Frontier Birding with Eric Carpenter

Eric Carpenter

Eric Carpenter is well known in birding circles, previously setting the record for the most number of species seen in Texas during his Big Year in 2003. With 505 birds observed that year, he holds the distinction of being the first person to document over 500 species in the state. He has since focused on birding locally, completing a Big Year at Hornsby Bend in 2005 where he observed 249 species.

Eric started birding at a young age with his father. When he was 10, he started keeping a list that “became sort of an obsession pretty quickly.” He became a more serious birder after college, spending most of his free time looking for birds. He has kept a bird list for 37 years and shows no signs of slowing down. He has seen every bird expected in Texas and keeps his eyes out for rare vagrants to add to his life list. His long-term goal is to chase two birds each year for the next 10 years or so and reach a whopping 600 birds for the state.

While Eric does occasionally bird in other states and internationally, he particularly enjoys local birding because he is so familiar with the birds and their behavior. When pressed about his favorite bird, Eric was non-committal but admitted that he is often seen observing shorebirds, especially at the monthly bird counts he coordinates at Hornsby Bend. With hundreds of shorebirds migrating through the Austin area, he enjoys the challenge of picking out something unusual. “There is always a potential that an unexpected shorebird has travelled a long way.”

Red-billed Tropic Bird

Red-billed Tropic Bird, by Randy Pinkston

In addition to bird counts, Eric lends his bird expertise through other volunteer work. He reviews sightings of unusual birds for the Texas Bird Records Committee, writes the Texas bird-sightings column for the American Birding Association’s North American Birds periodical, and reviews all eBird records for Travis County. Even when he’s not volunteering, he still spends much of his time birding in Central Texas with his wife, Maggie. We could argue that “sort of an obsession” is an understatement!

Eric will speak about Texas pelagic birds at Travis Audubon’s October meeting. He started organizing pelagic trips in the early 1990s and holds them 3 to 4 times a year for groups of birders and wildlife enthusiasts. He said of a recent trip 70 miles out of Port Aransas, “there are birds out there you don’t normally see on land like storm-petrels and shearwaters. We got nice looks at Sperm Whales, Short-finned Pilot Whales, and Clymene Dolphins, which are not seen a lot as they are in areas that are very little visited.” Though birding at sea can be unpredictable, there is always something interesting to see—whether it’s a bird, fish, or mammal. “I like the adventure of going out on the Gulf. It’s a different frontier than normal birding. Every time I go out, I see something memorable.”

Join us for Eric’s talk about Texas Pelagic Trips on Thursday, October 20, at 7 pm at Hyde Park Christian Church, 610 E. 45th Street, Austin 78751. Click here for details.