Saturday 24 December 2016

Texas - Day 4

Our final early start saw us arrive at Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary on the Gulf coast. This is a tiny reserve set amongst residential properties and against the boundary of a huge industrial area. So not that prepossessing on first glance, but this small lot is clearly a labour of love. There is a small tower, and then a number of small paths that run through some dense scrub and some more open areas. Running water and drinking pools, with 'rides' you can view down. Set against the gas works and diggings, and the houses with no cover to speak of, it must stand out like a magnet for small birds as they hit the coast. Obviously this is late October rather than early May, but it was still pretty decent and we added several new birds in the push towards the magic 150 (initial target was of course 100, but I new we would smash that easily. 150 the next boundary but of course it gets progressively harder) including a very elusive Yellow-billed Cuckoo, our first Gray Catbird and a Blue-headed Vireo

Northern Mockingbird
Eastern Phoebe

Heading to the beach at the eastern end of the point it became very birdy indeed, with many Terns, Gulls and Pelicans milling around. We hoped to find roosting birds on the sandy beach and soon came across a crowded section with many Franklin's Gulls - my first outside the UK - Royal and Forster's Terns and many Lesser Black-backed Gulls. All were very wary and we could not get close but excellent scope views were obtained. We then drove along the shoreline at Bryan Beach Park, passing an American Oystercatcher alongside the usual selection of waders. The inland water held thousands of American Coots, and it was also here that we lucked out on a Belted Kingfisher, completing the set for the trip.

Nearly a teenager

Working our way inland along the 36 northbound it wasn't long before we arrived at our final birding destination, Brazos Bend State Park - more of a recreational area but a good mix of woodland and swamp habitat. With 141 species under the belt could we make that final push. After enjoying being shown a baby Alligator at the nature centre, we took one of the trails into the woodland. First up, high in the trees, was a vocal Red-bellied Woodpecker. Somehow Henry grasped that 150 meant a lot to his stupid father, and from here on in he transformed into bird-finder extraordinaire. He eeked out Carolina Wren, identified only from snatches and then referenced to the Sibley to get to the answer. A fantastic couple of hours followed as we found some feeding flocks in the scrub and tall trees, coaxing many down with earnest pishing - Magnolia Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse and White-eyed Vireo all gave themselves up, and with American Crow and Blue Jay added around the carpark we found we got there with ease in the end. 

Cute now....but give it time!

We walked around Elm Lake looking for the other whistling duck species but drew a blank - hundreds of the commoner one though. I surprised Henry with scope views of some truly impressive Alligators basking - he thought I was on a bird when I invited him to have a look! Compared to the small lizard we had petted in the visitor centre a few hours!  By now mid-afternoon we had to head back to the car as it would have been poor to have missed our flight home, and the airport was around the other side of Houston which is so massive that I could forsee it taking some time. This proved to be spot on, and an extremely late lunch later we joined the frankly ridiculous traffic rotating around America's fourth largest city.

One mall stop later for some final clothes shopping we pointed our car towards George Bush Intercontinental. Houston in rush hour is to be avoided, but then again an 8pm flight out is pretty ideal really and we made it with a little time to spare and settled down for nice sleep on one of the newest Dreamliners...

In retrospect it felt like we did a lot of driving, though if you want to bird the Rio Grande Valley then Austin and Houston are the nearest international points of entry and they're several hundred miles away so you have no choice. I suppose therefore that this is mostly down to the extremely short length of our trip - four days is not a lot when you have that much ground to cover. No matter where I go I always feel like I want an extra day, and no doubt this still would have been true had I organised a five day trip to Texas. But this is what I do - I would prefer to have three short trips than one long one, but also it is far easier for me to squeeze in multiple short trips than it would be to be away from home for long stretches at a time, even if it all evens out in the end.

Trip list = 150

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