Monday, December 10, 2012

Estero Llano Grande State Park

Rose-throated Becard, Estero Llano Grande State Park, TX
Cory and I really enjoyed Estero Llano Grande State Park.  We made three separate trips to this location and got some of my favorite birds of the trip.  Cory got the rarest bird of the trip here, a female Rose-throated Becard.  Alas, I missed it because I was at Santa Ana looking for Hook-billed Kites at first light.  When Cory called I rushed over, but could not relocate the bird.
Common Pauraque, Estero Llano Grande State Park, TX
Alligator Lake was great for Common Pauraque, Anhinga, Neotropic Cormorant, Green Kingfisher, waterfowl, and Least Grebe.  There was also an Eastern Screech-Owl with its head out of a nest box, and a Long-billed Thrasher here.
Curve-billed Thrasher, Estero Llano Grande State Park, TX
Walking in the "Tropical Area" turned up a lot of great birds early in the morning including Buff-bellied and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Wilson's, Yellow-rumped, Pine, and Orange-crowned Warblers, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Inca and White-tipped Dove, Clay-colored Thrush, Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Green Jay, Altimira Oriole, Plain (boom) Chachalaca, and Curve-billed Thrasher.  This is where the becard hangs out when it is seen.
Neotropic Cormorant, Estero Llano Grande State Park, TX
Along the other trails in the park we saw lots of waterfowl and herons, Vermillion Flycatcher, and sparrows among other species.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Texas Trip: Santa Ana NWR

One of the places I was most excited to visit in south Texas was Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.  This beautiful, more than 2,000 acre refuge harbors many of the rare and sought-after birds in south Texas.  We visited the refuge three times during our 6 days in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  Despite the refuge's great reviews by other birders, we left the park each time a little disappointed.  Perhaps we had bad luck here compared with other places.  We did two long early morning hikes in the park, but found bird activity and diversity to be relatively low.  Still, we enjoyed the long hikes through forests of texas ebony, and got a lot of great birds.  Waterfowl and shorebirds abounded in the park, and we spent a lot of time scanning the impoundments and lakes hoping for a Northern Jacana or a Masked Duck, but with no luck.
Green Jay at the feeder, Santa Ana NWR, TX
White-tipped Dove, Santa Ana NWR, TX
The main birds we saw in the park were Green Jay, White-tipped Dove, Plain (BOOM!) Chachalaca, Harris's Hawk, Great Kiskadee, Olive Sparrow, and Long-billed Thrasher.  We also spent a lot of time pishing to see what we could turn up in the flocks of wintering songbirds.  Despite our efforts, we only had common species such as Orange-crowned Warbler (just about everywhere!), Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pine Warbler, and Black-crested Titmouse.  On the lakes we saw Least and Pied-billed Grebes, most of the normal North American waterfowl, Wilson's Snipe, Long-billed Dowitchers, and other shorebirds.
Harris's Hawk, Santa Ana NWR, TX
I put in a little bit of time on the observation tower hoping to spot a Hook-billed Kite, but much to my chagrin, I could not locate one.  Harris's Hawk, Gray Hawk, Turkey and Black Vulture, Northern Harrier, Osprey, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks were the only raptors I saw from up there.

Even though we were a little disappointed after our visits here, I would recommend this refuge to any birder or naturalist visiting south Texas.  The extensiveness of the trails, habitat diversity, and potential for rare birds is amazing in itself.  I am absolutely looking forward to going back in the future.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Texas Trip: Aransas NWR to Port Aransas

Brown Pelican, Port Aransas, TX

I'm back from my 9-day trip to Texas with my friend Cory DeStein.  We saw a lot of good birds and each got some good lifers (Cory got more than 40!).  Over the next week and a half I will do a few posts for each of the main locations we birded, and post some photos from them as well.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was beautiful, and our main target bird there was Whooping Crane.  We started the morning off birding near the visitor center where we picked through the winter flocks of songbirds, which contained mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets along with Orange-crowned Warblers and a few other common species.  We also had American Kestrel, Merlin, and flyover Sandhill Cranes, Snow and Ross's Geese, and a Pine Siskin.

We then drove the auto loop stopping every so often to look at the waterfowl, pelicans, and waders.  Highlights along the loop were hundreds of Redhead, Northern Pintail, and several other waterfowl species, and great looks at Whooping Crane from the observation tower.  We had six in all.  Two right by the tower (they are usually very distant), two close flybys, and two distant birds.  Other birds we had on the loop included Inca Dove, Orange-crowned Warblers, Red-tailed Hawks, and some very large wild pigs that scared the pants off of Cory (I saved him though).
Whooping Crane, Aransas NWR, Texas
Whooping Crane, Aransas NWR, Texas
From Aransas we drove south to Goose Island State Park where we saw hundreds of Brown and American White Pelicans, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Redhead, Caspian and Royal Terns, and other waterfowl and shorebirds.

We then drove to Port Aransas to look for terns (I still needed Sandwich for the year).  At the jetty we head Black, Forster's, Caspian, Royal, and Sandwich Terns, and a Reddish Egret but not much else except for an unidentified sea turtle that popped up for a few seconds.  We continued south from there adding Crested Caracara and White-tailed Hawks on the power lines on the barrier islands north of Corpus Christi.
Reddish Egret, Port Aransas, TX
 By Luke Musher

Monday, December 3, 2012