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.
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.
|Wood Storks hanging out with a Great Egret.|
|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!
|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.|
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.|
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:
|2||Great-tailed Grackle||Rand Morgan Rd.|
|3||Loggerhead Shrike||Rand Morgan Rd.|
|4||Scissor-tailed Flycatcher||Rand Morgan Rd.|
|5||Long-billed Curlew||Rand Morgan Rd.|
|6||Laughing Gull||Valero on Rand Morgan|
|7||Rock Pigeon||Valero on Rand Morgan|
|8||Chimney Swift||Pollywog Pond|
|9||Northern Cardinal||Pollywog Pond|
|10||Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher||Pollywog Pond|
|11||Black-bellied Whistling Duck||Pollywog Pond|
|12||European Starling||Leopard Rd. and Highway|
|13||Great Egret||Hazel Bazemore|
|14||Northern Mockingbird||Hazel Bazemore|
|15||Carolina Wren||Hazel Bazemore|
|16||Mourning Dove||Hazel Bazemore|
|17||White-winged Dove||Hazel Bazemore|
|18||Bronzed Cowbird||Hazel Bazemore|
|19||House Sparrow||Hazel Bazemore|
|20||Olive Sparrow||Hazel Bazemore|
|21||Inca Dove||Hazel Bazemore|
|22||Eurasian Collared-Dove||Hazel Bazemore|
|24||Green Heron||Hazel Bazemore|
|25||Barn Swallow||Hazel Bazemore|
|26||Least Sandpiper||Hazel Bazemore|
|27||Green-winged Teal||Hazel Bazemore|
|28||Blue-winged Teal||Hazel Bazemore|
|29||American Avocet||Hazel Bazemore|
|30||Mottled Duck||Hazel Bazemore|
|31||Lesser Yellowlegs||Hazel Bazemore|
|32||Couch's Kingbird||Hazel Bazemore|
|33||Great Kiskadee||Hazel Bazemore|
|34||Crested Caracara||Hazel Bazemore|
|35||Common Ground-Dove||Hazel Bazemore|
|36||Great Blue Heron||Hazel Bazemore|
|43||Roseate Spoonbill||Tule Lake|
|44||Snowy Egret||Tule Lake|
|45||Tri-colored Heron||Tule Lake|
|46||Wood Stork||Tule Lake|
|47||Brown Pelican||Tule Lake|
|48||American White Pelican||Tule Lake|
|49||Black-necked Stilt||Tule Lake|
|50||Long-billed Thrasher||Blucher Park|
|51||Black and White Warbler||Blucher Park|
|52||Yellow Warbler||Blucher Park|
|53||Nashville Warbler||Blucher Park|
|54||Northern Parula||Blucher Park|
|55||Least Flycatcher||Blucher Park|
|56||Red-eyed Vireo||Blucher Park|
|57||Blue-headed Vireo||Blucher Park|
|59||Reddish Egret||Redfish Bay|
|60||Little Blue Heron||Redfish Bay|
|62||Black-bellied Plover||Redfish Bay|
|63||Forster's Tern||Ferry to Aransas|
|64||Least Tern||Aransas Jetty|
|65||Common Tern||Aransas Jetty|
|66||Caspian Tern||Aransas Jetty|
|67||Royal Tern||Aransas Jetty|
|68||Sandwich Tern||Aransas Jetty|
|69||Black Tern||Aransas Jetty|
|70||Ruddy Turnstone||Aransas Jetty|
|71||Herring Gull||Aransas Jetty|
|72||Ring-billed Gull||Aransas Jetty|
|74||Canada Warbler||Paradise Pond|
|75||Northern Waterthrush||Paradise Pond|
|76||Eastern Wood-Pewee||Paradise Pond|
|77||Eastern Kingbird||Aransas Preserve|
|78||Neotropical Cormorant||Turnbull Birding Center|
|79||Double-crested Cormorant||Turnbull Birding Center|
|80||American Coot||Turnbull Birding Center|
|81||Common Gallinule||Turnbull Birding Center|
|82||Black-crowned Night-Heron||Turnbull Birding Center|
|83||Redhead||Turnbull Birding Center|
|84||Gull-billed Tern||Turnbull Birding Center|
|85||Northern Shoveler||Turnbull Birding Center|
|86||Western Sandpiper||Turnbull Birding Center|
|87||Groove-billed Ani||Hans A. Suter|
|88||Black Skimmer||Hans A. Suter|
|89||Marbled Godwit||Hans A. Suter|
|90||Semipalmated Plover||Hans A. Suter|
|91||Red-tailed Hawk||Hazel Bazemore|
|92||Red-shoulder Hawk||Hazel Bazemore|
|93||Northern Rough-winged Swallow||Hazel Bazemore|
|94||Green Jay||Hazel Bazemore|
|95||Belted Kingfisher||Hazel Bazemore|
|96||Ladder-backed Woodpecker||Hazel Bazemore|
|97||Greater Yellowlegs||Hazel Bazemore|
|98||Bank Swallow||Farm field near Hazel Bazemore|
|99||Common/Lesser Nighthawk||Hazel Bazemore|