Last Time to Bird at Port Aransas, Texas

This should be my last post from my trip to Texas last May/June.  It’s taken awhile to get caught up on my blog.

Birding in Port Aransas this last time was bitter sweet in many ways.  First off I knew it was most likely the last time I would be visiting there.  I lived in Corpus Christi from 1982 to 1994.  With my parents living in San Antonio, it was an easy drive for us to go to the beach whenever I visited them.  The last time I posted about birding in Port Aransas, my dad was still alive and me and my parents had taken a 5-day trip to the beach.  It was in May during spring migration.  I had plenty of time there to explore all the bird sanctuaries.  All the wonderful boardwalks into the marshes and estuaries were so much fun to explore.

Since that last visit, I had forgotten that Hurricane Harvey had come through and dealt a lot of damage to the coastal towns of Padre Island.  So while I was excited to visit the beach, I was sad to know my dad wouldn’t be there to join us and that all the bird sanctuaries had been destroyed.

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Demolition and construction was still ongoing while I visited.  This restaurant still hadn’t been addressed. 

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Going to cost a pretty penny to get this boat fixed.

Birding this year was tough.  I believe a lot of the birds did not linger during the spring migration because the usual areas they visited were completely destroyed.  Also, I think a lot of the local birds had left and not returned.  Needless to say, it took a lot of driving around to find any birds.  But I did manage to find a few good spots.

The first evening we were there I drove to the ferry and the walkway along the intra-coastal channel.  The damage from the hurricane was very evident here.  Huge pieces of concrete were lifted like they weighed very little.

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Destruction from Hurricane Harvey

While here I enjoyed the antics of several dolphin getting dinner.  It was interesting to watch them herd fish toward the wall so they could catch them.  I spotted a mother and her calf working the wall.

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Mother dolphin with calf looking at me

The sunset was gorgeous!

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Beautiful!

The next morning was when I realized all the local birding hot spots were destroyed.  Thankfully I saw signs saying they already had funding in place to repair all the boardwalks.  It looked like their plans were even going to improve what was originally there.  Someday if I make it back there I will have to see what they did.

I headed to the beach and jetty where I knew terns had gathered in the past.  Thankfully, this spot was still favored by the terns.  The surf was rough and the birds were gathered in big numbers fishing.

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Terns and gulls fishing the rough surf at the jetty

I found an area where the birds were resting and grooming after tackling the rough waters.  I was able to get several good pics of the terns resting.

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Black Tern Juvenile

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Black Tern

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Forster’s Tern

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Royal Tern

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Sandwich Tern

From there I headed down the road toward the big bridge going to Corpus Christi.  There is a marina there.  I’ve seen birds hanging out there in the past so had high hopes I would see some that morning.

Along the highway I saw a hawk looking for breakfast in the coastal grasslands.  I had to take a second look as I realized it was a new bird for me!  A White-Tailed Hawk.  Gorgeous!!!

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White-Tailed Hawk

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White-Tailed Hawk

I saw a Roseate Spoonbill fishing the shallows not far from the marina.  I pulled into a construction area to get closer for pics.  I managed a few photos before I was run off by the foreman.  🙂

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Roseate Spoonbill

As I was driving into the marina I spotted a beautiful Osprey hanging out on the electric wire.  He let me take a few pics before flying off.

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Osprey

The marina was not a disappointment.  There were several birds hanging out hoping for a free meal.

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Black-Crowned Night Heron

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Great Blue Heron

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Great Blue Heron

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Black-Crowned Night Heron

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Brown Pelicans

Near the marina is an area that shorebirds have liked in the past.  I drove over there to see if I could find anything.  I was thrilled to see a pair of Willets with two young babies.  I’d never seen Willet babies before.  Adorable! I sat for some time just watching this little family.  You can’t help but smile and enjoy new life.

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Willet juvenile

Soon though the parents grew nervous and started telling me to move along.

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Willet telling me to move along

There were also some Black-Necked Stilts and a Reddish Egret enjoying the shallows.

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Black-Necked Stilt

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Black-Necked Stilt

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Reddish Egret

The next morning I decided to go the Horace Caldwell Fishing Pier.  Not sure if I would see anything here, but it was fun to go there at sunrise.

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Horace Caldwell Pier

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Beach at Port Aransas, Texas

I came across these two children fast asleep on the pier.  Their parent must have gotten them up really early to fish.  🙂

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Too early of a morning for these kids

The only birds I saw were White-Winged Doves and Pigeons.  What I found curious though, was a cross between these two species.  Interesting bird.

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The Rock Pigeons at the pier had very dark plumage.  Doesn’t make sense at a hot beach!

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Rock Pigeon and White-Winged Dove Cross Breed

After the pier I drove to the lone surviving boardwalk that overlooked a salt flat.  Most of the birds were too far away for photos.  I managed to see one bird closer to me.  And to my surprise it was a lifer!  A Black-Bellied Plover Juvenile.  Too bad it wasn’t an adult.  They are beautiful birds.   Even better, this is a rare sighting for the area!   I wouldn’t have believed I identified this bird correctly if it hadn’t been sighted by other birders on eBird.

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Black-Bellied Plover – juvenile

I spotted a few birds flying over and managed to snap a couple of photos on the fly.  🙂

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Black Skimmer

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White Ibis

During this trip I decided to take a ride on the Red Dragon.

While waiting to start the boat ride, I saw the local offshore fishing tour boats had come in as well.  They were hanging up the catch of the day.  Lovely Red Snappers with a few other interesting fish mixed in.

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Nice haul for the day

It’s was fun sailing with the pirates!

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Kelly sailing on the Red Dragon

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Arrrrrr…there be Pirates!

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Beautiful boat ride

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The Captain at his helm

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I took the sunset tour.  We boated along the intra-coastal and made it to the lighthouse.  We got there just as the sun was setting.  So lovely!

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Sunset over the lighthouse

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Gorgeous sunset!

One day at the ferry I spotted a juvenile Laughing Gull trying to swallow a whole fish.  He tried and tried to gulp that fish down.

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Laughing Gull juvenile

I love people watching.  I think most people do.  While there I captured a few fun moments of people watching.

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Skateboarding buddies

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The waiting line for the ferry was so long and slow, this girl had time to get into the back of the car and get cold drinks for everyone.  It was fun to watch her walk along with the car while digging in the cooler.

I saw lots of turtles about while birding.  I had never really seen turtles there before so it was fun to see several on this trip.

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Turtle moving along

I had a great time at the beach birding and spending time with my mother.  We enjoyed sitting on the beach, enjoying the warm summer days.  And we had fun shopping and eating delicious fish and shrimp dinners.  I’m so glad we took the time off to relax after all the stresses.

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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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Birding in Port Aransas, Texas (Part 2)

I ended my last post heading out to dinner.  We decided to eat dinner at Virginia’s again.  Their food is delicious and the scenery is great.  We ate a little earlier the second night so we had plenty of daylight to enjoy the sights.

We had a perfect view of the lighthouse in the distance.

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While enjoying the views of the marina, an osprey flew by looking for a landing spot.  He thought he could land on a large stick stuck in the jetty.  But after a couple of attempts, he realized it was too small for him.

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Osprey

I had a grackle trying to beg for food while we ate.  I didn’t give him anything, so he gave me the evil eye.  🙂

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Great-tailed grackle

Dinner was soooo good.  Fried shrimp cooked perfectly.

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My dad enjoying dinner!

After dinner mom and I took some photos in the soft evening light.

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Gorgeous sunset at the marina

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Mom looking beautiful as always

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I got a lot of sun on this trip!

The moon was full and bright!

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Harvest Moon

While talking to Tim on the phone that evening, a was entertained by a hunting toad.

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Gulf Coast Toad

I got up early again the next morning to visit the refuge one last time.  I was going to miss this place!

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I was the first one there that morning.  Which I think was to my benefit as the wildlife hadn’t been disturbed in any way.  I walked very slowly and quietly.  Determined to blend in LOL!

I was greeted by lots lots of lizards.

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Brown Anole

The first bird I saw was a juvenile Green Heron snoozing right next to the boardwalk.  He cracked an eye open at me, but otherwise didn’t move a muscle.

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Juvenile Green Heron

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Back to sleep 🙂

Further down the boardwalk, I was thrilled to see another lifer for me – a Least Bittern.  He didn’t seem to mind that I was there.  He groomed, stretched his wings, grabbed a snack and then moved on.  I wish the lighting had been better for photographs as I couldn’t have asked for a better subject not 5 feet from me.

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Least Bittern

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Looking up at me

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Stretching his wings

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Time to move on into the cattails

At the end of the boardwalk I saw several Marsh Wrens and Common Yellowthroat feeding.  They didn’t want to cooperate for photos.  I managed to get one semi-decent photo of the Common Yellowthroat.

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Common Yellowthroat

There was a Great Egret feeding in the open area of the marsh.

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Great Egret

A few other birds made an appearance at the boardwalk.

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Green Heron

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Tri-Colored Heron

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Great-Tailed Grackle

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Pied-Billed Grebe

In the shallows at the parking lot, there were a few shorebirds feeding in the morning light.

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Lesser Yellowlegs

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Stilt Sandpiper – another lifer!

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Long-Billed Curlew

I hated to leave, but it was time to go get my parents and head to the beach.  It was another beautiful day at the beach.  We had a wonderful time.

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Beautiful day at the beach!

I fed the birds at the beach.  It wouldn’t be a proper trip without doing so!  It was harder than I realized it would be getting a picture of a seagull in flight waiting for me to toss more food.

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Laughing Gull – another lifer!

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Great-Tailed Grackle

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Laughing Gull

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Lots of colorful clams

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Horseshoe crab – not much has changed in the last 450 million years!

I hope you enjoyed my visit to the Gulf Coast.  If you have never been there, I highly recommend it!

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Birding in Port Aransas, Texas (Part 1)

While visiting my parents in San Antonio, we decided to take a short trip to the gulf coast.  I hadn’t been to the beach in several years.  The weather was perfect for a beach trip.  We stayed in Port Aransas, which is at the northern end of Padre Island and at the opening of the shipping channel that leads to Corpus Christi.

We took the back way in to Port Aransas, so we got to ride the ferry across the channel.  It’s a short ride on the ferry, just barely enough time to get out of your car and look for dolphins.  We managed to see a couple in the distance before we had to return to our car.

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Dolphin in shipping channel at Port Aransas, Texas

There are lots of Brown Pelicans in Port Aransas.  They are so beautiful even in non-breeding plumage.  They love to hang out at the piers.

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Brown Pelican

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Brown Pelican

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Brown Pelican

We had to wait a few hours before we could check into our hotel, so we headed straight for the beach.  To our astonishment, the place was packed!!!   We learned later their was a Harvest Moon Regatta that had been held that day.

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Crowded beach in Port Aransas, Texas

We managed to find a spot to park the car that wasn’t too close to other people on the beach.  After sitting and having a snack and people watching, I decided to take a walk down the beach with Scarlett.  This was her first ever visit to the beach.  I figured since she loved water so much, she would love the ocean.  She HATED it! LOL!  To her it was hot, salty and the water chased her!   She did enjoy the walk down the beach though.  Lots of other dogs to see and everyone wanted to pet her.  She was constantly told that she was beautiful.  Of course, I had to agree.

I tried to get bird photos while walking Scarlett, but the beach was just too busy.  I did manage to get this heron relaxing on a sign post in the dunes.

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Great Blue Heron

We were finally able to check into the hotel and get ready for dinner.  We had wanted to go to a place called Doc’s which is about 15 miles from our hotel.  It is located on the intra-coastal channel further south on Padre Island.  But when we got there, we saw the place was packed.  The wait looked like it would easily be a couple hours and it was already well after 7 o’clock.  So we turned around and headed back to Port Aransas.  As we turned around, I told dad to stop the car.  To my delight I got my first lifer bird of the beach trip – Black Skimmers!!!

The sun was almost set so I didn’t have much light.  And they were almost between me and the setting sun, so it was a challenge to get a photograph.  But I was thrilled to see them.  Such an unusual bird!

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Black Skimmers

We ate at Virginia’s, which is a great restaurant right at the marina in Port Aransas.  Their food is delicious and the scenery can’t be beat.  By the time we got a table, it was dark outside.  We saw lots of boats coming in the for the night.  The one boat I had hoped to see was the Red Dragon Pirate Ship.  It came sailing in to the marina while we were eating dinner.  I had to reduce my shutter speed to very slow and had to take the photon while hand holding the camera – bad combination.  Plus, I only had a few moments in which to get a photo before it disappeared behind other docked boats.  I was surprised at how well my photo came out!

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Red Dragon Pirate Ship

The next morning I woke up very early so I could go bird at a local wildlife refuge.  What a wonderful location.  They had built lots of boardwalks in the marsh area so you could get out in the cattails to look for birds and other delights.

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Aransas Wildlife Refuge boardwalk

As soon as I stepped out onto the boardwalk, a heron jumped up on the railing squawking at me.  I couldn’t be more excited.  A lifer bird not 5 feet away!!!  It was a Tri-Colored Heron who was more than happy to pose for some photos in the gorgeous early morning light.

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Tri-Colored Heron

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Tri-Colored Heron

As I progressed along the boardwalk, I saw an opening in the cattails ahead.  I saw a high deck for viewing the extent of the marsh.  Whoever designed this place did a fabulous job.

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When I got to the clearing, I saw a Common Gallinule grooming itself.  Gallinules have developed extra long toes so they can walk across the cattails with ease.  You can see those long toes well in this photo.

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Common Gallinule

There were several grebes enjoying the morning as well as cormorants.

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Neotropic Cormorant

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Double-Crested Cormorant – love the feet! 🙂

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Pied-Billed Grebe

At the end of the boardwalk I looked down into the cattails and was surprised to see an alligator!  He was snoozing in the shallow water.  It is difficult to grasp the size of this alligator in photos.  But he’s easily 12 feet long!  The locals call him Stinky.

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Alligator

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There were lots of pelicans and avocets off in the distance.  I had to push the extent of my lens to get any photos of them.

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White Pelican with American Avocets in the background

Too soon it was time to head back so I could get some breakfast and go to the beach with my folks.  The beach was almost deserted compared to the day before.  It was great! The weather was perfect, a light breeze off the water to cool things off some.

I tried to get Scarlett to play in the water, but she just wasn’t happy…as you can see by her expression and body language here.  I guess she’s a mountain girl through and through.

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Scarlett was telling me she hated the beach

Mom tried to get her to play as well, but no luck.

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Unhappy Scarlett with my mom

After playing in the water awhile, I decided to walk down the beach again.  I figured I would have a lot better luck this day getting birds.  And I was right.  Lots of birds out enjoying the relatively quiet beach.  I got several lifers!

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Sanderling

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Royal Tern in foreground – a lifer for me!

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Forster’s Tern

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There was one cranky Royal Tern – you can see him in the middle of the photo

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Piping Plover – another lifer!

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Ruddy Turnstone – yet another lifer!!!

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Western Sandpiper

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Willet – another lifer!!!

Dad flew his kites and there were other great kites flying along the beach as well.

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Dad’s shark kite

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Dad’s other kite

 

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I loved this squid kite – it was easily 30 feet long

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Beautiful kites!

After a full day at the beach, we returned to the hotel for a swim in their pool.  Dad decided to take a nap and mom and I swam.  Mom found a lizard that had fallen in the pool.  I was able to rescue it before it drowned.  🙂

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Brown Anole – originally native of Cuba

After our swim, mom went to the room to clean up for dinner.  I took advantage of this and ran back over to the refuge.  It was such a great place!

When I arrived at the parking area, I saw about a dozen White Ibis feeding in the shallows.  Just beautiful!

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White Ibis

I saw some hummingbirds feeding on the Mexican Paradise bushes.  I had a hard time getting a pic but managed one decent one.  Yet another new bird for me – Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.

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Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

It was pretty quiet on the marsh that afternoon.  But I ran into some people that said just down the road, there are more boardwalks and some whistling ducks there.  I immediately jumped in the car and drove over there.  As soon as I walked to the end of the boardwalk, I saw and heard a whole bunch of them.  They actually whistle!

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Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks – another lifer!

I looked around to see what else might be about.  I saw one other duck sleeping in the shade.  Otherwise, it was pretty quiet.

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Cinnamon Teal – female

Time to go to get cleaned up for dinner.  I was hungry!

This post has become way longer than I expected.  So I will break it up into two parts.  Lots more great photos to come!

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You never know what tiny treasures you might find on the beach…