more, had we done a better job of deciding the route that we would take.

Belted Kingfisher – female

In the birders jargon, a “Big Day” is one where you try to see as many birds as possible.  Ann and I have, or had a record of 44 in one day back in 2011.  That was just she and I, and we were not really trying for a big number.  It just happened that way.

Pyrrholoxia – female

The weather was pretty cold when we started.  It was around 40 degrees and very cloudy, but not really uncomfortable unless we rolled the car windows down at higher speeds.  But as you probably know, birders do not travel at high speeds.

Northern Cardinal

We decided to head for Mertzon, Texas, a little town only about 20 miles southwest of San Angelo.  We took a round-a-bout way, through ranch country on some dusty caliche roads, and after three hours,(yes that’s right, three hours) of not many birds, we arrived in Mertzon.  We promptly stopped at a convenience store to answer nature’s call.  At that time, we had only chalked up about a dozen birds.  They were mostly sparrow types, grackles, and a few doves.  We were disappointed the way our birding exploits were going because we had wasted our time on those backroads.  Of course, we had now way of knowing that there would be such a shortage of birds on that route.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight

There was a little county park there in Mertzon, with a dam and a low-water crossing.  We decided to check it out as we had heard that it would be a great place for birds.  We were really correct on that score.  There were Cardinals, Finches, Pied-billed Grebes, Pyrrholoxia and a Great Blue Heron.  But the star of the show was a Ringed Kingfisher, a rarity here in this area.  It was apparent that it had invaded the territory of two Belted Kingfishers.  Those two were not making the Ringed KF welcome.  All the time we watched they were constantly chasing one another.  Patiently waiting, I did get a couple of photos when it happened to perch for a few seconds.

Ringed Kingfisher

Ringed Kingfisher

We stayed around for a bit to see if there were any more surprises.  Nothing more exciting showed up, except some American Goldfinches, American Kestrels, and another Red-tailed Hawk.  I think that by then, we had seen 35 different species.

By then it was only about 2:00 PM.  We decided that we would head for Eldorado, a drive of about 35 miles.  We thought that we could add a bunch to our list at the Water Treatment Plant ponds.  And we did.  Plenty of birds there, however, some of them were duplicates of birds that we seen in Mertzon.  But we added a Wilson’s Snipe and a Northern Harrier, and several others including an American Widgeon.

American Wigeon

On the way home, entering San Angelo, we saw the first two Ring-billed Gulls of the season, and some European Starlings.  So all in all it was another fun day of birding here in the Concho Valley.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Here is a complete species list for you who may be interested.

  1. Red-tailed Hawk
  2. Mourning Dove
  3. Common Raven
  4. Western Meadowlark
  5. Common Grackle
  6. Savannah Sparrow
  7. Vesper Sparrow
  8. American Kestrel
  9. Northern Mockingbird
  10. Loggerhead Shrike
  11. Red-winged Blackbird
  12. Green-winged Teal
  13. Turkey Vulture
  14. Northern Cardinal
  15. Pyrrholoxia
  16. Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  17. Black Vulture
  18. House Sparrow
  19. Ringed Kingfisher
  20. Eurasian Collared Dove
  21. Belted Kingfisher
  22. Pied-billed Grebe
  23. Great Blue Heron
  24. Pine Sisken
  25. American Goldfinch
  26. Brown-headed Cowbird
  27. Northern Shoveler
  28. Eastern Phoebe
  29. House Finch
  30. Eastern Bluebird
  31. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  32. Great-tailed Grackle
  33. Lark Sparrow
  34. Western Scrub Jay
  35. Wild Turkey
  36. Double-crested Cormorant
  37. American Coot
  38. Gadwall
  39. Ruddy Duck
  40. Northern Pintail
  41. Northern Harrier
  42. Ring-necked Duck
  43. Redhead
  44. Great Egret
  45. Spotted Sandpiper
  46. Lesser Scaup
  47. Wilson Snipe
  48. Blue-winged Teal
  49. Ring-billed Gull
  50. Rock Pigeon
  51. European Starling