Monday, May 12, 2008

The Great Texas Birding Classic: Day 3

We reached the half way point back of the Classic at the Bass Inn, near Choke Canyon State Park. We drove in the dark to Simmons City Road and took a gravel road up a hill to listen for night jars. Our old fiends, oh, I mean friends, the Butcher Birds were parked on the road about 100 yards down hill from where we wanted to be. We passed them making friendly hand gestures. The wind was howling again, so hearing night jars was going to be tough. We got out and started straining our ears. Soon we heard a Paraque, then a Chuck-wills-widow. Finally we got the bird we came for, Whip-poor-will! We hoped that the BBs were too far down hill to have heard it.

We took off for Choke Canyon, hoping to find the Bell's Vireo we had missed on our scouting day and to re-find the Yellow-headed Blackbird we had seen. We walked a narrow corridor of mesquite near one of the boat ramps. Success! The Bell's Vireo came through. We then started driving the road where the blackbird had been. We found several flocks of mixed black birds, but no Yellow-headed. Our time ran out and we left the park.

Beeville was our next stop, where we hoped to find American Robin. The golf course there usually has them strolling around, but not today. We decided to try the nearby neighborhood. Tony say 33rd Street is usually good for them, so he headed that way, turning on 34th instead. This was a lucky mistake, as I spotted a Robin seconds after we turned. We decided to give Field Sparrow one last try. We got to the spot, opened the doors of the van, and didn't even have to get out! They were belting it out full blast. Off to Corpus Christi!

First stop was Rose Hill Cemetery. We picked up a few warblers and other migrants. Then we drove a few blocks to Blucher Park, one of my favorite migrant traps. This park is great for ground warblers, like Hooded and Ovenbird. We scored on both, with an extra Clay-colored Robin thrown in for good measure. We crossed the causeway to Padre Island, hoping for more migrants at Packery Channel. Unfortunately, the wind was still high, and we were less than successful. We ran up Mustang Island to Port Aransas, looking for Red Knot and a Merlin. We didn't find either one. Paradise Pond lived up to its name with some great close up looks at warblers. We dipped on Cinnamon Teal at the Port A. Birding Center, unfortunately, but the rest of the team picked up Solitary Sandpiper.

We had a long drive ahead to Jasper, north east of Houston, so we couldn't linger. We had another place to try for Brewer's Blackbird near Tivoli. We had the same bad luck there as we had at the other places we had tried. Fortunately, we were able to pick up a Great Scaup north of Rockport, when a very cooperative hen flapped her wings, showing the white extending all the way down the wing. We then had an extremely successful stop just south of Baytown. A fish hatchery along the road had been a good spot for Bald Eagle in the past. We stopped to scan and noticed a sod farm behind the ponds. We found a side road leading to the farms, drove down and pulled out the scopes. We found a large flock of Buff-breasted Sandpipers! While we were scanning for other shorebirds a flock of about 150 Hudsonian Godwits flew over. Then Tony spotted our target, the Bald Eagle. Yes! It more than made up for not getting the Blackbird.

We had a long twisting ride to Jasper, arriving at near midnight. It had been our longest day. We were feeling pretty successful with the Robin, Field Sparrow and the great shorebirds. The Ramada Inn looked pretty darn good!

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