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Lower Panhandle

Part 5:  McClellan Creek NG

After missing the turnoff (they alert you to a rec area, not the NG or FM 2477), finally made it back to the right exit, and decided that FM 2477 itself would be a great birding road!  Thankfully the dirt roads in the rec area itself (for the most part) were in good shape (except for one that went down the hill; it was shades of slipping and sliding at Hagerman all over again), so the park host gave me an envelope that I could have ready to go when I arrived in the morning!  It’s really a lovely place with lots of big trees and open area, but there is no lake—it apparently dried up a long time ago, and now it’s just wetland vegetation, kind of like San Diego's Lake Morena in spots.  FM 2477 then goes through some promising agricultural areas (I had a couple of Vesper Sparrows while scouting, and possibly a flock of longspurs bouncing over, but I didn’t get the engine turned off fast enough to hear them), and since the rain was supposed to be done, I was looking forward to it!

View of East Bluff Picnic Area (and the dry lake)

East Bluff Picnic Area

Road coming out of East Bluff

Road coming out of McDowell Campground towards FM 2477

Road going towards the ORV area

Didn’t take long to get out there the next morning, so I waited at a pullout along 2477 until it got light enough to bird.  It was a bit breezy and overcast, but I knew it wasn’t supposed to rain, so I wasn’t too worried.  The next pulloff actually had a little bit of a trail, so I took that, and finally got to see a junco and confirm that it’s the Oregon around here!

Little side trail going off FM 2477 that led to an overlook

A "Diggory was there" shot


"Oregon" Junco

Once in the rec area, a mess of Eastern Bluebirds bounced overhead at the first stop, not only doing their do-do call but singing as well!  In addition to a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, a Hairy called as well and then bounced over!  What used to be the lake not surprisingly had several sparrows with Song, Lincoln’s, White-crowned, and Chipping all represented.  Some flyover Brewer’s Blackbirds gave some good looks, and I kept thinking I was hearing siskins, but the cheer didn’t sound quite right, so I let it go.  Crawling back up the road, a covey of about 20 Bobwhite ran ahead of me!

Another dirt road that was okay until you came to the hill...

East Bluff revisited

The dry lakebed was Sparrow Heaven!

Chipping Sparrows

View of the lake from East Bluff

There were a lot more people there today than yesterday (relatively speaking); I crawled around what campers there were and went down the road to one of the ATV trailheads, which was devoid of people but a lovely spot nonetheless; my only Mourning Doves of day were along this stretch.  Near a creek crossing, I heard the cheer again, and this time the little beasties showed themselves—they were Pine Siskins!  There were no trails as such, but rather just little primitive roads going into primitive camping areas, so I just hiked a little of each, kicking up the usual suspects.  One dead end had a Downy Woodpecker calling in the distance, and another primitive camping area had a lovely little wooded picnic area where a Red-bellied Woodpecker was hanging out!  I got to thinking that at one time I gave up ever trying to tell “the three” apart (the third being Gila), but when all you hear are Goldenfronts, the Redbellies really do sound different when you hear them: they tend to say chung chung while the Goldenfronts tend to say check check!  A Mourning Cloak also batted by and into a tree, but I lost him before I could shoot him.

Scene along FM 2477 before hitting the main entrance


Pine Siskins

Entrance to the ORV trails

Scene along the road

Mourning Dove

McDowell Picnic Area

After wrapping that up it was time to bird FM 2477 (where I could find pulloffs, that is)!  Western Meadowlarks and Horned Larks were the order of the day along here, but when I made the turn onto Schaffer, lo and behold yet another Sprague’s Pipit called overhead, and this time he had a friend!  Thankfully he was also low enough to actually see, so I passed on an eyewitness account to Cameron (he’s gonna start thinking I have a Sprague’s Pipit fetish…)!

Grasslands along FM 2477

Horned Lark

Schaffer Road, where the Sprague's Pipits flew over

Actually wrapped that up rather early, so headed south, swinging by that Greenbelt Reservoir just to see if we could add any water birds, and it was a great stop!  There was a wonderful little overlook where we added Osprey, Great Egret, Double-crested Cormorant, and Mallard to the trip list, along with White Pelican and Great Blue Heron for the day.  Further down there was a little farm pond that I slammed on the brakes for, and added yellowlegs and a few ducks.  A nice man slowed down to see if I needed help, but the minute he saw the scope he realized I was fine! J

Greenbelt Reservoir

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