We flew down after work on Thursday night. We checked into the Alamo Inn Bed and Breakfast in Alamo, Texas. I had stayed there last time and really enjoyed the inn keepers. After basically taking a brief nap, we got up bright and early and headed to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.
Santa Ana unfortunately was very disappointing. The refuge is not all that different from Bentsen Rio Grande State Park which I had visited before, and had a similar experience. We did not spend too much time there, and headed to a neighborhood in a town near the border known as Progresso Lakes. There we had a much more productive time, nabbing several raptors including a lifer white-tailed hawk and another lifer, the black-bellied whistling duck.
We then headed to Estero Llano Grande State Park in the afternoon. If you ever visit the Valley, Estero is a must. It offers a great variety of habitat, which in turn means you see a great variety of birds. We would visit Estero again on last day in Texas in search of rose-throated becard and tropical parula warbler (we would dip on both birds twice).
After day one Elissa and I were beat. Both of us have been battling colds and needed some rest. We kicked off early in hopes of feeling better in the morning.
Morning came on Saturday and although we didn't really feel any better, we charged on, determined not to waste our time in Texas. Saturday was our up river day. Stops included Salineno, Chapeno, and Falcon Dam. Salineno is probably my favorite place in the whole Valley. There's not much to it. River access to the Rio Grande, a short trail west up river, and the famous feeding stations. Elissa and I spent some time viewing the river before heading up the trail to see if we could spot a few white-collared seedeaters that had been reported at that location.
After dipping on yet another species, we headed to the feeding station. The station has been operated by a volunteer named Merle for the last 9 years. He lives in a trailer on the property. The guy couldn't be nicer. We sat and chatted with Merle for quite a while as we watched green jays, kiskadees, and altimira orioles swoop into the feeders. I told Merle I remembered him from three years ago and that I appreciated what he does for visiting birders. After donating some money for seed, Merle had me sign in on the Ohio page. He went back to December 2013, and sure enough, there was my name next my dad and aunt's signatures.
After leaving Salineno we headed up to Falcon State Park. Falcon is a cool place, but it's big. The park sits right on a reservoir that damns the river right on the border. One of the key spots to check out at Falcon is the campgrounds. Campers usually feed the birds and are generally friendly and accommodating to visitors. On a tip from Merle, we looked for a dodge pickup truck with a Wyoming license plate. The owner was a very friendly guy named Larry. He invited us to sit down and watch the feeders and water fixture he had set up. Although we missed yet another target bird at Falcon (grove-billed ani), I was able to get another one of my 6 lifers on the trip at Larry's feeders: black-throated sparrow.
On our way back I decided to try out a new spot: Chapeno. Like Salineno, you basically take a road south from highway 83 until in dead ends into the river. This place, however, had a little more of a dueling banjo feel to it. We had to stop at a cement block structure to pay a small fee to get to the river. After dodging a few dogs with the car a man, who almost literally looked like death, came out to collect. After taking a quite dangerous jaunt down a very poor road in our rented Toyota Corolla, we ended up finally by the river again. And guess what? We saw absolutely nothing. One more brief stop at Salineno ended our day. Elissa was able to snag two lifers there: green kingfisher and olive sparrow.
Our final day was, as mentioned, dominated by our morning trip to Estero Llano. I was finally able to ID a mottled duck, which was nice and unnecessarily overdue. We also had a very cool peregrine falcon sighting in which an immature bird showed off it's speed as it unsuccessfully attempted to pick off a green-winged teal.
As our flight time got closer I wracked my brain trying to think of a quick stop that might yield a new bird or two. Once again, a tip from Merle proved to be successful. We headed to some grain silos east of Progresso Lakes where Merle had said we might have a shot at bronzed cowbird. He was right. Along with an uncountable (at least for me) number of red-winged blackbirds and brown-headed cowbirds, and pretty decent numbers of yellow-headed blackbirds, there were at least 6 bronzed cowbirds hiding in the mix.
The trip was capped off by our flight being cancelled due to heavy rains, thunderstorms, and possible tornados. We weren't able to get out of Dallas until Monday morning. Of course when we were dealt these lemons, we decided to make lemonade by staying the night at my dear friend Tom Scovic's house. He and his wife were nice enough to let us crash for the night. I had great time catching up with Tom, and was thankful for that opportunity. Below are some pictures from our trip. Enjoy!
|Not a great pic, but this is my lifer white-tailed hawk.|
|Spotted sandpiper, lacking spots in non-breeding plumage|
|Common ground dove|
|Peccary (aka javelina)|
|Ruby crowned kinglet. Elissa took this one. I like the wings.|
|American white pelicans|
|One of a handful of yellow-headed blackbirds. This is a female.|
|Bronzed cowbirds (red eye) with Red-winged blackbird|