April 11, 2006

Birds: Texas, Part I

Okay, now we can get to the good stuff. I've been birding for quite a few years now and before my trip to Texas, my North American Life List was at 282. However, of those 282 only 8 were missing from my New York List. In other words, almost all my birding has been within the state and most of it within Region 5. It had been years since I'd seen large numbers of life birds. So I was really looking forward to this trip. The first few days were a bit disappointing because we were only in very developed areas. I was surprised at the number of Orange-crowned Warblers but apparently they winter in Texas. Our first good day came on Monday, April 3rd. We got up early and went out to Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge where we had great looks at our target bird: Golden-cheeked Warbler. These guys are Texas specialties, only nesting in the hill country in the central part of the state. Sorry I didn't get a photo, but they're very pretty with golden-yellow faces, black backs and crowns, white bellies and wing-bars. Also at Balcones we had Bewick's Wren (identified several days later when we heard the tape) and Western Scrub-Jay which really surprised me because I didn't think we were far enough west for them. On the way there we had our first looks at Black Vulture and on the way out mom spotted a Greater Roadrunner (of which she was very proud). We had reservations that night in Port Aransas on the coast but we were all pretty sick of the highway by then so we took a smaller road from Austin to Corpus Christi. On the way had our first Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Crested Caracaras (very exciting). Just as the sun was setting I noticed a group of three White-tailed Kites flying over the road. We stayed that night in Port Aransas and the next morning Noah and I got up early and walked out to the the ocean. On the way we had nice looks at Eurasian Collared Dove and Inca Dove along the wires. It was a beautiful sunrise with flocks of Brown Pelicans; Sandwich and Royal Terns streaming overhead. We also saw Snowy Egret, Willet, Western Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover and, best of all, two Piping Plovers. Tuesday afternoon we made our way to the Rockport / Fulton area (yeah, I know... very ironic) where I had my first Reddish Egret and Roseate Spoonbill. There was even a small flock of Bronzed Cowbirds right outside our hotel! Our biggest day of birding though was definitely Wednesday. We signed up for a boat tour out to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge with Captain Tommy Moore. The goal bird here was Whooping Crane since it is still one of the rarest birds on the continent and only winters in this one location. On the way out we had a great variety of birds: American Oystercatcher and Black Skimmer, Wilson's Plover, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, Seaside Sparrow, Marbled Godwit, White Ibis, American Avocet, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, American White Pelican, Neoptropic Cormorant and many others. Also got to spend some time talking with birders from California and British Columbia. Our first Whooping Cranes were very distant but during the course of the trip we saw quite a few including a couple flying and two that let the boat approach quite close. What majestic birds! Gull-billed and Least Terns were also in the area. Now, I thought the trip had gone quite well and was expecting to head back to the harbor but I began to sense something was up. A few of the better birders on board were still really excited about something and more than once I heard the expression "Think Pink." I soon found out what they were talking about...

This stunning photo is of a Greater Flamingo that has apparently been seen in the Aransas area since last fall. This bird was banded in the Yucatan so it constitutes a legitimately wild and countable bird, one of the only Texas records of this species. What an amazing and unexpected surprise! Anyway, that pretty much wraps up our boat trip. I'll finish with Texas Birds Part II.