Monday, January 12
I reached Santa Ana at 8 and checked in at the visitor center. I was going to pay cash, but when I mentioned that I had a duck stamp the person at the desk got all excited that someone would actually use one. I grabbed a trail map and started out. I started at the Chachalaca Trail and immediately had an Olive Sparrow. Quite the skulker. A few feet further, I had a better view of Long-billed Thrasher but still not great.
At the overlook, there were a bunch of grebes, including several Least, along with many teal and a few yellowthroats.
Continuing on to the lookout, I finally got better views of the thrasher and sparrow (got photos of the thrasher as it turned away). At the blind, I caught a brownish bird down near the water. It took a few seconds for it to click in, but it was a Clay-colored Thrush (formerly Robin)! One of the birds I really wanted to see. But yikes it was dull. It posed for a series of shots (all at the same angle though).
At the blind, I got my first moorhen of the trip and there was a Carolina Wren working where the robin had been. Moving on, I came across an Olive Sparrow sitting up, almost in the open. It appeared to be eating and stayed still for several photos.
Back at the start of the trail, I ran back to the car for a quick snack and found two Plain Chachalacas by the headquarters. They didn’t stick around for good views, so I moved on to the Willow Lakes trail. It was fairly quiet and I branched off to the Cattail Trail. Shortly down there, I had a couple birds pop up. Clay-coloreds! And there was a third one chupping nearby. And then 10 yards further were two more calling! I can’t say with 100% certainty that there were no repeats, but I think there was a flock of 5.
The trail soon opened up and a White-eyed Vireo popped up, followed by a few Kingbirds. Unfortunately, they moved way into the back trees and stayed silent, so I had to let them go as Couch’s/Tropical. I also heard something that sounded vaguely like a Spotted Towhee around here.
I continued on and eventually reached a dirt road, which had the only roadrunner of the trip run across. I wandered in the direction of the water that was nearby and found a large flock of swallows overhead. They appeared to be Cliff or Cave but the light was awful. I was having a hard time making them into Cliff, but since I still haven’t caught up with any of the November Caves in Mass I let them go for now.
The water was not overly interesting (a Kestrel, a Golden-fronted Woodpecker, and a bunch of skittish ducks) so I turned around. The swallow flock returned and I felt more convinced that they were Cave and even managed a few pictures.
Back near the kingbird spot, I found a single bird on the other side of the trail. I grabbed the camera and lucked into one shot as it flew off. If the wing is spread fully and I’m reading Pyle properly, it’s more likely a Couch’s (and in a bit of foreshadowing, listening to vocalizations the next day, I noticed that Couch’s have ones that sounded like what I thought was a towhee).
Back at the Willow Trail, I started around that part of the loop. Just before it opens up, my first Zebra fluttered out but it was pretty quiet otherwise. Near the photo blind were a few White-Skippers that I eventually identified as Laviana and a Snout. A few other things including a Longtail flew by but none that I could identify.
I moved on to the tower, which turned out to be a waste. The view was nice but it really needed a few signs telling you what you were looking at. I zipped back to the car and had lunch (cookies and a mineola). The mineola had 3 seeds per segment, which made for quite a mess. And of course, at the hotel the next day, I had the other one I bought and it had 2 seeds total.
At that point, I drove over to Bentsen and got there just in time for the butterfly walk to start. The crowd was a bit more beginner than I would have liked, but I can’t complain when 75% of things were new to me. We worked the gardens by the headquarters for a while and then caught the tram to the gatehouse. At the gatehouse, the first thing from the leader was “uh oh, there’s Mike and he’s waving.” We ran over and found out that he had just found a Chestnut Crescent. I’m not totally sure, but there’s probably less than 10 US records, so it was quite a nice butterfly.
Also in the area were Vesta and Phaon Crescents, a Great Southern White, and a bunch of skippers including Fawn-spotted and Brown Longtail.
We moved down to the boat ramp where there were a bunch of good butterflies that I didn’t get a chance to photograph. They included Cyna Blue and Red-bordered Metalmark and more skippers included Common Mellana, Clouded, and Eufala. Now if I can remember which one this photo is…
We then caught the tram back (but not before one of the park volunteers ran up and asked if we heard him shouting Hook-billed a few minutes ago, ack). He also had seen the Orange-breasted Bunting that I hadn’t even been aware of, but since I wanted to get to Brownsville, I didn’t look today and figured I’d come back later.
Back to the car and off for Brownsville. I was pretty tired and checking through the listings at the hotel, I saw that there was a Rudy’s nearby. I drove over and got a half pound of brisket, which meant I had lunch for the next day as well (wish I remembered to get the lean instead).
I started looking through the guides for tomorrow. I was planning on heading to Laguna Atascosa and South Padre before getting to Sabal Palm, but I didn’t feel up for the long drive and remembered that a new center had just opened, Resaca de la Palma. I decided to head there instead.
And here’s two more butterflies that I didn’t fit in above, a Silver-banded Hairstreak and a White-patched Skipper:
If I’m counting correctly, this is the 100th butterfly species I’ve photographed (not sure which one was #100 observed but it was also at Bentsen and Large Orange Sulphur is most likely).
And a Chachalaca somewhere at Santa Ana: