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.

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