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Big Week 2014

Part 5:  Somerville State Park & WMA

            Headed out in the pitch the next morning, and Google let me down—I still got lost!  It took me up a route that was supposed to go up FM 1948 and connect with FM 2780 via Eberhardt Road, only Eberhardt Road petered out (or at least it left a lot to be desired…)!  So I fell back on the old-fashioned way and pulled out the Delorme Atlas and took what it showed to be major roads up to FM 180 and Nails Creek!  At least by stopping a couple of time in the dark, I picked up Barred Owl for the trip, and interestingly the only Purple Martins and Lark Sparrows of the day!

            Despite getting lost, I still made it to the state park right about dawn, where the dreaded deer were grazing just beyond the entrance station (I’ll never look at them the same again… L)!  We’re in the big woods with a decidedly eastern flavor now, adding Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, Brown Thrasher, and Tufted Titmouse to the trip list.  It was quite foggy to begin with, so I really didn’t get much of a look at the lake, but there were a few things hugging the shoreline, like Blue-winged Teal, Coots, Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, a Lesser Yellowlegs, and some Long-billed Dowitchers (I may have had a Baird’s Sandpiper in there as well, but it was just too far away to tell).  Was surprised to hear Neotropic Cormorants grunting this far north; forgot to bring my TOS Handbook in, but apparently they move clear up into Oklahoma in the summer according to an on-line map I found!  More Cedar Waxwings were in the picnic area, and at the “Family Fishing Pond”, a Northern Parula with a weird song finally came out when a titmouse responded to my pishing, then promptly decided to chase the parula around!  More ducks were at the boat ramp (including a pair of Shovelers), and a Spotted Sandpiper took off with its bowed wingbeats.  A Caracara powered by, which also surprised me, but they do get this far north!

Dawn chorus at the park entrance, consisting mostly of Cardinals, put also the peter-peter-peter of a Tufted Titmouse, the cooing of a Mourning Dove, and a distant American Crow.

"Concert" at the Family Pond:  besides the ubiquitous Cardinals, listen for the dee-dee-ZEEET! of a Carolina Chickadee, the rising buzz of a Northern Parula, the "triplet" song of a Carolina Wren, and the high-pitched weesee-weesee-deedeedee of a Nashville Warbler.

Marsh at the boat ramp with low-lying clouds in the distance

A Blue-winged Teal flaps at the boat ramp and then nervously swims into the reeds, quacking away!  (A Red-winged Blackbird sings in the background...)

Cedar Waxwing in the day use area. 

            There were several little trails in the park, but since I was anxious to road-bird the WMA, I just did a portion of the Somerville Trailway, which went through some lovely woodland where, in addition to the regulars, I was able to add Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Nashville Warbler, and (interestingly) Roadrunner to the day list!  The turnaround point was perfect:  there was a little path leading to some rocks that gave you a window out over the lake (although it was still socked in); here I kicked up a couple of White-throated Sparrows, and what I thought for sure was a distant flock of Sandhill Cranes turned out to be some kind of frog!  How embarrassing!

Scenes along the Nails Creek access to the Somerville Trailway

View of the lake from the turnaround point

Along the trail, a Nashville Warbler sings a wobbly song with a Cardinal in the background.

Another Northern Parula sings its rising, buzzy song.

Here a Tufted Titmouse gives a "Morse Code" variant of its song (listen carefully for the White-eyed Vireo in the background).

A Cardinal with an interesting song...

I had made a little Google map outlining a proposed road-birding route based on some wonderful information Richard Kostecke posted regarding his own visit there a couple of weeks ago.  The best stop by far (before I got lost again) was Newman Bottom:  the road to the parking area was heavily wooded, and at the little bridge heard a singing Swainson’s Warbler, which is one of the targets he mentioned!  (There was too much noise from a nearby pump to get a recording, though...)  The road then opens up into some prairie with a hidden pond, which I might have missed altogether had not some Snowy Egrets and a Great Blue Heron taken off!  Some Blue-winged Teal and a Solitary Sandpiper took off, and an Upland Sandpiper called somewhere overhead. 

Typical habitat along the roads

Blue-winged Teal

From the parking area, you cross another bridge that goes into the woods, and I needn’t have worried about missing Barred Owl, because one sounded off just as I got out of the car!  A Red-shouldered Hawk was also screaming, and the woods had “duetting” Yellow-billed Cuckoos and something pinking that could have been a waterthrush, but I just couldn’t pull it out.  A Pewee was tentatively singing as well.  The trail also opens up into beautiful pastureland with trees dotted here and there, where Carolina Chickadees were singing and chattering.  A circling raptor turned out to be a Broad-winged Hawk, and coming back had both Summer Tanager and Orchard Orioles singing, along with a Clubtail of some kind (best guess after consulting the book was Plains Clubtail) and a Blue-tipped Dancer (again, best guess).  A couple of knockout Buckeyes were flitting about along with a Question Mark.  A Savannah Sparrow popped up at the car, and a Harrier circled around on the drive out.

Trail going into Newman Bottom

A boisterous Carolina Wren with a competing Cardinal in the background and a titmouse near the end.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo (looped once)

Red-eyed Vireo, with an Eastern Wood Pewee at the end.

Question Mark along the trail

Once out of the woods, the trail opens up into a beautiful prairie!

A Carolina Chickadee chatters in a lone tree by the trail


Broad-winged Hawk

Heading back to the woods...


Two Common Buckeyes were trying to get some sun; the one on the right is a little more fresh.

Plains Clubtail

Interior of the woods

Blue-tipped Dancer

From there I weaved around all these little farm and county roads just to see what I could see; for being a rural area there were still enough residences that stopping regularly along the road proved problematic, but I managed to add a flyover Little Blue Heron, Cliff Swallows at a bridge, a singing Grasshopper Sparrow, Inca Dove, Bell’s Vireo, and White-crowned Sparrow to the list.  I wanted to take CR 134 around the back side of the WMA, but somehow I managed to get turned around and wound up on FM 111 (!!), so since it was 11:30 I decided to call it a day and head for Lufkin.  But before doing so, I backtracked to CR 135 (which is dirt) and drove down it a bit so I could pull over, unobtrusively drain the cooler, and make a sandwich before heading off.  But a big beautiful Pileated Woodpecker flying across the road was worth the detour!

One of the many county roads around the WMA

Painted Bunting along the road (with a Warbling Vireo in the background)


Black Vulture

One of many Cliff Swallows flying around a bridge where they were nesting


Familiar Bluet


Indian Paintbrush

Orange Sulphur chowing down

Headed to Lufkin through all new territory, and actually got there around 2:30, so decided to head on down to the Boykin Springs area just to make sure I could find it in the daylight and to scout some of those forest roads.  I’m very glad I did; a brown sign off SR 63 east of Zavalla directs you to the Uplands Wilderness Area, so I took that, and once past the “residential” section it dumps you off in deep, deep woodland!  Even this late in the day things were singing, and a sweet song I didn’t recognize at first turned out to be a Hooded Warbler.  The road swings around through another residence and maintenance buildings (I suspect they’re forest service folks) where a pair of Eastern Kingbirds was hanging out.  Continuing on, I passed through what looked like good Bachman’s Sparrow habitat, but also noticed where they were apparently doing a controlled burn all the way down to Boykin Springs!  I was wondering how that was going to affect the two target birds, as I was thinking about starting there first thing, as I was advised to get the woodpecker early, because they quit calling shortly after sunrise!  The road ends at a little roundabout and a path going up into the picnic area (and there is indeed a good-sized spring there), so I used the facilities and had just started the car up when I heard a suspicious-sounding harsh call, so I jumped out of the car and traced it down, and it was indeed a Red-cockaded Woodpecker!  He flew across the road where his mate was and the two were tapping away, and then decided to have a little discussion in something that sounded like a cross between a Brown-headed Nuthatch and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker!  I was very happy to get that one in the bank!  Just for good measure there was a Brown-headed Nuthatch sitting on one of the branches nearby!

Forest road leading into the Upland Island Wilderness of Angelina National Forest

Two Hooded Warblers sing while a Tufted Titmouse scolds

Eastern Kingbird near the ranger's residence

"Baxter" (the rental) at the Boykin Springs area.

The prize of the day:  a pair of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers having a marital discussion!  (Listen carefully for their tapping...)

Headed back to Lufkin for the night to stay at the Best Western (and the best one so far)!

Click here to return to South Llano River SP

Click here to continue to Angelina NF

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