Hello my wonderful readers!! It has been a while for me – at least on the wild side of Intrigued. Before I go any further, want to give a big thanks to Brad for filling in while I focused on the haunted trail and more importantly, trying to get back on my feet after last weekend’s beat down. He has really upped our game and brought us some great adventures. Based on all the positive comments, we hope to transition Brad from “lifeline status” to regular contributor. Hoping he is up for it! Just need to negotiate some of the details (hazard pay, office size, profit sharing percentages, film stipend, number of ultras required to compete in a year, access to corporate jet, bonuses for weaving “craptastic” into posts etc.).
I will likely cover the race in more detail in a future post, so I’ll just sum it up with “imagine being stapled to a chicken trying to cross an eight lane highway”. Cold, wet, beaten, bruised, blistered and at some point you eventually ask yourself why they hell am I stapled to a chicken. The results were bittersweet. I came up a mere 10 miles short of the 100K, but shaved nearly 2 hours off my 50 mile time and won my age group. Pretty bummed I didn’t hit the main goal, but when I hit 50M Linda gave me the stern “you’re done” look. Normally I’d fight her, but essential parts were bleeding/oozing and that last loop would have likely been 3 hours of intense pain. This one smarts a little as I rarely miss a goal. I owe a big thanks to the encouragement everyone extended leading up to the test!
Okay, back to why you are really here – to read Brad’s latest adventure ha! Time for me to suck it up and get back to work. Bringing you a special feature today that I’ve been saving for this very month. Give a great big welcome to my latest +1.
How cool is that!!! Eeesh, guess it is a little hard to make out. There’s a good reason for that – Ron and I were standing in near darkness at our southern border trying to get this uber-rare bird in the tin. I was trying every trick in the book, crank up the ISO, ratchet up the aperture, drive shutter speed to dangerous levels, stand on one leg, blood sacrifice to the camera gods…pretty ugly. How about a visual aid.
There, now you can at least tell it is a bird – and with a major clue to what species.
Take your best guess and hit the jump to reveal the mystery guest.
Tried to pull what I could out of this RAW file in the digital darkroom – still “craptastic” (hitting my bonus this year) but you might be able to tell from the profile it is a bird of prey – a Falcon to be specific. It also happens to be the very first time this particular species has ventured into our lands – ladies and gentlemen, this is the famous Bat Falcon of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. For weeks, this Falcon would show up in the morning, wave to the crowds and head off into the refuge. Then, around dusk it would show back up wave goodnight to the masses and head off to bed. Those curtain calls – a brief 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Miss it, miss the check unless you could catch a glimpse of it hunting somewhere in the huge refuge.
Miss it we did – at least on our first attempt. Linda was keeping us up to date with the sightings on ebird, but there was limited details in their sightings regarding exactly where it was. Foolishly we showed up at 8:30 am one day thinking that was plenty early – nope. There were indications it could be found at the main entrance, but nobody was there – odd for a rare bird sighting. We went ahead and explored the refuge and on to Estero Llano Grande State Park for the rest of the day. Disappointed on the earlier miss, we decided to head back over to Santa Ana and give it another go – maybe we could hit the curtain call.
This time the place was packed – well over a 200 people sporting massive glass all pointed at a single telephone pole directly across the road from the entrance. Clearly we were in the right spot this time and based on the eager birders – no appearance yet. Waited, waited, waited..looked around and then turned back at the eruption of excitement – there it was, sitting on the pole checking us out. The cacophony of snaps was deafening.
Thankfully that drowned out my sailor streak of cursing trying to find a setting that didn’t result in total blackness on the back display. The third shot above was the best I could do. Ron was struggling as well even with his preferred Auto-ISO setting – sent his ISO to the moon, but he got more color differentiation than I did – grainy as hell ha.
That was the last chance Ron had to get the bird. He had to head back home, but Linda and I still had a couple of weeks down there. Linda learned about the WhatsApp Bat Falcon chaser group that provided real time reports on the status of the Falcon – that app was awesome – well, technically all the birders who were using the app were awesome. She kept a close eye on the reports – pretty consistent in its routine. A few days later, we rose at 5am and made the long trek to Santa Ana.
Of course it picks THAT day to break routine. A no show. I technically had it in the tin, but was really hoping for better shots. If I remember correctly, it did show up that night again, but it was definitely starting to show breaks in the schedule for the rest of that week. We had made our way up to San Antonio to check out the Alamo, their zoo and a couple of state parks while up there – then the freeze warnings came. We were not winterized and decided to high tail it back south again. Ended up camping near Santa Ana – yep, one more chance to experience the talk of the country.
Chased after a few other +1’s during the day (there’s some foreshadowing for ya’). Had to make a decision – go get a Green Parakeet that was 20 minutes opposite the refuge (would be a lifer for me), or skip and try to get the Bat Falcon again. The Parakeets hang out there all the time, this was the first time for the Falcon so pretty easy decision. Showed up around 4:30pm. Only one person was hanging out near the entrance. Where were the hundreds of spectators we saw on the previous visits? The erratic schedule must have scared them off – or they knew something I didn’t. The app didn’t have any reports so definitely didn’t miss it, but it was cold, overcast and drizzling rain …hmm maybe they are fair-weather birders down there.
4:50pm and still nothing beyond a good soaking. The only other guy that was there had wandered off leaving me the only bird groupie left standing. Turned and looked down the long road to the parking lot contemplating giving up. Screw it, already wet so turned back and …THERE IT WAS SITTING ON THE TELEPHONE POLE. How in the hell did get there without me seeing it!?! Started snapping like crazy, once again whipping through camera settings trying to account for the rain and falling light. These better shots you’ve been looking at since the blackout ones are from this sighting. Ended up at 1600 ISO, 5.6 fstop and in the 1000 to 640 shutter speed which is still in my hand hold danger zone. Thankfully RAW format captured more than I could tell from the screen. Did some major cleanup in the digital darkroom, but really happy with the outcome. The shot above is my favorite from the series – clearly aided by panning to get the inflight details.
Including these fuzzy and dark shots above and below just to give you a feel for its flight profiles. One sleek look that even has that “Bat” appearance.
While I am at it, adding this back profile shot to give you the complete experience – basically black from the back. Oh, probably do not need to point it out, but this bird was soaking wet – hell, we both were, yet and neither of us cared.
Sighted at 4:52pm – left the pole at 4:57pm – 5 minutes was the total time it awarded me for the decision to stay. Per its now sporadic schedule, it flew off to its nightly perch in a group of palm trees across and further down the road.
Hard to see it (probably should have added circles and arrows), but if you make a line starting from the right side of the image below at the midpoint and then go left to the second palm tree (first full trunk) you will see a small dark hole in the clump of dead palm leaves. That was the entrance to the Bat Cave where it rested for the night.
Decided to give you two additional shots to give you a feel for the conditions I was fighting through – this is essentially the same shot as above before processing – you can actually see the profile of the Falcon a little more than halfway down the third trunk from the right. Dark, rainy, windy – thank the digital gods for RAW format! Amazing what the sensors on these cameras can pick up these days – this was with my new Nikon D7500.
Another shot which shows the cars with their light on and loss of visibility beyond those trees.
Apologies, went way long on this post – when it comes to birding experiences this one now easily holds the top spot. Amazing seeing all the birders flock out to see this rarity – talked to people from California, Minnesota, Florida and even New York who flew out just to get a picture of this bird. I’ve heard horror stories about rare bird events across the pond – there was nothing like that – everyone was cordial, respectful, and cooperative with their reporting and equally in awe at their special guest. I just wish Ron could have stayed longer.
Even with all these pictures, I still ran out before getting to the interesting facts about this amazing creature. The Bat Falcon resides in southern Central America down into northern South America and never spotted in the US until this juvenile male decided to pay us a visit. He was first sighted on December 8th and appears to have left sometime in early March. They are aptly named as they do include Bats in their diet along with other small birds and various reptiles and insects. True to the behavior we witness, they are primarily active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular for you crossword lovers out there). Thanks to his visit, the Big Year record for the contiguous US states was broken by Tiffany Kersten who ticked off #735 (link here). Note, she set the record at 736 – absolutely amazing accomplishment. For comparison I’m sitting at a measly 284 in my Average Year count (link here – finally updated!). Not sure where Brad sits in his Extra Extra Small Year. This tick definitely gives Ron and I some street cred among US birders.
Sorry for the long post – been wanting to talk about this find for what seems like forever. Forced myself to wait until I got to the more fitting Halloween season.
2 thoughts on “Bat Country”
Holy Bat falcon Batman! Commissioner Gordon must need you in a hurry to flash the Bat Signal in the rain.
For the XXS year, I’m sitting at 53 spotted and identified this year, which includes 20 from Hawai’i, six of which were +1’s on the life list. Life list is 62 that I’ve written down. No street cred here, more like gravel two-track cred.
Wait, there’s a corporate jet?! Not sure about the ultra clause.