A Race for the Gold(en)

As we are practically at the end of November, I’m starting to feel the pressure as I’m in a race against time. December is a mess with a planned travel early in the month, all the holiday events and then we head south to give our bones a rest from the harsh Midwest chill. That leaves little leeway to everything I “need” much less “want” to get done. The Average Year (link here) is coming to a close and what I thought was an impossible mark to hit – 300 – it now feels incredibly close. Currently sitting at 288, a mere 12 new birds away. Unfortunately, my easy options are pretty much tinned. Linda has a plan that might just push me over. The other race is more literal. For several years now, my running goal has been at least 1200 miles per year. Took a hit when I badly injured my left ankle and my running days were put on hold helping Mother the best we could (link here). With all that. I am still only ~64 miles away which should be doable (predicting a couple long runs in the snow). Lastly there is the sprint to get my “official” NA Bird Life List increased to hit a year-end goal. I have a lot of new lifer birds in the tin thanks to our trip to Texas in January and as a result of our efforts in the Average Year (51 in the latter alone). In a personal decision often regretted, “official” checks also require a featured here at Intrigued.

Not sure how many I am going to have a chance to get to before January, but I did want to at least get through the rarities from the January trip (to make room for all the new rarities in our upcoming trip ha). Let’s start by racing for a gold medal err, make that a crown.

Golden-Crowned Warbler found at Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX in January 2022

Hit the jump to read more about this rather rare Warbler to the US.

Before I go any further, do not reach for the cheaters or try to adjust your monitor focus from this point on. The initial plan was to submit this post last Friday or Saturday with hopes those of you stateside would still be tripping on Tryptophan. With a little luck, maybe you are still marching through all the leftovers. For those abroad, well, my apologies. In my slight defense, the bird wasn’t making it easy on me.

Golden-Crowned Warbler found at Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX in January 2022

These shots were taken at the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco, TX (link here). We discovered this place somewhat by accident on our first trip to Texas many years ago. They happen to be the oldest nature center in the Rio Grande Valley and rather oddly, sit in the middle of an urban development. The first time we visited there, we circled the area a couple of times before realizing the visitor center was located at the back of a park. I believe it is close to 6 acres (would think area would be a good tidbit to put on their website) of what I would describe primarily as dense thicket. The Beast has an awful time there, struggling to get a lock on a subject in very poor lighting. The shot above is pretty much how my days there go. Several times now I swore I wouldn’t go back and for some reason they keep getting rarities that draws me back in.

Golden-Crowned Warbler found at Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX in January 2022

This year’s rarity was the Golden-Crowned Warbler. Honestly, I had zero information about this bird when Linda and I went after it beyond obviously in the Warbler family and thus likely small – colorful if a male. It was also getting a lot of attention on the Texas Chase Bird app and by deduction, not a frequent visitor to the States. We initially did not have an clue where it was hanging out in the center, which meant we were wandering all over the place looking for a bird without a reference and no clue what it sounded like – typically a recipe for failure. We did run into others also on the hunt, surprisingly, all in the same predicament. Eventually found a couple of visitors with binoculars up to their eyes trying to get a peek at something moving below the thicket – this looked promising. Per a quick conversation, our target was seen about 20 minutes earlier, not confirmed since. Joined the hunt for another 30 minutes before Linda and I wandered farther down the path to a small water element. Then Linda exclaimed “is that it?” Would have been nice had the bird stayed for the full sentence to be completed. “Looked kinda yellowish, on the ground, don’t see it anymore.” A few minutes later a bird popped into view deep in the tangle – snap, snap, snap – bird gone for good. Compensation for lack of light that far in was way off and the shots were extremely dark. Was that it, was it a clear enough shot, was it even in focus? – NO CLUE.

Golden-Crowned Warbler found at Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX in January 2022

I left with just a thread of optimism and a fabric of doubt. Did some research as we drove away – maybe should have done that BEFORE we got there. It does have yellow on the breast through to the tail coverts and a grayish feathering. It has a black bordered golden/yellowish crown and, sure enough, likes to hand around the ground. Back at the RV, tried to interrogate the RAW files for the three shots in the tin. See two shots above for the best of the highly processed images – seemed to be close, but still heavy on uncertainty.

A week later we were running for our “water lines” to get below the freeze line developing in the San Antonio area. That took us back to the Rio Grande Valley and by definition, near the Nature Valley Center. The specimen was still being reported there – might as well take another go at it.

Golden-Crowned Warbler found at Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX in January 2022

Another overcast day causing ISO altitude dizziness. Made my way back to the previous sighting and met a couple coming the other way. They kindly passed on the update that they saw it maybe thirty minutes ago. Okay, the hunt is back on. Continued to circle the area getting more frustrated with each passing loop. A lot of birds, but nothing that seemed to match my recently learned color reference. Another individual (Jim) joined me in the search – the extra pair of eyes didn’t help spot the prize until a third individual came up to us and asked if we had seen it yet. Like the kid staring at the long line ahead of him wondering if there is enough time before Santa left for the day..we responded with a dejected NOPE. “Let’s remedy that” “Whaaaaat!?!” Turns out he worked there and was delighted to make our day.

Golden-Crowned Warbler found at Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX in January 2022

That dude knew his Golden-Crowned Warblers – more specifically, could recognize their call, a 5 note chirp that rises at the end. Less than 5 minutes later, he had pinpointed the call and directed us to a small opening in the brush where a Pixie Stick guzzling mini-bird was zipping back and forth, under branches, over branches, hell, through branches. Not sure how he kept his composure while I shifted and contorted my body in a desperate attempt to get a clear shot. Jim was having even more trouble as he couldn’t even get eyes on the bird.

Golden-Crowned Warbler found at Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX in January 2022

That worker was incredibly kind and accommodating, helping us track the Golden down as it flew from area to area. Eventually managed to get the shot at the top of this post which was far better than expected given the circumstances. Added in a few more shots just to give you a few different angles of this US visitor.

Tracked down the range of the Golden-Crowned Warbler and like most of the Texas rarities, this bird hails from Central and South America. Maybe not as rare as the Social Flycatcher (link here), but definitely prefers the warmer climates.

Golden-Crowned Warbler Region Map

Bring you in just a bit so you can see the US observations a little better. A few up in the Corpus Christi area and then a clump at the very tip where this one was spotted.

Golden-Crowned Warbler Region Map

I wish I could give you more information about this cute little Warbler, but alas, Cornell doesn’t recognize it as a US Bird (and thus no page) and there is little to no background on either eBird or (shudder) Wikipedia. Apologies again for the rather poor shots, but hope you enjoyed the brief introduction to this new bird. By the way, I did continue to help Jim finally get an “acceptable” shot as well. Ended up bumping into him at several other stops we made that week – very nice person.

Will wrap there and likely for November as well. Plan is to pop a few more posts off of Brad’s queue the first week of December to keep you entertained as Linda and I head out into the field for one last attempt at 300.

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