Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory
2005 Hornsby Bend Big Year
A Report from Eric Carpenter
As many of you are aware or were actual witnesses to, I made a dedicated effort (parts of ~190-200 days in the field) in 2005 to search out and enjoy the bird-life at Hornsby Bend. Prior to doing this, I had only casually birded Hornsby over the years, primarily checking out birds on the 3 main ponds and in the woods to the south of them along the Colorado River. Before 2005, I had only visited Pond 3 twice, driven down Platt Lane only a couple times and had NEVER ventured down to Platt Pond, the Old Cypress River Crossing or the northwest fields. As it would turn out, the river corridor between Pond 3 and Platt Pond would become my favorite area at Hornsby.
My goal for the year
How did I do
- Tracking the pair of Ringed Kingfishers that were present virtually the entire year, hoping to see them nest in a favored sand bank, only to see them shy away from it in late spring.
- Realizing by mid-to-late March that Hornsby's Bewicks Wrens had departed only to see them return in late September. I don't think I had ever noted this seasonal movement in our area before.
- Bushwacking after a male Prothonotary Warbler as it hung around all summer to see if it would find a mate (it did not).
- Being present in the field 5 to 7 times a week in the spring (mid-March to mid-May) and being able to see first-of-seasons of one species or another on nearly every visit, helping to illustrate the different migration windows of all the birds involved.
- In the spring, watching wading birds and other birds fly in (probably for the first time) from the southeast along the river, circle the ponds for a bit, and either land or keep heading northwest (also along the river corridor). In the fall, I would witness the same thing but in the opposite direction (birds heading generally down river).
I was also able to add a new bird to the Hornsby list (one of my goals) - a singing Rock Wren on Mount "Hornsby" along Platt Lane. Richard Kaskan and I were standing at the Platt Lane gate one morning in late November when it suddenly dawned on me that a bird we had been hearing for a few minutes sure as heck sounded like this species (and it was!).
Both of those sightings above were birds that I would only see once. Other one-timers included: a Glossy Ibis, 3 Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, a Wild Turkey, a Least Tern, a Barn Owl, a Brown Creeper, a Yellow-throated Vireo, a Gray-cheeked Thrush, a Louisiana Waterthrush, a Scarlet Tanager, a Spotted Towhee, a Cassin's Sparrow, 2 or more LeConte's Sparrows, a Dark-eyed Junco, a Pine Siskin, and a Brewer's Blackbird. The Brewer's Blackbird was one of the most out-of-place sightings of the year with the only bird being one that walked around the drying basins near the hawkwatch on October 8th.
Other species that I would have been glad to see on only one occasion that I would see multiple times included: Anhinga (July & August), Greater Scaup (Feb & Nov), Long-tailed Duck (several weeks in January), Common Goldeneye (Jan thru Mar; Dec), Bald Eagle (Jan, March, April, October, November), Common Moorhen (May & June), Red-necked Phalarope (1 bird that lingered a few days in September), American Woodcock (April, November), Caspian Tern (May & August), Common Ground-Dove (April, November, December), Ringed Kingfisher (every month but January), Green Kingfisher (March, Sept, October), Say's Phoebe (March, Nov, Dec), Vermilion Flycatcher (Oct, Nov, Dec), Ash-throated Flycatcher (Jan thru April, Nov thru Dec), Bell's Vireo (May, Sept), Red-breasted Nuthatch (Feb, March, April), Veery (2 sightings in May), Sprague's Pipit (March, Nov, Dec), Hooded Warbler (May, Sept), and Bullock's Oriole (a couple sightings in May).
My nemesis bird for much of the year was, of all things, a Blue Jay. It would take me until Labor Day weekend (Sept 4th) until I saw my first one, though I would see up to 4 birds (the dam had broke!) on-and-off for the remainder of the year.
My biggest miss? Probably Red-breasted Mergansers which were seen in late November on-and-off but never when I was around. I also missed a couple fly-over species (Sandhill Crane, Herring Gull, Snow Goose) though I don't think any of these ever landed on the property. Other birds that I'm aware of that occurred that I didn't see (many of them are birds that were seen/present on days when I was at Hornsby): Eastern Screech-Owl, Prairie Warbler, Snowy Plover, Lazuli Bunting, Green-tailed Towhee, Herring Gull, and Zone-tailed Hawk.
(If you'd like a complete list of what I saw along with a month-by-month total, e-mail me at email@example.com and I can send you a spreadsheet).
Other non-birding highlights were seeing a Bobcat two times (once on the southeast side of Pond 2; the other time near Pond 3), seeing maybe half-a-dozen Coral Snakes, and "discovering" the crashed jet on Pond 3 as well as one of the biggest snapping turtles I've ever seen.
Acknowledgements & Thanks
Kevin Anderson was very generous and helped me understand life at Hornsby, from a birding and a non-birding perspective.
A special thanks to Sally Breed who a couple times went out of her way to get me on a great bird she had found. Sally also joined me (and survived!) one of my death-marches of walking the length of the river.
I spent countless hours in the field with Richard Kaskan, not only enjoying his company but learning quite a bit in the process. Richard is one of the more astute birders I've been with in the field, possessing both a keen eye and trained ear, as well as a good knack for pulling the rare bird out of the flock.
Anyone considering a Big Year (whether it be in their backyard, their home county, the favorite hot-spot, or even a state-wide effort), should realize that they're probably in for a little more work (and stress) than expected but also a LOT more fun.
See you out there on the birding trail!
PS. I was going to issue a question for you folks to guess how long it would be this year until I saw a bird at Hornsby that I didn't see at all in 2005. Fortunately, I've already answered that question. I birded Hornsby this morning for the first time since the new year, and it took just over a hour for me to find and photograph a Sedge Wren, a bird that was strangely missing-in-action all of 2005.
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www.hornsbybend.org/bigyear-2005.html (Last modified Jan-09-06)