Walburg BBS 2020-06-07

Among many other much greater disappointments and concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the USGS Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) was officially cancelled for 2020. At the time (April 10), USGS staff could not enter their offices and most of the country was shut down. But by late May the world had learned a little more about the virus, and we all had learned more about how to do things safely. I started thinking about running my BBS route anyway. This would be the fourth time running this route, which is northeast of Austin on 25 miles of back roads south of Granger Lake.

On May 30 Joanna Rabiger and I scouted the route, and on June 7 I did the survey according to protocol. (The protocol is to drive the 25 mile route and stop at 50 specific points. At each point record all the birds you see or hear for 3 minutes.) Here are some highlights from the survey, starting with this moonlit agricultural field at the first point just before 6 AM. The lights of Weir, TX are in the background. (Where? Weir!)

Moon from Survey Point 1

For the fourth year in a row, at point 3 a local guineafowl confronted me and expressed its disapproval. This time I captured it on video. Click to watch:

Guinea Fowl at Point 3

Here are some species that I don't usually see in my neighborhood in Austin, but that breed out here in the more open habitat. Most are in decline, especially Northern Bobwhite, Eastern Meadowlark, and Loggerhead Shrike. I included how many points I detected at least one:

Northern Bobwhite: 1 (at point 11)
Horned Lark: 1
Eastern Meadowlark: 3
Dickcissel: 14
Lark Sparrow: 7
Yellow-billed Cuckoo: 9
Painted Bunting: 13
Loggerhead Shrike: 2

The bobwhite, Horned Lark, and meadowlarks were heard-only during the survey. But a week earlier Joanna and I were treated to this view of a Horned Lark. Maybe it was the same one I heard on the survey!

Horned Lark - 1 - 3

For each point, there's a box you can check on the survey form if some kind of "excessive noise" affected your ability to hear birds. I had to check this box for point 36 because this contraption was circling above me:

Helicopter at Point 36 - 1 - 2

A few points later I parked on the shoulder of the road in tall grass, which is often necessary during this survey. When I drove back onto the road, I heard a rubbing sound and felt resistance. When I got out of the car to inspect, I saw a partially folded tire sticking out of my right front wheel well. I briefly panicked thinking it was a catastrophic flat tire! But when I looked closer I realized that my tire was still on the rim and just fine. I had driven over an abandoned tire hidden in the tall grass, and it had rotated up into the top of the wheel well where it was crammed between the top of my tire and the fender. It was stuck in there good, but I tried slowly backing up, and the old tire came right back out the way it had gone in. I briefly thought about tossing it back in the tall grass, but I threw it into the back of my Subaru instead. I didn't know how I was going to dispose of it yet but I'd figure something out.

The rest of the survey was uneventful. I finished point 50 at about 11:30 and had a picnic lunch on the side of the gravel road. I took this selfie:

Survey Point 50 Selfie

On my way home I stopped at a big tire store on the highway and they accepted the old tire I'd found to dispose of it properly.

I don't know if the USGS will accept my data this year, but it's here if they want it. I could also enter it into eBird if I feel ambitious enough to create 50 eBird locations. Regardless, I considered it a morning well-spent. The beautiful views, the ritual of the survey protocol, and the nature connection temporarily overcame my pandemic worry.

Attached are observations from both the scouting day and the survey day.

Posted by mikaelb mikaelb, July 09, 2020 23:05

Observations

Photos / Sounds

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What

Reakirt's Blue Echinargus isola

Observer

mikaelb

Date

May 30, 2020 10:21 AM CDT

Description

Taken while scouting the Walburg BBS with Joanna Rabiger. Taken at the Macedonia Cemetery.

Photos / Sounds

What

Common Sanddragon Progomphus obscurus

Observer

mikaelb

Date

May 30, 2020 10:56 AM CDT

Description

Taken while scouting the Walburg BBS with Joanna Rabiger.

These are two terrible photos of a possible Common Sanddragon. I only kept these photos because I have never seen this species before and I'd be thrilled if they are identifiable.

Photos / Sounds

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What

Long-horned Orthopterans Suborder Ensifera

Observer

mikaelb

Date

May 30, 2020 10:42 AM CDT

Description

Taken while scouting the Walburg BBS with Joanna Rabiger. Taken at the Macedonia Cemetery.

Photos / Sounds

What

Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris

Observer

mikaelb

Date

May 30, 2020 11:43 AM CDT

Description

Taken while scouting the Walburg BBS with Joanna Rabiger.

Photos / Sounds

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What

Dickcissel Spiza americana

Observer

mikaelb

Date

May 30, 2020 09:09 AM CDT

Description

Taken while scouting the Walburg BBS with Joanna Rabiger.

Photos / Sounds

What

Dickcissel Spiza americana

Observer

mikaelb

Date

May 30, 2020 09:03 AM CDT

Description

Taken while scouting the Walburg BBS with Joanna Rabiger.

Photos / Sounds

What

Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna

Observer

mikaelb

Date

June 7, 2020 06:54 AM CDT

Description

Made while performing the Walburg BBS. This was one of only two Eastern Meadowlarks I detected this time.

Photos / Sounds

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What

Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus

Observer

mikaelb

Date

June 7, 2020 10:12 AM CDT

Description

Taken during my fourth run of the Walburg BBS (USGS Breeding Bird Survey). The BBS was officially canceled this year because of the COVID 19 Pandemic, but I ran it onofficially. I hope they'll accept my data when things are back to normal.

Photos / Sounds

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What

Painted Bunting Passerina ciris

Observer

mikaelb

Date

June 7, 2020 06:26 AM CDT

Description

Taken during my fourth run of the Walburg BBS (USGS Breeding Bird Survey). The BBS was officially canceled this year because of the COVID 19 Pandemic, but I ran it onofficially. I hope they'll accept my data when things are back to normal.

Photos / Sounds

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What

Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus

Observer

mikaelb

Date

June 7, 2020 07:32 AM CDT

Description

Taken during my fourth run of the Walburg BBS (USGS Breeding Bird Survey). The BBS was officially canceled this year because of the COVID 19 Pandemic, but I ran it onofficially. I hope they'll accept my data when things are back to normal.

Photos / Sounds

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What

Dickcissel Spiza americana

Observer

mikaelb

Date

June 7, 2020 09:43 AM CDT

Description

Taken during my fourth run of the Walburg BBS (USGS Breeding Bird Survey). The BBS was officially canceled this year because of the COVID 19 Pandemic, but I ran it onofficially. I hope they'll accept my data when things are back to normal.

Photos / Sounds

What

Green Antelopehorns Asclepias viridis

Observer

mikaelb

Date

June 7, 2020 10:39 AM CDT

Description

Taken during my fourth run of the Walburg BBS (USGS Breeding Bird Survey). The BBS was officially canceled this year because of the COVID 19 Pandemic, but I ran it onofficially. I hope they'll accept my data when things are back to normal.

Photos / Sounds

Square

What

Eastern Cottontail Sylvilagus floridanus

Observer

mikaelb

Date

June 7, 2020 06:40 AM CDT

Description

Taken during my fourth run of the Walburg BBS (USGS Breeding Bird Survey). The BBS was officially canceled this year because of the COVID 19 Pandemic, but I ran it onofficially. I hope they'll accept my data when things are back to normal.

Comments

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Very nice!

Posted by blubayou 10 months ago (Flag)
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Having done BBS surveys for ten years, I can attest that you often encounter the unexpected.
Enjoyed your post and especially the Horned Lark.

Posted by dipperc 10 months ago (Flag)
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Having done BBS surveys for ten years, I can attest that you often encounter the unexpected.
Enjoyed your post and especially the Horned Lark.

Posted by dipperc 10 months ago (Flag)
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Thanks! It was nice to get out there.

Posted by mikaelb 10 months ago (Flag)

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