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Spring Blitz

Part 14:  Day Trip with Joe Kennedy (21 APR)

And the next day beat that score:  with Joe’s help (and knowing exactly where to go), we logged 141 species today (yes, without even trying)!  In fact, he had some things on his list that I either missed or didn’t recognize enough to count (like an Ovenbird learning to sing)!  He wrote me later and reported that he personally had 157 species!

But I’m getting ahead of myself:  was able to wolf down some hotel breakfast (even got some crispy bacon), and while waiting outside I saw a guy wandering aimlessly, so thinking it might be Joe, I approached him and asked him outright, but as I got closer I realized it was David Wolf!!  He and Bob Sundstrom were leading a VENT tour here, so it was just a great time of catching up (David was our leader during my first ever VENT tour to Costa Rica way back in 1983 or thereabouts)!

I went back to wait for Joe, and at about 6:40 this little Toyota rolls in, and it was Joe!  We hit it off right away, and I was thinking during the course of the day that there was no way I was gonna be able to journal everything he shared with me, because there was just so much!  But he was indeed held up by traffic, and was telling me how they finally widened some of the exit ramps into four lanes, because those getting off were stopped in the freeway!  (And I told him that’s how Jip got killed… L)

So we headed first to Anahuac, where he was shocked that we were the only ones on Shoveler Drive (to start, anyway)!  That was a terrific start to the morning, as we not only had more Least Bitterns, but a big fat American flew right in, and later Joe spotted one right next to the road!  What a look!  But the highlight for me was multiple Purple Gallinules just strutting their stuff; I think that was enough to convince me to come back tomorrow and “BBS” the place on my own!  Fulvous Whistlers were also new, and a couple of Caspian Terns were in with them.  Both Clapper and King Rails were sounding off (one side of the road was more saline than the other), and Joe told me about the “Anahuac Rails” which were basically hybrids…  A brief stop at the Willow Trail added Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Baltimore Oriole, plus a couple of cuckoos that got away.  Orchard Orioles and Eastern Kingbirds were all over and sitting up prettily, and how could I forget about the pair of Swainson’s Hawks right next to the car on the way in?? 

       

Swainson's Hawks on the way into Anahuac (note the feather on the top of the left bird's head!)

Orchard Oriole

White-faced Ibis with a truly white face!

American Bittern #1 (that flew in)...

    

...is upstaged by American Bittern #2 that Joe spotted!

After that we headed down the road that leads to the Yellow Rail Prairie, and he showed me some good areas where you might at least hear Black Rail (in fact, he thought he saw one pop out of the ditch and into the stuff…)!  Dickcissels were back, and he shared how the birds in one area have a different song type than in another area, and they certainly did!  He was also surprised to hear Seaside Sparrow in an area that was more fresh water than saline, but after Ike, it’s taking the habitat awhile to recover to its original state.  A Swamp Sparrow sat on a wire along with a Savannah at one point, and a Common Nighthawk went beenting by.

From there we checked out some fields on the way to High Island, and one that they were preparing for rice had at least two Buff-breasted and one Baird’s Sandpiper in it!  Another pond had lingering Shovelers and Green-winged Teal in with the more numerous Bluewings, and a quick stop at a bridge added both Cliff and Cave Swallows!  (On the way to High Island there’s a side road where you can take a peek under the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge, and see all sorts of Cliff Swallow nests!)  On the way we ran into an honest-to-goodness cattle drive that held up traffic until they could get the whole herd into the field they were traveling to!

Buff-breasted Sandpiper in a field along the highway

A cattle drive gives a whole new meaning to the term "Farm Road"!

I warned Joe that this was all gonna blend together, as we bounced around from sanctuary to sanctuary, but I believe we went to Boy Scout Woods first (the one with the bleachers J)Swainson’s Thrushes and Catbirds were dominant here as they were at Sabine Woods, and like at Sabine there were just a few individuals, but a good variety of species.  I thought I was hearing a Red-eyed Vireo but Joe called me on it, and the more I listened the more I agreed it was actually a Blue-headed.  I did hear an Acadian Flycatcher do his whitz-up! call at one point, but later we heard a single call that could have either been that or Yellow-bellied (in doing some research earlier on the call notes of those two, I discovered that even the experts have a hard time telling them apart).  We actually had a mini-show in someone’s yard with their bottlebrush and a mob of Tennessee Warblers going nuts, but we also had a few Indigo Buntings, and on the way out eagle-eyed Joe spotted a Bronzed Cowbird on a feeder!

The "Grandstand" at Boy Scout Woods

Molting Western Kingbird has a notched tail and can confuse the unwary!

I think Smith Oaks was next, and this was where we had the real warbler candy:  a nice Black-throated Green was very friendly, but Joe spotted a lovely Blue-winged Warbler and showed him to several people!  Not too long after that a couple of Bay-breasted Warblers showed up, and as we rounded a corner, a lady called us over to see a Golden-winged Warbler!  Of course that one drew a crowd, but as we moved on, this weird song filtered through the woods that neither of us could place (Joe’s ears are better than mine! J), but when we found the Goldenwing again, he very nicely opened his mouth and sang that funny song and solved the mystery!  He, like many other migrants, must have been tuning up with a song no one can recognize!  At one of the drips a Painted Bunting was taking a bath, and a Chestnut-sided Warbler made a brief appearance.

Black-throated Green Warbler

Curious Bay-breasted Warbler

Joe points out a Blue-winged Warbler to another birder...

From there it was Shorebird Time, so instead of going all the way to Bolivar, Joe said Rollover Pass was a lot closer, and man, did we rack up the shorebirds here!  Three of the four little plovers paraded around (minus Snowy), an Oystercatcher flew in, Dunlins were snoozing by the dozens, Short-billed Dowitchers and Marbled Godwits fed, and Ruddy Turnstones showed off along the shoreline (Joe tried to convince me that squeaking at them would get them to practically sit on your feet, but the turnstones made a liar out of him… J)!  A little further out were Skimmers, Black Terns (including a fully black one), both Forster’s and Common Terns along with the Royals and Sandwiches, and of course Leasts were further down the beach.  Lots of Laughers, but no Franklin’s Gulls. L

Ruddy Turnstone

Black Skimmer upheaval (with a few terns)

Mixed flock with mostly Black Skimmers, a few Common Terns, a couple of Black Terns (in non-breeding plumage), and several black-bellied Dunlin.

   

More Dunlin

Piping Plover surrounded by Semipalmated Plovers; it's hard to tell in this light, but the Piping's back is the color of "dry sand", while the others' backs are "wet sand" color.

   

Semipalmated is on the left, and Piping is on the right.

Willet

Marbled Godwit

American Oystercatcher

Common Terns in breeding (left) and non-breeding plumages

Black Tern in breeding plumage

We made a quick peek down Yacht Basin Road, where I added a Solitary Sandpiper (which Joe had seen previously but I missed), a pair of Caracaras, a Gull-billed Tern batting around, and a distant kite we both thought might be Swallow-tailed until the male flew up and “canoodled” (a new term my friend Jane from Harrisburg taught me J), showing a very white tail!  He then took me down an old oil road where we could look into a lake that was mainly full of Coots, but also a handful of Scaup, and two Eared Grebes that were in breeding plumage!  On the beach were several more Common Terns and a Herring Gull to add to the day list.

   

Red-billed Common Terns (with the larger Sandwich Terns at left)

Sandwich Terns have black bills with yellow tips.

Herring Gull

A quick stop at Hooks Wood added a Worm-eating Warbler and Northern Waterthrush to the list, and we had another instance where we were looking at two different birds and were arguing over it! J  (He had a Myiarchus of some kind and I was looking at a female Blue Grosbeak – I thought that beak looked a little too big to be a flycatcher!)  On the way home we ran into the VENT group at a field where some Yellow-headed Blackbirds had been reported, and one indeed did fly in, but flew away before anyone could really get on it.  Dave told us about a field with Hudwits, so we continued on, turned the corner, and there they were!  A flock of shorebirds took off that included Pectorals (they conveniently called), so that was great!

Scarlet Tanager at Hook Woods

"Proof shot" of the Hudsonian Godwit David pointed us to!

We called it a day after that, and such a fun day it was!  I had always enjoyed his colorful reports and photos on Texbirds, so it was a real honor to get to meet and spend the day with him (and after having seen his rig - his camera is actually attached to his scope - I look at his marvelous photos in a whole new light)! 

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