After the success with the Slaty-backed Gull we then spent longer than expected around Lake Casa Blanca SP, more in hope than expectation of stumbling upon a covey of Scaled Quail but, alas, no. The park looked like the sort of place that you could spend a full day exploring and if we ever rent an RV for a valley trip it will be on our itinerary for sure. While cruising the back roads we found our trip first Chipping Sparrows and Ringed Kingfisher and had a few photo ops but we were only putting off the inevitable and it was soon time to head north.
Below: Western Meadowlark, Killdeer, American White Pelican, Spotted Sandpiper and a record shot of White-collared Seedeater from a trail out by the Rio Grande.
Our journey north was uneventful apart from a few stops for obvious birds, the best being a Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk somewhere near Freer. As we neared Houston we found time to stop at Texana Lakes for a look around. It was overcast but dry and we checked out part of the lake and a trail. Even at this late stage we were still easily adding to the trip list and just having fun birding. Time pressed and so did we. It seemed to be going well until the stupid sat-nav took us up highway six instead of taking the Sam Houston around Houston. Traffic light after traffic light barred the way and we encountered more dopey drivers than you’d think would be possible, no wonder people drive erratically at times.
When we booked the Woodlands Best Western for the last night it sounded quite nice, faintly rural and, from memory, in a very leafy area of greater Houston. Having seen it again, I suggested on my inevitable service survey that they preface the Woodlands name with ex, such is the deforestation that has happened to the area since 1997. The following day we had about seven hours of daylight and planned to target the Bear Creek Greater Pewee (ABA tick) and, if possible, the Williams’ garden for hummingbirds. Plan B was Red-cockaded Woodpecker, found just around the corner from the hotel.
The next day fate took a hand. Our morning alarm call was earlier than expected, courtesy of four freight trains in an hour starting at 04:10 and hooting like banshees. They sounded loud and we later found out why, the track ran behind the hotel but lacked a mention on their web site. I suppose the railway horn blowers are up at that time so why not everyone else! Once we got out onto the service road we could see the highway was a parking lot, it didn’t move at all and so we went looking for the W. G. Jones state forest and the woodpeckers.
Memory said it was along a quiet lane were we had parked somewhere near the ranger center and then walked in. Reality said hey, we’ve built a two lane highway where the lane was and ripped up blocks of the forest and inserting expensive dwellings, good luck with finding your way in now.
We pulled into the main section parking lot resigned to making the best of things and spoke to a nice lady who was out emptying her dogs in the forest. She knew the bit we meant and directed us to the right place, a poorly signed parking lot just over the road. It was all a lot smaller than I remembered but the woodpeckers were still hanging on for now. Once on the small trail we were fortunate in bumping into Dennis Shepler who knew the site well and got us onto Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Brown-headed Nuthatch straight away. We then went off for a stroll around and found another five woodpeckers and a few more nuthatches before deciding to chance the highway. The woodpeckers all fed high and in shade but I got a couple of record shots.
At the Williams’ yard we got Rufous and Allen’s Hummingbird easily. It was very refreshing to find a birding couple who welcomed strangers onto their property to share the birds, even when they are not around. We duly signed the visitor’s book in their absence and wondered whether we could still fit in a try for the pewee or not.
We decided we could, even though we didn’t that much of a window. We found the area and a few other birders with the same intent in mind and set about searching. We looked for as long as we dare but it was not showing or calling and the clock just kept ticking. We got to the airport with a good five minutes to spare before the car rental went into another day. The pewee was seen the next day, could that five minutes have made all the difference? We will never know and now have the arduous task of having to visit Arizona to see one, oh how we suffer for our art!
As is always the case, the trip slipped past so quickly and we were on how way home in no time. It was a welcome change to be able to bird in light clothing for a while, rather than draped in the goose down coats and padded trousers needed in Québec for most of the winter. The final trip stats were: species seen 197, lifers four, ABA ticks ten, miles, lots, burgers and shakes, a few, calories – don’t ask. I’m not sure whether we ‘found’ the House Finch at Hidalgo Pump House but eBird suggests that people are going there to see them now. I also had to smile when I saw the North 10th street McAllen parakeet roost referred to as the Red Lobster parakeet roost.
There will be one last post in the Texas trip sequence, it will be made up mostly of photos from Sandra including a few non-bird ones. It took 17 years for us to get back to Texas. If health and finances hold constant then I predict that we will be back and birding again in Texas good deal sooner. Colima Warbler anyone?
If you’ve enjoyed reading this stuff then you might be interested to know that I’ll be publishing an eBook shortly, the first in a series called ‘Just a Birder’. It will be about a big year done in 1984 and will be very cheap. Just check back occasionally for the link, it should be ready by the end of April at the latest.