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Christmas Trip 2003

Part 15: Aransas NWR

All photographs © 2004 Mary Beth Stowe

After getting laundry done I checked out, got ice and food, and headed north. I was gonna take I-75 but at the last minute decided to rake the Turnpike for old time’s sake. Big mistake! Ran into several Parking Lots around Orlando, and the service plazas were packed! Sure wasn’t like the old days! Live and learn...

Made it to Ocala where my afternoon walk yielded a new trip bird: Carolina Chickadee! The next day made it to Hammond fine, and the weather the next day was better, although it was freezing again! Somewhere on the way to Port Lavaca I pulled over to do something, and as I did so suddenly noticed the huge flock of white geese right next to the road! They were mostly Snows, of course, but with more Blues than we get in California, but as in California there were a few Ross’ right near the front! That was a nice state bird, but led me to believe that I probably didn’t know what to look for when I was here way back in 1978, because I’m sure they must have been in those huge flocks I witnessed back then.


Goose flock on the way to Port Lavaca, Texas; the larger ones are Snows, the smaller ones are Ross’, with perhaps even a hybrid or two...  In the center is a blue morph of the Snow Goose, with a smaller Ross’ in front, but the shape of the latter’s bill (plus the presence of a “grin patch”) may indicate some Snow genes.

The Best Western at Port Lavaca advertised a bird refuge nearby, so since I got in so early I checked it out; it was shades of Jax again with what felt like below zero wind chills, but they had a great boardwalk, and the wind didn’t stop the Clapper Rails any! They were out and close! A flock of both cowbirds was near the bathrooms as well.


Formosa Wetlands Walkway in Port Lavaca, with a Killdeer and Black-bellied Plover


Left:  Great Blue Heron.  Center and right:  Clapper Rails uncharacteristically out in the open!


Spotted Sandpiper (note the birdie prints in the background!) and Bronzed Cowbirds

Had a nice hot breakfast next door and headed out to Aransas NWR the next morning, where it was still frigid but at least it wasn’t raining as forecast! Things were really quiet; ran into a ranger who gave me a head’s up about Black-bellied Whistling Ducks still hanging around! Took the Rail Trail where I kicked up a Marsh Wren, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and peeping Swamp Sparrows, but that was about it. So since my time was limited, I decided to go ahead and do the auto tour first and hit any trails as I had time.


White-tailed Deer along the Rail Trail

After the trails, the drive opens up next to Aransas Bay, and there were oodles of Pintail, Wigeon, Gadwall, and even a spoonbill among the egrets! Also had a female Red-breasted Merganser and a loon way out there, as well as what I suspected was a Neotropic Cormorant (it seemed quite small and needle-nosed), but I just couldn’t get a definitive view.


View of Aransas Bay from the Wildlife Drive (and storm hammering Rockport...)

Stopped at Jones Lake and walked to the platform, and what should I hear chattering but Least Grebes! Naturally I couldn’t find anything but Pied-billeds, and since they were at least "rare" (didn’t double-check the checklist, but I know they’re not expected), I knew I probably wouldn’t be believed without a sighting! But I did find the Black-bellied Whistlers way in the back, along with some Redheads! There was also a flock of Lesser Scaup there, new for the trip.


Jones Lake and view from the observation tower

The Observation Tower was next, where disappointingly there were no Whoopers, but plenty of waders and White Pelicans that had me going for a minute! A little pond by the boardwalk was stuffed with Ring-billed Gulls, several dowitchers, and Greater Yellowlegs, plus a single Lesser Yellowlegs and Willet in with them.


A little pond by the boardwalk was like the local pub, containing Ring-billed Gulls, dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs, and Willets!


Long-billed Dowitchers feed like sewing machines!

Continued on the tour, stopping almost every mile (where there was a convenient turnout), and it was really quiet and windy; not as bad as the day before, but I evidently got blasted by the looks of my face that night! But there were a few nice things: a distant Osprey chowing down, flocks of Butterbutts with the occasional Orangecrown, Eastern Phoebe, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Swamp Sparrow (seen, finally), and the best bird of all: a snoozing Snipe next to the road! I had scared up what looked like a feral hog earlier, but later had an honest-to-goodness Collared Peccary feeding right next to the car! A small plane flew low overhead; I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the Whooping Crane survey plane!


I almost drove right by this snoozing Wilson’s Snipe!  The Great Egret was more conspicuous...


Close-up encounter with a Collared Peccary!

On the way out I took the Dagger Point Trail, which, while pretty, I have to remind myself to scratch next time: uphill in sand is no fun! Had only enough time for one more trail after that, so instead of hitting the observation tower one more time I headed for Heron Flats, where a Blue Goose was giving this couple fits! There were also a few Hooded Mergansers in there, as well as several Little Blue Herons flying around. Alas, all too soon I had to turn around, and even wrapping up at 1:00 got me into San Benito at 5:30! And what a mess coming down: I’m glad I decided against the boat, as Rockport was getting hammered with rain!


Dagger Point Trail   

There’s a Best Western north of Harlingen where, had I to do it again, I’d stay instead of going to San Benito, as I wouldn’t have to backtrack and I’d avoid the construction mess (but hopefully that’d be done the next time). Picked up lots of Caracaras, a Harris’ Hawk, and a White-tailed along this stretch of "Hawk Alley" though! I see where they’re planning on making this stretch (along with the parallel highway) a new interstate; that’ll make it pretty tough to stop and hawk-watch along this Brown Bin spot!

And the guy gave me a suite for the regular price cuz that’s all they had on the first floor! The water here is terrible (I thought at first something was wrong with my Cup O Noodles), but I survived...

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