Date: 7/16/20 10:11 am
From: Mark Welch <welch.mark3...>
Subject: [texbirds] Re: birding in 1882 by shotgun
This is absolutely marvelous.

Mark, outside Dripping/Fitzhugh.

On Thu, Jul 16, 2020 at 10:46 AM <bertf...> wrote:

> 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 identify.
>
> 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...>
>
> www.bafrenz.com
>
>
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