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Spring Blitz

Part 15:  Anahuac NWR (22 APR)

Headed out pre-dawn and made it to Anahuac with five minutes to spare before sunrise!  While listening to the morning chorus, I was surprised to see three Great-tailed Grackles facing off and doing that famous electronic whisper song they do in the Valley, as they’re considered rare here!  (Too bad I wasn’t fast enough with the recorder…)  But what was also interesting was a Boat-tailed Grackle that came sailing in, doing vocalization types that seemed a combination of the two species!  While that was going on several Nighthawks were beenting and booming overhead, and a Brown Thrasher sang while a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher chattered.  There were lots of Brown-headed Cowbirds around, but a Bronzed was doing his Darth Vader imitation.

A Boat-tailed Grackle seems to sing a combination of Boat/Great-tailed vocalizations, while a real Great-tailed Grackle gives his ascending call towards the end!

Common Nighthawks that were calling in the background; the "boom" at the end is caused by the bird's wings as it breaks out of a dive.

Was anxious to “BBS” the place, so headed onto Shoveler Pond first, and like yesterday, I was the only one on the drive for the longest time!  The prescribed pullouts worked well, and the morning chorus was a delight, with Redwings and grackles, both kinds of gallinules, and even a Least Bittern!  At the Willow Trailhead (would hike that later), a Swainson’s Hawk sat pretty, and several rails sounded off along the route, but after Joe’s comment about hybrids, I really have no idea what I was hearing – I suspected the accelerating ones were Clappers, and I could pick out the deeper double notes that are typical of Kings, but to play it safe I reported them all as King/Clapper in EBird…  I wasn’t as cautious with the ibis, however; what ones I could see close were definitely White-faced, but so many were distant that I just assumed White-faced unless proven otherwise…  Orchard Orioles and Eastern Kingbirds were all over, along with Savannah Sparrows, and the Purple Gallinules were showing nicely as well – I even got a movie of one that was in the sun!

Shoveler Pond


Purple (left) and Common Gallinules; in the recording the Purples call in the distance, then the Common gives its scratchy call.   


On the back side of the loop, a Purple Gallinule peeks out to see if the coast is clear!


Definitely one of North America's showiest birds!

After Joe's warning about hybrid rails here, I was never sure what I was hearing; I'm pretty sure the left-hand recording is a Clapper (as it accelerates), but the right-hand one may be a King Rail due to the deeper timbre - who knows???

Morning chorus along Shoveler Drive: listen for both Boat-tailed and Great-tailed Grackle (the former dominant), a hooting Pied-billed Grebe, Red-winged Blackbirds, Bullfrogs, both Purple and Common Gallinules in the background, and a Marsh Wren if you listen real hard!


A Pied-billed Grebe has found a crawdad as a prize! 

Here a Boat-tailed Grackle competes with the bullfrogs!

The little boardwalk into the marsh had a couple of Barn Swallows on the railing that were really cute, and both flavors of whistling ducks were there as well.  On the way out I had very mixed feelings about the Marsh Wren that decided to show and pose for pictures, as I know how badly my friend MJ wants to see one! L  A dragonfly flew in and landed that looked interesting but later I decided it was a female Band-winged Dragonlet; unfortunately I was too engrossed in shooting the thing to get a recording of the Alligator growling behind me! J


Barn Swallows on the boardwalk

Female Orchard Oriole

Marsh Wren   

The stops that overlooked the grasslands yielded hundreds of Tree Swallows swooping around!  On the road to the boat ramp, they were actually landing on the road and preening before all moving to the bushes along the side of the road!  At one stop a Semipalmated Plover flew over, and at the dike where we had the Caspian Terns yesterday were several Cattle Egrets and a handful of Roseate Spoonbills.  Heading on the aforementioned boat ramp road, the first stop was a doozey:  besides the (what would be ubiquitous) Sedge Wrens and Seaside Sparrows, in the distance came the distinctive dippy-do! of a Black Rail!  I was so jazzed!  Further down an Eastern Willet posed on a post and then started to sing when a rival sang in the distance; Joe pointed out that the Easterns have a pink base to the bill, and while the ones yesterday left me questioning, this one really showed the pink!  An Osprey flew overhead, and at the end of the road a Black-bellied Plover flushed.  But the best bird was what I thought was a female Redwing at first, but it turned out to be a hiding Seaside Sparrow who eventually gave great views!

Tree Swallows hog the road...

...then move to the sidelines to preen!  (Males are glossy blue above while females are duller...)


Like most Ammodramus sparrows, the normally skulky Seaside Sparrow comes right out in the open to sing!

Seaside Sparrow song; superficially they sound somewhat like a wheezy Red-winged Blackbird (in this recording, you'll hear a real Red-wing after the sparrow's first song).  The clear, whistled song is an Eastern Meadowlark.

"Eastern" Willet in breeding dress 


How Seaside Sparrows normally act...

Prairie habitat

Returning to the main drag and then heading down the bay drive, a Swamp Sparrow popped up at one stop, and those Dickcissels with the different dialects were at it again!  At another stop I couldn’t believe it:  yet another Black Rail was calling!  He had quit by the time a birder from Colorado wheeled up, but he went on ahead a little in hopes of hearing it, as that would be a life bird for him!  I continued on and checked the parking areas, where a Whimbrel posed at one.  The guy from Colorado pulled up and reported no luck on hearing the rail, but said he’d come back in the morning.  I went on ahead, and almost fainted:  at another stop about a half mile down from where we were yet another Black Rail was calling (but this one was really distant)!  On the way out I passed the guy and told him about it, and he nearly passed out!  He asked about Seaside Sparrows and nearly fainted again when I told him they were all over, but I advised him that they sounded like asthmatic Redwings, so they’re easy to overlook if you don’t know what to listen for!  So I hope he finds them!

Unique-sounding Dickcissel along the road

Whimbrel along the bay

He had told me about some Hudwits at the boat ramp near the visitor’s center, so I headed back there and checked it out; all I could find were dowitchers and stilts, plus some unidentifiable stuff in the sun, so I headed over to the Willow Trail to check that out.  Right as I stepped out, one of the nighthawks had taken up a branch to snooze on!  It was pretty quiet migrant-wise, but the mosquitoes were horrible; most interesting thing was a Blue-headed Vireo, but also had some White-crowned Sparrows and a female hummingbird.


Common Nighthawk snoozing along the Willow Trail


White-crowned Sparrow

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