Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Texas Tour 2014 - Nueces County Big Day! - Sept. 19, 2014

     Today Libby and I would complete our second Big Day as Team Hawksauce, this time restricting ourselves to Nueces County, Texas. We had decided that this Big Day would be much more relaxed than the one we did in Florida since we were both exhausted, and wanted to spend a little more time enjoying the birds rather than just checking them off. There was also no previous record set (that we could find) for a Nueces County Big Day, which took off a lot of pressure.
    Although Libby tried her best, she ended up having very little time to do much scouting or planning since she was counting hawks almost every day. Thus, I had spent a lot of time during the weeks leading up to this day doing research from afar (Pennsylvania), using eBird and other resources to strategically plan our day. This made some of our decisions a little tricky, but we definitely ended up learning a lot along the way.
     We had planned to be at our first stop at sunrise, but between stumbling over each other trying to get the car loaded and breakfast eaten, and the fact that I needed to check into my flight at a certain time, we got a late start. Sunrise was at 7:15 am, and we had planned on being at our first stop by then, but our official start time ended up being 7:22 am. Our first birds were a bunch of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds who were feeding at the hummingbird feeders under the carport. On our way to our first official stop (Pollywog Pond) we were able to quickly check off Great-tailed Grackle, Loggerhead Shrike, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Long-billed Curlew, Laughing Gull, and Rock Pigeon.

Loggerhead Shrike
Upon arriving at Pollywog Pond we immediately spotted a few Chimney Swifts and a Northern Cardinal. We were disappointed to find that the paths at this highly recommended birding hotspot had not been mown in a few weeks, and the thigh-high grasses were heavy with dew. However, we pushed on, soaking our pants and shoes in the first few yards. The mosquitoes were also thick and hungry, and we were unprepared for such a situation. After about 10 minutes of battling the dewy grasses and slapping our way through the mosquito soup, we gave up and hustled back to the Jeep. At least we were able to check off a calling Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a flock of fly-over Black-bellied Whistling Ducks during our hasty retreat which brought our count up to 11 species!
     On our way to Hazel Bazemore County Park, at a major intersection with heavy traffic, we spotted our 12th bird of the day, a European Starling who was picking through the gravel on a concrete island. Almost simultaneously, Libby realized that we had forgotten to pack the scope in the car. This was a serious bummer because it meant we would have to spend time getting close to birds that normally we could scope from afar, and we knew that we would miss some birds without the extra magnification power of a scope. However, since we we already had a late start we simply could not give up another 30 minutes of our precious morning time when birds are most active to go back home for the scope.
     Arriving at Hazel Bazemore at 8:04 am we decided to do the driving loop around the park and pick up any "easy" birds that were hanging around. We then spent some time on the hawk watch platform and walked around a bit, which yielded another 24 species including Olive Sparrow, American Avocet, Inca Dove, Great Kiskadee, Couch's Kingbird, Crested Caracara and Bronzed Cowbird! Unfortunately it was an incredibly slow day for raptor migration, so we would have to keep an eye on the sky all day and hope to get lucky with some raptor spotting.
     It was 9:00 am when we finally left the park and headed for Hilltop Community Center. On the way we swung by a local sod farm, but saw only Great-tailed Grackles and Killdeer, both of which we had already checked off. Arriving at Hilltop we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of birding here and in our quick loop around the walking trails we added White-eyed Vireo, Turkey Vulture, Baltimore Oriole, Black-crested Titmouse, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, and Osprey. Our total was now at 42 species!
     Many of the locals had told us that we should check out the mysterious Tule Lake, but Libby hadn't been there to scout it out, and there were no recent eBird reports, so we were hesitant to spend time looking for a place that might not be productive. However, one of the birding guidebooks we were using said that the only reason to visit Tule Lake is for the quality of the birding, so we decided to go for it. As we were approaching the area where the lake was supposed to be we found ourselves surrounded by intimidating, towering refineries. It no longer felt like we were on planet earth, but instead had been transported to some filthy, alien planet where machines ruled and humans were scarce. After getting slightly lost, we finally arrived at our destination - a lake/emergent wetland full of garbage, nestled in-between many huge refineries. If you could bring yourself to look past all the garbage, the place was also full of birds! Wood Storks and American White Pelicans were plentiful along with Roseate Spoonbills, egrets, herons, ibis, and others! We were so intrigued by this completely unexpected and bizarre birding mecca that we slowed our pace slightly and took some time to enjoy the birds and take a few photos.

Roseate Spoonbill
Wood Storks hanging out with a Great Egret.
Wood Stork

Great Blue Heron sun bathing

American White Pelicans with one Brown Pelican


     Now at 49 species and making pretty good time, but missing quite a few songbirds, we headed off to one of our optional stops on our route - Blucher Park. This park is fairly small and located within the city limits of Corpus Christi, which makes it a migratory bird's oasis in an otherwise uninhabitable urban landscape. If you can ignore the signs of homelessness and ignorant littering humans, it is actually quite a beautiful park. We were considering skipping this stop due to time constraints and the fact that we had plenty of other stops on our route with similar habitat. However, since we were forced to bail on Pollywog Pond earlier in the morning, we decided to at least do a quick walk through Blucher. We nearly had a game-stopping moment during our jaunt around the park when Libby tried to ascend a small, steep hill, resulting in a face full of spider web. This caused her to suddenly pull back, stumbling over me. I then fell sideways due to the weight of my camera pulling me off balance. Luckily, we were both able to catch ourselves and came out of this potential disaster with only a few friction burns. Regardless of the misadventures, stopping at Blucher was one of the best decisions we made all day and resulted in 8 more species being added to our list including a few warblers!
     Our next official stop was to be the Aransas Jetty, accessed from I.B. Magee Beach Park. On the way we made a few quick stops along the Redfish Bay Causeway and checked off Willet, Black-bellied Plover, Whimbrel, Little Blue Heron, and Reddish Egret.

While waiting on the ferry that would take us across Aransas Pass to Port Aransas, a Forster's Tern flew by directly in front of us and was added  to the list!  Arriving at the Aransas Jetty at 12:24 pm, we were immediately impressed with the diversity of tern species that were literally everywhere! We quickly found all possible tern species except for Gull-billed Tern, checked off some gulls, and added Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling to our list. We also spent some time watching the sea turtles that were feeding along the edges of the jetty!

Sea turtle!

Black Tern taking a dive

Walking down the jetty.

Looking at how far we had walked.

This is only a very small portion of the terns sitting on the beach by the jetty. 

Sandwich Tern sitting on a post where we could find him easily.
     After spending almost an hour walking the Jetty, our next two stops were quick ones. Paradise Pond and Port Aransas Nature Preserve provided us with Canada Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Eastern Wood-Pewee and Eastern Kingbird. It was while we were at Aransas Preserve that it started to rain, but luckily we only caught the edge of the storm and the precipitation was not long-lasting. Whew! With only 77 birds at 2:16 pm, a serious thunderstorm would have set us back considerably.
     Turnbull Birding Center was our next stop and turned out to be quite productive! It was here that we closed out our list of terns with the spotting of a Gull-billed Tern, and we found both Neotropical and Double-crested Cormorant. We added nine species here, bringing our total up to 86 species, and I even saw my first Nutria! Having a scope here would have been a huge help, but sometimes making do with what you have is half the fun! At the top of the observation tower at Turnbull was one of those gigantic, industrial steel binoculars for visitors to use. As per usual with this kind of optical equipment subjected to public use 360+ days a year, the lenses were all scratched and foggy, and the whole setup was awkward to use. I decided to give it a try anyway and see if I could see any further then I could with my own 8x42 binoculars. Scanning the edges of the emergent vegetation was not easy, but these giant binoculars gave me just enough additional magnification power to pick out a Black-crowned Night-Heron that was just barely poking its head up above the grasses, and to confirm the id on a Redhead!

Tricolored Heron fishing at Turnbull Birding Center

Nutria in all its wet, matted, miserable-looking glory.
     It was now 3:01 pm and we were starting to feel the ill effects of not eating lunch so we found a quaint little snack shack in Port Aransas that had a drive-thru window. Thinking that a drive-thru would be the quickest option, we went for it. Were we ever wrong! Sitting down at a restaurant would probably have taken the same amount of time - 45 minutes. This did not include eating time. Once we got our food we also had to get some gas in the Jeep, so we ate while sitting in line for a gas pump. While waiting, we were well entertained by a man and woman pushing their gasless car into the station. The woman did not look very happy. I am guessing it was because she was the one pushing the car. At least the guy pumped the gas while the woman stomped into the convenience store and let off some steam.  When we finally got up to our pump, there was a small sign on it saying that the credit card reader wasn't working. Of course, we had no cash on us, so we had to wait even longer. Sigh. Our food and fuel stops had cost us a whole hour.
     Our next two stops, Packery Channel and Redhead Pond, yielded no new birds, so we moved on to Hans A. Suter Wildlife Refuge. Here we finally spotted American Oystercatcher, Marbled Godwit, and Semipalmated Plover. This was another place where remembering the scope would have been very helpful. On the way back to the Jeep we had to use a sidewalk that was right up against a busy main road. This was the last place we expected to find a new bird for our list. However, I saw a dark bird flapping around in the immediately adjacent shrubs so I stopped to investigate. It was a Groove-billed Ani! Species number 90 for the day!
     To finish out the day we decided to return to Hazel Bazemore County Park and try to locate a few species we had missed in the morning. This turned out to be a solid plan, and we checked off both Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawk, Green Jay, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Belted Kingfisher, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and Greater Yellowlegs! At around 7:10 pm the daylight was fading fast and we were antsy to get a few more species, so we took a drive around some farm fields which yielded a few Bank Swallows. We were now at 98 species and really wanted to break 100, so we headed back to Hazel Bazemore which wasn't to close until 8pm. As we were creeping around the park in the near darkness, a county park patrol vehicle came sneaking up behind us and put on his lights. When we pulled over, preparing to explain to him that we are birders and would not leave until the park was officially closed at 8pm, the patrol vehicle passed us without a single question.  We saw the patrol vehicle a few more times during our search for the last two birds of the day, but not once were we questioned. Very weird. Finally, at 7:40 we spotted two nighthawks that appeared out of thin air and disappeared just as quickly. Not being able to identify them as either Common or Lesser Nighthawks was a bummer, but they still counted as species number 99 for our Nueces County, TX Big Day!!!! Biggest miss of the day? Black Vulture. Embarrassing. Still don't understand how we managed that one!
     Team Hawksauce cannot wait until our next Big Day. Where will it be? Only time will tell.

Full list is as follows:

1Ruby-throated HummingbirdHouse
2Great-tailed GrackleRand Morgan Rd.
3Loggerhead ShrikeRand Morgan Rd.
4Scissor-tailed FlycatcherRand Morgan Rd.
5Long-billed CurlewRand Morgan Rd.
6Laughing GullValero on Rand Morgan
7Rock PigeonValero on Rand Morgan
8Chimney SwiftPollywog Pond
9Northern CardinalPollywog Pond
10Blue-Gray GnatcatcherPollywog Pond
11Black-bellied Whistling DuckPollywog Pond
12European StarlingLeopard Rd. and Highway
13Great EgretHazel Bazemore
14Northern MockingbirdHazel Bazemore
15Carolina WrenHazel Bazemore
16Mourning DoveHazel Bazemore
17White-winged DoveHazel Bazemore
18Bronzed CowbirdHazel Bazemore
19House SparrowHazel Bazemore
20Olive SparrowHazel Bazemore
21Inca DoveHazel Bazemore
22Eurasian Collared-DoveHazel Bazemore
23KilldeerHazel Bazemore
24Green HeronHazel Bazemore
25Barn SwallowHazel Bazemore
26Least SandpiperHazel Bazemore
27Green-winged TealHazel Bazemore
28Blue-winged TealHazel Bazemore
29American AvocetHazel Bazemore
30Mottled DuckHazel Bazemore
31Lesser YellowlegsHazel Bazemore
32Couch's KingbirdHazel Bazemore
33Great KiskadeeHazel Bazemore
34Crested CaracaraHazel Bazemore
35Common Ground-DoveHazel Bazemore
36Great Blue HeronHazel Bazemore
37White-eyed VireoHilltop
38Turkey VultureHilltop
39Baltimore OrioleHilltop
40Black-crested TitmouseHilltop
42Golden-fronted WoodpeckerHilltop
43Roseate SpoonbillTule Lake
44Snowy EgretTule Lake
45Tri-colored HeronTule Lake
46Wood StorkTule Lake
47Brown PelicanTule Lake
48American White PelicanTule Lake
49Black-necked StiltTule Lake
50Long-billed ThrasherBlucher Park
51Black and White WarblerBlucher Park
52Yellow WarblerBlucher Park
53Nashville WarblerBlucher Park
54Northern ParulaBlucher Park
55Least FlycatcherBlucher Park
56Red-eyed VireoBlucher Park
57Blue-headed VireoBlucher Park
58WilletRedfish Bay
59Reddish EgretRedfish Bay
60Little Blue HeronRedfish Bay
61WhimbrelRedfish Bay
62Black-bellied PloverRedfish Bay
63Forster's TernFerry to Aransas
64Least TernAransas Jetty
65Common TernAransas Jetty
66Caspian TernAransas Jetty
67Royal TernAransas Jetty
68Sandwich TernAransas Jetty
69Black TernAransas Jetty
70Ruddy TurnstoneAransas Jetty
71Herring GullAransas Jetty
72Ring-billed GullAransas Jetty
73SanderlingAransas Jetty
74Canada WarblerParadise Pond
75Northern WaterthrushParadise Pond
76Eastern Wood-PeweeParadise Pond
77Eastern KingbirdAransas Preserve
78Neotropical CormorantTurnbull Birding Center
79Double-crested CormorantTurnbull Birding Center
80American CootTurnbull Birding Center
81Common GallinuleTurnbull Birding Center
82Black-crowned Night-HeronTurnbull Birding Center
83RedheadTurnbull Birding Center
84Gull-billed TernTurnbull Birding Center
85Northern ShovelerTurnbull Birding Center
86Western SandpiperTurnbull Birding Center
87Groove-billed AniHans A. Suter
88Black SkimmerHans A. Suter
89Marbled GodwitHans A. Suter
90Semipalmated PloverHans A. Suter
91Red-tailed HawkHazel Bazemore
92Red-shoulder HawkHazel Bazemore
93Northern Rough-winged SwallowHazel Bazemore
94Green JayHazel Bazemore
95Belted KingfisherHazel Bazemore
96Ladder-backed WoodpeckerHazel Bazemore
97Greater YellowlegsHazel Bazemore
98Bank SwallowFarm field near Hazel Bazemore
99Common/Lesser NighthawkHazel Bazemore

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