Roseate Spoonbills on Big Slough

Roseate Spoonbills on Big Slough
Roseate Spoonbills on Big Slough

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Visiting a Favorite Refuge with New Friends

 Our Volunteer Village has more than doubled in size with the arrival of two new volunteer couples. My free time schedule overlaps each of theirs by one day. Dee, Steve and I started talking about good birding places and I invited them to join me to visit Anahuac, the refuge where I volunteered while still working and the first refuge I volunteered at when I started my residential volunteer life. 

I further offered to give them the service I used to give people when I volunteered as a free birding guide for Birding Pals. I would bring lunch and guide them. Then we could enjoy a sunset supper at a restaurant on Bolivar Pennisula, along the intercoastal canal before catching the Galveston ferry. 

We had a wonderful day, but didn't even have time to visit all the parts of the main refuge, much less get to the Skillern Unit. But come along.....

I was completely unable to refind the whooping crane, but we found a field with several groups of sandhill cranes

The first bird we photographed was this red-tail hawk warming himself in the early sunlight

We started seeing lots of white-faced ibis as soon as we started around Shoveler Pond, the auto tour

Many species of birds were hunting together - the ibis' bill is backlit

This little blue was with the above two birds, just a bit too far apart to make a good picture

One of the birds people make a particular effort to find  here is the boat-tailed grackle. Dee and Steve could tell boat-tailed grackles from the more common great-tailed grackles with just a few looks. These birds are slightly smaller, have a MUCH rounder head, a smaller bill, and a blue iridescence

After coots and common gallinules, the two most common birds were black bellied whistling ducks and roseate spoonbills

It seemed some of the birds were starting early courting behavior. I'm not sure if this was courting or fighting

We spent another several delightful minutes watching these white pelicans cooperatively feeding

The birds I got most excited about were about a dozen fulvous whistling ducks.  I haven't seen any for over a dozen years.

We made it all the way to the end of Frozen Point without seeing many birds, except for a
few hawks. But this laughing gull ...

...was hanging out with a single ring-billed gull

We saw several red-tailed hawks but I liked this one's pugnacious expression best

The last time I visited here only a couple of weeks ago, I got to watch several large flocks
 of snow geese and greater 
white-fronted geese fly over. This day, we only saw about
15 greater white-fronted geese on the ground 

All too soon, and before we could even finish traveling all the roads at the main refuge, much less visit the Skillern unit and do some hiking, we realized, that to take the ferry home and get back about 8:00, we needed to start to the restaurant. When I was last here, Stingeree's, a restaurant that has ALWAYS been here, was closed. I found Steve's Landing which is also on the Intercoastal Canal and only a few miles east of Stingeree's. The food was outstanding, and I figured we could eat outside and enjoy the barges and other boats on the Intercoastal, as well as sunset.  Dee and Steve agreed and we had a lovely meal with  great entertainment.

This shrimp boat came to the marina next to the restaurant

The day was done and so were we

For my eBird list, click here:

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

A Banquet for the Birds

 On Monday, January 10, Stan and I plus two or our new volunteers, Steve and Tracy, joined local volunteers to put in a hard physical day on cleaning up our island gardens in the parking lot. Later I went to see how our resident birds were faring after two days of clouds and some rain and high winds. My first surprise was in finding two large alligators out in the wind that was so cold, I had to run the car heater to be able to shoot out the windows. Then, almost across the street, the normally empty ditch and the land on either side of it was full of birds sheltering from the wind and hunting their evening meal. Great egrets  and great blue herons mixed with snowy egrets, ibis, roseate spoonbills and neotropical cormorants.

Alligator Pair

Roseate spoonbills and great blue heron hiding from the wind

After several minutes of enjoying the interactions of the birds, I slowly continued to Olney Pond, where there were piles of white birds, along the edges, and the pond, now dramatically lower than when I saw it the morning before, was full of swimming and wading birds.  Herons, egrets, spoonbills, greater and lesser yellowlegs, white and white-faced ibis,  dowitchers, plovers, sandpipers, all the resident duck species, and even a few species of gulls were feeding or loafing.  It looked like a major party, complete with drunk fights. 

I thought these would be pelicans instead of white ibis

Four species together

I was able to get closer to many greater yellowlegs

Gulls also were hanging out closer than usual - this one was sitting in a bush at the side of the road

I took the dowitchers but got a gull and  green-winged teal

Several little blue herons were hunting in the ditch across the road from the pond

This is only the back half of the view - I accidently set the camera to an effect that blurs the
foreground so cropped this to just the back half. These are gadwalls and wigeons.

Not all white birds are egrets - this is a first year little blue heron

This group of white-faced ibis flew in and found a little space in which to feed

My prize bird - first shot of a lesser black-backed gull

These two appeared to be dancing as they fed

I enjoyed watching a white ibis catch a crab.  Then mayhem ensued. A bully gull saw the ibis catch the crab and decided to relieve him of it. Two other gulls saw the action and decided to join in the chase. I shot wildly, but only got a few pictures of the chase. The birds flew behind the car before I learned who actually got to eat the crab. 

Ah, dinner at last

Then a bully gull spotted the successful bird and leaped after the ibis

A chase ensued

The ibis thought it could stop but the gull kept up the chase

Other gulls joined the chase  and soon four gulls were harassing the ibis. They flew behind the car and I didn't see the end. 
But I'm sure that crab ended up in some gull's stomach.

I found a few more birds on the rest of the refuge, most notably the first kestrel I've seen here.  THAN, the sun kicked in with a gorgeous sunset, All in all, it was a most satisfactory day.  

Male kestrel

I had time to get back to our fishing spot on Bastrop Bayou for a front seat view

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Chasing Birds

 On my last days off, I decided to wander where my spirit moved me and see how many birds I could photograph.  I first went south to San Bernard where there were few birds and none willing to come close enough for pictures. I was only able to get a eastern phoebe along the trails. The ponds only had common gallinules and American coots except for one alligator and two blue-winged teal.  The auto tour felt like Brazoria, with lots of coots, gallinules and blue-winged teal. The most activity was at the viewing platform, which had lots of herons, egrets, ibis, and teal. 

Eastern phoebe

The viewing platform was getting a lot of use

By late morning, I was starving, so set my GPS for On the River Restaurant in Freeport. The meal was delicious.  I checked out the Old Brazos River across the street, but only found a an osprey. Soon I was on my way to Galveston to catch the ferry. 


That trip lasted much longer than I expected, as it took three ferries to get all people ahead of me across.  So I ended up crossing at sunset and not getting to bird Bolivar, North Jetty and all the other birding hot spots along the way.  I got excited about eating at Stingaree Restaurant only to find it was closed.  So I checked what other eateries were along the way.  I found a new-to-me Steve's Landing Restaurant.  It didn't have nearly enough wait people for the crowd, but the shrimp tacos were by far the best I've ever eaten. 

Sunset from the ferry

Sleep spot

My goal for the following day was to be at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge at sunrise.  I slept at the rest stop in Chambers County where I enjoyed the lullaby provided by the eighteen wheelers. The sun and I arrived simultaneously at the entrance to Anahuac. I started off the day by watching huge flocks of geese fly out. I had fun driving around the auto tour, although there were fewer birds than I expected. 

Dawn sky filling with birds

A flock of white-faced ibis

A closer view of a white-faced ibis

One of a few visible alligators

A distant view of black necked stilts

A pair of caracaras

I finished up my Anahuac tour by going to frozen point, stopping to photograph the huge flock of black bellied whistling ducks. 

A fly up of black bellied whistling ducks

A pair of very tame neotropic cormorants

I also wanted to find to find the whooping crane that has been spending winters near Winnie, Texas. I used the coordinates provided by e-bird and found it in the same field where it was originally reported. After enjoying some time with it, I went after supper and another night at a rest stop. 

Whooping Crane

My next mission was to find the limpkin reported at Sheldon Lake Reservoir, so I got up in time to make the hour's drive in time for sunrise.  I was a few minutes late, but still got some pretty cloud pictures. I saw another birding couple and went to see what they knew.  We ended up looking for the limpkin for about an hour, while I shared my favorite birding places with them. After about an hour, we found not one, but two limpkins sitting in trees. We moved around to try to get a view that wasn't directly into the sun.  They sat around patiently for several minutes, before  disappearing into the swamp to feed on invasive apple snails.  We were joined by several other birders, including one that arrived after both birds had disappeared.

Sunrise was blocked by clouds leaving this view

The first limpkin flying off

While the second finished up its toilet

By this time, I was hungry and done with birding, so I continued on to spend a couple of days with Natalie and cook a New Year's Eve dinner before driving back to work New Year's Day, 

Happy New Year. Surely this will be the year COVID will become endemic.  Be safe.