Thursday, April 11, 2013

Whoopers from a Distance, back to the Valley, April 7

I completed my blog entry with photos for Friday, April 5, from my motel in Rockport early Sunday morning.  I talked to the clerk at the desk on Saturday night about my search for Whooping Cranes for my Big Year.  She told me that the Whooping Cranes had been seen at a park in Rockport only a few days ago.  She gave me directions, and it was not far.  After breakfast, which was included with the room for one night, I checked at the desk and got the same story from a different lady a the desk.  I headed south to a small park across from Walmart.  The boardwalk and trail were not very long.  I did not find any Whooping Cranes.  I stopped back at the office of the Econo Lodge Inn to double check on directions.  A man caretaker said that the Lamar area would be better.  After some discussion, we determined that the Lamar area is the area that I checked last night.  Because it was on the way to Aransas NWR, I drove Lamar Boulevard again, just to be sure that there were really no Whooping Cranes there.  At the end of Lamar Boulevard I turned the corner and pulled in to the parking lot at the Big Tree.  Two birders with binoculars were walking out of the parking lot along the road.  I stopped and asked them if they had any success.  That's how I met John and Alice from Northumberland, UK.  Northumberland is in the north right next to Scotland.  John and Alice had reservations for the boat trip to see Whooping Cranes, but the trip had been cancelled today, Sunday, April 7, due to lack of participants.  The boat tour company gave them a map showing the locations of Whooping Cranes in the area.  The area north of the Big Tree had a family of Whooping Cranes, but John and Alice did not find them.  I told them I would also check, as they walked along the road to check the pasture area where there was a family group of Whooping Cranes in 2010.  I was there in 2010 to see the Yellow-faced Grassquit at Goose Island State Park and saw the Whooping Cranes in that pasture.  Today there was a nice flock of Roseate Spoonbills in the pasture along the edge of a pond, but no Whooping Cranes in the pasture or visible north of the Big Tree.  John and Alice and I met at their rental vehicle in the parking lot to discuss what to do.  They said that the boat tour would have gone to Aransas NWR to see the Whooping Cranes had there been enough participants to run the trip.  Aransas NWR still had cranes according to the boat tour.  I told John and Alice that I was going to Aransas NWR, because I thought that was the best shot to see the cranes.  They agreed, and followed me there.  It was about 36 miles to Aransas NWR from Lamar.

I stopped by the Visitor Center at Aransas NWR and signed in.  When I included that I was from Cincinnati, OH, the man at the desk with an official NWR uniform, said that he was from Dayton, OH.    He asked me my name, and when I told him, he said I know you!   Then he introduced himself.   David True.  Now I understood why I had not seen him recently.  He has been a ranger at Aransas for about three years.  I first met David True at East Fork State Park when there was a Sooty Tern at East Fork State Park deposited by a remnant hurricane.   No wonder he looked familiar. If I recall correctly, I had met David birding additional times at Spring Valley WA not far from Cincinnati.  I told him about my Big Year, and he said he had seen my blog.  David informed us that there were still three Whooping Cranes visible from the Observation Tower at the end of the two way road, but they might be quite far away.  By that time, John and Alice had arrived at the desk.  John wondered why I had not stopped for the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.  I had to admit that I had already seen about 50 or 75 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers since I was in Texas, and the newness had worn off for me.

I left immediately for the Observation Tower.  I carried my Swarovski telescope and tripod up on the 40 foot tower.  I was able to get an identifiable look at the three Whooping Cranes.  Even though the foot of the telescope is broken, I could hand hold the telescope on the tripod and at 30X or 40X see the red cap on the head of at least two of the cranes and the black facial markings.   Without binoculars, the three cranes were three white spots about 0.25 miles away out near San Antonio Bay.  I took several photos, just to document that I was there and saw them, but they are barely identifiable in the photos.  See photos.   The first shows how far away the three Whooping Cranes were from the Observation Tower.  The three white spots in the center of the photo beyond the wide water in the middle foreground but in front of the small narrow white line along the near edge of the land before the more distant San Antonio Bay are the three  Whooping Cranes.
The second shows the birds at maximum zoom, in which the right hand bird has its head raised enough that some of the detail of the black on the face can be seen.  Before I took these photos, all three birds had their heads raised enough that I could see the detail at 30X or 40X in my telescope on at least two of them.   When John and Alice arrived, they told me that they had photographed a Diamondback Rattlesnake crossing the road in front of them on their way to the Observation Tower.  It was difficult to share my telescope with them, due to the need for hand
holding on the tripod.  The look that they got was marginally satisfactory for a life bird, but at least they got a long distant view of the cranes.   We spent more time on the Observation Tower and visited a little.  When I mentioned that I had recently retired from P&G, Alice said that a relative, I think a sister in law, was an accounts manager at P&G in UK.  Wow!  Sure is a small world!  I helped them identify some North American birds while we were on the tower, such as the song of a White-eyed Vireo singing beneath us in the trees and fly-by Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret and Willet.  I'm sure that I would  need the same help if I was birding in UK.  We parted ways at the Visitor Center.  John and Alice had made a special side trip to make sure that they saw the Whooping Cranes before April 10 -12, by which time a colleague had advised them that the last cranes would depart for the breeding grounds.  John and Alice were headed back to the Houston area to continue their planned itinerary.  I was headed back to the Lower Rio Grande Valley to finish my last days of birding in the valley.  However, I would be back to Texas in about two weeks, and we might meet again.  I left Aransas between 1:30 and 2:00 pm, and headed back to Mission to stay the night.  I will try for Elf Owl at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park at dusk and then try to get enough sleep to go up-river to Salineno to try for early morning flights of Red-billed Pigeons and wild Muscovy Duck.

On my way south on 281, I stopped at the rest area south of Falfurrias to stretch my legs.  I needed the relief from too much driving in a short period of time.  The round trip  to and from Aransas was about 480 miles in less than one day.  As I walked in to the rest area, I found a Louisiana Waterthrush walking around the open bathroom area, where the ground was wet from watering a minimal amount of grass and washing the walkways.  This is not a new bird for the year, having heard one singing at Shawnee State Forest in southeastern Ohio about one week ago, but it was nice to actually see one and in Texas.  I do not believe that it is a new bird for my Texas list.  I also found a Chipping Sparrow, a new bird for the year.

I arrived at the Motel 6 in Mission, made reservations and retrieved from my luggage my new solar powered flashlight, given as a Christmas gift by my sister, Cynthia, to be used on my Big Year.  I also carried a small battery powered flashlight as a back-up but did no need it.  I arrived at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park before sunset and met three birders (one man and two women) carrying big lights.  (I found out later that they were from Austin, TX.)   They were not going for the Elf Owl, because at the time they were mainly interested in seeing Common Pauraques.  They had a map of Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park on which the location of the Elf Owl on Kiskadee Trail was marked.  It was about a mile walk to the location.  It was fortunate that I meet them, because the exact location is an important detail.  I paid the daily fee at the honor box, and started walking to the Kiskadee Trail near the Boat Ramp.  I got side tracked, because I needed to retrieve my water bottle left on top of the honor box.  When I caught up with the Pauraque folks at one of the feeders, they decided to join me, because it was not much further to the Elf Owl spot on the Kiskadee Trail.  The Elf Owl tree was on the second part of the Kiskadee Trail, and there were about four other birders (three women and one man with a camera) there already waiting.  The Elf Owl had looked out of the hole at least once before I arrived.  I was able to see the Elf Owl look out the hole several times.  I could see the small size (the smallest North American owl), lack of ear tufts, the white eye brow lines and the relatively dark breast up to the facial disc.  For perspective, when the owl looked out of the relatively large woodpecker hole, we could see about two thirds of the bird's length of about 5.25 inches.   The light was starting to get quite dim, so further viewing was very difficult.  The rest of the group decided to leave, but I stayed hoping to hear the Elf Owl start calling.  Just as the last of the group disappeared toward the Boat Ramp on the Kiskadee Trail, the Elf Owl called briefly.  Success!  I started walking out the Kiskadee Trail, and eventually caught up with the rest of the group.  By this time the Common Pauraques were singing/calling their distinctive cat-like "pur wheer."  It is really cool to hear them doing this song in the dark.  The group found a Common Pauraque on the ground along the road, but the bird had moved on by the time I caught up with them.   One of the ladies in the group of four was the lady who operated the feeders at Salineno, just before they were shut down this year.  I had on a previous trip visited there while she was operating the feeders.  Another lady in the group of four and the man were the volunteers who kept the temporary feeders at Salineno running until late March this year.  I showed them my solar powered flashlight, and they thought that was a neat idea.  The batteries get charged during the day when there is plenty of light for use at night.  I told them my sister,  Cynthia, found it at Bean.  Thanks Sis for a neat gift that birders appreciate.  Near the entrance to the trails, we heard an Eastern Screech Owl calling in the woods on the left before crossing the canal.

At the end of the day, Whooping Crane, Chipping Sparrow and Elf Owl make the total 321.  I returned to my motel room after picking up some late dinner, to get some rest before an early departure for Salineno. 

No comments:

Post a Comment