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February 17, 2013 - Aransas NWR & Goliad State Park
Early morning on the auto tour
Decided to take advantage of the three-day weekend and head up to one of my favorite places: Aransas NWR! Made it to Refugio in about three hours, so after getting the room I headed over to the refuge to time the drive over there and figure out stops for the next day's road-birding. The place was mobbed--I think a lot of folks from the Whooping Crane Festival were there, but there were also a lot of plain ol' tourists, so I didn't see may birds (although I did get a pair of Ospreys that I didn't get the next day).
On the other hand, the next morning was glorious! Even though the temperature was in the low 40's, it was dead calm and was going to be a bright, sunny day! I got to the entrance (the first stop) about five minutes before dawn, and a mob of Sandhill Cranes were landing right outside the car (on the other side of the foliage, of course)! Turkeys gobbled close by while that was going on, and the first of many Carolina Wrens split the air with its rollicking song. A Sedge Wren sang across the way as well.
Sandhill Cranes bugle right next to the road! (The little "Tropical Kingbird"-like twitter audible near the end is apparently only heard at close range...)
Swung by the VC to drop off my envelope, and there in a spindly tree was a Merlin! Down at the bottom I stopped at the Alligator Overlook, where several Common Gallinules were growling and a White-winged Dove was singing. The next stop overlooked the marsh where several Seaside Sparrows were singing in the distance, sounding like anemic Redwings! Another stop was "Jones Puddle", where there was just enough water for a pair each of Mottled Ducks and Blue-winged Teal. There were also a couple of huge wild boars on the other side of the dry lake, one with a black-and-white pattern. Some ladies from Wisconsin asked about seeing the Whooping Cranes (the boats were all full, they said), so I directed then to the tower, then later saw how the vultures had claimed the thing and lined all the railings! A stop at the Big Tree parking lot added a calling Flicker and a fly-by Oystercatcher, and at periodic stops along the drive had a few Common Ground Doves as highlights. Cardinals, White-eyed Vireos, Eastern Meadowlarks, Mockers, Butterbutts, Lincoln's Sparrows, and of course the Carolina Wrens all went over the top, with only a handful of other songbirds including Field Sparrow, Catbird, Hermit Thrush, Shrike, and the expected wintering stuff. The wind had also begun to pick up considerably, so that kept stuff down. There was a surprising lack of raptors aside from Kestrels and vultures!
Growling Common Gallinules at the Alligator Overlook
Black Vulture sunning along the auto tour and checking out the tourists on the observation tower
My plan was to do the drive first, then hike four of the trails, so once I finished the drive I headed back down to the tower to tackle that first. The nice lady at the office the day before had said the Whoopers were coming in relatively close, and sure enough, there were two large white crane-shaped blobs out in the marsh, dwarfing the Great Egret that was with them! Had a pretty little Green Anole on the walk back down, then hit the Big Tree Trail, which is a great little loop that takes you through the woods with a side trip on a boardwalk that takes you to a platform that overlooks the beach. The woods were pretty quiet, but added several things out on the water, including Redheads, Pintail, Brown Pelicans, Marbled Godwits, Black-bellied Plovers, and Willets. Coming back I found a cute little lizard that I couldn't ID--a Mesquite Lizard, maybe?
View from the boardwalk platform
Carolina Wren sings close to the trail
Mystery lizard along the Big Tree Trail
I had checked out the Birding Trail #2 the day before and decided it was too dicey to hike (started out okay, but then had a lot of sticks and stuff you had to negotiate), and I had written off Dagger Point years ago because I considered it too strenuous (uphill through sand dunes), so the next stop was Birding Trail #1, which was a very short loop through the woods, but I would think in spring it'd be hopping! I did stop at the famous picnic area that's so good during spring migration, and got a gorgeous Pipevine Swallowtail trying to catch some rays in the wind!
Picnic Area near the shoreline
The plan was to do Heron Flats next, but I almost didn't get to: it was getting on towards midday, and the tourists had arrived! It was bumper cars at the parking lot as people coming were trying to maneuver into spaces that the people leaving were vacating! The big show here was Big Mama gator sunning on the bank, but there were a few pretty butterflies as well (Buckeye and American Lady, but none that posed for pictures), and a Tricolored Heron flushed from the marsh, but that was it for the birdlife. And despite Bippy's thermometer insisting that it was only 51, it felt pretty hot out there and I was shot by the time I got back to the trailhead! Just to be thorough I went up on the platform and was glad I did, as a peeping Swamp Sparrow obligingly showed itself after a little coaxing!
Big Mama Alligator along the Heron Flats Trail
I was hemming and hawing about where to spend the afternoon right up to the last minute, and finally decided on some other areas within the La Bahia Loop: Coleta Creek Reservoir mentioned Bald Eagles, and Egery Flats mentioned Nelson's Sparrows, so those were the two targets. It was a beautiful drive up to Coleta (with a flyover Crow for the trip), but at nine bucks a pop, I almost didn't go in, but then decided a Bald Eagle might be worth it! No eagles, though; instead I was entertained by two fishermen who decided that the pier looked more promising for fish than the beach, so they headed over only to discover that acorns and bare feet don't go well together (although the one guy made a run for it)! I had visited said pier prior to that and enjoyed a bunch of Coots, Gadwall, and Lesser Scaup. A crawl around the whole park wasn't a total loss, however: a flock of Chipping Sparrows fed outside the car, some White Pelicans were out on a spit, and a Carolina Chickadee called near the campground! It was a cute little place; looked like a lot of Winter Texans made their home there!
Scene at Coleto Creek Park
By then it was 2:30, and I figured by the time I got to Egery Flats it would be time to turn around and head to Sinton, so since Goliad State Park was right there, I decided to swing in there instead. Again, it was a good choice, although the last time I was there it was blazing hot and deadly quiet! This time the ranger told me about a feeder blind that was up, so I was anxious to check that out! It was great: lots of American Goldfinches and Cardinals came in, but the stars for me were a couple of classic "Dixon's" Titmice, the hybrid that shows an incongruous brown forehead! A female Black Swallowtail competed for attention as the token butter... Across the street near the restrooms I was shocked to hear a couple of Couch's Kingbirds, but apparently this is the northern edge of their range here! Other "Valley" birds I was surprised to hear or see included Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Green Jays! A shy Pine Warbler came in to say "hello" as well.
American Goldfinches at the blind at Goliad State Park
Joined by a "Dixon's" Titmouse, a Tufted/Black-crested hybrid
"Classic" Dixon's have brown foreheads, but you can see a few black feathers in the crest of the bird on the left!
Female Black Swallowtail
Cardinals (female left, male right)
One male tells another male off!
Shy Pine Warbler
Couch's Kingbird, at the very northern edge of their range here!
Headed on in to Sinton with 73 species for the day!
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