Birding Brawl 2020 Results

1st Place: Shelia Hargis
Total species: 91
Her Birding Brawl Story: I have done many Big Days, but never one by myself. I was a little nervous that if I failed miserably, I’d have no one else to blame but myself.  (-:
I started at 4:30 AM in my neighborhood, hoping to hear the Screech Owl down the block and some robins. Nothing. I then headed out to Fitzhugh Rd. The five Great Horned Owls that I had heard on my scouting trip – none of them were around or if so, I couldn’t hear them over the wind. I continued to the edge of Blanco County and started my day birding backtracking along Fitzhugh Rd and numerous side roads, mainly in the northwest part of Hays County. I missed some species that were there two days earlier but got a good number of the Hill County species. I then hoofed it to Bastrop County, arriving just in time for a big downpour. I persevered and picked up a lot of the eastern species I was after even though it was getting later in the day and getting hot. Luckily I had a couple of locations for several high target species, so if I missed them at the first location, I hung out a little longer at the second location until I heard them. Two Green Kingfishers in the Sayersville area was very nice! But, by 2:20 PM, the Cassin’s Sparrow was not singing. He was likely hiding in the shade somewhere laughing at that crazy birder lady, sweating in the sun and eating road dust. The Swainson’s Warbler was a different story. Thinking that it was highly unlikely these birds would still be singing at 3 PM, I was still a little upset when I didn’t hear one at the first location, but then the birding gods smiled and I heard one at the second location, just a short distance down the road. My recording has thunder in the distance, moments before the rain hit. Because I had missed Pileated Woodpecker up to this point, I made the decision to return to Bastrop to try again for the bird (I was really trying to get all of the possible woodpeckers except Hairy), giving up on my plans to try for the Horned Larks in NE Travis County. I got the Pileated and then headed to Austin for urban birding at numerous staked out locations. The American Kestrels were at 45th/Guadalupe as were Monk Parakeets. And two Wood Ducks flew past! Then I was off to SE Travis County in hopes of hard to find water birds. At the first pond, I could just barely see the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron through the hard rain. Check. On to pond two. I had been thinking that it was a shame to not have a Loggerhead Shrike staked out somewhere. As I pulled into the second pond, I remembered that I usually have one at that location during the Austin CBC. I pulled up, see a Starling, and then catch a glimpse through the rain of what else, a Loggerhead Shrike! Pond three gave up its expected Pied-billed Grebe, and unexpectedly an American Coot. Then I saw two Black-bellied Whistling Ducks with eight ducklings in tow. The birding gods were definitely smiling on me. I then went to the pond in Bauerle Ranch Park that I monitor for Least Grebe. They were on the nest as expected (this is at least their fourth nesting attempt this year and thankfully the nest survived the storm last night). Then back to my neighborhood nearby as the rain seemed to be getting more persistent. I drove the neighborhood about 7:05 PM, not finding the screech owl but catching a quick glimpse of an American Robin. I had planned to walk my dog and get the owl a little later, but when we tried, the rain and hail made us turn around pretty quickly. No owl, but still a pretty fun day!
Now if I can ever figure out how to be at four places at once at 6:15 in the morning…
Thanks Virginia, Eric and Dennis for being awesome competitors!
See Shelia’s full list here.

2nd Place: Eric Stager
Total species: 79
His Birding Brawl Story: After starting in Bastrop, I went to Hornsby, figuring that I could probably get more species there than any other single location. With only the Platt Lane entrance open, I walked all the way to the ponds. It wasn’t as productive as I hoped, and I had only 49 species for all my effort, walking 5+ miles round trip. The walk back from the ponds was so hot and humid, by the time I got back to my car I was getting cramps in my legs. I sat in my running car for 30 minutes drinking water before I could consider moving on.
I headed west to Reimers Ranch, but mid afternoon was so hot, I limited my hiking there. There were some good birds there despite the heat. I thought I heard a Black-capped Vireo singing near the river but not sure enough to count it. I had planned on making a couple more stops, but was so spent by 5:00 that I birded by car a little and then ended my day. I was sad that I missed Golden-cheeked! I did get a Screech Owl later at home.
I’ve only done a couple of big days, and never solo. It was fun, next time I’d walk less and cover more locations! We should do it again next year, earlier in May when there’s still some migrants around and we’d have a shot at 100 species.
See Eric’s full list here.

3rd Place: Dennis Palafox
Total Species: 72
His Birding Brawl Story: I started at Yeager Cr Rd in Blanco County. The dawn chorus was great and I thought constantly about Jeff’s bird song class and the frame work it gave me for learning bird song. Then I motored to Reimer’s Ranch and picked up a few new species. I was hoping to find a breakfast taco on the way but who knew places aren’t open on Sunday morning! The sunrise made for a beautiful morning especially while viewing the Pedernales River. There was a slight breeze and the cloud cover kept things comfortable. Then off to Commons Ford. I talked the gate guards into letting me in. I was running behind schedule so I literally jogged parts of the trail. I didn’t find out until this morning that I actually got the Brown-crested Flycatcher after reviewing some photos – thanks to the B3 class! I got to Mills Pond at 10:45 and it was very slow. Of course the temp was warming up. Then on to Triangle Pond. The Least Grebe and Black-bellied Whistling Duck I had seen on Friday were nowhere to be found, but I did pick up the Wood Duck and a Green Heron. I whiffed on the Kestrel I had seen on Friday at the substation on 45th and Guadalupe. I decided to take quick look at the pond at Central Market hoping the Least Grebe had found a new spot but no such luck. I began to get really hot so I ducked into CM to sit in the AC, sip a cool drink and eat a light snack. After hearing Eric’s story I’m glad I did. I did a quick tally and thought I was doing well but little did I know what the afternoon had in store for me. But the rest help my spirits pick up along with some good music on Sirius XM. On to Mueller to pick up Coots and Pied-billed Grebes. I then headed east and decided to bypass Platt Ln. I went to Greengate Farms in Bastrop County which is on my Lost Pines CBC; they’re great folks. A thunderstorm was brewing so I high-tailed out of there but not before driving by Eberhardt Ln where there’s a low spot in a pasture that occasionally has some interesting birds. Time was running out so I made an executive decision to leave Bastrop Co and take the 1 hr drive to Warbler Woods in hopes of hitting the mother lode. It was slow there too and hot! My goal was slipping away. I was watching radar and I saw the big storms in Austin and the ones west of San Antonio moving in. So, I elected to head home and leave the results in the hands of the birding gods. I had given it the good ole college try. What I found interesting was the easy, common birds that I whiffed on – a lesson learned.
Congrats again to Shelia, and we all deserve a fist bump for the money we raised for Travis Audubon. Thanks to all the donors as well and the Nicole, Caley, Judith, and Kelsey for making this happen!
See Dennis’ complete bird list here.

4th Place: Virginia Rose
Total Species: 55
Her Birding Brawl Story: At 5:40 AM, I was at Riata Pond for dawn song. It was dark, but beautiful. My favorite scene was lightning bugs everywhere, beside me and across the pond in the grassy meadow. Gorgeous. Also, Common Nighthawk making passes above the dark water. I wheeled up to but not into the forested part of that park because I wasn’t sure how safe it was. I had 16 species by 7:00ish and headed for Lake Creek.
First birds at Lake Creek were a Red-winged Blackbird ALL OVER a Red-shouldered Hawk. Picked up Eastern Pewee, Least Flycatcher, another certain Empid, but could not get it in time, Couch’s Kingbird and others…THANK YOU JEFF PATTERSON FOR THE B3 CLASS! I picked up 24 new birds there and headed for Berry Springs at 10:30.
I began birding at Berry Springs at 11:00 and picked up 10 new birds, including Summer Tanager, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Western and Eastern Kingbird, making the kingbird trifecta!
I headed for Richard Moya about 2:00 and ate a good picnic lunch in my van, listening to yellow warbler singing across the way. I began birding about 3:00, and like Eric, I did a hell of a lot of wheeling for only 3 new birds, Cattle Egret and Red-eyed Vireo with Yellow Warbler. Starting to be tired and hot and a little bleary-eyed, truth be told.
Next stop LBJ Wildflower Center after hours! I had called two days prior to find out if the great horned owls were still on the premises. Yes!
I scheduled a time slot in this time of COVID-19 for 8 AM., but wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it. I obviously didn’t make the 8 AM slot, but at 5 PM, I thought I might drive over there and get lucky. I did not get the Great Horned Owl, but I did enjoy perched painted buntings males singing their fool heads off and yellow-green females blatantly eyeing me at close range with their perched up tails.
Two Cooper’s Hawks were flying above me with black rain clouds as a backdrop. After about 45 minutes, I popped back in my van at 6:45, and the sky opened up!
My last stop was Beverly Sheffield NW park near my home. It was 7:15 PM., and I hoped the rain would let up long enough for me to get something new before nightfall, but it wasn’t to be. 55 species would have to stand!
Home and in bed by 8:30. I reviewed my lists, submitted and shared them, calculated I wheeled 9ish miles and slept 12 hours.
See Virginia’s complete bird list here.