Nutria Canyon Hike and the Ice Cave

Recently my friend Dia and I spent a whole day exploring the area around El Morro near Grants, NM.  Our main destination was to find Nutria Canyon.   I’ve heard very little about this hike and there is minimal information online.  But there was this one tantalizing photo online that drew me back again and again during the winter months.  I knew I just had to find this place during the summer when my friend could join me.  It’s about 3 hours away from where I live, so I didn’t want to venture out on my own.

We started out early with hopes of getting to the canyon by around 9.  Sadly there was a lot of road construction that slowed us down.  Then, when we were in the general area, we just didn’t know where to go.  Luckily I saw this one dirt road that said Nutria Lake.  It was 25 miles sooner on the highway than my online directions were saying.   Thankfully, just as we turned onto the road a local came driving by.  They were very helpful and told us we were definitely in the right place.

Since the lake was just a little side trip off the road, we headed over to see it.  It was a pretty place with a few ducks enjoying the water.  We got out to enjoy the view and let Scarlett have a bathroom break.

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Nutria Lake

Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as Scarlett started doing her “business” a pack of reservation dogs came out of nowhere heading straight for us.  Dia and I were calling Scarlett to HURRY! HURRY! get in the car.  But she just couldn’t finish her “business” quickly enough.  We were panicking by this time.  Dia ran to drag Scarlett to the car if need be, and I was opening the doors and grabbing the gun! Thankfully Scarlett hurried up and jumped in the car along with us in the nick of time! Whew! Needless to say, we left the lake and headed to our original destination.

The valley we were driving into was very lush.  We saw lots of happy horses and other livestock.  And there were prairie dogs EVERYWHERE!!!

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As we neared the trail head, we came upon a marshy area where Nutria Creek spills out of the canyon.  Just gorgeous!

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Marsh area near the trail head

Dia had just gotten a new tattoo on her entire back.  So she wasn’t able to carry a pack.  I told her I would carry everything in my pack (I’d do anything to go see this canyon!).  So when we arrived at the trail head, she started loading up my pack.  Wow! Heavy!

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That pack had to weigh 40 pounds!

I told her she had to at least carry the gun.  She gladly accepted that task!

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Dia packing heat!

The trail headed into the narrowing canyon with lush green trees and bushes.  It definitely beckoned us to head inside.

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Entrance to trail – so green!

Almost as soon as we started the trail, there was water.  Scarlett immediately dove in!

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Scarlett in her happy place!

Thankfully enough people have been on this trail that they have constructed makeshift boardwalks out of old pallets and scrap lumber.  They were rickety but effective to walk over the mud.

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We started climbing up above the creek and into a lush forest of oaks.  There were Yellow Warblers everywhere!  I didn’t bring my birding lens, so no bird pics this trip.  But so much birdsong in the canopy made me regret my decision to leave that lens at home.

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Kelly on the very lush trail.

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It was nice and cool in the shade

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We eventually met up with the creek again.  Then we turned a corner in the canyon and it opened up to a stunning view.  Beautiful steep red canyon walls and gorgeous green foliage.  We were getting close to where I saw that tantalizing photo so many months ago.

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Dia enjoying the view on this perfect seat.

Then there it was! A picturesque pond in this hidden canyon.  Stunning!  I was so wishing we had found the trail much sooner.  By this time it was noon and not the best conditions for photography.  But I did my best to capture some images that did the view justice.

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Gorgeous!

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I loved the reflections in the pond.

I just had to have a photo of me and Scarlett in this beautiful spot.

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My sweet Miss Scarlett

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Scarlett and Kelly

The day was warming up quickly.  Scarlett was tempted to jump down into that pond.  We kept having to tell her no.

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It was sooooo tempting to jump in…

Eventually we made it around and down to that pond and she was a happy girl!

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Such a peaceful place

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Scarlett loved the ponds.  Cool and refreshing water to play in.

We hung around here for a while as the trail just became too congested with brush to continue on.  I had hoped to explore further but this is just not a well known place.  So there isn’t enough foot traffic to keep the trail open.

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Untouched beauty

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Scarlett kept on eye on me as I navigated the big boulders

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Beautiful

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Dia and Kelly

Eventually we headed back to the car.  We still had quite a bit of daylight left to the day.  So we decided to visit the Ice Cave.  I had never been, and Dia said it had been a long while since she had been there.

On the way out, we decided to stop at a few of the abandoned homes in the valley.  They are interesting to explore.  Just a plethora of things to photograph!

 

We had lunch at the Ancient Way Cafe.  It’s a tiny little place, but the food is good and the desserts were outstanding! They have quite a baker working there.

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Our sandwich was shaped just like a Bigfoot footprint!

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Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!!!

The visitor’s center at the ice cave was very interesting.  It’s amazing what they found down in that hole.  Centuries of history perfectly preserved.  I highly recommend you take the time to look around at all the treasures jammed into this small building.

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Look at those giant perfectly whole Indian pots!

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Fascinating!

The Ice Cave offers two hikes.  One up to the Bandera Volcano and one down to the ice cave. We hiked the volcano first since we knew we would cool off at the ice cave. 🙂

It was a short and relatively uninteresting hike.

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Bandera Volcano

At the top of the trail, Dia collapsed due to lack of a Starbuck’s for hours.  I told her to hang in there.  We will get her one soon.

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Where’s Starbucks????????? she wailed

The Ice Cave was much more interesting.  The trail to the cave takes you through the basalt fields left by the volcano.  It makes you wonder how anyone found that ice cave so long ago.  It had to have been quite the challenge to navigate through that jagged sharp basalt.

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Basalt field

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A blooming cactus brought beauty to the stark view.

The area was called The Devil’s Playground by early settlers.  It’s easy to see why.  While hiking to the cave we came across this unique dead juniper.  I took a picture of Dia there being her naughty self.  She then took my photo and edited it to fit the area’s nickname.  🙂

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Dia being evil…

At the cave you climb down a steep set of stairs.

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Kelly and Scarlett ready to descend

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Steep stairs

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There it is deep below the surface.

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As you descended you could really feel the temperature dropping.  It was quite refreshing after a hot climb up the volcano.

I didn’t let Scarlett go all the way to the bottom.  You could see what she thought about that…..

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The inside of the cave was beautiful.  I tried to capture the colors in the cave by setting my camera to a slow shutter speed.  Just beautiful.

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The colors in the rock ceiling were so beautiful.

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The ice had a green cast to it.  It made for a lovely contrast with all the colors in the rock formation.

Too soon we were heading home.  On the way out we saw a few Mule Deer.  One was more curious than the others and had a beautiful shaggy coat.

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Mule Deer

When we got to Grants, Dia had to have her Starbucks.  But she almost had a big tantrum when she realized there wasn’t a Starbucks there.  It was hilarious!

The drive home was long due to yet more road construction.  But the day’s adventures had been fabulous (even with the lack of Starbuck’s at the end).  🙂

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65 miles to go until home….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birding at San Angelo State Park and Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge

On my way home from Port Aransas, Texas, I took time to bird in San Angelo State Park in San Angelo, Texas, and at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge at Roswell, New Mexico.

My drive to San Angelo was mostly rainy.  So I didn’t have any opportunities to bird that day.  I did stop in a little town to get a pic of an old building that looked interesting.

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I arrived in San Angelo with steady rain.  When I awoke the next morning, it was pretty foggy.  So birding conditions were not good at all.  But I still managed to get a quite a few sightings. I didn’t stay long as I wanted to have some time to bird at Bitter Lake.

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Bullock’s Oriole

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Curve-Billed Thrasher

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Bell’s Vireo

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Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

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Pyrrhuloxia

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Lark Sparrow

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Cactus Wren

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Black Vultures

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Canyon Towhee

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Brown-Headed Cowbird

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Black-Crested Titmouse

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Bobwhite Quail

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Golden-Fronted Woodpecker

The best find of the morning was seeing a female Vermillion Flycatcher building her nest.  She would get some moss or grass and place it in the nest and then check it for comfort.  Then go get another piece to add.  I never did see the male.

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Vermillion Flycatcher – female

There wasn’t too much activity at Bitter Lake as I arrived there around midday.  After driving around for a little while and hiking a couple of short paths, I managed to find a few birds.

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Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler – Myrtle Variety

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Lark Sparrow

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Green Heron

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Cinnamon Teal

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Scaled Quail

The highlight of the day though was seeing a variety of nightjars! These birds are so difficult to find in the wild.  But on this visit, they were all perched out in the open and very close to the road.  Awesome! I was able to get some good photographs!  Even with that advantage, it was still very difficult to identify the birds.  I mostly used size as a reference for the Common Poorwill as it is the smallest of the nightjars.  The Common Nighthawk flew and sang right after I took the up-close photo which made it easy to identify.

I think you’ll agree these are really cool birds!

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Common Poorwill

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Lesser Nighthawk

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Common Nighthawk

That concludes my 10-day trip to the gulf coast and all the wonderful bird sightings I was able to see during my travels.  I got 27 new lifers and my total number of lifer bird sightings is now at 396!!!

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Pronghorn Antelope

Miscellaneous Birds and Other Fun Stuff in Port Aransas, Texas

I saved the most difficult category for last – miscellaneous birds.  Specifically flycatchers.  I am challenged when it comes to identifying flycatchers.  Thankfully, there was a local birding expert nearby when I saw the flycatchers, and she was able to identify them for me.  You can see why it’s challenging to identify them…they almost look identical!

Here’s the many variety of flycatchers I saw at Port Aransas.  And they are all lifers!!!

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Alder Flycatcher

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Acadian Flycatcher

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Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher

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Eastern Wood-Pewee

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Least Flycatcher

While visiting there, I went out every morning before dawn.  I saw some beautiful sights around the town.  One morning I toured the marina and took a few pics.

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Beautiful sailboats

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Homes on the Port Aransas Marina

The beach at dawn is gorgeous.  Very  few people, calm winds, the sounds of the surf and birds.

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Horace Caldwell Pier at sunrise

I found some sand sculptures one morning.  They must have had a contest the day before that was sponsored by Crown Royal.  I was pretty impressed with the sculptures, though I can’t figure out why the pig was the grand champion.  Hmmmmmm…..

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Willie Nelson

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It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere

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Lovely mermaid

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Grand Champion Pig

While walking Charlie’s Pasture I did encounter a few butterflies.  They were difficult to find as the wind blew pretty good almost my entire trip.  I found other fun stuff too while hiking the boardwalks.

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A gorgeous passion flower

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I believe this is a White Peacock that survived a close call!

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Funereal Duskywing

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Reakirt’s Blue

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Green Anole shedding its skin.  I loved to catch these lizards when I was a little kid living in Houston!

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Common Buckeye

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A very fresh Pipevine Swallowtail

One morning at Charlie’s Pasture I came across a coyote.  Just beautiful!

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Coyote

While visiting the Leonabelle Refuge I saw lots of Great-Tailed Grackles and a few other fun things.

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Crab

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The sightings of the day 🙂

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Great-Tailed Grackle

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Mullet – this fish was 2.5 feet long!

I had two birds I really wanted to see while visiting the Gulf Coast.  The first was the Roseate Spoonbill, which I did see and posted about previously.  The second bird was the Crested Caracara. I have looked for this bird for years.  On this trip I finally saw it.  Then like my blogging friend Aussiebirder who recently commented “it takes you forever to see that lifer bird, then it seems like once you see it, you see it everywhere!”  I think I saw over 10 individuals while there this last trip.

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Crested Caracara

Along with the Crested Caracara I saw these other two birds I scared off a dead coyote.

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Turkey Vulture

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Harris’s Hawk

One day we visited Aransas Wildlife Refuge.  It took about 1.5 hours to get there, but was well worth the trip.  That particular day was extremely windy.  The beach would have been miserable.   But with all the trees at the refuge, it was a beautiful day.  The very first thing we saw were 3 alligators!!!  🙂  That was awesome!

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Alligator

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Alligators

We drove around this large refuge and came across some fun stuff.  There was this 80-foot high catwalk.  It was so fun to walk that climbing, winding cawalk.  At the top the views of the coastline were amazing!

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Scarlett loved running up the path

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My mom waving from further down the path.  Such fun!

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Gorgeous view!

While hiking this catwalk, we spotted a huge butterfly.  It landed very briefly for one photo.

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Palamedes Swallowtail

And I got a beautiful shot of a dove.

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White-Winged Dove

We had a picnic in a lovely spot.  A deer greeted us as we drove up. This would be one of several deer we would see that day.

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White-Tailed Deer

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Me and Scarlett

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Beautiful picnic area

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I love the oak trees in Texas

I took mom and dad out to a nice dinner for Dad’s birthday.  The restaurant was small and intimate and the food was delicious.

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My dad (Joe) at his birthday dinner

But our favorite place to eat was Trout Street.  We ate there twice on the patio enjoying the marina view.  After dinner on one visit, mom and I toured the docks.  I really considered buying this yacht that was for sale (NOT!).  🙂

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Mom and Dad (Dorothy and Joe)

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Dad looking very nautical in his blue and white striped shirt 🙂

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Me enjoying a lovely dinner on the marina

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My beautiful mother!

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Tempting to buy….. LOL!

One day visiting the beach we drove past a Jeep Rally.  I was really wishing I was in my Jeep.  But sadly we were in my dad’s Ford pickup.  I need to see about Jeep Rallies in New Mexico!

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Jeep Rally at the Beach

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Lots of great Jeeps were there

It was a wonderful trip to the Gulf Coast!!! I hope you enjoyed reading about my adventures there.

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Shorebirds in Port Aransas, Texas

This is a big category.  There were so many different kinds of shorebirds when I visited.  Of course, I wasn’t complaining. 😉

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Gorgeous sunrise on the Gulf Coast of Texas

I visited the beach a couple of times at sunrise.  This proved to be a good idea as the terns were hanging out on the beach grooming before taking off to eat breakfast.  I saw a nice group of terns one morning with a lifer among them – the Sandwich Tern.  I wonder how it got its name???

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Sandwich Tern

Also in the group were Royal Terns (gorgeous birds) and a juvenile Black Tern.

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Royal Tern

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Black Tern – juvenile

While driving along the beach I saw a group of Black Skimmers fly by feeding.   Such a unique bird. You’ll notice the upper beak is shorter than the lower enabling it to skim the water while flying fast.  I never saw any sitting still, so I was happy I managed to get one decent photo of one flying.

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Black Skimmer

As always on the beach, lots of seagulls!

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Laughing Gulls

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Laughing Gull

One variety of birds I just love are the sandpipers.  When I was little living in the Philippines, I called the sandpipers “step and pecks” because that’s exactly what they do!

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Western Sandpiper

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Sanderling – I love this photo

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Ruddy Turnstone

One day at the beach, I witnessed a very disturbing sight.  I was looking at a particular bird that seemed different from all the Western Sandpipers around.  So I went to grab my camera.  When I turned around to take a picture, I didn’t see it.  That’s when I noticed some grackles that were ganging up on something.  I took a couple quick pics with my camera to see what they were attacking.  I realized they were attacking the bird I wanted to photograph!!!  What!?!  I didn’t know grackles would kill anything.  I thought they were scavenger birds.  I put down the camera and went to see if I could save the little bird.  Sadly,  I was too late 😦  I now hate grackles…..

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This Great-Tailed Grackle is attacking a Sanderling, which is trying to fight back. 

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The grackle was just too big to fight off.

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So sad……

Out at Charlie’s Pasture I sat quietly on a shaded bench for about an hour.  Different varieties of birds would come and go from the pond.  The highlight of that particular visit was when a large group of American Avocets flew in.  I had never seen a large group in breeding plumage feed together before.  It was like a beautiful ballet.  They were a synchronized group that chattered constantly among themselves.  It was a real delight to watch.

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American Avocets

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American Avocets in a beautiful synchronized dance

Another day at Charlie’s pasture I got another lifer – Gull-Billed Terns!  They were quite a ways away so getting a decent pic was a challenge.

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Gull-Billed Terns

In great breeding numbers was the Least Tern.  I searched in vain for any babies, but never did see any.  The parents were clever enough to not feed any while I watched.  They would land and just sit – waiting for me to leave.  Oh well……

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Least Tern

A favorite every time I visit the coast is the Brown Pelican.  These birds are so unique looking.  They are a joy to watch fish as they dive into the water and fill that giant bill with fish.  The Brown Pelican during breeding season has beautiful coloration. On this trip, I got my most favorite photo I’ve ever taken of one.

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Brown Pelican

I was excited to find Dunlins on several of my outings.  They are a lifer for me!

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Dunlin

There was such a variety of marsh and shorebirds everywhere I went.  It was such a joy to see such unique birds!

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Greater Yellowlegs

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Black-Necked Stilt

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Stilt Sandpiper

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Wilson’s Phalarope

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Willet

While hiking around Charlie’s Pasture, I noticed a couple of plovers.  One in the very far distance was a Snowy Plover.  Happily one close by was a lifer for me.  A Wilson’s Plover!!

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Snowy Plover

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Wilson’s Plover – look at all the bands he’s wearing!

I love birding at the beach during spring!

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Horace Caldwell Pier at sunrise

 

 

 

 

Egrets, Herons and other Waterfowl in Port Aransas, Texas

I saw lots and lots of egrets and herons on this trip.  Evidently southern Texas was experiencing a drought while I was there.  Due to the drought, the shallow salt water and fresh water ponds were small and sparse.  This was very hard on the birds, but made for great birding.  Every time I visited a pond, I would see lots of birds feeding there.  I hope they get rain soon because at the rate the fish were being eaten in the ponds, I can’t see how that resource can last much longer.

One of my favorite places to visit for the larger bird sightings was Charlie’s Pasture.  It’s a 5-mile or so trail that winds its way through the salt water flats.  Here’s a pic of one of the areas that should have had water but was dry.

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Miss Scarlett enjoying the boardwalk

When I did come upon a pool, this is what I would find.  Birds everywhere.  Needless to say, lots of squabbles broke out among the groups.

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I got to finally see a Reddish Egret.  Lifer!  Such a beautiful bird.  I especially love the long feathers on their neck that look like red hair.

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Reddish Egret

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I love the long feathers on their neck

Here are some other photos of egrets and herons I got on my trip.

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Great Blue Heron.  I loved the little red flowers he was standing in.

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Cattle Egret

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Snowy Egret

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Great Egret

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Green Heron

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Black-Crowned Night Heron

I saw my friendly Tri-Colored Heron at the Leonabelle Refuge.  He was quite the ham when I visited there last October.  He was even more so this trip.  I couldn’t resist photographing him as he just seemed to really enjoy the attention.  Plus he looked especially handsome in his breeding plumage.

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Tri-Colored Heron

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Tri-Colored Heron

One bird on my list to see was the Roseate Spoonbill.  I feared I wouldn’t see any as the days ticked by.  But the day before I left I got to see several.  They are beautiful birds!

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Roseate Spoonbill

I saw my first Mottled Ducks on this trip.  Lifer!  Several had babies.  So adorable.

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Mottled Duck

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Mottled duck babies

Speaking of babies, I saw my first American Coot baby.  They start out with white on them and eventually turn black.

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American Coot juvenile

And the most adorable (though not very cute) babies I saw were the Common Gallinule.  I was told they were only a few days old when I first saw them.  They were a treat to watch.  Their wings didn’t have feathers but instead had what looked like hands.  They would hold them up and wave them to beg for food.  It was hysterical!

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Common Gallinule babies

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Common Gallinule baby begging for food

Another favorite of the trip was watching the Least Bittern.  I saw a pair of them several times.  They were working on building a nest, but their location just couldn’t be photographed as it was too deep in the reeds.

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Least Bittern

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Least Bittern

While visiting the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, I spotted another lifer for the trip.  A Least Grebe.  It was very small and dark so was hard to spot.  But once I zoomed in with my camera, I was struck by the beauty of its eye.

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Least Grebe

Here are some other birds that fit this post’s category.  Everywhere I looked on this trip, were birds, birds and more birds!  Paradise!

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Ruddy Duck

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Double-Crested Cormorant juvenile

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Pied-Billed Grebe

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Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

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White Ibis

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Blue-Winged Teal

 

This was a big category (including 3 lifers!).  I hope you enjoyed the photos.  I had a fabulous time taking them!  🙂

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Warblers and Song Birds in Port Aransas, Texas

Normally when I take a trip, I post in chronological order my days and sightings.  But on this trip I was there for a week and I saw so many different kinds of unique and beautiful birds – many of them lifers!

So I thought I would change things up and post all of my wonderful sightings by category rather than when I saw them.

And of course I just had to write about my favorite type of bird first – warblers!  When I first arrived at Port Aransas, my first stop was at the Leonabelle Wildlife Refuge.  There is a short path along grass and bushes before it opens up into the boardwalks through the marshlands.  On my first visit there at dawn, I stopped to peer into the bushes along this path.  There wasn’t any birdsong, but upon closer inspection, I noticed a flurry of activity among the bushes.  When I looked closer, I realized it was warblers – lots of them! I could hardly contain my excitement.  But then I could hardly contain my dread…. will my new camera be up to the challenge of shooting gorgeous warblers deep in the shadows at dawn?????

Happily, with a few rough starts, I started getting some decent photos.  I got a few pics of warblers I’ve seen before.

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Common Yellowthroat

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Wilson’s Warbler

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MacGuilivray’s Warbler

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Chestnut-Sided Warbler

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Nashville Warbler

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Tennessee Warbler

I was especially pleased with this Yellow Warbler photo!

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Yellow Warbler

But then I started noticing new warblers – lifers!   I was grinning from ear to ear!  The most common warbler while birding in Port Aransas was the Magnolia Warbler.   This bird is a lifer and I was happy to capture so many photos of this stunning bird.

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Magnolia Warbler

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Magnolia Warbler – My favorite pic of this guy 🙂

I kept seeing another warbler flash past me.   After several attempts, I finally managed to get a couple decent photos.  Another lifer!

 

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Black-Throated Green Warbler

Then to my surprise, a warbler I have looked for many times, a Black and White Warbler.  Lifer!

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Black and White Warbler

For me the prize of the morning was seeing the stunning Blackburnian Warbler – another lifer!  I took about 100 photos of this fast-moving bird among the foliage before I got a decent pic.

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Blackburnian Warbler

I then headed over to Paradise Pond Park – a small birding spot just a few blocks over.  It has several boardwalks that you can view birds among the bushes and grasses.  When I visited there last fall, part of the boardwalks were over water.  But this visit found the water area just mud.  But the birds were loving it.  There were lots of bugs on this mud and the songbirds were greedily snappy them up.

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush – lifer!

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Northern Waterthrush

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Swainson’s Thrush

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American Redstart – lifer!

Also at Paradise Pond Park were a couple of vireos – both of which were lifers for me!

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Red-Eyed Vireo

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Philadelphia Vireo

There were lots of songbirds around during my visit.

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Horned Lark

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Indigo Bunting

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Northern Cardinal – female

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

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Northern Cardinal – male

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Painted Bunting – female

But the highlight of the songbirds was seeing a very cooperative and totally gorgeous Painted Bunting!

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Painted Bunting – glorious!!!

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Painted Bunting

On one of my dawn patrols, I saw a pair of Eastern Kingbirds – lifer!!!  There was very little light as the sun really hadn’t fully risen yet.  But I got a good enough photo to identify the bird!

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Eastern Kingbird

I saw all these warblers and songbirds over a two-day period.  A total of 9 lifers!  Then POOF!!! they were gone.  It seemed they all got the memo and migrated north at the same time.  I’m so glad I didn’t miss them!!!

Stay tuned for another category of bird sightings in Port Aransas, Texas!

 

 

 

 

Birding from Melrose Trap to San Angelo, TX

I recently took a trip to the Gulf Coast town of Port Aransas, Texas, to spend a week at the beach with my folks.  I drove a route that would take me past one of the best birding spots in New Mexico for sheltering spring and fall migrants.  This place is called Melrose Trap near Fort Sumner, New Mexico.  The reason it’s so good is because it’s one of the few places in that vast flat area that has a large patch of trees that has been left wild for many many years and there’s not much human presence for miles.  The undergrowth is so thick, it’s difficult to navigate your way around this small forest.  But because of this, the migratory birds absolutely love it.  It is well known for harboring rare sightings during migration due to storms that can send a bird off its normal migration course.

I had noticed on eBird that recently two rare sighting warblers were seen at Melrose Trap:  Swainson’s Warbler and Worm-Eating Warbler.  The Swainson’s normal territory is in the coastal states from Texas to Florida.  The Worm-Eating Warbler has a larger territory but most usually seen from Texas east.

Before getting to Melrose Trap, I stopped in at Fort Sumner and visited Bosque Redondo Park.  It has a little stream-fed pond and is usually a good birding spot.  It was a nice stop for Scarlett and I to stretch our legs after a couple hours of driving. During this visit, I saw the usual Red-Winged Blackbird showing off their striking plumage.

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Red-Winged Blackbird

I saw quite few birds, but nothing was being very cooperative for photos until I spotted a Gray Catbird.  I had only seen this bird once before briefly while visiting my friend Kelly in Atlanta.  So it was wonderful to not only see this bird more closely though briefly, but hear his unusual song.

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Gray Catbird

While driving back to the highway, I saw this cute foal with it’s mother, who had the most glossy coat I think I’ve ever seen on a horse.  Adorable!

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Upon arriving at Melrose Trap, I noticed a couple of fellow birders there from Albuquerque.  We quickly joined forces to hunt for these warblers.  While looking for these birds in the thick vegetation, I enjoyed photographing a few of the more regular sightings for the area.

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Northern Mockingbird

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Western-Wood Pewee

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Western Kingbird

One of the highlights of the day was seeing a pair of American Kestrals nesting in the area.  I happened to catch one of the birds holding breakfast for their babies.

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American Kestral

Soon I heard someone call “Wormer!”  I quickly headed in that direction hoping to see that warbler.  But I missed it.  In the process I gave myself a 6-inch gash along the back of my thigh trying to navigate quickly through the thick mess of broken limbs and undergrowth that litter the floor of this grove.  Ouch!!!  Note to self:  wear long pants next time!

While I was trying not to scream or dance around like an idiot due to the sharp pain of my new wound, I looked down and saw the Swainson’s Warbler foraging on the ground.  As I was taking a photo, I alerted the others of my sighting.  It stayed deep in the shadow but fortunately moved slowly enough that we all got a nice look at the bird.  Lifer!!

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Swainson’s Warbler

Soon after that I saw a blackbird in bush in the distance.  As I took a picture I saw it’s red eye gleam in the rare shaft of sunlight coming through the thick canopy.  Another lifer for me!  A Bronzed Cowbird.  I was lucky enough to get one crappy photo before he disappeared never to be seen again.

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Bronzed Cowbird

I needed to hit the road as I still had hours of driving ahead of the me to get to San Angelo.  Just as I was about to leave, another sighting of the Worm-Eating Warbler was called out.  This time I managed to get over to the area without further injuring myself (whew!) and managed to get a couple photos of this bird way up high in the canopy.  As is usual with warblers, this guy was moving fast!  So even though my photos weren’t very good, I was still thrilled to capture an image of this lifer bird.

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Worm-Eating Warbler

I hated to leave this great birding spot, but knew I must.  As I was getting into my car, I noticed a thrush foraging on the ground not too far away.  When I zoomed in with my camera, I saw it was a Swainson’s Thrush.  Lifer!!! I wasn’t expecting to see this bird, so it was a nice surprise.  Four lifers in 30 minutes!!!  🙂

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Swainson’s Thrush

Upon reviewing my photos when I got in my car, I noticed I was still having issues trying to get a good focus with my new camera.  I was struggling with focusing on a fast-moving bird among leaves, limbs and grasses.  I needed to get this camera figured out!

My next stop was outside Clovis, New Mexico, at a large, beautiful park called Ned Houk Memorial Park.  It has 3 ponds and lots of trees with manicured lawns.  Scarlett enjoyed running and stretching her legs.  We were practically the only ones there that morning.

We were greeted by a Western Meadowlark hopping across the parking lot.  I always have a hard time getting them to show me their beautiful bright yellow breast feathers.  As usual, this bird only showed me his plain back.

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Western Meadowlark

I noticed a large number of Barn Swallows nesting in the area around the shelters over picnic tables.  I managed to get a photo of one with a mouthful of mud for its nest.  🙂

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Barn Swallow

There was one nest that was just low enough that I could hold my phone over my head to get a photo of the inside of the nest.  They had lined their nest with some soft, white duck feathers.  🙂

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Barn Swallow eggs

I knew from a previous visit that Great Horned Owls nested in a large cottonwood in this park.  I figured I was too late to see any babies, but thought I would check the location just in case.  I was rewarded with seeing an adult snoozing in the tree.  He kept a sharp eye on Scarlett.

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Great Horned Owl

My next stop was at Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge.  I had never stopped in here before so I thought I would take the quick detour to see what it was like.  It has several lakes (more like ponds…), but seemed like one lake in particular was popular on eBird.  I saw lots of prairie dogs and one burrowing owl way off in the distance.

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Baby prairie dog – so cute!

Among the short grasses and flowers, I spotted a large flock of Lark Buntings.  I never can seem to get a good photo of these birds.  This is the best I got on this day.

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Lark Bunting male

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Lark Bunting female

When I got to the lake, I noticed a busload of kids had just unloaded.  With all their noise, I figured any birds in the area had moved on.  The only bird I spotted was this Lark Sparrow.

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Lark Sparrow

I didn’t stay long and headed back to the highway.  Just as I was about to turn onto the highway,  I saw several variety of sparrows in the area.  I was thrilled to get this good photo of a Grasshopper Sparrow.  I had seen this bird once before, and the distance was too great for a decent pic.

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Grasshopper Sparrow

My next stop was at Big Spring.  I’ve never stopped here before, so decided to walk around the lake so Scarlett could do her business and stretch her legs.  I’m so glad I stopped in.  It was a beautiful afternoon and the birds were active.  I got a mockingbird holding a worm to take back to the nest.

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Northern Mockingbird

Here are a couple other birds I saw there.

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Muscovy Ducks

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House Sparrow

As I was heading back to the car, I noticed some birds I thought at first were Barn Swallows but they sounded different.  Upon closer inspection, I realized they were Purple Martin babies.  Lifer!!!  I looked for a parent bird, but none showed up while I waited.  But the babies were adorable waiting for their dinner to arrive.

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Purple Martin juvenile

It was dark by the time I made it to San Angelo.  I woke up early to spend some time birding there before I had to hit the road again.  I visited beautiful Spring Creek Park.  It was a lovely morning and birds were EVERYWHERE!!!

My first sighting was of two young Great Horned Owls.  They will soon be in the more adult plumage.

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Great Horned Owl juvenile

I heard a flycatcher nearby.  It looked like an Ash-Throated Flycather, but sounded nothing like one.  After searching my bird app, I realized it was a lifer for me – a Great Crested Flycather.

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A starling was busy feeding its greedy baby.

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European Starling

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European Starling

Across the lake I noticed a huge rookery.  It had all kinds of egrets noisily nesting.  I enjoyed sitting for awhile watching all the activity.

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Rookery with a posturing Great Egret

A spotted a pair of Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers bringing in breakfast for their young.

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Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers

Before leaving, my last sighting was of this Great Blue Heron catching a nice breakfast.

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Great Blue Heron

I was happy to note that I was doing much better with the focus of my new camera.  I figured by the end of 10 straight days of birding, I would be an expert! LOL!

Next post:   Port Aransas, Texas.  So many lifers!!!!  Stay tuned!