Whoopers in Texas

We stopped at our friends’ Helaine and Ted’s for a brief visit, enjoying a good time with them as always, before heading to Texas.

Monday, February 6 Good Food

On the way to Texas we ate at Panini Pete’s in Fairhope, Alabama, they have been featured on Triple D.   Great food and atmosphere.  Of course we had to have some beignets.  We overnighted at a Drury Hotel in Baton Rouge.  Feeling somewhat lazy, we walked next door to Cheng’s Restaurant for dinner.

Tuesday, February 7 Galveston

Today was the first day of our hard-core birding. We spent the entire day hiking and looking to photograph birds. We started at Galveston Island State Park. We added one new bird to our ever growing list, it was a sedge wren.  

Next we drove to Lafitte’s Cove Nature Society trail. This is a small park that we had visited on a previous trip through Texas.  It is basically surrounded by a housing development but has some very simple paths with water features for the birds.  We got some decent pictures of a roseate spoonbill and some green-winged teals. 

We then proceeded to San Luis Pass County Park. Here we spent some time trying to refine our photographing birds in flight skills.  We were able to practice on the many terns diving for fish.  

One of the birds we were hoping to photograph was a clapper rail.  We used e-birds to look at recent sightings in the area.  We drove out to Clam Road since a sighting had been reported there.  There we met some birders who recommended Swan Lake Board Landing for a better chance at clapper rails. So we only spent a little time at Clam Road before we headed off again. We didn’t spot any clapper rails at Swan Lake, but did see lots of other birds. We had lunch at Luquita’s Tacos (huge tacos on homemade tortillas – yum!). Dinner was at Panjos Pizza in Rockport. 

Wednesday, February 8 Mustang Island & Rockport

After doing some research, we found that there was an aplomado falcon viewing area on the relatively nearby Mustang Island.  It was a super foggy morning but we didn’t let that stop us. We drove to Mustang Island State Park in search of the aplomado falcon viewing area.  Although the viewing area is easily seen from the road under normal circumstances, it was so foggy we couldn’t find it. So we visited other areas of the park. We made one visit to the beach and added a piping plover to our life list. 

We ended up getting caught  in a little rain but that also helped drive away some of the foggy conditions. Eventually we drove back up the strip of road and were able to find the viewing area and got some pictures of the falcons. We had lunch on the island and it started to pour so we decided to call it quits for the day.  We headed to the Rockport Hampton Inn & Suites where we were meeting Hector Astorga and the rest of the group for the “Whooping Cranes of Aransas NWR” photo tour.

Thursday, February 9 Whooping Cranes

We got up early, so that we could leave by 5:55am.  Our hotel is only 5 minutes from the marina. Our boat is “The Jack Flash ” and the captain is Capt. Kevin Sims.  The boat was originally designed to navigate the narrow, shallow swamps and bayous of Louisiana. It was designed and built with photography being its main purpose. Our captain has been leading photographers in Aransas Bay for over 20 years. 

We photographed about a dozen whooping cranes. We also got some great close-up pictures of a couple of American oystercatchers that were just hanging out on a spit of land. 

In the afternoon, we photographed from a blind, where there is a feeder that goes off periodically. There were about a dozen whooping cranes, 2 sandhill cranes, and 3 bucks. Whoopers are notoriously territorial, so I got some great shots of some fighting.

Friday, February 10 No Whooping Cranes

We got up early for day 2, but the wind was so strong that the captain suggested that we not go out on the boat.  He would have taken us, but the movement of the boat would have severely hampered any great photos. So we, as a group, decided against going out on the boat. Hector did a presentation on photography and editing instead. 

In the afternoon we were back at the blind again. It was cold between the temperature and the winds. This time we saw a lot of sandhill cranes.

Saturday, February 11 Whooping Cranes & Sandhill Cranes

This is the last day of the tour.  We got up early and prepared for our boat excursion. The wind had died down but it was still the coldest day of our adventure. It was a good day for photography though.  We were able to get numerous close up photos of the whooping cranes and also nice photos of the whooping cranes feeding on crabs. We also spent some time photographing pelicans trying to catch food. 

In the afternoon we had our last session at the blind.

Sunday, February 12 Aransas

Karen got up early but was frustrated because she couldn’t access the hotel’s gym since the door lock was on the fritz. So we headed out and drove to Mustang Island again. We saw two white-tailed hawks (new) on our way to the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in Aransas. 

At the center, we got some great photos of a number of water birds including a sora, and green-winged teals. We also had a nice surprise as we were finally able to add a clapper rail to our life list. When we drove back to leave Mustang Island, we had one last chance to photograph the aplomado falcons. 

We drove to our hotel in Harlingen, stopping along the way for lunch in Robsville at Taqueria Guadalajara.

Monday, February 13 Estero Llano Grande State Park

Our destination today was Estero Llano Grande State Park. Our goal was to photograph the common pauraque. We stopped at the visitor center and got instructions on where to look for the pauraque, but we didn’t find any even with the help of a number of other people. It was a very nice park so we continued hiking and visited other areas of the park.  Eventually we ended up at the bunting blind looking for other birds. Someone who was helping us look for pauraque earlier, found us in the blind and showed us where to see a pauraque just a short distance away. Thank goodness for the help, I don’t know that we would have ever spotted them on our own, they camouflage so well. So we got to add another bird to our life list. 

We got lunch and headed back to the hotel for laundry duty. Later towards evening, we drove to Raymondville and then towards the coast looking for nilgai. Hector told us that he routinely sees them along that stretch of road.  We saw two but they are extremely skittish and not very photogenic. We also saw a number of white tailed hawks along this stretch of road.

Tuesday, February 14 South Padre Island

Today we headed to one of our favorite birding destinations, South Padre Island. Our first destination was the mud flats just past the convention center.  Karen followed Hector’s advice for the best photos, she laid down on the mud flats to be at bird’s eye level. Next we went to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. We have never failed to get some impressive photos of water birds at the center. 

After we ate lunch, we checked out the boardwalk at the convention center.  We had never been on this boardwalk before and we were underwhelmed. It is possible that we were too late in the day but we will probably just stick to the Birding and Nature Center boardwalks.  Later in the afternoon, we went to Resaca De La Palma State Park in Brownsville. There was not a lot of bird activity going on at that time of day, however we did photograph an armadillo moseying along.

Wednesday, February 15 Laguna Atascosa NWR

Today we went to another destination that Alan considers a must do when we are in this area, Laguna Atascosa NWR. This NWR is one of the few places in the US that has a population of ocelots.  Although we know we won’t see any, we still need to go, because you never know for sure.  The NWR also has a couple of very nice feeding stations and a photo blind.  We always get photos of the very colorful Green Jays and the Altamira Orioles.  

We hiked the Laguna Vista Nature Trail looking for anything else of interest.  Karen was feeling a little under the weather so we didn’t push to hike too far.

This is also the NWR where we first learned about the nilgai.  On one of our hikes, we came across a large pile of scat.  Too much for just one animal.  At the end of our hike, we went back to the visitor’s center and asked about it and we were told that the scat came from nilgai which defecates in a common area. 

Thursday, February 16 Hugh Ramsey Nature Park

Today we tried a new park, the Hugh Ramsey Nature Park.  It was a cute little park with a number of areas set aside to watch the birds.  We didn’t spot any new birds but we could see ourselves going back there.  The trails were well maintained and hiking was easy.

Friday, February 17 Nilgai

Our allotted time in south Texas was over, so we started our drive to the Houston area. Of course this takes us by Raymondville, so we decided to take a detour and look for nilgai again.  We turned at Raymondville and got almost all the way to the coast when we spotted a small herd of nilgai as they crossed the road in front of us. There was one male and about  four or five females and a couple young ones.  Our persistence had paid off.

Saturday, February 18 Houston

We met up with Carol and Scott to go birdwatching at Brazos Bend State Park.  They were nice enough to secure a reservation ahead of our visit. We spent the morning walking trails and photographing birds.  After that we had a picnic lunch at the park.

Sunday, February 19 Houston

We met up with Carol and Scott again this morning. We did our hiking and birding at John Hargrove Environmental Center. In the afternoon, we went over pictures and discussed workflow. In the early evening, we went to Resoft County Park to photograph birds in flight.  This is a great place to practice since there are multiple little islands in a pond for the birds to fly in to spend the night.  We also saw some healthy nutria at the park.

Monday, February 20 Home

Today we started our trek home.