Skunked. By a Blackbird. (Twice.)

“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.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel
First time photographed by me!

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier
A rare close-up fly-by.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk (juv)

Surprisingly for the cool autumn temps, there were also quite a few gators we didn’t expect to see.

American Alligator

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.


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11 thoughts on “Skunked. By a Blackbird. (Twice.)

  1. Non-birders will shake their heads at our obsessions, Shannon, but, as Mike always says, there are worse obsessions and addictions! I, too, was looking for Rusty Blackbirds this past weekend, as two had been reported along Fountain Creek. No luck for me either. ☹ I am sure you will get another opportunity!


    1. Oh, I do hope one of us gets to see (and photograph) this beautiful bird. We’re hoping to get out for some more duck-ticking these next few weeks, so maybe we’ll stumble upon the blackbird while we’re out. We are so very short on ducks .. and time now the year is about to close!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, I know nothing about birds, but… When I was at Brazoria today, I heard something that sounded a bit like red-winged blackbirds, but when I finally spotted the group, I’d never seen anything like them. They weren’t cowbirds, and they weren’t grackels, but the were the prettiest rusty (!!) color. I wonder. They were so far away that my poor little 70-300mm couldn’t get much of a view, but when I get the photos cleaned up, I’ll send a couple to you.

    The big excitement was seeing a really big flock of snow geese in a wet field along 227. There were hundreds of birds,and maybe thousands. It looked like the Katy Prairie used to look. I couldn’t believe it. Then, I got a couple of photos of birds in flight that I think are rails of some sort.

    I laughed at the Caracara. There’s a pair that’s been hanging around Brazoria that I’ve seen three times now. I’ve seen them on a perch just like the one you show here, but yesterday they were just walking down the road, like some old couple out for a walk. I laughed to hard I nearly cried — I trailed them down the road for a while, and got within about ten feet of them before they decided to exercise their right to fly.


    1. ‘Like an old married couple’ is what I told my husband when I saw them. They are pretty funny to anthropomorphize. LOL Wowza! You may have seen the blackbirds! I look forward to seeing your photo(s) if you’d like to send them on when you get a chance. We are hoping to get back out to see more ducks before Christmas, perhaps we’ll actually get to see them too. *crossing fingers*

      It’s always a thrill seeing thousands of geese settled on a field. Occasionally, we get to be up close, like in 2014, but most times it’s waaaaay off in the distance. They sure do make for great photos and video.


  3. Nothing like a skunk to remind us of the present. Wonderful photos here Shannon, disturbing news about the decline of the rusty blackbird. I loved hearing of the birds you spotted, and your attempts at the rusty. Especially enjoyed seeing the caracaras, a bird we don’t see where I live.


    1. I’d rather trip on a gator (I’ve almost done this!) than a skunk; at least the gator is likely to flee and not spray. The last skunk encounter was when one nosed his way into our tent .. while we were sleeping in it! Quite the story. Funny now, not so funny then.

      Hope you’re well, Jet. I think of you each time I hear news of northern Cal and wish that your and Athena’s lives are finding some sense of normalcy.

      Liked by 1 person

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