alaskabirder

Its a Great Day to Bird

Month: February 2017

Upper Texas Coast

12 February 2017

We left the Best Western Angelton (ahhh, a bed) and drove to Galveston Island.  This is one long island – approximately 27 miles.  We got to the Galveston Island State Park Headquarters around 10:00 am and was able to secure a camp site on the gulf side.  These sites go for $5.00 more than the inland sites, but worth it as you have the beach right outside your front door (well after you do a short hike on a trail that crosses the dunes).

What can I say.  Galveston Island was BUSY, BUSY, BUSY today – a Sunday.  Despite the fog that lifted around 1:00 pm, there were people everywhere – on the beaches, running a marathon, at the amusement park, on the roads, fishing. I guess when you live in Houston which is only about an hour away, why not spend the day at the beach?

We did a short hike in the park on the bay side.  Not much bird life – anywhere on the island actually.  We also walked the beach near our campground.  We did see about 50 or so Sanderlings both feeding and roosting, and a lone Willet.

We will be moving on tomorrow.  In fact, most of our stays over the next couple of weeks will be one-night stays since we’ve decided to go into Louisiana and Mississippi.

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Whoa!!! A flock of flamingos.  What are they doing in Texas.

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We will have to get a couple for Homer

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Houses on pilings to avoid storm surges – works most of the time

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These gulls were taking a bath.  Fun to watch them splashing around.

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Home for sale

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Amusement Park in Galveston

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Reddish Egret hanging out with Laughing Gulls and a Neotropical Cormorant

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Brown Pelican

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Crab – there were plenty of no crabbing signs nearby

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The beach near our campground – Galveston Island

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Sanderling

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A really small crab – Fiddler’s Crab?

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I think this is the crab’s home

Bird Species Seen or Heard on Galveston Island

  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Laughing Gull
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Brown Pelican
  • European Starling
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Neotropical Cormorant
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Sanderling
  • Willet
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Reddish Egret
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Osprey
  • White-tailed Kite
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Gadwall
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • American Coot
  • White Ibis
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Northern Harrier

13 February 2017

Another foggy morning so we did not linger at our campground, nor on Galveston Island.  We caught the ferry (free) that takes you from Galveston Island to Bolivar Peninsula.  Our first stop after getting off the ferry was a U.S. Army Corp of Engineer jetty off 17th Street (right hand turn – end of the road).  When the tide is out, which it was, the area is supposed to have great shorebirds, which it did.  I estimated there were at least 500+ American Avocets.  I so love these birds, even in non-breeding plumage.  They were too far away for a decent photo however.

Also present, shorebird wise, were a single American Oystercatcher, Willets, Marbled Godwits, a single Long-billed Curlew, Lesser Yellowleg, Long-billed Dowitcher, and several Black-bellied Plover.   Fun to watch the Lesser Yellowleg stir up the mud to dislodge morsels of food by moving their bill back and forth through the mud.

Here is a swipe at Texas.  A number of years ago Texas created this great campaign pertaining to litter – Don’t Mess With Texas.  I think they forgot to tell the Texans that because I’ve never seen so much trash as along the beaches.  Bolivar Beach was littered with trash all within sight of four litter barrels and at least five do not litter signs!   Disgusting.  I wonder how people can be immune to the litter mess and the despoiling of such beautiful areas?

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Several of the “Don’t Litter” signs

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And the litter …

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… up close

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We walked out on the jetty a short distance to observe the shorebirds, but very windy out so didn’t stay long

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Marbled Godwit

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A Red-tailed Hawk (Krider’s)

Bird Species Seen or Heard on Bolivar Peninsula

  • European Starling
  • Laughing Gull
  • Brown Pelican
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • American White Pelican
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Green-winged Teal
  • American Avocet
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Willet
  • Lesser Yellowleg
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • American Osytercatcher
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Great Egret
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Northern Harrier
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Royal Tern
  • Sanderling
  • Herring Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Gadwall
  • American Coot
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Snowy Egret
  • American Kestrel
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Snow Goose
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Western Meadowlark
  • White-tailed Kite
  • Red-tailed Hawk (Krider’s)

Next stop, albeit we took our time getting there with plenty of roadside bird distractions, was the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.  We birded the 0.6-mile Willow Trail and took the 2.5 mile Shoveler’s Pond Auto Route.  We were hoping for the King and/or Clapper Rail – but no such luck.  Leaving the refuge, however, we did see a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that we weren’t expecting to see.  What a delight.

The 34,000 acre Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963.  The refuge offers 14 miles of roads in which to view wildlife.  The volunteer at the Visitor Center mentioned a fellow who visits the refuge on his motorcycle three times a week.  He loves to photograph wildlife, and the other day had a Bobcat swimming a canal and a River Otter walking across the road.  The volunteer asked how long I was going to be in the area.  I told him just another day.  He said that in April they lead “Rail” walks, as the refuge has all six rails: Sora, Virginia Rail, King Rail, Clapper Rail, Yellow Rail, and Black Rail.  Some day I would love to come back and join that bird walk  as I have yet to see a Yellow or Black Rail.

We didn’t see any mammals, but did get 57 different bird species.  So I think it was a very good day of birding.  The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at the end was the highlight.  Oh, and we saw a leusistic (or as one person described it – Piebald) American Coot.

I wish there was camping closer to the refuge because I would definitely come back a second day.  There is a large part of the refuge we missed as we ran out of time.  Our campground for the night – Sea Rim State Park – is about 68 miles away.  This park is near McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge.  If it isn’t raining tomorrow (forecast calls for rain and thunderstorms), then we will go check out that refuge.  Who knows, we might even stay here a second night at Sea Rim (more appropriate Sea Wind – very heavy winds during our visit).

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Entrance road refuge sign

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This refuge sign was near the visitor center

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Small pond along side the Willow Trail

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Willow Trail boardwalk near visitor center

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Song Sparrow

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Lots of sloughs alongside the road

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Well we couldn’t really see anything but the tall Phragmites grass – a little maintenance is needed, such as a prescribed burn

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White-faced Ibis

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Generally how we see many ducks with their butts in the air. I should do an ID book with photos – Name that Butt Duck

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Cinnamon Teal

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Leusistic American Coot

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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – a special treat to see

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Anahauc National Wildlife Refuge

  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Lesser Yellowleg
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Gadwall
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Killdeer
  • Northern Harrier
  • White-tailed Kite
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Vermillion Flycatcher
  • Snow Goose ( a lot of blue-morphs)
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Turkey Vulture
  • American Coot
  • White Ibis
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Mallard
  • American Wigeon
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Common Gallinule
  • Caspian Tern
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Neotropical Cormorant
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Mourning Dove
  • Boat-trailed Grackle
  • Snowy Egret
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Mottled Duck
  • Cattle Egret
  • Tree Swallow
  • Osprey
  • Anhinga
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Northern Pintail
  • Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

 14 February 2017

Happy Valentines Day everyone.  The weather forecast for Sea Rim State Park, which is about 10 miles (as the crow flies) from the Louisiana border, is overcast skies with rain starting around noon.  Well the National Weather Service got the overcast skies right, but the rain started around 10:30 a.m. and at times was quite heavy.  And windy too – a whipping good.  We’ve had a lot of wind on this trip.  Today is no different.

Before heading to nearby McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge we walked the park’s Gambusia Trail – a 0.75-mile boardwalk.  This boardwalk is in need of a little TLC or complete replacement works.  We did see an alligator close to the boardwalk which for some reason was a little unnerving.  I felt a little vertigo walking on the boardwalk which was an unpleasant feeling.  I was never so happy to get off a boardwalk as I did getting off that one.

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Sunrise – so goes the saying “Red sky at morn, sailors be warned. Red sky at night, sailors delight. It was a beautiful sunrise though.

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Beach at Sea Rim State Park

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Boat-tailed Grackle

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Gambousia Trail (the Gambousia is a mosquito fish)

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I like the saying on the sign, “Fish hunt mosquitoes and the survivors hunt you”. So true, so true.

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Great signage about the fish, crabs, etc.

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Red-winged Blackbird

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The rickety boardwalk – I really, really didn’t like walking on …

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… but the birds don’t mind using it

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Flotilla of American Coots

The 58,000 acre McFaddin National Wildlife was established in 1980.  There are five miles of road on the refuge providing wildlife viewing opportunities.  We had a nice view of a Peregrine Falcon, and when we were stopped to look at a Belted Kingfisher I noticed a King Rail in a slough adjacent to the road – great excitement.  Oh how I wished it had stayed around long enough for a photo.  We did drive all five miles of road and headed back to the campground. Good timing as it started to rain in earnest.  But before we got back we decided to check out the Texas Point National Wildlife Refuge located 10 miles east of Sea Rim State Park.  The refuge has a road paralleling the refuge and takes you out to Texas Point.  However,  this ‘road’ has a lot to be desired.  We decided after dodging a number of holes in the road, big enough to swallow us up, that it really wasn’t worth checking out the edge of the refuge or saying we went to Texas Point.  There is also a trail you can walk, but it was closed.  Since it was still raining out we probably wouldn’t have walked the trail anyway.

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Refuge sign

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Peregrine Falcon

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We decided to stay another night at Sea Rim State Park. We were told we could not access the beach tomorrow on the east side of the park as they were having a feral hog hunt.  That should be interesting.  I guess they are a problem in this area.

Back at camp we read for an hour or so and then decided to walk the beach as the winds had died down somewhat, the rain had stopped, and the sun even shone at times.  We walked westward in to the delightful sun and as we walked we decided to pick up garbage along the way.  There are garbage barrels every 50 yards or so apart along the beach.  As we didn’t have a garbage bag with us, it was nice to unload the garbage periodically.  The beach had its share of garbage but nothing like South Padre Island, but then again I doubt they get the level of use here that they do there.

We did see a large flock of about 50 American Avocets roosting on the beach, while the Willets, Black-bellied Plovers, and Sanderlings were busy feeding.  I do love shorebirds.

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Dead bird, but I’m not sure what species.  Jack thought maybe American Coot.

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Shells attached to a log …

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… and here is the log

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I really don’t know what this is? Does anyone?

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American Avocets …

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… in flight

As we were almost back to the campground the winds picked up again.  The winds sure makes trying to cook a Coleman stove dinner outside more difficult.  Tomorrow we are going to go back to re-explore Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and then drive to Sam Houston State Park near Lake Charles, Louisiana for the night.

15 February 2017

Hard to believe that the month is half over already.  Wow times does fly.  We decided to return to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and try again for the Clapper Rail.  No rails, but we did see a Burrowing Owl, which I didn’t think I would get for this year’s list of birds.  Also, we got to see a Fulvous-bellied Whistling Duck (good spotting Jack), which is another bird I didn’t expect to see this year.  Both where great finds.

We spent about 3 hours on the refuge, once again driving the 2.5 Shoveler Pond Auto Tour Route.  Afterwards we decided to drive the Frozen Point Road, which travels along the Yellow Rail prairie.  We didn’t expect to see that rail, but thought we might see at least one of the other rail species (King, Clapper, or Virginia).  We did hear a rail, but it stayed hidden in the reedy vegetation.  About half way down this road we pulled into an area to turn around and volunteers in a USFWS vehicle stopped to let us know where to see the Burrowing Owl further down the road.  So instead of turning around we drove on to see the owl.  So cute.  We love this owl (species).  Also in the same general area where three Wilson’s Snipe.  Another great find as this is a special species too.

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Eastern Phoebe

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Fulvous-bellied Whistling Duck

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Snow Geese

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The area where the Burrowing Owl was spotted

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Wilson’s Snipe

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Burrowing Owl

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We also spent a short period time on SkillernTract, which has a couple of short trails and a viewing platform.  Not as many birds, but the day was nice and the trails in good condition.

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Next stop – Louisiana and the Sam Houston Jones State Park.

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

  • Northern Harrier
  • American Kestrel
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Killdeer
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Gadwall
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Mourning Dove
  • European Starling
  • Green-winged Teal
  • American Wigeon
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Snow Goose
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Northern Pintail
  • Great Egret
  • American Coot
  • Tree Swallow
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • White Ibis
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Common Gallinule
  • Mottled Duck
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Light Blue Heron
  • Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Fulvous-bellied Whistling Duck
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Tricolore Heron
  • Snowy Egret
  • Roseatte Spoonbill
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Wilsons’ Snipe
  • Lesser Yellowleg
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Black Vulture
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Mallard
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Osprey
  • Song Sparrow

Remember it’s always …

A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

Central Texas Coast

7 February 2017

Woke to fog this morning.  The people next to us have five dogs.  I’m just glad they didn’t make a lot of noise last night, although for most of the evening their generator was pretty noisy.

We drove to the North Beach access and wished we had camped on the beach last night – no generators and better karma.  We walked about ½ mile and watched Sanderlings, Willets, and Ruddy Turnstones feeding along the shoreline.  One Sanderling was missing a leg or it was tucked up, but injured.  It hopped around on the one leg quite well.  Also fun to watch the birds as they race along the beach trying to outrun each other to the next food source.

When we got to our turn-around point we found a garbage bag dispenser so we decided to pick up trash on the way back.  While this beach didn’t have anywhere near as much trash as the beach at South Padre Island, there was still a lot of trash.  Lots of plastic bottles.  Also found several string pieces from balloons.  I’m always amazed at how much trash people leave behind.  Maybe this beach has less trash because it is not as popular as the beach at South Padre Island.

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Padre Island National Seashore Sign – We Have Arrived

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Ruddy Turnstone – Tree Pose

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Willet (or Won’t it – Sorry Just had to say that)

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Black-bellied Plover

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It was a stormy morning, but then I love clouds like these (so long as it doesn’t rain)

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Beach was deserted, of humans, most of the time we were there (unlike South Padre Island)

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We were told this is a “Red Drum” and good eating

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They actually had bags you could use to help clean up the beach. They need this same program at South Padre Island.

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Dead Brown Pelican

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Jack with his bag of trash

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This was my collection. If I had more fingers I could have carried more plastic jugs.

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Much of the Padre National Seashore is grass …

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… with a few flowers here and there. This one was alongside the road.

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Padre Island National Seashore

  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Laughing Gull
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • American Kestrel
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Willet
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Sandering
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Forester’s Tern
  • American White Pelican
  • Brown Pelican
  • Ring-billed Gull

Our next stop was the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center at the northern end of Mustang Island.  I love this small little birding area, and obviously a lot of people do as it was quite busy during our short 30-45 minute stay.  While I’ve seen more birds in previous years I don’t think I’ve seen an alligator.  The one we saw today was huge (most likely an old one) – at least 15 feet long.  WOW!!!  I wouldn’t want to be any closer to it than on the boardwalk.

I asked a woman if she was photographing the Green Heron we saw.  She said no and pointed to several Pied-billed Grebes. She then said she saw another bird but didn’t know what it was.  She then pointed to a Wilson’s Snipe.  I told her the name of the bird, she thanked me and moved on.  I went closer to the Snipe hoping not to flush it as I wanted to get a photograph.  The bird would not flush regardless of how close I got.  Of course I couldn’t get real close as I was on a boardwalk and it was not.

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Silly I know, but I just had to have Jack pose

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Which also meant I had to stick my head in the hole

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Boardwalk through the wetland

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Pied-billed Grebe

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This alligator was HUGE!!! The biggest one we’ve seen on the trip so far.

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Green Heron

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Pied-billed Grebe preening

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There were a lot of Pied-billed Grebes in the pond

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Neotropical Cormorant – notice the long tail

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Northern Shoveler

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This male was sleeping. An American Coot came along almost stepping on him, and the look on the duck’s face was priceless – he was not happy that the Coot had woken him from his nap.

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Cormorant drying its wings

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Wilson’s Snipe

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Checking me out – will I leave or will he need to leave. I did.

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American Coot – as you can see the bird was close so I got a good shot of its bill.  Sweet!!!

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A lizard, who shall remain nameless (since we don’t know it)

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Leonabelle Turnball Birding Center

  • Great Blue Heron
  • Green Heron
  • American Coot
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • American White Pelican
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Neotropical Cormorant
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Laughing Gull
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Common Gallinule
  • Sora
  • Marsh Wren
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Gray Catbird
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler

We took the ferry from Aransas Pass to Point Aransas.  The ferry is free, surprisingly.  Of course trying to collect money would really slow down traffic as a lot of people use the ferry – the actually had five different ferries operating.

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On the ferry

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Laughing Gulls hoping to get a handout

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Lots of ship traffic so we had to wait before the ferry could cross

Continuing on we made it to Goose Island State Park around 3:30 pm to find that all the electrical campground sites were taken, but we managed to get a nice non-electrical site.  They have quite a few campground sites so we were surprised to find the electrical ones all taken.  Seems like a lot more people are camping this year than in 2014 when we did our Big Adventure.  I wonder if the reason is cheaper gas (currently $1.95-$1.99 / gallon), more retirees, or both.

I did a short walk on a nature trail and found a whooping five bird species.  Not a good time for birding.

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Butterfly

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Nature trail at Goose Island State Park

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8 February 2017

Woke to fog – again.  The plan today is to drive to the Lions/Shelley Park in the town of Refugio to look for a Golden-crowned Warbler that has been reported there, then drive to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and look for the Whooping Cranes.  We left Goose Lake State Park around 8:00 am and made it to the Lions Park in Refugio around 9:30 am.  We drove slowly along the way looking at the gazillion of American Kestrels perched along the road.  We kept trying to turn one into an Apolmado Falcon.  No luck.

Once at the Lions Park we started looking for the warbler.  The first bird I spotted had the yellow underside, but it was a Tropical Parula.  This bird, along with the Golden-crowned Warbler, have been listed on eBird rare bird alert for several weeks now.  Well, long story short, after 3.5 hours of searching — no luck.  Two other birders think they spotted the bird.  One woman said she was 80% certain. The other woman said she saw all the markings on the bird except the golden crown.  I think she was going to stay all day in search of that crown.

In the large ‘live Oak tree’ were the bird was spotted several days ago we did see a Barred Owl.  That was a good find as it is a FOY (First of Year).  And along the stream was a pair of Green Kingfishers.  Despite not seeing the warbler, it was a good birding day at that park.  The birds really came out once the fog lifted.

Our original intent was to bird the park and the wildlife refuge,  then drive on to Brazos Bend State Park (near Houston) for the night.  However, since we spent so much time in the Refugio park searching for the warbler we decided to spend another night at Goose Lake State Park.  We didn’t want to arrive at Brazos Bend State Park in the dark.  Plus now we can come back to Shelley Park tomorrow.

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Field Sparrow

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Barred Owl at Shelley Park – Refugio

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The Golden-crowned Warbler was seen near this sign the following day – right after we left the park (of course – ha ha ha)

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Green Kingfisher – Male

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Female Green Kingfisher – this is a sure spot for this bird

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Lots of turtles – Red-eared Slider

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Lions/Shelley Park (Refugio)

  • Tropical Parula (this is our third sighting of this bird on our trip)
  • Black and White Warbler
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • American Goldfinch
  • Barred Owl
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Louisiana Waterthrush
  • Green Kingfisher
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Couch’s Kingbird
  • Field Sparrow
  • Lincoln Sparrow
  • Great Kissadee
  • White-winged Dove
  • House Wren
  • Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Next stop – Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in search of the iconic Whooping Crane.  Generally, the only way to see the cranes is to drive to the viewing platforms and look out over the salt marshes (or pay for a boat trip).  The birds are generally a fair distance away from the viewing platform and one definitely needs either binoculars or even better, a spotting scope to see them.  We saw at least three – most likely a family.

We walked the Rail Trail.  I saw a rail that I suspect was a Clapper Rail but I didn’t get a good enough look at it for proper identification.  We did see a fair number of alligators along the boardwalk, but none as big as the one at Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center on Mustang Island.  That thing was HUGE!!!  In additional to several adult alligators we also saw several baby alligators – so cute.   The trail is essentially a mowed pathway along the waterway so you have to watch where you walk because an alligator could be just off the trail.  Supposedly, in winter, gators don’t feed but why test it…?

In the past we have taken the 16-mile auto tour route but we didn’t have time.  In past years we have never seen much bird activity on the route so we didn’t feel bad about not taking it.  As for mammals we did see a Wild Boar sow (feral hog), including its young – are they called piglets or boarlets?  One little guy seemed lost and ran back and forth across the road a couple of times.  I don’t think the refuge would have minded if we accidentally hit the boar since they are considered non-natives, nuisance species.

The 114,657 acre Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1937, and is an important wintering ground for the endangered Whooping Crane, which rely on the blue crab (itself in peril due to climate change) as its main food source.

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Refuge sign

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Part of the viewing platform – be prepared to walk and climb

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Various habitats abound …

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… and various wildlife like this young American Alligator

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The alligators always seem to have a smile on their face

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They have several trails available including the Rail Trail, which we walked

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A portion of the Rail Trail. You need to be sure you don’t get too close to the water as an alligator may be nearby. You sure don’t want to disturb one of them.

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Oh and Bullfrogs

Bird Species Seen or Heard at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

  • Swamp Sparrow
  • American Robin (my first one for the year)
  • American Kestrel
  • Brown Pelican
  • American White Pelican
  • Caspian Tern
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Great Blue Heron
  • American Coot
  • Northern Pintail
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Redhead
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • White Ibis
  • Whooping Crane
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Killdeer
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Black Vulture
  • Northern Cardinal
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • White-winged Dove

9 February 2017

A cold, windy morning (cold being relative – 50s).  We broke camp and headed back to the Lions/Shelley Park in Refugio to try once again for the Golden-crowned Warbler.  Again no luck; didn’t see the Tropical Parula either.  Today was much windier than yesterday and I saw less birds.   I spent about 2.5 hours looking for the warbler, along with at least nine other people.  No sightings by the time I left.  Will check the eBird Rare Bird Alert tomorrow to see if anyone sighted the bird.

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Copano Bay as seen from Goose Island State Park

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Lots of Redheads in the bay

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Savannah Sparrow

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White-tailed Kite – its was really windy so it was holding on tight

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Eastern Phoebe

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The Barred Owl shown earlier had moved to a higher spot in the tree

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Lions/Shelley Lake Park 

  • Barred Owl
  • Gray Catbird
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Great Kissadee
  • Green Kingfisher
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Carolina Wren
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Black and White Warbler
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Lincoln Sparrow
  • American Kestrel
  • Black Vulture

We headed to Brazos Bend State Park for several nights.  Along the way we spotted a large flock of Long-billed Curlews (about 50) feeding on a lawn in the town of Palacios.  That was a surprise.  We spotted an even larger flock of Snow and/or Ross’ Geese in a field near Bay City.  We estimate this flock size to be several thousands.

As we got close to the Brazos Bend we noticed a lot of smoke so something was on fire.  I suspected a farmer was doing a controlled burn.  Little did we know that the controlled burn was at the park.  Luckily the smoke was blowing away from the campground area.  We got a nice spot (at least for tonight – have to go back tomorrow and see if it is available for another night, and if not, what sites might be available).  Not too many people camped at the park, which is surprising since most of the other campgrounds we’ve visited have been full.

We walked the campground loop and I got six First of Year (FOY) birds, including the Tufted Titmouse.  This small bird sure has a mighty (loud) call – Peter, Peter, Peter.  Check it out at: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Tufted_Titmouse/sounds.   I do love this park.   Tomorrow we will explore some of the various trails.

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Long-billed Curlew

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Snow Geese in flight – and this was only a small portion of them

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The view from our camp site at Brazos Bend State Park

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American Crow

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Bird Species Seen or Heard at Brazos Bend State Park

  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Pileated Woodpecker (heard)
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • American Crow
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Caroliina Wren
  • Hermit Thrush

10 February 2017

Okay first thing I did this morning was check the eBird rare bird alert to see if anyone saw the Golden-crowned Warbler at Shelley Lake park yesterday.  There were two sightings listed – both of 11:30 am.  Jack and I left at 11:30 am.  Rats, Darn, and so much more.  The area where the bird was spotted was one I had been at earlier in the day.  As we were leaving I said to myself “why don’t you take one last look below Green Kingfisher Point”.  Then I talked myself out of it because Jack had been so patient coming back a second day so I could try again for the bird.  We birders are crazy.

I so love Brazos Bend State Park for birds.  Unfortunately we could only have our campsite for one night as we did not make reservations online.  We hate to commit to being somewhere on a certain date, preferring instead the flexibility of changing our plans if we want to stay somewhere longer or visa versa.  So at 8:00 am we went to the office to see about getting a campsite for tonight.  Being as today is a Friday and we are so near Houston, the campground was booked solid.  I guess they don’t have first come, first serve sites.  Too bad.  So we were told to come back at 10:00 am to see if any campsites became available after they purged their system of multiple bookings.  No go.  So they stuck us in the overflow section, which is essentially a parking lot.  I think the area used to be a picnic site.  Not sure where the bathrooms are, if any.  Wouldn’t surprise me if there aren’t any in the immediate area.  I am always amazed that the sites with water and electric and bathrooms nearby go to the RV sites.  Don’t they already have water, electric (via generator), and bathrooms.  What about the people in tents.  Don’t they need water?  Don’t they need bathrooms?  Don’t they need showers?  Their cars don’t come with those things, unlike trailers.  And we know their tents don’t come equipped.  I know our van doesn’t.

We did several hikes – the Creekfield trail, which is 0.5 miles.  Then we did the trail around Elm Lake.  This is where most of the birds – particularly the waterbirds – are located.  I love this lake.  We had an amazing three American Bitterns along a short section of trail and they were all out in the open, rather than hiding in the reeds.  This trail is a 1.7 miles (loop), and heavily used today.  I wonder what it will be like tomorrow on a Saturday?  I think most people go on the trail to see the alligators.  Some were quite large.  They must not have been hungry because Gallinules, Ibises, and Coots would feed nearby and seem undisturbed by the presence of an alligator.

We also hiked the Horsehoe Lake Trail (1.2 miles).  We didn’t see as many birds along this trail.  Might be due to the size of the lake (much smaller than Elm) or the time of day.  And as if poor Doodlebug, our 14-year old dog, didn’t walk enough we did the 1.3-mile White Oak/Red Buckeye trail.  This trail too yielded few birds.

We are now back at our overflow camp with all the other people who didn’t get a space in the park.  Like us they probably thought there would be spaces available.  Not sure if it is busy every weekend in February or whether this weekend is special for some reason.

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Black-bellied Whistling Ducks …

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… and there were hundreds along the lake. I don’t recall ever seeing so many on this lake in our previous visit.

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American Pipit

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Area burned as part of their prescribed burn

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Vulture Tree

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There were American Alligators and Pied-billed Grebes (sung to Green Alligators and Long-necked Geese …)

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Yellow-rumped Warbler

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Here you can see the line from a previous flood – and from the ground to the line was at least 4 feet

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They should also add “kids” to the “Keep Dogs on Trails”. We saw a guy with two young kids and they walked right up to the water. Scary.

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American Bittern

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White Ibis

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White Ibis in Tree Pose

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I guess the angle of this bench would be great if you wanted to sit down and look at warblers in the tree without getting warbler neck

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Swallowtail butterfly

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

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Blue-winged Teal pair

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Anhinga

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Little Blue Heron

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Horseshoe Lake Trail

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Don’t have to tell me twice

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Bird Species Seen or Heard at Brazos Bend State Park

  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • American Crow
  • American Pipit
  • Carolina Wren
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • White Ibis
  • Lincoln Sparrow
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Great Egret
  • American Coot
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Common Gallinule
  • American Robin
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Snowy Egret
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  • Crested Caracara
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • American Bittern
  • Anhinga
  • Vermillion Flycatcher
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Tree Swallow
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Green-winged Teal

When we went to the visitor center I asked for a bird checklist.  They didn’t have one.  The ranger said he would print me out a copy.  He gave me three pages, and the list only went through raptors.  Texas Parks and Wildlife put out these fabulous Bird Trail maps to show people great places to bird, so why wouldn’t the parks have bird checklists available for people who visit?  I guess I will need to send them an email and suggest they make them available, even for a fee, and to include the lists on their official park app.

11 February 2017

We walked the 40-acre Lake trail at Brazos Bend State Park.  This is another trail that I love, especially the western edge of the lake (at least I think it is the western edge).   Along this section of the swamp/wetland we saw five, yes count them five, American Bittern.  I’ve never seen so many American Bittern in one place at a given time.  Amazing and wonderful.  All but one were out in the open – one just had to look carefully.  They do blend in well with their environment.   While this was amazing to see, what really got our interest up was the alligator that caught a large, black snake and proceeded to kill it.  Wow!!!

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Swamp Sparrow

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Trail around 40-acre Lake

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One of the five American Bitterns we saw on the trail

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And another one …

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We read somewhere that during the winter alligators do not eat. We beg to differ, unless this alligator was killing the snake just for the fun of it.

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Snowy Egret

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Wood Duck territory – we saw a pair. Jack was a happy camper.

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Immature White Ibis

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Our first slug of the trip

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Brazos Bend State Park

  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Great Egret
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Common Gallinule
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  • American Bittern
  • White Ibis
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • American Coot
  • Snowy Egret
  • Wood Duck
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Tricolored Heron
  • Tufted Titmouse (the mighty singer)
  • American Crow
  • Lincoln Sparrow
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • White-eyed Vireo

After completing our walk we started driving towards W.G. Jones State Forest to search for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker.  We got about 3 miles down the road and decided to turn around and head south.  We figured that this forest, just north of Houston, with its many trails would be busy on a Saturday.  We will save this place for another day.  Maybe we will get lucky and see the woodpecker while we are in Louisiana.

Instead of the state forest we went to San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge.  The 45,000 acre wildlife refuge was established in 1969 to provide habitat for birds, reptiles, and mammals.  The refuge offers a 9.4-mile auto tour route, as well as a number of hiking trails.  The refuge has been designated an Internationally Significant Shorebird Site by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN).

We drove the auto-tour route and witnessed a lot of birds, including a couple hundred Greater Sandhill Cranes.  These cranes are so much larger than the Lesser Sandhill Cranes that breed in Homer during the summer months.  In all, we had 36 different species of birds.  Not bad considering it was a very windy day.  Not always easy to see birds when the winds are strong and steady.

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Refuge Sign

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One of the dikes we walked on to see the birds

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Part of a dead Armadillo. We were hoping to see a live one.

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What feet you have (our should I say ‘had’)

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Savannah Sparrow

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Great-tailed Grackle

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This shallow lake had hundreds of birds on it – waterfowl, waders, shorebirds. We sat here for about 45 minutes just watching all the birds.

Bird Species Seen or Heard at San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge

  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • American Kestrel
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • American Coot
  • Common Gallinule
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Great Egret
  • Great Blue Heron
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Gadwall
  • Tree Swallow
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • White-tailed Hawk
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Snowy Egret
  • White Ibis
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Snow Goose
  • Sandhill Crane (Greater)
  • Killdeer
  • Lesser Yellowleg
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Northern Harrier
  • Blue-winged Teal

We spent the night at a motel in Angleton, Texas.  Dinner was at La Casana, a short distance from our hotel.  The food was excellent and the place was hopping for a Saturday night at around 6:30 pm.  When we left an hour later, people were waiting out the door to get a table.  I recommend this eating establishment if you are ever in town.

Tomorrow we head to Galveston Island and more birding.  Until then …

It’s a Great Day to Bird

Lower Rio Grande Valley Birding

30 January 2017

Another long day of driving.  Stopped for gas and breakfast (Skillets) in Del Rio.  When I went back and checked my notes we had eaten at this same restaurant in January 2014 when we did our Big Adventure (trip around the perimeter of the U.S. in a year).  The food wasn’t any better this visit than the previous visit.  Pretty standard fare, nothing fancy.

Our destination for the night is Falcon State Park located 200+ miles south of Amistad National Recreation Area (NRA).  We try to bird along the way, but let me tell you that didn’t happen much as Texans like to drive FAST.   Periodically we did pull over to check out a hawk of two.  After about 50 miles it seemed as though the Harris’ Hawks began outnumbering the Red-tailed Hawks.  And least we forget, we started seeing Crested Caracara too.  Fun!!!

The intent was to stop at the Las Palmas Trail in Laredo to look for the White-collared Seedeater.  This bird had been seen as recently as Saturday, and listed on eBird rare bird alert.  One nice thing about the alerts is there is a link to google maps included in the listing and you can find out where the bird was last seen.  So off we went, only to be stopped, within spitting distance of our destination, by an emergency vehicle blocking the road.  This area isn’t the best part of town, the roads are narrow and many one-way, so we decided not to find away around the the vehicle and seek out the bird.

We did make a quick stop in the afternoon – around 2:00 pm – at San Ygnacio  – a bird sanctuary (Site #087 on the Lower Rio Grande Bird Trail Map).  In previous visits we’ve seen Green Jays, Orioles, and Plain Chacalacas here.  Only saw the Green Jays today, although we did see White-tipped Doves, a Gray Hawk, and an Olive Sparrow.  The ever present border patrol asked us where we parked and what we were doing here.  Guess they don’t want any strange vehicles in the area, since this site is along the Rio Grande (i.e., Mexican border).  But never fear a wall will be built to keep people from seeking a better life.

Got to Falcon State Park around 4:30 pm, found a campsite, and went to check out the birds along one of the park’s trails.  Mostly what I saw were Northern Mockingbirds – probably around 20-30 of them.  They even out-numbered the Yellow-rumped Warblers, which we always seem to find in good sized flocks.

I want to mention that if you ever intend to come to Texas to bird and you plan to visit or stay in Texas State Parks you might want to consider their Annual Pass.  When you camp in a state park not only do you have to pay the camping fee, but you have to pay the day-use fee as well.  This can add up since most day use fees are $5-6 per person – yes per person (kids under 12 are free).  The $70 Annual Fee allows free day-use, plus you get a discount on four nights of camping (half price), provided you say at least two nights.  So the first night is full price and the second night is half price.  You can quickly save money.

Tomorrow we head to Salineno, a small town south of Falcon State Park with great birding.  Last time we were here we checked the guest register and saw the names of birders we knew from Homer and Anchorage.  Small birding world.

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Harris’s Hawk

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Crested Caracara – our first for the trip

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Old road within sanctuary

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Black-crested Titmouse

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Need to learn my butterflies

31 January 2017

After a morning of pancakes with blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, we set off to bird the Falcon State Park campground.  One of the campground hosts mentioned a good place for birds (near the recreation center) so off we went.  While we saw some good birds, there wasn’t a whole lot moving around yet – at least no songbirds.

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Falcon State Park (three days/two nights)

  • Northern Mockingbird (they are everywhere in the park – too many)
  • Verdin
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Great Kissadee
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Crested Caracara
  • Osprey
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • American White Pelican
  • Green Jay
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Greater Roadrunner

Next stop was the Salineno Bird Sanctuary.  This land, purchased by a land trust, is actually a part of the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge.  For the past 8 years, a couple from Iowa have volunteered here, from mid October to mid-March, managing the sanctuary.  They put out bird seed, corn, oranges, and a peanut butter/lard/corn meal mix.  I should ask them how much of the peanut butter mix they go through in a season.  I’m sure it is a lot because based on the bird activity at the feeding area, that is one of the birds’ favorite foods.   At one point, while we were there, at least 10 people were sitting in the chairs enjoying the show.  So what did we see:

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Ladder-backed Woodpecker at Falcon State Park

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Great Kissadee

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Black-crested Titmouse

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Pair of Green Jays – these birds are beautiful beyond imagination

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Spotted Sandpiper (by the river, not the feeders..)

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Rio Grande River (so am I really saying Grand River River???)

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Long-billed Thrasher

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Olive Sparrow

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Altamira Oriole

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Golden-fronted Woodpecker – Male

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Green Jay

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Great Kissadee scolding an advancing bird

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Bird Sanctuary feeding area – view from our chairs

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Plain Chacalaca

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White-tipped Dove

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Leusistic Red-winged Blackbird – note the white collar and white on the wing

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Crested Caracara – seen near Falcon State Park

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Salineno Bird Sanctuary

  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Green Jay
  • Great Kissadee
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • White-winged Dove
  • Inca Dove
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Black-crested Titmouse
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Crested Caracara
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Long-billed Thrasher
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Altamira Oriole
  • Plain Chacalaca
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Lincoln Sparrow
  • Olive Sparrow
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Osprey
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Cormorant sp.
  • Wren sp. (I think a House Wren)

Hard to believe tomorrow is February already.  We will leave Falcon State Park and head towards McAllen, Texas.  This is the heart of Lower Rio Grande birding.  So many places to go, so many birds to see.   There are no public campgrounds in the area so we will stay in a motel for three nights.  From there the goal is to head to South Padre Island for more birding.

1 February 2017

Went back to Salineno Bird Sanctuary before heading south –hoping to see the Audubon’s Oriole.  Woohoo, Score!!! Two came to the feeders several times.  Lots of Red-winged Blackbirds coming in and out of the feeding area – they flush easily even with no incentive like a marauding Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s Hawk.  A pleasant surprise was the sight of a single Yellow-headed Blackbird among the Red-wings.  Hard to miss that brilliant yellow head.  We stayed at the feeders for about 1.5 hours just enjoying the show.  The Plain Chacalacas with their calacas call were fun to watch as they stealthily made their way to the feeders.  For a big bird they sure can blend in well.  One of them had a bum leg so was hopping around trying to feed on a single foot.  Not easy to hop about, but it managed to chow down and scatter quickly when alarmed.

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Audubon’s Oriole

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Orange-crowned Warbler

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Volunteer putting out more peanut butter mix (pb, lard, and cornmeal)

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I love the colors on the head of this Golden-fronted Woodpecker male …

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… stunning

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There were a lot of Great Kissadees at the sanctuary and boy are they loud – their call is, of course, kissadee

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White-winged Doves at the feeder. The volunteer said he once counted over 30 doves on one feeder.

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Plain Chacalacas in a (not pear) tree

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More of the Audubon’s Oriole

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In McAllen Texas, our home base for the next three nights, we .  We are staying in a Motel 6 Studio 6, which has a nice kitchenette with the room.  Motel 6 has updated many of their hotels, including this one.  Very nice, modern rooms.  My only criticism is the lounge chair they have in the room – not comfortable at all.  A minor inconvenience, however.

We attempted to bird Anzalduas County Park, near Mission Texas.  This park is unusual in that if you look north  from the park you are actually looking into Mexico.  The river bends such that a small peninsula of Mexico is actually north of the park.  When I say we attempted to bird the park we were stopped by a Sheriff’s Deputy at the entrance – on top of a levee.   Looking  into the park we saw about 10 Border Patrol and related vehicles.  So it looks like they were either conducting an exercise (but then why was there a TV station van present) or they were capturing illegal immigrants coming into the country.  I suspect the latter.

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Tricolored Heron

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Yikes!!! What an UGLY creature.  Big too.  Is this a Gar???

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Snake anyone. Okay you won’t find me swimming in this canal.

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park is only about 3-4 miles away from Anzalduas County Park so we went there to bird instead.  Jack decided to stay in the parking lot with Doodlebug (it was 1:00 pm, little wind, and hot as hell out) while I birded.  There is a  $5.00/person entrance fee (oh wait, I had an annual pass so I didn’t have to  pay the fee) and one can walk the roads (closed to traffic except for Border Patrol, Park Personnel, and the Park’s trams) to enjoy the beauty and birds of the area.

Under a post sporting an empty feeder (think peanut butter/suet), I saw a Clay-colored Thrush.  The thrush kept looking up at the feeder maybe hoping peanut butter would fall out.  When that didn’t happen, the bird would hop up onto the feeder hoping to disgorge any remaining peanut butter from the feeder – there was none.  When I came back down the trail/road about 30 minutes later the thrush had given up.

Speaking of Border Patrol, so I am walking down the road and I come to this picnic area with lots of birds moving among the trees.  So, naturally, I stop to check them out.  I notice two men walking down the road towards me.  When they get near me (although I am 50 feet off the road) they start running.  I then hear someone in a vehicle talking to the men.  I can’t hear well enough to know if they are speaking English or Spanish.  The vehicles then continued on.  Within the next 10 minutes or so there are all these Border Patrol, Park Personnel, and Park Police traveling up and down the road.  I assume it was in regards to the two men I saw, but I don’t know.  When I got back to the parking lot there were about 10 Border Patrol vehicles, 2 State Police vehicles, and Park Personnel surrounding a Black truck.  A man and woman standing next to the truck were talking to the various officers.  The man was not one of the men I had seen running.  So, don’t know if they caught anyone or not.  A little surreal.  We left before the saga unfolded.

Tomorrow we are going back to Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, but early before it heats up.  Hopefully more birds will be out and about and we won’t have all the drama of today.

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Clay-colored Thrush

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park

  • Green Jay
  • Plain Chacalaca
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Clay-colored Thrush
  • Great Kissadee
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • America White Pelican
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Snowy Egret
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Neotropical Cormorant
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • House Sparrow
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Red-winged Blackbird

2 February 2017

Woke up to thick  fog, which was a little surprising.  Guess I don’t think of fog in Texas.  We drove back out to the Bentzen-Rio Grande State Park.  No excitement today, Border Patrol or otherwise (including bird wise).  We did see 30 different species at the park, but no life birds or first of year birds.   We spent about 3.5 hours in the park and walked about 3.5 miles, which is about right – one mile per hour.  Typical birding.  We did discover that dogs are allowed in the park and on the trails, so Doodlebug joined us, sniffing her way along, with frequent water stops.  When we were done she (and we) was one tired puppy.

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Road within the park – only authorized vehicles are allowed to drive on the roads.  Visitors can walk the road or ride bikes.  Most people were riding bikes.

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Vegetation in the park, in places, is quite dense. Makes seeing birds a challenge.

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A Hawk Tower – no hawks seen unfortunately

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View from the hawk tower

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This squirrel is REALLY red

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A Beautiful Monarch Butterfly

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Bentzen-Rio Grande State Park

  • Green Jay
  • Plain Chacalaca
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Great Kissadee
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Snowy Egret
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Neotropical Cormorant
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Long-billed Thrasher
  • Altamira Oriole
  • Olive Sparrow
  • Mourning Dove
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Crested Caracara
  • Verdin
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • American Kestrel
  • Osprey
  • Northern Shoveler
  • American Coot
  • Black-crested Titmouse

From Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park we drove to Anzalduas County Park.  When we got there around 1:00 pm in the afternoon there were still a surprising number of Border Patrol, State Police, and County Sheriff vehicles parked along the river.  Not sure what is going on there still, but luckily the park was open.  Despite the heat (85 degrees and humid), we did get 17 different species.

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We had great views of the “blue” wing on the Blue-winged Teal

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Common Gallinule (formerly known as Common Moorhen)

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Bird Species Seen or Heard at Anzalduas County Park

  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Osprey
  • American Coot
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Least Grebe
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • American Kestrel
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Gadwall
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Mexican Mallard
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Mottled Duck
  • Snowy Egret
  • Black Phoebe
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Wren sp. – (missed seeing its head)
  • Cormorant sp.

Decided to call it a day re: birding so went to the grocery store, came back to the motel, and did long overdue laundry.  Tomorrow we are headed to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and Edinburg Scenic Wetland Trails for more birding.  The weather is suppose to be around 73 degrees F and cloudy.  I whine about temperatures in the high 70s and above because we just don’t get those high temperatures in Homer Alaska in the summer.

3 February 2017

Woke up to fog and rain.  I wanted to get an early start at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge today, but with the fog there probably wasn’t a need to get there early.  Oh and the hundred of very small ants in our room slowed us down too.  They were marching along the ceiling, down the wall, and into the kitchenette.   We ended up changing rooms.  Not sure how they got in or why.  Usually ants go after sugar, but I didn’t have any sugar items left out.  Jack thinks they were attracted to the cooking skillet smelling of sausage links from the previous evening’s meal.  The pan was soaking in the sink.  Hmmm.

Got to the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge around 9:00 am just as the fog was lifting.  We birded the Chacalaca Trail (true to its name) and then ended up somehow on a USFWS service road.  A no-no.  Two staff members intercepted us to let us know we shouldn’t be on the road.  Of course when we came to a fork in the trail earlier there was no signage telling us which direction to take or that the road, that looks like a trail, was closed.  Usually USFWS has a multitude of “Closed” signs.  None at this fork.  The staff person was okay about us being there – just escorted us out onto the regular trail.  He wasn’t the most friendly person I’ve come across.   Jack should have told them that if a “Closed” sign had been there that no way would I have gone beyond the sign.  Of course one good thing about being on this trail, albeit illegally, was seeing a Common Yellowthroat.    It has been quite awhile since I’ve seen one of my favorite warblers.  Woohoo!!!

The refuge has a hawk tower (three towers actually, with a suspension bridge between two of them – I braved it).  We climbed one of the towers, but alas no raptors observed.  We did have some raptors later during our visit (e.g., three Harris Hawks together), but nothing out of the ordinary – such as a Gray Hawk.

Upon descending the hawk tower, we took the Pintail Trail that leads to several lakes.  These lakes were quite productive with waterfowl, waterbirds, shorebirds, and all three kingfishers:  Ringed, Green, and Belted.    We stayed in this area for about an hour birding.  Lots of birds to see.

In the end we observed 54 different species so quite a productive day of birding

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A portion of the Chacalaca Trail

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Mottled Ducks

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Plain Chacalaca

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The Chacalaca Trail

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My Sherpa – Jack

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Dead critter on the trail. If you’ve followed my blogs you know I like to photograph dead things.  Luckily I’ve never found a dead human.  That I would not photograph.

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Bird Blind as viewed from the service road

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Suspension bridge between canopy towers

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Hawk Tower and bridge

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Pintail Trail – not much bird activity. Occasionally we came across mixed flocks of warblers, kinglets, and gnatcatchers.

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Willow Lake – Pintail Trail

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Black-necked Stilts

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White Ibis

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Green-winged Teal

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Least Sandpiper

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Merlin

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Altamira Oriole

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Green Jay
  • Long-billed Thrasher
  • Couch’s Kingbird
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Great Kissadee
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Altamira Oriole
  • Killdeer
  • Carolina Wren
  • Gadwall
  • Mottled Duck
  • Northern Shoveler
  • American Coot
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Plain Chacalaca
  • Northern Pintail
  • Least Grebe
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Black-crested Titmouse
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • White Ibis
  • Great Egret
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Tricolored Heron
  • Green Kingfisher
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Lesser Yellowleg
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Merlin
  • Ringed Kingfisher
  • Snowy Egret
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Neotropical Cormorant
  • Common Gallinule
  • Sora
  • Harris’s Hawk
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Northern Cardinal

We spent 3.5 hours birding the refuge and had a great time.  We were happy to have a relatively cool (by Texas standards) day (long-sleeve weather).

To round out the day we went to another favorite birding spot – Edinburg Scenic Wetlands.   Yes the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is a must if you come down this way to bird, but so is the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, in where else – Edinburg, Texas.  We birded this small bird oasis for about an hour (it was cold and windy out) and managed to see 27 different species.   In January 2014 we got all three kingfishers here: Ringed, Green, and Belted, but this year no kingfishers.  There were plenty of waders though.

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Yes, the water in this canal really was this green

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Yellow-crowned Night Heron

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Least Grebe preening

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One of the trails – this one along the canal

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Cinnamon Teal

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Snowy Egret

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First time I’ve seen a Ruddy Duck out of water – they don’t walk so well with those feet so far back.  The bird’s stance makes me think of a penguin.

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Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teals

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No way was I going to go on to this boardwalk, even without the board across the railing

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Soaptree Yucca ready to bloom

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Great-tailed Grackle female

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Edinburg Scenic Wetlands

  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Anhinga
  • Osprey
  • Neotropical Cormorant
  • Least Grebe
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • American Coot
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Cattle Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Tricolored Heron
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Yellow-crowned Night Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Rudy Duck
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Great Kissadee
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • House Wren
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Inca Dove
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Green Jay

Tomorrow the plan is to visit Estero Llano Grande State Park.  We are hoping to catch good glimpses of the Tropical Parula and Rose-throated Becard spotted here recently.  Wish us luck.

4 February 2017

Woke to rain.  Forecast said light rain, but it seemed a little heavy to me.  Stopped by the time we got to Estero Llano Grande State Park, but we birded under cool conditions and cloudy skies.  This is another favorite area of ours.  You can always find the Common Paraque here – go to the Alligator Pond.  The birds usually roost close to the left-hand side of the trail  on the way to the viewing platform.  They camouflage well.

We spent three hours in the park walking the trails in search of birds.  They have feeders near the visitor center and if you are patient you can generally see the Buff-breasted Hummingbird, which is a resident of the park.   We did see the hummer.

A Rose-throated Becard has been spotted in the park near the Pavillion area, so off we went.   When we got there we found about 15 birders with their binos all pointed upwards.  So we hurried over and learned it wasn’t the Becard they were looking at, but theTropical Parula.  Woohoo!!!  Trip bird.  We did see this bird in 2014 at Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, but always happy to see it again.  The Rose-throated Becard, as you may recall, we saw in Arizona in January.  And if you see a large group of birders in one spot they are either with an organized group or they are all in search of a rare bird for the area.

We had a productive day at the park with a total of 50 birds observed, including 6 FOYs (First of Years).

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Cute directional bird toe prints showing the way

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Couch’s Kingbird

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Paved trail to Visitor Center

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Boardwalk

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Several ponds within the park – good for waders and waterfowl

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View of Visitor Center from one of the trails

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Vermillion Flycatcher – what a beauty

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Killdeer pair

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Male Green-winged Teal

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Least Grebe

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Male Blue-winged Teal

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Female Blue-winged Teal

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Oh yeah, alligator country

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Yellow-crowned Night Heron

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Common Paraque

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The other Common Paraque (one of the pair)

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Another view of the Common Paraque

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Alligator Pond

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Anhinga -doing a yoga pose or getting ready to dive

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There were lots of Yellow-crowned Night Heron roosting at the Alligator Pond, including this one

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Long-billed Thrasher

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Tricolored Heron – with ruffled feathers

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Ah, much better now

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Looking at the trail from the dike.  If you visit the park be sure and head over to the dike.  Lots of good birds on the other side.

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Immature Orange-crowned Warbler

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Little Blue Heron

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Alligator, oh my

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Buff-bellied Hummingbird

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The trunk on this cactus was thick – must be very old

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Birders flock together in search of the Tropical Parula

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Bougainvillea – oh so pretty

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Estero Llano Grande State Park

  • Couch’s Kingbird
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Great Kissadee
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Gadwall
  • Northern Shoveler
  • American Coot
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Least Grebe
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Vermillion Flycatcher
  • Common Gallinule
  • Snowy Egret
  • Mottled Duck
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Killdeer
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Tricolored Heron
  • Plain Chacalaca
  • Yellow-crowned Night Heron
  • Anhinga
  • Common Paraque
  • Curve-billed Thrasher
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Long-billed Thrasher
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • American Avocet
  • Tree Swallow
  • White-tailed Kite
  • Great Egret
  • American White Pelican
  • White-tailed Hawk
  • Lincoln Sparrow
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Black-crested Titmouse
  • Buff-breasted Hummingbird
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Tropical Parula
  • Black & White Warbler
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • raptor sp.

After leaving the park we headed to South Padre Island taking Highway 48.  We enjoy birding along this road, and in particular the Jamie Zapata Memorial Boat Ramp.  We were not disappointed.  We did see 26 species of birds, including 12 FOYs. This spot seems to be a favorite location for birds.  Most of the birds were some distance off so only got photos of the habitat.

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Bird Species Seen or Heard at Jamie Zapata Memorial Boat Ramp

  • Harris’s Hawk
  • Osprey
  • Snowy Egret
  • Great Egret
  • Brown Pelican
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Laughing Gull
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • American Osytercatcher
  • Willet
  • Black Skimmer
  • Caspian Tern
  • Royal Tern
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Herring Gull
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Tricolored Heron
  • Crested Caracara
  • Reddish Egret
  • Marbled Godwit
  • American Avocet
  • Yellow-crowned Night Heron

We are camping on the beach at South Padre Island, where we added the Sanderling to our list of trip birds.  Not a bad day – 19 trip birds (First of Years).  Today really was a great day to bird.

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The Gulf of Mexico from our camp spot on the beach

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Sanderling

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Willet

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Unfortunately the beach has a lot of trash

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Up close view of the previous photo

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This looks like it has been floating around for awhile

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Royal Terns

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Herring Gull

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We did walk the beach – Jack and Doodlebug

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Laughing Gull

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At first I thought this was a shoe string, but there was a lot of it on the beach. Not sure what it is???

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That is our white van

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Ruddy Turnstone …

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… stretching its wing

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Quiet reflection

Bird Species Seen or Heard at South Padre Island Beach

  • Willet
  • Sanderling
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Herring Gull
  • Laughing Gull
  • Royal Tern
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Ring-billed Gull

5 February 2017

Last night I woke up (around 2:45 am) to lights.  People were walking the beach.  So I watched.  I saw them move up towards the dunes and then run off.  Seems like there was a car there (found out the next morning in daylight).  I think they shone their lights in the car and found it occupied.  A couple from Minnesota with their child.  Earlier in the day the child was running between the car and the ocean.  I’m not sure what the parents were thinking – obviously they weren’t – because cars were driving up and down the beach and sometimes at ridiculously fast speeds.  The kid almost got hit by vehicles several times.

In the morning we visited Sabal Palm Sanctuary, an Audubon property managed by Gorges Science Foundation.  There is literally a fence between the sanctuary and the rest of Texas.  Who said we don’t have a wall.  While it may not cover the entire border between the U.S. and Mexico, there is an extensive wall (or fence) in place in many areas in both Texas and Arizona.  When we tried to visit this place in 2008 we were turned back by Border Patrol.  The sanctuary was off-limits to all.  Glad they are now allowing visitation of the sanctuary (since 2010).

I walked the Resaca and Vireo Trails.  Jack stayed back at the van with the dog.  Too hot and muggy today to leave her in the car alone.  At first it wasn’t very birdy, until I reached the Vireo trail where I started seeing some new birds, like a Nashville Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, and a Blue-headed Vireo.  Oh and I shouldn’t forget the Tropical Parula – not a new bird for the trip, but still a special one.  A young birder and his grandparents were ahead of me on the trail.  The young birder spotted the Parula.

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Historic 1892 Rabb Plantation House – Bird Sanctuary Headquarters

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Resaca Trail

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Vegetation was thick and dense in places

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Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Sabal Palm Sanctuary

  • Harris’s Hawk
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Olive Sparrow
  • Great Kissadee
  • Green Jay
  • Plain Chacalaca
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Tropical Parula
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Least Grebe
  • American Coot
  • Gadwall
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Buff-breasted Hummingbird
  • Golden-fronted Warbler

After Sabal Palm Sanctuary we drove out Boca Chica Road to the ocean.  Much of the land is USFWS – Lower Rio Grande NWR.  We were looking for the Apolmado Falcon, but no luck.  We did see a fair number of raptor species however, plus some shorebirds.  But alas, the birds were too far away for any decent photos.

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Bird Species Seen or Heard at Lower Rio-Grande NWR – Boca Chica

  • Harris’s Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Crested Caracara
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • American Kestrel
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Northern Pintail
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Reddish Egret (saw about 20 in one location)
  • Snowy Egret
  • Osprey
  • Great-tailed Grackle

We decided to head back to South Padre Island via Highway 48.  Along the way we had some good looks at a White-tailed Hawk.  No mistaking that bird in flight.  We were again hoping for the falcon, but no luck.  We stopped at Jamie Zapata Memorial Boat Ramp.  Boy what a difference a day makes or should I say the tides.  Today we stopped at about the same time as yesterday, but the tide today was higher.  With the land so flat here, even a foot variation in the tide can be substantial.

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American Oystercatcher

Bird Species Seen or Heard at James Zapata Memorial Boat Ramp

  • Tricolored Heron
  • Osprey
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Black Skimmer
  • American Oystercatcher
  • Royal Tern
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Laughing Gull
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Willet
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Brown Pelican

Before heading back to the beach a stop at the SPI (South Padre Island) Birding and Nature Center was in order.  The entrance fee is $5.00 per person – not a Texas State Park so the annual pass is not applicable.  They have boardwalks taking you through great bird habitat.  The volunteer said they had been doing some restoration work – taking out the cattails – which opened up lot more feeding habitat for the birds, such as the White Ibis.  There were a lot of White Ibis present.   About half-way through the trail Jack spotted a Sora creeping through the vegetation at the water’s edge.  We watched until it disappeared.  We continued on  the boardwalk and came upon three more Sora sightings.  Wow, what a rare treat.  Got some great photographs too.  For an hour’s worth of birding we saw 31 different species.  Not too bad a way to spend an hour.

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The entire trail is a raised boardwalk – that must have been expensive to build (but necessary).

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These Roseate Spoonbills were bathing

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Wow look at that color – beautiful

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There were a lot of Great Blue Heron hanging out in the area

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These were good size fish – not sure what kind

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Tricolored Heron

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Mottled Duck

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American Wigeon

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Mottled Duck swimming …

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… or is that bathing?

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Great Egret

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Great Blue Heron

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Area where cattails were removed

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Another Great Blue Heron

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My what strange toes you have …

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… Mr. American Coot

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Never noticed the red on the Common Gallinule’s feet

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We all love the Common Yellowthroat, Common Yellowthroat, Common Yellowthroat… (sung to Yellow Submarine)

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Sora

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Out on the boardwalk …

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I think this is a Blue Land Crab

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Savannah Sparrow

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Hibiscus

Bird Species Seen or Heard at the SPI World Birding Center

  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Mottled Duck
  • American Coot
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • American Wigeon
  • Redhead
  • Northern Pintail
  • Great Egret
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Common Gallinule
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Willet
  • Black Skimmer
  • Reddish Egret
  • Royal Tern
  • Snowy Egret
  • Sora
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Tricolored Heron
  • White Ibis
  • Laughing Gull
  • Marsh Wren

We decided to overnight at the beach again.  We got here about 3:30 pm and the beach was packed with weekend party/beachgoers.  Crazy.  Jack and I are just waiting for them to leave.  We hope they don’t stay too late, tomorrow is work day for many.

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Laughing Gull

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Speaking of tomorrow, the plan is to leave South Padre Island and head to Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christie.

6 February 2017

Wow what a day.  I was checking out eBird alerts for the Aplomado Falcon and saw that someone had seen it on Old Port Isabel Road yesterday.  I clicked on the map associated with the sighting and found that Old Port Isabel Road so I said to Jack “Let’s go check out this road.  Maybe we will see the falcon”.  So off we went.  The road was dirt and in places very muddy.  We were half way down the road when we got stuck in the mud.  We spent about 30 minutes trying to get unstuck.  We cut some grass and placed it in the tracks. I found an old carpeted floor mat – worked great.  We found a few other items, which all helped in our effort to get out of the muddy ruts.  I even pushed.  Of course I got a little muddy in the process.  And did we see the falcon – Noooooooooooo.  Oh, but while we were on the Old Port Isabel Road we did see several Sandhill Cranes.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sandhill Cranes in Texas before.

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And this was the good section of road

From there we went to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.  This is our third visit to the refuge.  I have to admit it is not one of my favorite refuges, but I go hoping to see the falcon.  Again we got skunked.  I was also hoping we might see an Ocelot crossing the road, but that was not to be either.  We walked, in the hot heat, to the Alligator Pond, which was dry.  Today was not our day.

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Trail near Visitor Center

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The vegetation in this refuge is the densest I’ve seen anywhere. Maybe that is why to Ocelot likes it here.

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Alligator pond was dry – and thus no alligators

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Crested Caracara
  • Turkey Vulture
  • American Kestrel
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Green Jay
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Black-crested Titmouse
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • White Ibis
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Pied-billed Grebe

From the refuge we drove to Padre Island National Seashore and the Malaquite campground.  We got there around 6:15 pm to find the campground full.  For $4.00 per night (with the old geezer pass) it stays busy.  So off we went to the Bird Island Basin Campground where we luckily found a spot (parking lot style camping).  At that campground we paid only $2.50 to camp (with the old geezer pass).

Okay I must complain.  Who designs the campgrounds for the National Park Service (NPS)?  I don’t think these people have ever been camping before.  The campgrounds are atrocious.  I will admit I have not been to all NPS campground, but I have been to many.  The campgrounds at Padre Island National Seashore are essentially parking lots turned into campgrounds.  At the Bird Island Basin campground, I saw a small RV stuck between two of those really large motorhomes.  You know the ones, a mobile home on wheels.  The small RV was dwarfed next to those large monstrosities.   I think the only NPS campground I’ve been to that I actually like is one at Denali National Park in Alaska.  I guess they are better than nothing, but sometimes not much better.

Next up … the Central Coast of Texas

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

Birding Far West Texas (Big Bend area)

January 25, 2017

After a long day’s drive we arrived at Davis Mountain State Park near Fort Davis, Texas.  This campground is known for the best little bird blind in Texas.  They actually have two bird blinds.  Of course as soon as we got to one of them this morning the park volunteer decided to refresh the feeders, although the only feeders needing food were the one’s they put peanut butter in the holes.  This volunteer was definitely not a birder.  The park is known for Montezuma Quail but we didn’t manage any of the trails to search for that elusive bird.  Our friend Bob said they used to come to the feeders.

When I went to sign in at the Interpretive Center the name immediately above mine (from  yesterday) was Cindy Mom who lives in Seldovia, Alaska.  Small world.  Cindy has been generous in painting several 6×6 inch canvases for the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival the past two years.  Thank you Cindy.

We decided not to spend a second night at the campground as the winds were expected to increase in the afternoon – wind warnings of 25+ mph.  Little hard to cook dinner in those conditions, hike, or bird.  Good day for traveling.

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Black-crested Titmouse at a water drip

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White-winged Dove. This is the place to go in the winter time for these birds. They were everywhere.

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Dark-eyed Junco

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Chipping Sparrow

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Bird Species Seen or Heard at Davis Mountain State Park

  • Black-crested Titmouse
  • White-winged Dove
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Western Bluebird
  • House Finch
  • Mourning Dove
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • Canyon Towhee
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • House Sparrow

Off we went to Big Bend National Park, with a stop at the McDonald Observatory Visitor Center.  The Observatory is a short distance from Davis Mountain SP so if you are in to star programs they offer a daytime and evening program.  Jack explored the visitor center by himself (Jack says you have to like learning about spectrometry…).  I stayed in the car to read – hoping that a bird or two would fly by.  Nope.

For our travel route, we took a portion of a scenic loop hoping for birds, but other than birds of prey – hawks, harriers, and shrikes – we didn’t see any birds.  Did come across a family of Javalinas, including a small one.  So cute – at least I think so.

Finally made it to Big Bend around 3:00 pm, and our campground (Cottonwood) around 4:00 pm.  What a surprise in store for us – an almost full campground.  This campground is along the Rio Grande River – yes I can see Mexico from my window – and has 24 sites.  When we arrived there were only 4 sites left, and none of them that good unless you want to be able to spit at your neighbor.  Yes, very close together.  We chose site #1, which unfortunately was near the only drinking water source, the garbage cans, and the recycle station.  Oh, and the check-in kiosk.  But the best of the four sites.

We’ve stayed at this campground two previous times and at most we had 8 other campers, and the last time, maybe 3.  Not sure what the draw is this year.  And I don’t know if we will stay another night or not.  Decisions, decisions.

After getting our camp set up I did walk the campground loop, short as it is, in search of birds.  Only saw nine species (another two were seen on the way to the campground), but that is okay.  I guess there are two Great Horned Owls in the are, and I did spot one of them in the cottonwood tree just waiting until nightfall to pick off those birds hawking from the nearby trees (Yellow-rumped Warblers and Vermillion Flycatchers).  Or maybe it will find the rabbit I found hiding in the brush.

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Vermillion Flycatcher – so brilliant in the afternoon sun.  We had two males at our campground

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Saw this nest on the ground and noted there was plastic used in its construction

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Desert Hare, I believe.  This little hare was in the trees hiding from predators

Bird Species Seen or Heard in Big Bend National Park

  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Harrier
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Vermillion Flycatcher
  • Ladderback Woodpecker
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Crissel Thrasher
  • Golden-Fronted Woodpecker
  • Red-naped Sapsucker

January 26, 2017

After a late start (we had a guy from New Mexico stop to talk to us for about an hour – everyone is intrigued about AK) we decided to hike the Santa Elana Canyon Trail, located 8 miles from our campground.  We’ve hiked this trail before.  One needs to cross a shallow river (or what’s left of it) to reach the trail into the majestic slot canyon.  The trail parallels the Rio Grande, with the U.S. on one side and Mexico on the other – of course.  The canyon is 8 miles long.  Would love to float it someday.

We did see 11 different species along the trail, generally a mixed flock, composed primarily of  Yellow-rumped Warblers.   We did get several good views of Canyon Wrens, including one instance where a Canyon Wren chased off a Rock Wren.

After the hike we went back to the campground and just hung out for the remainder of the day.  Nice to just sit back and relax once in a while.  I know Jack appreciates it.  We did decide to stay here another night.  Tomorrow we will head to the Rio Village Campground on the other side of the park.  This campground is much bigger and being as it is a Friday, the campground will probably be busy.

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A Javelina family came into the campground at least once each day. Liked the grass.

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View from our campground

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He’s back …

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There were lots of Loggerhead Shrikes throughout the park. Killer bird.

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So sad we have to have so many “DO NOT” … The National Park Service, in most instances, does not allow dogs on trail, including at Big Bend. Of course there are always a few people who feel the rules don’t apply to them and bring their dogs. While I love dogs, the rules are there for a reason.

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The Rio Grande River

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Say’s Phoebe. They look so much lighter here than in Arizona.

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Santa Elana Canyon

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Our trail into the canyon

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Rock Wren

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This Canyon Wren chased the Rock Wren away

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Rio Grande from the Santa Elana trail. Mexico is on the right.

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A view up the Canyon. The canyon walls were very tall.

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The narrow trail in the canyon.

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Cactus in Texas have much longer thorns

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Rock Squirrel

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I love the way it is holding its paws. Almost like “gee whiz, what is a squirrel to do. Should I run, should I hide.  Oh me, oh my …”

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Me on the trail in Santa Elana Canyon

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I am so glad this rock decided to stay in place. I wonder if one of these days it will topple.

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Northern Rough-winged Swallow

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This Greater Roadrunner was in the campground and allowed me to get quite close to take his photograph

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Great Horned Owl in the campground looking annoyed at all the people taking its photograph, or maybe just sleepy

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Cottonwood Campground

  • Great Horned Owl
  • Ladderback Woodpecker
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  • Inca Dove
  • White-winged Dove
  • Vermillion Flycatcher
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Greater Roadrunner
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Black Phoebe

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Santa Elana Trail and Road to the Trail

  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Gadwall
  • Black Phoebe
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Verdin
  • Black-throated Sparrow (now my favorite all time sparrow)
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Canyon Wren
  • Rock Wren
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Lincoln Sparrow
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Northern Mockingbird

January 27, 2017

Got an early start and headed to the Rio Grande Village Campground – it only took us around four hours to drive about 50 miles.  We did the touristy thing and stopped at the Sotol Vista, San Nail Ranch (for birds), and the Panther Visitor Center.

Yesterday I spoke with a woman who had stopped off at the Sam Nail Ranch to bird.  There is a windmill with a water spiket of sorts – where birds come from miles around to drink.  There is a lot of vegetation too, so good places for the birds to hide.  She said she saw a lot of species there including a Gray Catbird.  Today was a different story, although we went about the same time of day as she did.  We did see the Gray Catbird, but the only other species we observed were two Northern Mockingbirds and a Northern Cardinal.  I think the wind – gusting to 20+ miles per hour – had something to do with the lack of birds, and other birders present.

We got to the Rio Grande Village Campground around noon.  There weren’t too many open camping spots left.  There are sites in the open (most) or sites in the trees (few).  We chose a site in the trees for more privacy, plus you can see birds working the trees like Bewick’s Wren and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher or working under the trees like the White-winged Dove.

We had a relatively lazy afternoon.  Not too much fun trying to hike or bird in windy conditions.  I did the nature trail that leads from the campground.  There is a wetland along the trail, but the only species I observed was the Pied-billed Grebe.

Oh and we did see a Coyote alongside the road on the way to the campground.  I was surprised it was so close to the road.  Beautiful creature.

Not sure what we will do tomorrow – stay another day or move on.  Might depend in part on how windy it is outside.  Our next destination is about 200 miles away so if it is too windy again we may just move on.   Hate to waste a nice day traveling.

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Northern Shrike

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Sotol Vista view

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Pond near the Rio Grande Village Campground – take the Nature Trail

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Items for sale along the trail.  Of course it is illegal to purchase such items.

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View from the trail looking into Mexico

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A Mexican on his caballo herding goats

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Rock Wren

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Rock Wren

Bird Species Seen or Heard in Big Bend National Park this day

  • House Finch
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Ladderback Woodpecker
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • White-winged Dove
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Common Raven
  • Gray Catbird
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Vermillion Flycatcher
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Inca Dove
  • Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Rock Wren

January 28, 2017

Strong winds and light rains last night.  Shook our van pretty good several times.  So glad we are not in a tent.  Watched one couple try to put their tent up in the wind.  Not easy. But today, blue skies and light winds so we decided to stay another night at the Rio Grande Village campground.

Drove over to the general store, parked, and then birded the Group Campground.  Good birds, including Black-throated Gray Warblers – both the female and the male.  We then headed towards the Hot Springs trailhead and as we were driving down the road we spotted a Bobcat.  A ranger later stopped us to inform us about the Bobcat, so even after 30+ minutes the Bobcat was still in the general area.  Hope others had the opportunity to see the Bobcat too, although the speed some people drive the roads I doubt they see much.  Is it me or do Texas have a need for speed?

We ventured off  to Boquillas Canyon to hike the 1.4-mile trail to the mouth of the canyon.   Along the trail there were several opportunities to purchase Mexican made items.  Of course you don’t want to get caught having purchased such items unless you want to be arrested for possession of contraband.

Also learned that if you were to wade across the Rio Grande – a little deep right now – and then came back into the U.S. you have entered the U.S. illegally, regardless of whether you are American and have a passport with you.  The fine is up to $5,000 and one year in jail.  That applies too if you are in a raft and you exit the raft on the Mexican side.  You can only do this in an emergency.  I wonder if a potty break is considered an emergency?  Would be for me.

Did see a flycatcher that I wasn’t able to quite identify.  I think it could be an Ash-throated, Dusky-capped, or Brown-crested Flycatcher.  I hate flycatchers.   I do think they are harder to id than sparrows and I find some sparrows difficult.  Give me a shorebird any day.

Made a stop at the Hot Spring.  Jack remembers our last visit and soaking in his feet in the warm water after a hot, 2.8-mile one-way, hike to the springs.

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Brown Thrasher in the campground – notice his face. He has some kind of infection.

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Brown Thrasher (again notice the face)

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Black-throated Gray Warbler

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This bird was very accommodating while I photographed it

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Bobcat

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Unfortunately no Common Black Hawk sightings

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Heron or Egret?

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View from the Hot Spring trail parking lot

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Rainbow Cactus

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More Roadrunners

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Flycatcher – could be one of three: Ash-throated, Dusky-capped, or Brown-crested.  Any idea?

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More items for sale. I like the plea for education funds

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Boquillos Canyon

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Another one of those hard to id Flycatchers. I think this one is a Dusky-capped Flycatcher? Anyone know for sure?

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Same bird, different lighting. Unfortunately the bird didn’t really show its breast.

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Nest

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We were wondering it this particular nest belonged to a hummingbird.  The nest was quite small.

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Flowers of a Soaptree Yucca. So beautiful. I understand they are edible.

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HIllside on the way into the hot springs

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Love the geology here

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Bird Species Seen or Heard around Rio Grande Village (general area)

  • Vermillion Flycatcher
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  • Black-throated Gray Warbler
  • Greater Roadrunner
  • American Kestrel
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Inca Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Canyon Wren
  • Verdin
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • House Finch
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • Song Sparrow
  • Northern Flicker (red-sharfted)
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Black Phoebe
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  • American Pipit
  • Black Vulture
  • Common Raven
  • Black-throated Sparrow
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Rock Wren
  • White-winged Dove

Tomorrow we will be a long day of driving so not much birding along the way.

January 29, 2017

Almost hated to leave Big Bend National Park, although I prefer the Cottonwood Campground to the Rio Village Campground.  Fewer people.

We stopped at the Dugout Wells to check for birds, especially Scaled Quail.  They are supposed to be common in the park, but alas no sightings during our stay.  We did, however, see several Scaled Quail near our campground at Amistad National Recreational Area (NRA) – Governor’s Landing Campground.  Woohoo!!!  Of course whenever I tried to get close for a photo, off they went.  Camera shy I guess.

The drive to Amistad NRA was long and through high desert, with not much wildlife.  Birds observed along the way were primarily Loggerhead Shrike and Northern Mockingbirds.  Both are hard to miss in the desert.

We stopped for lunch in Marathon, Texas.  This is a small town with only a few places to eat.  At the Oasis Café we were told there would be a 40-minute wait for food (small grill, busy place).  Too long for my growling stomach.  This popular restaurant served burgers and Mexican Food.  So off down the road we went – oh about 1/8 miles – to V6 a café serving breakfast and lunch.  Unfortunately, they don’t serve breakfast all day.  We had a nice lunch.  The food was good.  No hamburgers here.  Healthy food (except for the potato chips).  This place looked like something you would find in a big city, not a small town of maybe, and I mean maybe, 1.000 people.  The decor reminded me of New York, San Francisco, or Seattle.  I was surprised  also to find at least two different art galleries here.

Our campsite for the night – Governor’s Landing, Amistad NRA – is just off the highway so there is a lot of highway noise.  This small, 15-site campground, in the past, has generally been at least half full.  Today only one other camper – at least so far (as of 6:30 pm).

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Big Bend NP but reminds  me  of the Painted Hills in Oregon

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Chisos Mountains

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White-crowned Sparrow

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There was an interpretive trail at Dugout Wells. Lots of great cactus species present, but not all of them named – like this one.

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Purple-tinted Prickly Pear Cactus

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Blind Prickly Pear Cactus – they only have very small thorns

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Engelmann’s Prickly Pear Cactus

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Black-throated Sparrow

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Cactus skeleton

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These are like daggers

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Great-tailed Grackles

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Not another NOMO (Northern Mockingbird). We got to the point we kept saying No More or No Mas

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View of Amistad Reservoir from our picnic shelter campsite

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Another view of the reservoir

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Cactus Wren in the evening light

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This Northern Mockingbird was preening

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Armistad NR.

  • Great Egret
  • Common Loon
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Black-throated Sparrow
  • American Coot
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Canyon Towhee
  • Cactus Wren
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Scaled Quail
  • Northern Cardinal

Tomorrow we head on down the road to Falcon State Park.  We will be here for several days, birding the area.  Hope to see some good birds.  I will keep you posted in a future blog.

Until then …

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

Birding New Mexico

January 20, 2017

We left Portal Arizona today for New Mexico.  We took the less-traveled back roads (allowing us to stop more readily for birds) – Highway 9.  Along the way, we spotted  some cattle pens near the road so we stopped to check it out for birds.  After about 15 minutes a couple in an ATV came roaring up and a guy, not so kindly, asked us to leave as we were on private property.  (Ma’am, you’re on private property). Yeah, that’s me a cattle rustler or a person with PETA documenting the poor treatment of the cattle, which in fact was occurring – in my honest opinion.

Our campground for the night – Rock Hound State Park – was nearly full.  Only two spots left in the non-electrical portion of the campground.  We were hoping for electric so we could turn on our heater, but alas no electrical sites available. New Mexico and Arizona are experiencing winter weather conditions – rain, snow, and fierce wind.  Luckily we didn’t need the electricity to stay warm.

I was going to make a list of the birds we saw/heard at Rock Hound State Park, but there were only three of them: Curve-billed Thrasher, Red-tailed Hawk, and a Great Horned Owl (heard).  Because of the wind, we didn’t linger.

January 21, 2017

Last night it rained, and rained, and rained on our ‘tin tent’.  The winds continued throughout the night as well.  Luckily we didn’t get any snow, although there was snow on the nearby mountains.

We broke camp and headed to our destination for the night – Percha Dam State Park.  Again, we took the back roads.  Not many birds out and about in the winds, but at least the rain stopped.  When we got to Percha Dam State Park, which is supposed to have good birding year round, we decided not to stay.  We just didn’t like the campground.  About ten miles to the NE is the Caballo Lake State Park, so we decided to stay there instead.  And we got an electric site.  Woohoo!!!  Now I can recharge camera batteries, charge iPads and my iMac devices, and use the heater tonight, if necessary.  Right now the wind is whipping, it’s a whipping good – about 24 mph.

We did walk down to the water’s edge and saw a few birds on the lake – Common Merganser, gull sp., grebe sp. and the old faithful American Coot.  Oh, and a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet working the trees and bushes near the lake despite the wind. So for this area – only the four species, plus a Common Raven fly-over.

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Snow on the mountain tops near Rock Hound State Park

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Caballo Lake (boy was it windy – hard to walk as it felt like you were going to get blown over or away).

January 22, 2017

Wow, what a difference a day makes – when the wind isn’t blowing.  We only stayed in camp for an hour as we fixed and ate breakfast and then put a few things away, but we got a few more species.

We drove north to take in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge before the winds return again tomorrow.  Supposed to be windy for the next several days.  Tomorrow we will head south towards the White Sands National Monument where high winds, luckily, are not predicted.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, consisting of 57,331-acre acres, was established in 1939.  The friends group holds a Sandhill Crane festival each year in November.  The cranes are the refuge draw during the winter months were thousands of cranes gather to feed, roost, and preen.  The refuge offers an auto tour route – north loop and south loop – along with a number of trails.  During the winter months, dogs aren’t allowed outside of vehicles so we only drove the auto tour route.  Still that took us almost four hours to complete.  Along the route and at the visitor center we saw or heard a total of 41 different species, of which four were FOYs (First of Years).  One of the cranes we observed was tagged (transmitter and two bands).  Will report the sighting to the refuge and International Crane Foundation.  Being as this was a Sunday, there was a fair amount of traffic on the auto tour route.

The bird of the day was the Golden-crowned Kinglet.  For some reason I did not expect to see that particular species at the refuge.  Normally when I see this kinglet it is flitting about high in the trees.  Today, the kinglet was much lower to the ground making identification and viewing much more easy and enjoyable.