Thursday, January 15
Today was the last morning of birding before I headed back to San Antonio. As I planned yesterday, I started by heading to Anzalduas. Or at least attempting to. I turned down the marked road and shortly found a giant dirt levee. Figuring that was wrong, I backtracked a bit and continued further but it appeared to be right. I returned, started up the levee, and decided that this wasn’t a great idea (although trying to back down wasn’t either). Since I was planning at Bentsen for souvenirs anyway, I headed over and spent the morning there.
I arrived at Bentsen in time for the first tram of the day. Two birders got off by the boat ramp and I got another ride by myself to the hawk tower. For a change, the weather wasn’t great, quite cloudy and I felt a couple drops of rain as I walked out to the tower.
There wasn’t a whole lot at the tower when I arrived, mostly the same dabbling ducks that were everywhere. I sat for a few minutes and some of the more distant shorebirds flew in closely. They proved to be mostly Long-billed Dowitchers but there were a few Least and Stilt Sandpipers mixed in. The Stilts were probably among the best views I’ve had, it’s nice when they stick out like that.
A few minutes later, a Black-necked Stilt joined them as well.
Since I still had about 40 minutes before the tram would return, I decided to walk the trail. On the way, my phone rang. The number looked vaguely familiar, but it started with 00. I passed it to voicemail and then noticed I was on a Mexican cell tower. Hopefully I wasn’t a few minutes earlier when I called home. The sign said 1.8 miles around, which I figured would give me plenty of time even if I found something. Fortunately, I didn’t find anything as I barely made it back in 40. Also fortunately, the tram didn’t arrive for a few more minutes.
I was planning on taking the tram back to the general area of the boat ramp, but on the way we passed two birders on the side of the road. The volunteer gave them a quick look at shouted “Stop!” He pointed and after taking a quick look I hopped right off. There was a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl sitting in the trees on the side of the road.
I spent quite a bit of time watching the owl (which didn’t do much other than look around) and talk to the finders (whose names I didn’t get, if one of them sees this leave a comment). Apparently they were walking along the road and heard a commotion. A bunch of Orange-crowned Warblers and some others birds were mobbing the owl, which made finding it quite easy. I caught the very tail end of that (a few Orange-crowneds and a Nashville) but a Ladder-backed Woodpecker came in and looked like it wanted to take a couple swipes. I did manage a lousy picture of that:
Eventually, we all moved on. I started back (actually went too far) but ran into another birder and came back to show it to him. I then worked my way to the boat ramp. On the way, I passed one of the park’s many feeding stations and found a great scene as one of the Javelinas stared down a park visitor who was trying for a picture.
There wasn’t much at the boat ramp, so I moved on to the blind. It was pretty quiet (doves and woodpeckers, no rare buntings), so I wandered around again. I went back to the boat ramp to try for a picture of a male Rambur’s Forktail but couldn’t find any in the cloudy conditions. I then went through the old trailer loop (now the Acacia Trail). Again, there wasn’t much but at the other side was a crowd of people staring at maps. They were obviously on their way to the owl, so I pointed them in the right direction and decided to take one more look before I headed out. The owl had moved a few trees down and was actually in slightly better light.
I started to walk back. On the way I pointed one of the park staff and a few visitors towards the owl. They were all on bikes and looked to be in a rush. Luckily the directions were stay left and look for the crowd of people. I didn’t find any other birds along the walk back or in the gardens by the visitor’s center.
After a quick stop to buy shirts and then a few minutes to finish off the leftover shrimp from last night, I began the drive back to San Antonio. It was pretty uneventful. I hit a couple brief heavy rains early on and was puzzled by the immigration stop near Falfurrias. It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, but the sign claimed that they had already stopped 1100 illegal immigrants and a significant amount of drugs. I didn’t think it was a smart idea to take a picture of the sign though. At least all I had to answer was “Are you a citizen?” and “Where were you born” before being waved through.
A quick stop for gas and then a quick break to stretch and I was in San Antonio. Highway birds along the way were pretty much all raptors, mostly Red-tails and Kestrels with a few Caracaras mixed in. Up until maybe 15 miles from San Antonio the only time I saw more than two cars around me was in the ‘downtown’ areas where a traffic light would cause five cars to back up. But once I got to San Antonio, it got really bad. The last mile of highway probably took 15 minutes but I still arrived at my friend Jack’s house by 5:00.
We went out to dinner at Marie Callender’s where the country fried steak provided a nice change. Then back to Jack’s house to pack and sleep.
Friday, January 16
My flight left at noon and I had scheduled the car return for around 9:00, so I was up at about 7:30 and on my way by 8:30. A quick stop for gas (with a broken pump that started charging me before I put it in the tank and then spilled all over) and I was at the Hertz in 15 minutes. For at least the third time on the trip I set off the alarm while fumbling with the keys. At least I was able to stop it immediately this time.
The shuttle back to the airport showed up right after I finished the paperwork. Baggage check in took no time and I was through security easily (the guy checking things was actually friendly and was impressed by the size of my EeePc). The flight to Atlanta was right on time.
I had a layover of several hours in Atlanta. I started to look for food, but decided to just grab an ice cream sandwich out of a vending machine for now. I found the gate and sat down. Although there’s supposed to be a charge for wireless, the gate happened to be right next to the Continental President’s Club and I was able to pick up their free connection. Not too long after I sat down, the fire alarm went off. It specifically said to not do anything unless told but I didn’t see anyone even bat an eyelash. Twenty minutes later, it actually stopped. Eventually I got hungry and found a Nathan’s (the food at the other terminal was much better).
We finally boarded the flight home and then proceeded to sit on the runway for 30 minutes. I was sitting next to a soldier who told me that he hadn’t slept at all last night and was heading out with friends as soon as he got in (we were supposed to arrive around 9PM) and then started pestering the stewardess about what type of booze they have available. Luckily he promptly fell asleep once we were in the air.
The flight ended up landing pretty close to on time and surprisingly my bag was about the second one out at the baggage claim. And that was the trip.