Date: 7/16/20 8:46 am
From: <bertf...>
Subject: [texbirds] birding in 1882 by shotgun
I'm always searching for old records of Texas birds and comparing birding
then and now. I came across this interesting story of birding by shotgun in
Kerr County toward the end of the 19th century.

Lacey, Howard. "Notes on the Texan Jay." The Condor V, no. 6
(November-December 1903): 151-3.

On buying a small ranch in Kerr county, Texas, in the summer of 1882, and
stocking it with a few cows and other domestic animals, I began to spend my
spare time in studying the habits of the wild creatures that I met, and at
first gave nearly all my attention to the birds of the neighborhood. Not
finding anyone else who took much interest in such things, I bought Coues'
Key to North American Birds, and with this and a shot gun I by degrees
learned the names of most of the birds that I saw as I rode about the range.
I dislike having to use the gun, so I made a point of making a rough skin (a
very rough one indeed at first) of everything that I shot and could not

In 1893 I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of the " professor"
who was then living in San Antonio, with whom I have since taken many pleas-
ant little excursions, and between us we got to be on familiar terms with
most of our bird neighbors. One of the birds that I could not place was our
common jay, now known as the Texan jay (Aphelocoma texana).

In December, 1894, when deer hunting on the head of the Nueces river, I shot
and skinned one of these birds and sent it to the professor. He sent it on,
I believe, to the late Captain Bendire, and it is now the type of the
species. In March, 1896, I heard that the jays were nesting on the ranch of
a friend about sixteen miles north of my place, so I rode over there and on
March 29th and 30th found several nests and took four or five sets of eggs.
These were carefully packed in an old cigar box and stowed away in one of
the saddle pockets, but unfortunately as I was taking a rest and a lunch on
my way home, the horse shook himself and of course the saddle also, with the
result that most of the eggs were broken.

In 1898 the professor arranged to visit this same ranch with me, and on
April 4th we started in an old buckboard and had a fairly successful trip,
getting some good specimens of the birds and several clutches of eggs. The
ranch is situated at the head of one of the main branches of the Guadalupe
and takes in some of the divide between that river and the Llano. As in
other parts of the county the limestone rocks are in evidence everywhere.
Numerous little valleys run down toward the rivers, becoming deeper and
steeper as they approach the larger creek, and often forming narrow canyons
with high bluffs on both sides. Large trees are not numerous, but the whole
face of the country is covered with clumps of shin oak and scrubby live oak.
In these clumps we found the jays' nests, generally placed near the outside
of a thicket, at from four to six feet from the ground, and often
conspicuous from quite a distance, as the shrubs were only beginning to put
out their leaves at that time. As a rule the birds were setting and one nest
contained young nearly ready to leave it. The nests were composed of an
outer basket of twigs not very firmly put together, and lined rather neatly
with grass, hair, and small root fibers. They were rather more bulky than
mockingbirds' nests and the inner nest was saucer shaped rather than cup
shaped. Most of them were placed in the shin oaks, but some few were in live
oaks, and I have since found several in cedar bushes. The birds are not so
noisy as the common blue jay and are particularly silent when near their
nests. They have a habit of hopping upwards through a thicket from twig to
twig until they arrive at the top of it, when they fly off with four or five
harsh squeaks to the next clump of brush, into which they dive headlong. It
was a very warm day with the thermometer in the shade of the gallery at the
ranch standing well up in the nineties, and tramping about through the
thickets and picking our way over the rocks was by no means light work, but
the walk was so interesting that we did not have time to think of getting
tired. Of course we found much to interest us besides the jays. An untidy
platform of sticks in a small Spanish oak tree, proved on investigation to
be a road-runner's nest, containing six eggs, which from their unusually
clear appearance, were probably all of them fresh. One frequently finds eggs
in different stages of incubation in a roadrunner's nest and sometimes eggs
and young birds or young birds of different sizes. Several times we
disturbed deer. They were in their fresh summer suits of red, having already
discarded their gray winter overcoats. As is so often the case when one is
not hunting them, they would stop to take a second look at us, offering
pretty broadside shots at fifty or sixty paces. In one extra dense thicket
at the head of a rough little hollow we found a pair of long-eared owls
(Asio wilsonianus) the first we had ever seen in the county; and on a rocky
ridge just beyond were a couple of burrowing owls. They flew a few yards and
then settled on some rocks, nodding their heads at us in their usual
ludicrous fashion. These owls do not breed in this county, but we see them
every year in the spring and autumn. There are no prairie dog towns on this
side of the Llano river, but plenty of them just across it and I have been
told that the owls breed over there. Many small flocks of migrating birds
were seen, some of them just arriving for the summer and others getting
ready to leave us. Conspicuous among the latter were the crown sparrows and
lark buntings, the male buntings already about half clothed in their
striking summer plumage.

Large trees were rather scarce on the divide and were not very large there
except by comparison. They were principally isolated live oaks or
black-jacks and most of them contained nests of the red-tailed hawk, usually
old and deserted, but the new ones already contained either eggs or young
birds. Of course all the hollow trees we saw had to be closely inspected and
in one old stump we found a large pole cat peacefully taking his siesta. We
had a good look at him but were very careful not to disturb his slumbers. He
belonged to the white-backed, bare-nosed species and appeared to be very
fat, also, fortunately for us, very sleepy. In the winter the Texan jays are
generally in small parties of four or five individuals, family parties
probably. In the winter of 1896-1897 when large numbers of the common
eastern blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) visited us, and it was not uncommon
to see flocks of from fifty to one hundred of them, our native jays did not
mix with them but wandered about in their usual small flocks. These flocks,
however, were far more numerous than they have ever been since. Probably a
heavy crop of shin oak acorns in this neighborhood and a failure of the mast
in other places, attracted the birds of both species. I have not seen the
eastern jay here but once before; in 1887 they were very plentiful. They
remained until the middle of April on both occasions, but none of them
stayed here to breed.

Bert Frenz

Oaks & Prairies of Texas

eBird reviewer, Central Prairie of Texas

eBird reviewer, Belize

NAB subregional editor, Central Oaks & Prairies of Texas

<Bert2...> <mailto:<Bert2...> <>

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