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Corpus Christi – The ABA Experience

If there is such a thing as an “ABA experience”, and I completely believe that there is, I am not sure of a better way to engage that “experience” than by attending one of George Armistead’s ABA events. I think this is my fourth rally/convention type event that I have attended, wearing multiple hats each time as a participant, a member of our Board, and a secondary field leader. All of these events have several things in common. The primary guides are a mix of distant wicked gunslingers and phenomenal local talent. Anyone perusing the pages of Birding magazine or North American Birds (NAB) is likely to encounter the authors of articles for the magazine or regional editors for NAB or leaders in other fields at these events. In Corpus Christi, our distant gunslingers included Jen Brumfield from Ohio, Tom Johnson from Pennsylvania, the ABA’s own Ted Floyd, Jeff Gordon, Bill Schmoker and Bill Stewart, Jeff Bouton from Florida, and Scott Schuette from Alaska. Local talent included Clay Taylor, Jim Sinclair, Larry Jordan, and NAB Texas regional editor Willie Sekula.

Another component of every event is amazing access to optics and knowledge of those optics. In Corpus, we had Jeff Bouton with Leica, Clay Taylor with Swarovski, Rich Moncrief from Zeiss, and Josh Pawlak from Vanguard. And then there is the omnipresent Ben Lizdas from Eagle Optics, who keeps all these other reps honest.

Each event provides excellent programs on a variety of topics. In Corpus we had Jeff Gordon give a thought-proving program on Birding and the world around us; Jen Brumfield give a whirlwind tour of her insane Big Year in Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Jeff Kimball presented a beautiful introduction to his excellent movie, The Central Park Effect; and Clay Taylor and Sharon Stiteler (aka BirdChick) presented a program on digiscoping techniques.

So there are some examples of ABA event standards. Notice we have birders leading, birders presenting, birders selling and educating, and birders attending.

So is that the “ABA” experience…Birders?

Birders are a frosting that needs a cake, and that cake? Of course… the BIRDS…

One of our organization’s most critical missions is to remind all of us that what we do is about the birds, because without the birds, well, this pastime would not be much fun.

And do we have birds at these events — holy smokes…

Let’s just start with the two Brown Boobies that Tyler Bell found before the event started. Were they a mile out on a nauseating boat ride? Did we have to drive an hour to scan for them painfully from shore? Nope. We looked at them from our hotel rooms…

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Showing up to a pair of Texas Brown Boobies resulted, of course, in two days of endless humorous spins on interpretation…

We looked for birds by driving to several target sites each morning. Choke Canyon, Corpus North and South, Hazel Bazemore and Pollywog Pond, the legendary King Ranch, Kingsville and Bishop, Port Aransas, and Rockport and Fulton. Notice how that list looks like the Table of Contents from the ABA “Birdfinding Guide to the Texas Coast”? There was also a boat trip to Aransas (and yes, we made sure some lingering Whooping Cranes delayed their departure for our viewing enjoyment).

Each afternoon we would take folks out more locally to look for migrants. Most of our days in Corpus we had hard winds out of the south. This meant most of our migrants could see us from waaaaay up there as they zoomed north at a gazillion miles an hour. But some migrants took respite and provided expected viewing pleasure.

Here are some of my own highlights.

On our morning out to Hazel Bazemore, among the local specialties we had Olive Sparrows foraging and singing:

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A lovely, comfortable pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks meandered about:

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We also had a Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Jays, and Long-billed Thrashers here. Here are some attendees scoping the Least Terns that were foraging below us on some small ponds:

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We drove down to those ponds and enjoyed lovely views of several shorebirds including a nice group of sewing Long-billed Dowitchers and this striking Stilt Sandpiper:

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We also managed to get about half the group on a pair of those notoriously skittish Green Kingfishers down on the Nueces River.

Our group finished this morning adventure with 110 species in four hours.

Over at Blucher Park, Jen Brumfield somehow pulled this Eastern Whip-poor-will out of the woods with her freakshow vision:

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On our next morning, I, Bill Schmoker and Wille Sekula took a group to Choke Canyon. Willie showed us the difference between a Cliff Swallow nest and a Cave Swallow nest. In this pic, the Cliff nest is the oven style nest to the far left, while the Cave nest is the shelf to the far right:

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One of the most amazing occurrences of the entire Corpus event was the movement of Mississippi Kites that took place today. We finished the day with 1154 Kites!! Here is just a splash:

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We also had a nice movement of about 60 Broad-winged Hawks including this juvenile bird that had half a tail of adult feathers and half a tail of juvenile feathers:

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Audubon’s, Bullock’s and Hooded Oriole all gave great looks. With Orchard and Baltimores at our afternoon migrant stops, we had a five Oriole day.

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On the next day at King Ranch we managed to get all participants on all target birds which included the headliner Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl:

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a crazy gorgeous Tropical Parula that literally sat on our heads:

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a Botteri’s Sparrow:

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and a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet.

That Botteri’s Sparrow also happened to be my 700th for the ABA, which, of course, required celebratory action later that evening…

Here is Armistead and our group at one of or Tyrannulet stops:

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King Ranch also gave us Couch’s, Western, Tropical, and Eastern Kingbirds.

That afternoon at Blucher Park we found one of the main reasons to bird Blucher Park this time of year– Chuck-will’s-widows. Here is one of four on this afternoon:

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This day also saw the arrival of at least four Groove-billed Anis in miscellaneous locations.

The next morning I took a couple of participants out to look for migrants and Chucks at Blucher. We managed both a great look at a flying Chuck and, thanks to some north winds finally (the only day we had them), some nice migrants including Black-throated Green Warbler and this Magnolia Warbler:

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We also witnessed the locally nesting Great Kiskadees showing us that they are not just “Flycatchers”:

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So what is one definition of the “ABA” experience? Take some very dedicated people who want more than anything for a person to see and learn birds; add some wonderful participants who love to share their awe with their leaders and each other; add lots and lots of birds extracted from very cool places; and simmer at “experience” for four or five days. The end result is a rush of amazing birding endorphins, lifers, education, and friendships.

Cannot wait for the next one…

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