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Attwater Prairie Chicken - Anahuac NWRs

Day 1:  McAllen to Sealy

            The trip started out great with a handful of Valley birds bagged while packing the car (Curve-billed Thrasher, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, and Green Jay amongst them), but as I stepped into the car I thought I heard a Sprague’s Pipit flying overhead!  On second “listen” I realized it was an excited American Robin calling from behind the building!  That was fun to pick up, as they can sometimes be tough to get in the Valley!

            Headed north without incident, dreaming about exploring the New Earth while listening to Randy Alcorn’s book;  I resisted the temptation to stop at the Falfurrias Rest Stop to try for the redstart and instead continued over to Riviera (tons of Red-tailed Hawks, but that was about it) and making the traditional rest stop there at the Stripes, which was packed!  Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls were wheeling around, so added them to the day list while I was there.

            I miraculously remembered that there wasn’t a convenient rest stop at the next 100 mile point, so stopped at Refugio for a Subway; the preacher I was listening to at the time was raising my eyebrows, because he seemed to have a great deal of consternation towards those who are pastors of large churches but (in his view) aren’t preaching repentance; they’re preaching Jesus instead of Christ!  Now wait a minute—doesn’t it say that at the name of JESUS every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father?!  When he said you don’t hear much of the “old time” preaching any more, that alerted me to the fact (in my view J) that he seems to be embracing tradition more than he is just the simple message of the Gospel.  True, there probably are churches out there that emphasize God’s love and how much Jesus loves you, and kind of skimps on the need to acknowledge your sinfulness before God and repent of that (although there are some preachers, and I can’t recall of J. Vernon Magee is one of these), that claim that we don’t even have the ability to repent:  all God requires of us is that we turn to Him in faith and trust in His payment on the cross to remove our sin!  I got to thinking about the fact that most people today probably don’t even know what “repent” means, and depending on who you talk to, that can mean several things!  I hold to the view that it means to change your mind about something, because in some instances, I agree with Magee in that we don’t have the power to actually change our behavior (some teachers claim that’s what repentance is).  But I’m more than willing to lay a thing at God’s feet and say, “Father, I can’t turn from this,” (or whatever the issue is); “You’ll have to go to work in my life, or take it from me, or whatever.”  Yes, we have to do our part (for example, if you’re an alcoholic and want deliverance from that, you’ll have to quit going to the bar and/or buying booze at the grocery store), but God’s the one who truly goes to work in your life.

            Anyway, the next potty stop was El Campo, and from there it was a short drive to the refuge (after getting lost in Eagle Lake)!  I wanted to see if I could design a nice BBS-style road birding route that included other roads besides just the refuge drive (I had heard of other birders exploring the “surrounding roads” while there), so I started the trip meter right at the entrance road and started crawling!  Savannah Sparrows were out the yin yang, and later a couple of Vespers popped up as well.  Sedge Wrens were scattered about as well, giving their bright little calls (but wouldn’t come out, of course…)  I kept leap-frogging with another nice gentleman (I actually caught up with him at the new observation blind), but he apparently missed the American Bittern that was sticking his head up right next to the road!  He ducked once he saw me (the bittern, not the gentleman), but then came out on a little berm and slowly walked along the thing with his neck outstretched and bill pointed towards the sky!  Then he figured I wasn’t falling for the ruse and went scrambling into the grass…  While sorting through all the sparrows near the Pipit Trail, I was surprised to see a mess of Cave Swallows swooping around (and a few sat on the wire fence)!  I would have thought they’d be gone by now, especially after that last cold front!

Red-tailed Hawk intently watching something just outside the refuge entrance...

   

One of about a gazillion Savannah Sparrows sits on a wire along the entrance road!

A Great Egret hides in the reeds.

   

An American Bittern (also a heron) does the same, and is much better at it due to his reed-like plumage!

Lineup of Cave Swallows

Vesper Sparrow, very similar to the Savannah but with a big, bold eyering.

            I stopped briefly at the grove by the headquarters just to see if there were any good songbirds about, but it was pretty dead, so I continued on, and ironically as I rounded the corner and had a view of the back side of said grove, that’s when all the action started!  A Red-bellied Woodpecker chunged from one of the trees along with an excited Carolina Chickadee, and a little pishing brought up an Eastern Phoebe, several Lincoln’s Sparrows, and the real prize, a nice Harris’ Sparrow!  A stunning adult White-crowned also posed on the fence, but The Nice Gentleman was passing me at about that point…  A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher swooped across the road after I continued on my way, and my first American Goldfinch of the season “potato chipped” overhead.

            As previously mentioned, there’s an observation blind that’s new since I was here last, so I was anxious to check it out!  Picked up Song Sparrows at the bridge, and the blind overlooks a wonderful little lake with trees all along its banks that were turning all shades of reds and yellows!  Both Orange-crowned and Myrtle Warblers were in the trees around the blind, and several Pied-billed Grebes were out in the water.  In the distance some crows were calling; even that can be exciting when you don't get them in the Valley!

Resaca at the bridge to the blind

An American Goldfinch gives it's ba-boy call at the bridge.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Two view of the little lake at the blind

 

Pied-billed Grebe (visible in the top picture above)

A Turkey Vulture soars overhead

            Continued on and had a Killdeer and young White Ibis in perfect light at one little pond, but it was pretty quiet overall; disappointingly there were no ducks or geese at all (although I heard some cranes in the distance early on).  The requisite Caracara and White-tailed Hawks did make a showing, and Harriers were all over the place!

Killdeer

           

Young White Ibis

   

Savannah Sparrows on the way out

After finishing the loop I made a right on FM 3013 and made the first left I could on Spalinger, which was a good dirt road.  The habitat looked great for Sprague’s Pipits, and after all the rain there were a lot of flooded fields; one little pond had both species of yellowlegs.  Once again I was leap-frogging with a big ol’ pickup (they were poking along as well, and I kinda suspect they were hunters checking things out…), and at one point I stepped out to photograph a distant “bird-nado”, when I suddenly realized I was looking at swarms of geese and ducks!  Then I could hear the Snows and Whitefronts for sure, but they were too far away to pick out anything else.  Spalinger dumped out on FM 1093, so I took a right and then another right on Beal Road (another good caliche road), and that took me to the other side of the goose mob, but they were still too distant to really see well.  Adding those roads brought the route up to about 14 miles, so that’s a good length!

"Bird-nadoes" made up of thousands of ducks and geese!

 

   

Young Red-shouldered Hawk on the way out

            Headed on in to Sealy where the receptionist said that most of the restaurants around here had closed early, so I got the cooler iced up, got some water and snacks, and settled down with some noodles, which really tasted pretty good!  My co-workers had a very nice stay when they lodged here on a recent job, I’ll say that much (although they admitted they were too tired to notice...)!

Click here to continue to Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR (the next morning)

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