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Big Week 2014

Part 6:  Angelina National Forest

Again was wide awake before the alarm went off, so after reading Joe Kennedy’s report on Anahuac I looked to see if I could make a last minute cancellation and go to Anahuac and High Island after all, but I couldn’t (and besides, I didn’t have the directions handy), so decided to stick with the original plan (I realized later that what appeals to me regarding the wildlife refuges over the migrant traps is that the latter are usually “in town”, and I’d just as soon avoid “in town” when I’m birding, but for this week’s purposes, “in town” would probably be best).

And I got a huge dose of “in town” when I pulled into Galveston this afternoon, but I’m getting ahead of myself J:  instead of going to that dicey dirt road first thing, I decided to take the paved road down to Boykin Springs, stopping every half mile.  And what a treat:  Chuck-will’s-widows right next to the car were almost drowned out by the Cardinals, and I was surprised that even a full hour before dawn you could see the eastern sky starting to light up!  But about two miles in (and in the burned area, yet), I was pleased as punch to hear the first Bachman’s Sparrow of the morning!  He was in the distance, but I was just happy to get ‘im!

A Chuck-will's-widow greets the dawn...

Dawn chorus:  a Carolina Wren is the dominant songster, along with a smacking Brown Thrasher, the pleasant trills of what I'm assuming are Pine Warblers (and not Chipping Sparrows), distant Crows, and a major target of the area, a Bachman's Sparrow (listen for a high "inhale" followed by a musical trill)

And I thank God a million times over that I came last night to check the area out, because there was neither sound nor sight of a Red-cockaded Woodpecker all morning (and besides Boykin Springs, I stumbled upon another area north of SR 63 that had several nesting trees, but it was very quiet)!  A pair of Belted Kingfishers rattled over the water, and there were tons of what I’m assuming were mostly Pine Warblers singing, as I did manage to see one (Chippies sound identical to my ear, but I didn’t see any of the latter).  I heard some squeaking on the way out where the woodpeckers were the night before, but this time it turned out to be the Brown-headed Nuthatches putting up a fuss!

A pair of Brown-headed Nuthatches fuss around their nest site.

The bright chirp of a female Pine Warbler, excited by the nuthatches' fussing.

Susan Foster had given me coordinates for a territorial Bachman’s that she knew about, and since the route I had mapped out went right by that intersection (the two roads were 326 and 327), and sure enough, this one was very close!  Couldn’t get him to show himself (he was probably in plain sight but a little bird waaay up the tree is next to impossible for me to spot unless he moves) but was happy to get a very nice recording!  Making a turn I was thrilled to see two Mississippi Kites on a dead tree, and turning yet another corner had a Black-and-white Warbler singing loudly at another stop!  The road left the Forest and went through private property at several spots, but hit the swallow jackpot at the Baptist church with gobs of Purple Martins and Tree Swallows on the telephone lines!

Bachman's Sparrow, with a Carolina Wren in the background.

Indigo Bunting in the forest.

Where CR 327 gets into more mixed forest.

The high-pitched song of the Black-and-white Warbler, with the lower whistle of a titmouse in the background.

A troupe of Blue Jays pass through giving a variety of calls, and are seen off by a Cardinal and Carolina Wren at the end.

A pair of Purple Martins on the wires near the Baptist church


They shared the wires with several Tree Swallows as well.

The road I was on “T”ed with a paved road near a very open field where a Blue Grosbeak was singing (there were several dead trees, so I was wondering if a bad fire went through there at some point).  Things were quieting down by then, so I decided to close out the BBS-protocol and just head down to some of the shoreline spots to see what I could find.  The paved road “T”ed with R255, so I took that north hoping to find Ebenezer Park, but overshot it and ended up at Overlook Park!  It was a lovely view, but relatively birdless except for Barn and Rough-winged Swallows and a singing Orchard Oriole, but a couple pulled in, saw that I was birding, and pointed me to a road across the street that takes you down to the Angelina River where Bald Eagles are often seen!  I thanked them profusely and headed down, and it was indeed a lovely scenic view.  No eagles, but did have a few Broadies circling overhead, more Mississippi Kites, and a couple of Great Blue Herons, along with what I assumed was another Plains Clubtail until the good folks at TexOdes confirmed it as a Cocoa Clubtail!  Went back up to the overlook to use the facilities and call my boss back, and enjoyed a sandwich while trying to solve her problem (something about crisis management while enjoying a stupendous view of Lake Rayburn that is very relaxing J), then headed to Ebenezer Park.  Picked up an Eastern Towhee that only did a couple of songs before shutting up, and while crawling around the area spotted a melanistic Eastern Gray Squirrel!  Over at the boat ramp had another stupendous view from a wooded, elevated spit, where a Baltimore Oriole and Blue Grosbeak were flopping around, but while scanning over the lake I happened to spot a distant “black in the middle and white on both ends” blob powering past the fishing boats!  Was very glad to bag the Bald Eagle, even if it was a distant view (and thankfully it was an adult)! 

Blue Grosbeak singing in a burned-out area.


Eastern Kingbird at the lake overlook.

Angelina River

Cocoa Clubtail

Mississippi Kite


Melanistic Eastern Gray Squirrel at Ebenezer Park

View from the bluff near the boat ramp

Only had time for one more peek at the lake from the end of a dicey road, heading through the aforementioned Red-cockaded Woodpecker area, where yet more Bachman's Sparrows were singing their little hearts out!  According to the map I guess this little spot was called Sandy Creek, where all I picked up was a Pied-billed Grebe and a couple of spooky guys who came tearing over in their boat, probably wondering what I was up to (there was a beat-up chair there, so maybe they were camping…)!  Headed to Galveston after that, keeping an eye out for Swallow-tailed Kites as I was driving right through the area everyone says they hang out (Liberty/Dayton area—BTW, I must have driven in and out of Liberty three or four times!!  Either there are several “Liberties” or the town is laid out really weird…

Going through more pineywoods habitat...

Yet another Bachman's Sparrow sings, along with a Carolina Wren and a distant Indigo Bunting.  I suspect the "seeps" heard in the recording are the sparrow's mate calling from a nest...

Sandy Creek?

Traffic was tense all the way from Dayton to Galveston, and to top it off, something was going on in the marsh to the north of I-45, as there was a helicopter hovering over some spot with a couple of law enforcement vehicles next to the road, and traffic going out of Galveston was at a standstill! 

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