Big Bend at night.
I'm half-way through what is (hopefully) the most physically demanding trip of the year. Here's the itinerary:
MON: Wake up at Vinalhaven, ME. Ferry to Rockland, ME. Drive 4 hours home to Cambridge, MA. Shower, feed / say hi to cats, pack, head to airport. Fly to Austin TX via Charlotte.
TUE: Arrive at Austin at 12:45 am. Rent car. Drive 6 hours through the night to Brownsville, south Texas. Look for Yellow-green Vireo at Resaca de la Palma. Drive 10.5 hours to Big Bend. *Sleep*
WED: Hike 11 miles up and down the Pinnacles ("death march") Trail to Boot Canyon for Flame-colored Tanager (for the second time this year.) Drive 7 hours to Austin. *Sleep*.
THU: Fly home, shaking from all the buckets of (probably very bad) coffee I'll have drunk. But hopefully with 2 new birds.
The Flame-colored Tanager has been haunting me ever since I hiked up Big Bend in mid-May and missed it. It's been seen more regularly since, and appears to be breeding with a female Western Tanager. The Yellow-green Vireo has been around for almost 2 weeks. Both birds are pretty rare (code 3), and I've been reading the reports with a growing sense of unease, knowing that I should probably go. So, here I am, on a 1,500 mile, 2 day, double-rarity chase in Texas. In the summer. I already know exactly how I'll feel if I miss them.
With a couple of (stationary) naps on the drive, I made it to Brownsville in one (heavily caffeinated) piece this morning. As I arrive at Resaca de la Palma I meet one of the park rangers, Jade, who shows me on a map where the bird was last heard. It's a mile away on the tram route… which, of course, isn't running today. I team up with 2 other birders who've just arrived, and we walk out to the location. It's a hot and sticky 100F.
Resaca de la Palma - recent host to a Yellow-green Vireo
Two hours later and we're all very hot, tired, and have a collective list of exactly zero Yellow-green Vireos. To add to the frustration, the local Mockingbirds are confusing us by singing parts of the vireo song - they clearly were exposed to this visitor and incorporated aspects into their own song. Mockingbirds are mimics, the ultimate cover artists among birds - their repertoires are based on other songs they've heard, and presumably thought - "Hey, that's a cool song, I'll add that to mine."
As the two other birders decide that this is no longer fun (technically, this point was reached after only 20 minutes) and leave, I stick around reviewing my options. The longer I stay here, the later I'll arrive at Big Bend. I absolutely need to sleep - I'm exhausted already, and the hike tomorrow will be hell. The bird clearly isn't here - Yellow-green Vireos love to sing, and will often sing all day, so we should have heard it already. I then remember there was a recent report at a different location in the park. It's another mile further into the park, and it's getting hotter. But I know I can't face the long drive if I haven't tried everything with this bird. So - I head off to the Yellowthroat Trail, wishing I'd brought water (yeah, right - I thought this would be a quick 30 min bird!), and trying to avoid the snakes…
I hear it immediately as I reach the trail. A cross between a House Sparrow and a Red-eyed Vireo. It's noon, and the bird is singing persistently. Yellow-green Vireo! The relief is palpable. Some part of this whole boondoggle now seems worth it! Here's the song:
Song: Yellow-green Vireo with images of my feet!
These birds are real skulkers, and tough to spot. They'll sing from deep within a tree or bush, have a ventriloquial sound, making them hard to locate. And they tend not to move, so looking for movement isn't helpful either. Eventually, after staring at a tree for 10 minutes, I spot the bird. It's big, and is indeed yellow and green, as advertised:
Yellow-green Vireo - large vireo with long bill.
Notice the yellow hues, especially on the flanks and undertail coverts.
As I walk back to the car (where my supply of water is very inconveniently located) I'm reminded that I was on this very trail back in May, during migration. The place was hopping with migrants back then - including my only Philadelphia Vireo of the year. But thinking of this Vireo double-whammy is about all my brain can process - my head is close to the point of sublimating, or at least melting…
I'm not looking forward to the grueling hike tomorrow (note to self: remove water from car and put in bag), but I'm very happy that I have at least one of my target birds.
I'm turning the light out now and hoping this crappy Nissan rental car is bear-proof...
+ + +
BIG YEAR LIST: 651
NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Yellow-green Vireo.