Sunday, 31 March 2013

Texas - Day 9

Back in England after a 9 hour flight, setting off at 9:45 PM, Texas time and landed 1:45pm, English time.

Going back to our final day in Texas, we started it with the joy of packing our bags. Once done we headed to our final state park of our trip, Brazos Bend State Park. We have chosen this locations as it was one of our favourite places and not too far away from the airport so we could stay there till the last moment.

Pied-billed Grebe - Podilymbus podiceps

We started off by walking around 40-acre lake where we saw not 1 or 2 alligators but what seemed like hundreds , most lining the sides of the path around the lake. This was fine last time we visited but having seen what these creatures can do,  put us both on edge as we passed each one.


We also spotted a few lizards running along the floor, normally disappearing into the leaves. After looking around for one a little more tame and relaxed by us getting close, finally we found one on a small tree just by the main path. We both started snapping away and I got a chance to try out my Canon 100mm F2.8L Macro lens.

Green Anole - Anolis carolinensis

After walking around 40 acre lake we moved onto Elm Lake and had a walk around there, we saw less birds though Dragonflies seemed to be everywhere and a whistling duck was sitting on one of the islands in the middle. We also found a very tame Yellow-crowned Night Heron which allowed me to get up close to it without it flying away.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Nyctanassa violacea

As we went to leave the path we spotted our third snake that we had seen at the park, a Garter Snake. Unfortunately as soon as I spotted it, it disappeared.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Texas - Day 8

Having arrived in Port Aransas only yesterday we were now packing to head to our final destination  Lake Jackson for our last night in Texas before heading back to the UK. We got up early and had a quick breakfast before heading to the Birding Center and Paradise Park on the island.

At the Birding Center we spotted Teal, Avocets, and Shovelers, Cinamon Teal and Ruddy Ducks along with many more. One of the Ruddy Ducks on the lake was in its mating colors, which meant its bright blue beck stood out.

Ruddy Duck - Oxyura jamaicensis

Green-winged Teal - Anas crecca

After leaving the Birding Center we headed to Paradise Pond, which was more of a patch of wet mud, again caused by the drought which is effecting wildlife. Although not so much a pond anymore we did spot a few butterflies flying through the tree tops and Yellow Crowned Night Herons perched grooming themselves on the branches.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron -Nyctanassa violacea

From the pond we headed to the beach, in the hope of seeing some different species of sea birds. As we drove down to the car park we were confronted by around 30 Brown Pelicans all flying together and straight towards us, a great start! We parked up the car and walked down towards the waters front, on the way passing what at first looked like a load of Laughing Gulls but on closer inspection we found that they were Royal and Sandwich Terns small Sanderlings running in between them 

Laughing Gulls Calling - Leucophaeus atricilla

As we headed down to the waters front itself we spotted more Sanderlings running in and our of the sea as the tided came in and a pair of Turnstones which were feeding off a piece of washed up drift wood.

Turnstone - Arenaria interpres

Sanderlings - Calidris alba

Sanderlings - Calidris alba

As we went to leave the beach we noticed some Willet sleeping while standing on one leg. As we moved in closer they woke up and started to not run but hop away, which instantly made us laugh. We started to think after that something was wrong with the birds and they only had one leg each but as we moved in again they put their other foot down and stood there looking at us before running off again.

Willet - Tringa semipalmata

Heading away from Port Aransas we started our journey towards Lake Jackson. To split up the journey slightly we decided to take a quick stop at San Bernard National Wildlife Refuse, which we visited earlier in our trip. Here we again headed to the Bobcat Walk, around the boardwalk  and then halfway around the first of the larger lakes that can found on the reserves. From here we spotted a number of large Alligators.  Having seen what they can do we were both holding back a bit when it came to getting close to any of them, even the smaller ones. From the walk we also spotted White Ibis, Black Winged Stilts and what seemed to be a mass meet of Coots whose numbers had to be well over 100!!


From here we headed to Lake Jackson and Cherotel Grand Mariner Hotel, for our final night in Texas!! :(

Friday, 29 March 2013

Texas - Day 7

Our last day by the Rio Grande, to end our time there we headed over to Santa Anna National Wildlife Refuge, where we also started our visit to the area. Last time we visited the park in the evening and it was only a short visit, but now we wanted to get there in the morning and stay longer and allowing us to explore more.

Almost instantly we spotted a few dragonflies flying around and some small butterflies including an Antillean Saddlebag.

Antillean Saddlebag - Tramea insularis

The lakes on the park had nearly dried up, some now just a empty space of dried mud. Even though their wasn't as much water as there should have been due a 3 year drought in the are we were able to see Short-billed Dowitchers, Song Sparrows, Wild Hog and other animals.

Short-billed Dowitcher -  Limnodromus griseus

Peccary - Tayassuidae

Song Sparrows - Melospiza melodia

We walked over to the other side of the refuge as we had been tipped off that there were Great Horned Owls chicks sitting in a nest in a tree by the path. Once there we started looking for the owls and after amount 10 minutes of looking we stopped for a drink when Dad suddenly spotted them sitting in the nest just as we had been told they would be.

Great Horned Owls - Bubo virginianus

Once we finished photographing the owls we headed back to the car and started our journey to Port Aransas, after checking in to our hotel we headed out to see the local reserves so we will  know where to go tomorrow.

The Wildlife Center in Port Aransas

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Texas - Day 6

We started today heading over to Quinta Mazatlan, having heard so many good reports about the place, saying how it was full of butterflies and feeders which attracted Hummingbirds, Green Jays and Parrots etc. We were a little disappointed to find so few birds and none of the feeders filled. We had some seed with us and after putting a small amount down we had attracted in one location 8 Chachalacas in around 10 seconds and other species followed. For our photography we found that being able to place the seed where we wanted, in the lightest areas, we were able to control where the birds came down and so allowing us to capture the best images.

Green Jay - Cyanocorax yncas

After out visit to Quinta Mazatlan we headed to the other side of Alamo to Estero Llano Grande State Park, here we were welcomed by the sound of birds calling, a promising sign. At the visitors center there was a decking area looking out over the lake where we saw a number of different bird species including Shovelers, Ruddy Ducks, Least Grebes and Black-necked Stilt.

Shoveler - Anas clypeata

We then headed over to the alligator lake in the hope of seeing the Common Pauraque. On our way to the lake we stopped off at the Grebe Marsh, where there were swifts perched on some branches in the middle of the lake which made for a good photograph. While we were snapping away a couple walked past and they explained to us where to see the Common Pauraque.

Chimney Swifts - Chaetura pelagica

After the short chat with the couple we headed over to the alligator lake to the location of the Pauraque, We arrived at what we thought was the location but after 5 minutes of looking we couldn't see it. Just as we were going to give up a friendly park warden came along so we asked him for his help and within second he had found us a Pauraque sitting hidden on the floor. It was so well camouflaged that even when he had been pointed out we often looked away looked back and had lost him again.

Common Pauraque - Nyctidromus albicollis

Moving on from the Paraque we headed to the top of the lake in search for the kingfishers which we had been told were to be found around that area. We looked for a few minutes before seeing a splash in the water and spotted a Ringed Kingfisher.

Ringed Kingfisher - Megaceryle torquata

Just as we were leaving I spotted a large black thing in the water through the trees, I looked through my camera and realised it was a Alligator with what we later found out was a Coypu/Nutria.


Alligator + Headless Coypu/Nutria

We moved around to get a better view and watched as the alligator held the Coypu/Nutria under water before taking a bite. Then suddenly he lifted it out of the water and threw it off to the left allowing me to capture the sheer power of the creature.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Texas - Day 5

Our first full day in the Rio Grande Valley. After a nice breakfast at the Alamo Inn we headed to our first location, Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park. After registering in and crossing a small river we came to a visitor centre outside of which were two feeder stations. Here we saw a wide diversity of bird live, from the Chachalaca (20+) feeding on the floor to birds feeding off the feeders, such as Green Jays, Red Wing Blackbirds, Kiskadee, Northern Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxia, all coming down within 5 feet of us.

Chachalaca - Ortalis

Fox Squirrel - Sciurus niger

After some time at the feeders we headed into the park itself. Although not at it's most active due to the colder weather and slight winds we were able to see Great-tailed Grackle and a kingfisher, unfortunately to far away to photograph. We then went off the main path down one of the trials taking us more into the bush. A short time after turning away from the main path I heard a rustle in the bushes, so I slowly went off the path to investigate  I was greeted by a garter snake which I had not any idea what it was so quickly moved back. Unfortunately this must have scared the snake and it disappeared under a log.

Great-tailed Grackle - Quiscalus mexicanus

After our walk around the reserve we headed back to the car to get some lunch. On our way we started talking to a volunteer at the park who told us where we could see a Eastern Screech Owl, so after lunch we took the park tram to the start of the path where the owl could be found. Ironically it was the same path we had walk down earlier. We found the tree that the owl was meant to be in and no matter how hard we looked we couldn't see it.

Where is he??

Luckly another visited came along who had visited the park a few times and pointed the owl out to us, it had been right in front of us all this time!!

There he is!!

Eastern Screech Owl - Megascops asio

After capturing photos of the Screech Owl we headed back to the car to drive to the Butterfly Center which was next door to Bentsen. After arriving we made out way down to the gardens hoping to see  different species of butterflies but due to the weather not being great we only saw, a flighty Queen butterfly. However it wasn't all lost as in the gardens they had a bird feeding area where we found even more bird then we had seen at Bentsen. The feeders attracted Fox Squirrels, Altamira Oriole, Green Jays, Kiskadee, Northern Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxia.

Altamira Oriole -  Icterus gularis

Long-billed Thrasher - Toxostoma longirostre

Green Jay - Cyanocorax yncas

Northern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Texas - Day 4

The day of the boat trip, we were firstly welcomed by a cold temperature but with the skies clear we hoped it would warm up quickly. Our guide and captain of the boat was Kevin Sims, probably one of the most well known whooping crane boat captains. We set off at 7am in time to see the sunrise and to get into position ready for the cranes once the light appeared on the horizon.

 Sunrise from boat

Within 10 minutes of setting off Kevin had spotted 2 Whooping Cranes not far from the shore, so the cameras were grabbed and we all set-up on the front and top of the boat. As we got closer, instead of the cranes flying away they seemed to ignore us and even move closer to the boat, allowing us all to capture some amazing images with the cranes filling the frames. While we were there we saw the cranes catch 2 crabs and take them into the reed to eat.

Whooping Crane - Grus americana

After the success of the cranes in such a short amount of time we were wondering what we were going to do for the rest of the tour, but Kevin took us slowly down the Intracoastal Waterway, going past the large tug boats transporting oil and gas up and down the coast. As we all scanned looking for birds we almost missed a small pod of 3 dolphins swimming up behind us.

Bottlenose Dolphin - Tursiops

Again after the amazement of seeing the cranes then the dolphins we were all looking forward to what could come next, we all knew it was going to be a good day! After another 5-10 minutes on the boat, we arrived at a small island in the middle of the waterway, but this wasn't just any island this one was covered in Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Reddish Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills!! This was the highlight of the day for me, being so close to all these beautiful birds, especially the spoonbills which are so colorful and standing out.

Reddish Egret - Egretta rufescens

Reddish Egret - Egretta rufescens

Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodias

Great Egret - Ardea alba

Roseate Spoonbill - Ajaja ajaja

After about an hour at the island and managing to fill a card with 600 images! We moved, making our way slowly back to the dock, on the way seeing more cranes, Sanderings, Turnstones, Common Loons and many more. As we pulled into the dock area we spotted a pair of loons swimming around out of the current. This allowed us to get up close to them and even capture them flapping their wings out of the water.

Common Loon - Gavia imme

After the boat trip we made out way to the Rio Grande, and our next hotel, the Alamo Inn. Here we were warmly greeted by a member of staff, and then Keith the owner of the Inn came to speak to us about where to go and see/photograph the local wildlife, which we found interesting to see how it compared to information we had found online. After unpacking the car and a short break we headed off to one of the local reserves, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuse. Here we took one of the shorter trials as the light was going by the second. As we made our way along the path we spotted a number of different bird species including Great Kiskadee, Chachalaca and over 100 Turkey Vultures who were migrating through the area.

Chachalaca - Ortalis

Turkey Vulture - Cathartes aura

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuse