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Christmas 2006

Part 5:  Laguna Atascosa NWR

For my last day in the Valley I birded Laguna Atascosa.  Hiked the Mesquite Trail first thing and padded the list with the common stuff while getting my exercise for the day.  Headed out on the Lake Road after that and checked out Osprey Overlook, where Laguna Atascosa had water in it this time!  (Sometimes it's bone dry...)  A Reddish Egret was doing his thing close to shore, and out in the open water added Ruddy Duck to the trip list; Pintail and Lesser Scaup were the other dominant ducks.

                      

Mesquite Trail and bunny at the headquarters

            

Osprey Overlook with Reddish Egret

Headed out on the wildlife drive after that, where a very friendly Myrtle Warbler came out to pishing as well as Lincoln's Sparrows.  Past the thorn forest it turned out to be a great day for raptors, as a Harrier flushed from the side of the road, and a stunning White-tailed Hawk was sitting on one of the yuccas!  Three Caracaras sailed overhead, and Kestrels were all over.  I stopped at the seasonal wetland (which was dry) just to scan and listen, and had I not decided to turn around and read the interpretive sign, I never would have seen the two Aplomado Falcons sitting on the posts close to the road!  What a rush (even if they are hacked...)!  But I hadn't gone far before I flushed his bigger cousin: a beautiful Peregrine!  There turned out to be several of these along the drive!

       

Eastern Butterbutts (aka "Myrtle" Warbler)

               

Shy White-tailed Hawk and Peregrine Falcon (with an itch at right...)

        

Reintroduced Aplomado Falcons

Continuing on a pair of Roadrunners scrambled out of the way, to be followed by a family of Bobwhite!  Up at the first look at Laguna Madre, a handful of White Ibis were out quite a ways, as well as three Red-breasted Mergansers.  The usual herons, terns, gulls, and shorebirds were represented, in addition to Black-bellied Plovers for the trip.  Down the drive a ways I had a group of dowitchers and dunlin close to shore; I assumed the former were Long-billed until they took off and proved themselves otherwise! Interestingly, the checklist doesn't even show them occurring here this time of year!

   

Laguna Madre and Greater Roadrunner

It turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day, so I was anxious to get back to the butterfly garden and see what I could kick up.  At one of the trailheads a gorgeous Buckeye was guarding the road, chasing away everything that came near!  White-fronted Geese were cackling somewhere in the distance, and as I approached the visitor's center the sky was full of vultures!  The most butterfly activity seemed to be between the Kiskadee Trail and the refuge office, so I spent most of my time in that area; a couple of gals (one of them was the aforementioned Katherine) were also butterflying and pointed out a couple of new ones for me: a Pale-veined Skipper and a female Blue Metalmark!  Most everything else was "old hat", if you dare to call it that: both Queens and Soldiers in good numbers, plus Little Yellows, Large Orange Sulphurs, "small" Orange Sulphurs (including a mating pair; I wondered if the beat-up one was the female...), Vesta and and Texan Crescents, Mallow Scrub Hairstreaks, Tropical Checkered and Laviana White Skippers, Mexican and Gulf Fritillaries, Common Mestras, and lots of White Peacocks, not to mention all those frustrating little brown skippers...  New for the trip was a Western Pygmy Blue, and finally had a Clytie Ministreak (I had been mistaking Mallows for them previously), plus another nice Silver-banded Hairstreak.  Some of the crescents really confused me, as some looked almost like a cross between Phaons and Vestas (plus I saw some photos of Pearl Crescents on the web that looked just like--to me, anyway--some of the Phaons I had been seeing)!  My lep friends helped me with that (although some of the pictures had them scratching their heads as well...)!

           

More goodies along the wildlife drive included yet another Peregrine Falcon, a Little Yellow, and Common Buckeye

              

Butterflies near the Kiskadee Trail included Lyside Sulphur and Little Yellows

          

Western Pygmy Blue

                   

Clytie Ministreak (left) and the similar Mallow Scrub Hairstreak

         

What I thought were Southern Dogfaces here were actually Orange Sulphurs according to my experts; the photo on the right is of a mating pair (is the beat-up one the female? ☺)

                               

The Soldier (similar to the Queen but with stronger veining) and the similar (and more familiar) Monarch (right)

  

Texan Crescent and White Peacock

           

Vesta Crescents; the right-most photo is typical, while the left two almost look like a Vesta/Phaon cross!

                        

Laviana White Skippers

              

Female Blue Metalmark (left) and Eufala Skippers

        

L-R:  Whirlabout, possible Dun Skipper, and Fiery Skipper

             

Pale-rayed Skippers

I got distracted, however, when I heard not one, but at least two of those whitting Empids!  So I scrambled over to the Kiskadee Trail, and this time the thing was somewhat cooperative, and based on what I could see (plus the photos I was able to get), I was strongly leaning towards Yellow-bellied Flycatcher; as I alluded to in the Santa Ana trip report, the vocalizations reminded me of the birds we had in Belize, plus the bird I saw at Atascosa did have a distinct yellowish wash on the belly, plus there didn't seem to be much contrast on the throat.  But when I showed the pictures at our local bird club, I couldn’t get a solid ID commitment out of anyone, and one guy suggested that young Leasts can still show an awful lot of yellow underneath, so that’s probably what they all were. Also apparently rare there but more likely than the Empids was a calling Northern Beardless Tyrannulet.

               

A strange Empid on the Kiskadee Trail temporarily pulls us away from butterflies; the consensus was Least Flycatcher, despite the yellow wash on the belly (which young empids can show).

The garden on the other side of the parking lot, where the gazebo is, wasn't nearly as active, but it hosted the star of the whole show for me: a magnificent Giant Swallowtail!  Green Jays were carrying on soft conversation all the while, and this one bush full of berries was also full of American Robins, a Kiskadee, and a Long-billed Thrasher chowing down!

                      

The spectacular Giant Swallowtail and a Great Southern White (right)

                    

L-R:  Female Tropical Checkered Skippers, Silver-banded Hairstreak, Obscure Skipper, Mexican Fritillary, and Wasp Moth sp.

              

L-R:  Ello Sphinx, Black-crested Titmouse, Long-billed Thrasher, and Great Kiskadee

I was pretty tired by then so called it a day and headed out on the long drive to Florida.  Got as far as Robinson I believe it was (my map was in the car when I wrote this) where the closest restaurant to the Best Western was a nice healthy Whataburger J, and their continental breakfast didn’t open till 7:30 (!!!), so I grabbed a cinnamon roll from the Circle K next door and headed north. It was foggy much of the way, but by the time I hit Houston the sun was shining and it was a lovely day.  Got as far as Orange, Texas, and had dinner at a greasy spoon that had wonderful fried catfish, but it sure didn’t like me! (The "pink stuff" took care of that, though… J) This is sure a colorful part of the country as I listened in on the conversations around me!

Made it as far as Defuniak Springs the next day; started out foggy again but then cleared by the afternoon. That was really a blessing, because I would have been looking directly into the sun all morning! From there headed down to Sanibel.

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