Monday, March 15, 2010

Texas Lifer Trip, March 1-12 2010

Part 1 - Moving stuff to Mississippi

Monday, March 1, 2010 - What motivated the trip was knowing there were three lifers in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas and a job moving a truck-load of furniture to the Mississippi coast. Once I was there it seemed I would be halfway to south Texas, so why not? I spent Monday, March 1, 2010 loading the big U-Haul, helped by friends Rob and Ouizel, and then loading plants into my pickup. The U-Haul went back to the rental place for overnight parking, I went home and in the morning drove into town , loaded my truck on a car-carrier trailer, hooked that to the U-Haul, and headed south. I stayed on Interstates as far as possible since I'm lousy at backing up trailers and wanted minimum excitement. Eureka to Fayetteville to Fort Smith to Memphis to Jackson. Decided I deserved a decent night's sleep, so pulled into a motel with a spacious lot. The desk-clerk gave me a free upgrade to a room that turned out to be used for storage or something, a real mess. It would have been OK if the wifi had worked, but that was mess too. So then a rigmarole getting a refund. The next motel wanted over a hundred bucks for one person on a week-night. The next few motels were in Jackson, and the access was of the parallel business road, and where to get off to get to anyplace was obscure. I ended up sleeping on the hard shiny cold front seat of the U-Haul after pulling my sleeping bag out of the pickup in back. So much for comfort.

The next day the sun was out and it was warming up. Got to the house in Pass Christian, unloaded the trucks with help from Sean and Justin, returned the U-Haul and trailer, and had finished the first objective. The temporary library had wifi, and there was a report of a rarity right in Pass C. Walking distance. I got to see the first state record Hooded Oriole and met two couples of good local birders. They sent me to try some other places and I ended up adding two MS tics. There were also reports of good birds in New Orleans to try for the next day. Slept in the truck at Sean's in Pass after a Popeye's dinner. I love Popeye's.

Cold night and frosty morning. Started working on furniture assembly, but ran into snags mating reality with the owner's vision. Chasing hummers and Long-billed Curlews, but no luck yet. Did drive over to a levee behind a subdivision in Plaquemines Parish, met 2 good local birders who knew what to look for and where, and ended up with three nice flycatcher tics, Vermilion, Scissor-tail, and a western type. Went back to Pass and found a Mississippi Kite in one of the local birder's back-yard. More Popeye's.

Put more furniture together, and found my target hummer and Curlew, actually three of them on a sandy bight in Gulfport. Other shoreline sites got a couple of other ordinary tics. Got in contact with the master hummer bander in NOLA, and we decided to meet the next day, Saturday, at her house where she has four species on her feeders. The truck had a misfire episode, something I thought had been fixed, but I had lingering doubts in spite of the reassurance of the reputedly good garage that had done the work, that the antifreeze I thought I smelled was something else.

The next day was a slow start but I managed to find Nancy Newfield's house. She was really neat and very helpful, first showing off her yard birds, then driving me to a friend's house to see a Black-headed Grosbeak, all the time filing me in on local birding culture and critters. Somewhere in there I worked on the truck too, after buying a better socket wrench and using a good dose of black pepper for stop-leak, an old Arkansas remedy. After hummers I went by to visit my friend Christine, we had lunch and I attempted to remember enough algebra to help her with her class. That done I drove straight for Lacassine NWR, and slept on the corner of the pool right at the gate. Great stars.

Part 2 - Birding into Texas

Sunday, March 7 - Morning was foggy, and I woke to a Brown Thrasher calling near the truck. I drove the Lacassine Pool loop, but it seemed deserted compared to the numbers that had been there on the CBC. The whole island of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks was gone. Apparently the farthest south wintering waterfowl had already started north by the first week of March. The loop at Cameron Prairie NWR was the same story, and I was sorta lackadaisical, just stopping when I felt like it, not being methodical or driven, actually it was rather nice, just birdwatching, not listing. My main efforts that way were at sites that Nancy had suggested, and I did find two new LA species, though not the ones I was seeking. Probably the neatest thing I saw was a Caracara gently land on the back of his mate, and copulate after he had been hanging out and sharing a morsel. Then it was hit the road hard and drive to Choke Canyon State Park northwest of Corpus, a place that gets more than its share of rarities. I had seen my lifer Cave Swallow there many years ago. When I arrived it was well after dark, I had no idea where to go, but a ranger came by and told me the general area to camp.

Next morning was a steady drizzle, but I set up the scope under a fish-cleaning shelter and proceeded to study the facing pool methodically from the right side. No luck and it was big enough that I had visions of needing to walk all around it in the rain with the scope to find my bird. Just as I was finishing up the scan down the return of the levee that led back to the parking area it was there. The bright yellow flash of the under-wings caught my eye, more like stabbed it. It was less than fifty yards off and truly amazing and beautiful. Northern Jacana. It stayed in the same area for well over an hour, I was able to put a couple of birders from Maine right on it. Maybe I should have let them search it out themselves, but it was like a jewel I had to show off.

Next stop was an Amish Farm about thirty miles toward Corpus, where there had been a Northern Wheatear available to all the birders in Texas for over a month. One of the young men who was farming there said they had over maybe 400 visitors in the previous weeks. It's normally an Alaska bird, and would have been an amazing zootie, but I had seen my first in Connecticut the year before. I was jaded, but since it wasn't being real cooperative in the rain, (the farm was a mud-pie,I felt sorry for the horses) it was a good thing I had some familiarity since I was only getting glimpses, not lingering views.

Then it was a longer drive than you'd expect to Falcon State Park, distances in Texas are deceptive in the road atlas. I had no sooner paid my fee, an very comfortable $10 per night, and started driving to the campground when a small hawk flew in front of the truck and landed about forty feet off the road about half-way up a tree. Made the almost very first bird in the park the Roadside Hawk that was the main target. Vertical chest stripes over horizontal belly stripes, Cooper's size. Good thing too since it didn't show at any of its regular perches the rest of the time I was there. It had cleared off to be tee-shirt weather, and I hiked the long circular nature trail, then had a great long hot shower.

Woke up way too early, had to wait for a bodega to open for coffee, then drove the sixty miles into the urban Valley, Mission and so forth. Had to wait for the World Birding Center, so-called, at Bentson to open. It was disappointing. Previous trips had found a skilled and knowledgeable staff who were passionate about birds. It had been taken over by the state, and the new staff was young and clocking time in their secure state job. Things were better at Santa Ana NWR, but the timing in terms of the season was off, and it was not nearly as exciting as it had been some times. I tried another place, Quinta Mazatlan, for a Crimson Collared Grosbeak, but again the staff was uninvolved. Hadn't filled any of the many feeders, and there were few birds other than pigeons and woodpeckers. No Grosbeak. The net showed some sightings off and on in the few weeks after that, but the bird clearly wasn't settled in, probably hanging at other feeders in the neighborhood. One gets found in the valley every two or three years so I'll get another chance most likely. I was sorta depressed by poor birding, and also a bad head cold that had been running all week. Finally headed back up-river to Salineno, where there were good birds and good birders. Had two Gray Hawks fly over plus most of the regular specialties. Went back to Falcon, bought another night, and took a long afternoon nap.

Finally got a decent nights sleep, maybe the cold was wearing out, and spent the first part of the morning birding the heavy camping loop, the place where folks put out feeders. It was sorta like the Bentson of the old days, with he same kind of good "snowbird" RV birders. Then I hooked up with he morning bird walk with a Brit docent named Wendy. She was great, very good birder and botanist, knew the usual hangouts for some good species. Funny too. When that was over I started the return trip, through Corpus, made stops at Hazel Bazemore County Park, a first time for that place. Will never skip it again. Great habitat variety with a nice river. Also drove into the city to make a stop at Hans Suter City Park, the best hundred square feet of birding in the United States. Did not let me down, incredible numbers and variety of waterfowl, waders, Spoonbills, gulls including an immature Glaucous, all stretched across the bay as far as you could see. Then drove up Mustang Island to the Ferry in Port Aransas, a big mistake at rush hour. Took over an hour to get across the pass, they were short boats and facilities, still suffering from Hurricane Rita. Got into Goose Island State Park in the dark, deciphered, I thought, the signs and camped there.

Birding was real good in the morning along the Gulf-shore, not great numbers, but a very satisfying variety. When I went by the office to show proof that I'd paid the night before they gave me a hard time about paying too much. I thought I was gonna be arrested for telling them to keep the change. From there it was a slog of driving. Couldn't get into Brazoria NWR for some reason, and then the Galveston Ferry took forever, same story, Rita damaged facilities. High Island was foggy and depressing, more damage to the great woods that made it such good birding in migration. Ended up camping in a remote place in Kissamee National Forest that took forever to find. Finished listening to two books on tape that had been my salvation while plodding along.

Some cops woke me up in the night looking for a fugitive, always a thrill, lots of flashlights and voices, me groggy, but remembering to say loudly "I'm gonna open the lid" before springing the camper-shell window in their faces. That was 4:30am, and I didn't get back to sleep. Drove on north to Shreveport and was able to find a couple of very nice spots and one jerk of a PhD who was in charge of some facility. Could not get him to take me seriously when I had questions, talked to me like a child. Probably graduate school induced brain/soul damage. I was really glad to get home around ten, worn out by the mountain roads in the dark with another idiot tailgating with ultra bright LED headlights on their BMW. Birds are wonderful, birding is exhausting.


Post a Comment

<< Home