Cactus Tunas

Cactus Tunas
Cactus Tunas

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Birding with Laurel: New Year at Choke Canyon

December 30, 2019-January 2, 2020

Laurel and I moved to Choke Canyon State Park to look for birds still common to the Valley, but also eastern and western birds. I always set out food for the birds, picking it up at night to prevent feeding deer, javelinas, and feral pigs. The green jays immediately show up, followed by the other birds that eat oranges. I had black oil sunflower seeds and peanut butter/lard mix I put in cracks of tree bark.  Our days there were mostly cloudy and we were shut out of my favorite birding area, Seventy-Five Acre Lake and the area accessed from it because it was closed for hunting. So, once again we didn't have a huge birding experience.

This was the first time I ever found a brown creeper here - distant and in bad light

All the following pictures were taken from my camp chair, sitting under the shelter over our table.

One of the specialty birds is the black crested titmouse.  It is a very fast moving species but this guy was forced to wait his turn to get a seed and I got a poor picture of him.

Black crested titmouse

The first visitors to our food offerings were the green jays.  Eventually we were seeing up to eight of them at a time.

One of the reasons jays, as well as all corvids are successful is that
they are willing to try most foods

The main reason we put up oranges is to attract the Audubon's oriole. But they are attractive to many other species.

We mainly put up oranges for the Audubon's orioles but they attract many other species

A golden fronted woodpecker checking out the peanut butter mix

Golden fronted woodpeckers eat a lot of different foods as well - this one is enjoying sunflower seed
Gotta get WAY in there to find some juicy parts


A few bugs would be good about now

A yellow rumped warbler is trying to figure out what all the excitement is about

A long-billed thrasher visited the area, mostly to check out the activity

As did a Lincoln's sparrow - the ONLY sparrow I saw in the park

A cabbage butterfly on one of the last flowers

One of the most fun block of times we had at the park was photographing and observing a family group of javelinas. It was the first time I've seen baby javelinas since I once almost intercepted a family of them with a few females, juviniles and a boar while hiking in Bentson Rio Grande State Park.

Javalina - relatives of our domestic pig

This mom had two babies - they are also losing their reddish color they had at birth

The day was gray and Laurel was cold, and didn't want to hike so we went out and checked some of the little sub roads and checked out the boat launches to the lake and river. We had several birds along one road as well as some interesting brahma cattle. We had been looking throughout the valley for road runners and saw several dart across the road and disappear before we could photograph them at Falcon Dam. (We took a route that took us by it on way to Choke Canyon.) We finally got this guy, sitting in a tree under the dreary skies.


Curious cows

We also stopped to check what was behind a tall fence and found exotics.


Since we were here for New Year's Day, we had to document our first bird sighting of the new year.  It turned out to be a green jay, with the Audubon's oriole a close second.  It had only taken a day to get the birds coming for our offerings.

First bird sighting of the new year

This bird was barely the second sighting for 2020

I actually found the most birds at Choke Canyon way back in 2011.  I captured many of them from my hammock in site 107.  For that story, click here.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Birding With Laurel: Port Aransas Birding

December 24, 2019
After our Goose Island State Park stopover, we continued our trip down the Texas coast to Mustang Island. We left early so we could bird Port Aransas on the way to our camp site at Mustang Island State Park.  Just before we reached the ferry, we stopped to take a picture of a structure that dominates the area.

The ferry trip is so short that you can only get out of the car for about three minutes.  But we grabbed a shot of an oncoming ferry.

As soon as we got off the ferry, we made our way to the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center. The light was beautiful and the birds, while not abundant, still were plentiful enough to give us a few hours of enjoyment.

Laughing and ring-billed gulls

Foraging sora

I think this is a female green-winged teal

Lots of activity was going on at the end of the reach of my lens

Several juvenile pie-billed grebes were playing and feeding

The common gallinules were probably the most abundant birds except for white pelicans

Snowy egret sighting his next snack

A green-winged teal showing off his field marks

Two American bitterns were hunting and provided me about a half hour of amusement

Black-necked stilt and mottled ducks

Black necked stilts and reflections

We next tried Charlie's Pasture. Only the old part still exists. The boardwalk part was destroyed by the Hurricane Harvey which did in most of Port Aransas. Again we mostly saw a landscape devoid of birds and had to work hard to get the next two pictures.


A Savannah sparrow - if a sparrow sits for pictures, its a Savannah

I enjoyed these corral bean seeds- some people make beads of them, although they are poisonous

After a mostly a non-bird walk through Charlie's pasture, we tried our luck at Paradise Pond.  That has suffered from three factors.  First the land that provided trees around the pond has been cleared and developed. Second, the hurricane, tore out trees. Third, most of the large trees were Brazilian pepper trees and were removed and replaced with little trees. So there are very few birds there.

This was the only merganser we saw in the Central or Lower Texas Coast -
very strange to find it in the pond and not in salt water

We camped at Mustang Island State Park and birded it and Padre Island National Seashore but only found a handful of common birds.

None were worth noting.  Species of birds were notably absent and the numbers of each species we saw WAY down.

Our next landing was a motel in Alamo, Texas where we had several birding adventures.  Stay tuned. This is publishing as I'm enjoying a house party with friends. We visited the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston yesterday and will go on a little paddle today.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Travels With Laurel: Birding in the Rockport Area

December 22, 2019

Laurel and I started our birding marathon in Houston but found very few birds under dreary skies

Our first stop on our birding trip was to Goose Island State Park to camp and bird the area. I told Laurel we HAD to go out on Captain Tommy's Skimmer to see the whooper cranes and associated birds. This is a report of that trip.  Otherwise, it was the same few birds that were no fun to hunt for in an almost empty landscape. And we only had thirty some species from the boat. I usually get around 50 species  with about 64 expected species in the spring when migration is starting.

Morning View 

Snowy (L) and tri-colored heron (r)

Great blue heron

Tri-colored heron hunting

Avocet in prison (winter) attire

Whooping crane

Whooper pair

A single bird - we saw no juviniles although some have been seen

Mostly double crested cormorants with one neotropical - the little guy

Pelicans, gulls, and cormorants

Same birds flying

Royal tern


We didn't find enough birds to blog about at the state park.  However we each took some 50 pictures of a brown pelican trying to choke down the remains of a fish after a fisherman filleted it.

Brown pelican working on swallowing a large fish after fisherman removed fillets 

Laurel editing pictures back at camp

We only saw about thirty species - can't find my notes - on the tour. I expected to find around 50 species. And in late March/early April, we can expect 60+ species as we add in early migrants, sometimes seen flying in the last mile over the Gulf. But I still enjoyed my whooping crane fix.