The Business Birder Springs on the
It was time for my annual rite of spring. Yes, my
This year I broadened my range. It flew into
To guide my adventures, I brought
along The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail maps for the
I spent the night at the Best Western at Rockport and
Birds seen at Goose Island State Park, Fulton, and Rockport on March 23 included: Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, American White Pelican, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Snow Goose, Gadwall, Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Sora, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Greater Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Long-billed Dowitcher, Common Snipe, Forster’s Tern, Inca Dove, Belted Kingfisher, White-eyed Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brown Thrasher, Prothonotary Warbler, and Great-tailed Grackle
I always recommend restaurants and hotels so that you, the
birding public, can concentrate on finding the birding sites. The Mobilicious Deli (361-727-2424) on
I made reservations on the Warf Cat the day before (800-782-2473) and met them at the Rockport city docks at . The trip was narrated by Ray Little, a crusty, old professional bird guide. He was actually quite good and mostly accurate.
Ray gave us a great natural history lesson of Whooping Cranes and all of the attempts
over the years to bring them back from the edge of extinction. He told us about the approximately 300
cranes in the Aransas population, a small breeder flock that has been
I was not prepared for the crane tour to be so good! There were a lot of other birds seen. For instance, we passed a Peregrine Falcon on a channel marker going out, coming within 35 feet of him. What a look!
Ray knew the history of the crane families and their territories. He told us about the death of a mate, the shrinking of territories within Aransas due to the increasing number of cranes, and described the crane interaction and behavior we observed.
Ray showed us a singles area with ten juvenile cranes. They had skateboards, tattoos, and pierced beaks. No, I made that up.
singles crossed the
Back to the story, this male crane’s family was actually encroaching on another pair’s territory and they walked over to express their displeasure. However, his family held their ground and the other family backed off. I suppose he really was a bad dude, since he could back it up.
Other birds added on the Aransas trip: Northern Harrier, Crested Caracara, American Oystercatcher, American Avocet, Willet, Bonaparte’s Gull, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, and Black Skimmer.
This trip had much more that I expected. It was much more that just recording the Whooping Crane as a lifer. I suppose I expected to just see a few cranes standing around.
On the way out and on the way in we looked for the Pacific Loon that was being seen at the mouth of the harbor. We thought we may have seen it just outside the seawall on our way back in. Guess who decided to mosey out on the seawall to find the loon? The winds were up over 20 knots and the waves were breaking over the seawall. At the end, the seawall was wider and fairly dry. I timed my little walk in between the waves and made it to the end without getting totally wet. I did not find the loon but at least I saw several Eared Grebes.
The next morning I headed out on the Mustang Island Loop. On my way through downtown Rockport, on TX 35, I spotted a likely place for breakfast, named the Big Bisket. I got my usual couple of sausage biscuits. I had not paid any attention to the name of the place and how that might affect my order. Each biscuit was approximately the size of a catcher’s mitt and had 3 sausage patties. Wow!
At the Port Aransas Birding Center (CTC 57), Mustang Island, Padre Island National Seashore (CTC 63), and Suter Wildlife refuge (CTC 69), I added: Green-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Ruddy Duck, White-tailed Hawk, Virginia Rail, Black-necked Stilt, Sandwich Tern, Loggerhead Shrike, Eastern Meadowlark, Cattle Egret, American Wigeon, and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.
My next stop was
For the trip, I had subscribed to
the TEXBIRDS listserver and there were a lot of messages about a Pacific Loon at
By going to
At the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary and TX 87, Rollover Pass, and High Island, I found, in addition to many of the birds reported above: Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Wilson’s Plover, Snowy Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, Horned Lark, Long-billed Curlew, Sanderling, Dunlin, American Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kite, Marbled Godwit, Neotropic Cormorant, Black-bellied Plover, Summer Tanager, Hermit Thrush, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. At the mudflats, there were thousands of shorebirds in attendance, including at least two thousand American Avocets.
This leg of my spring trip was
great, even considering that strong southeast winds were present all three
days. On Sunday, we had 25-30 MPH
winds, gusting to 40. Also, the
timing was a little too early for returning warblers and other migrants. Which is a good segue into my next
pounce upon the
My trip back to
There I was, tooling down I10 from the airport. A free ticket and on time arrival courtesy of US Airways, a free hotel courtesy of Hilton, a special weekend rate from Avis (who had upgraded me to a 4X4 Blazer), listening to classical music, sipping on some iced Perrier (anything less would be uncivilized), looking at the Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes, and loving my life.
I decided to head for Sabine Woods because of the TEXBIRDS listserver notices, which told of great birding the previous weekend April 6-9. Sabine Woods (UTC 26) is an oak motte owned by the Texas Ornithological Society and has all of the ingredients to make it a migrant trap: fresh water, Mulberries, caterpillars, and worms. I arrived about .
I later journeyed down TX 87 to
the willows at the
A sad thing happened on this side trip. I took TX 87 south to the beginning of where a hurricane had washed out the road and turned around when the beach started looking a little too soft. On the way back I accidentally ran over a rattlesnake. It was about four feet in length. As my Blazer approached, I could not tell that it was a snake. I saw something in the road and veered a little left thinking it was a bird that would fly away. The snake was coiled and just as I reached it, it either struck or tried to crawl off in front of me. I recognized that it was a snake at the last moment and swerved and braked hard but it was too late. It was a beautiful, majestic animal and I would have given anything at that moment to be able to undo the damage.
At Sabine Woods, I found: Yellow-billed Cuckoo, White-eyed Vireo, Hooded Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow-breasted Chat, Kentucky Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Gray Catbird, Prothonotary Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blue-headed Vireo, Baltimore Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Downey Woodpecker, Worm-eating Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Common Yellowthroat, Painted Bunting, Eastern Kingbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Black-and-white warbler.
Other birds seen at Ocean Rim State Park, the Mulberry stand, and on TX 87: Blue Grosbeak, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Roseate Spoonbill, Great Blue Heron, Blue-winged Teal, Louisiana Heron, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, White Ibis, and White-faced Ibis.
The next morning at High Island, Boy Scout, Oilfield Road Pond and other sanctuaries on High Island, I added: Black-necked Stilt, Lesser Scaup, Purple Martin, Sanderling, Sandwich Tern, Royal Tern, Forster’s Tern, Willet, Laughing Gull, Neotropic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Pied-billed Grebe, Eurasian Collared Dove, Inca Dove, Mourning Dove, and Chimney Swift.
As I was leaving, I counted 61 vehicles at the Boy Scout Sanctuary, many of which were vans or SUV’s, probably yielding at least 200 birders. The birders truly outnumbered the birds, even counting the cardinals.
I left to return to Sabine. Before leaving
Saturday afternoon, at Sabine Woods, I added: Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Ovenbird, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
On Sunday morning, April 14, I returned to Sabine Woods and added Clapper Rail (on TX 87), Wood Thrush, Swamp Sparrow, and White-throated Sparrow to my previous Sabine trip species.
On the way back to the
To get to
I will return next year to see
the wintering birds and the Yellow
Rail. The waterfowl at
I enjoy talking to people I meet
on a trip. Unfortunately, it
sometimes turns into one-upmanship.
Other birder: “Did you go to the mudflats at Port Bolivar?” Me:
“Yes. I enjoyed seeing all of the
shore birds and I got a Horned Lark just before the parking area.” Other
birder: “I got that one too.” Me: “And I was happy to see a
Long-billed Curlew on the beach.”
Other birder: “Yeah, I got
two of them.” Me: “And the
What can we do about issues with
too many birders at the same place at the same time? I discovered that by merely recording a
sighting on the white board at Boy Scout Woods or other sites, you can clear up
birding congestion. For instance,
writing “Scarlet Ibis at
I did have several wonderful
conversations. I really enjoyed
talking to a guy from
This guy was really good. He kept talking about how his friend was
a much better birder. Well, his
friend, also from
Finally, there were two birders at Sabine Woods, one shouldering a video camera, who kept seeing a Swainson’s Warbler. One would alert several of us each time they found it and we would come running. I never did see the bird, even looking over the shoulder of the cameraman. They had us down on all fours looking under thick brush. I think they were a team from an Ornithological Candid Camera show. They could have been pulling our collective leg; however, about an hour later, I found an Ovenbird on the other side of the brush where the last Swainson’s “sighting” took place. Who knows?
As I drove around all weekend, there was a lot of radio talk about the tax deadline. Blather, blather, blather! I just smiled. I had already received my refund. You have to laugh at the publicity for the IRS Help Line, which is now, by the way, the official oxymoron of the Business Birder.
The weather conditions were a little unusual for this time of year, featuring light morning fog all three days and light winds (gusting up to 2 mph). No rain, thunderstorms, nor cold fronts.
Each of my April trips to the
I researched the area using the
ABA Lane Guide, A Birder’s Guide to the
Texas Coast, by Harold R. Holt.
It was helpful; however, because it was a little out-of-date (1993), I
found the Trail map to be better.
Lane does not do justice to Sabine Woods and, while its description of
Anahuac NWR is very complete, it does not note that there are now two entrances
Texas Birds by Edward A. Kutac,
(published in 1982, it is an older book which has probably been revised), was
also a good reference. I purchased
this book at a Houston Audubon Society used-book sale last year at
As I mentioned above, I
subscribed to the TEXBIRDS listserver.
It has good trip notes and rare bird alerts. While I was at it, I subscribed to
Tweeters to prepare for a
For the trip, I field tested the Tattler Tri-pak, a back-pack-like harness for carrying a scope with tripod attached, from The Wandering Tattler (800-231-9209). You will find it advertised in many birding magazines. I highly recommend it. I have a fairly heavy scope and tripod combination and the Tri-pak allows me to carry them comfortably and quickly remove them for set up. I have a small tripod bag; however, it will hold my tripod with the Tri-pak attached.
And bless you, Avis (the official rental car agency of the Business Birder)! You keep giving me your best and I keep returning them loaded with dust and dead mosquitoes. And occasionally with live ones.
Of course, I will go back next
year. At Quintana (UTC 121 and 122)
there are a couple of sites recommended for finding returning warblers that will
be new to me. I promise to stay
John B. Ennis ã 2002