April 12, 2006

Birds: Texas, Part II

Okay, after we got back from our boat tour with Captain Tommy, we realized that Mom and Dave had left to do some site seeing and that Noah and I were pretty much stranded at the hotel for the next few hours so we signed up for an afternoon inland tour to Fennessey Ranch (on the ride over we saw the beautiful Black-necked Stilt pictured above). Our guides were Nan Dietert and Lyndon Holcomb. They were fantastic birders and knew the ranch inside and out. They drove us around in an old converted school bus, designed specifically for birding. The beginning of our trip was a little slow. At our first stop there was a small flock of White-faced Ibis along with some shorebirds, gradually building our day list. We then headed inland where we had White-eyed Vireo and great looks at more Caracaras. Managed to get decent albeit brief looks at a female Pyrrhuloxia. Then, while Nan was scoping a Mottled Duck all the birds on the pond took off because two Harris's Hawks came in low over the trees. Later on we were at an overlook near the river hoping for Least Grebe when I noticed a tiny, green and white bird flying down towards us maybe a couple inches above the water. It was a Green Kingfisher, carrying a small fish it had just caught. That was one of the most memorable moments for me. Also had White-tipped Dove here calling in this vicinity. We had brief looks at several Green Jays although I'd still like to see that bird better. Towards the later part of the afternoon we came to another larger, more marshy pond where there was a nice assortment of waterfowl including Cinnamon Teal, Mottled Duck and three Least Grebes. I first found a pair of Grebes that I was pretty sure were Least just based on shape and proportions (they were unfortunately silhouetted at that point). Nan confirmed that they were when a couple of Pied-billeds swam into the same field of view. They were almost twice the size! Shortly after I located a third bird in better light. I think that may have been the official cutest bird I have ever seen. Waders in the area included Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron, White Ibis and Roseate Spoonbill. We saw a couple armadillos on our trip, they were pretty cool. After saying goodbye to Nan and Lyndon we finally had good looks at Loggerhead Shrike along a telephone wire. On the way back to the hotel mom saw a bobcat on the side of the road and a little later we almost hit a huge wild pig. It was a pretty incredible day. All told we had well over 100 species in about 12 hours of straight birding. Things quieted down a bit after that. On Thursday we headed farther south to Kingsville but there wasn't much of an opportunity to bird. Did have Couch's Kingbird finally, perched on a wire. We were fairly sure of ID when he glided down and gave us a nice view of the olive-brown, un-notched tail and sealed the deal. In San Antonio we had great looks at Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and Cave Swallow right along the river walk in downtown. Our last day, Saturday, was the only day we couldn't find a life bird, although we did have good looks at near breeding plumage Eared Grebe at Hornsby Bend. While I still need to go over my list thoroughly, my initial count is 51 Life Birds for the trip, bringing my North American Life List up to 333 (pretty cool, huh?)! It was without a doubt one of the greatest weeks of my life and I don't think I'll ever forget it.
PS: As a disclaimer, almost all of the bird photos I shot in Texas were with my digital camera through my binoculars by just holding it up to the eyepiece. Some turned out a whole lot better than others and I can't figure out why. Any advice?