Mad Birding

Photo by Gus Woods

 

Over New Year’s we did an insane birding trip from Nashville to the Rio Grande and back. Saw 101 different species, 21 of which were brand new for me, “Life Birds,” in birding parlance.

Our itinerary and trip birds seen by day (life birds in bold):

January 30: Jeff, Gus and I drive from Nashville to Little Rock. (No birds counted, we decided to start the count when we crossed the Mississippi, and it was dark by then)
January 31: We drive to Wim & Carla’s ranchette in Wimberley, Texas. One spectacular moment at the Texas border when we drove beneath a line of tornadic thunderstorms, that had already killed someone farther north. Black, roiling clouds right over our heads, looked capable of whisking us off to Munchkinland. All too short. I actually loved it. (Starling, Crow, Turkey Vulture, Red-Tailed Hawk,Black Vulture,Grackle)
January 1: Rest day in Wimberley. Walked around Summer Mountain Ranch. Gorgeous windy, sunny day. First bird of the year was a life bird, Black-Crested Titmouse which I regard as highly auspicious for the year in general. (Black-Crested Tufted Titmouse,Cardinal,Carolina Chickadee,House Finch, Phoebe,Mockingbird,Eastern Bluebird)

January 2: Wimberley to Alamo, Texas, in “The Valley” as Carla tells us it’s known in native parlance. The birding really took off that day. Picked up the pyrrhuloxias at the Choke River park in Three Rivers (they look like female cardinals but their crests stick up like red brushes and their bills are shorter, thicker and more curved. Then a Caracara flying along the road–a big raptor flashing black and white–as we drove back to Route 281.

 

Photo by Stephen Sinclair

Then at a rest stop in between the two halves of the highway at Falfurrias, we stopped and were stunned by immediately seeing a flock of green jays, in all their brilliant green, blue, yellow and black glory. One of those mind-blowing birding moments. Of course, by the end of the trip they were old news, but never not beautiful.

We checked into the Alamo Inn, a birder hotel right on the pitiful remnants of the old town square (bordered now by a giant six-lane highway). We had a wonderful two-bedroom suite, with living room and kitchen. A little funky and 1950s, but perfect. (Kestrel,Eastern Meadowlark, Osprey,Pyrrolexia, Snowy Egret,Great Egret, Great-tailed Grackle,Double-Crested Cormorant,Caracara,Green Jay,Yellow-rumped warbler,Golden-Fronted Woodpecker,Rock Dove,Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher)

  Photo by Lyda Phillips

Jan. 3: We spent the morning at Santa Ana NWR, right on the Rio Grande, which we never saw, but the Border Patrol passed us on bicycles, no smiles, mirror sunglasses. The high point of that stop was the Greater Kiskadee.
  Photo by Stephen Sinclair

(Santa Ana:House Sparrow,Cattle Egret,Orange-crowned warbler,Anhinga,Green Kingfisher,Greater Kiskadee,White Ibis,Pied-Billed Grebe,Least Grebe,American Bittern, Ringed Kingfisher, Blue-Winged Teal,Long-Billed Thrasher,Olive Sparrow, Ladder-Backed Woodpecker,Green Heron,Common Yellowthroat,Wild Turkey)

In the afternoon we went back west up the Rio Grande to http://www.wildtexas.com/parks/brgvsp.php, which may have been the peak of the whole trip. Unlike National Wildlife Refuges, state parks can lure the birds in with feeders throughout the area, not just at the nature center. As a consequence, we had unparalleled views of orioles, green jays, kiskadees and doves gorging on seeds and grapefruit and we could just sit on benches and watch them. Also, we got to see the giant pigeon-like chacalaca, who has been a by-word of my family for decades, ever since my father saw them in this same area, and reported that, “You just had to kick ’em out of the way!” We love saying that in all manner of situations, and there they were and indeed …

(Bentsen SP: Chacalaca, Altimira Oriole,Black-Vented Oriole (a Mexican bird confirmed on the rare bird list); Inca Dove, Curved-Billed Thrasher,Red-Winged Blackbird,Black Phoebe,Ruby-Crowned Kinglet,Vermillion Flycatcher)

Jan. 4: We drove from Amamo over to the Laguna Altacosa NWR. Big day for raptors, like this Harris Hawk.

 

Photo by Stephen Sinclair

At the refuge headquarters, there were two lovely little wet areas set up as blinds for photographers. There we met photographer Stephen Sinclair, camped for the day at the gazebo with a giant telephoto lens. By the end of this day we were all getting tired and a bit cranky. Especially Jeff and Gus don’t get the birder thing of screeching to a stop on a pot-holed road (Old Port Isabel Road-Fabulous spot) looking at a great fat hawk on a telephone pole, shouting “Got It” and getting back in and racing off to the next lump we spot on a pole. And we missed the Rufous-Backed Robin by 10 minutes, another rare Mexican bird, and the young Apolamado falcon. What a day though! And the sandhill cranes at the end like a parting gift! Oh, and I am nearly certain we saw a jaguarundi sneaking through the high grass from a platform along the eastern edge of the refuge (photo from Wikipedia creative commons).

(Common Black Hawk,Harris Hawk,White-Tailed Kite,Loggerhead Shrike,Merlin (taiga),Wimbrel,Northern Harrier,Couch’s Kingbird,Baltimore Oriole,Coot,Great Blue Heron,Greater Yellowlegs,Willet,Little Blue Heron,Black-Bellied Plover,White Pelican,
Forster’s Tern,Gull-Billed Tern,Herring Gull,Reddish Egret,Pintail,Long-Billed Curlew,Laughing Gull,Widgeon,Scaled Quail,Rough-Legged Hawk,Hermit Thrush,Brown Thrasher,Wilson’s Warbler,Sandhill Crane)

Jan. 5: We parted from Wim & Carla and drove up the coast to Padre Island and Port Aransas, where I used to go when I was a little girl, before we moved to Tennessee from San Antonio, then across on the ferry and over to Fulton, where we stayed at a nice place, The Inn at Fulton Harbor, where I was befriended by the inn’s resident cat, Roxie. She was a darling and made me want a cat. Long drive and limited birding but wonderful to see the Gulf. We took a good long walk on the beach.

(Semi-Palmated Plover,Ruddy Turnstone,Ring-Billed Gull,Brown Pelican,Least Sandpiper,Caspian Tern,Lesser Black-Backed Gull)

Jan. 6: The inn is right across the street from the dock where a tour boat, The Skimmer, leaves for water tours of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, where the whooping cranes winter. We made a reservation for 1 p.m. and hung around until at about 1:15 we called and learned that they’d canceled the trip because fewer than 10 people signed up. Very disappointing. And then we drove like hell,first for a lightning round at Aransas, where we got unbelievable looks at the secretive sora and bittern, I mean we were feet away from them) and then tore off again, thinking we’d just go as far as Surfside Beach on Galveston Island, but when we got there, after dark, there seemed to be nothing there, although we were briefly tricked into thinking that it was built up like Las Vegas, but what we were seeing turned out to be a completely surreal oil refinery.

So we drove on to Galveston and stayed the next two nights at the Hotel Galvez. Our birding was essentially over at this point.

(Roseate Spoonbill,Common Loon,Lesser Scaup,Black-Crowned Night Heron,Redhead,Whooping Crane,Sora,Marsh Wren)

Jan. 7: Galveston
Jan 8: New Orleans, pitched Gus out at his apartment, picked up a Glossy Ibis, for bird # 101, and beat it to Tuscaloosa, trying to outrun this terrible ice storm.
Jan. 9: Back to Nashville only about an hour ahead of the ice.

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