Thursday, February 11, 2010

Our Texas Odyssey

White Prickly Poppy, Harlingen (below) Scarlet Sage, Harlingen (right)

Rock Pigeons, South Padre (left) Black-crested Titmouse (right)
Altamira Oriole, San Ygnacio

Osprey (left) Tropical Parula, Frontera Thicket (above) Green Parakeets, Edinburg (right)

After several months of silence, I finally found a few moments to post a new article to BotanizePA...although this article is about Birding Texas! Charlie and I came snowbirding to Texas for this winter's sojourn. Although Texas is not a favorite state of mine (it spat out that last guy we had in the Oval Office before sensible voters elected Obama), it is one of the best for birding.

Tri-colored Heron (center)

They have a series of parks they call the World Birding Center , and we've been to most of them:
The only one we didn't make it to is Roma Bluffs, although I'd like to se
e it too. But it's a far drive from where we're staying in Port Isabel.

Bentsen: This is one we've been to about 5-6 times and where we got to see the Bare-throated Tiger Heron...the first record of one of these in the US. It hung around for about 2-3 weeks. I didn't get photos because after waiting several other times for it to make an appearance, I decided to leave the camera in the car to assure it would show up. Sure enough, I was there about 10 minutes and it flew in, landing and posing about 75 yards away in the open. It posed there for a good 5 minutes and lots of folks got excellent photos of it. I did get photos of a baby Collared Peccary, and about 6 weeks later, again.

Edinburg: We were here once, on a very hot day. It is known for its butterfly gardens, but not much was in bloom in January, although I did get a few shots of some butterflies. We did see many Ruddy Ducks, such little cuties. Like the Least Grebe, the Ruddy Duck has what a naturalist said the other day, the "Awww Factor." (We saw our first Least Grebe during a visit to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on our way down, where we also saw the endangered Whooping Cranes.) It was near here that we saw a flock of Green Parakeets on the wires and eating acorns in the oaks. (see photo above)

Estero: This is one of our favorites and we've been there about 4 times so far, and going again for Breakfast with the Birds. They lay out a continental type breakfast and then w
e all go out on a bird walk with their volunteers and naturalists. Only $3 to cover the food cost--and we get into the park for free because we have a state parks pass. It is a recovered wetlands--used to be farm fields. It shows what good stewardship can do. They have Common Parauques here; they sleep during the day and blend in extremely well with the duff they roost in.

Harlingen: This is actually several connected pieces of land along Colorado Arroyo. The main part is a recovered landfill. We've only been there once, but will be going back for sure. They have a great bird feeding station (actually, they all do, but this one struck me as especially nifty). I got
some nice Buff-bellied Hummingbird photos here. It is maintained by volunteers, including Master Naturalists, and we had an informative chat with one of them while sitting at the feeder station.

Hidalgo: We weren't too successful on our one visit to this one--possibly because it was a hot day and Charlie and I didn't want to walk the bike trai
l, so we didn't get out to see much.

Quinta Mazatlan: A small property with a historic adobe mansion and beautiful grounds of
varying habitats, plus many feeding stations. The first time we were there we saw and photographed a Black-headed Grosbeak; and last Saturday we went to see the rare Scarlet-collared Grosbeak, which was good at hiding from the camera! He was preening as he hid behind the leaves.

Resaca: Lots of mosquitos! We walked the 2 3/4 mile tram trail and saw a lot of Couch's and Tropical Kingbirds. I'd like to go back again before we head home.

South Padre: This is just across the Causeway*, on South Padre Island, a ten minute drive for us and the newest of the World Birding Centers. We've been there several times, but since our
passes aren't good here, we don't go more often as the entrance fees can build up. They have about 4,000 ft. of boardwalk and you can get wonderfully detailed closeups of many of the birds. Next door is the Convention Center, so we go there now and then to check out the shorebirds, ducks and others on the Laguna Madre, where 80% of the Redhead ducks go every winter. The salt concentration is very high here, and they like the plant life that grows in this specialized environment. Several days ago, I saw what appeared to be a fishing line, which can be devastatingly deadly to any bird who manages to become entangled. I discovered it was a kite string, and now I have a kite to fly!

*I participated in the 26th annual Port Isabel Causeway Run/Walk on January 9th, the "walk" of 3 miles from Port Isabel to South Padre Island. It was a bitterly windy and cold day, but we kept up a good pace and kept warm that way.

Some other places we visited are Frontera Thicket, owned by the Audubon Society. We did a Christmas Bird Count here and nearby (in conjunction with the Valley Nature Center in
Weslaco) and also went again last week. Great place to bird, but $5 a person. Also on South Padre Island are a few other birding hot spots. We stop occasionally at the end of the Causeway where there is a nice boardwalk for bird viewing. Isla Blanca Park was nice for seeing some early blooming wildflowers.

And we went about 2 week
s ago to Zacate Creek in Laredo, about 4 hours' drive each way, to see the Amazon Kingfisher, another first recorded sighting in the US species. Also, there's Boca Chica, which is about a mile or so from where we're staying, but about a 35 mile drive to get to. It's a beach where some are seeing Gannets, Noddies and other sea birds. This is where I got an action shot of a Forster's Tern diving. To get there, we have to drive west to Brownsville where the end of the shipping channel is, then east to the beach. We got some photos of a cooperative Aplomado Falcon along this road. And last but not least is Bahia Grande, the drive to Brownsville, where we saw a lot of Yellow-crowned Night Herons. Oh, and not to forget Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, a half hour away. There is a 15 mile wildlife drive there that we have bicycled and walking trails for birding and botanizing. And...Palo Alto Battlefield, with its open fields for White-tailed Kites and Gray Hawks...and our first feral pig.

left: jellyfish
right: dozing squirrel