June 28, 2015 -  Alex, being "The Snooze", took forever to get his Texas trip report to me for the blog. I, being a procra...

RBS - Texas Trippin' - by Alex Eberts

June 28, 2015 - 

Alex, being "The Snooze", took forever to get his Texas trip report to me for the blog. I, being a procrastinator, am finally getting around to posting it. Considering the amazing birds that Alex saw while traveling with the Ohio State University Ornithology club, it was worth the wait!!!

Texas Trippin'
 - Alex Eberts

It all began with an email from someone in my Ornithology Club at Ohio State back in January – “some of us are planning a trip to Texas over spring break, so let us know if you’d like to join!” Right away, I just knew had to go. I had never really been out of the state for general purposes, let alone to go birding! Even though I would be missing out on a week of work, I heard Texas calling my name louder and louder with every passing day. 

March 16, 2015 - Day One

Whooping Crane
After driving for two days and not getting to start birding in Texas until Monday, I was getting anxious. We woke up early, packed up camp, and started our day by birding Goose Island State Park, which is where we had spent the night. Everywhere I looked, there was a new bird! Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, a Cinnamon Teal, Laughing Gulls, a Little Blue Heron…then, of course, there were the Whooping Cranes. There were nine of them in total, and they practically walked right up to the side of the road. Considering the fact that the world population consists of roughly 600 birds, it felt really special being able to have such a close encounter with this beautiful bird.

Long-billed Curlew
From Goose Island, we made our way to Rockport. Here, we got to see a lot of different water- and shorebirds such as Neotropic Cormorants, both species of pelicans, Reddish Egrets, and even a Willet! We then drove around to the beach portion, where even more goodies awaited us. A pair of Mottled Ducks swam by, Black Skimmers rested on the beach, a Marbled Godwit foraged in the water, and Ruddy Turnstones sat on the rocks. I couldn’t get over how the birds just ignored our presence. The best surprise, however, was the Long-billed Curlew that was feeding in the field less than ten feet from the road. I had never seen anything like it!

Cinnamon Teal
Our next stop of the day was Port Aransas Birding Center, which was basically a boardwalk that went out into the middle of a marshy area full of alligators, ducks, and wading birds. As soon as we walked out, the first thing that caught my eye was the beautiful pink plumage of the Roseate Spoonbills. There was also pair of White Ibis feeding so close to the boardwalk that I could have reached out and touched them! As we walked further down the boardwalk, there were many species of waterfowl resting within arm’s reach, several Soras foraging along the edge of the marsh, and also multiple species of shorebirds that included Dunlin, both species of dowitcher, Black-necked Stilts, and American Avocets.

Painted Redstart
Our last stop of the day was the Falfurrias Rest Area, which was the location where a beautiful Painted Redstart had been spending the winter every year since October of 2013. It didn’t take us long to find it, and it sat still for nearly 15 minutes while we stood there and watched it. We couldn’t believe it! As we walked the rest of the area, the little redstart seemed to tag along, flitting from tree to tree and fanning its tail as it foraged in the branches.

Other species seen day one:
Laughing Gull
American White Pelican

March 17, 2015 - Day Two

Clay-colored Thrush
Our main goal for the day was the Gray-crowned Yellowthroat that had been present at Estero Llano Grande State Park since late January. There were many other folks making their way to the location it frequented, so we all stuck together. Once we got there, we waited…and waited…and waited…we waited some more…then we waited a little bit more…and then two hours had gone by with absolutely no sign of the bird. A couple of people from our group decided to stick around for a little while longer and let us know if it showed up, so we decided to explore
Common Pauraque
the rest of the park. We had fantastic looks at Snowy Egrets, Black-necked Stilts, and a Green Kingfisher around the water. Off on one of the side paths, we followed some directions to find two Common Pauraques sleeping not even two feet off of the trail. After spending some time watching them sleep, we headed over to the tropical area in search of a couple of rarities that had been seen recently, but we didn’t have any success in finding them. We had fantastic views of a Clay-colored Thrush, which is usually a secretive and well-camouflaged bird.
Green Kingfisher
Another really cool sighting was a Bronzed Cowbird across the marsh. It was so far away that we would have missed it if it hadn’t been for someone catching the red eye in the sunlight, and I’m glad we didn’t; it was a new group bird for us Rogues!

After we left Estero Llano, we had heard word about a pair of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, so we decided to go and find them. We hiked a mile around a vicious mosquito-infested swamp just to catch a glimpse of them as they slept on the far shore of the water…it was cool, but I’m pretty sure I lost more blood from the mosquitoes than I would have if I would’ve donated at a blood drive…TWICE.

Aplomado Falcon
Our final item on the agenda for the day was to locate an Aplomado Falcon, which proved to be more of a challenge than we expected. On the drive to the falcon location, we scored a White-tailed Hawk, Loggerhead Shrike, and even a pair of Cattle Egrets on the roadside. When we finally found where the falcon had been seen, we pulled over and started scoping. We managed to find a White-tailed Kite as well as a pair of Harris’s Hawks out on the tops of the yucca plants, but no falcon. As we drove up the road, I noticed a pile of “stuff” on one of the power line support structures, so I suggested we turn around and check it out. Sure enough, as we made our way back to a road where we could pull off, a member of our group spotted a bird sitting above the nest; it was the Aplomado Falcon! We got out the scope to get better looks at it and discovered that the little guy had used pieces of cactus to construct its nest; if that doesn’t spell, “I’m a badass,” I really don’t know what does. After ending our day on such an awesome note, we headed back to our hotel to rest up for the next adventure.

Other species seen day two:
Snowy Egret

March 18, 2015 - Day Three

Least Grebe
We woke up bright and early to hit up Sabal Palm Sanctuary, which is right on the Rio Grande River. We stayed there for a little over four hours and it was ridiculously beautiful. It actually felt like you were walking around in a rain forest with all of the palms growing around you. As we walked up to the “house” to check in, we noticed a scope set up on the sidewalk. I looked through it, and there was a Great Horned Owl nesting in one of the palms beside the house! I couldn’t believe how close to everyone she had decided to nest, but I wasn’t complaining one bit.
Ringed Kingfisher
After exploring, I managed to score some awesome new lifers there:  Least Grebe, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, White-tipped Dove, Ringed Kingfisher, Black-crested Titmouse, Olive Sparrow, and Hooded Oriole. The Least Grebe was really cool because, as we watched it from inside the blind, it ended up swimming right up to the blind and preening for about fifteen minutes! That Ringed Kingfisher, though…it was probably my second favorite bird here after the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron because it was a new bird for our Rogue Birders’ ABA list.

For our next stop, we decided to stop by the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse where a Gray Hawk had been reported the day before. On our way there, we got to see some Monk Parakeets that were nesting along the side of the road on the transformers. They built these huge stick nests that dwarfed the birds themselves, and even allowed some pesky House Sparrows to nest just underneath the sticks. Once we arrived, we realized it wasn’t a very big place. It didn’t take long to explore, but it had some pretty awesome birds! As soon as we walked to the water’s edge, we got fantastic looks of a female Anhinga fishing in the water. As we were watching a nearby pair of Black Phoebes, we hear Lisa shouting from the overlook above us, “look! Up there! Flying! Now!” We run out from under the awning to see a beautiful Gray Hawk flying over, and watched as it landed on the power lines some distance over the treeline. We kept an eye on it, hoping it would fly back our way, and fly back it did! It flew right over our heads as it carried its dinner, and it was freaking awesome.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
After we left the pumphouse, we drove to Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, which was where we were camping for the night. As we neared the park, we just happened to look up on the wire and see what was probably the highlight of my day; it was a pair of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers! We had looked everywhere the past few days for them, only to come up empty-handed. We stood and watched them fly-catch for about half an hour before they flew off to roost for the evening, and we took that as our cue to head to our campsite. After we set up camp, we took a night walk and managed to score a pair of Eastern Screech-Owls as well as a bunch of calling Common Pauraques.

Other species seen day three:
Yellow-crowned Night-heron
Gray Hawk

March 19, 2015 - Day Four

Plain Chachalacas
Let me start off today’s section by saying this; waking up at the buttcrack of dawn by a flock of Plain Chachalacas is not a pleasant experience, especially not when they are super close to your campsite and screeching at the top of their lungs. That aside, the day was actually pretty nice. In the parking lot, before we even went out on the trails, we got to see a Pyrrhuloxia (try saying THAT three times fast), and a Lark Sparrow. Even though we stayed for about three hours, we didn’t see very many new birds because…well, we had already seen a bunch! We did manage to cross off Cave Swallows, which was kind of awesome to me because it was one of the only native North American swallows I had not seen before. 

Vermillion Flycatcher
After leaving Bentsen-Rio, we went to Anzalduas Park, which was where a Vermillion Flycatcher had been reported. We arrived and were greeted by another pair of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers as they sat on the wire along the road. We pulled in and spoke to a couple that had been looking for the flycatcher as well, but had yet to see it. After wishing them luck, we went our separate ways and looked everywhere. Finally, we came across it perched on top of a fence post. Success was ours! Although it was a female and didn’t possess the stunning crimson coloration of the male, she was still pretty in her own right. As we looked around for other birds, we managed to find another female Vermillion Flycatcher, which was a cool addition to the other one. Having exhausted most of our possibilities, we decided to go looking for the Burrowing Owls that were just down the road a short ways. It took some time for us to figure out where in the heck we were going, but once we found it, we were so excited! There was only one owl, but it was perched on the rocks and provided some amazing looks. Considering how late it was, we elected to head to the park where we were camping and decided to call it a day.

Other species seen day four:
Burrowing Owl

March 20, 2015 - Day Five

Tricolored Heron
We spent the night at Lake Casa Blanca State Park, which was absolutely beautiful.  We did some quick car birding around the park, but didn’t really see anything that we hadn’t seen before. We did, however, get the best looks at Tricolored Herons of the entire trip, which was exciting for me. This meant, however, that it was time to start heading back to Ohio. We had one more stop on our way back, though, and that was for the endangered Golden-cheeked Warblers that had just returned to their breeding grounds at Lost Maples State Natural Area. 

Golden-cheeked Warbler
It was a four-hour drive there, and there were severe weather and flooding alerts everywhere around us. That’s always a good sign, right? Somehow we lucked into avoiding the rain, but only barely! We made it to the trailhead and started our hike. We were only about half a mile into the trail when we found it, way up in a tree; a beautiful Golden-cheeked Warbler! We continued our walk and managed to find another one singing further up, but the clouds started to roll in so we decided to head back to the car. When we made it there, we decided to do a little feeder watching. It’s a good thing we did, because a lone Western Scrub-Jay as well as a pair of Rufous-crowned Sparrows decided to make a quick appearance!

Other species seen day five:
Western Scrub-jay

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

As we prepared to embark on our 22-hour drive back to Ohio, I started looking back over the past week and I couldn’t believe how many amazing birds we saw! We saw a whopping total of 164 species, 81 of which were new life birds for me. The photos I got, while may not be the most incredible of all, are special to me because I had never imagined I’d travel to a place like that to see such beautiful birds. I hope to go back there sometime and spend some more time seeing the amazing amount of diversity they have, and fingers crossed I’ll be able to avoid the fire ants for a second time!

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