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Christmas Trip 2003

Part 16: Laguna Atascosa NWR

All photographs © 2004 Mary Beth Stowe

Woke up early and decided to brave the wet roads in the dark just to get through that construction before the traffic started. Kept getting turned around; finally found a gas station (wanted a restaurant to kill time at but couldn't find one) and the road to Rio Hondo. Driving in the dark was horrible; I really had to go by faith, as each time I was sure I was lost, there was a sign! I had forgotten that you pass through a little slice of the refuge before you get to the headquarters, so I ended up swinging back and forth along this cratered road like a wasp trying to get in a nest hole that's been closed up, until a nice utility man stopped and led me to the right place!

Turns out the timing wasn't bad: after using the restroom it was light enough to hike the Muddy Mesquite Trail (boy, were my boots layered after that one!) where several Rio Grande specialties made themselves known, predominantly Great Kiskadee and Green Jay. House Wrens were scolding all over, and one active bush had both vireos, Black-crested Titmouse, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and probable Olive Sparrows (finally got one out along the Paisano Trail). Also had a nice Black-and-white Warbler in with them. At trail's end a Long-billed Thrasher was alternately thrashing and whistling.

       

Long-billed Thrasher along the entrance to the very muddy Mesquite Trail

Back at the parking lot a guy was excitedly running back to his car for his camera, so I gathered the feeders had been filled! And had they ever: besides the ubiquitous grackles and Redwings (I was shocked that there were no cowbirds) a mob of Chachalacas had taken over the tray! A Golden-fronted Woodpecker was trying to hone in as well as the jays. I headed over to the photo blind followed by the guy's wife, and that place was of course overrun with the same (minus the Chachas), but included White-tipped Doves and a token Mourning and Common Ground. The jays were as delightful as ever, and a Cardinal added some additional color to the group. Eventually hubby showed up, and I learned the couple was from New York; this was their first time here, so they were thrilled, especially the guy with the camera!

  

Feeder moochers include Plain Chachalacas and Great-tailed Grackles

           

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers

           

Left and center:  Great-tailed Grackles.  Right:  Red-winged Blackbird

              

Left: young and adult male Red-winged Blackbird.  Center and right:  White-tipped Doves

               

Left and center:  Green Jays.  Right:  Northern Cardinal 

I headed on to the Lakeside Loop, scaring up a Bobcat scurrying across the road! Nothing much in the ponds, and it had started to drip again, so I didn't hike the trail. Laguna Atascosa was full to the brim; it was hard to believe it was dry as a bone last time! Back on the main auto trail there were lots of Roadrunners trying to hide, and had a particularly funny one on his Namesake's Trail (Paisano) where he went tearing down the trail in front of me, occasionally spreading his wings for a little extra lift! It was still rather dreary, but I got in a good exercise walk with the regular dickeys, adding Bewick's Wren and tons of Mockers.

    

Typical Laguna Atascosa landscape on the Paisano Trail, with the trail's namesake Greater Roadrunner ("Paisano" in Spanish)

I checked out all the yuccas for an Aplomado Falcon, but got a knock-down gorgeous White-tailed Hawk instead! (And inadvertently erased the picture...) The Laguna Madre overlook was productive with three species of plover (including a cute Piping), a turnstone, and other stuff. I should say, too, that there's water (and consequently ducks and coots) everywhere, unlike the last two times I was here! Laguna Madre had lots of Pintail and Redheads, and Dunlin and dowitchers joined the shorebird lineup. Ospreys were all over the place, and at one crossover had a Stilt Sandpiper in with the dowitchers. Had both stilts and avocets as well, and both ibis put in an appearance. At one stop I was scoping the ducks and heard this noise that reminded me of a Tawny Frogmouth of all things (a tenor whua-whua-whua-whua), and it turned out to be the wingbeats of three White Pelicans flying over low; the air was so dense you could hear them! The stars of that leg, however, had to be the group of Groove-billed Anis sunning (!!!) themselves on the top of the bush! I was shocked to get them this time of year (even though the checklist says "uncommon"; I've only gotten them in the dead of summer before)! While I had the scope out I noticed an egret doing convulsions; turned out to be a white morph Reddish Egret doing his thing fairly close to shore!

   

Laguna Madre; the weather was so dreary you couldn't pick out the horizon!  At right is a Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet.

    

Northern Shovelers (including a male in eclipse plumage) and a Blue-winged Teal

                           

Two Dunlin, an Osprey with lunch, and two Stilt Sandpipers

             

A Loggerhead Shrike watches patiently for lunch while a white morph Reddish Egret does his thing out in the bay...

           

Northern Mockingbird and Groove-billed Anis sunning (despite the lack of sun...)

Hiked the Moranco Blanco Trail when I came to it, and managed to get both pipits (American going in and Sprague's coming out), but the funniest thing was this huge field dotted with Ospreys just sitting on the ground; there had to be at least 12 of them! A nice Gull-billed Tern was also catching bugs.

After that I was stopping every mile as the road went inland; still no falcons, but lots of dickeys still singing, and in the wetlands had fighting curlews, nervous yellowlegs, and a roadside snipe! Ran into a couple of birders from Ventura also looking vainly for falcons; ran into them again at the Kiskadee Trail after shooting a cute kinglet insisting on feeding on something on this tree, despite my presence! Back at the feeders, a gang of Peccaries had replaced the chachalacas!

         

More wetland birds included a White-faced Ibis and an immature Little Blue (yes, honest) Heron

                

Left:  Wilson's Snipe; center and right:  Long-billed Curlews ; female on right has a much longer bill

              

Lesser Yellowlegs on the foggy auto trail

      

Hazy conditions give an eerie effect to the wetlands!  Meanwhile, back at the VC, Peccaries are invading the feeders! (Note the lone Green Jay on top...)

                                     

This Ruby-crowned Kinglet found something irresistible in the sap it was trying to get at!   At right is an Orange-crowned Warbler.

Headed out after using the restroom once again, and on the road heading to Rio Hondo I noticed a car pulled over with a camera on a tripod, and then I saw what he was shooting: sitting on the corner of an old abandoned building right next to the road was an Aplomado Falcon! He took off just as I got on him, and as I pulled up to the other car I noticed it was the couple from New York! He said he thought he saw it land on a distant post, so I pulled over, found the beauty, and started digiscoping as this ranger pulls right in between me and the bird and tells me to pull off the road! (I looked at Jip and thought I was pulled off the road, but you know how it gets when you get excited...) I just kept glued to that position with a stupid grin on my face, thanking him repeatedly for the warning, so I guess he decided not to press it and went on his way (probably thinking some choice things about obsessive birders), and I continued shooting as more birders pulled up, parked (well off the road; I warned them), and enjoyed the bird!

Somehow missed the turnoff and ended up going through Harlingen to get to US85 (and during rush hour that was no fun), but eventually made it to the hotel (after a celebratory dinner at Outback) and crashed!

       Finally--the Aplomado Falcon! (...and I don't care if they are hacked...)

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