Thank you to everyone who supported our 2021 Birding Brawl. Generous supporters fully activated Austin Subaru’s $5,000 match, bringing the total donations to $13,785!
Get the full scoop on their day of birding on April 3rd from the competitors:
Laurie Foss – 1st Place (110 species)
When preparing for the big day, I knew that I wanted to acknowledge the many supporters who donated to Travis Audubon to support our team. I set up four draft emails for our donors that I would be able to send to Caley who had set up an email distribution list for us. I hoped that our supporters would enjoy receiving them as much as I enjoyed sending them.
Our day started just before dawn in Bastrop County where we were surprised with a vocalizing Chuck-wills-widow. As the sun came up, the dawn chorus was deafening! What joy! Bastrop County was hopping and provided many expected species along with some unexpected, like Upland Sandpipers and other migrating sandpipers. While birding this area, we watched with trepidation as clouds with active lightning rolled in. We could see rain falling in the distance, but we were spared the storm until just at the end of this portion of our day. We had already planned to drive for 45 minutes to far western Travis County next, so we had no rain delay while we drove through the storm. That’s the kind of luck that you need on a big day!
Our next birding location was Shield Ranch, a private ranch that I work for. We made one stop at the Bee Cave Sculpture Park on the way to look at their pond where we found Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, a much-needed species! Sharon and I had scouted the ranch the week previous and knew several territories for western species that we needed, as well as Golden-cheeked Warblers. Though the roads were muddy and wet, and bird activity was kind of low, we hit our targets on the ranch with only one or two exceptions. A surprise for us was a Brown Thrasher. Surprises always make a big day more fun!
Leaving the ranch our next destination was Hornsby Bend. We were in for a big surprise there! I had just scouted it the day before when there were several hundreds of ducks on the ponds. Today there were maybe 100 ducks still on the ponds. We found the shorebirds that we needed and added several waterfowl that contributed to our total. We only had to spend 45 minutes there to get what we needed.
Knowing that we needed more water-type birds, we opted to stop next at one of our optional locations, two ponds at the Mueller neighborhood. Though the Cinnamon Teal were gone, we were still able to add a couple of new species, including the Sora which has been spotted there lately.
Sharon had scouted a new detention pond in the Wells Branch area that we stopped at next to pick up a couple of new species. This was on the way to her house where her husband Jeff had picked up a quick dinner for us which we enjoyed while watching her hummingbird feeders.
Our next stop, Mills Pond, held a couple of species that we knew we still needed. This is Sharon’s home park and she knows it really well. There were birds on nests that we found without difficulty. Missing were American Robins! But Sharon had a known location picked out as our back-up and they were there. Tick!
After one more drive to look for waterfowl we called it a day. We had birded from 6:30am until 7:30pm. That was enough! 110 species for the day far exceeded our expectations. We ended our day with one more video to wrap-up our day to send to our supporters.
Byron Stone – 2nd Place (107 species)
First bird of the day was a Chuck-will’s Widow heard in my neighborhood, followed quickly by Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech Owl and Northern Cardinal. Final bird of the day was the adult Black-chinned Hummingbird visiting my feeder at home at dusk.
Best bird was the male Hooded Warbler that Tim Fennell and I had on the south shore of Granger Lake. The bird came in to a screech owl whistle with a mixed flock of birds, and then we heard it singing later and saw it again. I missed quite a few birds that would often be seen on this date, but had a few nice surprises, including the Hooded Warbler (only my second ever in WilCo), and adult Bald Eagle on Granger Lake, and a Common Raven along Loop 360 on the drive home.
Many thanks to my “assistant” and good birding buddy Tim Fennell, who was good company during the morning, and suggested great locations for the Williamson County portion of my day.
Hopefully we can bird again as teams for Birdathon next year once everyone gets vaccinated and the virus is under better control.
Thanks to all my donors for supporting this worthy cause.
Victor Emanuel – 3rd Place (101 species)
(Written by Barry Lyon): The Big Day birding event that was Travis Audubon’s “Birding Brawl” was a fun and productive occasion that featured four of the Austin area’s standout birders. Serving as assistant to Victor Emanuel, I considered myself fortunate to be a part of the fun!
Our route for the day would take us from the far northwest corner of Travis County to the far east side, with selective stops in between at sites we knew would yield birds we wouldn’t see elsewhere. As many Austinite birder/naturalists are aware, this part of Texas is remarkably diverse for its habitats and attendant birds, and our route paid homage to this fact. Whereas Friday, April 2, was beautiful, sunny, and warm, Saturday dawned overcast and stormy with scattered rain. While these condtions would not have been our first choice, the cooler weather probably worked to our advantage later as bird activity remained high all day. In addition to recording most of the expected resident species, the early spring date of this event enabled us to log lingering winter birds and a number of first-of-the-year migrants.
Our day began at the Warbler Vista area at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, where between flashes of lightning and scattered showers we spotted our first Golden-cheeked Warblers of the season. We then worked west to Cow Creek Road, where highlights included several more westerly occurring birds such as Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Common Raven, Bewick’s Wren, and Lesser Goldfinch, in addition to a surprise male Wild Turkey and our first Scissor-tailed Flycatchers of the year.
From the Balcones area we made a straight shot for Webberville Park near the Travis-Bastrop county line. Winding our way to the park via highways 45 and 130, a back-country road north of FM 969 produced a pair of Redheads on a housing development pond, and Loggerhead Shrike and American Kestrels nearby. In most years, the large pastures along Post Oak Road, just west of Webberville Park, are reliable places to observe American Golden-Plover and Upland Sandpipers in the early spring. Sure enough, with a bit of scope work we located small groups of each.
Webberville Park proved a bonanza. Not only did we add a slew of birds to the daylist, but a number of species that easily could have been missed. We had a wonderful time simply walking around the park “ticking” standout species Bald Eagle, Swainson’s Hawk, Barred Owl, Pileated Woodpecker, White-crowned Sparrow, Common Grackle, and large flocks of Brewer’s Blackbirds.
In the afternoon we returned to Austin via Hornsby Bend, arguably the single-most productive birding location in the county. A short walk on the River Trail at the end of Platt Lane produced scores of Lincoln’s Sparrows and a lovely group of White-throated Sparrows. From Platt we made our way south through the agricultrual fields en route to the ponds in the heart of the facility. Typically, the late March to mid-April period is a time to watch for Sprague’s Pipit at Hornsby Bend, as the hay fields there are an ideal height for hosting the species on its northward journey. As we passed through the area, several individuals vaulted from the roadside. On the ponds we observed a fine mix of waterfowl, among which were a drake Cinnamon Teal, several American Wigeon, and a group of Ruddy Ducks. On the shorebird front we were pleased to find more Golden-plover, large numbers of Pectoral Sandpipers, and a group of 50+ Lesser Yellowlegs. The standout bird in this area was Wilson’s Phalarope, seemingly early and represented by four individuals. One of the birds was an adult female, radiant in high plumage. Overhead, a flight of the season’s first Franklin’s Gulls was a welcome surprise.
By now it was getting late in the day and we had time for two more stops. The first stop thereafter was the river ovelook at Roy Guerrero Park, a favorite site of Victor’s. As expected, the birding did not disappoint. Several species of waterfowl, Snowy Egret, Chimney Swift, and a variety of swallows filled in more blanks on the list!
Our day ended with a visit to the Peninsula Trail area on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake. Here, we located the pair of Couch’s Kingbirds which are now resident, more or less, and Blue Jay and Eastern Phoebe (finally!). Our last new bird of the day was a Peregrine Falcon perched atop a power pole across the lake down by the dam.
In all, we recorded 101 species of birds, a total with which we were pleased. It was an honor to be a part of the proceedings in support of Travis Audubon and its fund-raising efforts. Of course, we thank everyone for their support, not only that shown to us, but to all of the teams. It is this support that helps keep Travis Audubon and its programs strong.
Celeste Treadway – 4th Place (85 species)
I started the day at my very favorite place to enjoy birds, my own front yard in Leander, listening just before sunrise to hear the Dawn Chorus. The Northern Cardinals started off first, quickly followed by our usual Hill Country birds. Sadly missing since the February storm were our Eastern Phoebes, as well as our Great Horned Owl and Screech Owls. This morning was cloudy and threatening rain, and the birds were a bit slow to get started. Our Wild Turkeys, who we usually hear early, were silent and refused to answer my gobbling. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers were no-shows. And our Golden-cheeked Warblers, which are usually reliably singing very shortly after the other birds, were also strangely silent. The time came for me to leave home to go meet my birding partner Sarah, and still no GCWA’s. But as I slowly pulled down our gravel road with my windows down to continue listening, one finally sang out, a bright “A” song, just once, as if to wish me good luck. I was very happy, as I would have been disappointed to not get a Goldie on my list for the day!
Meeting Sarah at Lake Creek Parkway with warm breakfast tacos made by my wonderful husband Harry, we started our day of birding together. This was the first time either of us had done a “Big Day” on our own and we were pumped! Unfortunately, the wet, windy weather seemed to be causing the Lake Creek birds to stay hunkered down when we were there. We picked up only 20 species; but we did get the Couch’s Kingbird that I’d spotted the day before, and also got on the one and only White-throated Sparrow of the entire day, singing his soft “Oh-Sweet Canada-Canada-Canada”.
Leaving Lake Creek, we headed to Roy G. Guerrero Park in east Austin. The rain started dumping down hard on our way there. We had to sit in the car for a while after arriving, waiting for it to let up. Once the rain eased up a bit, we entered Circle Acres, where we hoped the heavy tree cover would keep some of the rain off us. We struggled to keep our bins dry and de-fogged, but managed to get 24 species here, including three vireo species singing beautifully. We heard Ruby-crowned Kinglets actually singing—as opposed to their usual typewriter-like alarm call—and that was both delightful and instructive, as neither of us was very familiar with their song. I tried really hard to convince myself there was a Prothonotary Warbler in the area, I really WANTED there to be one, but alas, there was not. We saw our one and only Eastern Phoebe of the entire day—a grim reminder of how many birds are missing since the February freeze, as we should have had dozens of EAPH’s. Back at the parking lot, we saw numerous Scissor-tailed Flycatchers in action—just beautiful! We ate a quick lunch in the car; then heading to the playground, we picked up a few Eastern Bluebirds—again, dramatically reduced numbers compared to normal years. Finally, we headed to Secret Beach, but the river was very high and fast-moving, and we did not get any new species there.
By now it was mid-afternoon, we’d spent longer at Roy G. than I’d anticipated but we’d had fun. Next, we headed to Hornsby Bend. Neither of us feels particularly strong about shorebird identification, but we picked up as many species as we felt confident about. Sarah is really good with identifying ducks and I learned a lot from her! We got great looks at some Eared Grebes that were moving into their breeding plumage, and some pretty little Wilson’s Phalarope. We spent a long time trying to figure out what we were seeing with the sandpipers and plovers, and I took way too many pictures of Pectoral Sandpipers and one Spotted Sandpiper that was super close. After seeing all we could at the ponds, we walked the River Trail, but the only new species we picked up there was Monk Parakeets calling from across the river. I was hoping to see a Pileated Woodpecker but no luck.
At this point, it was late afternoon, and we felt like we’d missed out on a fair number of raptors (hello Osprey?) and common waterfowl that we would normally have expected to get, so we decided to head to Decker Lake, which was relatively close and usually has good birds. This is where it became really obvious that I should have spent more time scouting sites and planning our itinerary—Decker Lake (Walter E. Long Park) was closed to the public. Bummer! So, we made the impromptu decision to head back into town, and hit Longhorn Dam (more Roy G., we just couldn’t get enough of it). At the dam, we picked up a few more species, and just when we were about to give up on finding it, what should rise up into our view but a beautiful Osprey, hunting just below the dam—gorgeous!
We made a quick stop at a park near Sarah’s neighborhood to see if we could catch a Barn Owl that has occasionally been seen there in the past, but no luck. Another quick stop in Sarah’s house for a bathroom break and to pet her sweet dog Rita (who gives great kisses), and then we headed back to our starting spot at Lake Creek, where we had left Sarah’s car. Arriving after dark, we sat in my car with the windows down, compiling our list and listening hopefully for owls. Just as Sarah was loading her things back into her car, we FINALLY heard the hoots of a pair of Great Horned Owls, calling and answering each other. Yay!
Tired but happy, we parted ways, having learned a lot, and excited to try another Big Day together in the future!
Birding Brawl 2021 was sponsored by: