Saturday, April 19, 2008

King Ranch road

King Ranch cattle

Crested Caracara  click photo for larger view

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl  click photo for larger view

Audubon's Oriole  click photo for larger view

Texas: Day Five

King Ranch is truly a gem among the birding destinations of North America.  An early morning rendezvous with our private guide, for the day on a ranch which is bigger than Rhode Island, started our visit to the northern Santa Gertrudis division of the ranch.  Masked Duck, one of the rarest ducks in the US was the target here and only outdone for the ladies in the group by the shopping time they had at the visitors' center.  Balancing the shopping with the birding, the photo stops, the lunch breaks, snack runs, and rest room needs was a workout, but we were able to squeeze it all in to a wonderful day that included the four star birds of southern Texas, Ferruginous Pigmy-Owl, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Tropical Parula, and Audubon's Oriole.

It wasn't just birds and shopping today!  There were rattlesnakes, armadillos, gators, perfect cool breezes, cattle, bump gates, dusty roads, and so much more.  Many of the travelers celebrated the day with what I was told (I being the designated driver) some of the best margaritas and Mexican food in the Rio Grande Valley.  The food was fantastic but we will have to move on tomorrow to new roads, birds, and adventurous experiences.



Friday, April 18, 2008

Reddish Egret

Jim D. from the boat

Tricolored heron

Dorcas, carefully choosing her shots

King Rail © Jay Hand

Texas: Day Four

The fourth day of the Texas Grand Tour started off with what is probably one of the highlights of the entire trip – our visit to the Aransas NWR, primary winter home of one the America's rarest birds, the endangered Whooping Crane. Tommy Moore made us all feel welcome aboard the Skimmer, his 40-foot vessel specially crafted to negotiate the shallow waters of Aransas Bay.  As we proceeded up the intracoastal waterway, we were delighted by sights of Crested Caracara, Whooping Crane, and a multitude of heron species, including the dimorphous Reddish Egret, whose white color form is most commonly found along this coast

After a late check out at the hotel (1pm... can you believe they let us do this??!!), we headed into Rockport to find lunch, and we were greeted by a Magnificent Frigatebird riding the easterly winds directly over the "Golden Arches." Easterly winds howled throughout the day, buffeting our vehicles as we headed south toward the next day's adventures at the King Ranch.  Across coastal prairie, and incredible number of salt pans, miles of drivable beach, and acres of agricultural fields, we pushed on looking for the rare and unusual.  Unfortunately, our fears were confirmed in the significant drop in the number of Red Knot; we found none where they had been reliable years before.  Spirits undaunted, we pressed on and finally were able to find our place of rest and a chance to briefly look through our many great photos of birds, scenery, and numerous new experiences.

Well, there was one experience I would be happy to forget... getting the big van stuck in the sand at Mustang Island, the 15 mile stretch of beach you can drive (just stay in the tracks!). With the help of our very enthusiastic team, we had the van out in about five minutes, which felt like twenty long minutes to me. Off we went with a great spirit of accomplishment and adventure.

Enjoy more tomorrow about the King Ranch, a privately held ranch that is nearly the size of Rhode Island.



Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bolivar Peninsula

Bob and Maggie in the field

Pauline checking out a Black Skimmer

Black Skimmers

Texas: Day Three

I never knew there were so many Subway sandwich shops! Seems like Subway is the healthiest way to eat when you are away from home... especially if you don't pack a lunch or stop at the grocery store. We made an early morning stop at a full service convenience store for snacks water, and other drinks.  Lots of snack food made its way onto the van including the favorite snack of the South... FRITOS!

Our first stop was at a great lookout over the inner waters of Bolivar Peninsula, a barrier sand dune just north of Galveston Island.  Thousand of Terns including the Black and Sandwich Terns that gave many in the group a life look and great photo opportunities. Black Skimmer, Reddish Egret, Marbled Godwit, and many more graced the five spotting scopes and four long lenses our group made good use of. We were in the company of other bird tours including an all British group. Lots of notes about where to find certain bird species were passed between tour leaders. We had a great plover day despite missing Killdeer, ironically.  Our plover list included Piping, Snowy, Semipalmated, American Golden, Black-bellied, and Wilson's; nearly the "Slam" but missed the most common!

After a stop at a grocery store – the group was desperate for some fruit and fresh produce... after eating so many snacks – we made our way to the protected waters of north of Galveston Island to find the two pacific loons, among the 15 or so Common Loons, that were reported from other birders. We had a great time discussing the finer points of identification and how not to mix-up the two.

So, south we traveled in the late afternoon, arriving not too late near Aransas, and now prepare for our rendezvous with the Whooping Crane tomorrow; let's hope.  It's been real windy so we might not want to take the boat for fear it might turn into the "Vomit Express."  Tune in tomorrow to find out how many of us were chumming for fish!

Cheers,  Andy

Least Bittern

Birding team checking out the shorebirds

Great Egret ballet

High Island Boardwalk

Roseatte Spoonbill

Texas: Day Two

Our first full day included Kentucky Warbler, Fulvous Whistling Duck, a superb Least Bittern display, and a Scarlet and Summer Tanagers galore! Oh... and I had to wrangle a Cotton Mouth off the road; all in the day of a good tour leader.

The group has melded nicely, made up of ages from young to senior. All are very kind, interesting and very interested people. It makes it so much easier for the leaders.

The Least Bittern hung on some marsh grasses about 50 ft. from us for about 5 minutes; photos coming as soon as my sleeping photographers can help me load them up.
Saw lots of gators, about 40 or more. Passed a steer on the road.  Got to watch out for those in Texas.  Heading South tomorrow.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Common Alloy-bellied Gas Sucker

Texas bottom lands

Heading out on the boardwalks

Great-tailed Grackle

Texas Arrival

We had our first bird sighting.  The Common Alloy-bellied Gas Sucker! I can't believe we made it to Houston without a glitch. No delays; like the whole FAA thing never happened.  I guess the bird Gods were on our side.

Everyone is in good spirits, looking forward to lots of birds tomorrow. We stopped on the way to Winnie at a roadside Heron and Egret nest site full of Anhinga, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Black-bellied Whistling-duck, Great-tailed Grackle, and a few alligator to boot.  The group went to Winnie's best known restaurant, Al T's, for a truly Southern Cajun experience. The weather looks great and time will tell if the conditions all line up for a good "fall-out" at High Island.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Freezer to Furnace
As I was standing on the side of a Little League field today, watching my 9 year old son play shortstop – the very cool and raw winds of New England still blowing – when I realized that in less than 24 hours I would be standing in 75+ degree weather looking at Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, and perhaps even a Swainson's Warbler or two... what a contrast! I just wish my family was coming along too. Instead, I have my Audubon family of 10 intrepid adventurers, many who will soon have 100 or more new life birds under their belts on our 10 day trip to the Texas coast, valley, and hills.

I have been packing, unpacking, and repacking all day! This is the first time I will ever travel with a laptop in tow and it has pushed my collection of electronic equipment over the top.  Camera, spotting scope, two pairs of binoculars (the spare for anyone in the group if needed), many books, clothes, rain gear, GPS, iPod, tripod, and maybe some other "pod" I'm forgetting. My World traveling Grandfather once told me the key to a successful trip was "Bring half as much luggage and twice as much money." He really was a wise man!

I leave the house at 3:30am to pick up one of the travelers and head for the airport.  6 am departures are not my favorite but, they really keep you from wasting the day. We are truly lucky to have dodged the delays that American Airlines had suffered in light of their FAA inspections, resulting in 2000+ canceled flights over the last four or five days.

Wish us luck! Lots of birds ahead!