“I am I plus my surroundings and if I do not preserve the latter, I do not preserve myself.” ~ Jose Ortega Y Gasset
Even birding for fun has its limits. Driving all the way from Houston to San Bernard 45 minutes away for an animal that may not even be there seems rash .. even a tad bit obsessive. We did it anyway. Twice.
It isn’t like me to drop everything for a freakin’ bird. These chunks of our weekends without kids in tow takes a bit of planning (they do love being home alone, but no one drives yet), and doing it twice may be the very definition of planning insanity.
(And that mulch pile isn’t exactly getting itself done either. I digress.)
When reports of a smallish flock of Rusty Blackbird at a nearby refuge began flooding my inbox last week, we couldn’t ignore. On the west fringe of its southeast wintering range, it seemed that it was here to stay for winter, perhaps even worth a chase.
This previously abundant blackbird has rapidly been losing ground. Its entire range is within North America (unlike other migrants), but in only a few short decades, their population has plummeted by 80-90%. Distressing to say the least; as birds go, so do we. The most likely cause is habitat loss, both in breeding and wintering grounds, but other reasons could be intentional poisoning of blackbird flocks (savages, we are) or acid rain that adversely affects invertebrates that feed them. No one really knows, but there’s a tremendous effort to find out why.
Twice that weekend, they eluded me. For whatever the reason they weren’t where other birders were finding them — even on the same days — I may not get another chance to see a Rusty Blackbird in my lifetime.
There is always a bright side to any ‘unsuccessful’ birding excursion we plan. Some birds we miss, but others we find! The falcons and raptors were all too cooperative for photos, even on these dimly lit, cloudy days.
First time photographed by me!
A rare close-up fly-by.
Red-tailed Hawk (juv)
Surprisingly for the cool autumn temps, there were also quite a few gators we didn’t expect to see.
Photography may not have been the best, but we saw more Ruddy Ducks than we ever expected to see, a couple of male Common Goldeneye (#250) that we never expected to see, a flock of Red-breasted Mergansers (#251), and group of Least Grebes (#252), all added to the annual count. As a bonus, a different Life Bird — Lesser Black-backed Gull — brought us to 253 species for the year. Thank goodness for photos and field guides .. and timing!
We also can thank this guy for reminding us to keep our eyes on the ground while also looking for birds in the sky.
- A Decade of Rusty Blackbird Research: What We’ve Learned So Far | Pam Sinclair, Canadian Wildlife Service
- Rusty Blackbird: Conservation Issues | Int’l Rusty Blackbird Working Group
- Brazoria NWR 11/23/2018 | eBird Checklist
- San Bernard NWR 11/23/2018 | eBird Checklist