Texas Day 3

Tuesday, January 13

As I noted in yesterday’s post, I scaled back today and headed to Resaca de la Palma. This is a brand new state park (open about 5 weeks) that has been getting good reviews. On the way over, I had noticed a birding trail sign right by the hotel, so I took a swing by. I believe it was for site 44, the Fish Hatchery. Partway down the road, two dogs ran in front of me, which caused a bit of a delay as I couldn’t see whether they had moved or not. I got down to the end of the road and didn’t see much habitat (reading the description later, I think I needed to go down to the right a bit), so I turned around and headed to Resaca.

On the entrance road, I picked up yet another flyover life when several Long-billed Curlews passed over (unfortunately I never got them on the ground). I found the parking lot and checked in. Arriving at 8, I was told the tram wouldn’t leave until 8:30 and that there was a short trail right there. I took a walk down to the end. On the way, I found a flock of migrants/overwintering birds that included a Blue-headed Vireo and a Black-throated Green Warbler. At the end was a nice overlook at the water. I found a bunch of Solitary Sandpipers, but not a lot more.

I got back to the headquarters ahead of the tram and found a couple Lark Sparrows in the trees. The tram driver showed up shortly and I was the only one around for it. I hopped off at the first stop (a couple more Tropical/Couch’s Kingbirds along the way). The driver told me that he liked the trails up a little further more than these and that I could catch the next tram in about an hour. I walked the short distance to the end of the first trail and immediately had a Myiarchus fly across the water. Unfortunately it disappeared quickly and I have no idea which one it was. The water was loaded with Least Grebes and when I turned around to go elsewhere a Wilson’s Warbler popped up.

Least Grebes


Across the trail at the next opening, I didn’t find too much. It wasn’t close to time for the tram, so I figured I could walk down to the next set of trails and then catch the tram later. On the way down, there were several signs along the road including this one:


We had passed one in the tram. Passing quickly, I had read it as Shaky Habitat. I thought that was an odd way of saying fragile, but this makes more sense. Walking down the road, I found another Blue-headed Vireo. I turned down the next trail (the Flycatcher Trail) and followed the signs to the next overlook. There wasn’t much water around and the only bird at the water was an Eastern Phoebe. However, scanning through the vultures overhead I found a couple Blacks and later two Anhingas passed by as well. The vultures eventually came in close enough for photos.

Black Vulture

I continued on and decided to follow the Flycatcher trail all the way around. Not too far down, a couple dragonflies flushed. I waited them out and one eventually landed. It looked like a darner and I quickly started snapping photos.




Once back at the car, I was able to identify it as a Turquoise-tipped Darner, another south Texas specialty, although one that appears to be expanding its range quite a bit.

Looping around, there wasn’t much else. Several Turkey Vultures flushed out of the trees but that was about it. Once back on the road, I continued on. Several Common Green Darners flushed out of the grasses and a surprise Northern Harrier flew by. Further on, a nice mature male Band-winged Dragonlet came close to posing in the open.

Band-winged Dragonlet

As one of the Green Darners eventually.


Further down, I caught something big flying over. It was quite pale but disappeared quickly. After puzzling for a second because male harrier didn’t seem quite right, I realized it had to have been a White-tailed Kite, another lifer. Again, not the best view.

I soon reached the Yellowthroat trail, which runs along water for a good distance and then intersects with a trail that appeared to run back to the road. Starting down, there were a couple egrets in the water and some Wood Ducks took off. A bit further down, I came across an Empid. It gave a couple whit notes and then disappeared. I walked back and forth for a few minutes looking for it. At one point I thought I had it and snapped a few photos before realizing it was just a phoebe, but shortly after I did get a brief view. One photo almost came out and from what I could see there was nothing to say it wasn’t a Least Flycatcher.

Least Flycatcher

Looping around to the part of the trail that wasn’t by the water, I started seeing a few more insects (lots of Carolina Satyrs all along but not much else before). Several Dusky-blue Groundstreaks were flying around, giving moderate views of the blue upperside. No photos of that, but I did get some normal poses.

Dusky-blue Groundstreak

There were also a few Variegated Meadowhawks and this neat-looking spider (waiting on ID at bugguide):


As I passed into one of the real open areas, a Red-shouldered Hawk flew over and was immediately followed by the White-tailed Kite. This time, I was able to watch it for several minutes and then take several photos.

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite

I reached what I thought was the trail back, but there was a trail closed sign on the ground (there had been several elsewhere as well). It was down on the ground, but since it was quite windy I wasn’t sure if it just blown over so I completed the loop and then walked down the road. I hoped to catch the tram going by, but it may have taken a noontime break.

It was quite hot out by now and very windy. The walk back was not much fun and pretty much devoid of anything. The kite made a couple more passes and some more Anhingas flew over but otherwise I saw nothing until I was almost back at the visitor’s center.

Just before reaching the visitor’s center, I found another flock of birds. It may have been the original one I saw as it contained a Black-throated Green and a Blue-headed Vireo, but they were also joined by a Nashville (and of course there were Orange-crowns and Yellow-rumps all over).

The BT Green posed well, but the Nashville wasn’t as cooperative.

BT Green


Back at the visitor’s center, I checked out the butterfly gardens. There was a nice White Peacock, a Zebra, several Tropical Checkered-Skippers, a few Reakirt’s Blues, and a bunch of other skippers that I haven’t figured out. One of the park volunteers came by and talked for a few minutes. Apparently Blue Metalmarks are fairly regular, but no luck today.

Tropical Checkered-Skipper

White Peacock

At this point, I headed to Sabal Palm. It was a fairly long drive and I munched on the rest of my brisket as I went (I really would have appreciated the leaner cut here). Once I arrived, I checked, grabbed a map and started down the forest trail. It was late in the day and fairly quiet, but since I really wanted to see the Sabal Palms and not the birds, I was ok with that. The forest trail was spectacular and was truly another world. You’ll have to google up images and see what it’s like yourself as I didn’t have a small enough lens to really capture anything.

There were lots of dragonflies around, including Band-winged Dragonlets and Pin-tailed Pondhawks. The pondhawk was only suspected to fly year-round, so this should confirm that.

Pin-tailed Pondhawk

Pin-tailed Pondhawk

A bit further down, a large, orange butterfly flew by, my first Julia.


I took a quick walk to the photo blind. It was crowded and there wasn’t much visible (a few grebes, an Anhinga, a few ducks, and a bunch of turtles) so I moved on quickly.


I took the next trail that crosses the water and found one of my targets for the trip, a Roseate Skimmer. What a spectacular bug!

Roseate Skimmer

There were a bunch of skippers and a few Kiskadees nearby. I ended turning around and working my way through the rest of the forest trail. Partway through, I found a spreadwing. The light was quite difficult, but I got a couple acceptable shots.


I tried putting on the close-focus filter but wasn’t able to get a good shot with that. However, it was less flighty than most and I was able to catch it by hand. It didn’t settle down to let me get a good look at the appendages, but I did notice a couple dots on the underside of the thorax. Back home, when I posted my sightings to the Texas ode list, Dennis Paulson identified it as a Rainpool Spreadwing. Searching around, the dots do appear to be a mark, although I’m not sure if they’re diagnostic and if you can see those, you can probably identify it in other ways.

After finishing the forest trail, I checked the butterfly gardens and then took the river trail. I was rather disappointed as there turned out to be no view of the river. There also wasn’t much around other than Turkey Vultures and a single Osprey. After making the loop, I found the overlook at the river and realized it wasn’t that disappointing to be hidden.

Rio Grande

But since it was a good place to sit and I was tired, I stopped for a few minutes. There was a sparrow-like chipping coming from a tree back up the path, but I ignored it. A youngish kid and his father walked up and the bird flew into the open. It wasn’t a sparrow, but a kingbird. I snapped a couple photos and watched it for a few minutes.



I was pretty sure the vocalizations were correct for Couch’s but decided to go back to the car and double-check. On the way, I got a basking Carolina Satyr but not much else. There was no sign of the Dusky-capped Flycatcher that had been reported. At the car, I grabbed the ipod and confirmed that it was a Couch’s, yet another lifer (unless I count the one at Santa Ana instead).

Carolina Satyr basking

At this point, I headed towards Weslaco. I was planning on attending the bird walk at Estero Llano Grande in the morning and wanted to stop somewhere in that area. I forgot to check exactly where Weslaco is in relation to everything else and when I got tired, I stopped at the first hotel I found. I’d later figure out that I was in San Benito and should have continued for another 20 minutes, but I was tired enough not to care.

I was in the mood for a burger and put Whattaburger into the GPS. Following the directions, I saw one and pulled in. It was pretty good for fast food, but not great. Back at the car, the GPS offered to continue finding it. Since the hotel had no wireless, I went to look for a Wal-Mart and see if they had any cheap patch cables. Unfortunately, the GPS said I arrived and all I saw was a vacant lot. I decided to manage without internet for the night. I had requested the room for two nights but when I stopped at the desk to say I’d be moving on, the person said she had only checked me in for one, so it worked out. I went back to the room and collapsed (my allergies had really started acting up and I would later hear that the mountain cedar pollen count was into the thousands).

Texas Day 2

Monday, January 12

Today I planned on spending the morning at Santa Ana NWR and then heading over to Bentsen for the afternoon butterfly walk. That proved to be a good plan.

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.

Least Grebe

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.

Olive Sparrow

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.

Cave Swallow

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).

probably Couch's

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.


Laviana White-Skipper


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.

Chestnut Crescent

Also in the area were Vesta and Phaon Crescents, a Great Southern White, and a bunch of skippers including Fawn-spotted and Brown Longtail.

Great Southern White

Vesta Crescent

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:

Silver-banded Hairstreak

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:


Texas Day 1

Sunday, January 11

I woke up about 7, confirmed that I still couldn’t figure out how to access the hotel wireless and also that the shower didn’t appear to be working (although I think I got this figured out by the next hotel). I took a look out the window and noticed a bunch of birds on the water. Setting up the scope quickly, I found them to be mostly American Coots and Blue-winged Teal with a few blackbirds mixed in.

After the standard hotel breakfast, I went back to the room to pack up and get going but took another look out the window and ended up spending close to 30 minutes watching. By far the best thing was an oriole that appeared to have an orange head and black throat. I couldn’t make it into anything but an Altamira, which was the first life bird of the trip (bad views of life birds would be a common pattern for awhile). Eventually it moved on and a Vermilion Flycatcher replaced it! As I finally got ready to go, an American Kestrel came in and landed on the light pole right outside the window.


Little did I know how common they were in the area.

I finally got going and checked out. On the way out, I took a walk around the hotel. The view from the ground wasn’t as good, but I did pick up a few Yellow-rumps.

The first stop I made was at the Zapata Public Boat Ramp (LTC-085 mentions it). Apparently it’s a big fishing area (I forgot to take a picture of the hotel parking lot, but it was 90% pickups with trailers and boats). At the water were more coots and some Neotropic Cormorants (I think, cormorants trouble me). I walked up the road a bit and found a bunch of Orange-crowned Warblers (probably more than I’ve seen total in Massachusetts) and the only House Finches of the trip. There were a couple Ruby-crowned Kinglets mixed in as well and Laughing Gulls and American White Pelicans flew over.


After the boat ramp, I went looking for the city park to check for White-collared Seedeater. On the way out from the boat ramp, I got a quick look at a Green Jay in someone’s yard, life bird number two. I missed the turn for the park somehow and decided to head up to San Ygnacio (LTC-087) instead. Upon arriving there, I took a quick look around but didn’t feel comfortable by myself and headed back toward Zapata. On the way I got yet another lousy life look when a Crested Caracara flew over. There were also a couple Chihuahuan Ravens along the side of the road and some Eurasian Collared Doves as well. A couple Black Vultures overhead were nice.

I took a quick trip down the Hebbronville Scenic Drive (LTC-086), or at least in the general direction. Lots of kestrels on the wires and at least 5 Caracaras as well. Meadowlarks flushed regularly, but I never was able to figure them out (for the entire trip actually).

Eventually, I made my way over to Falcon State Park, arriving at about 10:30 and picking up Loggerhead Shrike and Lark Sparrow along the road in. I pulled up at the gate but the window appeared closed so I pulled in to the parking lot to pay. Started to walk over to the self pay station and someone walking by tells me that this is the employee’s entrance and the visitor entrance is over there. So there were people in there. I went in, paid, and grabbed a map. It was a bit windy, but I decided to walk the nature trail for a few minutes at least anyway. I ended up spending a couple hours walking around.

Early highlights on the trail included a huge flock of cormorants going by. I took 4 photos of different parts of the flock and don’t think I got them all. Here’s one, anyone want to comment on which cormorant? You probably want to click through and hit all sizes to get a decent look.

Cormorant Flock

I got two more life birds on the walk in: a lousy look at a Great Kiskadee as it flew over and a better look at Black-crested Titmice.


Other good birds included several Pyrrhuloxia, White-eyed Vireos, and good numbers of gnatcatchers. I spent some time working the gnatcatchers and could only come up with Blue-gray.

There were also lots of bugs around here. Butterflies included my first Queen, Gulf Fritillary, Reakirt’s Blues, and Little Yellow along with Ceraunus Blue, Dainty Sulphur, and White Checkered-Skipper. There was also a Familiar Bluet or two and a good number of Robber Flies. The experts aren’t sure about the robbers (probably because of the picture quality) but there apparently aren’t any species expected in January.

Dainty Sulphur:

Dainty Sulphur

Little Yellow:

Little Yellow

Reakirt’s in various stages of wear:




Ceraunus I think



Two Robber Flies (male and female):

Texas Robber

Texas Robber



On the way back, I heard a bit of scratching in the brush and eventually found a Long-billed Thrasher but yet again had lousy looks.

Back at the car, I drove around a bit and came across an immense flock of cowbirds:


I stopped at the boat ramp where there was another Vermilion Flycatcher. I started down the trail from there and flushed an interesting dragonfly off the ground. It landed and I was able to snap one photo before it flew off again, moving along the path about 2 feet off the ground until I lost track of it. Checking out the photo later, I expected one of the pondhawks, but it turned out to be a Straw-colored Sylph. The date ranges I can find for that appear to be April to November, so it’s quite an extension. Whether that’s early or late I’m not sure but it was the first of several seasonal extensions I found.

Straw-colored Sylph

It was also ode #100 for me. Other things along the trail included a female Band-winged Dragonlet, a Wandering Glider, a Checkered White, a Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak, a Fatal Metalmark, and a Texan Crescent. Birds weren’t overly plentiful and I headed back to the car fairly quickly.

Checkered White:

Checkered White

Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak:

Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak

Fatal Metalmark:

Fatal Metalmark

Texan Crescent:

Texan Crescent

Once back at the car, I drove around a bit and then headed out. On the way, I flushed a flock of pipits. Most flew off, but one stayed on the ground and ran around, giving me time to roll down the window and get a few shots.


The next stop was at Salineno. For those who haven’t been, it’s a tiny spot along the Rio Grande. It was formerly a trailer park populated by birders but has since been transfered to USFWS. One birder still lives there and has a huge number of feeders set up. You can wander in to the yard, sit down, and watch. It was absolutely spectacular with tons of Texas specialties flying around and making lots of noise. In 20 minutes, I had about 20 species including another three lifers (Audubon’s Oriole, White-tipped Dove, and Golden-fronted Woodpecker). But I also finally got good views of Altamira Oriole, Green Jay, and Great Kiskadee, in addition to Inca and White-winged Doves, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and the only Chipping Sparrows of the trip. A Lincoln’s Sparrow also popped up, which was a highlight until I discovered that they were the most common sparrow around.

A selection of shots:

Inca Doves


White-tipped Dove

Green Jay




This female oriole’s a bit interesting and I need to actually do some research on it:

Female Oriole

After watching the feeders, I went back to check on the car. The nonbirder type had been down at the river and there aren’t too many people who go down there for legal things other than birds. Fortunately, he had left and I spent a few minutes watching the river. There was something big in the trees where the Red-billed Pigeons are supposed to hang out but after I set up the scope it turned out to be an Osprey.

A car of birders from Alabama drove up and I spent a few minutes talking to them while we waited for Muscovies to flew by (which never happened). Apparently there were Olive Sparrow, Clay-colored Thrush, and a few other things at the feeders earlier and a Green Kingfisher along the river. I wandered down the path a bit after they left, but other than a Sharpie I didn’t find much.

I also did manage to build up a list of birds on the Mexican side of the river (some ducks and herons and blackbirds flying over), so I now have a 6th country I’ve seen birds in.

Leaving Salineno, I got back on the highway for the drive to Mission. The GPS didn’t seem to be able to find my hotel (Hawthorn Suites) but I got there after a little bit of circling. Quite nice, although I probably didn’t need a suite or the two table settings that were provided. Dinner was at the first place I found, a Chili’s. About what I expected, acceptable and would have been good if they trimmed the steak properly.

Oops: I managed to forget that as I was driving along the highway to Mission, I came across two kingfishers together. One was huge and had to be a Ringed (yet another lousy life look). I think the other was a Belted, but it was hard to tell at 70MPH.

Double oops: The Long-billed Thrasher appears to be world #500!

Texas Day 0

Saturday, January 10

Day 0 was a travel day, flying from Boston to San Antonio with a stop in Atlanta and then driving south to Zapata.

Up at 6, off to the airport by 6:30. A crow, some gulls, and a red-tail along the way. Got dropped off, walked in, checked my bag and cleared security in about 10 minutes. I found the gate, which was being used for an earlier flight and settled in nearby. An amusing moment came when a TSA agent walked over and shouts to someone sitting a row over that he left his keys at the counter. He went running back and after returning kept cracking up every few minutes.

The flight took off right on time and was pleasant, even though I was stuck in a middle seat (maybe I should have paid the $6 to pick the seat out ahead of time). Halfway through there was a page for any medically trained person. Nothing appeared to be happening until just before we began the descent when the two people in the first row moved and an older man and woman took those seats. The man was given an oxygen tank and they announced that there would be an ambulance at the gate.

Once we landed in Atlanta, two EMTs came aboard. I was sitting close enough to hear the general story. Apparently the guy had a pacemaker put in about a year ago and it was malfunctioning a bit and he blacked out. Once he got the oxygen, he appeared to be doing much better and was probably ok by the time we landed. And even with waiting for the EMTs to take him off, we still were out early (presumably we had cut all the lines to get to the ground).

The gate for the next flight was only a few down, so I walked around a bit checking out all the food. I eventually settled on Popeye’s, which was quite good (and my 3 chicken strip meal came with 4 pieces of chicken for some reason). After that, it was a fairly long wait for the next flight.

We eventually boarded. This time, I had an aisle seat (on the 2 seat side). Again, the flight was very pleasant. The landing in San Antonio was a bit rough for no apparent reason but an extra bounce is still not much. My bag came off the carousel quickly and a Hertz shuttle was pulling up as I got outside.

After a quick trip to the Hertz location, I got the standard “oh, we don’t have the car you rented available” but they did have a Mazda 6 (instead of a Ford Focus) for a couple dollars more and then started applying various discounts so who knows how much different it actually was. Soon enough, I was handed a set of keys and out at the car. I grabbed the lever to open the trunk and instead popped the hood. Apparently the trunk was the thing that didn’t really look like a button next to the lever.

Once settled into the car, I entered Zapata into the GPS and started out. Inside the packet of information Hertz gave me was a note that the airport expansion has made a mess of the roads right there and old directions don’t work. I didn’t see that until much later and ended up driving in circles and entering areas that didn’t look like the public was overly welcome for a few minutes before I decided to just start for a highway and assume things will figure themselves out.

Sure enough that worked. The GPS recalculated and had me going in the right direction almost immediately. Other than a fast merge across 3 lanes, it was quite easy to get onto I35 and start south. Even though it was about 6PM, it was still light enough to see the flocks of grackles, a cormorant, some pigeons and starlings, and a few vultures and Buteos as I headed south.

The road emptied out pretty quickly. The GPS had issues with the business road (it told me I was off the route every time I passed an exit for a good 100 miles) but otherwise there were no problems. It worked well as the highway ended in Laredo (which was good, as it didn’t look nice) and got me to the next part with ease. I stopped at a Subway in the middle of nowhere. It was at a truck stop and was rather interesting to hear broadcasts that shower 1402 was now ready over a loudspeaker as I was eating.

I reached Zapata by 9:30 or so and found my hotel (the Holiday Inn Express) easily.

North Carolina Trip

I spent May 23-28, 2007 in North Carolina on a Don Wilkinson Birding Tour. Four of us (me, Don, Nancy Eaton, and Lynn Abbey) participated. We all flew in to Norfolk, Virginia on the 23rd and immediately drove to New Bern, North Carlina, where we went to the Croatan National Forest for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. We spent the night there, found Bachman’s Sparrow back at the Croatan the next day and then headed to Manteo with a stop at the VOA site to try for Henslow’s Sparrow. We spent the next morning at Alligator River NWR, looking for Swainson’s Warbler and then spent the afternoon on the shore at Bodie Light and Pea Island NWR. We then had two lackluster days offshore. The last day was spent getting Swainson’s Warbler and then working our way back to Norfolk.

Overall, we had 135 species (I had 129+) and everyone got at least one life bird. Detailed daily notes are on the individual pages, a trip list is below.

Day 3

Today we started by trying for Swainson’s Warbler and then birded the coast a bit. We were at McDonald’s at 6, although they didn’t get around to opening the door for another couple minutes and had no one to work the counter. Eventually the help arrived, although without her reading glasses. Don loaned her his pair and we were able to get breakfast. She handed them back and proceeded to make other customers wait, even as Don offered them back.

We went to several spots at Alligator River NWRfor the warbler (Milltail Road and others), all without any sign. Overall it was pretty quiet, with lots of Prothonotaries and what I think were Mantled Baskettails (dragonflies) and not much else. We eventually hit on the idea of calling the refuge headquarters and asking about access and for any recent sightings. They weren’t able to help with any sightings, but did call us back to say that the “Superspot” that had been closed for the last few years was now open. We quickly worked our way over, but still had no sign of Swainson’s. Acadian Flycatcher was nice and there were Pileated Woodpeckers everywhere, but otherwise it wasn’t too exciting.

It was close to noon now, so we started to head towards the coast and find lunch. On the way out, we had one of the big surprises of the trip with an Alligator in the marsh. We ignored the no stopping signs and watched and photographed for a few minutes.


We headed towards the coast and found lunch at Sam & Omie’s in Nags Head. It was fairly empty when we walked in, but was full shortly after. One of the specials was fried Spot. The waitress described it as a whitefish, so Don and I tried it. Nancy had steamers and Lynn had crab. They failed to tell us that preparation consisted almost entirely of cutting the head off and throwing it in the fryer. Don called for help and the owner came over and explained how to eat it: work from the back and the fins and tail were like potato chips. I found it to be pretty good once I learned how to avoid the bones, Don seemed to be a bit turned off. Lynn and Nancy both found their food very good.

After lunch, we headed down the Outer Banks. Our first stop was at Bodie Light, where we had the big surprise of the trip. There was one person on the platform as we walked up. He immediately turned to us and said “I’ve been staring at this bird for an hour and I’m almost convinced that it’s a Curlew Sandpiper.” We all jumped and got on the bird in question. It was rather distant and we only had 2 scopes between us, but we all got acceptable views. The bird still appeared to be in basic plumage. It was limping slightly, which proved useful in refinding it. We watched for probably close to an hour, during which it lifted its wings a couple times and flew twice. Somehow, we all lost it as it flew. After the first time it flew, I found a limping bird fairly quickly but the second time it disappeared. Overall similar to the Dunlin, but a bit slimmer, longer, and with a longer bill. Of course we had no references, but Nancy thumbed through The Shorebird Guide in the gift shop and found a similar picture. At home, I dug through several books and will say it looks like the first-winter bird on page 115 of the Facts on File guide. Even though we lost the bird in flight, we were all but convinced that the rump was pure white. There was no sign of any other color when it lifted its wings, although the angle wasn’t straight on. I did attempt a few pictures, but they were way too distant to be any good.

Curlew Sandpiper with foot raised

There were plenty of other good birds around including many Dunlin, a Whimbrel, several Glossy Ibis, flyover Royal Terns and many herons and egrets.

Eventually, we moved on. The guy who found the bird was waiting for some friends he had called in, although we would later find that they didn’t relocate the bird. We moved on to the boat ramp and heard several Clapper Rails but were unable to see them.

The next stop was Pea Island NWR. The heat was pretty bad at this point, but we walked out most of the boardwalk anyway. I found a Spotted Sandpiper while people were in the gift shop. Out on the boardwalk, we had many Seaside Sparrows, a good number of sandpipers, many more herons, egrets, ibis, and some coots. There were a few terns around and we had good looks at a perched Gull-billed and Forster’s. Also all along the edge were many Rambur’s Forktails (damselflies).

The turtles at the start of the walk were big to gigantic:


And this towhee was incredibly cooperative:



We took a drive through downtown Manteo before dinner and then ended up at the Country Kitchen just down the road from the hotel. It looked like a dump, but the food was very good and extremely cheap. A few locals started talking to us and had lots of things to say about the area.

After dinner, we took a quick ride to the Black Rail spot, which was now posted No Trespassing. A short distance down the road was a parking lot, so we took a quick walk out and found we could get out into the marsh in theory, but it was a long, buggy walk. We returned to the hotel and ran into Ken. Luckily for him, he had a nice close, breeding plumaged Curlew Sandpiper up in Cape May and some decent seabirds on his first trip.

Day 6

Today would be another try for the Swainson’s and then a trek back to Norfolk and flights home.

We were out again early. This time McDonald’s was open and close to prepared. We headed for Alligator River, making a brief stop at the Bear Road spot we had tried the other day without anything.

We went to the Superspot. As we passed the marsh, there were some odd calls but nothing we really made note of. Further on, I spotted a Barred Owl perched on the side of the road. We all got excellent views. For some reason, I didn’t feel like dealing with the camera right then and am now kicking myself.

We soon reached the spot where we had been the other day. We parked and began to walk up the road. Pretty quickly we thought we heard something and were soon fairly sure that it was a singing Swainson’s. Finding a decent viewpoint, we stopped and Don played the tape. The bird came right in! We watched it as it moved from a pile of branches onto the ground and stayed more or less in sight for about a minute. I went for the camera pretty quickly, but had forgotten to check the settings, so I was still set on the more distant focus (which changed the close focus point to well over 20 feet). I got some nice blurry habitat photos but no bird (I expected at least a blurry bird in there, but haven’t been able to find it).

I did get a shot of a Five-lined Skink at least:


With that great success and plenty of time, we decided to stop and look for Yellow-throated Warbler on the way out and then head back to Bodie Light and see if there was anything different around. As we passed the marsh, Don pulled the most difficult sighting I’ve ever seen by someone driving when he spotted a King Rail! We were able to stop and back up and all got very good looks at it for a few seconds before it finally disappeared.

On the main road, we stopped at the pines where the warblers were likely. With a good bit of effort we heard one repeatedly and eventually got some distant views. Not great, but everyone did see a bird this time.

This Harlequin Darner also posed quickly:

Harlequin Darner

We continued on to the coast, stopping briefly for gas for the first time of the trip. At Bodie Light, we had a similar assortment of sandpipers and herons. They were closer in and we were able to get good looks at Short-billed Dowitcher, Dunlin, Semipalmated Plover, and Least Sandpiper. A Common Yellowthroat posed extremely nicely at the top of a small tree. I attempted a couple lighthouse shots, but didn’t have a small enough lens to get more than half at once. There were also numerous Seaside Dragonlets flying around.

Bodie Light

Common Yellowthroat

Short-billed Dowitcher

While waiting for people at a bathroom/giftshop break at the car, a Fish Crow made an appearance. And then it was off north. We took a more coastal route for a while, which was loaded with traffic and nothing much. Eventually we stopped for lunch at some tourist-trap looking restaurant just before the Virginia border. The food was pretty good. On our way out, we started talking to some people outside selling jewelry. They told us about the sparrow nests right there and also gave us a tip for cheaper gas back in Norfolk.

We made it back to the airport fairly easily (we got lost at the same spot we did on the way down). The rental car return was out in the middle of a parking lot, it didn’t look like fun for the staff and was a fairly long walk to the terminal.

Inside, we said our goodbyes and headed to the gates. The flight left right on time and went smoothly. I was able to see a few terns as we made our approach, but couldn’t identify any for sure. There was a little delay getting off the plane (another down the stairs, walk outside, back up) but that meant we didn’t have as long to wait for bags.

My parents were waiting at the baggage claim and offered to take Don to his car at Wonderland. That turned out to be a worthwhile detour, as on our way back to the Pike an American Kestrel flew by, which was one of the big misses of the trip.

Back home before dinner, glad I had the next day off.

Day 5

Day 2 on the boat made Day 1 look good. We started out the same, missing the terns again. Once out into the ocean, we had a few jaegers and started seeing shearwaters and storm-petrels.

A bit of excitement came as 3 Pomarine Jaegers buzzed by several times. There were more Cory’s Shearwaters around (one was called a Scopoli’s by Todd McGrath although I couldn’t say anything other than it looked slightly different). A Manx buzzed through, but I didn’t see anything more than just a dark blob moving.

At one point, a Bridled Tern made a distant appearance. This was a bird Nancy really wanted and I started to find her. Someone else shouted “No, Long-tailed Jaeger.” That didn’t make any sense to me and I stopped to take another look. Of course, the bird kept going and Nancy didn’t get on it. I’d say I saw it enough to count, but not great for a life bird.

Somewhere along the way we found a large sack of drugs floating on the water and had to sit around waiting for the Coast Guard to pick it up. Interesting, but not enough birds to be thrilled. The fishing was dull as well, with only one caught today.

We did have a few Black-capped Petrels, one of which was cooperative. Again, we had a leader only Band-rumped Storm-Petrel. The jaegers made another appearance and came almost within touching distance before sitting on the water for a few minutes.

The leaders gave up pretty early today and most of the time was very birdless. We ended up getting back in so early that the captain was able to pull off to the side just before going under the bridge and let us watch the terns for several minutes. I finally got a decent look at the Sandwich (thanks Christine for thinking to ask) and took some nice photos of a Royal as well (good enough to see that it was banded). No one even offered a tally for today.

Just to show how Pileateds were everywhere this trip, I saw one flying down a side street as we returned to the hotel. After a quick stop, we went out looking for a nicer dinner. Ken and someone else from the boat joined us (I should have noted names, Julie I think). All were fairly disgusted by the leaders and it doesn’t sound like anyone wants to go out of Manteo again. We ended up at The Full Moon Cafe, which turned out to be very nice. I had shrimp and grits, which was quite good and different. Everyone else’s food looked as good. The service was incredibly nice, splitting our checks even though they have a no splitting for parties of more than 5 policy.

We went back to the hotel, said good-bye to Ken and Julie and started packing to get ready to leave tomorrow.

Today’s photos:

The Jaeger Show:

Light Morph

Dark Morph

Light again

Dark again

Rather close to the boat

Dark on Water

Dark on Water

Dark taking off

On the water with a Greater Shearwater

The Drugs:



Black-capped Petrel

Black-capped Petrel


Cory's Shearwater



Banded Royal

Day 4

Today was the first of two days offshore. An early start again, stopping at the 7-11 with the rest of the hotel and grabbing some food quickly. At the dock, we couldn’t really hear the instructions but not a big deal.

Since I didn’t keep track as carefully of what order things were in, I’ll just list some of the highlights and add pictures at the end (mostly).

We started with terns in the harbor. I missed the good ones (Sandwich and Caspian). Out of the harbor, we had a few loons and gannets and not much else for quite some time. A couple miles out we had an odd surprise with a Chimney Swift buzzing by. Eventually we started seeing a few shearwaters (Sooty and Greater) and many Storm-Petrels.

We had a few jaegers eventually (Pomarine, of which I spotted the first, and Long-tailed). More shearwaters were around, including a few Cory’s and Audubon’s. We also had a nice side-by-side comparison of Arctic and Common Terns right at the boat (brilliantly I took no pictures).

There was a little excitement when a Black-capped Petrel passed through. It didn’t stay and many people missed it. I happened to see it as it came over the horizon and was on it, but I don’t think anyone that only looked once the call went out actually got on it. Rather surprising, it was the only one of the day.

The morning fishing was fairly good. We reeled in 5 or 6 Dolphinfish (Mahi-mahi) and hooked something else that got away. At one point, we had 3 on hooks at once.

Things cooled off for a while. There was a brief rush over a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel that ended up being leader-only. A few Cory’s Shearwaters joined us for some time and some Audubon’s passed through.

After a snack break, we finally had a decent bit of excitement when a South Polar Skua came in, landed on the water and grabbed some of the chum and then left.

The Skua deserves its own segment here:


Cue Jaws theme





Close enough to see the food

Flying Skua

Flying Skua

Flying Skua

Skua with fish

I did get a shot with the head out, but there was a head in the way, so not quite.

Skua leaving

Skua leaving

See you!

After that, things stayed very dull. The leaders decided to move to the color change. Before getting there, we found a few Cobia, an expensive fish that the captain stopped to catch and missed. A little further we saw a few Spotted Dolphins. Shortly after, we found an absolutely enormous pod of Common Dolphins. Mike Tove (who wrote the book on North Atlantic marine life) estimated the numbers in the thousands and said it was by far the largest number he’s ever seen. We also had a Loggerhead Turtle here.

We still didn’t find much in birds, although a Red-necked Phalarope was nice (especially since I thought the flying fish earlier were phalaropes and couldn’t figure out how they kept disappearing into the waves).

Back into the harbor, the same terns were around, which I again missed. I did see some Oystercatchers and a Ruddy Turnstone, both new to the trip. In not much of a surprise, no one stayed around to hear the day’s totals.

We wandered around for a little while looking for dinner and finally just went back to the country kitchen. Again, cheap and decent. The White Ibis right on the side of the road was quite different from roadside birds at home.

Greater Shearwater and Storm-Petrel

Pomarine incoming

Pomarine outgoing

Pomarine sitting

One of the day's catch

Greater Shearwater on the water


Splashing Shearwater

Flying Greater

Greater taking off

Common Dolphin

Common Dolphins

Day 2

Today was an early start as we wanted to be back at the Croatan and get the singing Bachman’s Sparrows. We slowed briefly on the way in to listen to a Yellow-breasted Chat and a mystery noise that was likely a Red-shouldered Hawk, although being next to a farm we weren’t sure it wasn’t something more exotic (another farm up the road had guinea fowl running around). We went straight to the place we had the sparrows last night and had no luck whatsoever (one quick distant song was it). We did have more Brown-headed Nuthatches, including one that came close to posing, a gnatcatcher at a nest, and a perched Turkey Vulture.

[Update: I had the Stokes CD on recently and with a month to ruin my memory, the mystery noise sounded a whole lot like the Barn Owl.]

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Turkey Vulture

Great Crested Flycatcher

Eventually, we moved back to where we had the woodpeckers last night as it was in the general direction of that single song. The woodpeckers made a brief appearance and we had a Red-headed or two as well. Prairie Warblers were everywhere as well.

After poking around for a good bit of time, Don decided to try another spot mentioned in the book, which was up and around the road. Just as we turned I spotted a Wood Duck high in a tree and another Red-headed Woodpecker came through. Down the new road, we had brief looks at a couple Bobwhite right at the side of the road.

We soon reached the spot and started to walk a bit. It was slightly more open here and Don decided to try the tape quickly. Almost immediately a single bird flew up onto a short branch at eye level maybe 50 feet in and sat there. The shape was incredibly distinct, looking like nothing else (I don’t remember the Botteri’s I saw in Arizona being this different). We all got excellent scope views. I snapped a couple pictures, but the lighting was awful so they are just short of being silhouettes.

Bachman's Sparrow

With that success, we went to try the spot here for Swainson’s Warbler. Although it supposedly required wellies, the edges were dry enough that I was able to go around without testing my boot covers. No sign of any Swainson’s, but we had nice views of a Hooded Warbler (overhead!) and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. I made a pit stop on the way out and had a second Hooded buzz by. We heard a few Prothonotaries as well, but didn’t spend any time working on.

We took the long drive back to the VOA site without seeing much of anything. Heat waves were worse today. Again Don and I thought we heard a single Henslow’s sing once or twice but weren’t sure. Given that we could only really see a very short distance out, it was quite likely to be there and just not be visible. We did hear a Grasshopper Sparrow and there were several Common Nighthawks working overhead. [Update: I saw posts on Carolina Birds] from people who had them fairly easily later on.]

Eventually we gave up and started for Manteo, looking for lunch on the way. We found some sort of southern country buffet that wasn’t particularly good. It was all that was available when we wanted food, so it was fine anyway.

We continued on and made a stop at Alligator River NWR (Buffalo City Rd) on the way. We alternated between driving a short distance and walking. At the first stop, we heard a Kentucky Warbler (glad I had the one at Mt. Auburn the Sunday before to keep it fresh). I found another new dragonfly, a Great Blue Skimmer.

Further down, we got a nice Prothonotary Warbler, right out in the open. Great looks at this bird finally. And after that first one, they were getting in the way. At the far end of the road, we walked the side trail a bit. A Yellow-throated Warbler was singing. I got a brief, but good look at it as it crossed the trail and then kept going, but everyone else missed it.

Prothonotary flying

Palamedes Swallowtail

We finally reached Manteo, and quickly checked in at the Duke of Dare. It apparently was dumpier than last time (and wasn’t all that great to begin with), but since we were basically just crashing it didn’t matter too much. For dinner, we went to Big Al’s (owned by the captain of the Country Girl). The food was ok, although portions were small and it was noisy. We decided that it wasn’t worth trying for Black Rail and that was it for the day.