Thursday, June 25, 2015

Birding Texas Hill Country: Visits to Kerr Wildlife Management Area & Ft. Stockton

We want to start out by saying that we don't make it a practice of "chasing" specific birds. We like to simply enjoy the birds we are fortunate enough to see at the locations we are visiting. That being said, we were hoping to visit the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, located in Marble Falls, Texas on our way back to New Mexico/ Arizona. We also thought it might be a wonderful place to volunteer at some future date.  This refuge is located just northwest of Austin, Texas. The primary purpose of the refuge is to protect the nesting habitat of the Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo, two highly endangered migratory birds that we have never seen.

During our last week in the Mission, Texas area, it was becoming clear that we would have to risk entering terrible tornado weather if we visited Balcones. Texas was experiencing unprecedented flooding, so we decided instead to head west and visit the refuge at another time.

Coincidentally, on one of our last birding days in south Texas we ran into fellow birders that had just visited the Kerr Wildlife Management Area and had great views of both the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo! It just so happens that Kerr Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is located south of Junction, Texas, which was one of our planned stops along with Ft. Stockton on our travels westward.

The Kerr WMA is owned and operated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and is part of the ecologically rich Edwards Plateau. The WMA is located at the headwaters of the North Fork of the Guadalupe River and consists of approximately 6,500 acres representative of the Edwards Plateau habitat. The WMA serves as a site where research of wildlife populations and habitats can be conducted under controlled conditions and to provide public hunting.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's website indicates that only 500 people per year visit the area. This includes birders from all over the world that come to view two sought-after species: the endangered Black-capped Vireo  and Golden-cheeked Warbler. The WMA website provides excellent directions; as a result, most birders stand a good chance of viewing these two elusive species. 

We had a lovely spring weather on the day that we visited the Kerr WMA. We had the chance to park and hike into a few of the designated areas recommended to see the vireos and warblers.

This male Black-capped Vireo was very vocal and cooperative for viewing and photographing:-) Our bird book resources indicate that this is the smallest vireo to occur in the U.S. All I can say is that it has a big attitude! What a songster...apparently research indicates that they have a repertoire of songs 10 time larger than other vireos.

The Golden-cheeked Warblers were located in a different habitat a few miles down the road from the vireos. They nest exclusively in the juniper-oak woodlands of central Texas. We were so lucky because there are not nearly as many Golden-cheeked Warblers as there are Black-capped Vireos. This male was feeding and singing from the branches at eye level!!

The bird below is a first year male Summer Tanager. It is not a rarity so to speak but we think it is so lovely with its blend of peach and yellow colors.

We stayed at a RV park on the outskirts of Ft. Stockton. It was our last stop in Texas before coming into New Mexico. We found amazing bird life on a walk around the RV park in habitat that is basically desert.

This Barn Swallow was curious as to what I was doing. Barn Swallow nests are always cup shaped, typically located under an overhang.
This Bell's Vireo is the Texas subspecies and was full of spring songs the morning we saw it.

We have learned that the stunning Blue Grosbeak is a bird of the sage and desert habitat.
There is a female Bullock's Oriole on the nest in the photo below. You can just see her sticking her head out of the white and blue fuzz she used to create her special nest:-)
The male Bullock's Oriole is keeping a watchful eye out - protecting his mate and nest.
This Curve-billed Thrasher came out to see what was going on...
Flowers of the desert...
Different kinds of flowers of the desert- the male Painted Bunting and Bullock's Oriole provide quite the colorful kalaidascope of colors in the desert scene
Male Painted Bunting
This immature Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is learning to fly....

This blog completes our 2015 Spring Migration. We hope you have enjoyed our journey via the blog as much as we enjoyed the actual experience. 

The World is Full of Beauty & Wonder,

Turtle & Hawk

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Birding Texas Lower Rio Grande Valley | National Wildlife Refuges (Part 2)

We have a special place in our hearts for National Wildlife Refuges. One of the reasons for our trip to the Lower Rio Grande Valley was to visit refuges that might be candidates for us to volunteer.

The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, located in Alamo, Texas, on the Rio Grande River was established in 1943 for the protection of migratory birds. The 2,088 acre refuge is positioned along an east-west and north-south junction of two major migratory routes for many species of birds. It is also at the northern-most point for many species whose range extends south into Central and South America.

The refuge is also located at the intersection of subtropical climate, gulf coast, great plains and Chihuahuan desert. As a result there are Sabal palms growing alongside prickly pear cactus providing habitat for the ocelot and jaguarundi, 2 endangered cat species known to still prowl the deep forest!! 

The refuge includes more than 12 miles of trails and 2 hawk watch towers. Though small in size, Santa Ana offers visitors an opportunity to see birds, butterflies and many other species not found anywhere else in the U.S. beyond deep South Texas. The area borders the Rio Grande River and has a very wild feel to it:-)

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, located in Los Fresnos, Texas, is called the last great habitat where thorn forest intermingles with freshwater wetlands, coastal prairies, mudflats and beaches. The refuge is situated on the border between the U.S. and Mexico along the Gulf of Mexico. The refuge, consisting of more than 97,000 acres, was established in 1946 to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds, principally redhead ducks, Today the refuge's scope has expanded to include endangered species conservation and management for birds and the endangered ocelot. The refuge boasts more recorded species of birds than any other refuge in the  National Wildlife Refuge System. In addition, the largest population of ocelot in the U.S. call the refuge "home". We think this is a place that we might be able to temporarily call "home" as volunteers:-)

We hope you enjoy some of the photos of the wildlife we were fortunate enough to see at these national jewels:

The first set of photos are from the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

The muddy Rio Grande River                    
This is a male Green Kingfisher. The Green Kingfisher is the smallest of the three North American kingfisher species.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks mingling with a few Fulvous Whistling-Ducks located down and in front.
This is a Tropical Kingbird. It is very difficult to differentiate between the Couch's Kingbird and the Tropical Kingbird unless you hear their call. Their calls are very different. The size of the bill is also different but hard to differentiate by bill size alone. The Tropical Kingbird has a longer, thinner-based bill than Couch's. The 3rd photo below gives a good perspective on how much thinner the base of the bill is on the Tropical.

The photo below is two Couch's Kingbirds. See how much wider the base of their bill is compared to the photo of the Tropical Kingbird above.
Nesting Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets. This bird species is the smallest flycatcher in North America, at approximately 4.5 inches long. Their breeding range barely reaches the U.S. in riparian woodlands of southeast Arizona, southwestern New Mexico and southern Texas.
One of the pair, presumably the female, is readying her nest in the bromeliad.
Olive Sparrows have a very distinctive song and are residents of the dense thorn-scrub of southern Texas.

This male Yellow Warbler caught himself a snack
The proud parent with her little Pied-billed Grebes
A Dickcissel singing his heart out
We came across this painted turtle right next to the Rio Grande River. It had dug a hole and was laying eggs 

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

On our way to the refuge...

We had been hoping to see the handsome Harris's Hawk of the arid Southwest & were finally rewarded with fabulous looks. We saw this hawk hunting alone on our drive to the refuge. It is reported that Harris's Hawks hunt cooperatively in pairs or small groups. 

It had just finished raining as we arrived into the Laguna Atascosa refuge. We think because of the rain many of the birds we normally would not have seen were sitting up drying off as we drove in.....

Here is a soaking wet male Northern Bobwhite. There call sounds like "bobwhite"
Male and female Northern Bobwhite drying off
Male Northern Bobwhite
This is our first sighting of a Botteri's Sparrow. Even with the photos we had a hard time determining what sparrow species this was. Sparrows can be challenging to identify:-)

The Red Admiral Butterfly
This was one of the last sightings of our favorite birds, Carolina Wren...we will miss their song that sounds like "tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle."
Common Nighthawk is another one of those hard to identify Nightjars :-)

The Crested Caracara is a tropical relative of the falcon and fills a similar niche to that of North American vultures. The Crested Caracara reaches the U.S. only in Arizona, Texas & Florida.

Colorful Green Jay
Male Hooded Oriole
This will probably be the last time we see a Little Blue Heron for awhile as we move westward.
A secretive bird of the Neotropics, the White-tipped Dove, reaches the northern edge of its range in southernmost Texas. Their call reminds me of someone blowing softly across the top of a glass bottle.
This dung beetle is known as a "roller"- they roll dung into round balls that are used as a food source or brooding chamber.
?? cat scat....could it be from an ocelot?
It is a magical thing that the largest population of ocelot in the U.S. lives here in this refuge:-)

The World is Full of Beauty & Wonder,

Turtle & Hawk