Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Road Trippin' Across the USA

Your Hipster Birders have been on quite an adventure in the past couple of months. Being the hipsters that we are, we’ve had the sirens of the Pacific Northwest calling our name – the mountains, the food/beer scene, and of course, those West Coast birds. For a while now, we have dreamed of the opportunity to make it out west, much like manifest destiny and the dreams of gold for prospectors called to Americans of yesteryear. Well, we finally got the opportunity we were waiting for and we packed up our things and headed towards the beaver state - Oregon!

Beautiful Mossy Live Oak in Savannah

You'll often see lots of pretty hydrangeas lining the streets in downtown Savannah

Before we left, we made sure to hit up most of our favorite spots in Savannah that we’d grown to love. We also tried to get as many warblers as we could as we knew that we would not have as many in the West. Well, wouldn’t ya’ know, a Swainson’s Warbler graced us with his presence and gave us incredible looks right out in the open at Forsyth Park. I amazingly was able to pull off a decent “digiscoped” photo with my phone and binoculars.

Love the real-life dollhouses alongside Forsyth Park

Swainson's Warbler
I admit that I got a little misty-eyed when we said farewell to the Atlantic Ocean, where we had years of fun in the sun, snorkeling its waters and watching all of the wonderful birds off its coast. But we knew it was time to leave the Spanish moss and the flat marshes of the low country for higher ground. Thus, in a whirlwind of packing and stuffing moving cubes (and parting with my sweet car I had since college), we set out for one of the greatest adventures of our life mid-April.

Farewell, Atlantic Ocean!

So long, lovely low country marshes!

We had ambitious driving goals, and we met most of them. As soon as we got in the car, we started a road trip list of all of the state license plates we could see (hoping to get at least the lower 48) and a running bird list. The trip started with the usual suspects, like Turkey Vulture, European Starlings and our last Eastern Bluebirds for a while. We got a nice surprise as we hit the Mississippi-Louisiana border when we had a rather close Swallow-Tailed Kite soar overhead. (Would have been nice to see a Mississippi Kite in Mississippi, too!)

Peach Orchards driving through Georgia

We happily made a pit stop in New Orleans for crawfish po-boys before making the home stretch to our first stop in Houston. Although no life birds, Nick did make new friends with a green tree frog and a life insect in the middle of the night in an East Texas gas station – a Mole Cricket that kept trying to burrow through Nick’s hands. He was quite a strange looking fella, and I was ready to leave him be.


Mole Cricket

Although we had dreaded the packing and all of the stuff you need to do before making a big move, we were super excited about our cross-country road trip. Nick always had in mind the idea of picking up lifers left and right with every rest stop. I honestly didn’t think it would be that prolific, but I would be delightfully proven wrong.

After spending a day in Houston, we set on the longest, most exhausting yet one of the most exhilarating stretches of the trip. Within the ~22 hours in the car between Houston and Phoenix, we had an incredible drive through Texas, starting with groups of hundreds of Cliff (and probably some Cave) Swallows feeding and nesting on the sides of overpasses along I-10. I became almost speechless at the sight of a Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher that flew over the car, which would be the first of many that we saw along the way.

This is a rest stop?!?

Our first main pit stop was what we thought was going to be just a regular ole’ rest stop, but which turned out to be almost a mini park, with a mini-museum in the fairly new building and nature trails. My first sighting was not just one, but a nesting pair of Inca Doves! They were the first of many lifers on this trip. Soon to follow was a sassy, singing Bewick’s Wren. And we were slightly thrown off by the sound of a Tufted Titmouse that looked a little different. It turned out to be a hybrid of a Tufted and a Black-Crested Titmouse. You can see its blackish crest but the lack of the black forehead of the Tufted. So we walked away with 2 ½ lifers with just one rest stop.

Nesting Inca Doves

Tufted x Black-Crested Titmouse Hybrid

Tufted x Black-Crested Titmouse Hybrid Baby

Bewick's Wren

I admit there is a lot of “nothing” driving through Texas. I’ve done most of this drive once before, but BB (Before Birding). It’s like I had a new pair of eyes along this trip with eyes to the skies looking for birds and just generally enjoying this wild, open landscape. The next great stop was at an unassuming rest stop in the middle of nowhere with giant wind mills in the background. But it turned out to be Flycatcher heaven! Western Kingbirds, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers simply tickled us amongst other lovely birds, like House Finches, Lark Sparrow, White-Crowned Sparrows, and LIFER Curve-billed Thrashers!

Western Kingbird

Ash-Throated Flycatcher.  Dipped on one in Savannah, but we got him now!

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

Look at those Scissors!

Pair of Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers

White-Crowned Sparrow

Curve-Billed Thrasher

House Finch

Lark Sparrow

And then one of my dream bird dreams came true – Vermillion Flycatcher! Not only did we see one, but two dueling males AND a perfect little female for a total of three, yes THREE, dazzling Vermillion Flycatchers. The males zipped by us constantly while we were there, zooming within inches of us at times. We couldn’t have asked for a more spectacular display!

Vermillion Flycatcher!!!

Another lovely male Vermillion Flycatcher!!!

Female Vermillion Flycatcher

Two male Vermillion Flycatchers on the chase while a female scuttles away

With all of the awesome road-side birding, it’s no wonder why a 16 hour drive turned into a 22 hour drive between Houston to Phoenix. Our exhaustion wasn’t aided by being pulled over at midnight to have to find out that we had a busted headlight that we had to fix that night, according to the police officer. After going to two different truck stops and thankfully not electrocuting ourselves to remove the battery to get to the busted headlight, we hit the road again just long enough to get to our friend’s house in Phoenix to chat for 10 minutes and crash for the night, with visions of flycatchers (and all of the other fantastic birds from that day) dancing in our heads.

Baby House Sparrows may not be an awesome new bird, but they sure are cute!

Desert Flower

Enjoy this video that sums our road trip. May contain teasers of future posts!


  1. Whew!
    It's a pleasure to read through this recounting, and to see these birds--more familiar than what you all usually post--laced throughout.

    This road trip sounds absolutely exhausting, but I guess palatial rest stops and lifers along the way helps with the trip.

    Looking forward to the next installment!

    1. Thanks, Laurence! Yes, definitely exhausting but totally worth it to see all the sights and birds. The next installment will REALLY look familiar to you ;)

  2. Awesome! Thanks for sharing! Best wishes for an easy and smooth transition to life in Oregon.

  3. Beautiful pictures and great writing as always.