iNatting in the Texas Panhandle in Winter!

The Texas Panhandle in winter can be very cold and very windy. The landscape is mostly flat and some would say boring. Most of the region is grasslands and/or croplands. There are few towns or cities and you can find yourself in very remote areas where you won’t see another vehicle or person for long periods of time. You can be hit by an unexpected blizzard or storm. I love it!

For naturalists, especially folks interested in Texas bird populations and distribution, the Texas Panhandle in winter is an area of the state unlike any other. Species we usually consider more northern or western in distribution can be in the Panhandle in winter. Ferruginous Hawks are common. Rough-legged Hawks, while not as common as Ferruginous Hawks, are still much in evidence. Northern Shrike, American Tree Sparrow, and other species occur in the Panhandle more than any other part of the state. Other raptors such as Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, and Merlin are regularly seen as are, of course, Red-tailed Hawks.

I have been making birding and nature trips to the Panhandle since the late 1970s. I suspect I have made 20 or more trips to this area of Texas over the years. Some of these trips are with friends such as @gcwarbler (our first winter trip together to the Panhandle was in 1978 when I saw my first Mountain Bluebird, American Tree Sparrow, and Northern Shrike), but many times I venture off on the trip alone, like right now. The northern most 25 or so counties in the Panhandle are more or less square shaped and of similar size. Most roads, both paved and unpaved, typically run east and west and north and south and are as straight as an arrow. While there are busily travelled highways, there are also very remote and seldom travelled dirt roads that go for miles near the Texas/Oklahoma border area. I just love wandering these roads watching for raptors perched on fence posts or telephone poles, then trying to get photos when the bird leaves its perch as I drive slowly by. Some of my best shots of hawks are taken on these sorts of trips. Some winters the area is swarming with longspurs. Last winter, @gcwarbler and I came across a flock of 8-10,000 Lapland Longspurs:
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/1169565

I have been up in the Panhandle the past three days enjoying lots of hawks, eagles and falcons, but with more cold and potentially wet weather coming into the area I am headed south, and soon back to central Texas. My iNat observations over the past few days will illustrate some of the birds I’ve been fortunate enough to see.

Some shots from this year and previous years of some of the species I enjoy seeing in this region of the state.
Rough-legged Hawk:
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/137784
Ferruginous Hawk:
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2552926
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/137716
Merlin:
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/137735
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/1123892
Northern Shrike:
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/515814

If you have never visited the Texas Panhandle in winter, and have a spirit of adventure and curiosity, and have three to four days to spare…give it a shot!

Posted by greglasley greglasley, January 06, 2016 03:41

Comments

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Wow! What an insight to a region of Texas I have yet to explore! Thank you for sharing this info with iNaturalist amateurs like me.... Have a safe trip home!

Posted by connlindajo over 4 years ago (Flag)
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Looks like you had a great trip judging by the photos posted so far. Good thing you missed the heavy snow they had a week or two ago. You might have needed snow shoes and from what I've read it would have been very tough trying to drive anywhere. I also recently read that many of the dairy farms in the Panhandle lost a large percentage of their cattle and are now having difficulty trying to dispose of them legally. It will be a major hardship for them I'm sure and may push some to bankruptcy.

My maternal grandfather was born somewhere near Tulia on a farm where is family lived for a short year or two. The family had a very tough time making it farming up there in the early 1900's and moved to South Texas near San Benito where they settled and he grew up and eventually became a successful farmer.

My wife, daughter, and I drove through the Panhandle on our trip to Colorado last summer both coming and going. We passed by Lubbock and skirted around Amarillo to spend the night at Dumas and then out to Clayton NM on the way up. I got to see a few prairie dogs and a small egret on a pit stop for our little dog on the east side of Lubbock. On the way back, the driver's window on my old '98 Honda Accord broke when we stopped for a bite to eat in Clovis NM late on July 4. It was stuck down and would not roll back up. We drove on to Lubbock with window down, taking in all the smells along the way with fireworks going off as we arrived in Lubbock in the evening. Reminded me of driving back in the 70's in my un-air-conditioned car. Had to rig a plastic trash bag over the window for the overnight stay at a hotel in Lubbock. We cleared everything out of the car in case it might get stolen, but it was still there next morning. That next day was a Sunday so rather than stay an extra day in Lubbock to get it fixed we decided to press on with window down back into the July heat of Texas since the rain chances looked low. Thankfully we did not hit any rain until a few sprinkles just as we got back into Austin.

Posted by oz4caster over 4 years ago (Flag)
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Always love seeing your observations.

Posted by lfelliott over 4 years ago (Flag)
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Sounds like fun. Another area of Texas I don't know much about. Only crossed it once driving to Colorado many years ago. Of course, here in Boston I can see all of those birds except Ferruginous Hawk.

Posted by maractwin over 4 years ago (Flag)
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I was planning on a trip up there immediately post-Christmas, but that massive winter storm canceled my plans. I've still never explored that part of Texas, and this is more good incentive. I used to hate road-birding, but have grown to really enjoy it, if the roads are quiet enough.
No luck with Northern Shrike on this trip? That's the one potential lifer that I'm missing.

Posted by aredoubles over 4 years ago (Flag)
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Nope...no Northern Shrikes this time. Saw about 10 Loggerheads, but dipped on Northerns. Some years I have seen as many as 5 within 2 days time...other winters like this one...none. So it goes.

Posted by greglasley over 4 years ago (Flag)
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Greg, thanks for sharing! Now, I have to say, I've never been so excited to take a trip to the Panhandle. Pretty sure that this was all ways "drive through" country on the way to skiing!

Posted by krstldwn over 4 years ago (Flag)
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Thaks for noticing what a beautiful, remarkable place this is -- but only for those who have eyes to see it.
The sun, the wind, the horizon.
"A whole lotta nuthin, all the way to Canada"

Posted by ellen5 over 4 years ago (Flag)
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Wow! Connecticut sees now more than 1 Lapland Longspur in one flock!

Posted by bluejay2007 over 1 year ago (Flag)

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