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Part 2:  Muleshoe NWR

Getting around Lubbock was a breeze, picking up a large flock of Cattle Egrets on the US 84 on-ramp (I waved to Tony Heweston as I went by J), and once in Littlefield, instead of checking in at the Best Western as originally planned, I decided to head straight to Muleshoe as I was running behind (and I got gas at the BW exit, so that gave me an orientation).  Once on FM 57 I realized right away that I wasn’t gonna be doing 70 mph in the dark on that skinny road!  But what we did find was great:  a beautiful Ferruginous Hawk!  Once at the refuge, I stopped to take the obligatory picture of the entrance sign, then started scouting a driving route.  The steers provided comedy relief on the way to Goose Lake and back, only I wouldn’t have been able to hike that trail if I wanted to:  the inevitable happened and I was unable to squeeze by the hiker’s opening by the gate! L  But I did get American Pipits flying overhead for the day.

           

Fluffy Ferruginous Hawk along FM 57

Obligatory entrance sign...

Typical habitat going in

Road to Goose Lake with guardian steers...

Goose lake itself (with gate I couldn't get through...)

Curious steer on the way out

Swinging in to the headquarters area, a beautiful Flicker bounced up and over, and a Sharpie batted around the maintenance area.  There’s a great-looking little trail with trees by the campground—that would wait for tomorrow!  The refuge road dumps out on CR 149, so I followed that up to paved SR 298, and that was a great road (so long as it didn't rain: the thing would be impassable red clay if it did)!  Western Meadowlarks were singing out the yin yang, and a nice Red-tailed Hawk posed for pictures.  Further on was a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers, but the road passes through a variety of habitats (including what looks like what used to be a wonderful little freshwater marsh in its day), but the effects of the drought are really apparent with all the dead and dying trees.

Adult Red-tailed Hawk

   

Immature Red-tailed Hawk has yellow eyes.

The Texas Wildlife Viewing Map mentions a “driving route” up FM 1731, so I wanted to include that in “my” route for the next day, but ended up scrapping it pretty quickly, as there is no place to pull over on that road!  So I looped around back to the main refuge and started over, this time turning right on SR 298, where there are sporadic spots to pull over, but once on SR 214 you have plenty of shoulder, and even though the speed limit is 75 along there, there wasn’t much traffic, so I was hoping that would be the case the next day as well!  There’s another little wildlife drive to Paul’s Lake which I also planned to include, where there’s an observation platform and hundreds of Sandhill Cranes that had just taken off!  The new route ended up being just about 20 miles, so that was perfect!

Throng of Sandhill Cranes

Wheeled in to the BW, adding my beloved “Boo Jays” to the list while unpacking the car!  Headed out in thick fog the next morning, a little concerned because it looked as though it had rained overnight!  But God got us to the refuge safe and sound without hitting anything; in fact, in spots it was rather ethereal because the fog was actually just above the car, and it was something like Dave Bowman's wild ride in 2001: A Space Odyssey!

We ended up arriving about a half-hour before dawn, where it was actually quite quiet except for distant Sandhill Cranes.  As it got gradually lighter, however, both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks started tuning up, a Curve-billed Thrasher whistled in the distance, and a few Brewer’s Blackbirds flew by unseen.  Before long the cranes flew right overhead, giving a great concert!

Dawn chorus:  both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, Sandhill Cranes, and (probably) Savannah Sparrows "seeping".

Sandhill Cranes flying overhead

Foggy morning at the refuge

Goose Lake Road (without the steers...)

Goose Lake was socked in, of course, but by the time we got to White Lake the fog was lifting nicely, well enough to pick out some ducks and Avocets on the lake!  You had to walk down a bit to see anything, so I didn’t bother bringing the scope.  Horned Larks were chasing each other on the drive, and a Loggerhead Shrike scolded while I climbed the hill back to the car.

Socked-in Goose Lake

Picturesque fence

Heading on...

The dike at White Lake

White Lake

Picked up the Euro-trash at the headquarters building, then parked in the campground and took about ten minutes’ worth of the trail.  It was beautiful walk with meadowlarks out the yin yang of course, but also picked up Kestrel, Flicker, and three kinds of sparrows for the trip (and they fooled me again:  I kept hearing this pink and thinking, “Blue Grosbeaks oughta be gone by now!”  Then the Lord reminded me:  “What would fool you every fall in San Diego?”  Duh—White-crowned Sparrows!  Coming back the sun shining on the grasses and the spiderwebs was just stunning!

Nature Trail

Grassland along the trail

     

Savannah Sparrow

Bobwhite trying to blend in...

Covey call (amongst a cacophony of Western Meadowlarks...)

Going back, the sun shining through the grass was beautiful!

 

Spider web

Bridge taking you back to the campground

I played a mental drum roll wheeling onto CR 149 (when I walked to the car that morning it was obvious it had rained overnight), but it was dry as a bone thankfully, so on we went, and it was a great drive!  Sparrows were all over:  in addition to the Savannahs, there were several Chippies (and probably some Clay-colored that I missed), a couple of Vespers, and a flock of Lark Buntings!  But the star was something I didn’t really think twice about (although I thought it was a nice bird):  a Cassin’s Sparrows jumped up on the fence, and thankfully let me get some shots, as EBird flagged the thing later!  But it seemed to like the three Chestnut-collared Longspurs that kettled past (definitely a BVD on that one…)!  A Harrier broke up the party, and a very nice man passed me going the other way and wanted to make sure I was okay and apologized for “boogering up” the hawk; he must have been talking about the harrier, but he was long gone before we crossed paths!

Adventurous CR 149

Hard to tell, but it was quite the hill!

One of the ubiquitous Western Meadowlarks 

Vesper Sparrow

   

Savannah Sparrows

Grassland habitat along the road

   

Cassin's Sparrow, apparently unusual enough to get flagged by EBird!

That little woodland with the dead marsh had a few new things for the trip, such as Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Spotted Towhee, and Song Sparrow.  A Crow powered by as well, and down the road a little an Eastern Phoebe fed from the fence.  But once at the intersection with FM 298 I saw a dark raptor on the other side, so we crossed the highway and took a peek; turned out to be a dark morph Ferrugie!

Fixer-upper

Coming into some wooded area

What once was a marsh...

Dark morph Ferruginous Hawk across the highway

   

Fuzzy, but the diagnostic wing pattern is visible...

Heading east on FM 298

Heading down SR 214, the most exciting thing was a flyover Sprague’s Pipit, which to my surprise EBird also flagged!  One of the stops was conveniently at the Overlook Picnic Area, but there was nothing much there.  On the way in to Paul’s Lake I was thinking that the habitat looked perfect for McCown’s Longspurs, but what I noticed instead was a Prairie Dog town!  Sure enough, a little scanning produced a Burrowing Owl as well!  It was actually warming up pretty good, so several Dainty Sulphurs were bouncing around, along with these jet black grasshoppers with vivid, black-bordered red wings that rattled when they flew!  Was glad I brought that grasshopper book, because it nailed them as (are you ready?) Northwestern Red-winged Grasshoppers! J  Down at the lake I flushed a Prairie Falcon, and some Coots were in the cove, but that’s about all I could see: lots of shorebirds were right in the sun, so I let them go as “peep sp.”

Habitat along SR 214

View from the picnic area

Dainty Sulphur on the road to Paul's Lake

   

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs

Alarm call, along with rattling Northwestern Red-winged Grasshoppers!

Burrowing Owl hiding in the grass

The aforementioned Red-winged Grasshopper shows a beautiful black-bordered red hindwing in flight!

   

Say's Grasshopper (best guess...)

Click here to continue to Buffalo Lake NWR,

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