Birds on Ice – January Birds

Winter finally settled over the Big Country in mid-January. Below freezing temperatures, sleet, snow, and continually cloudy dreary days have kept me inside preoccupied with other projects. But I can only go so long without birds in my life. The first above-freezing day I grabbed the binoculars, a friend, and headed out for the day. How were the birds coping with the prolonged cold? Would I even see any birds?

Our destination took us to still frozen grasslands near Tuscola where we spied hundreds of robins foraging in the ice (they’ve spent the winter with us).


Next we oohed and aahed over flocks of Western, Mountain, and Eastern Bluebirds around Buffalo Gap (don’t think I’ve seen all three species of bluebird in one day);


counted 83 Hooded Mergansers on Lake Abilene;


found one surprise at the State Park; and ended the day stuck in the mud at Lake Kirby (but that’s another story). The Birds on Ice Gallery showcases some of the birds seen on our outing as well as birds seen the week before. A smidgen of information on how birds cope with cold weather is included along with the birds’ pictures. A complete list of birds seen is at Sightings.

The surprise at the State Park? A sign of spring:


First winter plumaged male Common Yellowthroat (it’s a warbler!) signals spring is closer than we suspect.

Oh, you want to know how I got stuck in the mud at Kirby? Gravity (or stupidity; I get the two confused). It was really too mushy to be driving around Lake Kirby but my enthusiasm led us there. We entered the area on the west side, drove the caliche embankment, went around the end of the lake over the paved dam, and then inched toward the boat ramp on the east side. A mere 150 yards from pavement the saturated red dirt that we all use as a road sloped off to the side toward a two-foot rock ledge. Gravity grabbed the truck and over we slid coming to rest next to a Mesquite bush, two large prickly pears, and the two-foot rock ledge. Several attempts to rock myself out of my predicament only brought the truck on top of the prickly pear and one wheel half on the ledge and the other half over air.

A frantic call to my non-birding spouse didn’t receive much sympathy but did spur him to action. But after he carefully studied the situation and tried a thing or two the decision was made to call a wrecker. No way was my non-birding spouse going to gamble with gravity. He surmised more forecasted moisture would only hasten the truck’s inexorable slide off the ledge and even I knew that was not a good scenario. Much to our dismay we learned the wrecking companies could not pull the truck out until the soil was completely dry. Leaving the truck abandoned at Kirby for who knows how long is not how I envisioned the birding day’s end. While I felt sick over the event, my birding friend and non-birding spouse began problem solving.

About 10:30 at night my non-birding spouse went back to Kirby to see if the truck was still intact and happened to meet three young guys who offered to help free the imprisoned truck. (One had previously worked for a towing company.) With much discussion, a load of trust, a large chain, and enough experience to make it happen, the guys pulled the truck out of the muck and off the rock ledge. My sickening feeling turned to elation as I promised never to drive unecessarily on slippery roads again. And if you ever need the towing services of some really talented young men, I’ve got their names and phone numbers in my cell phone. And for those of you who want a more detailed account of this story, my non-birding spouse will be happy to tell you the rest of the story.

3 responses to “Birds on Ice – January Birds”

  1. Laura –

    Sorry about the truck. But the photos of the birds are absolutely spectacular. One of these days I want a lesson or two from you about how you do it. They really are good enough to sell – either as art or to a magazine.


  2. I want to go too. Can’t let Vance get ahead of me. Your photos were outstanding and much better than anything I ever shot of a bird. Of course, I haven’t really done any wildlife photography. Too tough. What equipment are you using?

  3. You are certainly a brave little birder. My heart would have probably stopped when I realized the “stuck situation.” The photos are great – keep up the good work.