My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Best Tour for the Price - At Laguna Atascosa NWR

Winnie, my hostess in Corpus Christi ,had signed up for a field trip at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. She got her son to let us, and her three dogs, visit him so we wouldn't have to leave at  5:00 A.M.  And, since we had to travel so far, we decided to do a weekend birding blitz.  We got down to Rio Hondo Friday in time to eat an early lunch and then run over to Laguna Atascosa.  There we found that the afternoon tour still have some places left, provided we were willing to spend the grandiose price of $3.00.  (People under 65 are penalized by having to spend an extra $1.00 for the tour plus the $3.00 entry fee.)

We had both a driver and a guide for a group of 6 people.  We were in a van because of the weather but the tour usually goes in an open tram and holds twelve.  The tour takes you along the old auto tour. That was closed to the public after someone ran over an occelet, of which there are only about 50 left in Texas. So you almost HAVE to go on this tour to see much of the close birdy parts of the refuge.

Although we had unusually cold and cloudy weather, we saw sixty-one species total at the refuge.   Winnie and I probably saw about a dozen species that weren't on the tour, including an Altamira Oriole.  Because of the poor light the pictures are not very good.  But hopefully they will give you an idea of this wonderful place, one of the refuges that manages both for birds and the very endangered ocelot.

South Texas (known as the valley) gets lots of birds that mostly live in Mexico and points south. One of the most common is the green jay, one of my favorite birds. Other birds associated with this area include the plain chachalaca, the white-tipped dove, several species of orioles, the gray hawk and some thrushes.  The aplomado falcon is being reintroduced at this refuge, and, I think, others within the valley. Young ones have been seen as far up the coast as Goose Island State Park.

The green jay is always in evidence where birds are fed

The altamira oriole is another speciality here (photo by Winnie Shrum)

Plain chachalacas - the dawn chorus of several hundred of them yelling out their name definitely got me going at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park many years ago.

Even though we have a had a long cool and rainy spell, spring flowers are starting to appear.  We particularly loved the blooming yuccas.  These require the yucca moth for pollination.  The moth lays its eggs in the seed case and the larva eats a few of the seeds. We saw shrike, northern mockingbirds, kestrel and caracara sitting on on the yucca plant. The big caracara was able to sit on top of the bloom spike. 

A view of the vegetation between the road and the laguna

A male kestrel hunting from a perch in a yucca

The white-tipped doves are easy to see around feeders but often to hard to find in the thick underbrush
A large patch of verbena was blooming at the viewing platform

A view through a yucca of the fields/brush on the far side of the road

Closeup of yucca flowers

Open areas with trees or even little shrubs make for good hunting for vermillion flycatchers, here getting a little blown about by wind.  (by Winnie Shrum)

The ponds along the road, as well as the laguna were full of coots, ducks, waders, and grebes. We saw at least 19 tricolored herons there.  But the dull light and foggy conditions made it impossible to get usable pictures.

The refuge also offers kayak tours and is a wonderful destination.  They even have alligators, which, of course, were smart enough not to be out in the cold weather. The thorn forest intermingles with coastal wetlands, the most ecologically valuable lands in the world, there. Click here for more information.

Sorry I'm a little late.  Came back to Galveston yesterday so today felt like Monday.  Just back from getting released to do anything I want, including paddling.  Now just have to work on getting more strength and flexibility.  And of course get in shape to get my canoe on top of my car. 

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