Heading south from Freeport to the Rio Grande Valley, we were intent on making at least one stop on the way, a significant rest stop. In the middle of highway 281, to the south of Falfurrias, is a wooded rest stop flanked on both sides by the roaring of rubber on tarmac. For the past week or so we’d been reading Texbirds and eBird reports of a Painted Redstart hanging around there, a second shot at a species normally confined to west Texas in summer.
In a situation that seems to be paralleled wherever we have travelled in the past five years, Texan highways are all being dug up and moved a yard to the left! In truth the road surfaces we skimmed across need some tlc, they being slick with oil and rubber melted into the worn down top layer of road. Despite this the delays were minimal but the diversions around the road works may have come perilously close to being classified as ‘off-road’ driving.
When we got to the rest stop it was clear that this would take a little while unless we were lucky, there were more trees than expected and the stop included small trails to the north and south, all suitable hiding places for a flitting warbler. There was also the noise factor to take into consideration – any calls uttered, apart from those made by the many House Sparrows and which could permeate a nuclear bunker – would be hard to pin down.
We walked and looked, starting at the southern end of the stop and combing the canopy for movement. Eastern Bluebirds were there, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and the ubiquitous Yellow-rumped Warblers too. Finding the woodpeckers was easy enough and Green Jays seemed happy to tease us but, for the first 45 minutes, no Painted Redstart. During such a search you gradually become convinced that the bird has gone because you would surely have seen it by now. We’d almost reached the ‘last look’ part of the visit when there it was. Our neck-craning was not needed after all, it was sitting on a picnic bench and foraging beneath it!
The light was difficult under the canopy and the bird moved around as if rocket propelled. It flushed from the bench and vanished behind a brick screen so we followed. In doing so we flushed a Great Horned Owl from right next to the car, it quickly left flying over the highway and into a fenced area. The redstart had picked up on the noise and had joined some other species giving the owl the bird, not unexpected as nobody likes somebody with such an indiscriminate appetite at a party! In with the mobbing mob was a Yellow-throated Warbler, another one that we’d missed during our thorough sweeps and, as it turned out, the only one we saw all trip.
After the owl excitement had abated the redstart posed briefly a couple of times but we never got the photo op you always hope for. The best of a bad bunch are below, Sandra took the rest stop view and the bench shot. ABA tick #3 was in the bag and we had a few more miles to go before hitting Alamo and so it was back on the road and fair thee well Falfurrias rest stop.