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Christmas Trip 2003

Part 2: The First Drive Through Texas

All photographs © 2003 Mary Beth Stowe

Spent the next day driving to Fort Stockton, reminding myself to forget about muffins of any kind for breakfast (ugh)! It was a gorgeous day, and I love to pass the time by channel surfing and listening to radio preachers or commentators or news or whatever talk I can find (within reason; I confess I don't have much interest in the call-in auto mechanic programs...), but there wasn't much along this stretch, so the Panama bird tapes and classical stations had to suffice...

Since I was gonna get into Fort Stockton before 3:00, I decided to check out Lake Balmorhea (sounds like a disease). The sign said it was a Brown Bin Spot, but the office area looked rather seedy (and locked up to boot), so I decided to head out to the state park instead, but not before picking up White Pelicans on the lake and a Roadrunner on the road (of course), along with several shrikes.


Left:  Roadrunner on the way to Lake Balmorhea.  Right:  Walk to the little wetland at Balmorhea State Park

The state park was a postage stamp with a teeny wetland, but it did happen to have Coots, a Pied-billed Grebe, and a Marsh Wren! A walk around the campground kicked up a bunch of Whiteys, a Verdin, another Pyrr, and a Say’s Phoebe (which turned out to be the only one of the trip) guarding the restroom. I found out way later that the main reason this is considered a Brown Bin Spot is for the fish in the natural pool they have there, which is enclosed, but evidently people do a lot of diving (i.e., SCUBA) in it.


L-R:  the wetland, Pied-billed Grebe, and Verdin


L-R:  American Coot, Pyrrhuloxia, Say's Phoebe, and immature White-crowned Sparrow   

It was another gorgeous drive through the Hill Country the next day, and I was sick to think that the vireo and warbler weren’t there! But it looked as though I was gonna hit Houston about quitting time (San Antonio was a bear), so instead of heading in I decided to stop at Sealy and spend the late afternoon at Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR! It was a great choice: instead of a Dickcissel every five feet like my previous visits I had tons of Savannah Sparrows coming in, and vultures of both types overhead! A stop at the entrance sign brought in a Caracara, and I could hear White-fronted Geese in the distance! But what was really thrilling was hearing that squeakit call overhead that is clearly not American Pipit nor Horned Lark: Sprague’s were definitely here, and considered common according to the checklist!


A quick stop at APC NWR to pick up Crested Caracaras and other goodies!

Made a brief stop at the visitor’s center where I got a checklist and poked my head in to see Ranger Gwen, whom I always like to touch base with when I go through! She said the CBCers were there, and I told her about my small flock of Sprague’s Pipits (which according to the checklist were just as expected as Americans). So we had a good visit, and then it was off to the wildlife drive!

On the auto trail I stopped every half mile, and at the first stop my heart flipped: there was a little buffy sparrow next to the Savannah on the wire! The checklist said LeConte’s were common, and that’s what I thought it was, but a closer look at the book revealed it was just a Grasshopper (LeConte’s has much stronger streaking on the sides). A shrike was bombing a hawk that I initially ID’d as an immature Ferrugie (he appeared to have feathered tarsi, a more mottled head, the wingtips didn’t appear to project beyond the tail, and when he fanned said tail I didn‘t notice a black terminal band), but looking at the digiscoped pictures later they looked more like a Whitetail, showing a more solidly gray head and rufous near the shoulders.


These digiscoped images are of a very distant hawk that I initially thought was a young Ferruginous, but the blowups suggest White-tailed. 

Fortunately I saw a bona fide Ferrugie later (and Whitetails way later, for that matter), so I could at least count it for the trip! A snipe in a mud sloop was very cooperative for pictures, and then I eventually came to the goose field! It was glorious, with tons of Snows, Blues, and Whitefronts, and I was even able to pick out a few Ross’! Down the road had more ducks, including Mottled for the trip. But the strangest bird of the day was this pale songbird that turned out to be an albino Brown-headed Cowbird! On the way back to Sealy had a pair of Caracaras that posed (briefly) for pics!

More digiscoped images...


L-R:  Savannah Sparrow, Wilson's Snipe, and albino Brown-headed Cowbird


Tons of geese (mostly Snows, along with Blues and Greater White-fronted) winter here!


Left:  Snow Geese flying in.  Center:  Greater White-fronted Goose.  Right:  Sunset on the refuge 


Posing Eastern Phoebes


Crested Caracaras bedding down for the night

After a BBQ dinner, went and crashed!

Continue to Fort Clinch State Park

Return to Sulphur Springs Valley