I flew down to Texas on December 24th expecting the airports to be much deader than they were. But I arrived in Corpus Christi to sunshine and 88 degree weather for the first time in my life.
The purpose of this trip was t enjoy the fantastic birding in first the Lower Rio Grande Valley for 4 days and then up to Corpus Christi and Aransas for two days.
I had to drive the 165 miles from Corpus Christi to Hidalgo where I would be headquartered for my stay in the LRGV. One of the birds I was really hoping to see was the Harris’s Hawk, a beautiful dark brown and rust colored bird with long yellow legs.
Harris’s HawkHarris’s HawkHarris’s Hawk
After driving for about 100 miles I saw several large raptors sitting on fence posts along the side of the highway. Although I had never seen a Harris’s Hawk, I immediately knew that was what I was looking at as they are a rather social bird that often hunts in pairs of small groups. I immediately pulled over and took these pictures even though the sun was almost completely set by this time. My second life bird of the trip (the Great-tailed Grackle being the first).
Day One: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Rio Bentsen State Park, Estero Llano Grande State Park
Christmas day began early with me departing for the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge by 5:30 a.m. to be sure I was in place by sunrise for a very special rarity that was visiting from Mexic0 and causing quite a stir…a first-year Northern Jacana. I rearranged my well planned out itinerary because this bird was still being reported on eBird when I arrived in Texas which made an attempt on it a must. When i was walking up the trail to the overlook where it had been reported, I saw a startling flash of yellow which I instinctively knew was the Jacana. Sure enough it was once I could glass it! The lighting was terrible and it was very foggy so the images are less then stellar but I was very pleased with this as a U.S. bird.
I was also able to get another nice life bird at Santa Ana, the Least Grebe.
Next stop was Rio Bentsen State Park which ended up providing me with some great birds.
The stunning Altamira Oriole
Day Two: Salieneno, Falcon State Park, Anzalduas Park
The day began with a 79 mile drive north along the Rio Grande River to the Salieneno boat landing on the Rio Grande. I arrived about 30 minutes before sunrise so I could just take in the South Texas sunrise along the Rio Grande. Ir was simply stunning to be able to bear silent witness to the day break with the night sounds giving way to those of the day. Great Horned Owls hooted in several places, many Coyotes howled all around me and a Common Pauraque landed within feet of me and began its sharp, buzzy whistle before taking off again. It was strange sating on the river bank looking less than 100 feet away into Mexico. Thankfully this place was one of the few that had no police or border patrol presence to disrupt the natural beauty of this place.
Other than arriving early to enjoy the beauty of a Rio Grande sunrise, the best chance at seeing the uncommon Audubon’s Oriole is at dawn. I was not disappointed. It took a while to search them out but I was able to get on a group of them. My problem was that I forgot to increase my shutter speed as it became more light out and most of my pictures were blurry.
Another bird I was able to get at Salieneno was the elusive Olive Sparrow. Thankfully, I had a couple that were more curious about me than afraid and gave me some good looks. By this time I had realized I had a slow shutter speed and corrected it.
Without a doubt, the bird I most wanted to see was the Crested Caracara, a member of the falcon family that shares many traits and habits of vultures. This is a bird that captured my interest as a young child. I missed them in Florida in September but not in Texas! I saw around 30 of them during y trip and I was thrilled each time. My first great looks came as I approached Falcon State Park (how perfectly named!).
Day Three: Sabal Palm, South Padre Island, Laguna
Day Four: Choke Canyon, Lion’s/Shelley Park, Corpus Christi
Day Five: Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge has always been the refuge I most wanted to see because it is a primary wintering ground for the critically endangered Whooping Crane which is North Americas tallest bird. The “Whoopers” that winter here are primarily from Alberta in Canada and are all wild born. Out of the 13 different Whooping Cranes I have seen in Wisconsin, only one-a colt born in the spring of 2015-had no tags on it. I saw 36 Whooping Cranes at Aransas and none of them had an y tags. All were completely wild. I have seen 49 Whooping cranes now. To put in perspective just how endangered this majestic bird is, that is just over 8% of the estimated total world population.
The best way to view Whooping Cranes on the Texas coast is by boat so I joined a charter to get out to the barrier islands where they winter along with many other bird species. I was able to get some great looks at many species I saw nowhere else such as the American Oystercatcher, Long-billed Curlew, and Royal Tern.
Day Six: Lion’s Shelley Park & Rob and Bessie Welder Park