Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Santa Ana NWR and To Rockport, Saturday, April 6

As I write this entry, I am at home in Cincinnati, OH, having arrived yesterday at about 1:30 pm.  I noticed that I failed to include Sora, a rail which I heard calling its descending whinny at SPI on the boardwalk several times on Thursday, April 4.  I added Sora to the list.

On Saturday, April 6, I went to Santa Ana NWR, because the information from other birders was that a Ringed Kingfisher was seen the previous day at Santa Ana NWR.  Additional information from birders in the field was that Ringed Kingfisher was more difficult to find now, because they were nesting and not at their usual winter haunts.  Very early on Saturday morning, I wrote my previous entry for April 5 and then went directly to Santa Ana NWR, arriving at about 9:30 am.  Due to the drought conditions, the water at Santa Ana NWR is somewhat limited.  I stuck to the Chachalaca Trail around Willow Lake, where there was deeper water.  There was some water in the Pintail Lakes area, but it seemed rather low.  They were pumping water into the Pintail Lakes and Willow Lakes complexes.  I spent most of the morning scanning the water and trees along the water of the Willow Lakes complex but did not find the Ringed Kingfisher.  I also checked the water areas of Pintail Lakes two times.  I met a man and wife who were originally from Minnesota and now lived in Arizona.  They told me that John from Massachusetts had seen the Ringed Kingfisher earlier in the morning, but that they had missed it.  They also reported that another birder had seen a Ringed Kingfisher at Estero Llano Grande State Park yesterday.  However, I did find three drake Cinnamon Teal with at least one female, a new bird for the year.  See photo with two of the three drakes.
Close to noon, I walked back to my rental car for some food.  I met John from Massachusetts.  He did see the Ringed Kingfisher fly over him at about 9:00 am.  It was a life bird for him!  I was 30 minutes too late!  John was leaving the valley soon and was on his way to the airport after Santa Ana NWR.  He gave me directions to an Audubon's Oriole nest that he found at Falcon State Park.  Those directions may be useful if I miss Audubon's Oriole at Salineno, which is up river on the Rio Grande.   I mentioned to John that I originally had planned to go to Bentsen Rio Grande State Park, because I could add Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet there.  John said that they are at Santa Ana NWR, which I knew, and that he thought he had heard one.  John and I said our goodbyes, and I headed back to the Chachalaca Trail to look for Ringed Kingfisher.  My plan was to stay at Santa Ana until about 2:00 pm and then drive north to the Rockport area to try for Whooping Crane before they leave for the breeding grounds in Alberta, CA.  I could wait to  see Whooping Cranes when they return to Texas in the fall, but it is better to try to get them now, and if I miss them now, I can try in the fall.  However, I needed to try for Whooping Crane on this trip, and now was the time.  All the cranes leave by about April 10-12, so this was my last chance for the winter-sping over-wintering season for Whooping Cranes in the vicinity of Aransas NWR. 

At some point during my vigil for Ringed Kingfisher at Santa Ana NWR, I met Alex Cruz from Minnesota.  He told me that he was in the electric open sided van with seats that passed me at Estero Llano Grande SP on Friday just after I arrived.  When I met him at Santa Ana NWR, he told me that before he left for home, he was going birding up the Rio Grande with his friend John Yochum, who worked at Estero Llano Grande SP.  I told Alex that I knew John Yochum, remembering him from his postings to Ohio Birds when he lived in Ohio, and that I had met him a few years ago at Estero Llano Grande State Park.  John was in that van, and I recognized him, but took no time to chat.  Alex was in Texas for a long weekend, as he described it, and told me that the Elf owl is now calling at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park after dark.  Bentsen is open until 10:00 pm.  Alex left to continue his birding tour of Santa Ana NWR.  I walked from one observation location to another at Willow Lakes to make sure that I scanned the edges and trees for Ringed Kingfisher and to change vantage points for a better chance of seeing a fly-by Ringed Kingfisher.  On one of these walks, I headed to the observation point closest to the Visitor Center, and heard the call/song of the Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, an ascending series of three thin notes "peer, peer, peer" that sometimes flip over at the top end of the song.  I heard this flip over at least twice.  As I was searching for the bird, another birder approached.  When I told him that I had heard the tyrannulet singing, he helped look for it and found it.  I seem to recall that it was a life bird for him.  As we watched, this tiny flycatcher, about the size of a kinglet, flew over the path and landed in a nearby tree and disappeared.  It then flew back across the path to the mesquite trees.  The tyrannulet repeated this activity at least two or three times.  I noticed a nest between some parasitic plant growths on a dead tree on the end of a branch that hung down.  The Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet returned to this location several times.  The birder departed and I continued my vigil for the kingfisher.  Just before I was going to leave, Alex Cruz came by, and I told him about the tyrannulet.  We checked the location, and found two birds, and saw them well.  The Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet is mostly gray with a light yellow lower breast, belly and down toward the under tail coverts and with two white wing bars.  It has a light, thin eye-line/supercilium, the crest is often raised and the bill is flesh colored at the base with a dark tip.

At 2:30 pm, I left Santa Ana NWR without seeing a Ringed Kingfisher, and stopped in the office and gave directions to the location of the nest to the person at the desk in the Visitor Center.  She said that a lot of people were asking about the tyrannulet.  now she had directions to the location.  The directions were as follows: About fifty feet from the observation deck with a roof and toward the Visitor Center on Chachalaca Trail, there is a fallen tree with a sawed off branch jutting up from the trunk and pointed back toward the observation deck with the roof.   From this point, go to the first tree right along the trail on the left side going toward the Visitor Center.  The nest is in a tree opposite this tree along the left side of the trail.  The trunk of the nest tree is about ten to twelve feet back from the trail edge on the right side of Chachalaca Trail.  Look for a branch that droops down toward the trail.  The nest is at the lower tip of this drooping branch. 

On my way to Rockport, I stopped and filled my gas tank and got a sandwich, some chips and two for the price of one Orange Crush sodas.  I actually started driving to Rockport at about 3:30 pm.  It was a 3.5 hour drive, and I arrived with daylight to spare at about 7:00 pm.  I checked an area outside of Goose Island State Park on Lamar Drive, where a family group of Whooping Cranes had over-wintered two winters ago.  I stopped and asked a fisherman, who remembered the Whooping Cranes in that area in previous winters but not this past year.  He claimed to have fished the same area for at least twenty five years.  Oh well, I decided to stay the night in Rockport and drive up to Aransas NWR in the morning.

At the end of the day, Sora, which I forgot to add before, Cinnamon Teal and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet makes the total 318. 

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