Saturday, May 25, 2013

Day 4 of Texas Springbreak Birding Trip: Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

This Altamira Oriole greeted me before I even got out of the car, Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.
I didn't reach the southern tip of Texas until well-past noon, and as I was nearing Harlingen, I decided rather than drive to Los Fresnos, where my next digs were, I would go to my first birding spot of the area - Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. I decided this because checking-in at my lodging in Los Fresnos was a couple of hours away yet, and I would have to backtrack to get to the Refuge anyway. So I pulled off the highway and tried to figure out where I needed to go to get to Laguna Atascosa. As it turned out I had a lot of trouble finding the place - my GPS didn't seem to have a clue. However, after stopping and getting my bearings from the copied page of the southeastern corner of Texas out of my road atlas, and asking a few questions to locals, I eventually found the place. The signage for the Refuge was sparse so I was continually second guessing whether or not I was going in the correct direction. The pot-holed-filled long drive to the entrance was in the middle of no where, added to the perception that Texas didn't really want people to know where these NWR's were.
The Entrance to  Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.
While making this long entrance I saw my first Lifer of the Day - two Long-billed Thrashers on the side of the road jumped into the thick brush and disappeared but not before I was able to identify them. However my pics of them were not much to speak of. It was already well past noon when I arrived, not the optimum time for birding. I parked and as I was opening the car door and getting my camera gear in order, a flash of brilliant orange flew past and landed in a tree next to the Visitors' Center. As I approached the tree I saw the Altamira Oriole watching me from behind some branches. I aimed and shot a few pics, and soon it popped out into the open (Top) for an awesome pose. This wasn't a Lifer as I had seen some Altamiras in Mexico a few years ago, but this was a first for me in the U.S.  Hardly before I reached the doors of the visitors center I had two great birds and one Lifer - a good sign I think.
A Green Jay (Lifer#2), one of many seen at this Refuge, taking a drink from a water station near the Visitor's Center, Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.
Then as I approached the doors of the Visitors' Center an unfamiliar call of "jeeekjeekjeek" rattled my ears and a Green Jay (Above) landed in a feeding station next to the building. Okay! this is not just a "good sign," but a great sign - another Lifer. As I was photographing the Green Jay, another Lifer appeared, a Bronzed Cowbird (Below) landed not far from where the Green Jay perched.
A Bronzed Cowbird became my 3rd Lifer in a matter of minutes at  Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.
Great-tailed Grackle,  Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.
A Great-tailed Grackle (Above) and an Olive Sparrow (Below) - another Lifer (#4) soon joined the group.
An Olive Sparrow, my #4 Lifer at Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.
After a few more photos, I went into the Visitors Center to confirm that my IDs were indeed correct and to get more information about travelling through the Refuge. I was told to also look for Plain Chachalacas, White-tipped Doves, Long-billed Thrashers, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, which all hang around the Visitors Center's feeding stations. The white-tipped Doves and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers would be more Lifers if I see them. Indeed, after I left the Visitors center and walked the nearby trails I did see all five of the aforementioned birds as well as several.  more Green Jays, Bronzed Cowbirds and Olive Sparrows. This is not a "great" place, but a Fantastic Place! I completely forgot this was in the middle of the afternoon, which isn't supposed to be a prime time for birding.
Total Species: 50
Lifers: 8 (Baird's Sandpipers, Bronzed Cowbirds, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Green Jays, Long-billed Thrashers, Mottled Ducks, Olive Sparrows, White-tipped Doves)
FOY: 10 (18 including Lifers)
1st in U.S.: 3 (11 including Lifers) (Altamira Orioles, Buffed-bellied Hummingbirds. Plain Chachalacas)
Other Species Observed: American Avocets, American Coots, American Kestral (FOY), American Wigeons (FOY), Bewick's Wrens (FOY),  Black-headed Grosbeak (FOY), Black-necked Stilts, Brown Thrasher, Canvasback, Common Ground Dove, Crested Caracaras, Double-crested Cormorants, Gadwalls, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Great-tailed Grackles, Killdeers, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Least Sandpipers, Little Blue Herons, Long-billed Curlew (FOY), Long-billed Dowitchers, Mexican Mallards (FOY), Mourning Doves, Northern Mockingbirds, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Pied-billed Grebes, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Redheads, Red-winged Blackbirds, Roseate Spoonbills, Ruddy Ducks, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Solitary Sandpiper, Tri-colored Herons, Whimbrels (FOY),  Willets.
Long-billed Thrasher (Lifer#1), Kiskadee Trail, Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.

As you were probably able to ascertain from the "Bird Report" list above, Laguna Atascosa NWR has a fantastic variety of habitats to find many different types of birds. There were trails going through woodlands, brushy dry grasslands, and an extensive coastline off the Gulf of Mexico. The water and shorebirds were plentiful - as thousands of birds congregated in the water off the Osprey Lookout at the far end of Lakeshore Drive. I wanted to climb down the bank and walk along the shore to be closer to get some good pictures, but signs were posted that going beyond the lookout was prohibited. So none of my pictures of water / shore birds were of good quality to post on this blog. Below are some more photos from Laguna Atascosa NWR...
Bewick's Wren, Alligator Pond Trail,  Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.
Crested Caracara, "The Mexican Eagle,"  Alligator Pond Trail, Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.
Plain Chachalaca, Kiskadee Trail, Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.
Turkey Vulture, Alligator Pond Trail,  Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.
Common Ground Dove, Bayside Drive, Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.
Golden-fronted Woodpecker (Lifer #7), Kiskadee Trail, Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.
Green Jay, Kiskadee Trail, Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.
White-tipped Dove (Lifer #8), Kiskadee Trail, Laguna Atascosa NWR, 4/16/2013.
My Lifers #5 and #6 (Mottled Ducks and Baird's Sandpipers) were seen from the Osprey Lookout at the end of Lakeside Drive. The photos were not good enough to post as were the other 24 water and shore bird species that I counted out on the lake. If the weather was more clear and if I could have gotten closer, there was no doubt many more species present, as there seemed to be a thousand little blurry dots on the water.
If you ever plan a trip to southern Texas, Laguna Atascosa NWR is a place you cannot miss.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Texas Birding Trip; Day 3: Aransas National Wildlife Refuge


This Cattle Egret greeted me at the entrance of the Aransas NWR, TX; 4/15/2013.
On the 3rd day of my Spring break birding trip to Texas, I visited the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is known for the winter grounds of Whooping Cranes. I didn't expect to see any Whoopers this late in the year, but asked at the Visitor's Center desk anyway. I was told that the last ones left a week ago. I made my way through the Refuge stopping and hiking most of the trails and reached the end where there was a large observation tower. I climbed to the top of the tower (which was an easy climb as it is all ramped - no steps) and at the top a couple of birders pointed out one lone Whooping Crane far out in the marsh adjacent to the vast Gulf of Mexico.  My Sigma 150-500mm  could not take a clear picture  of it, but the fixed scope at the top of the tower picked it out modestly well. The birding couple was very ecstatic as this Whooper was a lifer for them.  I saw two of these rare cranes last summer at Necedah NWR in Wisconsin, where they are known to nest.

An unidentified Dragonfly happened into my viewfinder, Aransas NWR, TX; 4/16/2013.
The Manager in the Visitor's Center told me to watch for Swainson's Warblers, which would be a Lifer for me. He said he has been hearing them over the place, but are very hard to spot as they are mainly ground birds foraging in the dense undergrowth. Indeed, he was accurate with his statement. I did hear Swainson's several times, but I did not see one. My personal rule about adding birds onto my Life List is that I must be able to see them and clearly identify them (either in the field or later looking at a photo of the bird). Since I couldn't do either, even though I heard a few, I didn't include this elusive warbler onto my Life List, and thus this became my first day of the trip in which I didn't add a bird to my Life List. My bird list for Aransas is below:

Total Species: 40
Lifers: 0
Species Observed: Bank Swallows, Black-necked Stilts, Blue-winged Teals, Brown Pelican, Cattle Egrets,  Cliff Swallows,  Double-crested Cormorants, Eastern Kingbird, European Starlings, Gadwal, Great Blue Heron, Great Egrets, Great Kiskadees, Greater Yellowlegs, Green-winged Teals,  Killdeer, Laughing Gulls, Lincoln Sparrow, Little Blue Herons, Long-billed Dowitchers, Mourning Doves, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, Pied-billed Grebes, Red-breasted Merganser, Reddish Egrets, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-winged Blackbirds, Ring-billed Gulls, Roseate Spoonbills, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Snowy Egret, Solitary Sandpiper, Sora Rails, Tri-colored Herons, Turkey Vultures, White Ibis, White-eyed Vireos, Whooping Crane, Willets.

Below are some photos of my Aransas NWR adventures:

A Black-necked Stilt, Aransas NWR, TX; 4/16/2013.

Lesser Yellowlegs coming in for a landing, Aransas NWR, TX; 4/16/2013.

This huge Bullfrog wasn't intimidated by my presence and didn't flee into the water as I approached, Aransas NWR, TX; 4/16/2013.

A juvenile Little Blue Heron, Aransas NWR, TX; 4/16/2013.

A Palmedes Swallowtail, danced around in the woods for quite some time before it landed long enough for me to get its portrait, Aransas NWR, TX; 4/16/2013.

I was lucky to get two separate Sora Rails in my viewfinder in two different hikes,  Aransas NWR, TX; 4/16/2013.

This raccoon crossed the trail in front of me. It never looked in my direction totally ignoring me although I was only 15-20' away, Aransas NWR, TX; 4/16/2013.

A Pied-billed Grebe - they always crack me up. They always look like they are looking art me out of the corner of their eyes.  Aransas NWR, TX; 4/16/2013.

This Pied-billed Grebe is the first time I have ever seen one of these divers out of the water. This one is apparently sitting on a nest at the edge of a small creek.  I thought this was a very risky place for a nest, as there were alligators (see next two pics below) all over this park and especially in this particular creek.  Aransas NWR, TX; 4/16/2013.
I spent a lot of time near the edges of water and in almost every place I saw alligators. In this case, I heard a lot of splashing and "clucking" sounds coming from the thickets along the creek, so I bushwhacked through the thicket down a steep bank to the edge of the creek to investigate the sounds (expecting a Moorhen or Coot).  I couldn't find the source of the sound, but I noticed a rather large gator spying me from behind the branches.
The same gator - zoomed in. As I was photographing this guy, he actually started swimming towards me in a more rapid pace than I have been accustomed to from most gators. I decided I was not in a good place - on a muddy bank surrounded by thick branches. So I followed my bushwhacked route back up the bank. After I cleared the thicket I looked back and the gator was half on the bank where I had been standing. Up until this moment I had not taken these creatures very seriously. Others I have seen were either in the water away from me, or lethargically lying on a shoreline not showing any interest in moving. Lesson learned,  Aransas NWR, TX; 4/16/2013.

A Tri-colored Heron with its long white plume waving in the breeze,  Aransas NWR, TX; 4/16/2013.

One of many White-eyed Vireos that were very vocal in this refuge,  Aransas NWR, TX; 4/16/2013.

After spending about a half a day at Aransas NWR, I hit the road to make my way to the southern tip of Texas. On my way out of the Refuge I saw a herd of about 8-10 Havalinas which were scrounging around the edge of the creek. By the time I pulled over to park to try to get a photograph, they all disappeared.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Texas 2013 Springbreak Birding Trip: Day #2 & Yellow Rail Walk

DAY 2, APRIL 14, 2013

On day 2 (April 14. 2013) of my Texas Spring break Birding Trip I visited a total of 5 locations, 3 Bird Sanctuaries in High Island and 2 more in the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

Day's Totals:  Total Species: 71,   Lifers: 8
Bird of the day: one of my Lifers, a female Ruff, a rare sighting of a bird from Eurasia, It is the light taller bird in the center of the picture. Also the bird in the right hand corner is a Stilt Sandpiper, another Lifer for me,  Skillern Tract, Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.
All in all it was a very satisfying 2nd day of my trip. The 8 Lifers I saw today surpassed my 6 from yesterday, which gave me a total of 14 lifers in my first two days of my 7 day trip. However, none of these Lifers came in the mourning, which I spent in 3 different bird sanctuaries in High Island.
When I planned out my Texas trip, I thought that High Island would be one of the "highlights" of my trip, with all the hype it receives about its heavy migration traffic in the Spring. I was very disappointed with my time spent here.  I saw a total of only 31 different bird species in the three locations altogether, and none of the pictures that I am featuring in this blog are from my High Island photographs, because none of them were very interesting or striking. The most interesting of the birds I saw came from the Smith-Oaks Rookery - of nesting Spoonbills, Cormorants and Egrets - all of which can be seen in my last post:( ).

The breakdown of the birds seen within each of the Bird Sanctuaries is listed below:

Total Species: 15
Lifers: 0
Birds Seen: Baltimore Orioles, Blue Jay, Brown-headed Cowbird, Gray Catbird, Great-tailed Grackles, Mourning Doves, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, Orchard Orioles, Red-eyed Vireo, Red-winged Blackbirds, Warbling Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, White-throated Sparrow, White-winged Doves

Total Species: 7
Lifers: 0
Birds Seen: Blue Jay, Gray Catbird, Great-tailed Grackles, Green Heron, Northern Cardinal, Northern Yellow-shafted Flicker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Total Species: 18
Lifers: 0
Birds Seen: American Coots, Anhingas, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Black Vultures, Blue-winged Teals, Common Moorhen, Double-crested Cormorants, Gray Catbird, Great Egrets, Great-tailed Grackles, Green Heron, Mourning Doves, Neotropic Cormorants, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, Palm Warblers, Roseate Spoonbills, Turkey Vultures

A Crested Caracara, became my first Lifer of the day when I was driving between High Island and Skillern Tract, TX; 4/14/2013.
I decided to abort my High Island birding and take another trip out to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge which I enjoyed very much the day before. I decided to take a different route so I could go to an area called "Skillern Tract" which is does not physically adjoin Anahuac, but is considered an extension of the Refuge. I overheard some birders in High Island say that a Ruff (Pic at the top of page) was sighted there, so I thought I'd try my luck. On my drive out I stopped three different times along the road to take pictures, one was of another Lifer, a Crested Caracara, which was sitting atop a utility pole (Above). It is not a very good picture as the "Mexican Eagle" as it is sometimes called, was high on the utility pole and backlit by the bright midday sun.

Total Species: 12
Lifers: 1 (Crested Caracara)
Birds Seen: Belted Kingfishers, Black Vultures, Cattle Egrets, Crested Caracara, Glossy Ibis, Great Egrets, Great-tailed Grackles, Killdeer, Northern Mockingbirds, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-winged Blackbirds, White-faced Ibis.

The same photograph as the top of the page with the alligator highlighted, Skillern Tract, Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.
When I arrived to Skillern Tract, I didn't need any luck. There was a large group of birders present with cameras and scopes with the Ruff fully "scoped" out.  All I needed was to have it pointed out to me and snap away. It was quite far out in the marshy grassland so I knew my pics would not be of high quality. After viewing my pics at the end of the day, I noticed a funny looking bird just to the right of the Ruff, and realized it was a young alligator - sitting in the midst of the birds (Above). I could only guess that by how still it was posed, it was waiting for a bird to get close enough for it to snatch a meal. While I was out in the field with the other birders, I do not recall anyone mentioning the fact that there was a predator within a few feet of the prized rare Ruff. Within a few shots I saw that the birds were getting closer to the gator (Below).

The gator looks awfully close to the Ruff and Dowitcher to me. It also has a smug smirk on its face as if he knows within seconds he has a delicious meal in his jaws, Skillern Tract, Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.

In this pic, the Ruff is directly in front of the gator (the arrow pointing to it), which is till in its frozen pose. It's hard to tell just how close the gator is to the birds, but it still did not make a lunge at the a bird, Skillern Tract, Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.
(Above) the gator and birds appear literally next to each other, but still the gator is holding its pose without making an attempt to grab one of the birds. Later the small flock of Dowitchers and the Ruff suddenly flew off and landed in a different spot in the marsh. I wondered if the gator made a move and scared off the birds.

Also several yards further out past to where the Ruff was feeding was a flock of Hudsonian Godwits (about 8-10) mixed in with other wading birds. They were pretty far out. My 150-500mm Sigma lens was able to get pictures enough to identify the Godwits, but the photos themselves were of worse quality than my Ruff pics, and did not deserve to be featured in this post.

Total Species: 5
Lifers: 3 [Ruff (Rare sighting), Hudsonian Godwits, Stilt Sandpiper]
Other Birds Seen: Black-necked Stilts, Long-billed Dowitchers,

In a matter of a half hour I was able to add 4 new species to my Life List (starting with the Crested Caracara and ending with the Hudsonian Godwits). Not a bad half hour in my trip. After my brief stop at Skillern Tract, I continued on to revisit the Anahuac NWR. My bird list from that visit is below, which includes another 4 Lifers for me...

Total Species: 47
Lifers: 4 (Seaside Sparrow, Sedge Wren, Wilson's Phalarope, Yellow Rail)
Birds Seen: American Coots, Barn Swallows, Black-necked Stilts, Black Vulture, Blue-winged Teals, Cattle Egrets, Common Moorhen, Common Yellowthroat,  Double-crested Cormorants, Dunlin, Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Meadowlark, Forster's Terns, Glossy Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Great Egrets, Greater Yellowlegs, Great-tailed Grackles, Killdeer, Laughing Gulls, Least Sandpipers, Lesser Goldfinch, Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitchers, Northern Cardinals, Northern Harrier, Northern Mockingbirds, Northern Shovelers,  Red-tailed Hawk, Red-winged Blackbirds, Roseate Spoonbills, Savannah Sparrows, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Seaside Sparrows, Sedge Wrens, Snowy Egrets, Sora Rail, Stilt Sandpipers, Tree Swallows, Turkey Vultures,  Vesper Sparrow, White-faced Ibis, White Ibis, Willets, Wilson's Phalarope, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Yellow Rail.

White-face Ibis either stretching or drying their wing feathers in the sun, in a field near Skillern Tract, Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.
On my drive out of Skillern Tract I observed a stand of White-faced Ibis (Above) holding their wings up in the air as if they were in a classroom and a few of them knew the answer of a question asked by the head-ibis.
A Common Moorhen in the reeds, Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.
A Killdeer sitting on its stone nest along the roadside, Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.
I had another successful visit to the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, observing almost another 50 species and adding 4 more Lifers to my list. After a couple of hours of exploring this fantastic Refuge, I was on my way out and saw a Killdeer (Above) sitting on the gravel shoulder of the narrow main road. I knew immediately that it was on a nest. I decided to pull over, well away from the Killdeer as not to startle it, to try to get some photos.
Its eggs are visible under the Killdeer as it rose to confront me when I came too close for comfort,  Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.
I slowly approached the Killdeer, wondering how close I could get before it would go into its "broken wing" routine, and in a way wanting to capture it on video.  The fearless Killdeer allowed me to come within 30 feet before it even stood up (Above). It did not move away from its eggs and I felt guilty about making it rise, so I did not push the bird into its "broken wing" routine, and I backed away to leave it alone. For those of you readers who may not be familiar with a Killdeer's behavior when it feels something is threatening its nest, it will pretend to be injured and flop around trying to lure the predator to follow it (thinking it is injured thus an easy target for a meal) away from the nest, thus protecting the eggs from being a potential meal. I very much respect the fearlessness of Killdeers.

A Seaside Sparrow, during the "Yellow rail Walk,"  Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.
The Yellow Rail Walk
As I was leaving the Refuge, I decided to pull into the little building and report to the managers on duty about the Killdeer nest, just in case they didn't know about it - it was only a couple hundred yards from their kiosk. As I was there, we got to conversing about the sightings of the day (mine and others) and they asked if I was going on the "Yellow Rail Walk" which was happening in just 15 minutes.  I didn't know about it, but I didn't need to be anywhere, so I asked about what it was about.  As it was explained to me  - a group of people walk out into the marshy sedge grass pulling a rope (Approx. 50' in length) with old gallon milk jugs attached with 5-10 feet of space between them. The jugs have some stones in them to weigh them down a bit but not to make them too heavy to pull. This rope is pulled through the marsh, the habitat of the Yellow Rail, in hopes of causing the Rail to try to get out of the way. When the Yellow Rail is spotted by one of the group everyone makes a tight circle around the Rail keeping our feet close together so the Rail can't escape between our legs. Rails are noted for their "iron will" by holding their place and not moving as people or animals walk right past them.  If we are able to keep the Rail inside the circle long enough for everyone in the group to see it, the leader of the "Rail Walk" reaches down in attempt to pick it up to show everyone. Usually the Rail will then fly up high enough to clear the circle of people and escape back into the sedge. During our 30-40 minute walk, we were able to scare up one Yellow Rail, but along with the Rail, we saw many Seaside Sparrows and Sedge Wrens flying out of our path. Both were also Lifers for me. 3 more Lifers in a half an hour.  Because the "Rail Walk" had difficult footing and we needed to always be looking at the ground to keep ourselves from tripping in the sedge or over clumps of mud and fire-ant hills, there wasn't much time to focus on birds, which were flying quickly out of the marsh and landing in the tall grass usually out of sight. I didn't get a chance to photograph a Sedge Wren, but I did manage to focus on a Seaside Sparrow (Above) before it hid in the tall grass. It's not a great photograph, but I was surprised that I was able to get it in my viewfinder and take a picture, while I was high-steppin' it through the marsh, before it hid itself again.

More photos from the afternoon at Anahuac NWR below:

Eastern Meadowlark, Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.

Lesser Yellowlegs,  Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.
Snowy Egret,  Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.

A Vesper Sparrow,  Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.
A juvenile White Ibis,  Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.

The always beautiful Scissor-tailed Flycatcher,  Anahuac NWR, TX; 4/14/2013.
On my way out of the Refuge to call it a birding day, I found one last species sitting on a wire fence, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Above). No matter how often I see them when I am in their territory, I am always attracted to them and want their pictures, because their long tail is so unique and they do not make their way to Northern Illinois, where I live, so I don't et to see them very often. It was a good ending for my second day of birding.

My next post will cover Day 3 of my Texas trip at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Southeastern Texas 2013 Springbreak Birding Trip Report

A Ferruginous Hawk watching me watching him. My first Lifer of the trip. Anahuac NWR, TX, 4/13/2013.
This winter when I was planning a birding trip during my Spring break from teaching school, I was looking at several places, but ultimately decided that Southeastern Texas would give me the most opportunities to find birds that I would not find anywhere else in the U.S.  So I made a vague plan of some of the areas that I would visit and see what luck may bring.

Disclaimer:  I am a Hiker turned Birder, so I tend to want to put on hiking miles. My birding efficiency is most probably lacking from what true serious birders may do. What I mean is that I find a place that sounds interesting or where a bird I am searching for may exist. Then I find a hike that "might" lead me to that bird. Regardless of finding the bird or not, I will finish the hike no matter the length. Of the 14 places I visited only at one (Sabal Palms Sanctuary, near Brownsville) I did not hike. I just stood on the Visitor's Center deck until the bird I was hoping to see, showed up (it did - Crimson Grosbeak). Then I left. But this is not my usual way of birding. Also I tend to be a bit impatient. While stalking a bird that I hear or see fleetingly in my peripheral vision, I do not stalk for hours waiting for the bird in question to show itself. I am more likely to spend at max 5- 10 minutes, and if the bird doesn't show itself in a reasonable position for a photograph opportunity, I move on.
Trip Results:
7 = Total days of trip (4/13 - 4/19/2013)
14 = Total # of places I visited (not including stopping along the road to take photos)
201 = Total # of species identified
           (probably could've been a lot more if I was less impatient or more competent).
32 = Total # of new species added to my Life List (probably could've been more if...blah, blah, blah)
6 = Total # of species added to my list of birds seen in the U.S. (not including Lifers above)
40 = Approximate total of miles hiked while stalking birds.
13  = Birds that I was hoping to find and/or thought I had a good chance but struck out: American Oystercatcher, Cave Swallow, Clay-colored Thrush, Green Kingfisher, Groove-billed Ani, Hook-billed Kite, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Purple Gallinule, Red-billed Pigeon, Swainson's Warbler, Tamaulipas Crow, White-tailed Kite.
DAY 1 REPORT (4/13/2013)

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge was my first stop; however it was an unscheduled stop. I didn't even plan on visiting here. I was on my way to High Island (the place to be in April) when I saw the sign for the exit to Anahuac and I decided to make a stop to check it out - I needed to stop and stretch my legs and do some hiking. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by both its Visitor's Center and its 34,000 acre refuge. My two visits here produced my highest yield of 76 different bird species  with 11 Lifers.

Black-necked Stilt, Anahuac NWR, TX, 4/13/2013.
Lifers: Ferruginous Hawk (Top of page), White-tailed Hawk, White-faced Ibis (Below - bottom), Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Boat-tailed Grackles (below-top).
A Boat-tailed Grackle fly by, I determined this was a Boat-tailed. not a Great-tailed, because its iris was very dark compared to the bright white iris of the Great-tails in this area. These Boat-tails became my 2nd Lifer of the trip, Anahuac NWR, TX, 4-13-13.

A White-faced Ibis, my 3rd Lifer of the trip, Anahuac NWR, TX, 4/13/13.
Other Sightings: American Coots, American white Pelican, Anhingas, Bank Swallows, Barn Swallows, Belted Kingfisher, Black Vulture, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black-necked Stilt (3rd pic from top), Blue Jay, Blue-winged Teals, Brown Pelicans, Cattle Egrets, Cedar Waxwing, Cliff Swallows, Common Moorhens (below bottom), Common Yellowthroat, Double-crested Cormorants, Dunlin, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Field Sparrows, Forster's terns, Glossy Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Greater Yellowlegs, Great-tailed Grackles, Green Heron (Below - top), Killdeer,  Laughing Gulls, Least Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Loggerheaded Shrike, Mallard Duck, Mourning Doves, Neotropic Cormorants, Northern Cardinals, Northern Harrier, Northern Mockingbirds, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Northern Shovelers, Osprey, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-winged Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows, Snowy Egret, Tree Swallows, Turkey Vultures, Vesper Sparrows, White Ibis, White-crowned Sparrow, Willets, Wood Duck, and Yellow-crowned Night Heron.
Green Heron, Anahuac NWR, TX, 4/13/2013.

Common Moorhen, Anahuac NWR, TX, 4/13/2013.

Pipevine Swallowtail, Anahuac NWR, TX, 4/13/2013.
More pics from Anahuac (below):
Savannah Sparrow, Anahuac NWR, TX, 4/13/13.

A pair of Blue-winged Teals,Anahuac NWR, TX, 4/13/13.
Snowy Egret, Anahuac NWR, TX, 4/13/13.
Laughing Gull, Anahuac NWR, TX, 4/13/2013.

Seven baby Alligators, Anahuac NWR, TX, 4/13/13.
I saw one baby alligator in a low marsh on one of my hikes. As I was focusing on it I noticed more movement in the water. Within seconds there were seven babies (Above) all within a couple square feet of each other.

SMITH-OAKS BIRD SANCTUARY, HIGH ISLAND [20 birds (12 not from Anahuac)]

0 Lifers; Other Sightings: American Crow,  Anhingas, Black Vultures, Blue-winged Teals, Brown Creeper, Common Grackle, Common Moorhen, Double-crested Cormorants, Downey Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Towhee, Great Egrets, Loggerheaded Shrike, Red-breasted Nuthatches (a surprise to find them this far south), Red-winged Blackbirds, Roseate Spoonbills, Scarlet Tanagers, Swamp Sparrow, Turkey Vultures, Warbling Vireo.
Special Note: This Sanctuary boasts a very large rookery with nesting Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, and Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorants.

Nesting Cormorants in the Rookery, Smith-Oaks Sanctuary, TX, 4/13/13.

nesting Egrets and Spoonbills,  Smith-Oaks Sanctuary, TX, 4/13/13.
Roseate spoonbill at the Rookery,  Smith-Oaks Sanctuary, TX, 4/13/13.
Scarlet Tanager,  Smith-Oaks Sanctuary, TX, 4/13/13.

BOLIVAR FLATS [32 Species (21 diff from Anahuac &  Smith Oaks), 2 Lifers]

Least Tern,  Bolivar Flats, TX; 4/13/13.
Lifers: Piping Plover (Below), Least Tern (Above)
Piping Plovers were checking out the surf for a meal, Bolivar Flats, TX; 4/13/13.
Other Sightings: American Avocet (Below), American Golden Plover, Black Skimmers, Black Tern, Black-bellied Plover, Black-necked Stilts, Blue-winged Teals, Brown Pelicans, Caspian Terns, Cattle Egret, Common Terns, Forster's Terns, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Herring Gulls, Laughing Gulls, Least Sandpiper,  Marbled Godwits, Reddish Egret, Ring-billed Gulls, Royal Terns, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderlings, Sandwich Terns, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Tri-colored Heron, Western Sandpiper,  Willets, Wilson's Plovers.

An American Avocet in full breeding plumage, Bolivar Flats, TX; 4/13/13.
Bolivar Flats is a wonderful coastal area along the Gulf of Mexico south of High Island just a couple of miles before you reach the end of Bolivar Peninsula where the ferry crosses Galveston Bay to Galveston.

More pics from Bolivar Flats (Below):
Black Skimmers cruising the Gulf, Bolivar Flats, TX; 4/13/13.

Colorful Brown Pelicans, Bolivar Flats, TX; 4/13/13.

Common Terns, Bolivar Flats, TX; 4/13/13.

Marbled Godwit, Bolivar Flats, TX; 4/13/13.

Royal Tern, Bolivar Flats, TX; 4/13/13.

Ruddy Turnstone, Bolivar Flats, TX; 4/13/13.

Willet, Bolivar Flats, TX; 4/13/13.

Wilson's Plover, Bolivar Flats, TX; 4/13/13.
Semipalmated Sandpiper, Bolivar Flats, TX; 4/13/13.
Reddish Egret, Bolivar Flats, TX; 4/13/13.
I would have stayed longer to scout out Bolivar Flats, but it was already late in the day and it was starting to lose daylight. But this is a great area to find shorebirds along the coast and wetland birds in the grassy and marshy area inland.

All in all  my first day birding in Texas yielded almost 90 different species and 8 new species added to my Life List.

My next post will cover Day#2 when I revisited Anahuac NWR, Skillern Tract, Eubanks Bird Sanctuary, Boy Scouts Woods Bird Sanctuary, and Smith-Oaks again.