My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Spring Comes to Reimer Ranch

Last Monday, I was ready to leave my daughter's house with plans to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on the way home. But I found it was closed on Mondays. My alternate plan was to go to Reimer Ranch, a huge county park, along the Pedernales River.

I arrived, just as the morning fog was lifting to an almost empty park. The park doesn't charge fees to old guys, so they gave me a map and a list of birds seen at the park and waved me on my way.  It is several miles from the entrance to any of the parking places. Since my last visit, when the park was very new,  beautiful rock buildings have gone up and a lot of the paths are accessible. I came to a place with signs to a rock climbing area.  It also now has beautiful bathrooms and drinking water.

I parked and  took the easy trail to the canyon and then walked along it.  The recent rains had started to recharge the aquifers as well as had just run into the low places so there was a little water in the bottom of the gulley.  As I walked along it, I was amazed at the difference between the plants in it and the plants on the surface.  The top is full of cactus and stunted live oak as well as grasses, while the canyon was a place of ferns, sycomore and cypress trees.  It even had a resident canyon wren that repeatedly sang it's wonderful descending song.

View down the canyon

The old and new leaves and berries of a sycamore growing in the canyon floor

Huge cypress, grow from to floor to out of the canyon - these were blooming and leafing out

I followed the trail along the canyon until it ended on an overlook over the Pedernales River.  I climbed over a waist-high stone wall to follow an accessible trail back to the car. This area was more meadow, cactus, wildflowers and small trees and held lots of mocking birds and titmice, as well as a few lingering white-crowned sparrows.

I loved the backlit cacti all covered with spider webs and condensation

Baby blue eyes were blooming in small groups and large masses

I got back in my car to go to my original destination, a trail that runs along the Pedernales River.  But I found the road branched and the right went to an overlook to the right and my remembered river trail to the left. I took the right road to a parking lot and then found a path down to the river.  There were lots of titmice and wrens foraging. The trees were covered in ball moss, a favorite nesting site of northern Parulas, although none had arrived to sing their little zeeee -up sewing machine call.

View across the river 

A patch of ball moss in bloom

Black and turkey vultures started flying off the cliffs while I enjoyed the view

The Pedernales River
 I climbed back to the car and drove to the other access point to the river. This has a covered picnic area and more restrooms, all made of the native limestone. I had to share this parking lot with three other cars, but only saw two other couples on that trail.

Several species of butterflies were very active.  

Within just over a mile, my path came to a side creek coming down through a canyon, I think the first one I visited. It turned to go up the hill, so I did too and was soon in a lovely, shady forested area, which I really appreciated, since the temperatures were reaching the high 70's. I first turned left when I reached a fork in the trail, since it seemed to parallel the river and thus would be expected to take me back to the car.  But I soon came up to a group of guys that were rock climbing.  My trail disappeared about that time and the guys said that I couldn't get through by walking. So I turned around and took the right trail which soon wound upward along the creek.  This was a lovely moist area and wildflowers and ferns were everywhere.

Honeybees were industriously harvesting pollen and nectar from spiderworts

Baby ferns were sprouting and unrolling

View along the trailside

The further I went, the rockier it got, until I got to what looked like a cave that had fallen down.  It even appeared to have remnants of stalactites and stalagmites. Water was dripping all along the front of this area and a strong stream of water was keeping all the moss  and ferns on an old stalagmite well-watered.

This old stalagmite was about as big as me in both height and
width and was getting a good shower

Ants were working furiously to get fresh leaves into their burrows

This trail too, finally went over rocks I wasn't willing to climb, covered as I was with my iPad, camera, and binoculars, so I turned around and retraced my steps to the car.  It was definitely a great day. 

Looking downstream at the Pedernales 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Grand Time at Estero Llano Grande

Winnie and I continued our Saturday birding at Estero Llano State Park.  We got there about 1:45 P.M. and took a few minutes to eat the salads Winnie's son had made for us. While eating we had northern mockingbirds and long-billed thrashers singing and orange-crowned warblers foraging. Then we went down to the visitor center and I immediately enjoyed the birds in the pond, while Winnie went into the visitor center. I was enjoying looking through a scope operated by a volunteer. A Vietnamese lady started asking me questions about birds and my camera. By the time Winnie showed up, she had asked if she could go around with us.

View of the pond in front of the visitor center

White-faced ibis

Vegetation in the wooded areas

One of the birds we came to look for was the gray-crowned yellowthroat, a relative of the common yellowthroat.  We didn't see that bird, but did enjoy seeing a lot of ducks and waders as well as several kinds of sandpipers and a few vermillion flycatchers in young male and young female plumages.  The day was so cloudy that a sora came out early. We went down to the location of the sleeping common pauraque and had to stop along the way to take close pictures of a yellow-crowned night heron. On the way back from checking out the large alligator in the lake past the bedroom of the common pauraque, we were met by a woman coming to find us to show us a green kingfisher.

Sora by Winnie Shrum

Spotted sandpiper

Western sandpiper (I hope)

Common pauraque - one or more of these birds are always sleeping in the same four square feet. 

Green kingfisher in very low light

Then we decided to go up the hill to the Llano Grande.  We had a whole new set of birds there.  There were at least 100 black-bellied whistling ducks, many avocets and black necked stilts, and ruddy ducks.

Winnie's picture of Suzy and me coming up the hill to the Llano Grando

Back at the garden behind the visitor center, we watched inca doves and a pair of ruddy doves as well as a female rufous hummer. Then we had a little boy take our pictures at the entrance sign before saying goodbye to Suzy.

Inca dove pair

Female rufus hummingbird

Pair of ruddy doves

This is a very easy place to find a lot of species. It too will be even better in migration.

Winnie, me and our new friend, Suzy

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wild Bird Wednesday: In Search of Migrants

Last Saturday we got to see the sun for the first time in many days.  (I think it was more days than I have fingers.) When I heard of it's imminent appearance, I decided to go to Anahuac NWR and near by High Island, one of the top ten birding destinations in the country during spring migration.

I think I remember you, Sun.  At Anahuac NWR

I got up, made a quick breakfast and packed coffee to go, grabbed my gear and my already packed lunch and water and took off.  A ferry was loading as I arrived at the ferry launch and I only had to wait about 5 minutes for it to start its journey.  I thought it would be fun to find somewhere along the coast to take a sunrise picture, but I was so early, that I got all the way into Anahuac before the sky colored up.  I went on down towards Frozen Point and then stopped at a canal where the main string crabbing is done, to watch the sun come up and the birds begin to fly from their roosting to feeding areas. Then I spent a lot of time driving around Shoveler Pond and walking through the butterfly garden and then taking the boardwalk all the way to the Willows.

This osprey let me get very close while he wrestled with the wind, fish and thin perch. 

View of ponds to right of Shoveler at start

Common gallinule - think it was catching bugs

Since only common birds were around, I checked out some of the grackles to see if they were boat-tailed or great-tailed. Here is a boat-tailed male - with a brown eye and a more rounded head. The blue iridescence doesn't show up in this picture.

A male boat-tailed grackle singing

I saw no warblers, except for one yellow-rumped, but was happy to visit "my" trees. As part of the 1000 hours I worked during the first 11 months of my volunteer life, I worked in many different ways to get trees replanted and then watered through the worst drought we had had in Texas. I'll add the blogs that tell that story if you haven't read it.  (Check out the links at the end of this blog/) These trees now feel like my children. Many of the trees didn't make it but maybe half of them did, and some of them are now getting pretty big.

Mulberry trees - 5' when planted 4 years ago

The catbirds will be excited to find mulberry fruit here in late April

A line of new willows along the pond in The Willows

One tree we really wanted to reinstate on the refuge was Hercules Club, AKA Devil's Walking Stick.  Only this tree and live oaks grow on the refuge naturally. All these trees were completely eradicated by Hurricane Ike and the Friends of Anahuac could find no sources to buy new ones.

Imagine my delight when I found little foot-high seedlings popping up.  On another tour, I'd like to spread these around down the Hackberry trail, where they used to grow.  But it will take great care to avoid personal injury.  These trees are great for wildlife providing food, and most importantly, shelter, because snakes don't climb into these trees and eat eggs and baby birds from their nests.

Wonder how they got that name, Devil's Walking Stick

The Devil's Walking Sticks are Leafing out

I made a quick stop at Boy Scout Woods at High Island to find several people finishing up the cleaning of the buildings and getting everything ready to officially open next Friday.  A western tanager, a black and white warbler and a yellow-throated warbler were the only migrants around and I didn't spot any of them.  But a visit to the rookery in Smith Woods was more productive.  The rookery is starting up and currently has great egrets, roseate spoonbills, and neotropic cormorants hanging out and starting to breed. 

Lots of roseate spoonbills seemed to be saving real estate (note header for longer view)

Neotropical cormorants were already sitting on nests

The egret on left seemed to be building a nest  - maybe didn't want a neighbor this close

This bird has at least two eggs 

It was a good day and I came home tired and happy.

Past Tree Posts

What the Refuge looked like two years after Ike and what the Friends and I did about it. 

We got snowed out and then rained out of two work days when we expected to plant around 400 plants. So I was planting them through May.  The YCC guys helped me get many of them planted. 

We thought we could plant willows in shallow ponds and forget about them.  But the drought dried up the ponds and the baccaris over grew the willows. We had to rescue them.  And I started more willows rooting. 

I negotiated to get button bush cuttings to start in the shade shelter. 

Then got the lagniappe of cypress trees - ending up with over 100 live ones when I left.

Check out more bird blogs here

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Rewarding Day of Birding in the Texas Valley

It started at Santa Ana NWR. We joined my friend Winnie's Audubon group at 8:00 A, after only having to drive forty-five minutes, since we stayed with her son in Rio Hondo. Within minutes of starting our walk, we saw a Bullock's oriole, a  rarity at this time and place.  A few minutes later, we saw a clay-colored thrush, a common species at this park but a life bird for me.  Then we got into a mixed flock of little birds that had titmice,and blue gray gnatcatchers as well as a male yellow-throated warbler. We put up four olive sparrows while moving around for views of the flock.

Meanwhile a long-billed thrasher sang tirelessly until we had time to to get a look at him. By this time we already had around twenty species. Just a few yards further, I noticed a grayish bird foraging with red-winged blackbirds. We soon realized we had a rusty blackbird. I got  pictures of her in two different places and saw a second female fly into the brush behind where I was photographing her.

My favorite pose of the female rusty blackbird

A plain chachalaca showing its throat patch
The young male Bullock's oriole

A distant view, in dim light, of the singing long-billed thrasher

A solitary sandpiper - as identified by it's size,
yellow legs and huge eye ring

Great Kiskadees were calling and flashing their yellow breasts everywhere

The birding group, except for Winnie and me who were on the observation towers

Lovely spring blooming shrub - if you know it, please tell me in the blog comments - Thanks to   Angie, I now know this is Colima'- Zanthoxylum fagara

The red-winged blackbirds almost took over the feeders at midday

I love every part of the Texas Olive which is blooming now

View down one of the trails we walked in one of the few minutes of nice light

A distant view of the Couch's kingbird

A young male vermilion flycatcher who has almost completed his molt into adult plumage

We also saw ducks, black-necked stilts, and neotropic and double-crested cormorants. But the conditions did not allow decent photos of them.  The best ducks we saw were fulvous whistling ducks.

A olive sparrow stopped his foraging for just long enough for me to capture his picture

Fulvous whistling duck  - love their "watermarks"

If you are interested in the full list of birds we saw, here is the link to my eBird checklist. I had to prove we really saw the rusty blackbird and Bullock's oriole and wanted to have the olive sparrow picture in the list for myself.

Here is a link to the bar charts for birds seen over the last ten years at this refuge. It shows the best time of the year to look for each species.

We finally stopped birding this refuge after 1:00 P, continuing after the rest of our group drove off to lunch.  The wonderful birding day continued after we got to Estero Llano Grande State Park.  See my next blog for details.