Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Paul's Texas Trip Part 5 (South of Kingsville)

Our plans for the mid-southern Texas gulf coast included: birding the seashores, taking the Whooping Crane tour, and, on our last day a visit to the King's Ranch (which sits outside of Kingsville). They offer tours and it sounded like something the kids would be interested in doing, but alas the tours were running only at 12:30 and 2:00 p.m. What would we do in the morning?

My wife helpfully suggested that I do a bit of research and see if there were any good birding spots close by. After a few minutes of eBird, I had located something good about a half-hour south of Kingsville: Kaufer-Hubert Memorial Park. It is located at the mouth of a small estuary that opens into the intercoastal waters of the gulf and recent bird reports were quite promising. It also looked like a good place for a picnic lunch. Our plans were settled then.

As we drove south after passing through Kingsville and picking up lunch, I saw a large group of birds in the middle of a field. Could it be Snow Geese or perhaps the Greater White-Fronted Geese recently seen in the area? I pulled off to the side of the road to get a closer look. Nope, it was about 30 Sandhill Cranes standing out in the field. As we neared the K-H park, a medium sized yellowish bird flew over the car. I did a quick u-turn and found it sitting in a tree across from a gas station. It was a Great Kiskadee! 

Great Kiskadee refusing to pose cleanly for a photo.
We were onto the birds and we hadn't even arrived at K-H. A couple more minutes and we pulled into the park. About half of it was full of trailers and RV's and the other half was a boat launch, picnic park area, and a parking lot that had signs pointing to "Bird Walk Trail" or something like that. Let's do the bird walk was my suggestion, and no one strenuously objected, so we headed off up the beach side of the trail and saw a few of the normal gulf-type birds: an American White-Pelican, a Great Egret in the distance, and some Laughing Gulls. At a turning point, we started back into the thick scrubbing brush along a fairly well-trodden path. There were a lot of birds here including House Wrens, Savannah Sparrows, Northern Mockingbirds, and a few Turkey Vultures circling uncomfortably nearby. But this is when I heard a report of a Pyrrhuloxia ahead from the rest of the family who were moving faster than I was. I moved ahead and it was already gone (that's what I get for lagging behind). Anyways, maybe I could find if I hung back and stayed quiet? Nope, that didn't work but I did locate 3 or 4 Green Jays.
Green Jay at the Kaufman-Hubert Memorial Park
After another 10 or 15 minutes, I decided this spot was all birded out and we moved onto the park for some lunch. As we arrived, it seemed fairly quiet and there was little bird activity. This all changed about 5 minutes into lunch; appearing out of the sky were about 50 or so pipits. I knew there could be Sprague's Pipits in the bunch and I started looking to see what these were. They were, as far as I could tell, American Pipits and they were everywhere in the park bobbing and flitting and running. Pipits everywhere! I was wandering through the packs of pipits when I saw Lark Sparrows, a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, another Northern Mockingbird, and a couple of Eurasian Collared Doves. That was great, but then I saw a Golden-Fronted Woodpecker. It even let me walk up to get a photo of it.

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker.
After this, we headed off to see if we could find the three types of geese (Snow, Ross', and Greater White-Fronted) reported to be in the area.

We drove in circles down little Texas back country roads.

We saw large birds flying the distance which always turned out to be Sandhill Cranes.

No geese were seen and, to make the King's Ranch tour, we had to head back to Kingsville. This was okay because I had just seen seven new bird species for year (now sitting at 84), with several of these birds (the Green Jay and the Great Kiskadee) being only photos in the field book to me before this day. While the day wasn't over yet, really what could I see on the King's Ranch while riding around in a little mini-bus?

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