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Friday, April 6
The game is afoot again.† Iím back in business.† This is a report in advance of my big trip to Texas, which is scheduled to start next Tuesday.
Last night I saw a report on Tweeters, the local birding mailing list.† The report had a link to some really great pictures of a Cooperís Hawk with a Band-tailed Pigeon that it had captured.† If you want to see those pictures, here is the link: http://troublebound.smugmug.com/Birds/New-Photos/ .† I wish I could take pictures that sharp and interesting.
Anyway, I emailed the guy and told him that I would love to see the pigeons, as I have only seen them three times before in my 13 years of birding, and I need them for my year list.† He gave me his address and told me where the pigeons hang out around his house.
My friend Dan was over for lunch today, but before lunch, we went off on a twitch to look for the pigeons.† We easily found the place, in Lake Forest Park, which is only about a ten or fifteen minute drive from here.† Almost as soon as we got there, Dan spotted one of them, while I was still getting my stuff out of the car.† BAND-TAILED PIGEON.† It was mine, for my year list.† Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring my camera.† Damn.† The bird was fairly far away, but I think I could have gotten a decent picture.† They donít look a whole lot different from the common feral pigeons that we all see all over the place, but there are a few differences.† The normal ďpigeonsĒ we see are descended from a species that is native to Spain and some other parts of Europe, and they were domesticated, and then later escaped and now are called ďferalĒ, which refers to a domesticated species that has escaped and is now breeding on its own in the wild.† The Band-tailed Pigeon is a native North American species, though, and they arenít very commonly seen.† As I said, I have only seen them three times before, in my 13 years of birding.
We hung around and saw a couple more Band-tailed Pigeons a little later, on one of the feeders, and the photo opportunity was even better.† But, my camera was at home.† Before we left, I got a bonus bird, too, a lovely TOWNSENDíS WARBLER, flitting around in the trees in the yard.† So, I had two birds for my year list.† These were the first additions since February 20, due to my little gallbladder adventure as I was leaving on my planned California trip at the end of February.† Even better, neither one of these species is one that I will see in Texas, so I wasnít even pirating birds from my Texas trip today.
Dan and I returned to my house and had our lunch; after lunch, I prevailed on him to return to the pigeon location, this time with my camera.† I was able to get one picture of one of them this time.† It is a pretty mediocre picture, but it does show the mostly orange bill with a black tip and part of the white stripe on the back of the neck, both of which are diagnostic of this species.
When the bird flies, there is a broad white band on its tail, more visible from on top than on the bottom.† There were several of the pigeons around, but they mostly were perched and flitting around deep in some large fir trees in the background.
So, that brings me to 216 species for the year so far, of which 16 are new for my life list.† On Tuesday Iím booked to head to Houston for a 25 day trip.† Based on my spreadsheet, I expect to add about another 176 species to the year list, which will get me close to 400 for the year, if I can achieve that (God Willing And The Creeks Donít Rise).† My secret goal will be to reach 400 on the trip, but donít tell anyone.† I also expect to add about 85 lifers on the trip, which would put me close to 1100 total species on my life list.† I also expect to go over the 500 mark on my US list (American Birding Association North America territory, which includes Canada, but not Mexico or Hawaii).† Iíll have to do some kind of celebrating if and when I hit 500, as that will be a significant milestone.
So, you can expect to start hearing from me daily, starting next Wednesday, or maybe even Tuesday night, if I happen to see something new around the Houston airport.† Until then, the Old Rambler is signing off.
Tuesday, April 10
The big Texas trip has finally started!† Today I played the airplane game and ended up here in Houston.† No problems on the flight itself, but as I was leaving the security checkpoint in Seattle, I managed to cut my finger somehow, and it bled like a stuck pig.† The cut is right next to the nail, and it is really painful when I bang it on something, which I have managed to do three or four times so far.† It took ten or fifteen minutes for me to get it to stop bleeding when it happened, and now it is like a red blood blister.† Iím afraid it is going to start bleeding again at any time.† The last time I knocked it on something, a few drops of blood came out, but then it stopped.† Iíll worry about it tonight when Iím sleeping.† Iíd hate to bleed all over the bed.† I have some bandaids, and maybe Iíll put one on, although I donít know if that would help it or hurt it.† If I do put one on, should I wrap it tightly or loosely?† Each time I bang it, it takes it 15 or 20 minutes to stop hurting and settle down again.† Iím hoping that a band aid might cushion it a bit, for the next time I hit it on something.
Anyway, that has nothing to do with birds, but on the trip down I did have a sort-of bird experience.† Iím traveling with Alaska Airlines Frequent Flyer miles, and I chose to spend more miles and go first class.† It turns out that one of the benefits of first class (besides getting to check two bags for free and getting a free lunch and drinks) is that you get a ďdigiplayerĒ for free, a little machine with a screen that plays movies, TV shows, etc.† I watched The Big Year, even though I had seen it already.† If you arenít familiar with it, go rent it Ė it is a pretty good movie, and it is about birding.† It stars Steve Martin and Jack Black.† It is funny and while birds are the backdrop, it is really about the people.† I recommend it, even if you think birds are boring.† (Could anyone who reads this possibly think that birds are boring?† Nah.)† The birding stuff is a bit hokey, but it is a good movie nonetheless, I think.
Having arrived in Houston, just a little late, due to a late departure, I got my bags and called my cheapo Super 8 Motel, which is located right next to the airport.† They advertise a free shuttle, but they actually contract it out to one of the parking shuttles.† I waited for about 20 minutes, but eventually the shuttle showed up.† While waiting, though, I started my trip list and added to my year list.† My first bird of the trip was a male COMMON GRACKLE, a bird I saw last year in Montana, but this was the first of this year.† There was also a House Sparrow at the airport, for my ďtrip listĒ.† I plan to keep a trip list, as well as add to my year list and life list, so you will have lots of numbers to enjoy.
I got settled in to my motel, not bad at all for under 50 bucks, and went next door to the mini mart at the gas station to get some drinking water, which I will also use in my CPAP machine tonight.† I took my binoculars, of course, as it wasnít dark yet.† I picked up GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE for my year list, as well as Eurasian Collared-Dove and Northern Mockingbird for my trip list.† So, on my first day, which was really only supposed to be a travel day, I added two to my year list and now have five on my trip list.† That brings me to 218 species for the year so far, of which 16 are lifers.
Tomorrow morning I get my rental car and head out for the real birding.† Tonight Iím staying in and having a couple of my Hormel Compleats dinners, brought from home and soon to be heated in my microwave here in my room.† First Iím enjoying some cashews and a little bourbon, though.† I have a two hour time change to adjust to, and that is always hard for me, so weíll see how early I can get on the road in the morning.
Stay tuned for lots more birds, with pictures after this, I hope.
Wednesday, April 11
I went to bed at midnight Houston time last night, which was only 10 PM to my West Coast body, but I managed to fall asleep and I actually slept pretty well, waking just before my alarm would have gone off at 8 AM.† I need to keep working on it, but that is a great start to adapting to the time zone change.
I walked across the street and got brekkie at Jack in the Box, then got mostly packed up and caught the motel shuttle at 9:30 to the airport.† I got the rental car shuttle there and picked up my chariot.† I have a silver Chevy Malibu, which I chose in honor of the 1967 Malibu that I put over 100,000 miles on, back in the day.† They call this a Ďfull sizeĒ car, which is pretty funny, as it looks pretty little to me.† Just looking at it, I would call it an Intermediate, but that is two sizes down from Full Size (Standard size is in between).† Iím pleased with the car, anyway.† The a/c seems good, and the car only had 98 miles on it when I picked it up, which is kind of cool, I think.† I wanted a white car, but they gave me a choice of two silver ones and said they didnít have any white ones.
I did pick up two species for my trip list while I was doing all that, European Starling and Mourning Dove.† The start of a trip is fun, because everything is new and can go on the trip list.
Back at my motel, I packed and loaded up, and my first official birding stop was at Jesse H Jones Park, which is only a few miles north of the airport.† I was hoping to see a Swainsonís Warbler, which is kind of their specialty bird, but I might have been a bit too early, as I didnít get a sniff of one.† There are supposed to be a lot of other birds in the park, too, but I didnít see many.† I did pick up three for my year list while there Ė RED-EYED VIREO, NORTHERN CARDINAL, and PINE WARBLER (lifer).† They were all ones that I expected to see on the trip, but it is always fun to add a bird to my year list, and getting a lifer is especially good, of course.† If I donít see a Swainsonís Warbler anywhere else on the trip, maybe Iíll return to this park on my way out of town, on May 5th.† By that time they should be nesting, and the park rangers should know where to look for them.
My next stop was to pick up a sandwich at Subway, and then I proceeded to the house of a guy who had posted that he had Broad-tailed Hummingbirds in his yard.† Thatís a bird I hadnít expected to see this year at all, so I took the time to go to his house.† I thought it was going to be about a ten minute side trip, each way, to stop at his house, but the traffic was terrible and it was farther than I had realized, and it ended up being half an hour each way.
I dipped on the hummingbirds, sorry to say, but I did see the pair of RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS (lifer) that are nesting in his yard.† I also added Red-winged Blackbird, Downy Woodpecker, and House Finch to my trip list while there.† Even better, I also added WHITE-WINGED DOVE, BROWN THRASHER, BLUE JAY, and CAROLINA CHICKADEE to my year list, as well as my trip list, of course.† The chickadee came into a feeder just as I left, after an hour.† It looks exactly like our Black-capped Chickadee, but in this part of the country, the species is Carolina Chickadee.
Hereís a picture of the attractive White-winged Dove:
Here is a picture that shows a White-winged Dove and two Mourning Doves.† Can you see the differences?
The White-winged Dove has blue skin around the eye, a white streak on its wing, and no spots on it.† But, you noticed all that, Iím sure.
Here is a mediocre picture of one of the Red-headed Woodpeckers.† It was a tough shot, against the bright sky background, at a fair distance.
As I have mentioned before, Iím a sucker for the color blue, and the Blue Jay is a real beauty to my eyes.† Eastern readers will be very familiar with them, as they are quite common in the East, but you Westerners might enjoy these two pictures of a Blue Jay.
I ate my Subway sandwich there, but after about an hour I gave up on the hummingbirds.† I had given it a shot, and thatís all one can do, so I moved on.
My next stop was the W.G. Jones State Forest, another dozen miles up the Interstate, once I made my way back to it through the traffic.† I am very glad to be finished with cities for a while now Ė I really donít like driving in heavy traffic.
It wasnít well marked at all, but I managed to find the state forest.† The big deal there is an endangered species of woodpecker called a Red-cockaded Woodpecker.† From what I had read, everyone sees them there, so I was expecting it.† I was there in the middle of the day, though, which is the absolute worst time and I didnít see one at all.† I stopped at the office and got directions to where they nest, but in the hour or so I walked around there, I saw only about 6 birds, and none were woodpeckers.† That forest is supposed to have a lot of other species I would like to see, but in the middle of the day, it was really dead.† I did hear some birds, but I donít know what they were, of course.† I did pick up Turkey Vulture for my trip list, as well as an EASTERN BLUEBIRD for my year list (and trip list, of course).† Here is a picture of the forest, which is managed to provide the correct habitat for the endangered woodpeckers.
They nest in holes in the mature pine trees, and I saw a number of nest holes, but no birds.† I plan to go back in the morning, as early as I can manage it, and maybe Iíll have better luck.† Iíll certainly have a much better chance in the morning, and the earlier the better.
As I was leaving, I saw a couple of Wild Turkeys in the area around the office, where I had parked.† I understand they have been hanging around there for a couple of months.† Here is a picture of one of them.
So, that was my first big birding day.† It was pretty disappointing in some ways, but I did see some birds, and I did get to the two places I had wanted to visit, as well as the backyard for the hummingbird I missed.† The bird of the day was probably the Red-headed Woodpecker, because I wasnít sure I would see one anywhere, but the Brown Thrasher was a close second, as I hadnít expected it, and it wasnít a certainty either.† I had a great look at it, and I wish I could have gotten a picture.
It was hot today Ė mid-80ís most of the day.† Also humid.† I was uncomfortable, but I was glad to see that the heat didnít completely take away all my energy, as I had feared.† At the first park I went to, there were mosquitoes, so I applied some DEET.† I wore long pants today, because of the insects (mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers).† Shorts would have been more comfortable, but I donít want bites.
I stopped at a supermarket and a liquor store and stocked up on supplies, then checked in to my next Super 8 motel.† Again, it is not bad at all, considering the price.† Iím becoming a Super 8 fan.† It has a microwave and little fridge, which is my minimum requirement these days.† Iím set now for the next three days for food and drink, anyway.† Iíll be able to handle all my meals, which is how I like it.† Watch for reports of ham and cheese sandwiches, they are definitely coming soon.
Iím in Conroe, Texas tonight.† Who would have imagined that I would ever spend a night in Conroe, Texas?† Certainly not me.† It is a very strange world we have created for ourselves, indeed.
Thursday, April 12
I slept well again last night and was up by about 7.† I made myself a breakfast sandwich (ham and cheese, of course), had a container of yogurt, and I hit the road.† I left my stuff in my room, so I could get back to the W.G. Jones State Forest as early as possible.† I was birding by 8:15, which is pretty good for this night-person old rambler on the second morning after a two hour unfavorable time zone change.
When I arrived at the forest, there was another birder who had just arrived, and we joined forces in pursuit of the endangered woodpecker.† He had been there before, but not for a number of years, and I knew where they had told me to look yesterday.
As we birded, we chatted, of course.† His ďprojectĒ at this point is to try to take as many pictures of birds of the ABA (American Birding Association) list birds as he can. Thatís the official list for the US and Canada, including Alaska, but not Hawaii.† He got a new camera a year ago, and he started his count then.† He was at 551, which was an extremely impressive total.† He allows himself to see birds outside of the ABA geographical area, as long as they are on the ABA list.† For example, he got pictures of European birds in Europe that are on the ABA list but are very rare in the US, in some cases.† Still, 551 was impressive.† Later he mentioned that he has birded in Alaska 45 times.† Hmm, that seems like a lot.† Ten times in Brazil, and his Brazil list is the only one that is longer than his US ABA list.† It was obvious that the guy has done a lot of birding.
So, we wandered around in search of the endangered woodpecker, as well as anything else that might be on offer.† We talked about bird songs and calls, and he told me his method of remembering them, which involves writing down a phonetic-like description of the call.† I had told him how hopeless I am at bird songs and calls.† There wasnít much around, but eventually, I spotted a woodpecker, and it was our target bird, RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER (lifer)!† Score one for the old rambler.† I got him onto it, and we both got pictures, 552 for him with his new camera, in a year.† Here is my best one.
I know, not a very impressive looking bird, but one that is highly sought after by birders, as they are endangered and can only be seen in a few places.† The large white cheek was the key ID point for me, along with the size.
My new buddy and I walked some more in the forest, but didnít see anything else interesting, other than a flyover Pileated Woodpecker, one for my trip list, but not my year list.† He heard a number of birds, and it was brought home to me once again what a huge handicap I have, in not being able to remember and recognize bird songs and calls.† After about an hour and a half of birding, we got back to our cars, and as we were parting, he introduced himself.† His name was Sandy Komito.
Now, I know that means absolutely nothing to any of my readers, but it meant something to me.† Do you remember that the other day I was telling you about the movie called The Big Year?† As they said at the beginning of the movie, it was a true story, and only the facts were changed.† The movie was based loosely on a book by the same name, which was the true story of a Big Year that three birders independently pursued in 1998.† I had read the book and had enjoyed it a lot.† Sandy Komito was the birder who had the highest total that year, 743 species in the ABA area.† The movie took a lot of liberties, and the personal details of the three birders were changed a lot, so you canít really say that the guy I birded with today was one of those characters, but he was the one who got the most birds in 1998, the year that the book covers.† Sandy Komito is an almost legendary birder, who has written two books of his own, I think.† And, today I not only spent an hour and a half birding with him, I got him onto our target bird.† I was amazed and kept saying to myself all day Ė I birded with Sandy Komito this morning.† When I got back to my room, I googled him, just to be sure that someone wasnít having me on, and that was him all right.† What a fun thing to have happen.† I kept thinking that it was like I was a golfer, and after hacking around a course in the middle of nowhere with another guy, he told me, by the way, my name is Jack Nicklaus.
So, having gotten the Red-cockaded Woodpecker under my belt, I went back to my room, made myself a lunch, and headed out for my next destination.† Tonight and tomorrow night Iím in Kountze, Texas, in the middle of the Big Thicket National Preserve.† It was about an hour and a half drive to get here from Conroe, where I stayed last night.† Iím in another Super 8, with a fridge and microwave, and this one is even nicer than the last two.† Super 8 has either been upgrading their motels or the ones I have stayed at are some of the best ones.† They have been in the 50 to 60 bucks a night range, which is well within my budget.
The weather today was much nicer for me.† It was overcast, and there were a few scattered raindrops from time to time, although never enough to actually make you wet.† The temps peaked out in the mid 70ís or maybe high 70ís at the most, which is a whole lot better than the mid 80ís for me.† On my drive today, I picked up CATTLE EGRET for my year list, and later a large black bird flew in and landed on a pole ahead of me, and I added BLACK VULTURE to my year list.† I had seen them down in Arizona last year, but today I saw quite a few of them.† Here is a picture of that not-so-pretty bird:
I guess he is more attractive than his cousin the Turkey Vulture, but he wonít win any bird beauty contests, I donít think.
I checked in to my new motel early and put my cold food in the fridge, then headed out to the visitor center for the Big Thicket National Preserve, where I found picnic tables for me to eat my ham and cheese sandwich with tortilla chips and Diet Coke.† No cookies today.
I spent the afternoon visiting three parts of the Big Thicket Preserve.† I walked a half mile or so at each place, but it was amazingly un-birdy.† All day today, I was struck by the lack of birds.†† They really have remarkably few birds in Texas, it seems to me, at least where I have been so far.† I see many more birds along the roads in the west when Iím driving.† My walks in the forest were likewise unproductive.† I saw a very small number of birds, but nothing I could identify.† There was some bird song, but I couldnít recognize or count them, of course, and it was usually in the distance anyway.† It really reminded me of forest birding everywhere else Iíve done it.† I have never had any luck in forests, it seems, not in Australia, not in Hawaii, not in Britain, and not in the US.† I guess that there just arenít many birds in forests, or at least, not many that show themselves.† Some of it today was probably because it was the middle of the day, or at least, I hope so.† I plan to try to get out there early tomorrow, to give it a fair chance.
At one of my stops, I saw a cute little green lizard, and it posed nicely for pictures.† Here it is for your enjoyment.† That is a 2x4 that it is on, for size reference.
As the afternoon wore on, I drove east on Gore Store Road, which is a road that all the birding trip reports and books talk about.† I knew that there is about 10 miles of it in the middle that is unpaved, and when I asked about it at the visitor center, the woman there was a little cautious about it.† So, I wanted to check it out, as I wanted to drive along it in the morning.† Well, it got somewhat sandy almost at once, and I didnít like it.† My car would fishtail around in the sand, and I just didnít like it at all.† I found a place to turn around, gingerly, and headed back.† Iíll find somewhere else to bird in the morning.† I am really a chicken when it comes to unpaved roads in a rental car when Iím alone.† I could just picture spinning off the road or getting stuck in the sand along the road.† Iím sure I could get pulled out, there seems to be a fair amount of traffic along the road, but I am just plain chicken.† Tonight Iíll work out a plan that doesnít include Gore Store Road, or at least, the unpaved part.† I was glad I had checked it out, but even more glad when I got back to the pavement.
So, it was a very disappointing day today, in terms of numbers of birds.† I did get the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and it was really fun to realize I had birded with Sandy Komito, so it wasnít a total loss, but the Big Thicket sure is a disappointment.† Iím glad to see it, and I enjoyed my walks in the woods, but from a birding perspective, it was a washout.† I just hope I can see something new for my year list tomorrow, so I donít get skunked.† That would be very disappointing, so early in the trip.† I expect that things will be a lot better in the morning, and I need a ton of very common birds still, so I would think I would see something, but until I do, Iíll worry about it.
Last night I forgot to give any numbers, I think, so here is a full dose of numbers.† Today I saw 4 birds for my trip list, bringing me to 25 so far, and 5 of those are lifers.† Three of those added to my year list, and one of those was a lifer.† That brings me to 230 for the year, of which 21 are lifers.
Tomorrow I have another day of forest birding, and then I head for the coast.† It will be a relief to look at shorebirds, which canít hide in the leaves or flit away as soon as you see them.† Iíll have a real challenge with warblers and other migrating songbirds, but I also will have the help of some professional guides, I think, as well as lots of other birders in the same places, all helping each other see the birds.† For now, the idea is to see at least one more species for my year list tomorrow, and then get out of the forests.
Friday, April 13
Friday the thirteenth?† I went all day and didnít realize that.† I donít think any black cats crossed my path, though, so maybe Iím all right.
I slept well again and was up at about 6:20 this morning.† I had a nice ham and cheese sandwich on a toasted English muffin (thanks to Super 8 for the muffin and the toaster), along with some yogurt.† I was on the road by 7:30, so Iím continuing to move myself to an earlier schedule.
My first stop, only about 15 minutes away, was the Roy E Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary.† Here is what the place looks like:
That was taken as I left Ė when I got there, mine was the only car in the parking lot, and I didnít see anyone else until I was leaving.† The temperature was in the mid-60ís, which was very pleasant for me.† It warmed up while I was there, and it was kind of warm in the sun by the time I left, a couple of hours later.† Here is what part of it looks like once you get inside:
My plan had been to get out early this morning, in the hopes that there would be more bird activity.† Indeed, the plan worked, and there was activity from the start.† Mostly it was songs and calls, and of course, I couldnít identify anything.† Almost right away a small bird flew across the path, though and landed in a tree where I could see him with my binoculars.† A nice little BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER for my year list.† Bingo, I was off the Schneid right off the bat.
The most common bird was probably the Northern Cardinal, almost all males.† They are very common in the East, but they are still exotic looking to me, with their bright red color. †They are very vocal and very loud. †Here is a picture of one of them:
I walked on, and the next bird that I could actually use was a distant raptor.† I saw it fly into a tree, and I got a good look at it while it was perched.† I could tell right away it was nothing I had ever seen before.† It flew away before I could get closer, and I got a good look at it while it was flying, too.† Based on the size, the shape, and the colors, I am confident it was a BROAD-WINGED HAWK (lifer).† I hadnít really been expecting to see one today, but yesterday Sandy Komito had mentioned that he had been looking for them in the area I was in today, as they nest there.† That was good, and it went on my list as a potential bird of the day.
Moving along, I saw a blue bird.† Not a bluebird, but it was a bird and it was blue.† There were two possibilities, both of which I have seen before, but not many times for either of them.† I played some songs of both species, and it came in closer and I got much better looks.† Eventually I decided that it was an INDIGO BUNTING, a bird that is supposedly very common right now where Iíll be going next, but I picked it up today.† Later I saw a pair of them in the picnic area, as I was leaving.† The male is a beautiful blue color, and the female was pretty much brown, although it was an attractive rich brown color, I thought.† Maybe I can get a picture of one later in the trip.
There were a number of Red-headed Woodpeckers around.† They are supposedly less common than the Red-bellied Woodpecker, which I havenít seen yet, but maybe not where I have been, Iím not sure.† At any rate, I saw a number of them this morning, usually at a distance.† Here is one picture that I got, though, which I like.
About that time a Great Blue Heron flew over, one for my trip list.† Next up was the biggest excitement of the day, though.
I noticed a gray and white bird sitting on a snag, not too far away.† Obviously it was a raptor, and it was reminiscent of a White-tailed Kite, but it was quite a bit larger.† It posed for pictures very cooperatively, and I got a number of pictures of one of the specialties of this area, a beautiful SWALLOW-TAILED KITE (lifer).† Here are some pictures:
Note how long the wings are, but the tail also is sticking out.† The bird stretched at one point, and I got a picture that shows the split tail that gives the bird its name:
Is that cool, or what?† It shows the birdís color pattern and the split swallow-tail.† Perfeck!
Hereís one more for good measure, as I was so excited to see this lovely bird.
It flew off and gave me great views of it in flight, but I wasnít quick enough with the camera to capture that.† I immediately declared it the Bird of the Day; all competition was over after that show.
Despite all the bird song I was hearing, it wasnít until almost the end of my walk that a singing bird was actually something I could find that was useful.† It was quite loud, and sounded a lot (to my untalented ears) like all the cardinals that I had been hearing and seeing all morning.† It seemed a bit different, though, so I looked for it.† I saw red, and thought, okay, so it was a cardinal after all, sounding a little different.† But, I persisted, to get a better look at it, and it wasnít a cardinal.† Again I was down to two possibilities, like with the blue bird I had seen earlier.† It kept singing, and I got a number of distant pictures of it.† The angle wasnít good to see the main things I needed to see to know which species it was.† I needed to see the wing and back colors, but the bird was facing me.† It wasnít until I got back here to my room and looked at my pictures that I finally decided it was a male SUMMER TANAGER.† The other possibility would have been a lifer, Scarlet Tanager, but this bird didnít have black wings and tail, and the bill was too long for the Scarlet Tanager, I think.† Here are two pictures that I think show the points that caused me to call it a Summer Tanager:
Since I have only seen Summer Tanager a couple of times last year in Arizona and have never seen Scarlet Tanager, Iím going by the pictures in my field guide, and the points of identification that they mention.
The day had heated up by the time I left that place, and I was warm.† I headed north next, to Gore Store Road, the eastern end of the road that I turned around on yesterday, due to the amount of sand on the unpaved part of the road.† The eastern part was paved, and I drove along and stopped from time to time, to listen and look for birds.† I was following the directions of one of my bird finding books.† I did hear some birds, but of course, I couldnít recognize anything.† I guess a good birder who counted ďheard onlyĒ birds would have counted some of them, but I only count birds I see, and I couldnít recognize the songs and calls anyway.† I took the two side roads that were recommended, and continued to hear birds at each stop, but never did see anything at all.† After a while I gave that up and backtracked to the highway.† As I approached the highway, there was a bird on a wire, and it turned out to be a BARN SWALLOW, a species I hadnít seen yet this year.† I expect to get 6 swallow species on this trip, five of which I need for my year list still.† This was the first.
By this time, I was thinking about lunch, which I had made last night and brought with me.† Surprise, a tuna and cheese sandwich this time, with more tortilla chips, a Diet Coke, and a cookie.† I headed south to Village Creek State Park.† It is listed in my bird finding book, although there isnít really anything special to be seen there.† I had had it with trying for the special birds of the Pineywoods, though, as I donít know the calls, and they are harder than hell to see in the forests.† Iím going to take a hit on my spreadsheet for the specialties of this area; I guess I was just overly optimistic, based on the results of better birders than I and the optimism that is inherent in birding books that list birding sites.
On my way to the state park, though, in the town of Lumberton, I saw a crow on a pole, being harassed by a mockingbird.† I pulled in to the parking lot for the city council hall, next to the police department, and got out to try to see if I could hear the crow call.† There are two species of crow in this area, and they look just about the same.† You are supposed to tell them apart by their calls.† Great, my weakest point as a birder, identifying calls.† Nonetheless, I had listened to the calls, and I thought I might be able to tell the difference.† As it turned out, I never heard this crow call, mainly because the traffic sounds were so loud.† As I was going back to my car, though, I saw a bird fly in and perch on a wire.† At first glance, it looked like one of the ubiquitous mockingbirds, gray and white, but I put my binoculars on it anyway, for some reason.† It wasnít a mockingbird Ė it was a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, a bird I especially like that I see in California regularly.† It was strange to see one in the middle of a town, but I got excellent looks at it, and thatís what it was.† I had expected to see them on this trip, but not in the middle of a town.† Meanwhile, no joy on the crow.† I was thinking that after lunch, I might drive the 20 miles down the road to Beaumont, where the crow species I wanted to see supposedly hangs out around the town dump.
At Village Creek State Park, I paid my entrance fee, a very modest 3 bucks, got a map of the park and a bird list, and found a picnic table overlooking the creek (which looked more like a river to me).† While I was enjoying my fine tuna and cheese sandwich, I heard a bird calling, and it sounded just like I expected my target crow to sound.† I looked around, and there it was in a tree.† It continued to call, and there was no doubt at all, I had my FISH CROW (lifer).† The call was very obviously different from that of the American Crow, which I have heard plenty of times.† Later in the trip, Iíll be in American Crow territory, and I expect to notch that one up for my trip list at that time.
Here are a couple of pictures of Village Creek, where I ate my lunch, looking upriver and downriver.
After I finished my lunch, I wandered around the trails and through the walk-in campsites, which were unoccupied.† It was kind of warm by then, but I was mostly in the shade, and I stopped from time to time and sat at a table or on a bench.† There was quite a bit of bird song, but as usual, that wasnít any help to me, as I could never see the birds.† I decided to adopt a new strategy, though.† I chose one of the supposedly common birds of the park and played the song on my phone.† Immediately, a bird seemed to answer me.† The answer wasnít exactly the same, but it had the same character to it.† I kept playing and the bird kept responding and moved around from tree to tree, while I tried to catch a view of it.† Sure enough, eventually I saw it, and it was the common TUFTED TITMOUSE (lifer).† Interestingly, the response it was giving was a song I had heard repeatedly all day long (and probably yesterday as well).† Of course, I will forget it, but it was interesting to hear something so familiar, at the time.† Its song is quite loud for such a small bird.
Later I tried it again with another species, and I attracted a couple of CAROLINA WRENS (lifer).† They didnít hang around long, once they found it was only the old rambler making that sound, but I got good enough looks to identify them before they left.† Later I tried it with another species, the White-eyed Vireo, and I got a continuing reply, but I never could see that bird, so Iím not counting it.
That was pretty much it for the birding.† It was only about 3:30, but I headed for home then.† I did cruise some residential streets on the way, and I saw an Eastern Bluebird and a Brown Thrasher, but those are birds I have already counted on the trip.
So, I added 11 species to my trip list today, and 9 of those were new for my year list.† Even better, 5 of those were lifers.† That brings me to 36 on the trip, of which 21 add to my year list, and 10 are lifers.† For the year, Iím now at 239 species, of which 26 are lifers.
Tomorrow I move on.† My next stop is the town of Winnie, which is near High Island, the mecca of spring migration for birders in this country.† In the movie, The Big Year, they got something like 130 species in one day in High Island, when they had a ďfalloutĒ, which is what they call it when the weather conditions cause the migrants to ďfall outĒ of the sky practically, and sit in the trees and rest.† At this point, the weather forecast doesnít look favorable for a big fallout this weekend, but I plan to be there until next Thursday morning, so I have some time.† Even when the weather is benign (you hope for rainy weather with winds from the north, for a fallout), there are still a lot of migrants coming through, and I have my hopes up.† Weíll see if I am again being over-confident.† In addition to the migrants, there are shorebirds and water birds to see in the area, so I have great hopes for the next five days.† This is one of the two hearts of my trip (along with the Rio Grande Valley), where Iím figuring on doing well.† We shall see.
Today was a very good day, despite my concerns.† I didnít get many of the local specialties, but I had a great time, and I added some birds to my list.† The Swallow-tailed Kite was outstanding.
Saturday, April 14
I was up and out of my Super 8 Motel by about 8:15 this morning, I think.† I had made a lunch for myself (tuna and cheese again) and had another ham and cheese sandwich on toasted muffin for my brekkie, along with a yogurt.† I decided to take the back roads to my next destination, Winnie, Texas.† That turned out to be a less than optimal decision, as about halfway there, I got pulled over by a member of the Sour Lake Police Department, for going 69 in a 55 zone.† It had been 65 all the way from Kountze to Sour Lake, but south of Sour Lake, I was in a new county, and the speed limit turned out to be 55.† Welcome to Hardin County, Texas, boy.† I have to call the court on a weekday to find out how much the fine will be and how to take care of it.† How much do you think they will stick this northern boy for going 69 in a 55 zone?† I hate to even imagine.
So, after that little adventure, I watched the signage even more closely (I thought I had been paying attention before), and I soon got to Winnie.† It is a pretty bleak looking wide spot in the highway, and I saw my accommodations for the next five nights.† It was way too early to check in, so I proceeded on through town, noting the location of the local supermarket.† I drove on to High Island, the center of the spring migration action.
Meanwhile, as I approached Winnie, I noticed how suddenly there were birds around again.† They were mostly common ones, but at least there were birds Ė on the wires, flying across the road, in fields.† I picked up Northern Harrier for my trip list, and then EASTERN KINGBIRD for my year list.† I was birding again.
I found Boy Scout Woods, which is one of the main preserves in the little town of High Island.† The parking lot was overflowing and there were lots of birders around.† This particular preserve is owned by the Houston Audubon Society, and I paid my 25 bucks for an annual pass to their preserves (the alternative was 7 bucks a day, and I plan to visit their preserves on at least 6 or 7 days, maybe as many as 8).† I got a pretty patch to sew on to my hat or birding bag for my money, and it came with a safety pin so I could attach it temporarily.† If I remember, Iíll get a picture of it for your enjoyment.
I wandered around, but it was birding in the woods again, for the most part.† Nothing to see, and little to hear.† I did pick up a BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD for my year list, but nothing else new.† Back at the entrance area, I sat in the ďgrandstandĒ for awhile.† Iíll have to get a picture of the grandstand another day, I forgot today.† Birders sit there and watch ďThe DripĒ, which is a pool fed by a small stream of water that pours into it.† The action is about 30 feet away, I would guess, and in the deep shade, which makes pictures difficult.
Soon after I joined the watchers there, a KENTUCKY WARBLER (lifer) flew in, and my High Island experience had truly begun.† Here is a picture I got later of either the same Kentucky Warbler or another one.† Not great, but it shows the markings well.
There were GRAY CATBIRDS around all the time, and here is a picture of one of them.† The black cap is diagnostic, as well as the overall color and size.
After awhile, another little bird flew in, and I was actually able to identify it myself, after all my warbler studying.† A nice little WORM-EATING WARBLER (lifer).† I suppose they do actually eat worms, or else how would they have gotten that name?† No picture, sorry to say.† It was really dark back in there, and pictures were very hard to come by.
A male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK came to take a brief bath about then, and next several ORCHARD ORIOLES (lifer) moved in.† We had a mature male, a female, and two second year males stop by, and it was instructive to see the differences.† Iím not sure I would have understood what they all were, except a tour group was there at the time, and the leader had a loud voice and was very knowledgeable.† That is one of the things I was counting on for this trip Ė other birders who know a lot more than I do, seeing the same birds and talking about them.† Some birders donít like that; they would like to be able to fully identify each bird on their own, but I am glad to get any help I can get.†
Soon after that, a PROTHONOTARY WARBLER (lifer) stopped by, and I was actually able to identify it myself, and even show it in my field guide to the couple next to me, who werenít sure what it was.† I was birding!† I had wondered how to pronounce that one, and I asked the southern sounding people next to me how to pronounce it.† They put the accent on the second to last syllable, which is not what I would have guessed.†† I would have said Proí-tho, and then noteí-ary, like the person who notarizes something, but I guess that isnít how it is said.† Anyway, it was a lovely warbler to get, one I had wanted to see.
It was approaching lunch time by then, so I went to my car to get my lunch, as they had a nice area with several picnic tables.† Just as I got my lunch, a huge tour bus pulled up, and it turned out to be their lunch stop, so they all piled out and joined me at the picnic tables.† As it turned out, it was actually just fine.† Not only were the people nice, but soon after they got there, one of them spotted a bird in a tree over our heads.† It was a TENNESSEE WARBLER (lifer), a very plain bird that I knew I would need help identifying, and these kind people identified it for me.† It took me a while to get onto it, but when I finally did, I got a good look and could see the identifying eyebrow.† A nice lunchtime bonus.
After my humble home made lunch, I went back to the grandstand.† Birds kept coming in.† It is very interesting to me that a dripping water feature could attract birds so effectively.† A WHITE-EYED VIREO (lifer) came in - another one I never would have been able to identify for myself, but again, there was a knowledgeable tour guide there who told us what it was and what to look for to ID it.†† Soon after that, there were a couple of eastern sparrows that I would have had a hard time with, too.† A tan morph WHITE-THROATED SPARROW and then a HARRISíS SPARROW, one I had not expected to see at all, as they winter here and usually have gone north by now.
Here is a pretty poor picture of a Common Grackle.† I had counted that species at the airport the other evening, but after seeing this one today, I wonder about my identification that day.† Maybe it was the light, but the head was much more iridescent than I had remembered.† A poor picture, but the actual bird was very attractive in that light.
It was not a busy day at The Drip, from what I understand, but it added several nice species for me, and I could get them while sitting in the shade, which is a distinct advantage to the old rambler who likes his comfort.† About 1:30 or so, I decided I had to leave, to check into my new digs and do some grocery shopping.† I had a plan for another activity at 4, and I wanted to get there early.
So, I drove back to Winnie from High Island, which looks close on a map of Texas, but is almost a half hour drive.† I checked in, and I went and did some grocery shopping, for the next few days.† The place Iím staying is interesting.† It was built as a Studio 6 (although it is not part of their network now), which is a brand that Motel 6 has that has rooms with somewhat-full kitchens.† My room itself is actually just fine.† It is relatively new, clean by my standards (which arenít really high, but I would notice some things), and has my minimum standards Ė a refrigerator, a microwave, and wi-fi.† It doesnít smell musty, which is important to me, and the a/c seems to work fine, although when I set it to 62, the temperature seems to settle at about 68 or 69.† That should be okay for me, though.
Nonetheless, despite all that, there is something about the place that I just donít like.† I havenít been able to put my finger on the actual problem, but I just donít feel comfortable here.† The place seems more like a transient weekly apartment place than an overnight motel.† There are people hanging out in the parking lot, and lots of noise going on.† I felt uncomfortable leaving my expensive new scope in my car overnight, so I brought it into my room.† There are nasty cooking smells in the corridors, although my own room smells fine, fortunately.† As I said, I just canít quite put my finger on my objections.† Separate from all that, I havenít been able to make the wi-fi work, and Iím using my cell phone app and connection to get online.† Here are a couple more minor points Ė the kitchen equipment is as minimal as you can imagine.† Two spoons, forks, knives, plastic cups, plates, etc.† One small saucepan (two burner stove top, no oven) and no other cooking pans.† One partial roll of toilet paper and no tissues.† One small soap bar, but no shampoo.† It is just an absolutely minimalist place, with the least possible they can give you.† That might be contributing to my overall impression.† Iím booked in here for five nights, and now Iíve paid for them, so Iím sure Iíll stay, and maybe Iíll warm up to the place.† I am also booked in for three nights at the end of my trip, and I am definitely going to look into changing that.
Anyway, I got my stuff into the fridge and some of my baggage into the room, and I headed out for my 4 oíclock planned appointment.† That was a so-called ďYellow Rail WalkĒ at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.† The Yellow Rail is an endangered species that is very secretive, and they do these ďwalksĒ on weekends at the Anahuac NWR, for about three weeks in the spring.† The Yellow Rail spends its winter in this area, and by the end of April, it has headed north for the year, to breed.† The rails live in a marshy area, and they get a bunch of people with rubber boots to walk through an area dragging a bunch of milk jugs with weights in them, on a line between them, to try to flush the rails.† If they are successful, you get a couple of secondís view of the bird, as it flies away and lands again in the marsh.† What fun, huh?
Well, I wasnít about to tramp through the marsh in rubber boots, although it turned out that they did have a nice selection of boots you could borrow.† But, for the wimps, you can watch from the road, and still maybe see the bird when it flushes.† If it flushes.† I guess they have about a 50% success rate in actually seeing a Yellow Rail on one of the walks.† Other birds can also be flushed, and some of those would also be good ones for me.
So, I showed up there about 3:40, for the 4:00 rail walk.† There was quite a crowd.† There ended up being about 50 or 60 people involved, in about 25 or 30 cars.† We all paraded out into the reserve, and parked our cars.† It turned out to be about a half mile walk down the road to where the adventurous ones formed their line and rapidly walked through the marsh.† Here is a picture of the ďlineĒ, with some people following behind.
They have to move pretty quickly, or else the birds would just run ahead of them, and not flush.† Here are some of the road watchers, which included me, of course.
The cars were off in the distance, about a half mile or more down that road.
As it turned out, it was a very successful rail walk.† On the second pass, a bird flushed, and I got a good look at the key identification thing, the white trailing edges to the wings.† It was a YELLOW RAIL (lifer).† They watched where it landed, and moved in on it again, and the second time it flushed, I got my binoculars on it and had an excellent look.† At that point, they were actually able to surround the poor bird and closed into a circle around it.† The people out in the marsh had really close-up looks at it, as it cowered in the grass, before it flew a third time, and I again got a great binocular look at it.
Many of the people on the walk had been out there this morning at 7, for the first of the two Saturday walks this week, but they hadnít managed to flush a Yellow Rail this morning, so they had returned this afternoon.† I was told that this was a very fast successful walk, and so I felt very fortunate.† I couldnít help but reflect on what a totally crazy thing this was for a person to be doing on a Saturday afternoon, rapidly turning into a Saturday evening, when a person could be kicking back and enjoying a little drinkie or two, as opposed to walking in the sun and wind, looking for a damn bird.† Thatís what us birders, do, though, strange as it seems.
Having seen the Yellow Rail, everyone boogied for the cars and I headed back to town.† After a quick stop at the supermarket to get a couple of things I had forgotten earlier, I got back to my new digs just after 6.† Oh yes, on the drive through Anahuac to get to the rail walk site (and back), I had managed to pick up Killdeer, Green Heron, Belted Kingfisher and Long-billed Curlew for my trip list.† As we started our walk down the road to the actual rail walk area, a COMMON NIGHTHAWK flushed (a night bird I wasnít at all sure I would see here), and later I added BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCK and WHITE IBIS (lifer) to my year list.† So, the numbers were increasing, as I had hoped and expected when I got to this area.
For the day, I added 21 birds to my trip list, and 16 of those were new for my year list.† 8 of those were lifers.† That puts me at 57 for the trip, of which 37 add to my year list, and 18 of those are lifers.† I know, too many numbers, but I need to keep track for myself.† I would say that overall, Iím doing ok, and the next day or two will really increase those numbers.† We will see.
I havenít really made any plans for tomorrow yet, although I have some ideas.† The weather forecast is actually looking pretty good for birds on Monday and Tuesday (which means we will have some rain, probably).† There are a number of places I could go tomorrow, and there are some bird walks I could join that would help me, no doubt.† It is going to depend on the weather and how I feel.† I will probably get over to the shore of the Gulf, and that will produce some good numbers.† Iím here, in the middle of the spring migration, and the world is my oyster.† What a life!
Sunday, April 15
First of all, one addition to yesterdayís lists.† I saw a Belted Kingfisher on the way back from the Anahuac Yellow Rail Walk, so that increased my trip list by one.
I slept well again and was up at about 6:30.† I had a couple of Jimmy Dean turkey sausage egg muffins and some Greek yogurt for my brekkie and made myself a nice ham and cheese sandwich for my lunch.† Before I left, I stopped by the front desk and asked whether their internet access was working, as I hadnít been able to connect with their wi fi.† It was working, the woman told me, and suggested that if I brought my computer to the front, she would look at it to see what might be wrong.† Well, I did that, and it connected for her.† I asked what she had done, and she said nothing I hadnít done already.† Go figure.† Anyway, now I have wi fi access, although the internet seems flakey and keeps fading out from time to time.† If that keeps up, maybe Iíll go back to my cell phone access.
It was about 8:30 or 8:45 before I got out of here, as a result, and I first went to Boy Scout Woods again, to see what was being seen at The Drip.† I promised a picture of the grandstand there, and here it is, taken this afternoon, actually.† Have you ever seen a bunch of people having so much fun?
The big excitement for me at The Drip today was several great sightings of male PAINTED BUNTINGS (lifer).† They are very colorful little birds, and I had a number of looks at them.† Here is a really poor picture I took this afternoon of one.† I show it, despite it being so poor due to low light, only because it shows their bright colors.
I declared it the bird of the day, at the end of the day today, so I thought I should at least show my best picture.
There was also a very plain looking Orange-crowned Warbler around, for my trip list, and I counted Feral Pigeon today, too.
After a while, I went on over to another of the High Island preserves, Smith Oaks. †It is larger than Boy Scout Woods, but I didnít really walk around much.† Iíll probably go back later.† What I did today was visit what they call The Rookery, some islands where various birds nest.† I added Great Egret and Snowy Egret to my trip list.† I also added NEOTROPIC CORMORANT and TRICOLORED HERON to my year list, which was nice, although expected.† In addition to all that, I also got an expected lifer Ė ROSEATE SPOONBILL (lifer).† The two egret species and the cormorants were nesting there, and I found it interesting that the nests are safe from the normal predators because the ponds have alligators in them, and the normal raccoons, etc, canít swim across to the islands.† They have ďDonít feed the alligatorsĒ signs, but I didnít see any actual alligators.
I took a lot of pictures and here are some of them.† This is a Snowy Egret.† Check out its yellow feet.
I took a lot of pictures of Roseate Spoonbills, as their color is so attractive and showy.† Here is a basic picture of one.
Is that a goofy bill, or what?
Here is one showing the colors on its tail.
And here is one showing its underwing color.
And, finally, here is one flying.
By that time, it was about 11, so I went back over to Boy Scout Woods and had my humble lunch, after checking out The Drip again.† At noon I joined a group going on a shorebird tour.† There is a big international bird tour company, called Tropical Birding, which works in association with the Houston Audubon Society to conduct free tours every day from late March until early May.† They do walks at 8 AM and 4 PM, and a shorebird tour at noon.
I joined the noon tour today.† There were about 15 people on it, and we paraded in about 6 cars to Rollover Pass for our first stop.† There, we checked out shorebirds.† The tide was high, and the strong south winds made the water even higher.† There were lots of birds, though, and they were close.† As we were leaving our meeting point at Boy Scout Woods, a man asked if anyone was alone and wanted to car pool.† I spoke up, and I ended up going with him and his wife in their car.† It was very nice to not have to drive and to have someone to talk to.† Steve and Susan are from Vermont, but they spent the winter doing volunteer work at a bird reserve in the Rio Grande Valley, south of here, living in an RV, I gather.
On the way to Rollover Pass, I picked up Brown Pelican for my trip list.† Once at the pass, the birds came hot and heavy.† I rapidly picked up Willet and Greater Yellowlegs for my trip list, and then we started working our way through all the terns that were loafing on the beach, waiting for the tide to turn.† The two guides were great, describing each tern and giving us views through their scopes if we wanted them.† We worked our way through 8 of the 9 potential tern species on the Texas Coast, in about 15 minutes.† For my trip list, I added Forsterís Tern.† For my year list, I added LEAST TERN, BLACK TERN, ROYAL TERN, CASPIAN TERN, COMMON TERN, and BLACK SKIMMER, which is a tern.† Thatís seven, and the eighth was SANDWICH TERN (lifer).† Now I have just one other tern to look for here, the Gull-billed Tern.† Iíve seen Gull-billed Tern in Australia, but never in the US.† The best one we saw today was the Black Tern, I think.† We saw two or three of them, and I got pictures of one of them.† In the winter they are mostly white, and in the summer they lose many of their white feathers and turn almost completely black.† This one is partly done with his molt:
The Black Tern is the one in the middle, of course.† The smaller one in front is a Least Tern, the smallest species.† Here is another picture that shows some Least Terns with some other birds, including a Royal Tern on the right, with the yellow orange bill.
The Royal Tern isnít even the largest species, the Caspian Tern is.† As you can see, there is a large size difference among the terns, which helps sort them out.† That picture also shows a LAUGHING GULL (lifer) on the left, the most common gull species here.† I also added Ring-billed Gull to my trip list.
Others that were there included Whimbrel, American Avocet, Black-bellied Plover, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Red-breasted Merganser for my trip list.
But, we still werenít through.† There was an AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (lifer) there, too.† I see the Black Oystercatcher in California regularly, and it is all black, with red eyes, legs and bill.† This East Coast oystercatcher is black and white, but with the same red eyes, bill, and legs.
Looking at this picture, I guess the legs arenít all that red, more like a light pink, and the bill seems more orange than red.
Finally, there was one more treat there for me, a lone WILSONíS PLOVER (lifer).† Here is a picture of that little darling.
It looks somewhat like some other small plovers, but the bill is much larger than those of other plovers.
About that time, someone noticed that the tide was suddenly at our feet, and our exit was being cut off.† My scope was suddenly sitting in an inch of water, and the water was rising.† The timing was actually good, as we had seen everything there was to see there (I guess), and we beat a hasty retreat back to the cars, jumping over the incoming water at one point.
We moved on from there, down the Bolivar Peninsula to the Bolivar Flats, almost at the end of the peninsula.† A couple of American White Pelicans flew over as we drove south along the peninsula and they added to my trip list.† As we drove from the highway to the beach, I picked up White-tailed Kite for my trip list.
All beaches in Texas are considered part of the state highway system, so you can drive on them.† We drove down the beach as far as you can go, and got out to check out the shorebirds.† The tide was really quite high, and if we hadnít known that the high point was due at 2:00, I donít know if we would have driven out there at all, although there were other cars out there, too.† I was actually glad that Steve and Susan had given me a ride, and I didnít have to take my rental car out there onto the sand.† Here is a picture of the beach, looking back the way we had come.
As it turned out, the conditions were excellent.† On a low tide, the birds can be hundreds of yards out there, as the beach is very shallow, but today they were in those areas along the beach that have seaweed and debris.† You could approach pretty closely and get good views of them.† I added Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin, Western Sandpiper, and Sanderling to my trip list there.† I also added PIPING PLOVER (lifer).† Here is a picture of that little plover:
I learned that there are two subspecies of Willet, a bird that I see in California in the winter.† Both subspecies are here in the spring, but the eastern subspecies has a habit of perching on fence posts, and here is a picture of one, in breeding plumage:
I got this picture of a Ruddy Turnstone and a Willet.
The guided tour was over at that point, but on our way back to the highway, we stopped at a little pond and enjoyed close views of spoonbills, White Ibis, egrets, Willets and other shorebirds.† There were both Greater Yellowlegs and LESSER YELLOWLEGS there, which made for a nice size comparison.† Here is a picture of one of the Lesser Yellowlegs.
In addition to being smaller than the Greater, the Lesser Yellowlegs has a bill that is about the length of its head.† The Greaterís bill is about one and a half times the length of its head.† Despite that difference, it was nice to have both species in the same pond running around next to each other, for comparison.
The drive back to High Island was interesting because Steve and Susan had been along that stretch before Hurricane Ike swept through in 2008, and they could point out all the changes.† Almost all the buildings are new since then, and almost all of them are raised at least ten feet on stilts.† You might have thought that after a whole community was wiped out by a hurricane that they would let the land revert to nature, but no, they have rebuilt more than ever on the land.† Iím not sure I would have noticed how new everything was if I hadnít been riding with Steve and Susan.† When you looked, you could see a few buildings that had survived the storm, and some others that have been abandoned and are derelict now.
Back at High Island, at Boy Scout Woods, I spent some more time at The Drip.† I missed the Blue-winged Warbler that had been coming around, but I did pick up NORTHERN PARULA (lifer), a tiny warbler.† My attempts at pictures of the parula are so bad that Iím not going to show any.† It is really tough to get pictures there, because of the distance and the lack of light under the bushes.† I showed the terrible picture of the male Painted Bunting, back at the beginning of this report, because it is so colorful and I had decided it was the bird of the day.† Here is a picture I got of a male Indigo Bunting.† It is poor, but I keep telling you what a sucker I am for blue colored birds.
By that time it was after four oíclock, and I headed for home.† I needed to stop at the supermarket and pick up some beer and some dinner.† But, I still had one more adventure for the day.
Since my speeding ticket the other day, I have been very careful of the speed limits, and I have learned to use the carís cruise control, to help me.† I had it carefully set at exactly 65 all the way from High Island, heading toward Winnie.† But, I guess I zoned out, and I suddenly noticed I was gaining on the pickup in front of me that had passed me a ways back, and I was in a small community, where I knew the speed limit was only 55.† I cut off the cruise control and slowed down, and then I noticed a cop car coming up on me from behind.† Damn!† I knew I was about to be busted again, just one day after my experience yesterday morning.
Sure enough, he followed me a while, to see if I would do anything else stupid, and then he turned his lights on.† I couldnít believe it.† Twice in two days?
As it turned out, he was a State Trooper, or whatever they call the state police here, and not a local cop out to fill the townís coffers, and he gave me a written warning and emphasized a couple of times that there was no fine or penalty and it wouldnít go on my driving record.† He was friendly and asked me about myself and what I was doing there, and I told him about local birding, which he hadnít realized was something that people came from all over the world to do in this area.† He thought it was kind of strange that I would come all the way from Washington State to look at birds in Texas.† The written warning he gave me says that they do it that way so people will be more careful about obeying the laws, and I can tell you, I will be even more careful from now on.† Twice in two days!† What a riot.
I picked up some pre-cooked roast beef in juice and some macaroni and cheese, to have with my vegetables (carrots, broccoli, and snow peas) for my dinner, and I got a six pack of beer as well.† I was hot and beer sounded good to me.
Back here at my accommodations, I was pleased and a bit surprised that they had actually serviced my room today.† Based on how minimalist it all is, and how the place seems to me more of a weekly residential motel, I hadnít really expected daily service.† I was glad to have my trash emptied, as I produce a lot waste from my food preparation.† Tonight there seemed to be some kind of a party going on next door, with a lot of loud music and loud talking and laughing, but it has quieted down now, at 9:30.† I noticed that there were more pick up trucks in the parking lot than passenger cars, but I donít really know what that indicates.† Anyway, I feel a bit better about this place than I did at first, but I think I will still check out another place across the street, for when I return to Winnie for the last three nights of my trip.
The numbers.† I added 38 to my trip list today, to bring that to 95 now.† 17 of those today were for my year list, which makes a whopping 54 I have added to my year list in my first five days here.† Today I added 8 more lifers, to bring my total lifers on the trip to 26.† I donít know if I have actually said, but I have hopes of getting 260 or more for the trip, and I hope that at least 175 of those will add to my year list, so I still have a long way to go.† I also hope for 85 lifers on the trip.† So, I have 95 toward my goal of 260 total, 54 toward my goal of 175 for my year list, and 26 of the 85 lifers I hope to get.† Put that way, it looks like I still have a long way to go, but I have another 20 days to do it in, and some new places to visit, with different kinds of habitat.
Meanwhile, I have another three full days here in the Winnie area, and Iím not sure what Iím going to do tomorrow.† The weather forecast is for thunderstorms for the next two or even three days, and I donít know how much that will affect my birding.† They had thought there might be thunderstorms this afternoon, too, but we had no rain at all today.† It was cloudy most of the time, quite windy, and the temperatures got up into the mid 80ís.
Thatís my story for today, and Iím sticking to it.
Monday, April 16
Before I get into todayís adventures, here is a picture I forgot from yesterday.† These are Black Skimmers, which are members of the tern family, seen at Rollover Pass and counted yesterday for my year list.
Their name comes from their practice of fishing by flying low over the water and opening their bill and dragging the lower part in the water, to catch fish.† The first time I saw them, they were fishing like that in the Salinas River, just north of Monterey.† Iíve never seen them since then in the Monterey area, but I have seen them a couple of times in Southern California.† I like the bird, and when I used to play poker online, I used the name Skimmer15, because I like them.† Iíd love to see them doing their fishing act here in Texas; Iíve never seen them doing that again, since that first time.
So, this morning I was up about 6:30 again, after a good nightís sleep.† The bed here is too firm for me, and I wake every hour or so with parts of my body ďasleepĒ, and I have to turn over.† On the other hand, I havenít had insomnia and I havenít been stiff in the morning, like I sometimes am after sleeping on a too-firm bed.† Also, I have been getting up only once during the night to pee, which is outstanding for me.† Last night I didnít get up at all, the second time that has happened on this trip so far.† OK, so thatís more information than you were looking for.† Sorry about that.† When you are an old man, such things matter.
It was about 8:30 by the time I got out of here, after a couple more Jimmy Dean turkey sausage with egg muffins and some yogurt.† I made my lunch, too, of course. †It had rained and thundered during the night, and the forecast for today was for more of the same.
Last night someone posted on the TexBirds mailing list that they had seen some interesting shorebirds in some fields north of Winnie, so I headed there first this morning.† I found the fields, and it happened to be at a time when the rain had let up.† It was hard to pull off the highway, but I found a wide spot and set up my scope.† There were indeed shorebirds in the fields, mostly ones I had seen already on the trip Ė Whimbrels, Willets, Black-bellied Plovers, and Semipalmated Plovers.† It was the first time I had seen Semipalmated Plovers that werenít on a beach, so it surprised me, but that is what they were.
Then I saw a different looking plover.† It had a distinct golden color to it, and it was more slightly built than the Black-bellied Plovers.† I had a good one Ė AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (lifer).† A good start to the day.† Soon I also identified what I believed to be PECTORAL SANDPIPERS, a great one to get, as I had only seen them once before.† There were also some very small ďpeepsĒ running around, but I couldnít decide what species they were.† There were three possibilities, and but they were just too far away to tell, and the species I needed would be very hard for me to identify anyway.
While I was there, another car came by slowly, obviously birders.† They turned around and went back toward Winnie, and since most of the birds had flown that direction anyway, I also got in my car and went that way.† I stopped down the road, and as it turned out, they turned around again and stopped where I had originally been.† I got out my scope and looked some more from that angle, but didnít see anything new I could identify.† There was still the mystery of the small peep that I wasnít sure about.
So, I drove on back to where I had been originally, and where this couple was then, and got out and joined them.† We discussed what we had seen, and they confirmed that there were American Golden-Plovers and Pectoral Sandpipers out there, and they also werenít sure about the small peeps.† They had also identified another sandpiper species that I really wanted to get, so I started looking again. †They ended up staying and continuing to look, too, mainly to help me find the one I wanted, I think.† In a few minutes another car came along and pulled up, and the woman who was helping me look for my species knew them and said they (it was another couple) were going for a Big Year this year.† That sounded good to me, because it meant they would know the birds I was looking for.† Sure enough, the man of the couple ended up looking through my scope and identified at least one of the small peeps for me, and showed it to me, while telling me what to look for.† Thanks to his help, I added SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER (lifer) to my lists.† They are very similar to Western Sandpipers and also pretty similar to Least Sandpipers, other than leg color, and I doubt I would ever have been able to identify the species, and certainly not at that distance.† Next the guy found me a couple of BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS, the species that the woman had been trying to help me find.† They were so far away that I might not have been able to pick them out, but once picked out for me, I could see that the color was definitely different than the other birds out there.† So, that was two species that I got only because of the kindness of strangers.† That was one of the things I was figuring on, though, for this trip, that I would get lots of help from other birders, since they are usually quite willing to help and there would be so many in the area.† It also made me feel good when the expert Big Year guy complimented me on the excellent quality of my scope.
So, having those four species under my belt, I headed back toward Winnie, my next destination being Anahuac NWR.† I had been there on Saturday afternoon for the Yellow Rail walk, but there are a lot of other species there that I still needed, and I figured the migrants would be better tomorrow anyway, based on the weather forecast.† Everyone is hopeful for tomorrow and Wednesday, if indeed the forecasted northeast winds develop.† There will probably be rain as well, but that also slows down the birds and makes it more likely that more of them will stop in the High Island area.
At Anahuac, I stopped at the information kiosk and registered and picked up a bird list and a map of the refuge.† The weather was threatening, but I headed out onto to the refuge.† Before I left the entrance area, though, a couple asked me if I knew what some birds across the road were.† They were sitting on wires and in a tree.† I looked and looked, but I just couldnít figure out what they were.† It had been raining recently, and they were wet, which didnít help.† I never could figure out what they were, but later when I stopped there, they were back, and it suddenly dawned on me that they were PURPLE MARTINS, a member of the swallow family.† I was fooled by them because they were so large, larger than any other swallow, I think.† I had only seen Purple Martin a couple of times before, so I wasnít familiar enough with them to identify them at first.
As I drove into the refuge, a car in front of me was stopped, and the guy in it was taking pictures of a bird.† So, I stopped ahead of him and checked out the same bird.† It turned out to be a BALTIMORE ORIOLE, an eastern bird I had only seen once before, on one of my brief non-birding trips back east.† My pictures are crap, so Iíll try for a better one later.
I first took the 2.5 mile loop road around Shoveler Pond.† It has been paved just this year, which was nice, since it had been raining, and I didnít want to have to deal with mud.† I picked up a number of birds for my trip list that I had already seen this year Ė White-faced Ibis, Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged Teal, American Coot, Black-necked Stilt and Savannah Sparrow.†
One of the nice things today about the intermittently rainy weather was that it kept the temperatures down.† In fact, it was cool enough (mid-60ís at first, rising only as high as 68) that I wore my only long-sleeved shirt most of the day.† That was handy, because it is the only shirt I have that has been treated with permethrin, to keep the bugs away.† I saw some mosquitoes at Anahuac, but none stuck around me for long, even though I hadnít sprayed with DEET today.
One of the issues I have been working on on this trip is trying to distinguish between the two very similar species of grackles with huge tails.† I have seen a lot of Great-tailed Grackles, and I have asked a couple of people I have met about how to tell them from the other species.† I had a couple of ID points to look for, but they rarely sat still long enough for me to really get a good look at them, and until I saw both species, I wasnít sure I could tell them apart.† I noticed, however, that the species I was looking for that would be a lifer for me was abundant at Anahuac, and the other one was rare.† Aha!† All I had to do was check out the grackles at Anahuac, and I should be home free.† In fact, it turned out exactly like that.† The first time I saw one and got a good look at it, I could immediately see how it was different than the ones I had been looking at so far.† The key feature is the forehead of the bird.† The Great-tailed Grackle, which I had been seeing everywhere, has a sloping forehead, and a flat head, so that the top of the head is almost an extension of the bill.† The one I wanted to see has a real forehead that comes down to meet the bill.† Here is a picture of a BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE (lifer), showing the forehead I needed to see.
And here is another one, I think a different bird.
In addition to the forehead thing, the Boat-tailed are supposed to have eyes that are not nearly as bright yellow as the Great-tailed, but some people say that isnít completely reliable.† These two birds indeed do have darker eyes than any Great-tailed I have seen.
I drove on around Shoveler Pond in the rain, mostly.† There were birds to look at, but nothing new for me.† I went slowly, though, and looked when I could, without letting too much rain come into the car through the open windows.† As I finished the loop, I ate my humble lunch while driving along slowly.† Ham and cheese sandwich with the last of the tortilla ships, and some lemon sandwich cookies, with a Diet Coke, of course.† I stopped back at the entrance to use their rest room, and then headed down the road to the bay, toward what they call the Yellow Rail Prairie.
A little while after that, I saw a couple of ducks out on some water, and they were MOTTLED DUCKS (lifer).† My pictures of that pair are poor, but here is a picture I got a little later of a pair on land:
They just look kind of duck-like, pretty plain, but the diagnostic feature is the little black square at the base of the bill on the bottom.† Someone who knew the species would immediately recognize them without seeing that, though.
Next I added FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCK (lifer).† I got some distant pictures, but I think I will see them much closer later, so I wonít show anything now.† I was fully expecting to see them, but it is always good to add a lifer, regardless of expectations.
There are two rails that live at Anahuac that are very similar in appearance.† I had read about them, and I wasnít at all sure I would be able to tell the difference.† On the rail walk on Saturday, the leader had discussed them, and he said that one lives near the bay (salt water) and that the other lives a bit inland (fresh water).† He mentioned also that in between there were a lot of hybrids, that displayed features of each species to various degrees.† Great, that sounded pretty hopeless to me.
Anyway, on my drive today, I heard a rail call, very loudly.† I listened to my phone, but both of these species sound exactly the same, so that was no help, but it was definitely one of them.† I stopped and played my phone call a few times (probably not supposed to do that in a National Wildlife Refuge, please donít turn me in).† The rail kept responding, and then I noticed that it was walking across the road in front of me!† I got somewhat of a look at it, and it was indeed one of the two species.† It kept calling, and eventually I got good looks at it through my binoculars.† I even got a picture of it, shown here.
I wonít go into all the details of identification, but at the time, I was leaning toward saying it was one species, but later after seeing my picture, I decided it was most likely a CLAPPER RAIL, one I needed for my year list, but not a lifer, as I saw a different subspecies of the bird in San Diego last year.† Later, when I was down on the actual shore of the saltwater bay, I saw a couple more, and they actually look more to me like the other species, in some ways, but I am calling them Clapper Rails as well, based on where they were.† Here are a couple of pictures, one showing just one of them, and the other showing both.
Along the way I saw two or three Tricolored Herons, which I had seen a day or two ago, but I got some pictures today.
The white plumes at the back of the head, the blue bill color, and the plumes on the back indicate breeding plumage.
At the end of the road, on the edge of the bay, I got out and played some songs and calls of a sparrow I wanted to see.† As it turned out, I may have seen that bird, but I never got a good enough look to identify it.† Another sparrow popped up and posed for me, though, and it was another one I needed, a nice SWAMP SPARROW (lifer).† I even got a decent picture of it.
I didnít recognize it at first, but when I looked in my field guide, there was no doubt.
Another little bird showed up, and I added SEDGE WREN (lifer).† I knew they lived in that habitat, and it was great to see one.† No picture, sorry to say.
It was getting late by then, and I wanted to check out High Island, so I didnít drive the other long road that goes to the bay at Anahuac.† Instead, I headed back, and on the way I saw a white bird flying, but it wasnít really pure white.† It seemed to have some dark feathers as well, which was unexpected.† I saw where it landed and got a look at it, and I think what is was is a first spring LITTLE BLUE HERON, one I needed for my year list.† They are white in their first year, and later turn a nice blue color.† In the first spring after they are hatched, they gradually lose the white feathers and get blue ones.† This bird was in that process, I believe.† I had never seen a first year one before, so that was kind of nice.† Here is a poor picture of it.
The bill color is diagnostic of Little Blue Heron, I think.
So, I left Anahuac and headed for High Island, to see if any new migrants had shown up today.† As I left Anahuac, though, I saw a bird on a wire, and it knew immediately it was one I was expecting to see and have been looking forward very much to seeing.† I got my first SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER (lifer), and here is a picture that shows how it got its name:
I hope to get better pictures later, as I expect to see a lot of them on this trip.† Getting a picture of my first one is nice, though, so Iím showing it.
I took one more detour, into the Skillern Tract of Anahuac.† There were some shorebirds along the way, and I stopped to check them out, delaying me further.† It was getting pretty late by then, but I wanted to see if anything was coming in to The Drip at Boy Scout Woods, so I hurried into High Island, watching my speed carefully, of course.
The skies were threatening again by then, and it was pretty dark (it was only about 4 oíclock, but the clouds were thick).† There were some people in the grandstands, so I joined them.† There were some Orchard Orioles and a Baltimore Oriole there, but I didnít need either of those species.† I sat down, and soon noticed a little dark bird in the background, foraging around on the ground.† I decided it was an OVENBIRD, a warbler that I had only seen once before, very briefly in San Diego last year.† No one else seemed to notice it at first, although a guy did mention he had seen something back there, and when I suggested Ovenbird, he agreed that it might have been one.† I got a pretty brief series of looks, but it was enough to identify it for me.† Fortunately, there arenít any other species that look much like it.
About that time, some of the people in the grandstand were looking behind us, in a tree, and I could see a couple of little birds flitting around up there.† I identified one as a CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER (lifer), but didnít get a great look.† Later I got better looks, and it was confirmed by two other people, so I felt good about that.† It was interesting to see a warbler in a tree, not at The Drip taking a bath or getting a drink.
There was another bird in the same tree, and other people were looking at it.† I joined them and could see it was a flycatcher of some sort, but I didnít know which one.† They told me it was an EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE, a bird I had only seen once before, again on one of my non-birding Eastern trips.† I got pictures of it, and would have been able to identify it from the pictures, but it was still nice to have someone there say what it was, and point out the song it was singing, which is very obvious, if you can remember bird songs.† Here is a picture.
It actually looks just like its cousin, the Western Wood-Pewee, but lives in the east, instead of the west.† I donít understand why they are considered different species.
So, about then, it started to rain, and looked like it was going to continue.† Everyone else left, so I left, too, since there wouldnít be anyone there to help me ID things, if they did come.† It was 4:30 by then, so it was time to head for home anyway.† I stopped at the store and got some stuff for dinners for the next couple of nights, and came back here and started working on my pictures and this report.† Iíve had a beer, some peanuts and a little bourbon, and now I will get this off and have some dinner.
Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be iffy again, but the winds are supposed to be from the Northeast, which could make for a great day of birding for migrants.† We will see.† I have two more days here in this area.† Even though I have been adding good numbers every day, things are running less than my expectations, I think.† It is hard to tell, but I am thinking that maybe I have overestimated my chances on this trip, and my numbers are going to end up being less than what I had hoped for.† But, that doesnít matter at all, of course.† They will be what they will be, and Iíll enjoy the birding Ė if my expectations are too high, then so be it.† They were only guesses on my part, anyway.† We will see.
OK, a quick look at the numbers.† Today I saw 23 more for my trip list, bringing it to 118 species.† Of those, 17 added to my year list, bringing the total added to my year list on the trip to 71 (really a pretty large number, but Iím looking for 175, so I have a long way to go still.† I added 9 lifers today, bringing me to 35 for my life list so far on the trip.† As I said before, it is hard to evaluate how Iím doing in midstream, so to speak, but at least Iím moving along.
Tuesday, April 17
I slept pretty well again, and was up at 6:30.† I was out of here by 7:30, as I wanted to try to go on the 8 AM bird tour in High Island.† I got there on time, but instead of doing it at Boy Scout Woods like most mornings, they decided to do it over at Smith Oaks, as there seemed to be more birds over there.† On my way back to my car at Boy Scout Woods, where we first met, a guy was showing people a Common Nighthawk on a branch.† I had counted that one on Saturday on the Yellow Rail Walk, but here is a picture.† I think I can see an eye, but I donít see the bill.† They are a night bird, and they roost in the daytime.† It is about the size of a robin.
I joined the throng of maybe 20 or 25 eager birders, and we set out into the woods.† It was about the birdiest I have ever experienced in a forest, for about an hour and a half.† Oh yes, while we were waiting for people to gather, one of the guides noted a couple of ducks flying overhead and said they were Wood Ducks, one I needed for my trip list.† I couldnít have identified them as Wood Ducks, but he pointed out the characteristics that made him say thatís what they were, so I counted them for my trip list.
Once in the woods, there were birds all over the place, feeding in the trees and bushes.† I understand it was even better late yesterday afternoon (in the rain), and these were the ones who had stayed overnight, to stoke up on food before continuing their migration.† Almost right away, I added MAGNOLIA WARBLER (lifer).† I was glad I had been studying warblers before I left home, as I was able to see the key characteristics of the bird in the brief look I got.† Soon after that, there was a bright red male SCARLET TANAGER, not a lifer because I had seen it on one of my non-birding eastern trips, but a very pretty bird.† Next was a male AMERICAN REDSTART.† It was only the second one I have ever seen, as I saw one in Montana last year.
BLUE-WINGED WARBLER (lifer) and BLACK AND WHITE WARBLER (lifer) soon followed.† In the afternoon, I got a blurry picture of a Black and White Warbler, and you can see how it got its name, despite the blurriness of the picture:
They feed on the branches and trunks of trees, like nuthatches, and thatís where you see them, scampering along the branches or the trunk of a tree.† I saw them three or four times today.
In that same initial area, there was a male YELLOW WARBLER and then a ďgoodĒ one (meaning they arenít all that common), a YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER (lifer).† I actually saw one of those later, and got a number of excellent looks at it.† I even got one extremely blurry picture, but it gives the idea of the bird anyway, I think.
After that, we got a series of good looks at a male HOODED WARBLER (lifer), and then someone spotted a bird I had especially wanted to see, and I got a great view of a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (lifer).† There was also one YELLOW-THROATED VIREO (lifer) that I got poor looks at, but I did see the yellow throat so I counted it.† So far, all these birds were pretty much in the same place, within the first 20 or 30 minutes of the walk.† In addition to the ones I have listed, there were a number of ones I had already seen Ė numbers of Tennessee Warblers, Indigo Buntings, Red-breasted Grosbeaks, Baltimore Orioles, Orchard Orioles, Summer Tanagers, Red-eyed Vireos, and probably others that Iím not remembering.† It was indeed very birdy.† Not a true ďfalloutĒ situation, which everyone always hopes for, and not even as good as yesterday afternoon, they said, but incomparably better than anything I have seen so far down here, or anywhere else in the woods, probably.† It helped me understand the passion that people develop for chasing migrants here.† Personally, while I enjoyed all the birds today, forest birding and warbler birding arenít really all that interesting to me.† I guess that is because it is usually so boring and slow, with little surges of activity like we had this morning.† I also donít like the way the birds flit around, into and out of view, and you usually just get very brief views of them.† I prefer to be able to really take in a bird, looking at all the parts of it for a period of time.
We moved on after a while, and it was slower after that.† I added Common Yellowthroat to my trip list, and a little while later, someone pointed out a GREAT-CRESTED FLYCATCHER (lifer), a bird I knew I would need help identifying, so one I was very glad to get.† Later many of the others saw a male Cerulean Warbler, one that is considered very desirable, and one I especially want to see, but I never could get onto it.† There were other birds, like male Painted Buntings, which I got great looks at, but nothing new for my lists on the rest of the walk.
Back at Boy Scout Woods, people were gathered around a tree watching several species feed.† I picked up BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER (lifer) there, a fairly common warbler in the east, but one I had never seen.† I even got a decent picture of it, it hung around so long, although it is from a funny angle.† That is another thing about warbler birding.† You not only see them only briefly, they are often in strange positions or you see only their underside or back.† Here is the Black-throated Green Warbler from underneath.
Here is a more conventional view of it, but it is kind of blurry and blocked by leaves (another common situation).
I think these pictures give you an idea of the nature of warbler birding Ė very brief peek-a-boo views through the leaves.† On the positive side, they usually keep feeding in the same tree for a while, so you can get repeated views, and every now and then, you get a great, unobstructed view.† Sometimes they even sit out in the open for ten or twenty seconds, and everyone oohs and ahs.† By the time I can find them in my camera viewfinder, though, they have usually moved on.
Still at Boy Scout Woods, I sat in the grandstand for a little while, and I was rewarded with a look at a WOOD THRUSH, another eastern bird I had only seen before on one of my eastern trips.
I had my tuna sandwich at the picnic tables at Boy Scout Woods, and then I joined the caravan on the shorebirds tour.† This time we went to some fields near Anahuac NWR, in search of Buff-breasted Sandpiper and other shorebirds.† Buff-breasted Sandpiper was one of the birds that I had seen at a great distance through the scope, yesterday, with the help of the guy doing a big year.† I wanted better views.
There were about two dozen people on this tour, in 13 cars, including the two leaders.† I did get a better look at the sandpiper, but the group was just too big for me, and I left and moved on to Anahuac NWR on my own.† I made a quick pass through the Skillern Tract again, but this time there werenít any shorebirds, like there had been yesterday, or whenever I was there.† My travels are beginning to blur in my mind at this point.† I did pick up Black-crowned Night-Heron for my trip list, but nothing else.
I moved on to the main part of Anahuac, but it was very disappointing and I ended up deciding that I had ďwastedĒ about three hours on the whole shorebird thing.† It wasnít actually a waste of time, of course, as it was a beautiful day, and I did see a lot of birds, just not the ones I hoped for.† I also got some pictures.† I saw a couple more Clapper/King Rails, but I didnít get good enough looks to even have an opinion which species each one was, so I didnít count anything.† The only saving grace was that one of the little sparrows I checked out by the road turned out to be a SEASIDE SPARROW (lifer), one I had looked for and played the call for yesterday.† Today I wasnít even thinking about that species, and I happened to see one along the road.† I also added Double-crested Cormorant to my trip list there.
I did get some pictures while driving around Anahuac in the sunshine, though.† Here are four terns on the bay.† I think they are Common Terns, but they might be Forsterís Terns.† The one without a black cap is a young one, I think, or maybe one still in its winter plumage.
I got another picture of a male Boat-tailed Grackle that I like.† He was in the sun and the picture shows the iridescent colors on him.† It also shows the steep forehead and brownish eye that distinguishes this species from the Great-tailed Grackle.
In the middle of a marshy area, there was a bird that was singing its heart out.† It turned out to be a male Orchard Oriole, and a marsh seemed like a strange place for it, to me.† I got a couple of pictures that I like, though.
That bird was at least 75 feet away, so I was quite pleased to get such a good picture.† It even shows an eye gleam, which is something I always try for.† Here is one of the same bird while he was singing.
He even looks like he is putting his heart into it, doesnít he?
Along that same stretch, I saw my first alligator of the trip.† It was about six feet long, Iíd say.
By that time, it was after three, so I headed back to Boy Scout Woods.† I had an idea I might go on the afternoon bird walk, but at least, I wanted to see what kind of action there was in High Island this afternoon.† I sat in the grandstand and watched a few birds come in to The Drip.† Someone noticed a bird on the bank of the pond next door to The Drip, and it turned out to be another warbler species, a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH.† It was only the second one I have ever seen, as it was another bird I had seen in Montana last year in Glacier National Park.
I got a couple of pictures of birds from the Grandstand.† They both were out in front, in much better light than usual there.† Here is a female Painted Bunting.† The male Painted Bunting was the very colorful one I showed a picture of yesterday, although the picture was very poor.† The female has very interesting shades of yellow green on her.† The field guide calls it ďa unique bright green above, paler yellowish green below, with no markingsĒ.† A good description, I think.
The colors looked more interesting in person, but this does show the bird.
The next picture is of a female Indigo Bunting.† Yesterday I had a picture of a male, which is a lovely shade of blue.† The female is very brown, but the field guide mentions that there is a hint of blue in the wings and tail, and I think I can see that in this picture.
Before I left the grandstand, a bird flew in briefly and posed long enough for us to identify it as an immature male BLUE GROSBEAK.† I hope to see a mature male later in the trip, as I am so partial to blue colored birds.
It was almost four oíclock by then, so I boogied on over to Smith Oaks, which is only about 4 or 5 minutes away, if that much.† The bird walk group was still forming, but while they formed, I went into the woods, with part of the group.† There were some warblers around, including a lovely male Chestnut-sided Warbler, one I had counted yesterday.† I kept trying for a picture today, but never got one.† There was also a Black and White Warbler around, and at least one Tennessee Warbler.† Our tour leaders eventually joined us, and my last bird of the day was a female RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, my first hummer of the trip.† It is still another eastern bird that I had only seen before on one of my two eastern non-birding trips.† I expect I will see a lot more of them on the trip.
By that time, it was approaching four thirty, and the group was an unwieldy large size, so I headed for home.† I had left my digs at 7:30, and I was still a half hour from home, so I took off.† It was a long day of birding, not the most efficient in terms of adding birds, but it was certainly enjoyable, and I did manage to add 21 more to my trip list, of which 17 added to my year list.† 10 of those were lifers.† Iíve been here for one week now, and Iíve seen 139 species.† That is pretty low, I think, as I havenít been very efficient about my birding, in terms of maximizing my bird count.† Still, I have added 88 to my year list and I have 45 lifers.† All of those numbers are roughly half of what I hope for on the entire trip, so maybe that isnít so bad for my first week of a 25 day trip.† The trouble is, it gets harder and harder to add more, as you move through a trip.† I will be heading for some very different habitats, though, so there will still be lots of new birds to see.
I have one more day here in this area, before heading west, and I need to decide tonight where to spend my time tomorrow.† Tune in again tomorrow to find out what I decided.
Wednesday, April 18
I slept well again, and was up about 6:30 again.† I had decided overnight that I would spend most of today on the Bolivar Peninsula, with stops at High Island in the morning and afternoon.† I had my humble brekkie of a couple of Jimmy Dean turkey sausage egg muffins and a Greek yogurt with a fruit cup, and I made my lunch (ham and cheese again Ė yum.† I got some Fritos yesterday, too, which I love).
My first stop, after gassing up the car, was Boy Scout Woods, to check out The Drip.† No action there, and the light there is really terrible in the morning anyway, so I moved on.† Back at the parking lot, there was bird action, though.† I got this nice picture of a male Scarlet Tanager, sitting out in the bright morning sun.
Is that a pretty bird, or what?† When you see one sitting in the sun, it just knocks your eyes out.† There seemed to be a lot of them around today.
Then a woman in the parking lot mentioned that there was a bird in the same tree that was one I needed for my year list, and I picked up INCA DOVE right there in the parking lot before I had even started to bird.† I had been afraid that today I was going to get skunked, and I knew the numbers would be very low compared to recent days, no matter what.† This was my fifth day in this same area, and I had been to all the places and seen most of the birds I was likely to see.† So, I was very glad to get the dove so early in the day.† Here is a picture of the little sweetie:
I hadnít realized they lived in this area, and I havenít been paying any attention to doves, since I had the other two common species.† Last night when I was looking at my lists and figuring out what I could see today that I needed, Inca Dove was a prime candidate, when I realized they lived here.
So, after that excitement, I went over to Smith Oaks.† It was very dead, with almost no birds at all.† This was the same place that I described on Monday as being about the birdiest place I had ever been, at least, in a wooded habitat.† What a difference a day or two can make.† The winds have been coming from the south again, and as a result, the migrating birds fly right over this area and make landfall inland, spread over a wide area.† So, after a few minutes in the woods, I left for the coast.
On the way out of town I noticed a nest box by the road, and there was a male Purple Martin (a type of swallow) sitting out in front of it.† I stopped the car and got a picture I like of the male Purple Martin in the sunshine.† The purple color is very deep, and in most light, they look black.
Moving on, I stopped at Rollover Pass, where the shorebird tour had gone on Sunday and I had gotten all the terns and other shorebirds.† Today the tide was farther out, and the birds were farther away.† I picked up Marbled Godwit for my trip list, but nothing else.† There was an immature Great Blue Heron out in the water, and it was far enough away that for a minute I thought it might be a Reddish Egret, one I need, but when it flew, I could see it was an immature Great Blue.
Next I drove down three roads that my bird-finding book about the Texas Coast had mentioned.† I was looking for a sparrow that lives there, but never saw one.† I got a picture of a Wilsonís Plover in winter plumage, though.
On one of the roads, there was a Green Heron fishing from the shore.† A Snowy Egret kind of moved in on him, probably in an attempt to steal something from him, and they stood next to each other for a minute or so on the side of a boat launch ramp.† I got this picture that shows the size difference.† I always think of the Green Heron as a larger bird than it is, and this picture puts it in perspective with a Snowy Egret.
The heron flew across the boat launch ramp, and I got this picture that shows its colors.
On another one of the side roads, I got this picture of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.† You will probably be subjected to a lot of pictures of them, as I find them very attractive and interesting.† When they fly out from their perch in pursuit of flies, they open and shut their tail feathers like scissors, to help them maneuver.
Also on one of the side roads, I got brief looks at a small flock of Blue Grosbeaks.† The males were really striking in the sunlight, but I wasnít able to get any decent pictures before they flew away.† Here is a picture of one of them in the distance.† The picture is crap, but it gives the idea of the pretty blue color.
My next stop was in Crystal Beach.† There had been a report of four Upland Sandpipers in a field behind the Cobb Realty building.† I found the building and the field and drove around it, looking.† At one point, there was a shorebird quite close by, and I thought I had my target.† I only got a brief look, though, and I have only seen Upland Sandpiper once before, last year in Montana, and that one was perched on a post, not moving around.† This bird today went into some deeper grass, and I wasnít able to flush it out.† I walked through the deeper grass, risking chiggers, but never saw it again.† I ended up deciding I just didnít know what it was, but I canít think of anything else it could have been but the Upland Sandpiper.† I have enough doubt that Iím not counting it, though.
Ironically, while I was slowly driving around those fields, I got a great look at another bird I needed for my year list, an EASTERN MEADOLARK.† They look almost exactly like a Western Meadowlark, and the best way to tell them apart is their song.† This one sang for me, and it was clearly a meadowlark song, but it also was clearly not exactly the same as the meadowlarks I hear out west.† A Western would be very rare here, anyway, but it was still nice to confirm the ID with the song.† So, I had two birds for my year list today.† It is surprising how often one stops someplace to look for a particular bird and ends up seeing a different one that is also desirable.† Oh yes, here is a picture of the Eastern Meadowlark.
My next stop was Bolivar Flats, where we had also gone on Sunday on the shorebird tour.† I drove down the beach, and there were birds, but nothing new for me.
After that, I stopped at the North Jetty, just before the ferry to Galveston.† The birds there were way far out, because of the tide, but I didnít see anything that looked interesting. I could have walked out on the jetty, on a nice concrete path, but it looked like at least half a mile, and I wasnít up for that, in the sun.
On the way back to the main highway, I got this picture of a Great-tailed Grackle.† You might remember, if you are really paying attention closely, I showed a picture the other day of the Boat-tailed Grackle, which was a lifer.† I pointed out the brownish eye and the steep forehead that distinguishes that species.† This picture shows the flat forehead of the Great-tailed, and the yellow eye is also visible.
At that same place I got pictures of another Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and here is one of them.
That tail is just fascinating to me.† Iíd love to get a movie of one of them flying out for an insect and scissoring its tail.†† I donít know if my camera would hold the focus on a flying bird or not, but it would be fun to try it.
I drove around the 108 loop road and headed north again, not seeing anything along the way.† I stopped at the fields where I had seen the meadowlark and had my lunch at a picnic table there.† After I ate, I drove around to see if I could see the shorebird I wasnít able to identify earlier, but didnít see it.† I did see another bird I wasnít able to identify, though.† One of the interesting parts of birding is the birds you see, and sometimes even get really good looks at, but are not able to identify.† It happens all the time, and today it happened at least three times to me.† They just have to go down as mystery birds.
I drove along the gulf past the road to High Island, on the dirt road that runs where the old highway ran.† The old highway was wiped out by one of the hurricanes, and they have never replaced it.† There were some shorebirds, and I took some pictures.† Here is a Sanderling, I think.
I went back to Boy Scout Woods, to check out The Drip by about 3 oíclock.† Soon after I arrived, and before I could even sit down, a guy called out a bird that had flown across the field of view and had stopped off to the left on a tree trunk.† I got great looks at it and was very happy to add YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER (lifer) to my lists.† Yes, there really is a bird by that name, a member of the woodpecker family.† I only had it at 30% in my spreadsheet, so it was very nice to get an unlikely one, since I have missed some that I had expected to see by now.† Some people got pictures of it, but I wasnít quick enough.† It sure was a striking bird, though, much more so than I had expected from the field guide pictures.
That was the end of my new birds for the day, only four for my trip, and only three of those were for my year.† Only one lifer.† But, I did get some more pictures there at The Drip, and that is fun for me, too.
Here is a Prothonotary Warbler.† I have heard more pronunciations of that name, and the most common one sounds better to me than the one someone had told me before.† The main accent is on the second syllable, with a secondary accent on the penultimate one.† Pro-THONí-o-tairí-y .† It is still a mouthful, but at least it is sayable.† However you say it, it a very attractive little bird.
It looks a lot like a Blue-winged Warbler in the field guide, but a little while later a Blue-winged Warbler flew in and perched for a couple of minutes, and it was easy to see the differences.† A good lesson for me.† The Blue-winged never came into my camera range, unfortunately.† I had counted Blue-winged the other day, but today was a much better look.
I also got a wonderful look at a Yellow-throated Vireo, but I wasnít fast enough to get a picture.† I had seen that one the other day too, but it was a very poor look in very poor light, and it was nice to see one so well today.† I had to look it up to be sure what it was, but there was no doubt about it, when I did that.
A pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks came to the pool to bathe, too.† Here is the rather plain looking female.
To the right and behind the grosbeak, there is an out of focus Kentucky Warbler, another one that it was great to see again.
And here is the male Rose-breasted Grosbeak.† You can see that the name of the species comes from the male.
Here is another attempt at a picture of a male Indigo Bunting.† It is mediocre one, but I love the blue colored birds.
And, the last picture of the day is still another mediocre one, but it does sort of show what a Brown Thrasher looks like.
So, that was my day today.† The weather was great in terms of sunshine and reasonable temperatures.† It was in the high 60ís when I started this morning, and as long as I was along the coast, it only got up into to the mid-70ís.† There was a soft breeze and it was very nice.† Unfortunately, the breeze was from the south, so the migrating birds all flew right over this area, and nothing much new showed up this afternoon.† I went back over to Smith Oaks at 4, for the start of the bird walk, but it was very dead over there, so I bailed out by about 4:20 and headed for home.
Tomorrow I head west.† It will be a two or three hour drive, and I have to skirt Houston, presumably on freeways, although I have to research that some more tonight, to look for a more pleasant route that isnít too much longer.† I hope to get out to what is called Katy prairie, north of the town of Katy, which is west of Houston.† I also hope to visit the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in the afternoon, and then spend the night in the tiny town of Columbus, Texas.† I should be able to add something to my year list tomorrow, but it isnít guaranteed.† On Thursday I plan to move on to the Hill Country, west of San Antonio, where I hope to see some good birds.
It was a very nice day today, despite the low number of new birds.† I had deliberately planned more days than really necessary in this area at the start of the trip, so I would have some flexibility for weather.† I had my one reaaly good day, Monday, when I had my two hours of really great woodland birding, and I was able to pick up most of the shorebirds and marsh birds I wanted on the other days.† I return here at the end of my trip for three more days, to try to pick up things I missed, including birds that migrate later in the year and should be here in greater numbers in early May.† After five nights in Winnie, I will be moving on tomorrow, heading west, God Willing And The Creeks Donít Rise.
Thursday, April 19
I was awake by 6:30 again this morning, and actually got out of bed at about 6:45.† I wasnít in a hurry to get away this morning, because I had to drive through the middle of Houston, and I wanted to avoid the rush hour if possible.† I actually was on the road by about 9:30, with my lunch made and after a stop to top off my gas tank and clean the mulberries off the car somewhat.† I never knew what mulberries are, but now I know.† They are purple berries that stain like heck, and they are all over the place in High Island at this time of year.† They are above the grandstand in Boy Scout Woods, and people sit on Houston Audubon signs, if they can find one, to avoid getting the stains on their clothes.† I have a couple of mulberry stains on the butt of my khaki pants, but I consider them a badge of honor.† They were all over my rental car, and I cleaned most of them off this morning when I topped off the tank and cleaned the windshield.
My drive through Houston was uneventful, and I eventually found my way to my first birding destination, Paul Rushing Park, north of Katy, Texas.† I had read about it, and it sounded like a worthy birding site, but I was very disappointed when I saw it.† It was mostly just huge grassy fields.† There were some ponds, but they were a long walk away from the parking lot, and I wasnít really looking for water birds.† This was supposed to be ďprairieĒ, but it was a park with cricket pitches and baseball diamonds, mostly.† No one at all was there, which was interesting, too.† The place was huge.
I drove around the edges and through the parking lots, and I did see some big dark birds out in one field.† They turned out to be Turkey Vultures, which wasnít any help to me.† I persisted, though, and I used the rest room there and scanned the fields.† A bit later, I noticed that one of the ďTurkey VulturesĒ had some white on it.† Hmmm.† That seemed strange.† So, I took a closer look, and it was a raptor I had especially wanted to see on the trip (and was certain I would), a CRESTED CARACARA (lifer).† Here is a picture of that bad boy:
At one point, there was a loud noise in the distance, and the bird spread its wings for me, just as I was ready to take a picture.† I like having a picture of the color pattern of the bird.
Check out that bill.† It looks pretty formidable.† I donít know if it kills its prey or if it is a scavenger, or both.† It was eating on something with the vultures, so I guess it is willing to snack on carrion, at least, although maybe it killed it, for all I know.† I was quite taken with the bird, and you will see some more pictures presently.
While still at the park, I picked up a couple of Horned Larks, a good bird for my trip list.† There were also some Savannah Sparrows, but I have already counted them on this trip.† I continued to drive to the various parking lots and scan the grassy areas, and at one stop, I saw a bird that looked very interesting.† I drove closer, and got the scope on it, and it was indeed one that I was particularly looking for at this park, an UPLAND SANDPIPER.† That is the bird I had tried for yesterday in the fields behind the Cobb Realty in Crystal Beach, but had missed.† Ironically, today I read a post by a guy who had seen at least one Upland Sandpiper yesterday in those fields, where I had looked.† If I hadnít seen one today, I would probably be ďgrippedĒ (or maybe it is ďgripped offĒ), which is a British expression that roughly means pissed off that I had missed a bird that someone else saw.† But, I did see one today, so all is redeemed.† Ainít birding great?† I even got one very distant picture of the bird, and Iíll show it, even though it is much worse than the pictures I got of the only other Upland Sandpiper I have ever seen, which I saw last year in Montana.
So, even though I was quite disappointed in Paul Rushing Park, I did manage to get two trip birds, one of which was a lifer, so I was feeling okay.† I had gotten the Horned Lark, too, so three birds for my trip list.
Next I found my way, with the help of Google Maps and my cell phone, to some rice fields northwest of Katy.† Some good birds had been reported from there yesterday, and I did find the place, I think.† I ran into a stretch of gravel road on the way, and the distances were a lot greater than I had realized.† When you look at a map on Google Maps, it is sometimes misleading how far things are, if you donít pay attention to the scale.† I saw some water birds there, but I didnít see the ones I was looking for, Hudsonian Godwit.† Iím not sure I could have identified one if I did see it, but I didnít see anything close, so I moved on.
Along my way today, I did see a couple for my trip list Ė Red-tailed Hawk and American Crow.† I was obviously back in the territory of both of those birds, as I had expected.† I saw only two crows, though, and about 5 or 6 Red-tailed Hawks.† I stopped at a state park in San Felipe and had my humble lunch, which was a peppered beef and cheese sandwich with my Fritos and the last of my Sugar Snap pea pods.†† I paid 4 bucks to have a table in the shade, as it turned out, as there was nothing else at the state park that I was interested in.
My next destination for the day was the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).† You canít see the Prairie Chickens, as they are so endangered and protected, but there is an auto tour and the bird list was very impressive to me.† Well, it turned out that the bird list was a total fantasy, as so many of them are.† There were tons of birds that were listed as ďvery commonĒ with a greater than 75% chance of being seen, and I saw only a very few of them.† I suppose that the people who work at these preserves want to encourage visitors, but sometimes the abundance numbers in the bird lists are ridiculous, and this was such a case.
Anyway, I was there, and it was a beautiful sunny spring day, with the temps in the low 80ís and a gentle breeze blowing, so I drove around the auto tour.† As it turned out, I saw enough to make it fun.† For one thing, I got a really close look at my new (temporary, no doubt) favorite bird, the Crested Caracara.† Here is another picture of one, perched on a post.
There was a Northern Mockingbird that was harassing it, but the caracara mostly ignored it.† Here is the Northern Mockingbird.† They are one of the most common birds I see here, but I like this picture.
I honked my horn while pointing my camera at the caracara, and got this picture as it flexed its wings.
At about that time, I saw a bird in the distance, and got good binocular views of it.† I believe it was another one I had especially wanted to see at Attwater NWR, a WHITE-TAILED HAWK (lifer).† I put it in my book as a BVD, Better View Desired, but it had to be that bird, so I counted it.
Along the auto tour, there were some small wet areas, and in one of them there were some ducks and shorebirds.† None of the ducks were new for the trip Ė the ones I had hoped to see have moved north for the summer, I guess, which will impact my trip list numbers.† I did pick up Least Sandpiper for my trip list, though.† I could see the yellow legs which distinguish this species from Western Sandpiper and Semipalmated Sandpiper.† I also was able to identify a couple of Pectoral Sandpipers, a species I had counted a couple of days ago, but one I have only seen twice before, so I was pleased to be able to identify.
About that time, there was a sparrow that flew up and landed on a fence.† I couldnít identify it with binoculars, but I got some distant pictures and tonight in my room I decided it was definitely a VESPER SPARROW, an excellent one to get for my year list.† Here is one of my pictures of the bird.† I think the identification is definite.
OK, it is a poor picture, but it shows the unique pattern below and behind the ear that the Vesper Sparrow has.† The only place I have ever seen them before is in Montana last year, so I was very glad when I realized what I had seen.† A little later along the auto tour, I picked up White-crowned Sparrow for my trip list.
It was about 4 oíclock by then, so I decided to head for my new digs for the night, in Columbus.† On the road there, though, there were a couple of interesting looking birds on a wire.† I pulled over on the busy highway (70 mph speed limit, but it had very wide paved shoulders) and looked at the birds.† I thought they were sparrows, but I couldnít tell which species.† I need a lot of the sparrows, so I took some pictures, until the birds flew.† Once I checked in to my motel, I looked at the pictures, and pondered them.† I was strongly leaning toward Grasshopper Sparrow, and was about ready to call it that, when the last couple of pictures made me pause.† It just wasnít right for Grasshopper Sparrow.† I had heard the bird singing repeatedly, too, and the song wasnít really right either, although I am terrible at remembering a birdís song, of course.
I went through all the sparrows in my field guide, and nothing else was as close as the Grasshopper Sparrow, but it still wasnít exactly right either.† Suddenly I had an inspiration, and looked up a bird I had hoped to see at Attwater, as it was one of the ones listed as Very Common.† Bingo!† There was no doubt about it, I had seen a singing male DICKCISSEL (lifer).† I hadnít really seen the yellow on the face through my binoculars, and the bird was sitting in a very different position than the picture in my field guide, but when I processed the picture and increased the color saturation, it was obvious.† It isnít a sparrow, but it sure looks like it ought to be.† Here is my best picture of the little guy.
I checked in to my new motel, which is very nice, at about 5.† Today was interesting, because I was disappointed in both places I had chosen to stop, and yet, my numbers were better than I might have expected.† For the day, I added 10 species to my trip list, and 5 of those were new for my year list.† Three of them were lifers.† I had hopes of more, when I was planning my trip, but after seeing the places I visited today, Iím actually quite pleased to have gotten as many as I did.† It continues to be obvious that I got carried away in my estimates of what I might see on this trip, but that isnít important.† Iíll see what I can, and it will still be a whole lot of birds and a whole lot of new birds, and Iím enjoying seeing a part of the country that I have never seen and Iím sure I will never see again.
I could have skipped these places I went today and driven straight to where I plan to go tomorrow, but I donít regret taking the time, at all.† It was quite interesting to see this part of our country, and it was a very pleasant day.† Tomorrow I head for what is called the Hill Country.† I plan to make a quick stop in the middle of San Antonio to try to see a parakeet that lives in a few American cities.† The birds are descendants of escapees, but they are considered countable by the powers that be because they have been reproducing in the wild for over ten years.† If I have time I also hope to hit one of the preserves in the Hill Country, Kerr Wildlife Management Area, but that will involve backtracking, so it is going to depend on the timing.† If I donít see the parakeet, it might be tough to see a new bird tomorrow.† If I donít get to Kerr WMA, the numbers will definitely be very low.
I decided that the Dickcissel was the bird of the day.† It had always been a bird I wanted to see, and this trip seemed like my only shot at it.† I liked the Crested Caracara very much, and it got a lot of pictures today, but the Dickcissel gets bird of the day honors, nonetheless.
Thatís it for today.† Not a very exciting day, but not a bad one by any means.† Time to get this sent off and decide what to do about dinner.
Friday, April 20
Before I get into today, there is some unfinished business from yesterday that I forgot to mention.† Since I was leaving Winnie late (to miss the traffic in Houston), I called about the speeding ticket I got last weekend.† I was expecting the worst, so I was pleasantly surprised when it only cost me $144 and I could charge it to my credit card on the phone, and it was all taken care of.† Better yet, if I donít get another ticket in the next 60 days, it wonít go on my driving record.† Now I have more motivation than ever to drive carefully and avoid another ticket.† It also makes me doubly glad that the state trooper on Sunday only gave me a warning when I was going 65 in a 55 zone.† I wonder what jurisdiction that 60 days applies to.† Hardin County only?† All of Texas?† All of the US?† I didnít ask that question.† Anyway, that is all taken care of now.
So, back to this morning, in Columbus, I was up at 6:30 as usual and out of there by about 8:15.† I had a ham and cheese sandwich and an apple for my brekkie, and made a sandwich for my lunch (half ham and half pepper beef, with cheese, of course).
Today was mainly a travel day, a sort of extra day for me to take it easy.† I only had three hours of traveling to do, so I was able to kick back and relax all day.† My first stop was at a rest area, about 80 miles down the road toward San Antonio.† It was far and away the fanciest rest area I have ever seen.† The rest rooms were in a very nice new air conditioned building with exhibits about Texas on display.† There were covered picnic tables scattered through the beautiful oak woods, which had concrete paths through the nicely landscaped native Texas plants.† The dog walking area was a couple of paths into the woods across the parking lot, and there was a half mile nature trail through the woods as well, if you wanted to stretch your legs.† There was tons of parking for trucks, cars, and cars with trailers, and there was a dump facility for sewage.† Oh yes, there was also a very nice playground with a rubberized flooring under the equipment.
The best thing of all, though, for me, was that I was no sooner out of the car when I heard some birds making a real racket, and I picked up a lifer before I even left the side of the car, BLACK-CRESTED TITMOUSE (lifer).† It was a bird I was bound to get, but I didnít know they lived as far north and east as where I was, so I wasnít expecting them.† It was a nice way to start a day when I wasnít planning to do any real birding to speak of.† No picture, as they jump around so much, but maybe later, as I expect Iíll see a lot of them.
My first actual birding destination was a stakeout (a place where a particular bird has been reported) in the middle of San Antonio.† These were the parakeets that I had read about on eBird and TexBirds.† I found the place, and soon found the nests that the birds were building.† Just like that, I added another bird to my lists, MONK PARAKEET (lifer).† These birds are descendants of captive birds that either escaped or were released.† They breed in several US cities.† I knew they were in Houston, but I didnít want to make a trip in to the city just to try to see them.† When I read that they were building nests almost right next to Interstate 10 in San Antonio, right on my route, I decided to try for them there.† I took some pictures before something spooked them and they all flew away, but the pictures are really bad because I was looking up into a bright sky.† Here is the best one, heavily processed.
The nests are in a power substation, and I wonder if they will end up being a nuisance or a problem when the nests get big enough.
The weather forecast for today was for scattered thundershowers with clearing in the afternoon.† It was dark and overcast as I drove to San Antonio, and as I moved on west of San Antonio toward Kerrville, my destination for tonight, I could see rain and dark clouds ahead.† I passed through one shower and could see lightning in the distance.† As I approached Kerrville, though, I came out from under that storm, and it was pretty nice.† It was only noon, but I had chosen to stay here because there is a refuge I want to bird in that is about 40 miles west of here, and this is the closest town of any size.† I could have driven out to that refuge, the Kerr Wildlife Management Area, this afternoon, but I would rather bird it in the morning, and it is a 50 minute drive out there, and then another 50 minutes back.† I could have had two or three hours of afternoon birding there, but I didnít like the idea of another 100 minutes of driving, especially since I would have do most of that 50 minute drive still again in the morning, so I could continue on my way.
Anyway, it was only noon, but I stopped at my Super 8 motel on the way into town, and asked if I could check in that early.† The answer was yes, so I checked in and put my cold food in the fridge.† Then I went out to see what I could see around town.† I had done some research last night online about potential birding places near to town, and I had several sites to check out.† First I wanted to find a place to eat my humble lunch, though.† I saw a green area on the map along the Guadalupe River (Google Maps, that is, on my cell phone.† I donít actually have a paper map of Texas.† How times change!), and figured it was a park.† Sure enough, it was a lovely park along the river with picnic tables, some of which were under trees and were therefore still dry after the little shower they had obviously had.† There were also CLIFF SWALLOWS (remember, all caps indicates a new bird for my year list), with nests under the bridge across the river.† I have seen them before on this trip, but I never stopped to get a good enough look to be sure of the identification, so they got counted today.† I hadnít seen any Cliff Swallows yet this year before I left on my trip because they migrate south in the winter, and they hadnít returned yet this year.
I ate my lunch there, and it was almost chilly.† The car thermometer indicated 62 degrees and it felt it.† I put on my long sleeved shirt over my short sleeved shirt, and I was comfortable while I ate.† Just about when I finished, another squall moved through, with heavy rain this time, but only for ten or fifteen minutes.† While it rained, I drove around and checked out a couple of parks on the edge of town.† One was a state park with a fee, and the other turned out to be a private park, although the town visitor bureau had touted it as a place to bird.† There was one more place I wanted to check out, and I made a mental note to come back to the state park if I ran out of things to do.
That other place was an interesting place, as it turned out.† It is called the Riverside Nature Center, and it is run by a non-profit organization.† There is a gift shop, a visitor center, and paths through some native plants and gardens.† The paths also connect to a riverside path that goes both ways along the river.† Admission is free, strangely enough.† I stopped at the visitor center and asked about birds.† The gentleman there showed me the book where they log the bird sightings every month, and I looked over the list.† Not a long list, and nothing rare or especially good, but there were several birds that I needed, either for my trip list or my year list.† It turned out that they also maintained an area with a number of bird feeders, and that was the best thing about the place for me.
By that time, the rain had passed and the sun came out, and it heated up into the low 70ís over the next hour or so.† It was extremely pleasant there, and I walked along the river and sat and watched the birds at the feeders.† One of the first birds that came in to the feeders was a female Northern Cardinal.† I donít think Iíve shown a picture of the female cardinal, and in the interest of equal rights, here is a picture of the less colorful (compared to the male) female Northern Cardinal.
Soon after that, I got another one for my trip list, a female Lesser Goldfinch.† Here is a picture of her.
It is an extremely common backyard bird, and birders usually ignore them, but since this was a slow laid-back day with few pictures, here is a male House Finch.
Next was another one that I was bound to get eventually, and there it was, a female BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD.† I think at least two female hummers came to the feeder while I was there, but I never saw a male, who is more colorful, of course.† Here are a couple of pictures of the female Black-chinned Hummingbird.
I donít have a picture, but while I was sitting there, I got an excellent look at a CHIPPING SPARROW. †It sat on a branch, and never came in to the feeder, probably because I was sitting there on my bench.† Some White-winged Doves flew in two or three times, too, but never went to the feeders either, after seeing me there.
Since birds and bird pictures were in short supply today, here is a little green lizard that sunned himself for a while.
After a while, I went for a walk down along the river.† I didnít see much, but it was a nice walk.† I did pick up another one for my year list, but I was too slow to get a picture.† That was WESTERN KINGBIRD.† I expect Iíll see a lot more of them in the next week, and Iíll probably get a picture eventually.† I see them in California a lot, but only in the summer, so I hadnít seen one yet this year.
While on my river walk, I spotted a squirrel-like creature on a tree branch.† It wasnít the Eastern Gray Squirrel that everyone is so familiar with, though, so I took some pictures.† I have tried to look it up online, and I havenít been able to find a tree squirrel that doesnít have a bushy tail, so maybe it is something other than a squirrel, I donít know.† Does anyone recognize it?
I mean recognize the species, not the individual critter.† The tail isnít a rat-tail, but it also isnít exactly what I would call bushy, like those of all the tree squirrels I could find online.† A mystery furry critter.† It was about the same size as the familiar Eastern Gray Squirrel.
After my river walk, I sat at the feeder site again, on the nice bench that had been provided.† I didnít add any more birds to my lists, but I did get this picture of a Carolina Chickadee.† They look pretty much like our Black-capped Chickadees, but the sides are not brown.† I havenít seen them as often as I thought I would, so far.
Since there are so few pictures today and so little excitement, here is a bonus picture of the chickadee.
After two very pleasant hours at the Riverside Nature Center, I stopped by a supermarket ( It was part of a chain called H.E.B.† They advertise low prices, and I was amazed how low the prices were.† Iíll seek them out from now on.) and loaded up on groceries, since the place Iím heading tomorrow for three nights is in the middle of nowhere, and I wonít have a decent sized grocery store until next week in Laredo.
So, it was a very nice, relaxed, slow day with little actual birding.† I enjoyed it, and the weather didnít interfere at all, in fact, I enjoyed the weather.† Despite the lack of actual birding, I still added 7 to my trip list and 6 of those also added to my year list.† Two were lifers today.† For the trip, that brings me to 160 species overall, of which 102 are ones that add to my year list and 51 are lifers.† It is hard to evaluate the numbers in the midst of a trip, but I still feel like Iím falling short of my expectations.† As I have said before, though, it is my expectations that were out of line.† The trip itself is actually going very well, and Iím having an excellent time.
Tomorrow I plan to visit a couple of key birding sites, in the hopes of picking up a couple of species that only live in this area, in the US.† If I miss them tomorrow, I will have a couple more days to get them, as I plan to spend three nights in the middle of their territory, in a cabin on the Frio River.† There are supposed to be bird walks at 8 in the morning at the place Iím staying, Nealís Lodges, and I plan to take advantage of that.† They also have feeders in two or three locations, and I expect Iíll spend some time at those, trying for pictures.
Thatís my story for today.† The trip rolls on.† By the way, the Super 8 motels here in Texas continue to impress me.† They are totally adequate for my needs, much nicer than I had expected, in the 60 dollar price range.† Score!
Saturday, April 21
Iím doing well at keeping to an early (for me) schedule, and I was up at 6:30 again this morning.† I had a biscuit and gravy, along with some sausages, from the motelís free breakfast buffet, and added a slice of cheese and a little ham for protein.† Oh yes, also a nice Greek yogurt, which is also high in protein.† I packed a ham and cheese sandwich, loaded the car, and took off.
It was a beautiful morning, with temps in the high 50ís still, but bright and sunny, with only a gentle breeze.† I eventually found my first birding destination, Kerr WMA, but not until I had stopped at a huge Presbyterian church ranch/camp/center.† It was set up to accommodate several hundred people, I think, with all kinds of recreational opportunities.† I asked for directions and found I was just a few miles short of my destination.† My cell phone GPS app let me down.† It doesnít seem to have a map of this part of Texas in it.† I noticed earlier in the trip that it didnít recognize some Texas town names, but I hadnít checked it out.† Maybe I have to download another map into it or something.† I was out of cell phone range, so I couldnít use Google Maps either.† If I had simply kept track of how many miles I had gone since leaving the motel, I would have known that I still had three miles to go, but it had seemed like I had gone on too long, and I was afraid I had missed the place.† Anyway, the nice guy at the church place (it was called Mo Ranch or something like that) gave me the directions I needed.
Once I got to Kerr WMA, I stopped at the headquarters and they had nice maps and bird lists for birders.† The claim to fame for Kerr WMA is two endangered species that only breed in a very limited area in this country, and they winter in Central America.† The map they had for birders showed the best places to look for each species.
So, I drove on up the road to the first shelter, which was one of the places the map recommended you look.† Just to familiarize myself with the target birdís song, I played it on my cell phone once or twice.† I wouldnít use it to attract an endangered bird, as that is illegal or immoral or something, and definitely frowned upon by all and sundry.† Anyway, soon after I familiarized myself with the song, a bird flew in to the area and started to feed in the trees along the road.† It flitted around a lot, but it was indeed a lovely GOLDEN-CHEEKED WARBLER (lifer), the very bird I was looking for.† It stuck around long enough that I even got two pictures of it.† The species is recognizable, and the pictures are okay technically, but the angle is kind of strange in each of them.† The bird wasnít exactly posing for me, and I was glad to get these, strange as they might be.
So, with that initial success under my belt, I moved on up the road to the second shelter, where they suggested you look for the second species of interest.† Again I played the song, just to familiarize myself with it, since I am so terrible at remembering bird songs.† I guess a bird must have heard me, because it seemed to respond.† Or, maybe it was just a coincidence; I donít know for sure that any birds even heard my cell phone song.† Anyway, it turned out that I didnít really need to play the song, because at least two or three birds around me were singing away, with no prompting from me.† The song is very distinctive, and even I could easily recognize it, once I heard it.† I got close to one of them, and it was definitely the bird I was looking for, based on the distinctive song, but I just never could see it, even though I must have been within ten feet of it, and I knew which tree it was in.† These guys seem to like to sing from in the middle of trees, not out at the ends of branches or from the top.
I chased a couple or three of the little singers, and finally one of them popped out enough for me to get good looks at him, and he moved on up the tree to near the top, singing all the time.† I had my BLACK-CAPPED VIREO (lifer).† I could hardly believe that I had gotten both of the two Hill Country specialties in my first half hour of birding here.† I never was able to get a picture of the vireo, as they just stayed too deep in the trees.
Another bird I saw several times in that area was Lark Sparrow, one for my trip list.† Here is a picture of a Lark Sparrow.
On my way out of the refuge, I stopped to turn in the bird list I had picked up, figuring I would save them a dime by leaving it.† As I was standing there outside of my car, a bird flew across and landed briefly on the edge of a roof next to where I was standing.† It had a bug of some kind in its mouth, so I supposed it had a nest somewhere nearby with young ones.† It was another one for my year list, a CANYON WREN.† It flew off toward another building, so I walked over that way.† I saw it a couple more times, but it never sat still long enough for a picture, sad to say, as it was an attractive little bird.
I stopped several more places along the road, and looked and listened for birds, but never saw anything of any interest.† There was a fair amount of bird song, but I couldnít recognize any of it, of course.
So, I headed on out, planning on getting to my next destination, Lost Maples State Wildlife Area, in time for my lunch.† On my way, there was a nice covered picnic table at a view point, and it was after noon, so I stopped and had my sandwich, tortilla chips, cookies, and Diet Coke.† I had been checking all the Turkey Vultures overhead, hoping that one of them would turn out to be the similar looking Zone-tailed Hawk, and while I was eating, I saw a black bird overhead that didnít look quite right for Turkey Vulture.† It turned out to be a Common Raven, a good one for my trip list.† This is the only area where I might see them, and I did.† I had only seen two American Crows while I was in the area where it was possible to see them, and so far, this is the only Raven I have seen here in the Hill Country.
While driving, I considered my options.† My plan originally had been to stop at Lost Maples today, but it was getting hot, and I had seen the two special birds of the area already.† The place Iím staying for three nights is supposed to be great for birds, and they are pretty much the same ones I might see at Lost Maples. So I decided to just skip Lost Maples today and see if I could check in early to my new digs, at Nealís Lodges, in Concan.† That saved 45 minutes or so of driving, and I figured I could always go back to Lost Maples on one of the next two days, if I wanted to.† Morning would be a lot better, anyway.
As it turned out, I wasnít able to get into my cabin here at Nealís until 3:30, so I drove around and hung around the extensive grounds to kill the time.† The temperature was in the mid-80ís by then, and the birds were very quiet, as they always are in the middle of a hot day.† There are feeding stations at 4 or 5 places around the grounds, and I checked them all out.† Not much of interest was visiting them in the middle of the day, though.† I will have to try them in the morning and in the evening, to see if I can see some of the birds that other birders have written about seeing here at Nealís.† I did see one new bird, though, a GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKER (lifer).† It was one I am bound to see a lot of times, but I wanted to get a picture of the first one I had ever seen.† Unfortunately, it flew before I could get a picture.† It is an attractive bird, and Iíll try to get a picture eventually.
One major downside to staying here is that I donít have internet in my cabin, nor do I have cell phone service.† So, I am out of touch, and I donít like that.† They supposedly have wi-fi at the office, which is across the road, though, and I plan to finish this and take my computer over there and try to send it out.† I can actually see a wireless network from here in my cabin, and it is called Neals_Guest, which sounds like something I ought to be able to connect to.† But, when I try, it asks me for the security code, and the woman in the office said I didnít need a code to connect to the network that is available at the office.† It will be interesting to see if that is the same network I can see from here, and if it is why she didnít know I would need a security key.† We will see.
My cabin here is pretty rustic.† Very old, too.† It will be perfectly adequate for me, though, other than the lack of internet and cell phone coverage.† The air conditioner seems to work well, and that is a nice surprise.† The fridge is full size and there is a microwave, as well as utensils, dishes, etc, so I will be fine for meals.† They do have a cafť here, and I could eat there once or twice, if I want to take the time.† Here is what my cabin looks like.
It is cabin number 1, out of about 65 or 70 of them, and the location is pretty good, just across the road from the office and close to the cafť.† It has two double beds, and I will have to put the sheets on the bed myself, interestingly enough.† They didnít used to provide towels and sheets, and they just started doing that this year, but I guess they havenít gotten around to actually making up the beds yet.
So, Iíll go see if I can connect to the wi-fi at the office and send this out.† If I can, Iíll check my email at least twice a day, but the morning check might not be until late morning.† Thatís because a local professional bird guide conducts free bird walks most mornings at 8, and I certainly want to take advantage of those, as much as I can.
So, I am in an internet wasteland and it is hot outside, but I got 6 species for my trip list today, and 4 of those were good for my year list.† Three of those were lifers, too, which is good.† It will be interesting to see what I can add tomorrow, if anything.† I think that three nights here was probably too long, and I might very well get skunked in the next couple of days.† It is great to be seeing a new part of the world for me, though, and it is pretty countryside.
Sunday, April 22
First, a couple of things from yesterday.† As I approached Nealís, I knew I had extra time, so I took a small side road that loops around and comes in from the other side.† It was a pleasant drive, and I went slowly, looking and listening for birds.† I didnít see any, but then I came to the Frio River.† People were swimming and playing in the river, but the problem for me was that the river runs over the road on a causeway.† Obviously, people drove through it all the time, and it didnít look very deep at all.† On the other hand, most of the people around here drive pickups or SUVís with much higher clearance than my little, low Malibu.† As many of you know, I had an unpleasant experience not long ago when driving through some deep water over the road, in Oregon. I wasnít willing to take the slightest chance of repeating that, so I turned around and drove back the way I had come.† I tell this story to show that even an old dog can learn new tricks.† I wouldnít have hesitated to go through the water in my own car, but this Malibu is quite low to the ground.
The second story from yesterday is that my bathroom has a two inch step up into it, and I was afraid from the start that I would trip on it, either going in or coming out.† Sure enough, not long later, I tripped going into the bathroom and really stubbed my left big toe.† I was afraid it would bleed or that something was broken, but it appears to be pretty much okay.† There was some bleeding under the nail, though, because now the nail is kind of a bluish color.† I was afraid it would keep me from walking today, but it was ok on our walk, although it is still sore.† Iíve put a folded up towel at the transition, both to serve as a visual cue to warn me to step over it, and also to cushion the blow if I stub my toe again.
I settled down last night at about 10, slept well in the double bed, and was up at 6 this morning.† I took care of my morning stuff, and was across the street for the bird walk at 8.† There were four people plus the guide on the walk.† When we started, the temperature was about 60, and it was really pleasant.† It heated up, though, and by the time I was all finished for the day, at about 2:30, it was about 90.† Our leader was Bob Rasa, a local professional guide and photographer.† He is also a teacher at the high school and does the sports photography for the local newspaper.† Heís about my age.† The other birders were a couple from Georgia, John and Nancy, and a British birder by the name of Dave.† I had seen Dave a couple of times while I was in the High Island area.† I guess we were all pretty much of an age, in our 60ís.† Young sprouts, in other words.
The first place we went on the walk was to what are called the Cattle Guard feeders.† As soon as we got there, Dave spotted a flycatcher in a distant tree, and a discussion ensued as what species it was.† The general consensus (between Dave and Bob) was that it was a BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER, so I counted it as such for my year list.† It looks so much like another species we saw later that I doubt I could make the distinction, so I was glad to accept their opinions.† At that same place, there was a BRONZED COWBIRD with a couple of the more common Brown-headed Cowbirds, so I added that one.† I expect to see a lot of them in the Rio Grande Valley later.† There was also an American Goldfinch that came to one of the feeders, and that was a good one for my trip list.† Just as we were leaving, John noticed a BLACK-THROATED SPARROW, which was an excellent one for me to add to my year list.
As we were walking to our next area along the river, there was a pair of VERMILION FLYCATCHERS.† I saw them last year in Arizona, and I was never able to get a good picture of a male, which is a brilliant red and black.† I missed today again, but Iíll keep trying.
We walked down along the Frio River, where yesterday afternoon there had been dozens of people swimming and partying in the sun.† Here is a picture of the river with the swimming hole in the mid-distance.
There was a lot of bird song along the river, and we tried for various birds.† We had one particular target bird, and kept looking for it.† In the meantime, I got my first ever look at a LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER (lifer).† No picture today, but I expect to see them again.
Eventually Bob heard the one we were looking for, and we finally saw it, part way up a tree, but out in the sun, really showing itself well.† It was a species I hadnít expected to see on the trip at all, because they are only casual to Texas and sometimes southern Arizona, a little warbler called a TROPICAL PARULA (lifer).† I had seen its close cousin, the Northern Parula for the first time last week at High Island, and the main difference in this species is that it has no eye ring, and the Northern has a very obvious eye ring.† Here is a distant picture after it went up much higher, and it does show that there is no bold eye ring.
We started back down the river after getting good looks at an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER.† It looks very similar to the Brown-crested I had counted earlier, but this time Bob and Dave heard it calling, and that is the best way to determine the difference between the two species.† Here is the Ash-throated guy.
Along that stretch of river we got good looks at another warbler I still needed for my year list, a NASHVILLE WARBLER.† I was glad I was with a group when we saw it, as I might not have recognized it on my own with the looks I got.† I hadnít realized how yellow it is underneath, so that would have fooled me.
About that time Bob spotted an OSPREY flying overhead, my first for the year.† He also was able to show us the Black Phoebe that has been hanging around here. It is a Western flycatcher, and it is at the extreme eastern end of its range here.† I had it for the year, but it is a good one to pad my trip list with, as I donít expect to see them anywhere else on the trip.
We crossed the river on the road bridge, and just across on the other side, a Greater Roadrunner scurried across the road in front of us, stopped on the other side while some cars passed, and then scurried back to our side.† They sure can run.† That was a new one for the trip for me.
We walked up the path toward what are referred to as the Cabin 61 feeders, and a COMMON GROUND-DOVE flew right over our heads.† I expect to see more of them later, too, but now they are on my lists.
After checking the feeders at Cabin 61 and seeing nothing interesting, we went up a path onto the hillside.† The idea here was to look for the two birds I had seen yesterday in Kerr WMA, the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo.† We charged around through the woods and eventually got looks at a Golden-cheeked Warbler and then started up the hill to where the vireo lives.† About halfway up the hill, I had had enough climbing, and I stopped and waited in the shade for the next 15 or 20 minutes until the others returned.† I had had good looks at the vireo yesterday, and I needed to take a breather.† They did see the vireo, I guess, but nothing else of consequence, so I was glad I had stayed back and rested.† By this time it was getting pretty warm, and we had been walking for almost three hours.† Here is a picture of the hill and my resting place, to give you an idea of the terrain.† The hill is steeper than it looks in the picture, of course.
I took my long sleeve shirt off and hung it on that tree branch, to help me cool off.
The walk was essentially over at that point, but Dave had arranged with Bob for Bob to show him Cookís Slough, an area of ponds south of Uvalde, about 25 miles south of Nealís.† Bob asked if I wanted to follow them down there, and I eagerly agreed.† They gave me ten minutes to make myself a sandwich and change to a short sleeve shirt, and we headed south.† First Bob drove us to another feeding station, though, so I would know where it is for tomorrow, if I want to check it out.
I was able to cool off on the half hour drive to Cookís Slough in my air conditioned car, and I also ate my sandwich, some tortilla chips and some cookies while I drove.† At Cookís Slough, I added a duck, American Wigeon, to my trip list, and we walked around.† It was damn hot by then, and we walked and walked, seeing very little.† The heat of the day is the worst time to bird.† Bob and Dave kept hearing desirable birds, but we could never seem to see any of them.† At one point we chased a little bird through the brush and trees for maybe 20 minutes.† It was prime chigger and deer tick country, and I was glad that I was wearing my shoes, socks, and pants that I had treated with Permethrin.† My socks and shoes got covered with weed seeds and burrs.† Finally the bird we had been chasing (by hearing it repeatedly, as it moved around) perched on a wire overhead, and we all got great looks at a VERDIN, one I was very glad to add to my year list, as they arenít easy to see.† I was glad that at least I had gotten a reward for all the crashing through the brush we had done.
On the way back we took another detour through the brush to see a Black Vulture nest that Bob has been monitoring.† The two chicks are up and around now, and one of the parents was nearby.† Here are some pictures.† First, here is the parent, sitting nearby, keeping watch on the chicks.
Not exactly a beauty, but better looking than a Turkey Vulture, I think.
The chicks wouldnít win any beauty contests, either, I donít think.† Here they are.
Somebody ought to give them some posture lessons.
Dave sighted another one for my trip list next, a Spotted Sandpiper.† My final bird of the day was a quick fly by of a GREEN KINGFISHER (lifer).† I would have liked a better and longer look, and I might see them again in the Rio Grande Valley, but I understand that they arenít all that common, so we will see.† I hope to see one perched, and maybe get a picture eventually.
So, that was a pretty big day of birding for me.† I walked for over 5 hours, and got pretty hot.† I added 18 birds to my trip list, and 12 of those were good for my year list.† Only 3 were lifers, though.† For the trip, I am up to 184 species now, of which 118 are new for my year.† I have added 57 lifers on the trip so far.†
On my way back to Nealís, I stopped at the HEB supermarket in Uvalde and got some beer, a couple of breakfast things, and a chicken and rice dinner for tonight.† I didnít mention last nightís dinner, which was a Velveeta tuna noodle mix, with three cans of tuna added.† I also had some of my raw veggies, of course.† I had leftovers for my brekkie today, with a Greek yogurt, and there is still a little left.
I got back here to my cabin about 3 or so, had a nice cooling shower (designed to wash off any chiggers as well), and after a little rest, I processed my pictures and wrote this.† It is about 5:30 now, and I plan to have a beer and go over to the office and finally get online for the first time today.† Iíll send this off and check email then.
I feel like it was a long day of birding, since I walked so much, but it was actually only about 7 hours, including an hour of driving to and from Cookís Slough.† Tomorrow I hope to take it a little easier, but I havenít decided where to go tomorrow.† I want to be sure to add a new year bird, so I donít get skunked, and Iím not at all sure I can do that.† Bob heard a number of ones around Nealís today that I need, so maybe I can see one of those.
Sunday, April 22 Addendum
Iíve had my humble dinner (the chicken and rice thing with some chicken breast added was very nice), and I thought of a couple more things for today.
I forgot to mention Bewickís Wren as a trip bird, for one thing.† We saw a pair of them right at the end of the day, at Cookís Slough.† I saw one of them and thought it was a different bird, a Red-eyed Vireo.† Dave said Bewickís Wren, but I rejected that a couple of times, until Bob concurred with Dave.† Tonight I was wondering about it, so I looked in my field guide.† It turns out that the Pacific subspecies of Bewickís wren is smaller and darker than the one they have here.† It was the size and the color that put me off.† The bill was obviously wrong for Red-eyed Vireo, which was my mistake, but neither Dave nor Bob needed to even look at the bill, or even the bird, because they both recognized the call.† It was a perfect example of the handicap I have in not being able to remember bird calls.† Bewickís Wrens nest in our yard.† I certainly ought to be able to recognize the bird and the call, but calls are beyond me, and the subspecies differences put me off the visual ID.
Another interesting thing I forgot to mention is Cinderella, Bobís little dog, who accompanied us today.† I have never seen or heard of a bird guide who brought his dog with him while conducting a tour.† Cinderella didnít seem to bother the birds, although there is no way of telling if some birds stayed away because of her.† It didnít bother me at all, but I thought it was interesting.
Another observation from today was Bobís use of recorded bird calls and songs.† The official Nealís policy is no recordings, but Bob ignored that.† (Their official policy is no pets, too, which Bob also ignored.)† In my very limited experience, almost all bird guides use recordings, but it is a controversial practice, so it isnít talked about much.† I should mention hat Bob didnít use recordings for the two endangered birds today.† It seems to me like not using recordings is the ďpolitically correctĒ thing to do, but most birders ignore that when in private.† I find the whole practice interesting, ever since I discovered last year how effective it can be at times.† I avoid doing it when other birders might be around, as that isnít fair to them, when they are ďbirding by earĒ, which is becoming more and more popular, I think, since the American Birding Association changed their policy and now they allow one to officially ďcountĒ birds that are only heard, and not seen.† That change is another example of political correctness, I think Ė the idea is that if birders count ďheard onlyĒ birds, they wonít chase the birds so much, and therefore the birds will be better off.† I find the whole topic interesting, as it is such a great example of human behavior.
Finally, a note on temperatures.† Last night I turned the a/c off in here when I settled down, as I knew it would get cold outside during the night.† It was 71 in here when I turned it off.† I expected it to drop quite a bit during the night, and I was a bit concerned about getting cold, since there is only the top sheet and a thin bedspread on the bed.† I figured I could always turn the heat on if I needed to, though.† As it turned out, it was only down to 67 by this morning, so the cabin is much better insulated than it looks, I guess.† It seems a lot hotter outside tonight, though so Iím not sure what Iíll do tonight.† So far, Iíve been very fortunate with the weather and the temperature.† (knock on wood)† I suspect it is going to be a lot hotter in the next week or so, when Iím down in the Rio Grande Valley.
One more thing, despite the ďfinallyĒ above.† At this point, I think Iím going to stick pretty close to Nealís tomorrow, rather than go haring off to Lost Maples or somewhere else.† It could be very tough to actually get a new year bird this way, but I donít know that it would be any better anywhere else, and I feel like having a more relaxing day tomorrow.† I plan to send this off in the middle of the day tomorrow (Monday), and then write a Monday report in the afternoon, if one is warranted (that is, if I see a new bird).
Monday, April 23
Iím still keeping myself on an early schedule.† I was up at 6:20 this morning and out birding by 7:30.† That is about the earliest I have ever been out birding alone, I think.† Last year in Arizona, my guide had me meeting him at 6 or 6:30 to start our day, and I have started at 6:30 or 7 with other guides, but today was very early for me alone.† One reason was that I didnít have to pack up and I started birding right outside my cabin door.
I first went across the street to what is called the Cattle Guard feeding station, which is where we had started yesterday on our bird walk with Bob.† I had one particular bird I hoped to see there, one that Bob had mentioned came to that station regularly, and he had heard it yesterday when we were there.† Sure enough, as soon as I walked up and before I could even sit down, I saw a RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW feeding on the ground under the feeders.† It flew away pretty quickly, before I could get any pictures, and it never returned in the 20 or 30 minutes I spent there.† Still, I had been afraid that today would be the day I would get skunked, and I had a year bird before 8 oíclock.† A great start.
Near there, I saw a flycatcher on a tree, and I got some pictures.† Yesterday we had seen a similar flycatcher at the same place, probably the same bird.† There had been some discussion yesterday about whether it was a Brown-crested Flycatcher or an Ash-throated Flycatcher.† They are very similar, and the best way to tell them apart is by their voice, which Iím hopeless at, of course.† Besides, this one never vocalized, either yesterday or today.† I ended up calling it a Brown-crested yesterday, based on the consensus decision of the two experts, Bob and Dave.† There is one difference, though, and that is in the bill size.† The Brown-crested has a larger and stouter bill than the Ash-throated.† I have looked and looked at my field guides, and I think that this is a Brown-crested, based on the bill size, but I am far from certain.† Here is the picture, for some expert to set me straight.
When I finished there, I stopped by the office and got directions to what they call ďthe ranchĒ, which is a property that Nealís owns or manages, about a mile and a half down the road.† I found it and set out walking.† I was looking for sparrows, but it was remarkably unbirdy.† I trudged around in the sun for over an hour, and never added any new birds.† I did get a distant picture of an antelope that I scared up, though.† A very attractive animal.
I also had a very amusing incident.† I had been playing recordings of bird calls on my cell phone, and I put it in my pocket.† Just after that, I started hearing a loud call that was really strange and distinctive.† I couldnít tell where it was coming from, it seemed to be all around me.† I chased it around, but never could get a bead on where the bird was.† At one point, that call stopped, and another started.† Eventually, I realized that my cell phone had moved on to the next bird in the list, and I was hearing my own phone play the calls of an owl.† Pretty damn amusing, if you ask me.† I was glad no one was around to see my embarrassment, though.
On my way out, I did finally see a couple of sparrows, and I even got pictures of one of them.† I wasnít sure what it was at the time, but when I got back to my cabin and processed my pictures, I decided it was a Vesper Sparrow, one I had counted a few days ago.† Here are a couple of pictures.† I really find it useful when I can get a picture of a bird Iím not sure about, and then study the picture later.
Almost back at my car, I got this picture of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.† I think it must be a female, as the tail is not as long as those of some birds I have seen, and the males are supposed to have longer tails than the females.
I got a picture just as it took off.† The picture has motion blur in it, but it shows the surprising salmon colored underwing area, just as the field guide mentions.
So, the ranch was a nice walk in the morning sun, and it wasnít very hot, but it didnít get me any new birds. †I got in my car and next stopped at the Cabin 61 feeding station.† Iíve read a number of trip reports in which birders say how good it was there for them, and this morning it was good for me.† The first new bird I got on to was a tiny little thing, and I decided eventually that it had to be a BELLíS VIREO.† It doesnít look quite like the pictures in my field guide, but I just canít figure out what else it could be, so that is what Iím going with.† Here is a somewhat blurry picture, and maybe someone who knows more than I do will correct me if Iím wrong.
Iím planning to email a copy of the picture to Bob, my guide from yesterday, and ask his opinion.† Iím sure he will know exactly what bird it is, and if it isnít a Bellís Vireo, Iíll change my records and admit it here.† Those of you who have been following my birding adventures for a while will probably remember that it wouldnít be the first time that has happened.
Another little bird came in, and it was very distinctive.† I got excellent looks at it, but I never got a decent picture of it.† The trouble was, even though it was very distinctive, there are two species that live here that it could have been.† I decided, based on the color of the head (distinctly bluish) and the bright yellow wing bars that it was a BLUE-HEADED VIREO (lifer).† The other possibility was Black-capped Vireo, which I had seen up at Kerr WMA the other day.† I actually got a decent picture of the bird in the afternoon, and that would have settled it for sure, but due to some kind of accident, I lost the picture.† I am always careful when I delete the pictures from my cameraís card, but somehow this time, not all my pictures from today ended up on my hard drive.† I donít understand it, and it is very irritating.† I lost several pictures I liked a lot, including the one that would have settled any ambiguity over the Blue-headed Vireo.† I had looked at the picture in the camera, though, and I based on everything I saw, I am comfortable calling it a Blue-headed Vireo.† I certainly got several excellent looks at it, in addition to studying the picture in the camera.† I still wish I had the picture, though.† A similar thing happened a couple of days ago, but that time I was able to find the missing pictures in the Recycle bin.† Not this time, though.
Another good one for my year list came along, a Western warbler that migrates through here, a female WILSONíS WARBLER.† I got a somewhat motion blurred picture of her.
The little cap on her head is the distinctive marking, along with the color.† A male would have a black cap, and the femaleís cap is kind of gray.
But, the fun at Cabin 61 wasnít over yet.† Another stranger came in several times, and eventually I was able to identify it as an OLIVE SPARROW (lifer).† I got a lot of pictures, but the bird is pretty drab and none of them really look all that good.† Here is the best of the bunch, I guess,
Another sparrow visited briefly, too, and I got a picture of this White-throated Sparrow.† I had already counted that one for my trip list in High Island, but it was nice to get a picture of this mainly Eastern and Midwestern sparrow.† They do show up along the West Coast in the winter, but not many of them.
There were a few other birds, but I donít have any more pictures from there, and there was nothing else new for me.
From there, I drove to what is called the Pecan Grove feeding station, up the road.† It is in a lovely setting, with green grass and green trees.† Here is a picture of the area.
As soon as I arrived, before I had even gotten out of the car, I got this picture of a Golden-fronted Woodpecker at one of the feeders.
I had a much better picture that I got a little later, but that is one of the ones I lost somehow.† I should see lots of this species, so Iíll keep trying to get a better picture.
Soon after I got myself seated, a small group of birds flew in and foraged around in the grass where there was water running.† I was only able to get one blurry picture, but based on what I saw, I am calling them CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS, a bird I have only seen one time before today.† It was turning into quite a sparrow kind of day for me.
A female Summer Tanager flew in and perched on the water faucet for a minute or so, then left.† The male Summer Tanager, which I saw a number of times in High Island, is a bright tomato red, but the female looks like this:
I chased a couple of sparrows that landed in a tree nearby, but never got a good look at them.† Since I was up anyway, I wandered around in the lovely spring morning, enjoying the much cooler temperature, compared to yesterday.† It eventually got up about 85 here today, in the afternoon, but yesterday it was up to 90 by about noon.† There were lots of wildflowers and tons of butterflies.† I have been very surprised by how many butterflies there are all over the place.† It is hard to get pictures of them, because they donít seem to land very often, and then they donít stay long.† Today I did get some butterfly pictures that I like, though.
Here are two pictures of the same butterfly on a thistle flower, one with its wings open and one with its wings partly closed.† I like the colors.
Here is one that has everything.† Two butterflies and a bee, on a thistle flower.
Eventually I gave up on the Pecan Grove station and moved on.† I decided to go looking for Cave Swallow, which would be a lifer for me.† I knew they live in a cave nearby, where there are also bats, and they do nightly tours to see the bats come out of the cave.† I have read many reports in which the people were really impressed with the millions of bats flying out of the cave at sunset, but tours like that just arenít my thing, and Iím going to pass on it.† You gather at the gate, get onto some kind of tram and the whole crowd of people rides out to where the cave is.† I just donít do that kind of thing when Iím on one of my birding trips, but I would like to see a Cave Swallow.† So, I drove over to where the tour starts, hoping I might see some swallows flying around.
As it turned out, no.† I didnít see any swallows at all.† There had been road construction on the way over there, and I had been delayed, so I decided to return by making it a loop.† I drove slowly, watching for birds.† It was mostly on a back road, with almost no traffic.† I saw a meadowlark, and they get both species (Eastern and Western) here, and the Western is actually more common in the Spring.† I need Western to pad my trip list, but the bird flew before I could hear it sing or get a picture.† Iím not sure I could tell the difference from a picture, anyway, but I think I could recognize the difference in the song, if I heard it.
A little later, I pulled over to check out a bird on a fence, but it only turned out to be another Red-winged Blackbird.† As I was sitting there, though, a small flock of birds flew in and landed in a nearby tree, and they clearly had white wing patches.† Very interesting.† I got the binoculars on one, and they were YELLOW-WINGED BLACKBIRDS, an excellent bird for both my year and trip lists.
I continued on and while I was driving on the main highway portion of my loop (two lane road, 70 mph speed limit), a raptor flew across the road right in front of me.† I got a great look at it, but I didnít know what it was.† It had a while rump or tail band, and also a white terminal band on the tail.† It was very dark, much darker than a Northern Harrier, which has a white rump, but it definitely would not have a white terminal tail band.† I pulled over as soon as I could and looked through my field guide.† Aha, yes!† I had scored a HARRISíS HAWK, a bird I had only seen once before, last year in Arizona.† I hadnít seen one flying then, though.† I later looked it up, and they are listed as common here in this county, but I hadnít expected to see them until I got down to the Rio Grande Valley, later in the trip.
So, I had set out to look for Cave Swallow, but I picked up two birds for my year list that werenít even on my radar.† It is interesting how often that happens.† You have to put yourself out there where the birds are, and after than, it is up to the gods of birding.† Last night I made a list of birds I might see today that I needed for one of my lists or another.† There were 15 birds on that list, and today I saw 3 of them.† But, I also saw 5 additional birds I needed for the year, that I hadnít even considered last night.
I stopped again at the Cabin 61 feeders, and that is when I got the good picture of the bird Iím calling a Blue-headed Vireo, one of the pictures I lost.† I didnít see much else there this afternoon, though.† Morning is always better for birding, it seems.
So, at the end of the day, on a day I was afraid I would get skunked, I ended up adding 8 more birds to my trip and year lists, and two of those were lifers.† An outstanding day, any way you look at it.† I had said that I spent too much time here in the Hill Country, but based on my results today, it was just fine to have stayed three nights.† It was also a comfortable and fun day of birding.† I had birds to look at, even when I wasnít adding anything new.† Adding new stuff is getting harder and harder, of course, as time goes on.
Overall for the trip, Iíve seen 192 species now, and 126 of those have added to my year list.† 59 are lifers.† Iím 13 days into a 25 day trip now, but the easy stuff is already done.† They get harder and harder as time goes on, but tomorrow Iím headed south, to Laredo, in the Rio Grande Valley.† There are a lot of special species in the valley, and I expect to keep adding birds, although it will keep getting slower and slower, of course.† One day at a time.† Tomorrow I have to drive for about 2 Ĺ or 3 hours to get to my next stopping point, and when I get to Laredo, there are several birding places I want to check out.† The problem with that is, it will be afternoon by then, not the best time of day for birding.† But, Iíll try to add at least one new species, to keep from getting skunked, and to give myself an excuse to write here again.† One great thing about moving on is that from now on I will have internet access in my room, and it will be great to get back to that.† Iíll go over to the office in a few minutes, after I proof this, and send it off, but I probably wonít be checking email or showing up on AIM until Tuesday afternoon/evening.† Rio Grande Valley, here comes the Old Rambler.
Tuesday, April 24
First Iíll skip ahead to the email I read this afternoon from Bob, my guide of Sunday.† He wasnít sure about the mystery bird either, so he put the picture on his web site and posted to the TexBirds mailing list, asking for opinions.† The consensus was that was an Orange-crowned Warbler, a bird I have seen several times this year, and several times on the trip.† So, I lost Bellís Vireo, and my year and trip counts go down by one.† I had just never thought of Orange-crowned Warbler, partly because I have never seen one so gray (as opposed to yellowish green).† One of my field guides shows a first winter female one, though, and it looks just like my picture, so Iím fully convinced.† Iím glad I asked, I want to get as many as I can; but I donít like to make mistakes, and Iíd rather know the truth than fool myself, when I have a way of ascertaining the truth.
I slept well again last night and was up at ten minutes before six this morning.† I had decided to try my luck over at Cabin 61 this morning, and I was over there by 7:10.† The sun wasnít even over the horizon yet.† I took a seat, but not much was going on.† There had been some doves there when I got there, but they had flown away.† After awhile, the same little Orange-crowned Warbler came through, although at that point, I still didnít know what it was.† It still didnít look quite right for Bellís Vireo, and the other possibility I had thought of, Warbling Vireo, would be rare at that location.
The Olive Sparrow came back also, and also the White-crowned Sparrow I had taken pictures of the day before came back.† Those were some of the pictures I had lost.† By the way, I think I figured out how the pictures got lost, and if Iím right, it was a software malfunction.† It was caused by something I had done, I think, but my action should not have resulted in those files being deleted; thatís where the malfunction comes in.† At any rate, I wonít do the thing that I think caused it again, and I should be okay, assuming my theory is right.
Another sparrow came in, too.† There wasnít enough light yet for pictures, so I studied it.† At first I thought it was a Song Sparrow, but then I looked in one of my field guides, and decided it was actually a Lincolnís Sparrow.† So, that goes on to my trip list.
The big excitement at that point, though, was that a larger bird flew in to a tree and looked the situation over.† I got my binoculars on it, and it was a CANYON TOWHEE, an excellent bird to get for my year list.† Iím very unlikely to see them anywhere else I plan to go this year, and this was my last chance on the trip.† I had only seen them a couple of times before, in Arizona last year, but they look very much like California Towhees, which Iím quite familiar with.
After about a half hour, I decided that not much was happening there, and I headed back toward the road, where I had left my car.† There are three cabins along the road to Cabin 61, including Cabin 61 itself, and I hadnít wanted to drive in there at 7 in the morning and disturb people.† As it turned out, all three cabins seemed to be unoccupied, though.† On my way back to the car, I played the song of a bird that Bob and Dave had heard on Sunday in that area.† I got more than one reply, and the birds just kept singing.† It is a very distinctive song, and even I could recognize it.† There is actually a whole set of different sounds, and the birds in the bushes were making them all.† I looked and looked, but couldnít see anything.† I moved farther down the road, where a different bird was singing away, and eventually I got a great look at a lovely YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, sitting out in the sun.† They normally skulk in the bushes, so I hadnít really expected to be able to see one, but the gods of birding were with me.† So, it was 8 AM, and I had two birds for my year list.† Not a bad start to a day of travel, when I wasnít sure I would see anything new at all.† I was aware, though, that every day of the trip so far I have seen a lifer, so then I was just a bit concerned about keeping THAT streak alive.† Oh what tangled webs we birders weave, when first we start making lists and keeping records.
By the way, there are very few pictures today, so here is a picture of the famous Cabin 61 feeding station.† There wasnít much light under the trees at that time of morning, so it isnít very good, but it gives the idea.† There is seed scattered on the ground, as well as in the feeders.† Itís hard to see but there is a hose dripping water into an orange colored pan on the left, and the birds like to bathe and drink there.
You probably didnít notice, but those are White-winged Doves feeding on the ground in the middle of the picture.† They had come back eventually.
So, after that auspicious start to my day, I returned to Cabin 1, loaded up the car, and headed out.† I had about 150 miles to go today, to Laredo, on the Mexican border.
As I drove, I was on the lookout for swallows.† Yesterday I had tried to find Cave Swallow, you might remember, by driving by the bat cave area.† I didnít see any swallows then, but I did pick up two good birds, you might remember.† Anyway, I had done more research last night, and it turns out that Cave Swallows nest under bridges and in culverts, as well as in caves, so I was on the lookout for them this morning, whenever I crossed a bridge or culvert.† At one point, I saw a couple of swallows flying near a bridge, so I pulled over and got out.† It turned out that there were dozens of them, and when I got my binoculars on them, they were indeed CAVE SWALLOWS (lifer).† They are fairly common in this area, I understand, but they only live in Mexico and parts of Texas, and the extreme southeast corner of New Mexico, at Carlsbad Caverns, so you have to come here to see them.† So, I had my lifer, and that streak continued, too.† Now I have two streaks to keep track of and report, I guess.† New year birds and Lifers.
At that stop, as I was getting ready to leave, the swallows started flying all around me and over my head.† They were making these little squeaking noises and there must have been several dozen birds, flying all round me.† I imagined that they were as excited as I was, as they were seeing a lifer, too, the first Old Rambler they have ever seen.† I exulted with them, each of us enjoying our lifer, and I spoke to them of the joy.
I kept motoring on down the road, heading south, and it kept getting warmer.† Pretty soon it was up in the 90ís, and when I finally left the car for the last time at about 5 oíclock, the car thermometer was indicating 97.† Too damn hot for me.
I looked in my bird finding book for the Rio Grande Valley, and found a couple of birding sites on the way into Laredo.† It was getting to be lunch time by then, so I paid my four bucks to get into the Lake Casa Blanca International State Park.† It is a big park, with a good sized lake, but I thought it was pretty bleak.† I guess the drought Texas has been suffering has affected it, as I noticed that the boat ramp was closed due to low water.† Everything around was pretty brown and dry looking.† The picnic tables were covered, though, and I ate my lunch on the bank of the lake, with a stiff breeze coming across the lake to keep me reasonably cool.† There were very few birds around, and nothing of interest to me.† I drove around the park and through some of the campgrounds, but it all seemed pretty bleak.
Next I turned in to the Texas A & M International campus, near the Laredo airport.† My book said to drive the perimeter roads, looking for birds in the brush.† I did that and at one point, I did see an interesting bird, and I parked the car and got out to look for it.† I never found it (I think it was an oriole of some sort, and I probably would have needed it), but I did see another bird on a wire, my first ever GREEN JAY (lifer).† They are quite common in the Rio Grande Valley (called simply ďthe valleyĒ from now on), and I expect to see a lot of them† It is always nice to get a picture of the first individual bird I see of a species, though, so I was disappointed when it flew off before I could shoot it.
There were some kingbirds on wires in the area, though, and I knew the most common kingbird in the area would be another lifer for me, so I looked at them closely.† Unfortunately, I had left my field guide in the car, and I had forgotten what features I was supposed to look for to distinguish the species.† So, I took some pictures and figured I could decide later which species they were.† Once I checked in here and looked at my pictures, I decided that I had seen COUCHíS KINGBIRDS (lifer).† This time I did get pictures of the first one I saw, too.† Here it is.
It is quite similar to the Western Kingbird, which I see all the time in California in the summer.† One of the differences is that the Western has a black tail with white outer feathers on the tail.† Couchís has a ďnotched brownish tailĒ.† Fortunately, my pictures had captured that key part of the bird, and this one definitely has a notched brownish tail, not a black tail with white outer feathers.† Score!† My third lifer of the day.† The three lifers were all very ďeasyĒ ones that I was 99% sure I would get, but a lifer is a lifer, and you take them when you can.† This morningís Canyon Towhee and Yellow-breasted Chat were ďbetterĒ birds in the sense that they were much more likely to be ones I would miss on the trip, even though I had seen both birds in Arizona last year.
In fact, that leads me into a topic I planned to cover tonight.† Iíve been feeling like I am doing poorly compared to my expectations, and I think I have mentioned that here more than once.† It feels like I keep missing birds that I expected to see, and Iíve been afraid that my overall totals were going to be short of my expectations, which I think were pumped up too high by all my planning and all the research I did.† My expectations were largely based on trip reports and bird abundance charts I found online, for various areas.† I should have realized by now that the bird abundance charts are often overly optimistic, for reasons I can only guess at, but it doesnít surprise me.† The trouble with using trip reports to set my expectations is that most birders are so much better than I am at recognizing the birdsí songs and calls, which is a huge help for them.† Huge.† In addition to that, most birders do a more intense trip than I do; they are out at dawn, and at 6:30 PM, they are still out looking for birds, not sitting in their room drinking beer and writing inane birding reports (like I am now).
Anyway, I knew and accepted all those things in advance, but I maybe didnít realize how much they would affect my numbers.† So, last night, I updated my spreadsheet estimates.† For each of the approximately 350 species I could possibly see on this trip, I updated my estimates, based on what I have done and seen so far.† So, over 190 birds went to 100%, as I have already seen those.† Others went to 0 because I missed them and I wonít be going back where they live.† Still others were reduced, because I havenít seen them yet and now the trip is about half over.† I felt I was being pretty conservative in my estimates this time around, reducing percentages all over the place.† To my distinct surprise, the numbers came out very close to my original estimates.† I am still on track for about 255 species overall, and about 85 lifers.† Iím not sure how many Iím on track for to add to my year list, as I didnít update that particular spreadsheet.† Anyway, I found it very interesting that Iím not doing poorly at all, but am right on target.† I guess I have seen enough low percentage birds to make up for the high percentage ones I missed.† That is the whole point of making estimates, you win on some and lose on others, but this sure was an illustration of that.
After the Texas A & M campus, it was coming up on two oíclock, so I found my motel and checked in.† It is the first time I have stayed in a Red Roof Inn.† The building is very new, so it is plenty nice enough for me, but the chain is cheap, and they obviously cut corners.† It is interesting to me that somewhere some person sat in an office and made the decision to provide only one trash can in a room, to save X amount of dollars a year.† Even Motel 6 has two trash cans, but Red Roof Inn decided that was a place they could get away with cutting a corner.† There are other examples, too.† On the other hand, they do have an ironing board and iron in the room, and a clock.† There is a refrigerator/microwave unit, but no coffee maker, which is something that every motel I have stayed in so far has had.† The website made no mention of any breakfast provided, either, and that has become pretty standard in this class of motel.† I find this kind of thing interesting Ė the little decisions that people make, in how they run their businesses.† When I checked in, it took over 20 minutes.† The clerk kept going off to consult with someone.† Eventually she said that check in time was 3 oíclock (and I had come in at 2), and there was only one housekeeper on duty.† She couldnít tell which rooms were cleaned, I guess because they donít tell her that until closer to the official 3 oíclock check in time.† When she told me that, I asked her what she wanted me to do.† She just shrugged her shoulders, and said nothing.† I said, should wait?† Another shrug.† Should I leave and come back?† Still another shrug, with no comment.† Finally she suggested that I might wait, so I did.† It only took about another five minutes after that, and she had a room for me.
But wait, there was still a little issue.† The paperwork she gave me to sign had a price that was seven dollars higher than I had been quoted when I booked the room on their own website.† I pointed that out, and she could only say ďthatís what came upĒ.† So, I went out to my car, cheap bastard that I am, and got my printed out confirmation and brought it in.† She managed to correct it then.† Anyway, I went on about all that way too much.† It wasnít a big deal at all, just some observations that I found interesting. †The room is very nice and is perfectly adequate for my needs.†
Oh yes, one more whinge.† When I went to connect to the internet, I could see a number of wi-fi networks, and none of them had a name anything like Red Roof Inn.† One of them was Intellinet AP and another one was Intellinet AP2, so I figured that was likely.† I couldnít connect to the 2 one, but I connected to the Intellinet one.† Unfortunately, the connection was very slow, and then it kept dropping out.† Eventually, after fooling around with it for a while, I tried another network I could see, called simply NETGEAR, which is the generic name you get when you donít bother naming your network yourself and you are using a Netgear access point.† Now I seem to be connected to both Intellinet and NETGEAR, but the connection is fast and solid, so Iím not messing with it.
My day was not over yet, though.† After carrying all my shit in (no luggage carts provided, another corner cutting cheapness) and getting online and reading my mail, I headed out again, at 3 PM.† I wasnít very excited about doing that, in the mid-90ís heat, but I had come all this way, and there is a rare bird that people see right on the Rio Grande, near downtown Laredo.† I had directions, so I headed out, to give it a shot.
I had deliberately checked in to my motel first, and I had put everything I couldnít finish the trip without in my room, because I had read that the neighborhood where these birds live is kind of iffy.† Indeed, the neighborhood is a poor one, but a bigger problem is that it is right on the river, just 100 feet from Mexico.† Suffice it to say that there is a lot of ďtrafficĒ in the area.† I found the right place eventually.† Google Maps is wrong in that area, as it is in so many areas, but I had very explicit directions I had found online, and I found the right place.† I parked my car out in the open, hoping that would keep it safer, and I ventured into the more or less jungle environment where these birds live.† It was hot as hell, but I played their song and wandered along the trails for 15 or 20 minutes.† I eventually decided this was too stupid for words, and who cares if I ever seen a White-collared Seedeater anyway, so I headed back toward my car, hoping I could find my way along the trails.
Before I had gone far, though, a nice Border Control agent met me, which was something I had read would probably happen.† He was very polite and walked back with me toward my car.† He said I was perfectly free to stay and bird all I wanted, but it wasnít really a very good place to be wandering around alone.† I agreed with him, and we chatted as he showed me the way back to my car.
I still wasnít ready to give it all up, though.† I am stubborn, in case you havenít noticed.† I had one more target bird in Laredo, a parrot that lives here and also in McAllen, the next place I plan to go.† I knew where they roost here, so I found my way there.† It is a nice square in the older downtown area of Laredo.† I knew the birds mostly wouldnít show up there until closer to sundown, but I thought it was worth taking a chance that one or two might show up early, and it was about 4 by then.† I found the square, and there was even a parking place across the street.† Not only that, it was in the shade and it had 58 minutes left on the meter.† That seemed like some kind of sign.
Anyway, I sat and walked in the square for twenty minutes, but saw no parrots.† Lots of pigeons, doves, grackles, and House Sparrows, but no parrots.† At that point, I threw in the towel and headed for my lonely room.† I stopped at an HEB grocery store for a few things I needed and settled into my room for the night.
So, that was my Tuesday.† Not much birding, but I did manage to pick up another 6 species for my trip list, and 5 of those were good for my year list.† Three were lifers, too.
That brings me to 197 species on the trip so far, and Iíve been here two weeks now.† I was reflecting on that today, and I canít think of any other two week period in which I would have seen 197 species, so I guess Iím not doing so badly after all.† The only other two week period that might have come close would have been on my Arizona trip last year, but I wasnít keeping a trip list that time, so I donít know for sure.† But, I doubt I saw 197 different species in a two week period on that trip.
Thatís enough numbers for this report.† Tomorrow I head east again, down the valley toward Brownsville, which is about 200 miles away.† Tomorrow night I stop at McAllen, though, for three nights, before I continue on to Brownsville.† I have a number of sites to check out tomorrow, and IĎm not sure how Iíll have time to see them all.† I havenít checked the weather forecast, but if it is high 90ís for the next several days, that could really slow me down.† The adventure continues.
Wednesday, April 25
I have a lot of pictures today, and Iím running late, but Iíll try to tell the story of the day.
I was up at 6 again, and out of my motel and on the road by 8.† Iím not sure what took me so long to get going, but I was ahead of the schedule I had set for myself for this day before I left home, when I planned to be on the road by 8:30.† I had a lot of places I wanted to check out today, and about 150 miles to cover as well.
My first stop was supposed to be at a rest area north of San Ygnacio, but I read my notes wrong and missed it.† I stopped in San Ygnacio and found the bird preserve I was looking for, but it seemed to be closed and it wasnít clear when it might be open.† I could have wandered around down by the river, but I didnít like the idea of leaving my car with all my stuff in it in that neighborhood, and I had no reason to think I would see anything anyway.† The preserve there was supposed to have feeders, but their season was over.† As I drove through town, though, making my way to the birding site, I did pick up my first lifer for the day, a GREAT KISKADEE (lifer).† I didnít get a picture of that bird, but I got one later in the day.
My first real stop was in Zapata, at the city park.† I found the site and walked around the pond there, but I didnít see any of the target species.† I did get a brief look at what had to be a Green Kingfisher, based on its size and appearance, but I had counted that one in a fly-by view on Sunday at Cookís Slough.
I picked up a tuna sandwich at Subway in Zapata, as I had not wanted to spend the time making a sandwich this morning, and I was running low on sandwich fixings anyway.† It turned into a 20 o3 25 minute marathon, though, as the one employee on duty had to take care of a large call-in order (which evidently he had gotten wrong, as he kept going in the back to fix it), and then a woman with two kids who needed a couple of sandwiches and a pizza.† They were out of cucumbers and the bread I prefer, but eventually I got my sandwich and moved on.
My next stop was at Falcon State Park.† As I approached the park, though, I picked up my next year bird, a CURVE-BILLED THRASHER.† I had seen them a number of times last year on my Arizona trip.† Here is a picture of the one today.
I also got this picture of a Mourning Dove.
I paid my 3 bucks to get in to Falcon State Park, and I drove around.† It was a nice park, quite large.† It was dry, but not completely brown, and at least there were small trees throughout.† I drove through the picnic and camping areas, and there were some birds.† Near the boat launch, I drove into a parking area for boat trailers (which was totally empty), and I saw a bird on the ground, scurrying away.† It was obviously a quail of some kind, but there are two possible species of quail that could be there.† I thought I saw enough to identify it, but I wasnít positive.
I parked my car and got out and played the call of the species I thought it was, and soon noticed a bird sitting near a bush.† I got a good look at it, and it was a NORTHERN BOBWHITE (lifer), a bird I had really wanted to see on this trip.† I got this peek-a-boo shot of him.
It was enough to identify the species conclusively, and I was very pleased to get it.† But, wait, it got better.† I played the call some more, and got even better views, right out in the open, much to my surprise, as quail are usually pretty secretive.† Here is a picture I really like of the bird that I am declaring the bird of the day, Northern Bobwhite.
Is that a pretty bird, or what?† This is a male, according to my field guide.
I drove around some more, and stopped at one point and walked a little way on a Nature Trail.† There were lots of birds singing and calling, and I played some calls on my cell phone.† I think I heard responses to some of the ones I played, but it is hard to be sure, as the numerous mockingbirds do a great job of mimicking the calls of other birds.† I did see an oriole though, and I even got this picture of a BULLOCKíS ORIOLE, a good one for my year list.
That picture is a great example of the luck factor in getting pictures.† It was the only one I was able to get of that bird, and it came out quite nicely, I think.† Normally, I take a number of pictures of a given bird, and then choose the best one later, but this time, luck worked in my favor.† I mention it because the next picture I want to show you is an example of poor luck.† A little later, I saw a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and I also got only one shot off.† When I decided to push the shutter button, the bird was showing perfectly.† But, just as I shot it, he ducked his head back behind the trunk of the tree.† So, instead of what would have been a good shot, I got this Ė a headless Ladder-backed Woodpecker.
About that time, I found a place to eat my humble lunch.† I enjoyed my Subway tuna sandwich and listened to the birds all around.† As I finished, I heard one that I chased, but I never saw it.† From the call, which I had been playing earlier, it was it was one I had wanted to see, a Pyrrhuloxia, but it wasnít to be, today.
As I returned to my lunch site, though, I saw a Greater Roadrunner.† I had counted that species on Sunday at Nealís, but everyone loves roadrunners, and I got some pictures.† Here is a picture of it doing its thing, running.
A little later, I saw it again, and this time it ran right up a tree.† I had never seen or heard of that before, a roadrunner in a tree.† I moved around and got some pictures of it. It was maybe 12 or 15 feet up off the ground.† It didnít fly up, roadrunners rarely fly; it just climbed the tree, a little at a time.† Here is a picture of it in the tree.
When I got tired of taking pictures of it in the tree, I went back to my car, and another one was on the picnic table where I had eaten my lunch.† Here is a picture of that one.† It is roadrunner picture day today, but as I said, everyone loves roadrunners, probably because of the cartoons.
I saw other good birds there, including a Verdin, the bird I had chased though the brush for 20 minutes on Sunday, with Bob and Dave, at Cookís Slough.† It is interesting how you can really work for a bird, and then later see it easily.
So, from there, I tried to find my next site, Starr County Park, but it just didnít seem to be where I thought it should be.† I think that security issues have changed a lot of things near the border, in recent years.† Still, there is current information on the Texas Birding Trails website, and it talks about this park.† Maybe I just missed it somehow.
So, I missed that site and moved on the next one.† It is in a tiny place called Chapeno, and that ďnĒ should have a tilde or something over it, but Iím too lazy to figure out how to do that.† You take a tiny road right down to the border (the Rio Grande River), and drive in to a trailer park there.† You then pull up and honk your horn, and a woman comes out and takes your three dollars, for access to her riverfront property.† The unpaved driveway was pretty rough, with some huge speedbumps that I bottomed out pretty hard on.† The car is still running, though, so maybe it is okay.
I paid my three bucks and drove down by the river.† Here is a picture of the river, and the shaded table I sat at for part of my time there.† If you look closely, you can see a kind of smeary place in the picture, near the upper right corner of the picnic table structure.† I saw that when I processed the pictures for today, and I looked at my camera, and I must have put my finger on the lens, as there was a big smear there.† Fortunately it was off to the side, so it didnít show up much in other pictures.
Almost as soon as I arrived, I did see one of the special species that people go there to see.† I later got another look, but the first one was the best.† I even got a picture or two, and here is my best picture of an ALTAMIRA ORIOLE (lifer).
The pattern of black around the eyes and throat distinguishes it from the similar looking Hooded Oriole, which I hope to see later.
It was pretty hot by then, in the mid-90ís and climbing.† I stuck it out there for maybe 45 minutes, but I didnít see any of the other special birds that people go there for.† I did see a couple of NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS, though, for my year list.† I also saw the Border Patrol come by a couple of times in their airboats.† Here is a shot of them one of the times.† I hope taking a picture of them doesnít violate some kind of Homeland Security law.† They seem to be on the Mexican side of the river, is that okay?
There were also some Golden-fronted Woodpeckers around.† Again, a species I had already counted, but I got a couple of pictures I like.
This next one is a male, as it has a red patch on the very top of its head, above the eye.
As I left that place, I looked for my cell phone, and I couldnít find it.† I ended up driving back down the bumpy road to the river, to look for it.† After an anxious few minutes, I did find it, where it had fallen down alongside the front passenger seat.† Phew.
My next stop was the tiny town of Salineno.† Again, the second ďnĒ should have a tilde or whatever that symbol is called in Spanish.† There is a nature preserve there which is very well known.† Again, it meant following a tiny road to a tiny community, one so small that there are no businesses there that I saw.† Unfortunately, the preserve was closed for the season.† I could have wandered along the river bank, or sat there and watched for birds flying up or down the river, but I had already done those things at Chapeno, so I moved on.† Here is the Rio Grande at Salineno.
My next stop was at Roma.† There is an observation deck overlooking the river, and in the morning or evening, you can hope to see a couple of rare species there, flying up or down or across the river, but in the 100 degree heat of the day, with no shade, it was not a place I wanted to spend a lot of time.† Here is the river from Roma bluffs.
There is a Mexican town across the river there, and I could look at Mexicanís along the river, but that didnít really do much for me.
There is a small preserve there in Roma, so I stopped by there, despite the 100 degree temps.† I picked up BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD (lifer) there, a bird I am bound to see a lot of in the next few days.† Here are two pictures, one with flash (the eye looks phony) and one without (kind of dark).
I guess I like the without flash one better.
I also got a picture of a Great Kiskadee there, the bird I saw this morning for the first time in my life.† Not a great pic, and I hope to do better, but here it is.
So, that was the end of the birding.† I still had an hour and a half to drive to my lodgings for tonight, though, in Alamo, near McAllen.† The drive was very tedious, with lots of little towns and strip malls along the way.† I stopped at a Jack in the Box and got a large Diet Coke, which helped cool me down, anyway.
I stopped and got groceries, including some frozen stuff, because I had an apartment reserved, with a full kitchen.† At the Alamo Inn, a well-known place that accommodates birders, I was surprised to learn that they werenít expecting me until tomorrow night.† I had originally planned to stay here just two nights, and then changed it to three nights last month, along with some other changes.† Well, I made the change by phone, and I guess I never got a written confirmation of the change, because I canít find it now.† Anyway, Keith, the proprietor was very sympathetic, but he just didnít have any room for me tonight.† He ended up checking around, and tonight Iím in a nearby Super 8 which is just fine, but it does mean that I will have to pack up and check out tomorrow, and then do another move in tomorrow night to the Alamo Inn.† Keith offered to give me tomorrow night for free, to make up for it, but Iím not sure if I will accept that or not, since I donít seem to have any written confirmation of the change I made last month by phone, and thatís my bad.
Keith put my frozen food in his freezer and Iíll get it tomorrow night. I have a little fridge here at the Super 8, so my cold stuff is fine.† The biggest problem for me is that it cost me an hour tonight, and now it is after 10, and I should be in bed.
So, that is the very longwinded story of my day, with lots of pictures.† I will visit some of the local birding sites tomorrow, but if it is as hot tomorrow as it was today, I wonít see much in the middle of the day, so Iím not sure just how Iíll spend my day.† Hopefully, there will be a report again tomorrow, and then we will all know how my Thursday went.
I saw 7 more species for my trip list today, and all 7 were also good for my year list.† Four of those were lifers.† The numbers just keep inching up.† I have 208 species for my trip now, and 137 are new for my year list.† I have 66 lifers on the trip, which is great.† Time for bed now, as soon as I proof this and send it off
Thursday, April 26
Well, with my late check-in due to the reservation mix-up, and the large number of pictures I had to process last night, I didnít get to bed until about 11, which would be very early for me at home, but is late for me on this trip.† I got a good 6 hours of sleep, but I woke at 5 and couldnít get back to sleep.† I got up at 5:30 and was out of my Motel 6 at 7:30, headed for my first birding stop of the day.† I had breakfasted and made myself a lunch, too, of course Ė a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, as you might have guessed, Nate.
That first stop was the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).† My old farts federal pass got me in for free, saving me 5 bucks.† I walked the trails a bit, but there really wasnít much to see in terms of birds.† I had wanted to drive the auto tour route I had read about, to pick up some water birds to pad my trip list.† Unfortunately, they no longer let you drive on the reserve, they only offer a tram ride three times a day, if you want to see most of the reserve.
So, I walked one of the trails, and then returned by another route.† I did pick up a few things, though, and got some pictures.† Here is a picture of a Great Kiskadee that I like.† I find them to be a very striking bird.
Here is a Little Blue Heron that was fishing right out in front of one of the observation platforms.
At one point, birds started calling from all over the place.† They were quite loud and quite distinctive.† A local birder would have immediately known what they were.† Eventually I also figured it out, and in the distance, I saw a number of them in a tree.† My first PLAIN CHACHALACAS (lifer).† Here is a picture of those first ones, just because they were the first I had ever seen.† It is a quite distant picture, as Iíll demonstrate in a minute.
Here is a picture of one part of the Santa Ana NWR.
The Plain Chachalacas are in the tallest bare tree, just to the right of the middle of the picture above.† The zoom capability of my camera continues to impress me.† Looking at the second picture, would you have expected a little point and shoot camera to be able to discern birds in that tree?
I also picked up Pied-billed Grebe for my trip list about then.† Also a duck species, Gadwall.† Then there was a good one, some LEAST GREBES.† I had seen that species last year in Arizona, but it was nice to see them again.† I tried for some pictures, but didnít get anything worth keeping.† Maybe later, they are cute little birds.
I met a young guy at about that point.† He had a real camera with a real lens.† It probably cost ten or twenty times what mine cost, and weighed ten or twenty times as much, not to mention it was huge to carry around and point.† But, I am very sure that his pictures would put mine to shame.† My camera suits me just fine, though, as I can carry it easily and the pictures are good enough for me.† Anyway, the young man gave me lots of good advice about finding birds I want to see in this area.† I ended up seeing him again, at the next place I went.† He spotted a Red-shouldered Hawk flying by, and I got a good look at it, for another trip bird.
On my way out of Santa Ana, a bird flew in to a bush near me, and I got a quick, but adequate, look at a CLAY-COLORED THRUSH (lifer).† It used to be called Clay-colored Robin, but thrush seems to be the current name.† Iíd love to get a better look, but it was good enough to identify the bird, so I counted it.
There was another goodie for me on my way out, though.† I saw a flycatcher that was interesting.† Flycatchers are good in the sense that they tend to sit out in the open, and they often return to the same perch, after they fly out to catch an insect.† At the time, I thought it might be an Acadian Flycatcher, which would have been a life bird for me, but I got several pictures of it, and when I studied them later, I decided it was actually a LEAST FLYCATCHER (lifer).† Here is the picture that I found most convincing.
The wings are short, the bill is small, the tail is slightly notched, and the tail tapers a bit to a narrower width at the base.† It also isnít green enough for an Acadian Flycatcher, I think.† I could be wrong, flycatchers of this family are not easy, but I believe it is a Least Flycatcher, and that is what I am going with.
In the same area, at the same time that I was trying to get pictures of the flycatcher, another bird flew in, a Black-crested Titmouse.† I have already seen them several times, but I got this peek-a-boo picture through the branches that I like.
It was one of the times that I was able to focus on the actual bird, and not on some vegetation in the way. †I have my camera set for spot focus, so it is supposed to focus on whatever is in the center of the picture, but it doesnít always cooperate, and today I could have been heard to say a number of uncomplimentary things about my camera, when it kept insisting on focusing on the background or foreground, and not on the bird.† I threw out lots of those today, when I reviewed my pictures.† Just to give you an idea, today I shot 165 pictures, and Iím showing 23 of them.† When I was in high school, I took a class in photography, and one of the lessons I remember the most was the teacher telling us to shoot, shoot, shoot.† You had to throw out 90% of your shots, if you wanted to really be a good photographer, he said.† I never could do that in the old film days, of course, but with digital pictures, it is really great advice.† Throw away most of your pictures, and only subject other people to a small percentage of them.
My last bird at Santa Ana was a little Olive Sparrow, one of the birds I had seen and taken pictures of at the Cabin 61 feeding station at Nealís the other day.† It was taking a bath in some water that was standing on one of the trails.† Here is a picture of the little dear.
So, I was finished with Santa Ana by then.† There were plenty of other trails I could have walked, and I probably would have seen some more good birds, but walking trails is not my favorite part of birding, and I moved on.† I probably walked about a mile or a little more there, and that was plenty for the Old Rambler.
My next stop was Estero Llano Grande State Park, in Weslaco.† I found it and paid my three or four bucks (I forget which).† There were a lot of birds to be seen from the observation platform at the visitor center.† I got some pictures.† Here is a Long-billed Dowitcher, one I had already counted for my trip list.
And here is a Spotted Sandpiper, another one I had already counted.
I was told that there were three potential lifer species I could get if I trudged out to Alligator Lake, so I did it.† I came up empty on all three of them, 0 for 3.† On the way out there, I was amused by this sign, though:
I really wasnít thinking of swimming out there, but after seeing that sign, I wasnít going to get too close to the water, either.† I got this picture of a female Great-tailed Grackle on the way there.† I showed more than one picture of male Great-tailed Grackles earlier in the trip, but I think this is the first female I have shown.
Just to show that the sign was not a joke, here is a picture of a little 3 foot alligator.
Seeing it was enough to keep me from dipping my toes in the water.
At Alligator Lake, I scanned fruitlessly for Yellow-crowned Night-Herons and for Anhingas, both of which I had been told by two people were always there.† I also looked for a long time for the Common Pauraque that is supposed to roost out there.† I had the help of three other people to look for the pauraque, but none of us could spot it.† It is a night bird that roosts on the ground or near the ground during the day, and it was supposed to be in a particular area, but none of us could find it.
Two of the people helping to look for the pauraque were British, and the man spotted an owl in a nest box.† So, at least I got some compensation for the hour I put into the search at Alligator Lake.† Here is a picture of an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL (lifer).
The white thing in the middle of the picture was a feather, probably the remains of its last meal.† I also picked up Common Gallinule, formerly called Common Moorhen, for my trip list there.
On my way back to the visitor center, I saw this little guy, maybe two feet from the path.
It was about 3 feet long, and it drove home the warnings to stay on the paths.† When he saw me, he scurried away, though.
Here is a picture I like, of a couple of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and a Black-necked Stilt.† The light was just good on it, and the poses were good, I thought.
I ate my humble lunch at a picnic table there at Estero Llano Grande, and saw a nice Ladder-backed Woodpecker, but never could get a picture of him, although I chased him around a bit.† By that time, it was about 90 degrees, so I wasnít feeling very active.† I went one more place, though, Frontera Audubon Thicket.† It was another 3 or 4 bucks, but it was shady there, and I didnít have to walk too far.† I could sit from time to time, too, in the shade.
You will remember the Plain Chachalacas (what a great name) from this morning, the larger birds in the distant tree.† At Frontera Audubon, there was a chacha in a tree near the entrance, and I got this picture of it.
I wandered the trails to a feeding station and sat there for a while and enjoyed the birds.† I soon added another common bird, the WHITE-TIPPED DOVE (lifer).† Here is a picture of one of them at that feeding station.
A couple of Plain Chachalacas came in and one of them had a confrontation with a squirrel and did this little display.
The two Chachas were interacting, and I guess one was feeding the other, but it looked like they were kissing.
Here is a little Inca Dove that was there, too.
And one more dove, a White-winged Dove.† I liked the light on this guy, and the pose.
I wandered around some more, doing more walking that I maybe should have in the 90 degree heat.† Near the entrance to the park, I sat for a while, and several birds flew in and I got looks at them.† There was a very nice pair of Nashville Warblers that I got good looks at, but never could get a picture of either of them.† There was also a very plain looking little bird, and at the time, I thought it was an Orange-crowned Warbler, but after seeking my pictures, I think it was a Tennessee Warbler.† Here is a picture, if anyone wants to correct me.
So, that was it for me.† It was after three by then, and I just wanted to cool off and settle into the Alamo Inn apartment that I couldnít get into last night.† The Motel 6 was fine for me, but the extra moving in/moving out cycle sucked.† Now Iím in my little one-bedroom apartment though, and it is quite nice.† Much nicer than I expected for the very reasonable price of 50 bucks a night.† They even have a laundry, no charge, with detergent provided, and I did my washing, which should get me through the rest of the trip now.† I had a nice frozen Paul Newman chicken alfredo skillet dinner, with some raw veggies, and now Iím ready to settle down for the night, as soon as I finish this and get it off.
But, as it turned out, the birding wasnít completely finished for the day.† I had read that last year they had a species of bird nesting on their roof here that I would like to see.† It is a night bird, and at dusk and dawn, they fly around.† So, while my dinner was cooking, I went out in my front yard and picked up LESSER NIGHTHAWK for my year list.† A bonus bird, as I wonít likely see it anywhere else on this trip or this year.
So, as it ended up, I saw another 11 species today, and 7 of them were good for my year list.† Five of those were lifers.† My totals now are 219 species on the trip, of which 144 add to my year list, and 71 of those are lifers.† Great numbers, the trip is certainly a very productive one for me.
Itís after ten oíclock now, and I need to settle down for the night.† Weíll see if there is anything left in this area for me to get tomorrow.† It will be a challenge, I think, but we will see.
Friday, April 27
I didnít sleep quite as well last night, and I was up and 6:30.† After making a lunch (still another ham and cheese sandwich, with Fritos this time for a change, and a different kind of cookies) and having my humble brekkie, I was out of here at 8.
I had wrestled with what to do today.† I had already seen most of the valley specialties that are easy to see.† I considered going to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, one of the major birding spots in this area.† It is huge, though, and it would involve a lot of walking if I did it right.† It also wasnít clear what birds I would be looking for there.† I have done really poorly on raptors, and they have a hawk watch tower there, where I would probably be able to get some help with raptors flying over. It was pretty windy today, though, and it would be hot again.† The idea of standing out in the open for an hour or two, looking up at birds flying in the distance wasnít especially appealing.
In the end, the first thing I did today was pretty uncharacteristic of me.† There is a guy by the name of Allen Williams who lives in the next town over, Pharr, and he has a 2.5 acre yard that he has turned into a bird sanctuary.† He asks visitors to call ahead and to make a donation, the suggested amount of which turned out to be 10 bucks.† So, I called him this morning at 7:45, and he said to come on over.† I asked about some of the birds I had read were being seen there recently, and he answered all my questions.
So, I found his place and signed in, making my donation in the suggested amount.† From the visitorís log, it looks like he gets three or four visitors a day.† He saw me in the yard and came over and introduced himself, and then took me on a walk around.† I was able to ask about the birds I was interested in, and he gave me good hints about seeing them.† In fact, very soon, he showed me one I had asked about, LONG-BILLED THRASHER (lifer).† It wasnít a great look, as it was obscured by branches and we were looking right toward the sun, but it was enough to identify the bird, so it went onto my lists.† One of the birds I had hoped to see there was a Chuck-wills-widow, a night bird that roosts during the day.† He has a couple of them in the yard, and he said they usually flush when you walk in the back.† In fact, he said he heard two of them flush while we walked around, but I never had any look at them, so I dipped on that one.
After the walk around, he left me on my own, and I walked around and sat a couple of places and watched feeding stations.† I didnít see a lot, but I did pick up another one I had especially wanted to see, HOUSE WREN.† For some reason, I donít see them very often, even though they live all over the country.† It was an excellent one to knock off my year list.
I saw a Common Yellowthroat and a Gray Catbird, both good birds, but ones I already had.† There was also a Curve-billed Thrasher around, one I got the other day out at Falcon State Park.† It came to one of the oranges that Allen had on branches, and I got this picture with its bill open, as it was eating orange.
One of Allenís claims to fame is nesting Clay-colored Thrushes.† I had counted that bird yesterday at Santa Ana, with a very brief look, but after seeing the thrushes today, now I wonder if that is what it actually was, as these birds today seemed larger than what I remember of yesterdayís bird.† Size is hard, though, especially with a quick look.† Anyway, today I got pictures of the Clay-colored Thrush, one of the sought after valley specialties.
Allen had shown me where the nest was, in the front yard, and I got this picture of one of them sitting on the nest.
There are two exotic birds that live in this area in certain places, and both of them show up at his house. †I had asked about them, and he showed me where they nest in his front yard.† While he was showing me around, one of the species squawked and flew through.† It was a very fast look with the naked eye only, but Allen identified the bird, and when I asked what he saw to distinguish it from the parakeets that also live there, he told me. I had seen those details, so I counted it for my lists, RED-CROWNED PARROT.† It wasnít a lifer because I had seen the species in San Diego last year, but it was a good one for my year list, in case I donít see it in San Diego this year.
Before I left Allenís house, I was sitting in the front yard, watching for the parrots or the parakeets, and I happened to look up at the sky.† I saw a single CHIMNEY SWIFT (lifer), a bird I had expected would be easy to see, but this was the first one I had seen.† It was easy to recognize, as swifts have a distinctive look, and this is the only swift species that would be here at this time of year.
So, having picked up four birds for my year list, two of which were lifers, I had to decide what to do with the rest of my day.† I planned to knock off early, regardless, partly so I could catch up with some stuff on the computer (like updating my web site with these reports and backing up my pictures to a USB drive), and partly because I felt like I needed an easy day.† Also partly because it gets so bloody hot in the afternoon, I guess.
I decided to go back to Estero Llano Grande State Park, where I had walked to Alligator Lake yesterday in futile quest of three lifer species.† There were other birds I could get there to pad my trip list, too, I thought, based on what others have reported.
With todayís wind, there were a lot fewer birds to be seen from the observation deck, though, and my hopes of picking up some easy ducks to pad my trip list were dashed.† There were also a couple of sandpiper species seen there yesterday that I hadnít seen, but the water level was up several inches today, for some reason I donít understand, and there werenít as many muddy edges to the water.† There also werenít any shorebirds around at all, and yesterday I had seen several species.† So, it was kind of discouraging, but I set out on the trek to Alligator Lake anyway, because Iím stubborn.† I say trek, but it is probably only about half a mile each way.† In the sun, though, that is a trek for the Old Rambler, overweight and out of shape as I am.
On the way out there, I got this picture of a Spotted Sandpiper that I like, as it is in its summer plumage, with the spots.
When I got to Alligator Lake, again there was no sign of any of the three species I was looking for there.† The Eastern Screech-Owl was in the opening to its box again today, though, and this time I got a picture of it with its eyes a little open.† The annoying feather on its bill was gone today, too, so I like the picture a lot better than yesterdayís.
I persisted, and when I got to the end of the path, at the overlook, there was a British couple there.† As soon as they saw me, the man said ďYellow-crowned Night-HeronĒ.† That was music to my ears, and sure enough, they pointed out a YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (lifer) across the lake.† Here is a picture of that first one I have ever seen.
I usually see Night-Herons (Black-crowned Night-Herons, that is) perching more upright, but this one was kind of crouched down.† The British woman then spotted another one in a tree across the lake in a different direction, and it was standing upright, like I expected.
Same bird, but a different look, when it stands upright.† I then noticed that a young one had flown in and landed near the first one.† This was probably a second year bird, hatched last year.† They donít get their adult plumage until their third year.† Here is the young one.
So, it just kept getting better and better.† First one, then two, then three Yellow-crowned Night-Herons.† What could get better?† But, wait for it, it did get better.† The first one must have noticed all the pictures we were taking of it, from across the lake, as it flew and landed about 15 or 20 feet from us, right out in the open!† Amazing.† We took a lot of pictures and here is the one of mine I like the best:
Is that cool, or what?† Sometimes this birding wheeze seems all right.† I love the plumes on its head flying in the wind.† Herons get those plumes in breeding season.† I suppose it is some kind of sign to the opposite sex that they are ready to boogie.
So, I had one of my three lifers.† The trek out to Alligator Lake had been worthwhile.† No Anhingas, a kind of cormorant-like bird with a very long thin neck, but I have a good shot at seeing them later in the trip.† I asked the British couple if they had seen the pauraque, the other bird I was looking for, which was supposed to roost in that area, and they had indeed seen one, although not at the location that the park people had told us about.† I was envious, of course.† British birders call it ďgripping someone offĒ, when you tell them about a good bird you have seen, but they havenít, and I felt gripped off.† Thatís birding, though.
I started back, and they did too, in a few minutes.† I asked them if they had seen the screech-owl, and they hadnít.† It was sticking farther out of its hole than I had seen before, and we decided to go around the other way, to get good looks at it, without making it pull back in.† On the way, we all kept looking on the ground under the trees for the pauraque, since this was the area it was supposed to be in.†
While approaching the owl, I spotted it!† It was sitting on the ground, with its tail touching a tree, just as had been described.† It stayed there and we all took many pictures.† Here is one of mine of the COMMON PAURAQUE (lifer).† It is pronounced either Puh-rackí-ee or Puh-rockí-ee.† It is mostly a Mexican bird, but they do live in the area along the Rio Grande in south Texas, the only place in the US where they are seen.† As I mentioned, it is a night bird, a member of the nightjar family, along with nighthawks and various kinds of poorwills.† Iím declaring it the bird of the day, partly because they are hard to see, especially up close like this, and partly because I had to persist to see it.† Here is a picture in which you can see its colors and the little bill.
Here is another one in which you can see that its rather long tail is indeed touching a tree, just like I had been told was their practice.
So, I ended up seeing two of the three lifers I had trekked out to Alligator Lake to see, score one for the Big Guy.† Persistence pays off today.
On the way back, I got my best look yet at Common Ground-Dove.† I had counted them up in the Hill Country, based on a couple of fly-bys, with ID from Bob.† It was nice to get better looks today.† Here are a couple of them.† They are one of the smallest doves Iíve seen, only 6.5 inches long, which is only a little bigger than a House Sparrow.
Also on the walk back (I was feeling energized after my successes, and now it was only a walk, not a trek any more), I got this picture of a Tricolored Heron, a bird I have seen a number of times, but a pretty one nonetheless.
I talked with the British couple some more when we got back to the visitor center.† They had been at High Island when I was there, a couple of weeks ago, and we compared notes.† They confirmed what I had heard from others, that this year has been a pretty poor one in general for migrants along the Texas Coast, due to the persistent south winds.† The forecast is for more of the same, too, so Iím not expecting any big improvement.† There are some migrants that are later, though, and I might see some of them, even if the numbers arenít real high.† I have other birds I missed up there, too, and I plan to look for them.
I had my humble lunch at a picnic table by the parking lot.† I was finished with that by about 1 oíclock, and I was tempted to throw in the towel and quit for the day, as it was heating up.† I ended up going for one more walk, though, in what they call the tropical area at the park.† The British couple had seen a couple of Groove-billed Anis there this morning, and that is one I would really like to see.† I wandered around, but didnít pick up anything new at all.† I did get a picture of a Bronzed Cowbird, though.† The red eye is the distinguishing characteristic.
It was two oíclock by then, so I quit.† I filled the car with gas, came home, caught up on some online stuff, and had a short rest.† Then I started the picture processing and this report.† Tomorrow I head off for Brownsville, almost to the gulf, right on the Mexican border.† I have two nights there, in a motel that was a Super 8 when I reserved it, but now has gone independent.† It is pretty new, and has good reviews, so I should be fine there for two nights.† No kitchen, but it has a microwave and little fridge, supposedly.
Iím not sure which birding places Iíll hit in the next couple of days.† There are a number of birding sites around Brownsville, and I canít visit them all in the time I have.† I need to consider what birds I have already seen, and compare that to what I might see in each potential location.† I think I want to spend a number of hours at South Padre Island, though, on the coast of the gulf.† There are shorebirds, rails, and migrants to be seen there, and that seems worthwhile to me.† There are difficult birds I could go for in Brownsville, at some of the sites, but I donít have a lot of luck with difficult birds, and I might just choose to concentrate on the easier ones.† We will see.† I will think about it tonight and do more research.
So, on a day when I wasnít sure I would get much, if anything, I ended up with the respectable (for this stage of the trip) total of 6 birds today, and all 6 were ones I needed for my year list.† 4 of them were lifers.† That brings me to 225 for the trip, 150 of which add to my year list, and 75 of which are lifers.† Before I left home, I was looking for 256 total, of which 175 would add to my year list, and 85 would be lifers.† So, Iím making good steady progress toward those expectations.† I was hoping in my secret heart of hearts to exceed those numbers, but they are looking pretty accurate now, or even maybe a little optimistic.† We will see.† 225 species in 18 days is a lot, though, and adding 75 lifers on the trip, after the great year I had last year, is excellent.
So, thatís my story and Iím sticking to it.
Saturday, April 28
Before I start todayís report, I need to make an addition to yesterdayís.† I neglected to mention that before I left Allen Williamís house in Pharr yesterday, I looked up in the sky, looking for the umpteenth time on this trip for a particular bird that is supposed to be common all over this area, and finally I saw one.† I added CHIMNEY SWIFT (lifer) to my lists.† The totals I gave yesterday were correct, but I forgot to include the report of the bird in my report.† Thatís been corrected in the version on my web site, which has been updated, by the way, through yesterday.† You can see the whole month of April, which includes all of my Texas trip so far, at http://www.barry15.com/2012_Birding_Reports/April.html .† It is a large page at this point, so I donít recommend trying to view it with a slow connection.
Also, while Iím in the mode of plugging my web site, you can check out my favorite bird pictures of last year here: http://www.barry15.com/2011_Favorite_Bird_Pictures/ .† Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions of each picture, or view them in succession with the links provided.
So, to today.† I slept very well last night (I sure would like to sleep like this at home.† I have slept better each night on this trip than I have slept on any night at home this year, I think.), and I was up at 6:30.† I didnít get on the road until after 8, but then I headed for the coast.
I was headed for South Padre Island, northeast of Brownsville, which is located in the far southeast tip of Texas, on the border with Mexico.† On the way, I watched carefully for a couple of species of raptors that supposedly can be seen sometimes, namely White-tailed Hawk and Aplomado Falcon.† I saw neither, although I did see two Crested Caracaras along the way.
Arriving on South Padre Island (SPI in case I have to type it again), I was somewhat appalled.† With the palm trees, the hotels, and the tourist shit, it looked like I imagine South Florida to look.† All day my mind kept making me think I was in South Florida, and I had to keep reminding myself this was Texas.† Anyway, I stopped at the tourist information place, and got a map and asked about birding on the island.† It turned out that they had less information than my four year old book did.
I stopped at what is referred to as the Sheepshead lots (they are on both sides of Sheepshead Street), which is a reserve that consists of only six building lots, but it has trees, and I understand that it can attract migrating birds.† There are several ďwater featuresĒ, which is what they call ponds and drips and anything with some water.† Not much was going on there, but I did see a Northern Waterthrush, a type of warbler.† At the end of the day, I stopped there again, and I have a picture of what is presumably the same waterthrush, but you will have to scroll down to see it.
I drove north up the island, to the end of development.† I tried a beach access point on the gulf side of the island, but there were a lot of people out there on a Saturday, and no birds I could see.† Next, I drove out onto the beach on the bay side of the island.† I had to drive right past a kiosk that had a sign that said beach access there cost 4 bucks, but no one was there, and there was no provision for paying, so just drove onto the beach.† There were some gulls and terns loafing on the beach, and some shorebirds scurrying around or sleeping, mixed in with them.† If I hadnít already done some good shorebirding up north earlier, I might have found something of interest, but there was nothing new there for me.† I did take some pictures of a tern, in the hopes it was a Gull-billed Tern, the one tern I still need, but when I looked at my pictures tonight, it was only a Sandwich Tern (a lifer two weeks ago, but now just another boring tern).
By this time, I was getting pretty discouraged, and I was making plans in my mind to head back to the mainland, to go to a couple of places near Brownsville, just so I could pick up a bird or two, to keep from being skunked.† I actually have three different streaks Iím trying to keep alive Ė Iíve seen a new trip bird on every day of the trip, and also a new year bird, and also a new life bird.† That isnít counting the first day I arrived, at about 7 PM, when I didnít do any birding.† I kept telling myself that SPI (South Padre Island, remember?) was really bleak.† I kept repeating that to myself Ė bleak.† All I could think of was, how soon can I get out of here, and where can I go to see some birds?
One of the sites I had read a lot about was the SPI convention center, oddly enough.† It turns out that not only can you scan the bay from there (which was non-productive today with the tide as it was), there is also a small grove of trees with some feeders and a little artificial stream, and migrants stop there as they pass through.† When the winds are right, it is supposed to be a wonderful place to see migrant birds after their journey across the Gulf of Mexico.† The winds have been from the south, though, so it hasnít been all that good this year, although there are still migrating birds to be seen there.† I had read a report online last night that reported at least four species I could use, that were seen there yesterday.
So, I stopped there, and it was indeed a nice little place to bird.† There was a guy there with a big lens camera, and I spoke with him and asked what was around.† He said he was waiting to get a picture of a thrush that had showed itself briefly.† It was a species I needed for my year list, so I stuck around for a while.† I ended up spending a couple hours there, I guess.† There were a couple of little warblers eating at the oranges that had been placed on trees to attract birds, and I got some pictures.† Everyone was calling them Tennessee Warblers, which are pretty plain, and I have seen a lot of them.† I took some pictures, and when I got back here to my room tonight and looked at them, I am perplexed.† I wonít go into all the details of identification, but the Tennessee Warbler doesnít have an eye ring, and my pictures show a distinct eye ring on at least one of the birds.† Now, there could have been several birds around Ė there were certainly at least two.† Anyway, I like my picture, and Iím inclined to call it an Orange-crowned Warbler, but it has characteristics of Tennessee Warbler, too, so who knows?
In a little while, I was back with the guy waiting to see the thrush, and when I asked him how long ago he had seen it, he said right now, and pointed it out.† I got great looks and a halfway decent picture of a SWAINSONíS THRUSH.† I had kept two of the streaks alive, anyway, a new trip bird and a new year bird.† Here is a picture I got later in the day, presumably of the same bird:
There were other birds around.† Orioles kept coming in to the orange halves on the trees.† I got some pictures, but orioles are kind of difficult for me, especially the females and the immature males.† Iíll show some pictures, with my identifications, but anyone reading this who knows better, please let me know.† None of them were new for the trip.† Here is what I think is a female Bullockís Oriole.† [ 7/15/12 edit Ė I think it is actually a female Hooded Oriole. ]
And, here is what I think is a first year male Orchard Oriole.
Lastly, this is a female Baltimore Oriole, I think.
While I was birding there, I got good looks at one for my lists that surprised me, a male WESTERN TANAGER.† No pictures, unfortunately, but I saw it several times.† They are quite uncommon here, but others had reported one here this week, too.
I also finally got what I consider a good picture of a male Indigo Bunting.† I showed at least a couple of pictures of that bird before, but they were pretty poor.† I showed them then because I am so partial to blue colored birds, and I think this one is a real beauty.† Here is my ďgoodĒ picture of a male Indigo Bunting, finally.
Is he a ďpretty birdĒ, or what?
Later in the day, I got two pictures of what I think is a female Indigo Bunting.† Iím not 100% sure of the ID, but it makes a good comparison of the sexual dimorphism of the species, I think, if indeed that is what it is.
I also got excellent views of a Long-billed Thrasher, a bird I had seen for the first time at Allen Williamís house yesterday, but that was a very poor view.† I always like it when I can later get a better view of a bird, especially when it is a lifer, as this one was yesterday.† No pictures, sorry to say.
I did get pictures of a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, though.† I have seen a lot of them, and Iíve shown at least a couple of pictures, but this one really shows the colors on the bird, I think.
They do indeed whistle, and they do indeed have a black belly, so I guess they are appropriately named.
Eventually I ate my humble lunch (ham and cheese, Fritos, cookies, Diet Coke Ė what else?) there in the shade, jumping up from time to time to look at birds and take pictures.† Most of the oriole pictures came during lunch, actually.† So, I had added two birds to my year list, and SPI wasnít seeming quite so bleak.† It was seeming plenty hot, though.† It was only in the low 80ís, but it was very humid, and when I was in the sun, it was especially hot.
After my lunch, I was still thinking I should leave the island and try for birds elsewhere, but there is a new place next to the convention center that is called the SPI Birding and Nature Center.† They had given me a brochure at the visitor center, and it did say they had some wetlands with a boardwalk, so decided to check it out.† It sounded pretty commercial and tourist-y to me, but I went there and paid my four bucks (senior rate, discounted from five bucks) to get in.† It turned out to be a great decision.
When I went out onto the deck, to access the boardwalks, there was a guy there who was either an employee or a volunteer, and I asked him about what was there to see.† We talked various species, and he mentioned several he had seen that morning that I needed.† When I mention one species, he said, oh yes, there is one around, and maybe that is it, way out there in the distance.† He got his scope on it (mine was in the trunk of my car), and it was indeed the white morph of a REDDISH EGRET.† Usually they are pretty much blue in color, with some purplish or reddish highlights, but there is a form of the bird that is white.† To distinguish it from the white egrets, you need to see its bill.† Through this guyís scope, you could clearly see that the bill had a black tip, which made it a white morph Reddish Egret.† Here is a picture in which you canít see the black tip of the bill, but I am showing it anyway.† The bird was probably about 400 yards away, around a quarter of a mile.
So, now I had three trip birds.† SPI was seeming better and better.† I felt so good, and I needed to get my 4 bucks worth, that I walked out onto their boardwalk around the wetlands, in he sun.† I had been worried about walking out in the sun, but there was a nice breeze blowing, and it wasnít too bad.† Here is a picture of part of the wetlands there.†
I got this picture of a Wilsonís Plover that I like.
Here is a picture I really like of a bird I have only seen a few times in my life, a Pectoral Sandpiper.† Not new for the trip, but I like the picture.
The Pectoral Sandpiper was feeding along with a couple of dowitchers, but I couldnít figure out which species of dowitcher they were.† There are two species that look very much the same, and the identification is extremely complicated, as each one has subspecies, and the plumages are different in the winter and the summer.† Birds here in Texas could be anywhere in between winter and summer plumages.† I have already counted Long-billed Dowtichers on the trip, because experts I was with IDíed them.† Short-billed, the other species, are more likely in salt water environments, which this was, but I couldnít make the call.† It is just too complicated and difficult for me.† Here is a picture of the two dowitchers I saw today.† They are different colors, and that is presumably because they are at different stages of changing from winter to summer plumage.
Their back patterns are so different that they seem like they ought to be different species, but they hung out together, and I donít know of any other shorebird that size with such a long bill and their feeding pattern (like a sewing machine, in and out of the mud).† I wish I could say they are Short-billed Dowitchers, to pad my trip list, but I canít.
About that same time, I got this picture of a White Ibis.
I was also surprised to see a couple of Great Blue Herons.† That is a species I am very familiar with, from the west coast.† They were both in the fresh water part of the wetlands.† Here is one of them, a familiar bird in an unfamiliar environment.
Rather than follow the boardwalk around to the end, which would have put me back in the parking lot, I backtracked and went back to the entrance.† On the way, as I was looking again at the Pectoral Sandpiper and the two dowitchers, I saw another little bird walk out into the open.† I could see right away it was different, and when I got a look at its bill, I realized I had scored a SORA, a little rail that is very shy and hard to see.† I had forgotten how small they are, so it threw me at first, but it was indeed a nice little Sora.† I missed getting a picture, unfortunately.† Iíve never gotten a picture of a Sora, and it would have been great.† Still, it was number four for my year list today, so I was pumped.
As I got back near the headquarters building, the guy I had talked to before was there with his scope, looking at something, so I stopped and talked to him again.† He said he was looking for a couple of orioles he had seen a few minutes before, and he also mentioned another bird I needed for my year list.† I expressed interest and he said it was probably still around.† Sure enough, he found this EASTERN PHOEBE sitting on the top wire of a fence.
He told me that the white tip to the tail was the real giveaway for this species, which was nice to know.† I had expected I would see a lot of Eastern Phoebes, but hadnít so far, so it was very welcome.† Five for my year list!† Outstanding.† No lifers, as it turned out, although I wasnít sure about that until I got back to my room later and could check my spreadsheet.
So, I finally left there, after buying a 20 ounce Diet Coke from their machine, and applying it internally, to cool myself down.† I was eager to get to my room, to shower and start the picture processing and report writing, but I decided I should check the convention center again, since it was right next door and had been pretty good.
Well, that was another great decision.† It was on that second visit that I got the picture of the Swainsonís Thrush I showed earlier.† Better yet (MUCH better yet), there were some other birders there, and they were looking at some migrants that had moved in recently.† They got me onto a lovely female CAPE MAY WARBLER (lifer), very soon, and that kept the lifer streak alive.† I wasnít quick enough to get pictures, but I got excellent looks at her.† While she was still flitting around, one of the birders there suddenly called out another bird, and I got my binoculars on it, for a pretty good look.† I wouldnít have recognized it on my own, but they all said it was a PHILADELPHIA VIREO (lifer), and when I looked in my field guide later, indeed, that is what I saw.† Wow, two lifers in a fifteen minute stop that I almost didnít make.† There were a couple of Yellow Warblers in the area, too, but I missed getting pictures of them because I was getting the picture of the Swainsonís Thrush I showed already.
So, I had my lifer for the day (two of them, actually), and I headed for Brownsville, my new home away from home for two nights.† But, I figured I might as well stop at the Sheepshead place, since I had to go right by there anyway.† I told myself, only ten minutes.† Well, it ended up being more like half an hour, as there were some birds there.† I didnít get anything new for my lists, but I enjoyed seeing some birds, and I got a few pictures.† Here is a Common Yellowthroat, a type of warbler.† Not a very good picture, but they are pretty shy, and the light was poor.
I also got the two pictures I showed earlier that I identified as a female Indigo Bunting.†
Another bird flew in, and I only got a quick look at it.† I got off one picture, which turned out to be very blurry.† I didnít recognize the bird at first, and I started writing notes in my notebook Ė yellow eyebrow, reddish brown patch on the shoulder, larger than a warbler, and about then I realized it was a Dickcissel in full breeding plumage, a bird I had seen last week near Attwater NWR.† The picture is terrible, but I am showing it anyway, as it is such an attractive bird, I think.
Finally, my last picture of the day was one of the Northern Waterthrush, another warbler.
It was scurrying around on the ground, foraging for food, I guess, and it constantly was bobbing its tail up and down.† Thatís why the position of the bird in the picture is kind of odd, I think.† It must have been in the middle of one of its bobs, with the tail raised.
So, finally I threw in the towel on birding and headed for my motel, with a stop at a liquor store to resupply myself.† Iím staying at a motel that was a Super 8 with excellent reviews when I booked it, but now it is an independent motel.† It is indeed quite new and quite nice, as the reviews said.† Another nice little home away from home for me, with fridge and microwave, so I can do my own meals.† Iím almost out of food, though, so I will need to hit a grocery store soon.† I have stuff for brekkie and lunch tomorrow, and I can through dinner, too, I guess, with my iron rations.
I need to figure out where to go tomorrow.† There are several reserves, as well as two or three places to look for specific birds I still need.† The trouble is, there are so few I need still that it could be hard to find any at all tomorrow.† Still, today I thought at 11 AM that I might get skunked today, across the board, and I ended up seeing 7 species for my trip list, and all 7 of them added to my year list as well.† 2 of them were lifers, to keep that streak alive, too.† I am going to be very hard pressed to get a lifer tomorrow, I think, but we will see.† I need to review my lists and my books.† Maybe there is something I can go for.† I have one more night after tonight here in Brownsville, and then I head north for the finish of the trip.† If I donít get skunked tomorrow, it is almost bound to come in the next couple of days, but we will see.† It feels like the trip is winding down, although I donít leave from home until a week from tonight.† Two nights here, then two one-night stands on the way north, then a final three nights back at Winnie, where I spent five nights near the start of the trip.† How many more birds can I see?
Sunday, April 29
Last night I slept well again, but when I woke at 6 and wanted to sleep some more, I was kept awake by a lot of thumping and loud talking upstairs.† I ended up giving up at 6:20 and getting up, which turned out to be just as well, because I had accidentally set my alarm clock to go off at 6:30.† So, I ended up sleeping well, but only for about 7 hours.
I had looked at my bird list last night, and I had made a rather short list of birds I could try for today.† I wasnít at all sure I could get any of them, but I had a plan, and I set out about 8 to see what I could do.† Iíve definitely reached the point in the trip where new birds are going to be very hard to come by.† One of these days soon, Iím not going to get a new bird for my year list, and theoretically, that means no report that day.† Weíll see if I can actually stick to that, though, when it happens.† Iím pretty addicted to writing a report each day, at this point.
My first destination was to a road north of town, not far from my motel.† The targets there were a rare falcon and a couple of very shy and difficult to identify sparrows.† Not very promising, but I had to give it a try.† On the way there, though, I spotted a raven on the roof of a bar by the road.† I had been looking for this species for several days.† I had expected them to be common and thought Iíd see a lot of them.† Today and tomorrow morning, as I leave Brownsville, were my last chances to see it.† And there it was, CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN.† It is the only raven or crow that lives here, but I actually saw and got a picture of one of the things that you can see to distinguish the species.† The bases of the neck feathers are white in this species, and when the wind blows the feathers just right, you can see the white.† I saw the raven last year in Southeast Arizona, where they were pretty common, but I had never seen the white bases to the neck feathers.† Here is a picture showing the white at the neck.
It also called, and that is another way to distinguish it from the Common Raven.† It was nice to get a bird so early, and it was nice to get a picture showing the white bases to the neck feathers.† Ironically enough, at the end of the day, as I was returning to my motel, I saw another raven.† It is interesting how often that happens Ė once you finally see a bird you have been looking for, you then see it more times.† I would predict that I will see more of them tomorrow, based on that.
Moving on to Old Port Isabel Road, I watched for the falcon that lives out there.† I never had a sniff, but I slowly drove the unpaved road up to the point where it got too rough for my little rental car, and then I drove back slowly.† Along the way, I also played the songs of the two sparrows that supposedly live there, but never heard a response.† I did see two sparrows that I couldnít identify, and got a good look at one of them.† The two are very similar, though, and even the experts donít really try to tell them apart other than by their songs.† I think I probably saw one of the species, and I think I know which one, based on the habitat at that point, but I didnít count it.
Along the way back, I passed a car that was stopped, and four people were standing there with a scope and binoculars, so I stopped and asked if they had had any luck.† No doubt they were looking for the falcon, too.† They hadnít had any luck either, yet, they told me.† Shortly after that, I saw three terns swooping and hunting over the fields.† Every now and then, one would dive to the ground.† I wonder what they were hunting.† I noticed they had black bills, and I still need one of the two terns in the area that have black bills.† I looked and looked at them, and I consulted my field guides, but I ended up deciding they were probably Sandwich Terns, which I saw up north, not Gull-billed Terns, which I still need.† Iíve never seen terns hunting over land before, though, so that was interesting.† We were miles from any water.
My next destination was right down on the border, an Audubon sanctuary called Sabal Palm.† The Sabal palm is the only native palm to the US, I learned, and they had a grove of them there.† In doing my research, I had run across an old article that mentioned that the border fence was going to pass north of the sanctuary, thus putting it on the Mexico side of the fence.† I would have thought it would run along the border, but the border there is the Rio Grande River.† Upriver, there was no fence, so I donít know why a fence was needed here.† Anyway, the article, written before the fence was put in, expressed concern that people wouldnít be able to visit the sanctuary any more, after the fence went in.† Today I found that the fence is indeed north of the sanctuary, but there is a gap in it that the road goes through.† When I went in, a Border Control truck was sitting there, but when I left, there was no sign of anyone.† I would guess that the gap in the fence is rather heavily monitored electronically, though.† I probably had my picture taken when I drove through, and my license plate was probably checked.† I wonder if their computers connected my car today to the one that the Border Control had checked out in Laredo last week.† The fence seemed to be made out of rusted iron, and was about 18 or 20 feet high, I would estimate.† Here is a picture, taken on the way out, when there wasnít a border control truck sitting there.
Note the smeary area at the left center of the picture.† I realized when I processed my pictures tonight that my camera lens had a smear on it, which turned out to be a fingerprint.† I donít think it ruined any more of my pictures, though.
At the Sabal Palm Sanctuary visitor center, I paid my four bucks and asked the kid on duty about the two or three birds I was interested in.† It sounded hopeful for a couple of them, so I walked out on the trails.† It was really dead, though.† It was like almost all forest birding I have done, but not even the sounds of birds in this case.† It was only in the low 80ís, but the air was so moist that it made me feel like I should chew it, rather than breathe it.† At least it was mostly in the shade.
There was one small lake with water in itĖ the others seemed to be dry.† They have been suffering a bad drought here in Texas for the last year.† There were a few birds on the water, and I actually added a bird to my trip list, Ruddy Duck, though it wasnít new for my year list, as I had seen them in California this year already.† There was a pair of them, but they were too far away for pictures.† I did take some pictures there, though.† If I couldnít see new birds, I could at least take pictures of old ones.
Iíve mentioned before that I think that Least Grebes are cute little birds.† I got two pictures today that I like.† This first one shows a grebe after it just came up from diving, and it looks very sleek.
Here is another picture of one that seems drier, at least in back, and it is kind of puffed up in the back.
Hereís a picture of a Common Gallinule, formerly called Common Moorhen.
There was a pair of Mottled Ducks there, too, and I got this picture:
There was also a pair of a duck species called Gadwall.† Here is the male, with a Least Grebe for size comparison.† A Gadwall is about the size of a Mallard, which everyone is familiar with.
Here is the female Gadwall.
After taking pictures there, I walked out farther on one of the trails, but didnít see anything new, and very damn little of anything at all.† There was an Olive Sparrow, a Killdeer, a Great Kiskadee, and some little sparrow-like birds that I couldnít identify, but nothing else.
Back at the visitor center, I spoke to a couple who had been taking pictures, and the woman showed me her great picture of a male Painted Bunting that she had just gotten.† That helped me decide to stick around, along with the fact I had seen a Green Jay there when I first arrived.† I expected to see lots of Green Jays on he trip, and I expected to get lots of pictures of them, but I have actually only seen them 3 or 4 times, and only very briefly each time.† They are a really pretty bird, and Iím sorry I never got a decent picture.† Another reason I stuck around the visitor center is that the kid on duty had told me that the oriole I was hoping to see there had been around yesterday.
While I waited, a couple of Plain Chachalacas came in and browsed the feeders.† Here is a better picture than I showed before.
Then, to my delight, my main target bird for Sabal Palm flew in to one of the fresh oranges that the young man on duty had put out.† I had my HOODED ORIOLE for my year list, and I even got a couple of pictures.† Here he is, a male Hooded Oriole.
Before I left, I also got good looks at a Long-billed Thrasher, and this time I got a picture.† It had just had a bath in the water feature, and so the feathers are kind of puffed up.† This thrasher has a streaked breast, unlike the other similar one, the Curve-billed Thrasher, which I have shown before.
Finally, I got a picture of a male Bronzed Cowbird that I like.† The males have a very thick neck, compared to Brown-headed Cowbirds or female Bronzed Cowbirds.
I had been eating my lunch while waiting for the oriole and getting these pictures, and when I finished, I moved on.† I was tempted to just quit for the day, although it was only just after noon by then.† I didnít really think I would get anything else, and I was hot and sweaty by then.† I decided to head back to South Padre Island, though.† It was about a half hour drive, maybe 40 minutes, and I could cool off in the carís a/c while I drove.† There were three possible birds I could see on SPI, although none seemed likely.† The birds were two gulls and a tern, so I tried to find a place where gulls and terns might congregate.† One place that had been mentioned was at the jetty, in Isla Blanca State Park.
So, I sprang for the four bucks to get in to the park, and what a surprise and disappointment that was.† Most of the area of the park is given over to about 400 or 500 sites for trailers and RVís.† Mostly trailers, it seemed.† No trees to speak of, just ďstreetsĒ of little trailer hook-up lots.† Iíd say that about half of them were occupied.† That was bad enough, but the beaches on both sides (gulf and bay) were mobbed with people on a Sunday in late April, almost May.† Here is a picture of one of the beaches on the gulf side:
Of course, with all those people, and more pouring in by the minute, there were cars everywhere.† It turned out that to access the jetty, you had to park your car and walk at least a quarter of a mile, assuming you could find a place to park your car.† I was grimly amused by the whole spectacle, including the wildly inappropriate outfits that people wear these days, and I kissed off my four bucks and got the hell out of there as quickly as I could.† I did see some Laughing Gulls, which is the only gull I have seen here so far, and I scanned them as best I could to see if any were Franklinís Gulls, but didnít see any.† The main difference is that Franklinís Gull has 3 or 4 spots on its wing tips, which you can see whether the bird is flying or perched.
So, that plan hadnít worked out.† Plan B was to visit the migrant traps again, like yesterday.† The Sheepshead Street place had nothing of interest, so I went on out to the Convention Center.† There were several other birders and photographers there, and I learned that there had been a few birds of interest around.† I hung around for 30 or 40 minutes, I guess.† I went out to see what there was to see on the beach, but saw nothing interesting or new.† There was a guide there with a group, and I listened to him for a while, to see if he could spot anything of interest, but he didnít.
The highlight of that visit was the male Cape May Warbler that was coming in to feed on oranges.† Cape May Warbler was one of the two miracle species I got yesterday afternoon there, but I wanted pictures.† Well, I got a few.† Here are my two favorites of this very attractive little warbler.
I wonder what that little white speck on its head is.† It is in both pictures, so it isnít a camera artifact.
I also got this picture of an oriole, which I believe is a Baltimore Oriole.† It seems yellow, like a female, but the pattern on it seems more male, so I donít know which gender it is.† Iím not even 100% sure it is a Baltimore Oriole, but that is what I think it is.
Finally, my last picture of the day, another Golden-fronted Woodpecker.† Iíve shown two or three pictures before, I think, of this species, but I find them quite attractive, and I liked this one.† It is a male, which can be told by the red patch on the top of his head.
The ďGolden-frontedĒ part of the name comes from the little golden colored patch at the base of the bill, on top.† I might have mentioned that before, but how many readers would remember that?
Iím constantly amazed by the numbers and diversity of appearance of our bird species.† It is one of the things that keeps me interested in pursuing this hobby.† The other main thing is that it is such a great excuse to travel.† Iíve always loved to travel, and this birding thing is a great excuse to get out and about.
It was three oíclock by then, and I had wanted to knock off early, so I headed back.† I stopped at an HEB supermarket and got some supplies, so I wouldnít starve and wouldnít have to resort to restaurants.† I really hate to spend the time sitting in a restaurant, when I have so little free time on a trip.† Iím set now for the next couple of days.
Tomorrow morning I head north.† I have two nights en route, and then three more nights in Winnie, where I spent five nights near the start of the trip. †I am scheduled to fly home on Saturday evening next week.† I need to go through my spreadsheet and make a list of the birds I still need to look for, and figure out where to look for them.† My sense is that Iím going to come up somewhat short on my pre-trip estimates.† I was overly optimistic about a number of species, I now believe.† It is going to be a struggle each day from now on, I think, to add anything at all, but I need to make my list to really know.
Here are the numbers at this point.† Iíve seen 235 species of birds on the trip, and I expected to see about 256 total.† I would be very surprised to get to 256, and Iíll more likely end up about 245, I think.† I have added 159 to my year list (which is fantastic, and it absolutely justifies the trip), and I expected to add about 175 total.† I could get to 165, but I doubt I will get higher than that.† I have added 77 lifers, and I had expected to add about 85.† I can see getting to 80, but I donít think Iíll get to 85.† So, all my numbers are a bit less than I had expected (or, maybe hoped for is a better way to express it, since they were only guesses, and I guess I got overly optimistic when I was planning the trip).† Maybe there are more left to see than I realize.† I need to review my spreadsheet and see what might be left for me to get.
Weíll see if I can manage to add another year bird tomorrow, thus justifying another report.† What a life!
Monday, April 30
Here I am again.† I added at least one year bird today, so I get to write legitimately.
I was up at 6:30 and out on the road shortly after 8.† My lunch sandwich today was roast beef and cheese, for a change.† I also had a different brekkie today, a couple of Jimmy Dean DíLights bowls, turkey ham and turkey sausage.† They are a mix of potatoes, eggs, cheese, and the applicable meat.† Low fat and really well balanced for how I need to eat.† I also had some Greek yogurt, as I have been enjoying that on this trip.
I needed to make some miles today to my next destination, but I thought I would take an extra fifteen or twenty minutes and drive up Old Port Isabel Road, where I had looked the other day for the rare falcon.† As I crossed the railroad tracks, which is the area where people have reported seeing the falcon, I noticed a white blob out on the horizon that seemed out of place, so I stopped and got my binoculars on it.† It was hundreds of yards away, but I could see it was a raptor, and I didnít know which species.† I got my scope out and took a look.† It was so far away and the wind kept blowing my tripod around (and I have a sturdy tripod), so it was difficult.† The bird was preening, too, which meant its head was out of view much of the time, and that is what I wanted to see.† I kept observing, mentally noting what I saw, and then I consulted my Sibley field guide.† I actually prefer my Stokes, but the Sibley was handy, and it is excellent, too.† I eventually decided it was a White-tailed Hawk, a bird I counted a couple of weeks ago at Attwater NWR, when I saw one flying away in the distance.† It was nice to see one perched this morning, even if it was very distant.†
I moved on down the road and soon saw another raptor on a wire, near the road.† While I stopped and got out, another one joined it.† I got some pictures and decided they were Harrisís Hawks.† I had counted that species several days ago while driving around Concan, having seen it fly across the road.† Since these two today were only the third and fourth Harrisís Hawks I had ever seen, I was jazzed.† Here are some pictures, not great, but I like pictures of raptors.† Here is one on the wire, looking back at me.
You can see the reddish shoulder patch, the yellow bill and legs, and the white undertail coverts on the bird in this picture.† Note that this bird has no band on either of its legs.† Here is a picture of the other one, when it flew to another wire.
This bird has a band on its left leg, just above the foot.† You can see the white on the tail in this picture.† A few minutes later, when I was coming back down the road, the one without a band had flown down into a tree, and I got this front view.
So, the Harrisís Hawks didnít ďcountĒ for anything, but I was very glad to see them, anyway.† I continued on up the road a little farther, listening for the two sparrow species that supposedly live there, and on my way back, I saw a pair of Northern Bobwhites.† Not something I could count, as I had seen one near Laredo last week, but these were only the second and third Northern Bobwhites I had ever seen, so I was excited.† I got some pictures, too.† Last week I had only seen a male, and this time it was a pair.† Here they are.
Note that the male doesnít have a crest or a topknot, but when he is aroused, I guess he does, because you can see it in this picture of him running:
So, I was burning up time, and I moved along.† I ended up spending an hour on that road, I think, but it was fun, even though I didnít add anything to my lists.
My next birding stop was the Sarita Rest Area, an hour or more north along the highway.† People report Brewerís Blackbird there all the time, and that would be one to pad my trip list with, since it is normally only a winter bird here in Texas.† As it turned out, I didnít see any.† I did see a Green Jay there, though, which is a bird I had missed getting a picture of.† Wouldnít you know it, when I saw it on the ground, my camera was in the car.† When I got back with my camera, I located it in a tree, and I actually took two pictures, but both are badly out of focus.† I have been having increasing trouble with the auto-focus on my camera.† I have it set for spot focus; it is supposed to focus on whatever is in the center of the picture, where I put the center spot in the viewfinder.† But, it has been focusing on things in the foreground or background instead.† It is like the spot focus function isnít working much of the time.† I lost both of the pictures of the Green Jay due to that happening.† Iíve moved out of their territory now, so I guess Iíll just have to do without a picture of a Green Jay.
As I approached Corpus Christi, I found my way over to the coast, with the help of the GPS in my cell phone and Google Maps.† I was heading for three birding locations on Mustang Island, just off the coast at Corpus Christi.† I took the bridge to North Padre Island, then the little bridge to Mustang Island, and then up Mustang Island to the town of Port Aransas.† My first stop was at an overlook on the south side of town.† I didnít know what to expect, and I hadnít read much about it, but I was going right past there, so I stopped.† As it turned out, it was a great decision, as I got all three of my trip birds today there.
The first thing I saw was a Reddish Egret, but it flew before I could get any pictures or even get a good look at it.† I could see enough when it was in flight to ID it, though.† That is the one I had seen the white morph of the other day, with the help of the guy at the Birding Center on South Padre Island.† I would have liked to have seen this one better, although it did land across the water, and I got distant views.† I even got some pictures, but they are too distant and too poor to show.
There were dozens of Laughing Gulls loafing there in the shallow water, and I scanned them looking for the very similar-looking species I needed.† Lo and behold, there were two of them there, and they were the two closest birds, sitting right out in front of the observation platform.† I had looked at hundreds of gulls with black heads, and finally I found two that had white spots on their wings, thus making them FRANKLINíS GULLS.† Here is a picture of the little darlings.
The black projections at the back are their wings, not their tails, and you can see the white spots on them.† Yay, I had a year bird.
There were some sandpiper type birds there, too, and I sorted through them.† One of them was different that anything I was familiar with, so I took a number of pictures of it.† Tonight when I looked at my pictures and consulted my field guide, I realized I had scored a BAIRDíS SANDPIPER (lifer).† I only had it at 50% in my spreadsheet, mainly because I thought it would be a very difficult one for me to identify.† Having the pictures made all the difference, though, because I could compare the pictures to the field marks described in the book, and also compare pictures, of course.† Here is a picture of that lifer:
At first glance, it looks like any of several sandpiper type birds, and I wonít bore you with all the field marks, but they are all there.† Anyone interested in knowing them, email me, and Iíll give you a rundown.† Iím not expecting any takers, by the way.
I continued to look at the shorebirds feeding out in front of me, and I soon saw another one that was different.† This time I was pretty sure what it was, but I took a lot of pictures, and I consulted my book on the spot, to confirm my guess.† This was a species I had especially wanted to see, and now I have it.† STILT SANDPIPER (lifer).† Last year on my Montana trip, I thought I had seen one and put a picture in my daily report.† I also emailed a copy of the picture to a Montana birder I had been corresponding with, and he set me straight; it was a juvenile Wilsonís Phalarope, to my chagrin.† But, today I finally got my Stilt Sandpiper, and now you get to see a couple of picture of it.
From looking at the pictures in my field guides, I was afraid I would have a hard time telling the difference between a Stilt Sandpiper and a Lesser Yellowlegs.† The Stilt Sandpiper is a bit smaller, but size is hard to estimate unless there is another bird of known size nearby.† I was lucky today, because there was a Lesser Yellowlegs feeding in the same area.† I watched them and eventually got this picture of the two birds, which shows the relative size and also the other differences.† The Lesser Yellowlegs is closer to me.
Not only is the size different, the colors on the head are different, and the undersides of the birds are very different.† The bill is somewhat different, too, although that is more subtle.† The pattern on the back is different as well.† It was a great lesson for me, to see the two species next to each other, and I love having the picture of them together.
While still at that same place, I got a picture of a male Blue-winged Teal.† I see them all over the place; they might be the only duck that breeds here, other than the Mottled Duck and the two Whistling-Duck species.† I donít think Iíve shown a picture of one before, though.
I needed to pee, or I might have spent more time there looking for more goodies.† I stopped at a Whataburger to pee.† I should really try their burgers, as they seem to be a large Texas (and maybe elsewhere) chain.† Maybe one of these days I wonít bother making myself a lunch, but I like being able to eat on the fly, so as not to waste time.† Today I had my lunch while driving, for example.
So, having relieved the bladder pressure, I moved on to the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center.† It consists of a boardwalk out into a freshwater marsh, with an observation platform.† Here is a picture, looking back from the end of the boardwalk.
There were 3 or 4 birds that have been reported from there in the last week that I needed, so I was hopeful.† As it turned out, I struck out completely.† I am seriously considering going back there in the morning, more on that later, when I get to tomorrowís plans.
I did get a picture of a male Ruddy Duck in breeding plumage.† The blue bill on that species is amazing, I think.
I like his perky little stick-up tail, too.
There was a big alligator along the boardwalk Ė not on the boardwalk, but down in the water next to it.† I didnít take a picture because the angle was wrong and most of it wasnít showing.† It was bigger than me, though, I can tell you that.
After an hour in the sun at the top of that observation platform, I gave it up and moved on to Paradise Pond.† It is known as a migrant trap, where various migrating birds stop for a while.† The winds have continued to come from the south, though, blowing the birds well inland, so there wasnít much there.† I saw a Tennessee Warbler, 4 or 5 Yellow Warblers, a Northern Waterthrush, some orioles, and a couple of other birds.† I have shown several pictures of Indigo Buntings, and there were three males there today.† One of them was an immature male, meaning he was hatched last year, and he was still kind of blotchy looking at this time.† Here is a picture of him.
I also got a picture of a Brown Thrasher.† Iíve shown pictures of Curve-billed Thrasher and Long-billed Thrasher in the last week, both of them being south Texas species.† The Brown Thrasher is found more to the north.† The big difference between the Brown Thrasher and the Long-billed Thrasher is that the bill is longer on the Long-billed one.† Well, that figures, doesnít it?
Here is the Long-billed one from a day or two ago:
I guess the Brown Thrasher is redder in color and has more white around its face, besides having a shorter bill.
So, I threw in the towel at that point, about 3:30.† I caught the free ferry to the mainland from Port Aransas Ė just a little uncovered ferry that held 14 cars.† It was damn hot on the short crossing, as you had to turn off your engine and so couldnít run your a/c.† I made a quick stop at the HEB a couple of blocks down the street for some supplies, including a chicken and rice dinner to heat up, some tapioca pudding for desserts, and a 24 ounce can of cold beer.† I checked in, had a shower to cool down, and started into my evening routines of processing pictures and writing my report.
So, I managed to add three more species today, to both my trip list and my year list.† Two of those were lifers.† My totals just keep creeping up, but is just keeps getting tougher to add anything new.
I think tomorrow I will go back over to Port Aransas and try those same three places and maybe one or two more, if I have time.† I arranged for a noon checkout here, so I can take off in the morning without packing up and loading the car, and then Iíll stop back here by noon and pack it all up.† I need to move another 2 hours or so up the road tomorrow, toward Winnie, where Iíll spend my last three nights.† There are a couple of places I would like to stop between here and where I plan to stop tomorrow night, so getting out of here at noon should be just about right.† Tomorrow could be the day I get skunked, meaning I donít add another bird to my trip list.† Or, even if I manage to add one to my trip list, it might not add to my year list, in which case I donít get to write a report.† We will see.† The adventure continues.