#528-#530 in Corpus Christi

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Sunday I took an early morning photography class at Paradise Pond, and then left for the airport to catch 6:00 PM flight. Of course this left about eight hours to kill in between, and I planned to use it visiting some more inland hotspots. I mostly followed the route outlined in Cooksey and Weeks’ Birder’s Guide to the Texas Coast, starting from Oso Creek Park.

Oso Creek Park turned out to be too windy for birds on Sunday. It was pretty much a bust aside from a single Loggerhead Shrike. The next stop, Bill Witt City Park, did turn up a dozen or so Long-billed Curlews feeding on the ball fields, just as the guide promised. The South Texas Botanic Gardens were much more fun, and I spent a good couple of hours roaming the grounds. I only added one species to my Texas list there, Black-necked Stilt. Frustratingly I heard at least two possible life birds singing/calling very unfamiliar songs, but I couldn’t find them or ID them despite extensive searching. :-(

After the Botanic Gardens, I followed a route that took me to some unlikely local hotspots in industrial areas and small local parks. Among other birds, I added Least Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, and American Avocet to the trip list.

However the real jewel was the final stop at a small park at the Hilltop Community Center. I don’t know why this is such a hot spot, but it was just popping with new and interesting birds. There were several I hadn’t found earlier on the trip including Ruby-crowned Kinglet and White-winged Dove. The area wasn’t that great–just about 30 acres–but the foliage was very dense with lots of cover, no open fields, so you had to walk all the trails. The first “lifer” I found was a surprised Javelina (Pecari tajacu), a local native wild pig. It ran off before I could get a good shot.

However the first life bird was a Couch’s Kingbird, a kind of flycatcher and one of my target species for the trip:

I may have seen one earlier at Lake Findley on the first day, but that one was too far away to be sure. This one was much more cooperative, and gave me plenty of time to shoot it from all angles, and carefully check the field marks against my Sibley Field Guide to make sure it wasn’t the very similar (but much rarer) Tropical Kingbird.

#526 and #527 at Fennessey Ranch

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Saturday I was up even earlier to catch a 6:00 A.M. bus to Fennessey Ranch.

We arrived about 7:30, and took off in a trailer of hay bales pulled by a Swiss Army Truck. We hadn’t gotten one klick down the road, before they stopped to point out a flock of 20 or so Sandhill Cranes feeding at the far end of a field, #526:

Sandhill Crane standing in a field

Amusing that I got my life Whooping Crane before the much more common Sandhill Crane.

#523-#525 on a Boat

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Friday I got up bright and early for the real highlight of the trip: a boat ride through the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to to find Whopping Cranes. When I awoke Port A. was covered in fog, and driving to the dock was a little tricky. (I got lost twice.) By the time I found it, the fog was still pretty thick. I could see a raptor on top of a nearby telephone pole, but could at best guess it was some kind of Buteo, probably a Red-tailed Hawk but I’m not sure. Similarly I could only guess that the cormorant across the harbor was a Double-crested.

I noticed some of my fellow passengers had tripods and scopes. I’ve never brought a tripod on a boat before, but after checking with them, they seemed to think it would be possible to use, so I grabbed mine out of the rental car. Fortunately I hadn’t left it in my hotel room.

We traveled for quite while before the fog burned off, but once it did we started seeing birds, mostly gulls, a few terns, and not much else until we reached the refuge. Once we got there though there started to be some interesting birds on some small sandbars, and on about the third sandbar we passed there were cormorants of two sizes! That meant the smaller ones were Neotropic Cormorants, #523:

Neotropic Cormorants, Double-crested Cormorants, Reddish Egret, and gulls

#521-#522 at La Copita Ranch

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Thursday morning we woke up in the bunkhouse and saw that weather was cloudy so we didn’t race too fast to get out to the blind. once we did get moving, the first stop was another set of buildings little ways down the road where we parked our cars before looking for a Barn Owl. However, as soon as we got out of the cars, I heard what I thought was a Red-bellied Woodpecker so I walked behind the buildings check it out. I didn’t initially find the putative Red-bellied woodpecker. Instead, the first woodpecker I saw was a Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Much better, since we have Red-bellied Woodpeckers back in New York, but I’ve never seen a Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are mostly mid-country birds that don’t reach either coast. One hung out for a while in Irvine Regional Park when I moved to California in 2008, but life was a little too hectic then to chase it. This one flew off very quickly before I could get a photo, but that still counts as life bird number 521. Update: Turns out it doesn’t. Checking my notes I see I did have a Ladder-backed Woodpecker at Covington Park in Morongo Valley in California in 2008.

But what about that Red-bellied Woodpecker? I heard it again, and then spotted it on the top of a nearby telephone pole. Only when I got a look at it it wasn’t a Red-bellied Woodpecker at all. Instead it was the closely related and very similar sounding Golden-fronted Woodpecker, and I did get a (bad) picture of this bird:

 on top of pole

#517-#520 at La Copita Ranch

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

A couple of weeks ago my human resources department sent me an e-mail warning me that I was about to max out on accrued vacation days so I had to use some fast. I looked around for the next available birding festival, and the most interesting one seemed to be the Whooping Crane Festival in Port Aransas. I also considered Winter Wings in Oregon, but it offered mostly the same birds I’d already found in California. Texas, by contrast, has dozens of species I’ve never seen and that can’t be found anywhere else in the United States. Thus Wednesday I flew into Corpus Christi Airport for five days of semi-intense South Texas birding.

First stop was the La Copita Ranch in Jim Wells County for a photography workshop. I got to the ranch about 3:00 PM. but the gate was locked so I drove into town and had a quick Mexican lunch. Then I visited Lake Findley while waiting for the gate to open. Likely I saw a Couch’s Kingbird there, but it was too far away to be sure of the ID, and I didn’t have the scope out yet. :-(

About 4:30 I got the call that the ranch was open, so I drove back, met the instructor, and drove out the blind. No sooner had I arrived than we heard a Green Jay, life bird #517:


ZipCar 2010

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

2010 was the first complete calendar year in which I was both a Zipcar member and in New York the entire year. How’d it work out?