The birds of the air…

Just skip the following blah, blah, blah if you’re a returning reader.  The most recent sightings are below.   

If you haven’t been here before, let me explain why this page is on a blog that deals primarily with issues of Orthodox Christianity.  There simply wasn’t any way of combining Orthodoxy and my slightly obsessive birding hobby without being gratuitous, so here’s to gratuitous.  I have a rather extensive backyard feeder set-up and I bird the local San Antonio hot spots, as well as further afield in Texas and wherever I happen to be.  This is just a page that will give you a little update on what’s interesting at my feeders or what I might be seeing on field trips.  I may or may not post the numbers of birds seen and I’ll keep adding to the list chronologically.  Oh, and by the way, don’t expect any of them fancy photos you see birders posting with their digiscoping rigs.  I’m just not that technical. 

Saturday, January 30, 2010, Corpus Christi area  (This entry is a work in progress so keep visiting back till I get all the details written up and some bad photos added) 

I had a rather ambitious birding itinerary planned out for this day, but things always change once you realize just what’s realistic.  It’s a simple graph of time vs. square mileage.  And, a woman birding by herself tends to be a bit more cautious about the places they visit.  

My first stop was Hazel Bazemore County Park – the hawk watch capital of Texas.  This is the perfect car birding park, with roadways following very close to the river, through the picnic areas and up to the very elaborate and sturdy hawk watch platform.  No hawks today, except one very fast and out-of-no where flyover that I suspect was a Cooper’s.  Highlight birds:  Mottled Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Black-necked Stilts,  American Goldfinches, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, and a lone female N. Harrier. 

Ladder-backed Woodpecker 01-30-10 Hazel Bazemore Park

Hawkwatch Platform Hazel Bazemore Park

From Hazel Bazemore Park, I debated driving out past Sinton, Texas,  to see the Northern Wheatear that’s become a local celebrity at an Amish farmer’s place (I hear it’s worth the trip just to buy his wife’s peanut brittle – they’re making a little well earned cash selling homemade goods to birders).  Instead I went for quantity of birds rather than, I won’t say quality, but sheer numbers won out.  I thought about driving the back roads between Sinton and Rockport looking for hawks, but decided to concentrate on the east side of Corpus Christi, which would make it easier to return to my in-laws house and wind up the day’s birding at Oso Bay a couple of blocks down the street. 

My choice then after Hazel Bazemore was Pollywog Ponds, an area of wastewater impoundment ponds operated by the City of Corpus.  This site is an almost given visit considering its proximity to Hazel Bazemore.  Having never been there before I had tried to locate it on the outbound trip down Hwy. 37 towards Hazel Bazemore.  Every birder’s directions tell you to exit at Violet Street or Callicoate Road, then go left on Up River Road.  What they don’t tell you that is crucial to finding the place is to mention that it’s at the intersection of Up River Road and Sarasota.   Why don’t they just tell you to exit at Sarasota?  It would have saved me a lot of head scratching and profanity.  Once you reach the site, it is set well off the road, recognizable as a birding location only until you drive 75 or so yards up to the marked gate.  But through that gate is a paradise.  

The very inviting entrance to Pollywog Pond


Pollywog Pond - Trail leading to ponds









Pollywog Pond is a single track leading in, with a trashy ditch of runoff water on one side, a swampy tangle of woods on the other, leading to 4 large ponds.  Along that trail I stopped counting Couch’s Kingbirds when I hit 20, and 4 loud Great Kiskadees.  The Kingbirds and Kiskadees seemed to be attracted to a couple of small trees on the trail and repeatedly clustered there, looking like giant yellow flowers on the bare branches.  It was truly the most amazing thing I’ve seen in a long time and was disappointed I didn’t have my camera.  (I later went back to the car for it and got photos of these single birds below).  Other birds in the thickets included Golden-fronted Woodpecker, White-eyed Vireo, Lincoln’s Sparrows, White-winged Doves, and numerous Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  Turkey Vultures, Caracaras, and a Red-tailed Hawk were flyovers.

Reaching the ponds about 250 yards from the entrance, I saw an abundance of waterfowl, including, displaying Buffleheads, N. Pintails, Gadwalls, Ruddy Ducks (no Masked though), and two Least Grebes.  Suprisingly, the Least Grebes weren’t in the cattails or vegetation close to shore, but out in the middle of the most exposed, windy pond.  How do you figure that, unless you remember birds don’t read the field guides.  I didn’t see any of the resident gators, but the place is an amazing architectural study in oddly shaped fire ant nests (probably due to the recent heavy rains), so watch where you stand.  It is also isolated.  I was the only visitor and felt a little vulnerable the farther I got from my truck.  It was the birds that just kept drawing me a little further in till I lost all sense of caution. 

Couch's Kingbird Pollywog Pond 01-30-10

Great Kiskadee Pollywog Pond 01-30-10

Reluctantly I left Pollywog Ponds about noon, then headed out to Padre Island with the intention of maybe going over to Port Aransas, with a stop in Flour Bluff at the Redhead Pond Wildlife Management Area.   This is about a 30 mile drive crossing the east side of Corpus Christi on a busy Saturday – the traffic around Staples can be bad since that’s the major big box store  shopping hub of Corpus.  Redhead Pond is reached off JFK Causeway, going east.  Take the exit at Waldron Road, and drive along the access road to Laguna Shores Road – this is very important.   Unfortunately, the highway department was replacing the bridge just at Redhead Pond and there is no way to get there.  From the road I could just make out a single Osprey in the pond, but unless the ducks were all along the bank, it looked pretty dead.   OK, on to Padre Island.  I was over the big bridge, through town and halfway to Padre Island National Seashore before I realized I’d missed the turnoff to Port A ’cause I was chatting with my sister on the phone.  No matter, birds were very sparse along the road anyway and I didn’t feel like paying the entrance fee for a quick trip.  (By the way, if you’re ever down there, go to Padre Island National Seashore instead of the more popular beaches near Port A.  It’s a beautiful adventure but beware of soft sand, especially if there hasn’t been much rain lately.   Milepost 5 is the start of the “primitive” driving, but I’ve gotten stuck within 1/2 mile of the beach entrance in a car, and turned around at 25 miles in a 4×4.  The die hard surf fishermen (shark and monster redfish are what they’re after) with 4×4’s are heading all the way down to the land cut at Mansfield Channel – the end of the driveable island, 60 miles away.   Driving on the beach will be easier if there’ve been recent rains and the sand is more packed, but don’t attempt the full drive unless you are well prepared and have a 4×4 with front and back winches.  

Well, I turned around and headed back about 1:00 p.m. and instead went to Packery Channel County Park, right at the south end of the big bridge.  There is a subdivision surrounding the park which contains a local Audubon sanctuary with observation deck.  The place to be during spring migration, but dead in winter.  

The park itself consists of a single long strip of water access with good views out into the Laguna Madre.  The wind was a ripping, cold pain in the #*!%, but by setting my scope up in the leeward side of my truck I was perfectly comfortable.  Highlight birds included Marbled Godwits, Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibis, Caspian, Forster’s and Royal Terns, N. Pintails, Ruddy Turnstones, Black Skimmers, American Oystercatcher, Buffleheads, Herring Gulls, Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, Long-billed Curlews, and Dowitcher sp.

The last stop of the day was at Hans Suter Park on Enis Joslin Road.  This park consists of a wooded roadside strip bordering Oso Bay and a boardwalk through the marsh, past the freshwater outlet from a water treatment facility and out to the edge of the water.  This is an absolutely wonderful birding place at the right time of the day.  Bright sunny mornings can be a little difficult to scope since you’ll be looking directly into the rising sun over the bay.   A very low tide can put the birds out a considerable way from the boardwalk.   I timed my visit for the end of the day about 2 hours before low tide.   Highlight birds:  White and Brown Pelican, many Mottled Ducks, Green Wing Teal, Black-crowned Night Heron, Snowy Egret, Osprey, American Widgeon, Gadwall, Little Blue Heron, N. Shoveler, and N. Pintail.   The portion of the boardwalk following the freshwater outlet puts you within 10 to 15 feet of many of these birds.  Today’s bright sunlight reflecting off the green face patches of the male Green-winged Teal was just breathtaking!  Everything was perfect until two idiots showed up at the outlet and started cast netting minnows, totally scaring everything away along that portion of the boardwalk.

4:30 p.m. and the end of a very tiring but totally perfect birding day!  I topped it off with a family dinner at my favorite Corpus restaurant Catfish Charlie’s.   Best seafood in Corpus and the catfish is to die for.  My 10 year old got initiated into the glories of frog legs this trip.  “They taste like chicken.” 

Tomorrow is my birthday and the San Antonio Audubon trip out on The Skimmer to see Whooping Cranes.  It’ll be another early day to meet the group for some pre-boat trip birding in Port A and Rockport.

Friday, January 29, 2010 

Packed and leaving for two days in Corpus Christi, Texas.  The kids and spouse will stay at the in-laws and I’m going to spend 2 whole days birding the Corpus area, including a Sunday Whooping Crane trip onboard The Skimmer (Fulton, Texas).   That’s my birthday present to myself .  If you’re gonna get old you might as well enjoy it.  I’ll post details of all the fabulous birds when I get back.  

Thursday, January 28, 2010 

A beautiful Crested Caracara flew overhead yesterday as I got near my house.  They always look so purposeful when they fly.  

Saturday, January 23, 2010 

I finally got a photo of my Buff-bellied Hummingbird.  For some reason the bird doesn’t seem to be too nervous when I sit on the deck near one of the yard feeders.   The bird is much more nervous up near the house.  I’d spent some long, uncomfortable spells trying to get a shot through my patio door without success, so the photos below were embarrasingly easy to shoot.   Within a few minutes of taking the Buff-bellied photos,  I had an immature male Rufous Hummingbird make an appearance too.   You can see the red coming in on its gorget.  2 female Rufous Hummingbirds were hanging around for a couple of days at Christmas so it’s nice to see the difference in coloration of the males.  These Rufous are actually a life bird, a yard bird, a county bird and a state bird for me all in one.    

Buff-bellied Hummingbird 1-23-10 San Antonio, Texas

Immature male Rufous Hummingbird 01-23-10 San Antonio, Texas

Monday, January 18, 2010 (MLK Day) 

Beautiful mild weather after days of the kind of rain and wind we just don’t expect in South Texas in January.   The feeders and bird baths were very active today.  “My” Buff-bellied Hummingbird continues to buzz around the nectar feeders since coming to stay on December 23rd.  It survived the cold snap and the rains and I hope it will be here for several more weeks before returning to the Rio Grande Valley.  Today’s bird highlights:  Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Lincoln’s Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Lesser Goldfinch, Slate-colored Junco, Eastern Towhee, Bewick’s Wren, Carolina Wren, Orange-crowned Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-crested Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, House Finch, Northern Cardinal (starting to sing too), Golden-fronted Woodpecker, White-winged Dove, Red shouldered Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Black Vulture.

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