March 8th kicked off a week-long tour of southern Texas with my friends Ian Gardner, Chris Markiewicz, and Mark Markiewicz. We landed in Corpus Christi in the early afternoon, and made a quick trip north to the Rockport area across from Aransas NWR in search of Whooping Cranes before dropping back south to Rio Hondo. On the drive up, we had multiple White-tailed Hawks along the highway which were a lifer for me! After a bit of driving around, we caught up to a group of 3 Whooping Cranes along Lamar Beach Rd and then found two more farther out on the marsh! On the drive south down 77, there were raptors everywhere – we had Harris’s Hawks, Crested Caracaras, White-tailed Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, and vultures almost constantly. A flyover flock of American Golden-Plovers and hundreds of migrating Sandhill Cranes were awesome to see. At 8:30pm we arrived at the Atascosa Outlook Bed & Breakfast near Rio Hondo. Floodlight shining onto the Arroyo Colorado right behind the property gave us nice looks at Black-crowned Night-Herons going about their nocturnal hunting, and was a great way to end our first day in southern Texas.
The next morning we woke up to foggy skies and light rain. Ring-billed Gulls, Caspian Terns, and Laughing Gulls made their daily commute upriver occasionally joined by Brown Pelicans, herons, and Greater Yellowlegs. We stood on the dock and watched for anything different. Great Kiskadees and Altamira Orioles were perched in trees across the river, while a Golden-fronted Woodpecker drilled on a telephone pole in the next yard over, and a Curve-billed Thrasher sang from the front yard. Despite the poor weather, it seemed like bird activity was great and we headed out for the day. We headed south towards Laguna Atascosa NWR, but I searched for back roads to explore on the way down. The rain created a layer of clay-like mud on the unpaved roads and our 2WD Toyota RAV4 couldn’t quite deal with it, so we ultimately got it stuck. While figuring out how to push it back down the road, Ian spotted some sparrows along the road. I got the scope out and we realized there were probably 50 Lark Sparrows around us! While scanning around, I spotted a pale pipit and realized it was our lifer Spraque’s Pipit, soon joined by three more!
By 11am, we arrived at Laguna Atascosa NWR. The weather was still dark and cold, but as soon as we walked around to look at the various feeders near the visitor center we were flooded with lifers – Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow, Plain Chachalaca, White-tipped Dove were all around! Every feeder was packed with birds, but the refuge volunteers insisted it was a slow day. Below are some photos I took in the drizzling rain at Laguna Atascosa….