alaskabirder

Its a Great Day to Bird

Month: March 2017

New Mexico

2 March 2017

We left the high plains of Texas and arrived on the high plains of New Mexico around 11:00 am Central time/10:00 Mountain time.  We had to decide whether to go north or to go south – eventually choosing to head to northern New Mexico.  We drove through Fort Sumner, New Mexico, the burial place of Billy the Kid, but didn’t stop to see his grave, eat any Billy the Kid burgers, or visit the Billy the Kid Museum.

We arrived at Santa Rosa Lake State Park (near Santa Rosa, New Mexico) around 1:30 pm – our campsite for the night.  This is a nice state park.  They have three campgrounds, but one is closed, the other is for tent camping, and the third one – the one we are in – has only one of two loops open.  And it wasn’t filled thank goodness.  At 6:00 pm there are six other campers in a loop with 20 sites.

We walked the Shoreline Trail (about 2.5 miles total) and checked out the scenery and birds.  Not many birds, but still fun to see species we haven’t seen in awhile – like Canyon Towhees.

After our walk, we chilled out at our campsite – me literally (cold wind).  The day was beautiful however with sunny skies.  We hadn’t seen much sun over the past several weeks so today was a treat.

The Shoreliine Trail – rocky in places

Santa Rose Lake (a reservoir lake)

I saw this impression in the rock. Not sure what made it???

Common Loon

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Santa Rosa Lake State Park:

  • American Robin
  • Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay
  • Common Raven
  • Common Loon
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Canyon Towhee
  • American Coot
  • White-winged Dove
  • Juniper Titmouse
  • Western Bluebird
  • Bushtit (one of my favorite birds)

There were a number of waterfowl on the lake, but this is one large lake and they were too far away to identify, even with binoculars and I left my spotting scope back at the campground.

3 March 2016

Another cold morning.  Ate a quick breakfast and then drove to the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge.  This 8,672 acre refuge was established in 1965.  We drove the roads (there aren’t many), stopping at a few viewing locations.  We saw 29 species, but it helped that many of them were waterfowl.  We did have a large flock  of Sandhill Cranes foraging on the refuge.

Refuge sign – note the winter boots and coat

Plenty of grasslands …

… and a few lakes and ponds

American Tree Sparrow

This lake is near the visitor center. When we first arrived the lake was occupied by two swans and a lot of waterfowl.  As we were walking the trail at the visitor center, several large flocks of Snow and Canada Geese flew in to the pond.

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Western Meadowlark
  • Canada Goose
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Northern Pintail
  • American Wigeon
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Gadwall
  • Redhead
  • Canvasback
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Tundra Swan
  • Mallard
  • Snow Goose
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • American Coot
  • American Tree Sparrow
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • American Goldfinch
  • Northern Flicker
  • Common Raven
  • Greater Roadrunner (state bird of New Mexico – how fitting to see it in New Mexico)
  • Sandhill Crane
  • American Kestrel

From the refuge we drove about 90 miles north to visit another refuge – Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge.  This 3,700-acre refuge was established (I think) in 1965, and is composed of short grass prairie, playa lakes, wetlands, woodlots, and agricultural fields.  They also have free primitive camping (vault toilets and garbage cans provided).  I had thought about staying here because, well its free, however, with the cold nights (high 20s, low 30s) I wanted electricity to fire up our electric heater.  So we had two options – Sugarite Canyon State Park and Cimarron Canyon State Park.  I had downloaded the maps for both parks and found that both campgrounds were open.  Since Cimarron Canyon State Park is located closer to our destination tomorrow I suggested to Jack that we go to this state park.  So we did.  When we got there (the park is at 7,800+ feet elevation, with snow on the ground) we found out that this campground does NOT provide electricity.  Guess I didn’t do my homework very well.  So instead of braving the cold and spending $10.00, we decided to drive into Taos and get a room at a motel – for ten times the amount.  I went on line a booked a room at the Sagebrush Inn and Suites.  If you like a big inn (i.e., lots of rooms), then this is the place for you.  I prefer much smaller accommodations.

We did see some good birds at Maxwell National Wildlife, including a number of Bald and Golden Eagles.  The Bald Eagles were circling over one of the lakes in search of a duck ala refuge.  While we were watching, the ducks were winning, although I did see a Bald Eagle in a tree munching on something – most likely a bird.  In all we had 30 different bird species.  While we had about 150 Sandhill Cranes at Las Vegas NWR we only saw 2 at Maxwell NWR.   Both refuges go on our life list of new refuges visited.

Mawell NWR refuge sign

Jack scoping (literally) out the lake for waterfowl

Bald Eagle

We saw these Pronghorn antelope near Taos

The “Palisades” along Hwy 64 (and within Cimarron Canyon State Park)

Mule deer near Taos

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Western Meadowlark
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Redhead
  • American Wigeon
  • Northern Pintail
  • Canada Goose
  • Tundra Swan
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Bufflehead
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Canvasback
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Cackling Goose
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • American Coot
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Bald Eagle
  • Golden Eagle
  • Northern Harrier
  • Pine Siskin
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • Common Raven
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Great Blue Heron

4 March 2017

Our destination for tonight is Los Alamos.  An Alaskan friend’s mother lives there and our friend was visiting and invited us to their ‘refuge.’  Along the way we stopped at the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.  We walked on the Rio Grande Gorge bridge sidewalks for a distance to check out the scenery and get photos.  If you don’t like heights, this is not the place for you.  On each side of the bridge they have these viewing decks — bump outs as I would call them, that are about 6 feet x 4 feet.  I was okay on the sidewalk, but I had a problem standing on these bump outs.  And I guess people have taken a nose dive off the bridge (suicide) as they have a device that allows you to push a “crisis” button if you are thinking about jumping.  It is a 565 feet leap (172 m) from the bridge down to the Rio Grande River.  Yikes!!!  Why would someone want to jump, although Jack did say he would bungee jump from the bridge.  Now that is crazy too.

There is a nine-mile trail (one-way) along the gorge.  We walked about two-miles out and back.  At one point a female Bighorn Sheep came towards us walking.  The sheep was between the trail and the edge of the canyon.  She quietly walked past  – maybe within 10 feet of us.  Amazing.  Guess she knew at that point the way down was suicidal even for a nimble sheep.  Further along the trail, I went to the edge to look over and down, and happened to see two Bighorn Sheep rams resting on the rocks about a 1/3 of the way down into the canyon.  Further out on this lip of the canyon were four female or young sheep.  Amazing creatures how they can travel so easy along these steep canyon walls.

Help anyone?

View of the Rio Grande River looking north from the Gorge bridge

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn (Ram) Sheep

Trail

Sage Sparrow

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Rio Grande del Norte National Monument:

  • Cactus Wren
  • House Finch
  • Common Raven
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Sage Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco

We got to our friends’ home at Los Alamos around 1:30 pm, and upon our arrival Jack and I both decided this is a place we could live.  The town is built on top of three Mesa so growth is curtailed.  The Mesa canyons offer greenbelt trails.  Nice!  When we took our year-long trip around the United States we only came across a couple of places that really drew our interest in living should we ever decide to move from Alaska.  Los Alamos is now on our list of places worth pursuing further.  Whenever we go through a town we tell each other whether this is a town we could live in.  There have been a lot of resounding NO’s along the way.

View from a gorge trail in Los Alamos

Interesting rocks along one of the three gorges in Los Alamos

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Los Alamos, New Mexico:

  • Mountain Chickadee
  • Canyon Wren
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Northern Flicker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Acorn Woodpecker
  • Brown Creeper
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Steller’s Jay

5 March 2017

On the first Sunday of each month in Los Alamos there is a Sheriff’s Posse Breakfast.  For $7.00 (all you can eat) you get eggs, bacon or sausage, and pancakes.  Today they offered Blueberry Pancakes, Plain Pancakes, Chocolate Chip Pancakes, Banana Pancakes, and a Key Lime Pancake with a special Key Lime sauce (St. Patrick’s).  I went for the blueberry pancakes, but took a bite of Jack’s Key Lime Pancake.  It wasn’t too bad.  Pretty mild regarding the key lime taste, but then he didn’t get the “very” green key lime sauce.  A good meal for a good price, and each month the proceeds go to a different non-profit group or organization.  Today the proceeds went to the Sheriff’s Department Scholarship Fund.  Education is ALWAYS a worthy cause.

After breakfast we headed towards our next campsite for the night.  We had originally intended to camp at Bluewater Lake State Park in New Mexico, but since they only have eight sites with electricity, and tonight is supposed to be in the low 30s, we didn’t want to chance not getting an electrical site.  I am becoming such a weather wimp.  So, we drove an extra 100 miles or so to Lyman Lake State Park in Arizona.  This is a nice campground.  We easily got an electrical site – we have the entire campground to ourselves.  I was surprised to find no one else here when we arrived.  And the winds are a whipping, a whipping good – 15-20 miles per hour.  One had to really hold on tight when opening the van door.  The campsite has a wind shelter, but still too fierce a wind so another night of no cooking.   A camper is looking better all the time.  The only disadvantage to staying here (AZ) rather than in New Mexico is it costs twice as much for an electrical site.  New Mexico at $14.00 per night for water and electric is VERY reasonable.

Tomorrow we arrive back in Sedona for the remainder of March.  I may post periodic blogs on any hiking or birding trips we take.  Until then ….

It’s a Great Day to Bird

 

Northern Texas/Southern Oklahoma

24 February 2017

Yesterday as we were driving to Caddo Lake State Park (Texas) for the night we saw a sign for a National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).  I had not seen one on the road map so I googled (I love Google) Texas NWRs and a map appeared with the names of all the NWRs in Texas, including the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  Well that settled our plans for the morning –a visit to a newly discovered refuge.

The Caddo Lake is a 28,000-32,000-acre lake, depending upon the water levels.  It is the only naturally occurring lake in Texas, or so I read.  The refuge adjoins a small portion of the lake.  The Caddo Lake NWR was established in 1980, and is a portion of the former, approximately 8,500-acre, Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant.   The refuge has an auto tour route along miles of former military roads, along with hiking and biking trails.  While there are over 216 species of birds recorded in the refuge,  we only saw 22 and surprisingly none of them were waders (e.g., herons, egrets) or waterfowl.  The big surprise of the visit was the really friendly refuge staff.  Every time a refuge service vehicle passed they stopped to see if we were okay and if there was anything we needed.  Most times refuge staff in service vehicles simply pass us by.

In 1993, a portion of the Caddo Lake NWR and its wetlands became the 13th site in the United States designated as a Ramsar wetland – wetlands of International importance under the Ramsar Convention.  This is a big deal since there is strict criteria to become a Ramsar site.

This boardwalk/fishing pier is at Caddo Lake State Park

View from the pier

Refuge sign

Northern Flicker

Auto Tour Road

Caddo Lake

Maybe this is for people who are driving in the dark???

Cedar Waxwings

Remnants of the old ammunition buildings

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Blue Jay
  • Killdeer
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Northern Flicker
  • American Crow
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Northern Cardinal
  • American Robin
  • Mourning Dove
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Pine Warbler
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Song Sparrow
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Brown-headed Nuthatch
  • Chipping Sparrow

After spending a couple of hours at the refuge in search of birds – oh I almost forgot, we also saw a mink – we spent the next four hours driving to our next campground – Bonham Lake State Park, near Dallas-Fort Worth.  This is a small, 21 site campground situated adjacent to the 65-acre Bonham Lake.  We got to the campground around 3:30 pm, and there were no other campers in the RV loop, and although people can make reservations it is essentially a first come, first serve campground.  That is, you can reserve your site type (tent or RV), but not a specific site.  Therefore, being first, we got to choose any site we wanted.  Sweet!!!.  We found a somewhat isolated, hopefully quiet site (turned out not to be so when a group of young boys and their fathers showed up later and camped next to us).

We set up camp then birded the area.  Right around the campground birds were busy feeding on bugs and berries.  We had eight different species just around our small campsite. The big surprise was a Brown Creeper.  We then walked about a half mile along the camp road birding as we went.  We were so intent on birds that we failed to see a bobcat along the road until it flushed.  Wow! a bobcat.  That was fun to see.  And to think, it was right beside the road when it bounded away from us.  Darn, I wish I had gotten a frontal view.  In all we had 19 different bird species – almost as good as at the refuge, and in a shorter period of time birding too.

When we got back to the campsite a male Cardinal had been and continued attacking our mirrors thinking it was chasing off a competitor.  We had to cover the mirrors least it destroyed them or itself.

Yellow-rumped Warblers …

… were numerous at the campground

Golden-crowned Kinglet – for once this bird wasn’t 30+ feet off the ground

Fox Squirrel

Northern Cardinal – who goes there?

Away with you, she’s mine

Killdeer

Bath time – American Robins

Bonham Lake

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Bonham Lake State Park

  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Canada Goose
  • American Coot
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • American Crow
  • Brown Creeper
  • American Robin
  • Blue Jay
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Carolina Wren
  • Cedar Waxwing

25 February 2017

We left the campground early and headed to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  This is a new refuge for us too.  The 11,320-acre refuge was established in 1946.  They have a nice, new visitor center overlooking a portion of the refuge, which includes a part of Lake Texoma.  The refuge offers a wildlife drive (4-miles round trip) and a number of hiking trails.  We took a portion of the Haller’s Heaven Nature Trail, beginning in the Goode Day Use Area.

We saw a total of 44 different bird species (not bad, not bad at all), including a FOY (first of year ) – Harris’s Sparrow.  I was thrilled to see this bird as I have not seen it in over ten years.  Woohoo!!!

The refuge sign was behind a barbed wire fence, which I chose not to cross

Great Blue Heron

Snow Goose, including several dark morphs

Eastern Meadowlark

The Haller’s Heaven Nature Trail

There was actually a picnic table here

Not a problem for us. Sometimes I think people could walk faster than we drive when we are out searching for, and looking at, birds.

Nice sign in front of the visitor center

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Eastern Bluebird
  • American Robin
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Killdeer
  • Northern Cardinal
  • American Crow
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Gadwall
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Snow Goose
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • American Coot
  • Northern Pintail
  • Green-winged Teal
  • American Wigeon
  • Bufflehead
  • Northern Harrier
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Mallard
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Field Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Blue Jay
  • Carolina Wren
  • Lincoln Sparrow
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Harris’s Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • American White Pelican

After spending a couple of hours touring the refuge it was time to head to the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, which meant driving almost 200 miles.  Along the way we saw a lot of dead animals along the road shoulders –mostly skunks.  Must be mating time or raging hormones as we’ve seen a lot of dead roadside skunks.  Each time I tell Jack another animal committed suicide.  I’m sure many of these poor animals (skunks, opossum, armadillo, and raccoons) are killed at night.

We got to the refuge around 3:30 pm, got a campsite in the Doris campground (Yes!!!  This refuge has a good sized campground – two in fact).  After securing our camp site we visited the Visitor Center.  They have a very nice interpretive display of life on the plains.  This refuge is known for its Bison and Longhorns (cattle).  While we didn’t see either, we do hope to see both tomorrow.  The plan is to spend two nights here before heading back to Texas.

With less than two hours of afternoon birding, including the campground, we managed to see 22 different species.  In the campground there were four Wild Turkey feeding.  Several Tufted Titmouse serenaded us at dinner time.  For such a small bird they have such clear, strong voices.

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge was established in 1901 and consists of 59,020-acres for the preservation of a remnant mixed grass prairie.  This was another new refuge for us.

Refuge sign

Lots of Savannah Sparrows

And this Vesper Sparrow

The refuge contains a number of impoundments with dams of various sizes

Love the colors on this Wild Turkey

Why did the turkey cross the road?

Why not.

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • American Kestrel
  • American Crow
  • Wild Turkey
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Canada Goose
  • Redhead
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Killdeer
  • Sandhill Crane (flying overhead)
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Northern Flicker
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Mourning Dove

26 February 2017

Woke up to Wild Turkeys – 25 of them – walking through our campground loop.  Many of them were Tom (male) turkeys, displaying and showing off.  Fun to watch and listen (Gobble, Gobble, Gobble).   Three came right up to the table where Jack was boiling water for his coffee.  Probably looking for a handout – not from us.  Then shortly thereafter along came five deer.  They must be fed by humans too because they were very tame.

Got an early start on checking out the refuge.  We drove to the western entrance and then made our way back, searching for Bison and Longhorn.  On the way out we saw plenty of Bison, but no Longhorns.  On the way back as we got closer to our campground and the Visitor Center we began to see lots of Longhorns, with some even crossing the road in front of cars.  They know who has the right-of-way.

There are also several “Prairie Dog Towns” within the refuge.  We stopped to check out the cute little critters as they perch alert on their mounds.  When they run they remind me of a friend’s dog when it runs- a scamper.

We did a 2.0-mile hike (Kite Trail – none seen, human kind or birds) – out and back in rocky terrain (from Lost Lake Picnic Area to Boulder Picnic Area).  I did have one small tumble when I wasn’t paying attention to the trail and my foot caught on a rock.  Luckily I didn’t damage my binoculars (most important) or injury myself (at least not too bad – a scraped hand and bruised backside).  Since it is a Sunday there were a lot of people out enjoying the trails and the refuge – mostly people from Oklahoma, which makes sense since that is where the refuge is located.  The refuge iabout 15 miles from Lawton, Oklahoma – a good size military town.

At one point along the trail we had a large mixed flock of sparrows: Field, Chipping, Song, Vesper, Harris’s, and a Spotted Towhee or two.  Great to see so many different sparrows at one time, makes for good comparisons.

After our hike we checked out a couple of small lakes on the refuge looking for waterfowl or wading birds.  Most lakes were barren of birds.  I guess they are on their way north.  Speaking of which, while on the hike we had about eight various sized flocks of Sandhill Cranes heading north.  These are most likely the Sandhill Cranes headed for the Platte River before the final migration into northern Alaska and Siberia.  Imagine flying all the way from Texas to Northern Alaska or Siberia and back each year.  What an amazing journey.

We got back to the campground around 4:00 and our loop was empty.  We thought we would check out some of the other loops to see how many people are here for the night – not many – and what sites we liked (for future reference).  Once that was done we drove back to our loop only to find a car from Texas that had backed into the site and a man rifling through our stuff – things we had set out so people would know our campsite was occupied.  He was lifting the 20 lb. propane tank we keep in a crate.  When we confronted him he claimed he thought the items had been abandoned.   I was spitting mad at this idiot.  I don’t care if the items had been left behind – no one in their right mind would abandon these items – taking them is theft.  I’m still mad as I write this blog.  Oh, and all the time his wife was sitting in the car smiling.  I did write down their license plate number.  I should have gotten my phone out and taken a photo of him.  I reported him and his actions to the refuge manager.

The day had started out windy and overcast, but by afternoon the sun showed itself and the wind died down.  Despite the Texas idiot, we had a good day.  We also had a good showing of birds – 44 species in all with only 5 of them waterfowl.  And 22 species we didn’t see yesterday on the refuge.

A “Look at Me” Tom Turkey

Several Wild Turkeys strutting their stuff

These three Wild Turkey were in an adjoining campground site

This deer stared at me for the longest time. Sorry no food for you.

Bison

Eastern Meadowlarks were everywhere

This one singing its heart out

Luckily we didn’t see any prairie dogs crossing the road or dead along side the road

Another signing Eastern Meadowlark.  Its beak looks so long.

Ah, the Red-headed Woodpecker – amply named

The Red-headed Woodpecker wondering if we had left yet – that big white, imposing thing on the side of the road (our van)

Field Sparrow

More Prairie Dogs

Harris’s Sparrow

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Trail

Longhorn cattle

And more Wild Turkeys when we got back to our campground site

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Wild Turkey
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Caroline Chickadee
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • American Crow
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Canada Goose
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Northern Harrier
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Northern Flicker
  • Killdeer
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Blue Jay
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Harris’s Sparrow
  • Field Sparrow
  • Rufous-crowned Sparrow
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Gadwall
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • American Kestrel
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Song Sparrow
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Mallard
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • American Wigeon
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • White-breasted Nuthatch

27 February 2017

This morning we woke up in a fog – literally.  We decided to go in to Lawton for breakfast (Jimmy’s Egg – good food and lots of choices) and we needed to buy a new camp stove.  We had trouble lighting our existing stove, or at least keeping the flow of propane going to the burners – a leak.  We also needed to restock on groceries.

After Lawton we headed back to Texas and Caprock Canyon State Park.  We intend to stay here one night, although once we got here we found a really nice state park with lots of trails.  Lots of wildlife in the park.  As we were driving to the campground I noticed a coyote coming out of the campground and crossing the road behind us.  The coyote didn’t seem to have a care in the world.  Not cautious like other coyotes we’ve seen on our trip.  Next to the campground is a Black-tailed Prairie Dog community.  Its town is next to the camp restroom/shower building.

Once we were settled at our campsite, we headed out for a short hike on the Canyon Overlook trail and boy did we see some great views of the canyon’s red rocks.  Beautiful.  Coming back to the campground we noticed a Bison grazing near the campground bathroom (and Prairie Dog Community).  The Bison have free range in the park and can often be found wandering through the campgrounds.  This lone Bison bull was content to remain at the prairie dog town.  In addition to the Bison, Coyote, and Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, we also saw a Mule Deer.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a high wind day (25-35 mph, with gusts to 65 mph), which will start about 11:00 am.  We will do a short hike in the morning and then head to our next campground – Palo Duro State Park near Amarillo, Texas.  This state park is supposed to be the number one rated state park in Texas.   We will also drive the rest of the Caprock Canyon State Park roads and see the remaining portions of the canyon visible to park users.

As far as birds go, we did see 9 species in the park, including a flock of Mountain Bluebirds, despite the high winds.  With the sun shining on the males’ blue backs, the Mountain Bluebirds are spectacular.  The Mountain Bluebirds and Cedar Waxwings were having a difficult time flying into the wind.  On the trail we did flush a number of Scaled Quail.

Not all red-rock canyon – an overgrazed plateau

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Caprock Canyon State Park:

  • American Crow
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Scaled Quail
  • Northern Flicker
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Northern Cardinal

28 February 2107

After lots of dead ones, I encountered my first “live” striped skunk.  Saw the skunk walking across the campground road headed towards an RV with a small dog tied up outside.  Luckily the dog didn’t see the skunk and the skunk took a left hand turn to avoid the dog.  The Bison was still in the campground area making it difficult to get to the restrooms without a detour around the beast.  Not many birds around, although a few more were observed than yesterday.  Maybe they are hiding in the vegetation to escape the winds.  Luckily the wind is warm – makes the hike more pleasurable.

Despite waking up to overcast skies and winds (15+ mph) we braved the Canyon Loop Trail and hiked 2.64-miles round-trip.  The trail was actually quite nice – essentially a two lane road.  This is a really beautiful park.  We probably should have stayed here another night as when we got to our next state park – Palo Duro – we were a little disappointed.  Scenic yes, but not as beautiful, to us, as Caprock Canyon State Park.  The Hackberry campground host at Palo Duro said the two park canyons are connected – same canyon system.

The “restroom” Bison

The trail we hiked

The canyon contain “Satin Spar Gypsum”

Rock Wren

One of two Greater Roadrunners we saw near the campground

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Caprock Canyon State Park:

  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Rock Wren
  • American Kestrel
  • American Robin
  • Tree Swallow
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • Greater Roadrunner
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Scaled Quail
  • American Coot
  • Scaup Sp.
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Belted Kingfisher

We left Caprock Canyon around 11:30 am and made our way (all of about 80 miles) to Palo Duro State Park, arriving around 1:00 pm.  We plan to stay at this park two nights.

The winds have picked up with gusts exceeding 30 mph, so no trail hiking today (although we saw a fair number of cars parked at trailheads).  We drove the park roads and checked out the other campgrounds, walked our campground loop, and just hung out at our campsite.  Even fewer bird species seen or heard here than at Caprock Canyon State Park.

Due to high winds and low humidity, there is a burn ban in effect.  This includes propane fires so we can’t use our new camp stove.  Really???  I’m not sure how the use of a propane stove on a metal picnic table would cause a fire.  So what to do.  No hot meals unless we eat out in a neighboring town.  There is a store that sells burgers, etc., but it closes at 4:00 pm on weekdays.  Luckily the towns of Canyon or Amarillo aren’t too far away.  Tomorrow we hope to visit a nearby wildlife refuge – Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Palo Duro State Park:

  • Golden-fronted Flicker
  • Wild Turkey (ten showed up at our campsite hoping for a handout)
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Northern Harrier
  • American Robin
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Dark-eyed Junco

1 March 2017

Brrrrrrrrrr. What a cold morning – around 28 degrees F.  outside.  We packed up quickly and made our way to Canyon, Texas so Jack could get his coffee at McDonalds.  He loves the Senior Coffee deal.  He’s gotten it for as low as 39 cents.

The 7,664-acre Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1958 and has one of the largest remaining short-grass prairie ecosystems in the United States. We saw a lot of prairie, but we didn’t see a lake.  Why?  Because the lake was essentially drained in the early 1990s to prevent the deposition of organic feedlot contaminants from upstream.   However, there is a seasonal marsh that provides habitat for migratory birds.  There wasn’t much water left in the marsh when we visited, and was being used only by a few Gadwalls.

The dominant bird species observed on the refuge was the Western Meadowlark – they were very abundant.  There were also a lot of American Kestrels.  In one tree we saw an American Kestrel and three Western Meadowlark.  I guess the old adage “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” is true with birds too.  You often see predator and prey birds in the same tree.

After taking the auto tour route, we did a short hike, but didn’t see much in the way of birds – only two Northern Flickers and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker.  In all, only 20 species were observed during our 4-hour visit to the refuge.  This was our first visit to the refuge, so another new refuge to add to our “refuge” life list.  When looking at the bird species checklist the best times to visit – to see the maximum number of birds – is during spring or fall migration.

Refuge sign – notice the down coat. It was still cold outside when we got here.

Western Meadowlark

Eurasian Collared Dove

This was a water hole for wildlife. A nearby windmill generated the water for this watering hole.

There were a number of different signs similar to this one. One was a turtle, another a snake.

Paved path to viewing platform

Viewing platform

View of the seasonal marsh from the viewing platform

Savannah Sparrow

Hiking trail

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • American Kestrel
  • European Starling
  • American Robin
  • Mourning Dove
  • Scaled Quail
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Northern Harrier
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Ring-necked Pheasant
  • Northern Flicker
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker

After our visit to the refuge we stopped in Canyon as Jack wanted to visit the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum.  While he spent an hour in the museum, I checked emails and googled a couple of state parks in New Mexico.  Tomorrow we head further west and leave the great “Birding” state of Texas behind.

Once back at Palo Duro State Park we relaxed for a couple of hours, enjoying the warm sunshine.  The campgrounds sit in the canyon and so the winds aren’t as strong as up top.

While at the refuge, there was an interpretive sign and at the bottom it said “Nothing comes easily on the high plains -except the wind”.  We can attest to that.

Black-crested Titmouse

Bird Species Seen or Heard in Palo Duro State Park:

  • Greater Roadrunner (right next to our campsite)
  • White-winged Dove
  • Hermit’s Thrush
  • Black-crested Titmouse
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Brown Thrasher
  • White-throated Sparrow

I did see two White-winged Doves mating.  Afterwards they sat on the tree branch side-by-side and proceeded to beat each other with their wing. The bird on the left would slap the other bird with its right wing, while the bird on the right would slap the other bird with its left wing.  This went on simultaneously for about 10 seconds.  Almost reminded me of a Three Stooges skit.

Tomorrow we head back to New Mexico…

It’s Always a Great Day to Bird

 

 

 

Louisiana and Mississippi

15 February 2017

We got to Sam Houston Jones State Park, near Lake Charles, Louisiana, around 4:30 pm, checked in, got our campsite set up (takes about 10 minutes), and then walked to a small lake/pond near the campground.  What great birding just before sunset.  We saw two Pileated Woodpeckers furiously working a tree trunk.  Lots of wood shooting out every which way.  Fun to watch.  And the sound of their drumming – it could wake the dead.  We didn’t have much time to bird, but this is a great spot for birds and birding, especially woodpeckers.

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Pileated Woodpecker

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Pond vegetation – covered most of the pond

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Bird Species Seen or Heard at Sam Houston Jones State Park:

  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • American Robin
  • Pine Warbler
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Brown-headed Nuthatch
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler

16 February 2017

Since the birding at the park was so good the night before; we decided to bird the park in the morning before setting out to visit the Sabine and Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuges.

We drove to the day-use area, which is on the other side of the lake/pond from the campground.  We walked around for about an hour, birding the parking lot and pond.  Two new species for the year – Fish Crow (can’t miss its nasally ‘uh uh’ call) and the distinctive Blue Jay with its alarm call announcing us (it’s very versatile with a number of different calls).

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Fish Crow

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Bird Species Seen or Heard at Sam Houston Jones State Park:

  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker (yellow-shafted)
  • Hairy or Downy Woodpecker (didn’t get a good enough view)
  • Blue Jay
  • Pine Warbler
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Brown-headed Nuthatch
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Orange Crowned Warbler
  • Fish Crow
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Wood Duck (two pairs, very skittish)
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet (a surprise to see)

As you will notice we saw a lot more birds this morning than late yesterday afternoon.

Our next bird stop was the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge located south of Lake Charles, Louisiana.  We stopped here during our 2013-2014 Big Adventure (when we took a year off and traveled the perimeter of the U.S.).  Access is limited, with several places to pull off to fish, and two hiking trails – The Wetlands Walkway and the Blue Goose Trail.  We did both hiking trails.  I must say I was disappointed in the Wetland Walkway trail.  Last time we saw a lot of birds, while this time there didn’t seem to be as much activity – in fact very little activity.  Also, refuge staff chose to mow the lawn along side a portion of the trail while we were there.  The mower was quite loud.  Not exactly conducive to wildlife viewing.  I don’t think the maintenance person cared whether he was interrupting our viewing experience or not, which is too bad.  On the other hand, we saw more birds on the Blue Goose trail this year than the previous visit.  Timing is everything.

The 124,511 acre Sabine National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 and is the largest coastal marsh refuge on the Gulf.  Yeah!!!  In fact, Louisiana has about half of the remaining wetlands in the United States (lower 48).  We observed a total of 22 different species along the roadway and the trails.  Not a lot of birds, surprisingly.

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This pond, which we could only see from the road, had waterfowl and shorebirds

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Song Sparrow looking for its morning meal

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Blue Goose Trail

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Okay this guy looked freakish. We believe it is a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

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Wetland Walkway Trail – and this was before the refuge maintenance person mowed.  Not sure why mowing was necessary.  Probably just on their schedule of activities.

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Wetlands along the Wetland Walkway Trail. Mostly there was tall Phragmites (grass).

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Sabine National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Northern Pintail
  • Gadwall
  • American Avocet
  • Dunlin
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Brown Pelican
  • Common Gallinule
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Snowy Egret

I know, a wetland, and not even a Great Blue Heron or Great Egret.  Go figure.

From Sabine we went to the Cameron Parish National Wildlife Refuge.  This 24,548-acre refuge, established in 1988, has two separate units.  The East Cover unit is only accessible by boat.  The smaller Gibbstown Unit contains the refuge visitor center and headquarters, and the 3.0-mile Pintail Drive Auto Route and Boardwalk.  This is a great auto-tour route, and you can generally see a lot of birds in such a short distance – at least during the winter, as I’ve never been here during the spring, summer, or fall.

Along the half-mile boardwalk we heard a Virginia Rail, saw a rail flush up from its resting spot to hide in the reeds (looked like a King Rail), and then heard another rail.  Both the Clapper and the King Rail have, at least to me, very similar calls so I wasn’t sure if the rail we were hearing was a Clapper or a King.  Near the end of the Pintail Drive, we had a great view of a King Rail — out in the open too -– Woohoo!!!.  While we did see the King Rail at McFaddin NWR in Texas, today we got much better looks at this rail.

Also along the Pintail Drive we saw an estimated 70 alligators in various stages of exposure, (sunny themselves on the bank of the ditch, or almost totally submerged), and of various age and size.  At one spot we saw what looked to be a family – mom, dad, and six siblings.  I haven’t seen this many alligators in one location since we visited southern Florida in 2014.

At both Anahuac NWR and Cameron Prairie NWR we’ve seen a lot of dark morph Snow Goose (or as some people call them – Blue Goose).  I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many dark morphs before.  At Anahuac NWR at least 10% of the Snow Geese were dark morphs.

The drive was pleasant with a lot of great birds, and other wildlife (including alligators, turtles, and nutria).  Nutria are nasty, invasive rodents from South America brought to Louisiana for their fur.  Someone thought their fur would make nice coats.  The volunteer at Anahuac NWR wondered why anyone would want to wear a rat.  I agree.

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White-morph Little Blue Heron …

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… busy in search of food with an alligator nearby

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Nutria

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Alligator family on the bank – I couldn’t get all of them in the photo

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Looks like its smiling – probably just cooling off

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King Rail

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I was surprised to see this small turtle next to the large turtle. Don’t know if the small turtle is its offspring or not.

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View from the viewing platform at the visitor center

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A White Ibis feeding frenzy

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Greater White-fronted Goose

Bird Specie Seen or Heard at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Snow Goose
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Gallinule
  • Killdeer
  • White Ibis
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • American Coot
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Gadwall
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Great Egret
  • Northern Harrier
  • Marsh Wren
  • Virginia Rail
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Northern Pintail
  • American Wigeon
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Royal Tern
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Little Blue Heron
  • King Rail
  • Mallard
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Anhinga
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Neotropical Cormorant
  • Northern Cardinal

(If you are wondering why the species do not appear in any order it is because I list them in the order I see them.)

We decided to return to Sam Houston Jones State Park for the night.  The park is busy and we got one of the last sites, probably in anticipation of the long President’s Day weekend.  We haven’t made reservations anywhere (except Catalina State Park), which may cause us a problem getting a site at a campground over the next three days.  Stay tuned…

17 February 2017

We decided to go back to the day-use area to bird.  We got out of the van and walked a short distance to an observation platform.  A Sheriff’s deputy drove slowly down the road and stopped behind our van.  He was there long enough to run our plates.  Not sure why he was interested in our “white” van.  I told Jack if he wanted to see in the van we wanted to know what probable cause he had.  It was funny (well not really), but I saw him speeding down into the park before arriving at our vehicle.  Something got his interest.  I just wish I knew what it was; but glad it wasn’t us..

Since there wasn’t much happening bird-wise at the day-use area at Sam Houston Jones State Park, Jack and I drove to Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge.  This 35,000-acre refuge was established in 1937.   The refuge offers a wildlife drive, which we took.  We took about three hours to complete the drive and we were the only people there until just before we left the refuge.

The claim to fame for this refuge, as well as the Sabine and Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuges, is their haven for migratory waterfowl during the winter.  Well, we didn’t see much in the way of waterfowl, but we did see hundreds and hundreds of American Coots, hundreds of White Ibis, and several large trees ‘decorated’ with Great Egrets and Cormorants.  In all we had 44 different species, of which none of them were ‘First of Year’ birds.  However, we don’t care if we see the same species time and time again.  We love them all – Jack likes to say they are all new to him.  Oh, get this, the bird of the refuge was the Tree Swallow.  There must have been hundreds of them flitting about grabbing a meal on the wing before the impending storm.  And, we only saw three alligators.  A far cry from the number of gators observed yesterday at Cameron Prairie NWR.

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Common Gallinule

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Wildlife Drive – pending storm approaching

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Bird Species Seen or Heard at Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge:

  • American Coot
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • White Ibis
  • Common Gallinule
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Tree Swallow
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Marsh Wren
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Great Egret
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Snow Goose
  • Mottled Duck
  • Gadwall
  • Green-winged Teal
  • American Wigeon
  • Mallard
  • American White Pelican
  • Killdeer
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Harrier
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Neotropical Cormorant
  • Anhinga
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Crested Caracara
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Cattle Egret
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Wilson’s Snipe

Our intent was to go to Chicot State Park to camp for the night.  I want to go to the Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge east of Alexandria, Louisiana, on Saturday and the state park is about 80 miles away – a long drive to get there, a typical problem with visiting NW refuges.  So, instead, we found a nice campground in the Kisatchie National Forest located just west of Alexandria – a lot closer to our destination on Saturday.  Plus, this area has Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, including two clusters near the campground.  After finding a campsite, we went to one of the clusters (trees utilized by the woodpeckers), but alas none were showing themselves.  We did walk the Wild Azelea trail – out and back – for a little over a mile (one way) and for the most part it was freakishly quiet.  We did have one spot in the woods were we saw and heard a small mixed flock of birds.  A couple of the birds we only heard, and their calls were unfamiliar so the birds went unidentified.  I hate when that happens.  It was a nice walk despite the poor showing of birds and, the prize, no ticks.

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Tomorrow we are going to check out a couple of other clusters and hope for the best.  Then it is on to the Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge and its nine-mile auto tour route.  If we have time we will also check out the nearby Dewey W. Wills Wildlife Area (state managed).

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Kincaid Recreation Area:

  • American Crow
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler (they are everywhere)
  • Eastern Towhee
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Carolina Chickadee

After our hike, we were told by several people in the campground there is a Bald Eagle nest in the day-use beach/lake area, which is closed to vehicular traffic – most likely due to nesting of the Bald Eagles.  Being from Alaska, Bald Eagles are not a rarity for us.  In fact, we consider them trash birds as they love to hang out at the local landfill.  One person even acknowledged we probably see a lot of them in Alaska, after informing us of the nest’s location.  We did see two juvenile Bald Eagles.

We get all kinds of interesting comments about being from Alaska.  We’ve had several people tell us they watch three different reality shows about Alaska, including Alaska: The Last Frontier, which is filmed in Homer, Alaska – our home town.  I hope they know the programs are mostly staged.  Reality shows are anything but reality.  Another person asked me “are you really from Alaska” after reading our license plate.  Many ask “did you really did drive down”.  I shouldn’t be cynical, but some questions are really ridiculous considering we are driving a vehicle with Alaskan license plates.  Maybe they think we had the vehicle shipped down – hmmm, maybe not a bad idea next time.  Or maybe these people are just incredulous thinking about how far away Alaska is from wherever we are, and wondering why anyone in their right mind would make the drive?

18 February 2017

Score!!!  Not only did we see one Red-cockaded Woodpecker today we saw four.  Jack and I each spotted a woodpecker simultaneously – he saw one of a pair, and I saw the other.  For anyone who wants to see the woodpecker this is a good place to go – Kisatchie National Forest near Alexandria, Louisiana.  There are a number of different clusters of trees where the birds nest and roost.  We saw the birds within ¼ mile of their nest/roost sites.  The first pair we saw around 10:00 am, the second pair around 1:00 pm.  If you have the iBird Pro app and listen to their drumming sound it doesn’t sound anything like on the app.  It is much softer, quieter.  Maybe the drumming sound is louder during nesting season?

We had intended to visit the Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge today, but ended up walking the trails and roads within the national forest looking for birds, and in particular the Red-cockaded Woodpecker.  This bird is one of the few endemic birds to the United States, and is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

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Red-cockaded Woodpecker “cluster” trees. They mark them with a wide, white ring of paint.

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Here is an artificial nest hole

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Not sure what this flower is, but it sure does smell sweet

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Fiddlehead ferns

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Carolina Chickadee – looks like the familiar Black-capped Chickadee

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Some kind of trap – but not sure what this is used for. There were four long wired tunnels leading out from this box in each direction.

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Longleaf Pine trees favored (once they are old-growth) by the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. I think the needles are longer on the young, than on the adult trees.

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Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Bird Species Seen or Heard in the Kincaid Recreation Area/Kisatchie National Forest:

  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • American Crow
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Red-cockaded Woodpecker
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Mourning Dove
  • Pine Warbler
  • Blue Jay
  • American Robin
  • Bald Eagle
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

All in all we had a five woodpecker species day.  Not a bad day to be outdoors birding.

19 February 2017

Time to move on.  We stopped in Alexandria, Louisiana to purchase groceries, buy gas for the van, and have breakfast at the Pitt Grill.  Food was good.  My favorite breakfast place is still Milo’s in Portland, Oregon (on Broadway Street).

After breakfast we drove to the Dewey W. Wills Wildlife Management Area (WMA) to bird before heading to the Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge.  We got several good views of Wood Ducks, one of Jack’s favorite waterfowl species.  I like them too.  Very colorful.  Unfortunately, they are camera shy – always far away or hidden in the flooded tree swamp to get a decent photo.  If you try to get too close, they fly off – probably due to hunting pressures.   I heard a Barred Owl (who cooks for you, who cooks for you all) and then when we were looking at the Wood Ducks we saw one on a branch jetting out over the bayou (pronounced ‘by-o’).  The bird turned its head, saw us, and took off.  Darn.  Just when I had my camera out to take a photo.  We were happy to see this species.  Otherwise, not a whole lot of bird activity.  This wildlife management area is owned and operated by the State of Louisiana.  They require anyone entering and exiting the WMA to complete an entrance/exit permit.  We saw several people enter and only one person stopped to complete the form.  There is a $350 fine if you get caught.  Not sure how actively they enforce the rules.  Maybe not so much on a Sunday.

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Red-shouldered Hawk

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Black Vulture

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Bird Species Seen or Heard at Dewey W. Wills Wildlife Management Area

  • Great Egret
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • American Crow
  • Black Vulture
  • Mourning Dove
  • Barred Owl
  • Blue Jay
  • Wood Duck
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Northern Flicker
  • Eastern Phoebe

 We were hoping for a Red-headed Woodpecker, but no such luck.  So off to the Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge for more birding.  We’ve never visited this refuge before so another refuge for our ‘refuge’ life list.  I believe I’ve now been to at least 1/4 of the 550+ refuges in the United States.

This refuge consists of two units.  The Headquarter’s Unit, established in 1958, is 6,671 acres and borders nine-miles of Catahoula Lake.  This lake has the highest concentration of wintering Canvasback ducks in the United States, although we only saw about 10 (of course we saw only a very, very, very, small portion of the lake).  The Bushley Unit is 18,571 acres and was established in 2001.  There is a nine-mile wildlife drive (one-way) on the Headquarter’s Unit.  We drove most of the route, but due to time and a lack of birds we turned around and headed to Natchez State Park in Mississippi for the night.

Although we did see 19 different species, we didn’t see many of any one species, including the Canvasback.  We were a little disappointed in the lack of birds.  I think we saw more turtles than total birds.  The highlight was a small flock (seven) of Cedar Waxwings – a First of Year species.

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Refuge sign – probably one from when the refuge was first established in 1958

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Cedar Waxwing

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This viewing platform is probably used more for fishing than wildlife viewing. We saw several fishermen along this bayou.

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Bird Species Seen or Heard at Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Northern Cardinal
  • American Robin
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Great Egret
  • Mallard
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Carolina Wren
  • Hermit Thrush
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Canvasback
  • Gadwall
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Wood Duck
  • Pied-billed Grebe

Tomorrow we will visit the St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge about ten miles south of Natchez, Mississippi.  From there we will drive about 60 miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway, stopping at a National Park Service campground near Vicksburg, Mississippi, for the night.

20 February 2017

We found our way to St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  This was our first visit to this refuge, and I think to really do this refuge justice you almost need a full day.  Driving to the refuge, Jack thought we would be at the refuge for about an hour or so – we stayed 3.5 hours.  We hiked about a mile of the Magnolia Trail.  They had some cute activities for kids (see photos).  Luckily they had a bird list brochure for the park.  In the brochure is a map of the refuge, which includes birding hot spots.  After our short hike, we drove the Swamp Drive – one of the hotspots – and did see waterfowl and waders on the impoundment waters, but not much in the actual swamp itself – at least bird wise.  We did see two alligators and two river otters, with the otters later crossing the road.  After the Swamp Drive route, it was time to check out the Sibley impoundment area.  We had seen a portion of this impoundment on the Swamp Drive, but got to see additional waterfowl from Pintail Drive, including a large flotilla of American Coots.

St. Catherine Creek NWR was created in 1990 to provide for waterfowl habitat and floodplain protection of the Mississippi River.  The refuge consists of 25,000 acres and borders the Mississippi River on the west.  If you want to see the most birds better viewing times are spring, summer, and fall.  But we still came away with 42 different species.  A nice morning of birding.

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Redbud – at the campground

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Up close view of the Redbud Tree. This species is an early bloomer, which provides for some nice color during dreary winter months. Very pretty.

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Refuge sign at entrance to the refuge

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This sign was at the visitor center

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Observation pond near the visitor center

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Magnolia Trail near the visitor center

These are some of the interpretive signs we saw along the trail – great activities for children and great to get children outdoors!

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The activity related to the “bats” is to hang upside down from these bars. I should have tried it.

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The balance beam for kids to walk on like a squirrel

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Can you climb up this like a woodpecker climbing up a tree?

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And here is an actual lizard. Not sure what kind. Forgot to bring my eastern reptile and amphibians book with me.

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Jack said this was for bees.

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Chipping Sparrow

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The swamp alongside Swamp Drive

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A dead turtle. Hopefully birds or other animals eat the dead animals so their death is not wasted.

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Can this be dead Kadzu?  Kadzu is an invasive species from Japan.

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Killdeer

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Northern Mockingbird – Mississippi’s state bird

Bird Species Seen or Heard at St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Mourning Dove
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Blue Jay
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Fish Crow
  • American Crow
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • House Sparrow
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Mallard
  • American White Pelican
  • Bald Eagle
  • Canada Goose
  • American Wigeon
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Gadwall
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Killdeer
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Copper’s Hawk
  • Great Blue Heron
  • American Coot
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Northern Pintail
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Belted Kingfisher

The bird list states Wood Ducks are abundant during the winter.  Abundant species are common species found in large numbers.  We didn’t see a single Wood Duck.  Jack was disappointed.  Ah, such is birding, such is life.

Next up – driving the Natchez Trace Parkway from Natchez to Rock Springs Campground.  The Rock Springs campground is our home for the night – after about 55 miles of scenic parkway (greenbelt) driving.  We did make a few stops along the parkway to check out interpretive signs and historic sites.  It was nice to be on a road less traveled.  Commercial vehicles are prohibited on this road.  And, the speed limit is 50 mph, not that many, or anyone, goes that slow (except for us).

We got to the campground around 3:30 pm, and within 10 minutes Jack found me a Red-headed Woodpecker.  Woohoo!!!  I’ve been hoping to see this species for about three days without any luck – until now.  At this campground there must have been at least six Red-headed Woodpeckers working the trees, and at times, chasing off other woodpeckers.

We hiked a portion of the “actual” Natchez Trace Trail.  The Natchez Trace Parkway is 444 miles long, and passes through three states.  The parkway is essentially a greenway, and was established by the National Park Service in 1938.  I think that was when the campground was established too.  Not a lot of money has gone into this campground recently, with the exception of new fire rings and grills.  The picnic table at our site is warped. The parking pads and road are potholed.  The bathrooms are old, with dirty walls and floors.  But hey, it’s free.  I guess we got what we paid for.

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A small, small portion of the actual trail

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Red-bellied Woodpecker

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Viola adunca – early blue violet

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Natchez Trail near the campground

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Trillium about to bloom

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Rock Springs Campground

  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Caroline Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Barred Owl (heard only)
  • Hermit Thrush

 21 February 2017

We woke to rain.  Jack had left a large pan outside last night and there was at least 1.5 inches of water collected in the pan.  We had a lot of persistent rain overnight.  I felt sorry for the three campers spending the night in tents.  That is why we love our “tin tent” (van) as we call it.  Still, hard to cook meals  outdoors in the rain.  We made do with granola and fruit.  Jack did brave the rain to heat water for his morning coffee, of course.  He MUST have his morning cup of coffee, something I am sure many of you can relate to – not me.

We left the campground and headed into Vicksburg, Mississippi as Jack wanted to visit the Vicksburg Military Park.  He is a civil war buff so we took a day off from birding (sort of) and went to the park.  They offer a nice auto tour route, which we took.  Along the way we did see a number of birds.  At the national cemetery there must have been several hundred American Robins and about 50 or more Cedar Waxwings.  Amazing to watch them flitting about.

The key turning point in the Civil War was the battle for control of Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Vicksburg was the last major confederate stronghold along the Mississippi River, which the Confederates had closed to river navigation thereby threatening the North’s commercial interests.  Both President Lincoln and Confederate President Davis felt Vicksburg was the key to the war efforts.

The Union Army needed Vicksburg to win the war by dividing the south in two, and severing a vital Confederate supply line.  The Confederate Army needed to retain Vicksburg in the Confederates effort to win the war.

The assault on Vicksburg was led by Ulysses S. Grant.  The first assault was May 19, 1863 and the second assault was May 22, 1963 – both of which failed.  The “Siege of Vicksburg” began on May 26 and lasted until Confederate General Pembreton’s surrender on July 4, 1863.

In the end, the Union Army suffered 10,142 casualties (killed, wounded, missing), while the Confederate Army suffered 9,091casualties, some who are now buried at the national cemetery at Vicksburg Military Park.

The battlefield is now a National Military Park (National Park Service administered), and includes a driving/walking route with over 1,300 various monuments and markers along the way depicting the positions of the various Union and Confederate state army units, and serving as memorials to those who fought to capture or defend Vicksburg – 30 states had army regiments participating in the battle.  The Illinois monument is massive with 47 steps representing the number of days between the first assault and the final day of the siege, and inside the monument are the names of the 36,325 Illinois soldiers who participated in the Vicksburg Campaign.   Grant had over 70,000 soldiers under his command.

The battlefield is now overgrown with trees but some areas have been cleared to illustrate the impressive steep slopes – how a Union soldier could be brave enough to charge uphill under withering gunfire is amazing.

One of the battlegrounds

Illinois Monument

One of Ohio’s memorials – many of the memorials were for specific army regiments

National Military Cemetery is mainly all Union Soldiers

Mississippi’s Monument

One of the murals depicting life in Vicksburg Mississippi over the past 100 years

Brown Thrasher singing its heart out

White-throated Sparrow in search of food

One of the many Cedar Waxwings

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Vicksburg National Military Park:

  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • House Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • American Robin
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Blue Jay
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Hermit Thrush

We will spend the night at a motel so we could get an early start in the morning.  More National Wildlife Refuges to visit.

22 February 2017

Another morning of fog.  Our first stop of the day – okay the only stop other than our campground for the night – is Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, located in Louisiana.  This 80,000-acre refuge was established in 1980, and is the site of the last confirmed (universally accepted) sighting of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in 1944.  We saw two specimens in the visitor center and talk about a large bill for the size of the bird.  The Pileated Woodpecker’s bill pales by comparison.  What a site to behold for anyone who ever came (or comes) across such a wild creature.

The refuge is also home to the largest population of Louisiana Black Bear, a federally listed threatened species.  Unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to spot a black bear, but then we see plenty of them in Alaska (well not the Louisiana subspecies, of course).

It was a relative quiet day on the refuge.  We were the only people on the approximate 3.0-mile wildlife drive, at the visitor center, or on the 0.3-mile boardwalk trail to an observation desk.  It was quiet with respect to birds as well, although we did see a large contingent of Turkey Vultures feasting on something dead.  Too far away to tell what was their banquet -– most likely a deer.

This would be a good refuge to visit during the spring, summer, and fall months when there are more bird species present.  The total species we observed was 25.

Refuge sign

Visitor Center

Azalea bush near the visitor center

Ivory-billed Woodpecker exhibit – probably the closest I will ever come to the real thing even if they are dead and stuffed. Look at those bills. Amazing.

Boardwalk near visitor center

View from the observation platform at the end of the boardwalk trail

Lots of farmed lands. Those dark specks in the back are Turkey Vultures – lots of them.

Vesper Sparrow

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Wood Duck
  • Blue Jay
  • Mourning Dove
  • Song Sparrow
  • Hermit’s Thrush
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Mallard
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Harrier
  • Killdeer
  • Great Egret
  • Great Blue Heron
  • American Crow
  • American Kestrel
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow

We left the refuge around 1:00 pm and made our way to Chemin-a-haut (which means ‘the high road’) State Park for the night.  This campground is not bad and the bathhouse is top of the line – with very HOT water, and brand new “free” washer/dryer machines.  We walked around the park, checking out the birds.  Lots of activity.

Hermit’s Thrush

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Chemin-a-haut State Park:

  • Northern Cardinal
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Mourning Dove
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Eastern Phoebe

Not many people at the campground tonight – only three other campers and the campground host.  And three of us leave tomorrow so unless someone else comes in tomorrow it will be pretty quiet here.

23 February 2017

We got an early start because our agenda for the day is to visit three National Wildlife Refuges – Handy Brake NWR is the first on the list.  This refuge is only 466 acres.  The refuge was established in 1988 and is the Southeast’s first fee title transfer of a Farmer’s Home Administration tract to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  We followed directions provided in “A Birder’s Guide to Louisiana” by Richard Gibbons, Roger Breedlove, and Charles Lyon (American Birding Association).  This guide can be found online at: http://www.atchafalaya.org/ckfinder/userfiles/files/BirdGuide.pdf.   The guide indicated an observation platform.  We never did find the typical “refuge sign” that always announces the beginning of a national wildlife refuge.  The road to the observation platform (essentially a pull through area) was locked.  So we parked outside the gate and walked in.  The sun was such that we really couldn’t see much detail as to the waterfowl in the lake below the platform.  The platform itself was not in the best of condition.  There was a kiosk and empty brochure rack, but nothing indicating we were at a national wildlife refuge.  Nothing, Nada, Zip.  Weird to say the least.  We spent maybe 15 minutes here and then left for the next refuge – Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge.

The Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge is located on back roads, which were in half-way decent condition.  No concerns about getting stuck in the mud and having to push our way out.  The refuge is 43,000 acres and was established in 1978.  We drove out to a viewing platform, which was in sad need of repair.  Guess these refuges don’t get many visitors so they don’t want to put a lot of money into visitor amenities.  The bird guide mentioned signage directing visitors to the platform, but we never saw any signs.  We didn’t see much wildlife either – except for waterfowl and blackbirds far out.  But of the three refuges visited today, we saw more birds here (18) than at the other two combined (13).  Not a good day for birding.  I guess the best time to see waterfowl is in January, not late February.

Refuge sign

Most of the refuge we saw was pretty flat – grasslands, although trees had been planted in rows to create a bottomland forest.

Wildlife Viewing Platform

The view from the platform. As you can see it is quite a distance to the water and waterbirds

Looks like something has been gnawing on the stairs

Not much maintenance as of late to the platform

And these interpretive signs have seen better days.  I don’t think wildlife viewing is a priority here.

This sign was not on the refuge, but on private lands. Nice to know this landowner supports the protection of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

The final refuge was the D’Arbonne National Wildlife Refuge.  This 17,421-acre refuge was established in 1975 and was set aside to preserve what little remains of bottomland hardwood forest.  The Red-cockaded Woodpecker can be found year-round in the refuge.  We found their cavity trees, but didn’t see any of the woodpeckers.

Refuge sign

Longlead Pine forest favored by Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, but none to be seen.

Love this gate on property near the refuge

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Hardy Brake, Upper Ouachita, and D’Arbonne National Wildlife Refuges:

  • Mourning Dove (UO, D)
  • American Crow (UO, D)
  • Northern Cardinal (HB, UO)
  • Eastern Phoebe (UO)
  • Savannah Sparrow (UO)
  • Vesper Sparrow (UO)
  • Eastern Meadowlark (UO)
  • Red-tailed Hawk (UO)
  • Turkey Vulture (UO, D)
  • Northern Harrier (UO)
  • Red-winged Blackbird (UO)
  • Greater White-fronted Goose (UO)
  • Snow Goose (UO)
  • Bald Eagle (UO)
  • Mallard (HB, UO)
  • American Coot (UO, HB)
  • Double-crested Cormorant (UO)
  • Killdeer (UO)
  • Gadwall (HB)
  • Northern Shoveler (HB)
  • Dark-eyed Junco (D)
  • Carolina Chickadee (D)
  • Northern Flicker (D)
  • Tufted Titmouse (D)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker (D)

Since we were done visiting all three refuges by 1:30 pm, we decided to camp at a Texas campground so we journeyed on.  Our time in Louisiana and Mississippi was eight nights, but we covered a lot of ground so it seemed much longer.  We hadn’t intended to visit these two states at all, but I am glad we did.

IT’S ALWAYS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

 

 

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