Friday, December 31, 2010

Back Home

Back home from our trip and back to more familiar stomping grounds.

Two days before Christmas I met up with a friend from work and his family to show them around 40 Acre Lake at Brazos Bend State Park.

I got there early and did a quick visit to Creekfield Lake. There were Black Vultures everywhere in the trees; I counted 70 of them.

As always, the water had lots of Common Moorhens.

Over 100 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were just getting ready to face the day.

Over at 40 Acre, a couple of hundred American Coots (with some Blue-winged Teal) were huddled up trying to keep out of the cold wind.

I was hoping for some new 2010 birds but we saw only the usual suspects, like these White Ibis.

The kids were hoping for alligators - of course - and luckily there were several, including one that was a decent size.

All in all, a quiet morning and rather an anticlimax after our trip to Big Bend.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Big Bend Trip 5

Monday morning I managed one last walk along the Window Trail before we set off on the journey home. As before, it was empty of birds, except for Cactus Wrens.


On our previous visit the drive from the Chisos Basin to the park exit was notable for a flock of hundreds of Lark Buntings and sparrows. This time we saw just one bird, an American Kestrel.


The Post at Marathon was more productive. The entrance road had Pyrrhuloxias and a flock of Lark Buntings. 

Inside the park itself we were greeted by Black Phoebe, Say's Phoebe, House Finches, Killdeer, Vesper Sparrow and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers.

A solitary Swamp Sparrow pottered around in the reeds.

While we had breakfast we enjoyed watching as several Canyon Towhees explored the area under our car and an American Pipit wandered along the water's edge. Then the peace shattered as a Merlin swooped across from nowhere and only just missed taking the Pipit. The latter's heart must have been beating a thousand times a minute when it settled in a nearby tree to recover from its lucky escape!

From Marathon we drove without any more real stops to Concan, where we spent the night at Neal's Lodges, a prime birding site in the spring and early summer. We arrived too late to do more than a quick walk around the area before night fell, but the walk did add two Hermit Thrushes and two Carolina Wrens to our trip list.

The next morning dawned very foggy, which brought deer right to our front door but thwarted my plan to do some early morning birding.


So we left Concan and headed over to Cook's Slough in Uvalde. The fog was thick there, too, and I again missed seeing one of my target species for the trip, Green Kingfisher. My consolation prize was a distant look at a Ringed Kingfisher and then good views of several Green Jays.

The fog finally burned off at noon, just before we reached Spur 406 at Lake Amistad - but then my camera decided to stop working! So I wasn't able to get photos of two new-for-2010 birds on the lake: Cinnamon Teal and Redhead. I didn't get photos of the two Greater Roadrunners that we saw there, either.

More bad luck was to follow. I had planned for our last stop to be a visit to Mitchell Lake in San Antonio, a site that we had really enjoyed visiting a few weeks earlier. We arrived there with hopes of finishing our trip on a high note, only to find that the nature site is closed on weekdays. I don't know how I hadn't noticed this while researching the trip! 

So our trip ended with a whimper rather than a bang. Still, we had a great time overall and the sheer beauty of Big Bend more than justified all the driving that the trip involved. We certainly won't be able to get back to that area for at least a couple of years but now we're both thinking that a trip to Concan, Uvalde and San Antonio might be just the thing for our first serious birding trip in 2011.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Big Bend Trip 4

We were up early (5:00) again on Sunday morning, watching the moon set in the Window.

I took a dawn walk along the Window Trail. 

I was hoping for Javelinas but didn't see a single mammal of any sort. Birds were scarce again, too; the only ones I saw were a bunch of Mexican Jays on a far-off hillside and a couple of Cactus Wrens collecting nesting material along the path.

As we'd really enjoyed the previous day, we decided to try the same route again for the first part of Sunday. So 8:30 saw us heading over to the Rio Grande Village.

We'd hardly started our walk through the campground before Dee told me to stop and look down. I hadn't noticed that a Greater Roadrunner was standing just feet away. It stayed long enough to let me take several photos.

We explored the "No Generator" zone, which was very busy with Northern Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias.

There were other birds, too, of course: Say's Phoebe, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, House Finches and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The Nature Trail looked fantastic in the morning sun.

The reeds had Yellow-rumped Warblers, Verdins and Bewick's Wren, while the water had American Coots, Pied-billed Grebe and several turtles.


We moved down to Daniel's Ranch again for lunch. 


As before, we were in the company of birds: Vermilion Flycatcher, Verdin, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Cardinals, Common Ravens, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers and Pyrrhuloxias.

The Golden-fronted Woodpeckers were busy again.

And the Kestrel was still around.

Lunch over, we drove back past the Chisos Mountains  and along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.


We stopped to admire a Red-tailed Hawk that drifted effortlessly up to and over the edge of the Chisos Mountains on the breeze.

We ended up at the Cottonwood Campground, overlooking the river.
There we spent an hour watching a variety of birds, including Vermilion Flycatcher, Black-throated Gary Warbler and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. 

 Vermilion Flycatcher

Two Black Vultures circled overhead, a Great Blue Heron flew along the Mexican bank of the river, and a Spotted Sandpiper pottered about on a log in the water.

On our way back to the Chisos Basin we stopped in for a break at the Sam Nail ranch. The birds were very much the same as on Saturday - except that Dee spotted a Fox Sparrow - but it was pleasant watching the way different species happily drank together at the drip. And funny the way they all fled whenever the windmill clanked into action.

 N. Cardinal, White-crowned Sparrow and Hermit Thrush

So then it was back to the Chisos Basin for dinner after another day with no great new sightings but plenty of wonderful landscapes and enough birds to keep us occupied.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Big Bend Trip 3

On Saturday we were on our deck by 5:00 a.m. admiring the most spectacular display of stars that either of us had seen in years. A couple of hours later, we were treated to a beautiful dawn view of the Window.

I went for an early morning walk but saw only a Black-crested Titmouse and a solitary Cactus Wren.

At 9:00 we drove down out of the Chisos Mountains and headed for Rio Grande Village.

The desert was glorious in the morning light and we passed several Greater Roadrunners along the road.

The cottonwoods in the RG campground were something to see, although few birds were evident except Yellow-rumped Warblers and House Finches.


We spent an hour exploring the Nature Trail, which winds across pools, through reeds and up onto rocky desert.  

The water had only a Pied-billed Grebe and two American Coots but the reeds were busy with Bewick's Wren, Rock Wren and Verdins.

Rock Wren

We walked down to the edge of the Rio Grande, where a score of American Pipits were grazing among the pebbles.

We drove up the road to Daniel's Ranch, another site dotted with cottonwoods and situated on the banks of the Rio Grande.


There we had lunch in the company of Northern Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxias and a very friendly Common Raven.

The cottonwoods had Golden-fronted Woodpeckers and an American Kestrel.

They also had Say's Phoebe and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.

In mid-afternoon we left the area, stopping to admire a juvenile Prairie Falcon that was hunting by the wayside. After a brief an unproductive visit to Dugout Wells, we headed back past the Chisos and up to the Sam Nail Ranch.  


The land at the ranch was extremely dry and there was very little water at the drip, but even this small amount of water was enough to bring in some birds. So before heading back to the Chisos Basin, we sat for half-an-hour watching a succession of thirsty visitors: Hermit Thrushes, Northern Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxias, White-crowned and Black-throated Sparrows, and Northern Mockingbirds.

Overall our first full day in the park had not been as productive of birds as we had had hoped. However, the beauty of the landscape more than made up for the comparative lack of birds and other wildlife.