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.

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