Tuesday 6 December 2016

Texas - Day 1

Sorry about the chronology - this is a continuation of the Texas trip that started here.

Day 0
Today was all about travelling so there is not a lot to say. For the purposes of a trip report it is worth noting that Austin has very few international flights, so in that respect it is a very easy airport to arrive into, and the usual CPB nightmare that you have to endure at larger gateways like New York or Miami wasn’t present at all. It was all very efficient and we were out and in our hire car within a very short space of time. In theory Corpus Christi was a little over three hours away, but once we had factored in a new wardrobe for Henry, some boots (yee-hah!) for me, and some food for both of us what should have been an arrival at 8pm was in fact more like 11pm. The birdy highlight was actually in the mall carpark near San Antonio, with a pre-dusk gathering of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers – a much hoped-for bird.

Laughing Gull. Actually not bad for a gull.

Day 1
Despite the late night we were awake before first light – there is no escaping at least some element of jet lag no matter how comfortable your travel. We were on the shore of North Padre Island, just a few miles outside of Corpus Christi, and the sky looked clear. Arriving late and in the dark we hadn’t really realised we were right next to the ocean, so it was nice to see the water for the first time. 

The first birds were not waders or gulls however, but Great-tailed Grackles, a species we were to see loads of over the course of the trip. Our first stop was Port Aransas at the top end of Mustang Island, but the light was so beautiful that we ended up stopping very frequently along the long, straight 361 that took us there. Loads of waders, egrets, pelicans and our first Laughing Gulls – we had a bit of fun taking photos as many of the birds that hang around the fishermen’s car parks were fairly tame. Eventually we arrived at the Leona Turnbull Birding Centre, and took the short boardwalk out to a viewing tower. This was excellent, with fantastic views of loads of species, including a bonus Least Bittern seen very well in the reeds, and a Green Heron right next to the tower. Grackles were a constant presence, and all sorts of egrets were seen flying over the reedbeds including Roseate Spoonbill. A Flamingo was likely an escape.

Great-tailed Grackle

Least Bittern

More distantly, out towards Corpus Christi Bay, there were literally hundreds of egrets of almost any species you cared to mention feeding in the shallows and on the mudflats. A scope was essential here for getting decent views, but equally you could practically stroke a number of species. The only downside was that being Saturday morning it was quite busy, so no real photo opportunities of the kind I really like, and the footfall meant that my scope got bounced up and down quite a lot. Instead we moved on just a short distance down the road to the Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond. This was a lot quieter and we had the place to ourselves for almost half an hour. Although a tiny reserve, there were stacks of birds, including our first Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Least Grebes, both species new to me. Two Cooper’s Hawks and an American Kestrel were staking the place out, but the only small bird that we saw was an Orange-crowned Warbler, a species we would become very familiar with over the next few days. I get the feeling this reserve would be fabulous in the spring.

Least Grebe

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

By now Henry’s stomach was beginning to ask what the food options were. This is one of the challenges of birding with a twelve year old – constant and almost insatiable hunger. Happily just a short distance away was an old-fashioned family-run diner with an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. I didn’t go for it, but let’s just say that Henry got extremely good value for money….  After breakfast we briefly explored Port Aransas Nature Reserve for closer views of the waders and various herons, but knowing we had a lot of travelling to do we decided to press on. We made a stop in Corpus Christi to visit a Skateboard shop, but after that it was all about the long journey south on I77. Our first stop here was at the Sarita Rest Area just south of Riviera. This was really good, with our first Green Jays and Black-crested Titmouse showing very little fear. From this point on we started seeing Scissor-tailed Flycatchers regularly, mostly perched on the fences that separated the road from the vast ranches on either side.

Black-tufted Titmouse

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Further south a diversion to try and get to Laguna Atacosa on the coast was a complete failure, with a bridge out, and then once an alternative crossing point was found almost every road heading east was closed. By the time we had completed our fourth diversion and still needing to make a fifth we gave up and headed south to Port Isabel. We found a great area by the side of the Port Isabel – Brownsville highway that looked out across Boca Chica SP – basically a picnic and fishing spot, but with views out onto extensive mudflats. We added lots of waders here, as well as Yellow-crowned Night Heron and a White-tailed Kite. Again a scope was very useful, and in lovely light we had supreme views. Unfortunately the good birding here as well as yet more closed roads in Brownsville meant that our final stop of the day, Sabal Palm Sanctuary, was closing as we arrived, so I will have to save that for another trip. With our lodgings an hour away up the Rio Grande Valley at McAllen, we set off yet again via a nice steak dinner. Despite the amount of time on the road, the day list was 82 - not a bad start.


  1. wow - birds! Great pics as ever. not even a tiny bit "on the huh" - most disappointing!