Saturday, April 26, 2008

Texas: Day Ten

Departure day!  Wow!  Can ten days have passed?  The time on High Island, Aransas Bay, and King Ranch do seem a long time ago, but in a strange way still very familiar and recent.  We walk around our lodgings before breakfast and enjoy some fine views of Bewick's Wren, Black-throated Sparrow, and a jillion Clay-colored Sparrows.  We madly pack, load the cars and head for Houston thinking we have hours to spare; not the case.  Our driving skills and ability to interpret maps and GPS guidance systems put us at the airport like we are neatly in charge of all the potential pitfalls surrounding us (the sweat dripping from me - I hope no one notices) and at the gate only 10 or 15 minutes before boarding.  Man, we are good ("lucky")!

Well, I bid you farewell from the trip proper, but hope to continue the blog as I head back to work, the "normal" routine, and the excitement of the spring migration in New England.  The best thing about coming home... my family... and second?  Keeping in touch with the people I have come to know and share this special experience with to Texas' coast, valley, and hills.

I hope you too will be able to visit this unique place for your first time or a repeat adventure. Give me a call.  I would love to tell you more.

Enjoy the anticipation of your next adventure.



Andrew Griswold, Director
Connecticut Audubon Society EcoTravel

Great Egret chick

Wilsons Phalaropes

Hiking the trail

Maggie framing the shot

Edward's Plateau

The Bowl on Edward's Plateau

Texas: Day Nine
An early departure will hopefully assure an early arrival up in the hills and bowls of the hill country, but as on many trips we are distracted by the birds and sights en route.  Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Painted Bunting, and Golden-cheeked Warbler call this cool mountain oasis home; clear mountain streams lined with mature cypress and sycamore, hillsides covered with juniper.  This is also the home to much sought-after birds as Zone-tailed Hawk, demanding that you check each and every look-alike Turkey Vulture to find the one that differs slightly; striped tail and feathered head.

The echo of singing Canyon Wrens follows us as we ascend the trail to a secluded bowl carved by thousands of years of running water.  We walk through a tall stand of Big Tooth Maple, one of the few areas where this tree species can be found; the familiar call of the Golden-cheeked Warbler luring us on (it sounds a lot like Black-throated Green Warbler which we see and hear in Connecticut).  Black Phoebe, Western Scrub Jays, and Scott's Oriole are just part of the great diversity of life we find at this higher elevation.  Our looming departure is only forgotten by the jovial spirit of our farewell dinner and visit to the local bat cave to see the evening departure of 12 million bats, at close range, sounds and smells never to be forgotten (nor the sight of two raptor species dining on the airborne mammals).  What a scene!



Prickly Pear Cactus

Altimira Oriole weaving a nest

Pauline and Louisa at Falcon Dam

The mighty Rio Grand as seen from Falcon Dam

Texas: Day Eight
One last morning in the valley allows us to search out a few specialties of the area.  The Rio Grande is flowing high today, the result of the Falcon Dam releasing the most water I have ever seen in 15 years.  A stop along the river produces Muskovi Duck, only countable in the US when found over or close to the river,  Altimira Oriole, our largest and most colorful oriole, and superb long looks at the elusive Curve-billed Thrasher.

The Rio Grande is the border between the US and Mexico in Texas, with few crossings as interesting as the one at Falcon Dam.  If you drive out across the dam, releasing your fears of armed guards (of which we saw none), you get an incredible view and opportunity to see a part of two countries that few visit.  One can stand on the border, jump back and forth from country to country (which I must have done 20 or more times), and take your friends' picture as they stand on the line at a truly impressive monolithic monument to both countries.  We spend a lot of time here, many of us in a spirit of personal meditation.

Our afternoon is spent on the road moving to the north and the Balcones Escarpment otherwise known as the Edwards Plateau, a lovely refuge from the heat of the desert and  clear contrast to the parched landscape of the previous five days.  Our traditional stop at Dairy Queen in Laredo, Texas was not passed-up, nor was the mandatory liter of coffee for the drivers and double-dipped ice cream wonders for the kids, young and old.

Our lodging overlooks one of the most pristine rivers in Texas.  We can hardly wait until tomorrow to explore some more.



Monday, April 21, 2008

Black-throated Green Warbler

Cave Swallows

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Texas: Day Seven

The Rio Grande Valley has once again lived up to its reputation as a place of great surprises and superbly consistent quality birds. The travelers spent some time this morning with a Gray Hawk on the nest, Clay-colored Robins cruising below, and Northern Beardless Tyrannlet providing the song for the whole scene. 

Life along the Rio Grande is indeed that, Grande, for the birds, a fueling station before the final push to the north. We found the right oasis today where the previous day's winds has brought with it some of North America's warbler gems, including Blue-winged, Worm-eating, Black-throated Green, Golden-winged, and so many more, not to mention the local specialties like Cave Swallow, Olive Sparrow, and Altamira Oriole.

A short afternoon venture north of the river let us see other habitats and collect some great views of Wilson's Phalaropes spinning in unison and migrant Franklin's Gull on their way to inland nesting sights.

If you are on the boarder, the Mexican food cannot be beat; avoid the chains and go for authentic. Ask the locals where the best food is... they will know.

More along the Rio Grand tomorrow morning and then we travel to the Edwards Plateau.

Hasta luego,


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Red-crowned Parrot

Red-crowned Parrot

Birders on the boardwalk

Green Jay

Least Grebe

Texas: Day Six

We slept-in today getting a late start around 7:30am – a well needed extra half-hour – but were soon in the company of about 20 Red-crowned Parrots.  What a sight in the early morning low angle light; fighting, mating, climbing, swooping birds in a frantic pace of living life, making it almost too hard for the tour leader to keep the rest of the day on the same level.  

Sabal Palm sanctuary is must stop on any south Texas trip, home of area specialties such as White-tipped Dove, Olive Sparrow, Plain Chachalaca, Green Jay, Least Grebe and so much more.  The habitat is so special as the last significant patch of Sabal Palm in the US.  Unfortunately, it may not be with us much longer if the plan to build the border fence goes through, currently scheduled to be built north of the park, cutting it off from the rest of Texas. Can you believe this oasis is up on the chopping block?  There is a recent New York Times article if you would like more information.

Evening and night birding was optional, some taking advantage of the time to catch up on much needed sleep and rest, others not willing to lose any opportunity to experience more of south Texas, ultimately rewarded with sightings of Franklin's Gull, Ringed Kingfisher, Lesser Nighthawk, Cave Swallow, Paraque, and Elf Owl.  Unfortunately (in the eyes of some participants), we missed any night crawling tarantulas; always fun for me to see "big brave men" running in fear as the macabre critter shows how fast in can move when motivated.

Another full day of adventure in the Rio Grande Valley tomorrow.