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Southeast Arizona 2015

Part 12:  The Drive Home (with stops at some Texas State Parks)

Took off, and actually made pretty good time to El Paso, so we stopped at Franklin Mountains SP for an exercise walk.  I asked the ranger which trail was the most level, and he pointed me to the nature trail, so up we went.  The parking area is actually across the street from the trail, and it was pretty full (well, it was Saturday after all…), but thankfully no one was headed the same direction I was heading!  But when I got down there, I saw a scope sitting by itself, which I thought was odd, then noticed a bunch of White-winged Doves – they had put up a bird blind since I was there last!  So I poked my head in and was invited in by the two guys already in there (John Groves and John Kiseda)!  Besides the doves, they had a hummingbird feeder right in your face practically (they told me a Black-tailed Rattler acted like it wanted to crawl in and join them L), and a brilliant male Rufous Hummingbird was showing off in all his glory!  There was either a young male or female there as well (had a few red feathers on the gorget), and a couple of Blackchins, but that Rufous stole the show!

       

This Rufous Hummingbird was such a show-off that I can't limit this to just two pictures! ☺Note how the color of the gorget changes depending on the angle of the light, and also that this guy is showing a few green flecks on the back and the head, which can fool the unwary into calling it an Allen's!

   

Again, notice how the throat color changes from green to orange!

   

Two final portraits (he sure liked that one perch)!

I told the guys I was really supposed to be taking an exercise walk (they said this was more fun J), so I took my leave and headed down the trail.  Again, Cactus Wrens were all over, it seemed, and heard a Canyon Wren from the hill, along with a Gambel’s Quail, but I didn’t get far, as the trail went down into a wash and then climbed straight up the other side!!  So much for being level…  So I backtracked, then noticed the other end of the loop (they’re apparently building an educational shelter there, so the other end was partially blocked by metal beams), so I took that, and just before the second wash a very cooperative Rock Wren popped up to investigate!  That was fun, as I had heard several in Arizona but didn’t see a one.

   

Curious Rock Wren   

I really couldn’t afford to take any more time (although I would have loved to), so I headed back to the car and went up to the top to use the restroom before continuing on.  Up there a Scaled Quail called, so it was fun to get both!  On the way out heard a Black-throated Sparrow, and logged the road length as almost two miles.  I went ahead and recorded data for EBird; I must say I’ve gotten rather hooked!

View from the upper parking area

Since you could only make a right turn out of the park (and that traffic doesn’t dilly-dally), I decided to go ahead and take the freeway through El Paso seeing it was a weekend day, and it wasn’t bad at all.  The next stop was at Sierra Blanca where the only fast food joint was a Subway in a convenience store, then a fill-up stop 100 miles later at Balmorhea (and what a mob scene – it was the only game in town!) The next stop was actually a Farm Road out in the boonies (2886, I think), so I pulled over on a high spot hoping no vehicles would come by J, then headed on in to Ozona (ironically there was a rest stop about eight miles down the road…).  Couldn’t find the Best Western, so settled for the Holiday Inn, which was very nice (and those billboards showing the cinnamon buns are certainly eye-catching J)!  After checking in I wheeled over to the Stripes for some ice, and later in the room while I was inputting data the tornado siren went off (I saw a couple of guys that happened to be getting out of their SUV below me suddenly look in that direction), and there did appear to be a big storm a-comin’, so I turned on TWC but everything was fine and dandy except for a couple of popcorn storms!  So maybe they were just testing it…

Indulged in one of those famous HI cinnamon rolls the next morning J; there were several guys in the breakfast room who looked like they might be firefighters, and one actually joined me in the elevator (the guy’s backpack was almost as big as he was).  I asked him if they were firefighters, and he confirmed that they were battling that blaze that was causing the mountain of smoke I passed the day before; he said they were calling in crews from all over.  He seemed pleased (and humbled) when I told him how proud I was of him!  Later I got to thinking that that was probably what that siren was all about:  on a previous trip through "Tornado Alley" I called the front desk in Aurora, Nebraska, when I thought I heard a tornado siren go off (and there was indeed a bad looking storm out there), and she said, "Is it steady or going up and down?"  I told her it was the latter, and she said that was a call to the firefighters, as lightning probably started a blaze somewhere - a steady signal means a tornado is coming!  And the one at Ozona was oscillating as well, so that made sense.

Headed east after checking out, made good time to Junction, and spent a lovely hour at South Llano River SP.  Going in to get the pass, I was surprised to see Cave Swallows nesting under the eaves – that was a first!  Archilochus hummers were fighting over the feeders, of course; I had no idea if Rubythroats were supposed to be showing up yet, but I heard wing-ringing, which is indicative of Blackchin, so I know I at least had them!

Cave Swallow under the eaves at the visitor center (one call looped once); near the end a Black-chinned Hummingbird chases away an interloper!

Headed over the Fawn Trail for the “exercise walk”, where a guy with a big gun asked me when they were gonna put the seed out.  I hadn’t a clue, but I knew there would probably be something there, since they also have a water feature at the Agarita Blind.  But it was a good walk, adding trip birds such as Black-crested Titmouse, nyeping Orchard Orioles, a Field Sparrow trying to sing, and several White-eyed Vireos.  There were lots of Black-throated Sparrow families around; in fact, most of what I saw were juvies!  I pondered whether the Black-capped Vireos were still around (I knew the warblers were long gone), and I indeed thought I heard one in the distance, but with all these young’uns learning to sing, who knows what I heard!

Spent 15 minutes in the blind, where I guess the guy with the camera decided to wait until the rangers put out the seed, but even so, several beat-up Cardinals came in, more juvie Black-throated Sparrows, a titmouse without his crest, and a lovely “Black-backed” Goldfinch!  A Lark Sparrow joined the crowd shortly before I left.  I made a run to the day use area to use the composting toilet they have there, and aside from it being a beautiful little area, managed to bag a handful of new trip birds there as well, including Carolina Wren, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Red-eyed Vireo!  But the star was the little Carolina Chickadee, which made it a three-chickadee trip! J  The resident Vermilion Flycatcher was anticlimactic!

   

Parenthood is tough... (beat-up momma Cardinal)

Here's Poppa...

We're back into "Black-backed" Goldfinch territory!

   

Juvenile Black-throated Sparrow

Here's the adult...

   

Lark Sparrow

Heading into the Day Use area

Stopped at the gas station to fill up and get a Coke, and continued on.  Having an aversion to driving through big cities any more, I had to come to a decision point coming into Kerrville: do we take the bypass or brave San Antonio?  Seeing it was a Sunday, I decided to head on through, only we ran into a glitch: when we got to the I-410 loop, we had a choice of east or west, not north or south!  So since we were headed east we continued east, but it soon became apparent that we were on the wrong side of the loop, as we saw a sign for US 281, to I-37, which is what I wanted!  (Had I taken the correct loop, I would have hit I-35 first…)  So we got onto that, and – horrors – discovered I'd be going through DOWNTOWN San Antonio!!  Yikes!  I’ve gone out of my way a hundred times over to avoid that!!  But here we were, and it actually wasn’t bad:  traffic was fine, and it was kinda fun seeing what the downtown area actually looked like from the freeway!  We soon passed the I-10 interchange, and then the other I-410 interchange J, and from there we were homeward bound and had smooth sailing!  (I think, in “Realsville”, God wanted to free me from this fear of driving through San Antonio, as He certainly took me on the tour… J)

The Lord saved me from another temptation as well: when it was time for another break, a sign for a DQ in Falfurrias showed up on the freeway.  Well, wanting a Blizzard (but not needing a Blizzard L), we headed two miles into Fal only to find just a sign and no building, saying, “We’ll be back!  In the meantime see our store in Premont…” (or whatever it said…)!  So that saved me from that, and we ended up stopping at the famous rest area, where bees were hanging out in the ladies’ room, but there wasn’t a peep of bird sound in that 99 degree heat!

Made it home without incident, ironically bagging Cattle Egret for the trip making the turn onto Ware Road!  Finished the trip with 189 species, and like I had on so many other trips, where was that one that woulda made it an even 190??? J  It was a glorious trip, and I was thankful I was able to make the pilgrimage one last time before starting a new job!

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