Saturday, January 10, 2009

Wait a minute...

The protocol of our Golden-cheeked Warbler study prescribes that when we go out to look for a warbler flock in hopes of finding a goldencheek in there, we keep at least 500 m distance from flocks already described. Of course this is to minimize the chance of describing the same flock twice.

Today, our third day at the Granada field site, we walked past our first location, which two days ago had a goldencheek.

About 500 m past that site, we encountered birds. Within 45 minutes, we had identified 20 flock members, including an adult male Golden-cheeked Warbler. Also in this group was a pair of White-winged Tanagers (male pictured above).

Wait a minute… Golden-cheeked Warbler? Wilson’s Warbler? Greater Pewee? Painted Redstart? Townsend’s Warbler? Hermit Warbler? Red-faced Warbler? Blue-gray Gnatcatcher? Blue-headed Vireo? A pair of White-winged Tanagers?

All these birds were also in the flock two days ago, 500 m away!

Most of these birds of course are found in just about any flock, but the White-winged Tanagers gave me the creeps. The only previous flock that had them – also a pair – was that flock 500 m away two days ago. And that flock also had an adult male goldencheek!

Around nine, I was seriously wondering if this wasn’t the same flock. It seemed to have fewer Townsend’s Warblers and more Wilson’s Warblers, and it had a few birds not seen in the flock two days ago (like Bullock’s Oriole). At this point in the survey, however, the flock composition appeared to be suspiciously similar.

It happened once at our Moxviquil site, when we were actually quite a bit closer to a previous flock location. We stopped observations then.

Today I decided to continue, and later I was glad I did. As we continued observing the flock, more and more differences were found. This flock had two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, for example – not a species that is easily overlooked – while the other flock just had one. This flock had two Painted Redstarts and a Slate-throated Redstart; the other flock had just one Painted Redstart. This flock only had one Olive Warbler: it called frequently, but its calls went unanswered. It had just one Hutton’s Vireo, while the other had two. It had a Warbling Vireo, not found in the other flock. There were other differences.

I also figured that if it was the same flock, they would sooner or later gravitate toward the same area – but they never did.

When after four hours of observation we were done with this flock, I decided to simply walk to the other flock area, and see if we would find the previous flock there.

And lo and behold! – there they all were! That is to say, we didn’t find the entire flock complete in just 10 minutes of surveying – it usually takes hours – but we found the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, the Painted Redstart, one of the Crescent-chested Warblers, an Olive Warbler and a Townsend’s Warbler. In pretty much the same spot they were two days ago!

Relieved and content that we found another goldencheek – of which I didn’t get any photos, alas – we returned to Teopisca for lunch. The last three days we have been frequenting this taquería called El Buen Amigo, where we like the tacos. The price is also right, at just four pesos per taco.

The owner saw us coming, and called out to me “primo!” This means cousin in Spanish – more than good friends, we are family now!

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