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Spring Blitz

Part 19:  Aransas NWR (27-28 APR)

Headed on down to Aransas after watching the beach and eating lunch. I really do love this place – the trees are great for migrants to hide in, and the big old oaks are so majestic!  After paying my fee the first place I stopped was the Birding Trail #1 (as I was hearing loud chirping that I suspected was a Swainson’s Warbler), and that turned out to be a very productive stop:  a rather robust call was competing with the chirp, and after a bit of pishing the perp showed himself to be an Ovenbird!  Shortly after that the Swainson’s Warbler confirmed himself and came in for pictures (sulkily, of course), along with a Black-and-white, Tennessee, and Black-throated Green!  A little further on the trail was a Great Crested Flycatcher, and driving down the road were two hen Turkeys!

Birding Trail #1

   

Black-and-white Warbler in the shadows

   

This is a fairly easy place to at least hear Swainson's Warblers, as they breed on the refuge!  (call note)

An Ovenbird was calling up a storm in the same place!

Two hen Turkeys are having a girls' day out!

Thankfully the mosquitoes weren’t bad along that trail, but I didn’t get far on Dagger Point as I was being swamped with the little buggers (although I picked up a  Ground Dove on the way in)!  The railing at Jones Lake had a displaying Green Anole (couldn't tell if the other lizard was a female or a different species), and the Big Tree Trail wasn’t too bad mosquito-wise (or else my wipe was working), but ran into a few feeding flocks in there that included more orioles and Black-and-whites, plus a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  White-eyed Vireos were all over, but I did hear a Yellow-throated singing.  There was a pewee catching bugs (including a Red Admiral, of which there were many), but silhouetted against the sky was an Olive-sided Flycatcher!  On the back side of the trail that opens up into the wetland was a mixed flock of buntings and Chipping Sparrows.

A Green Anole challenges another lizard by extending its pink gular flap!

 

       

Olive-sided Flycatcher against the sky; not the best pictures, but they show the strongly contrasting vest and big-headed, short-tailed look that separates it from pewees.

White-eyed Vireo

Female Rambur's Forktail

I didn’t expect to see a whole lot on the auto tour, but did pick up another Olive-sided, and a Western Kingbird to boot.  A little flock of Lark Sparrows was nice, but that was about it for the loop.  A stop at the Bay Overlook was enjoyable, but what shocked me was a Common Loon out in the bay – in breeding plumage yet!  I never expected to see that now!

Lark Sparrow hiding along the auto tour road

View of the fishing pier coming back

Aransas Bay

"Proof shot" of a Common Loon in breeding plumage; I thought it was a little late but apparently they can hang around this long!

Had to wrap it up and head for Rockport for the night.  And what a blessed day it was the next day!  It was overcast to start (as per usual), and what looked like the same two Turkey hens were outside the gate when I got there!  Actually got started a little past sunrise (I actually like to start a little before, if possible), but the stops turned out to have some wonderful blessings!

Instead of doggedly stopping every half mile (which is tough to do on that road since there are long stretches with really no place to pull over safely), I stopped at designated parking lots or pullouts that were at least .3 mile apart from one another, and that worked out great; at the Heron Flats trailhead, the tree there held two new trip birds:  a Blackpoll Warbler and a Philadelphia Vireo!  (I actually thought I had heard the latter singing before it came out…)  A stop at the Birding Trail pullout added Wilson’s Warbler to the list (the Ovenbird and Swainson’s Warbler were quiet today, although a few of the latter were singing here and there along the auto tour), and a large shorebird on the bay turned out to be a Whimbrel!

Blackpoll Warbler at the Heron Flats trailhead

When stopped at the Birding Trail #2 pullout, the cold front blasted through with a vengeance (I think I actually had the start of a funnel cloud – at least it was rotating – but it didn’t last long)!  It started to spit while pulling into the Dagger Point area, but the real sight was a “bird-nado” of Franklin’s Gulls squealing and literally funneling overhead!  The spitting didn’t last long, and by the time I stopped at one of the bay overlooks it was done; no Seaside Sparrows this time, but I did hear a Warbling Vireo singing from the picnic area!  (Looked in vain for that Common Loon from yesterday, too…)  A quick look at Jones Lake added a Pied-billed Grebe, a pair of Indigo Buntings, and a Tennessee Warbler to the list.

A cold front whips through...

...and even spins up a bit of a funnel cloud!  (Looks more like a rain shaft in the photo, but it was rotating...)

A gentleman driving by asked me about the reported Whooping Cranes (!); he said he heard that two were still hanging around as of a couple of days ago.  I didn’t want to screw up my mileage, so I marched up the observation tower when I got there (Lark and Chipping Sparrows had the place staked out), but all I saw were tons of Great Egrets and other things I really couldn’t ID from that distance (except a couple of Avocets that happened to lift off).  A Great Crested Flycatcher wheeked for the day there, and a Brown-crested Flycatcher gave its similar but harsher wheek call, along with some pups.  A really bizarre caterpillar was schootching along the railing, so I put it out there for feedback, and one of my friends suggested a Pale Tussock Moth; after looking at some photos on BugGuide, that seemed to fit well, and I didn't hear any dissenting opinions!  But in the meantime I found an image of a Florida Tussock Moth cat (taken in Edinburg, actually) that was even more similar, so I've submitted my own images to see what the BugGuide guys say!  Many months later, David Wagner (a moth expert who was staying at the Alamo Inn) took one look and ID'd it as a Schaus' Tussock Moth!  Glad to have that mystery solved!

Famous view from the observation tower

Looking the other way

       

Schaus' Tussock Moth caterpillar

Headed on the auto trail after that, and it was really rather quiet, as even though the sun had come out, the wind was howling by that point!  Two or three snakes slithered across the road; the only one I managed to get a decent shot of looks to be a Diamondback Water Snake (maybe), and the other one was greenish, so I have no idea what that was, as there’s no match in my reptile book.  [Update:  Chris Harrison from San Antonio wrote me and ID'd the "water snake" as a Texas Rat Snake, and the green one is actually an intergrade between the Yellow-bellied and Mexican Racers!]

Butt view of a Western Kingbird

Texas Rat Snake (thanks, Chris!)

Yellow-bellied x Mexican Racer; apparently like the rails at Anahuac, most of these types of snakes are intergrades here at Aransas!

After finishing the auto tour I went back to the Big Tree Trail, and this was pretty productive:  added Least Flycatcher (which was a new trip bird), another Philly, and a brilliant male Canada Warbler!  Some Seaside Dragonlets were in the open area, and on the way back a female Bay-breasted Warbler made an appearance.  Having lunch in the picnic area before heading for Port Aransas bagged a nice Chestnut-sided Warbler, along with a Bobcat that strolled across the path!  While wandering around taking one last look, a big fat Palamedes Swallowtail batted in and tried to hide from the wind! 

View from the wetland overlook along the Big Tree Trail

Seaside Dragonlet

Picnic Area

Diggory at the dead end...

Beat-up Palamedes Swallowtail

Stowed away the bins, which means something good is bound to come along, and it did:  once outside the refuge about 80 Broad-winged Hawks were lifting off!  (Of course I only spotted the one at first, but then suddenly there was another, and another, until they were just going by in droves!).  Then down the road about 50 Cattle Egrets hogged the road, and by the time I got up there I was surrounded by flying egrets!

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