Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Central Texas Birders Round Up a Lewis's in Junction

On a clear, crisp Saturday morning, Marcin and I headed out to Junction, TX. to chase after a Lewis's Woodpecker. Rhandy Helton, who frequently provides birders with good reports of sightings for his hometown, found the green-backed, rosy-faced bird at the local rodeo grounds.

The woodpecker is an irregular winter visitor to the western two-thirds of the state with most of them being reported from the Trans-Pecos. The bird would be a lifer for Marcin, and I had never seen it in Texas, so it would be worth the 2-hour drive to add him the the list. We also thought we'd have a good chance to see Mountain Bluebirds and Western Bluebirds, which had also been reported. (These are also rare sightings for Central Texas.)
When we got to the rodeo grounds, we quickly joined another birder from Austin and made our way down the dusty path to an overlook on the banks of the South Llano River. We followed Rhandy's advice to scan a line of tall Pecan Trees on the opposite bank. A brief look produced red-shafted and yellow-shafted Northern Flickers (The subspecies are not often seen together, so it was a great start.)

After about 5 minutes, I got a gut-feeling about one of the Pecan Trees. When I took a glimpse and saw a dark figure in full sun slowly moving alongside a bare branch, I knew I had him. I could barely make out any colors, but his darkish figure stood out among the neighboring Flickers. I called over to Marcin and the other birder and we watched as the Lewis's slowly moved into sunlight just enough for us to make out his rosy face. Within minutes, the woodpecker began performing his aerial acrobatics, gracefully hovering with his large wing span and darting back and forth from trunk to trunk.                             


Soon we had some other birders join us for the show. Marcin and I desperately tried snapping some photos, but knew we were well out of range with our lenses. Gil Eckerich and Tom Dove were better armed with their photographic arsenal, but the woodpecker wasn't very cooperative. He frequently disappeared into the branches and often stayed in the shadows.

The bird even teased us when he came across the river and landed in a nearby corral where we thought we could round him up for some prized photos. But when we finally got into position after moving through a series of gates and corrals, ol' Lewis wouldn't have it and he headed back across the river. So much for a blue-ribbon photo op!

Marcin and I decided to settle for mediocre photos when we came across about a dozen Mountain Bluebirds. We chased the group for more than an hour and got some satisfying photos of the sky-blue males. 

It was a rare treat to not only see the Mountain Bluebirds, but the other two species later that afternoon (Eastern and Western Bluebirds). It was the first time Marcin and I had seen a trifecta of bluebirds in one day. 
We also spent some time at South Llano River State Park and birded  the Agarita Bird Blind. We had a cornucopia of birds, including Pines Siskins, Fox Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia and more.
All together we saw more than 40 species of birds in Junction, but we won't soon forget the main attraction that had Central Texas Birders scrambling through dusty corrals and cactus just to get a photo.

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