Birds are around, even as I travel home … and where are they? The weather in southern Texas turned cold quickly! Everyone said how unusual this was and the birds were smart enough to nestle into warm places. While I was tired of hot and humid, cold is not something this Arizonian loves. Then unfortunately, when I arrived in cold, damp San Antonio, I was not able to bicycle ride. So the next morning, I departed early for South Llano River State Park, Junction, Texas, thanks to a fellow birder’s recommendation.
This park has 5 bird blinds in different locations around the park and a huge area for wild turkeys to roost in the pecan trees. I spent hours walking in 45 – 50 Fahrenheit degree weather to view birds at each blind. An advantage of blinds is the staff often set food in feeders early in the day and birds regularly check-in for the food. Plus a blind allows viewers and photographers to get views and photos while not scaring the birds off. So I hid in the blind, out of any wind and somewhat protected from the coolness of the day, and often had the blind to myself. It was a great way to spend time before getting back on the road to spend the night in Fort Stockton, TX.
Arriving a few days before a big event allows me time to discover an area. Plus I can relax after driving so many miles. When given the opportunity though, a bicycle ride is a wonderful way to start a day! Off I went to the southern tip of South Padre Island to see the Jesus Christ of the Fisherman statue.
While at the statue I spent time looking at dolphins, birds, and talking with a man from Alaska. He lived there for 33 years and is now traveling and specifically interested in SpaceX launches. We sat here looking across the bay to the launch pad where they are testing the Starship. This huge rocket is being designed for future missions to Mars. The man is hoping to see the launch before he heads on.
I bicycled north on the island. It is a very pleasant approximately 12 mile ride with the wind at my back. Then the road ends in the middle of sand dunes. When I headed back to my campsite and the wind was in my face, it made for a not-so-enjoyable ride! But you do what you have to do and keep pedaling!
This night I stayed at CD&J Mini Ranch, a Harvest Host in San Benito, Texas. They have an amazing place with goats, turkeys, chickens, beef cattle, and greenhouse producing various greens. Plus a waterway to view many birds. The people were very informative about the area. I parked my van to watch the lunar eclipse from 3 – 5 in the morning without even getting off my mattress! I did see my first Altamira oriole here!
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
It is not possible to visit all the locations listed on the birding festival registration during the festival. So I decided to visit Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge on my own ahead of the festival. On my way to the visitor center, I saw ocelet road-crossing signs. But then I saw a big brown animal crossing the road! It looked like a weird-shaped cow. I knew from my reading it is a nilgai (pronounced nil gi) antelope, or also called bluebuck. I wish I had my camera out to take a photo, but I did not! This animal was introduced in Texas in the 1930’s originally from India/Pakistan. Now there are over 30,000 of them, hunted for their good meat. I learned the animal has a tick detrimental to other animals here in Texas …another reason for the hunt.
Certain areas of the refuge were closed due to the hunt in progress. Fortunately I still had a couple of trails open to walk. That was plenty since it was at least 85 degrees and humid. A couple of bird blinds allowed me to get some photos. I drove out to Osprey Overlook and saw plenty of birds there, but no osprey! A couple of bird photos from today:
Early to bed at the hotel. I decided it easiest to be sleeping right at the festival’s location. Transportation to the birding spots leaves at 6:00AM. Thus easier for me to roll out of a hotel room and catch my ride. Looking forward to my first bird festival field trip tomorrow!
I arrived to the Rio Grand Valley Birding Festival a few days early so I could explore this part of Texas I have never been before. It is so very hot and humid, simply not enjoyable to be sweating and continually drinking fluids! But the great news is I have seen 8 new birds in one day while visiting the South Padre Island Birding Center! I also listened to a presentation about American alligators. The presenter had a 3 year old alligator and we could touch its soft, smooth leathery skin …cool!
The birding center has a 3/4 mile boardwalk through mangrove trees, to the bay, and mudflat areas. As a result there are various birds at each location plus the ones flying overhead. I arrived early to walk the boardwalk and then my entrance fee allowed me to return before 5:00pm when they close and stay as long as I wished! That was fantastic! Fewer people were here later in the day so I felt like I had the place to myself with the birds.
Here are my new birds after hanging out at this place for a couple of hours in the morning and another hour in the late afternoon.
The American oystercatcher is the only one I did not get a photograph of, yet I will be back out to this place in a couple of days and maybe it will be possible then. For that bird I needed a longer zoom lens. However, there was a nice sunset:
My campsite is near a bicycling trail, the Salado Creek Trail. It finally stopped raining so I hopped on my bicycle. This trail section is only 7 miles long through a wooded area paralleling a creek. There are some tricky intersections so having my app to check my location a couple of times did help. Anyway to my surprise, I caught up with 2 bicyclists, one from Minnesota and the other a city-employed “trail steward”. She works 3 – 4 days a week, 4 hours per day, and bicycles the path so people feel comfortable knowing where to go. I also suspect the city had a homeless problem in areas under bridges and with much of the wooded areas of the trail. I had a good ride and talk with them and cycled around the nearby lake before heading back. I extended my ride for about 1.5 miles beyond the campground. I noticed they are working on more bike path extensions. Yippee!
Here are a couple of photos from that ride:
San Antonio Botanical Garden
After my bicycle ride and a much-needed shower, I drove to the San Antonio Botanical Garden, I decided to eat lunch at their restaurant, Jardin, before walking the beautiful gardens. First let me say, my lunch of edamame falafel in a pita bread with mixed salad was absolutely delicious! (And I am very much appreciative of another camper having mentioned the restaurant to me.) While walking the garden I discover this place has rose gardens, a fern grotto, buildings for specific plants: palms and cycads, desert plants, tropical plants and very good signage at each location. There is a Family Adventure area where children can walk a maze, climb on rocks and are encouraged to touch things. A young bride was having her photo taken in various locations in the garden and others were setting up for an upcoming light show here. I have included some photos, but they’ll never do the place justice. If you love plants be sure to visit here …. and plan for lunch or dinner too.
Photos from the garden:
Children Can Learn in Many Environments
I want to take a moment and share an observation I made at a neighborhood park: John Jay Park in San Antonio. I thought this was a brilliant idea in helping parents and care givers of children enjoy time together at a park. This series of signs in English and Spanish lined the park pathway; I did not include them all. An adult encouraging a child to do these activities is wonderful. Check out the signs as I think there is nothing more for me to say.
It’s a long, very long, lonely road to drive from Arizona to San Antonio, so unlike northern Texas panhandle driving! Here the majority of the time I was looking at green trees and shrubs, windmills and an occasional small town. The panhandle was dry, flat and brown. The only disturbing moment on this day, seeing traffic on the the other side of the highway at a standstill. There was an overturned tractor trailer in the median! Yikes. A good reminder to always have plenty of gas in the tank and extra hours for your arrival.
Texas is a huge state. For me to eventually arrive in Harlingen for a birding festival in another week, I drove this road with a stop in San Antonio. Past visits to this city, I saw the Alamo and the well-known downtown river walk. This time I looked for new things to see and do. Recently I read, “science shows that giving ourselves the opportunity to try new things improves our memory, mood and motivation, builds our confidence and best of all gives us a ‘rush’ of expanding our horizons.” The quote is from the Insider Weekly of Growing Bolder, and I agree with the science! When was the last time you did something for the first time?
I am traveling in my van. After a good sleep at a KOA, I headed to Mitchell Lake Audubon Center. Easy check-in and paid fee at the visitor center. I spent about a half hour looking at and photographing moths, bees and butterflies. At home I plant native pollinator plants to attract insects, yet these plants have me beat!
Here are some of the insects:
Much of the center is a driving loop. With recent rains, roads are closed, but still can be walked. Some basins were bone dry. As I walked closer to Mitchell Lake, about one mile, a couple of basins were full of water. No new birds for me to discover, and I remain frustrated trying to identify the various sandpipers. I did not include any of them here and await eBird experts to verify my identifications.
The van is packed for bicycling and birding fun in southern Texas. Do you know how large Texas is? I am not going to bore you with the details, but let’s just say it will take me days to drive 1200 miles to South Padre Island on the Gulf of Mexico, also not many miles to the Mexican border. (Before I arrive there, I will spend time visiting and bicycling in San Antonio.)
The birding festival in Texas at this time of year is in Harlingen Texas so I will be there the next week. Thankfully I have a good routine packing my van, so for this trip more time has been preparing for the birding opportunities. I like having an idea of what some birds look like before I actually see the bird. It is impossible to do if there are a hundred new birds for me in an area; however, I like to zero in on a few birds.
Texas is east of the Rocky Mountains, therefore bird species are listed in the eastern bird field guide of North America. It’s sort of funny because I rarely think of Texas as eastern. Maybe the cowboy films, oil wells, beef lots, and whatever else make me think western … oh well, Eastern North America it is!
You may recall I drew a poorly-sketched, black oystercatcher that helped me locate the bird in California. Well, my sketching is back with an attempt at a few other birds. I would love to see a Great Kiskadee:
When I first researched what birds may be in the area, I thought it great to see a green jay. But then I thought it would be cool to see the grooves on the beak of the ani. I also wondered how plain the plain chachalaca could be. After seeing it in the field guide and drawing one, it is as plain as plain can be!
Whatever birds I observe in Texas will be of interest to me. Other festival attendees will be helpful in sighting some of these birds too. Many eyes on an area, especially those trained to know silhouettes of birds will be most helpful to me. I am off to Texas! Wish me luck!