Aranuac National Wildlife Refuge – Texas.

Species seen 72.

My last full day in Texas and a second visit to the Refuge was a very enjoyable one as we met up with Colin Shields a volunteer ranger from the UK whom I met at this year’s Birdfair at Rutland Water. We had an interesting day, with Colin sharing his local familiarity about the birds and the history of the area. It turned out to be a fantastic day with Colin’s knowledge and guiding us to good spots, plus with us providing the air conditioned transport, made for a brilliant days birding.

With my FiancĂ©e chauffeuring us around we all soon started to clock up the species very quickly. On one of the Galveston headlands is the Smiths Point Hawkwatch bird observatory tower. This is a 30 foot tower overlooking the sea and trees on the Gulf Coast. Here we met Tony Leukering a volunteer observer who’s knowledge of the hawks going through was very impressive. There is a link to here in my section of who I follow.

Hawks and Vultures seen here and in the area were Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Common Nighthawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Crested Caracara, Mississippi Kite, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk and White Tailed Kite.

Taking in the bay waterfronts we saw Black, Forster’s, Royal, and Sandwich Terns. Willet, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Magnificent Frigatebird, Green Heron,
Laughing Gull, Brown Pelican and American Oystercatcher.

Moving inland and stopping at numerous small pools gave us sightings of many other birds. American Coot, Anhinga, Baltimore Oriole, Bank Swallow, Bank/Sand Martin, Black Bellied Whistling Duck, Black crowned Night Heron, Black Necked stilt, Blue Gosbeak, Blue Jay, Blue-winged Teal, Brown-headed Cowbird, Carolina Chickadee, Cattle Egret,

Clapper Rail, Cliff Swallow, Common Grackle, Common Moorhen, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird, Eurasian Collared Dove, European Starling, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Great Blue Heron, Great White Egret, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Little Blue Heron, Loggerhead Shrike, Mourning Dove, Neotropic Cormorant, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Pied-billed Grebe (with chicks) Purple Gallinule, Purple Martin, Red-winged Blackbird, 

Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Snowy Egret, Spotted Sandpiper, Tricoloured Heron, White Ibis, White-winged Dove, Wood Stork and Yellow Crowned Night Heron.
Before leaving the refuge we went in search of Kingfishers as “Belted” was on my wish list. 

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any, however as with all the places visited, there is always a chance of seeing Alligators and here was no exception with two lying together on a bank.

On leaving to return to Houston we boarded the Galveston ferry for the last time and again saw Dolphins during the crossing along with Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull and Black Terns. The last bird 

of note was an Osprey, the perfect end to a memorable days birding. Sadly this was the end to our trip as we heading back to the UK the following day. I will certainly be planning another trip sometime in the future which will be around April time to see the many migrants that visit the Gulf Coast.

Hummingbirds from the Smiths Point Tower.

Brazos Bend State Park – West of Houston – Texas.

Species seen 20.

Possible severe weather warnings for today’s exploring kept us within 40m miles of the apartment.  Like the local Houstonians we’ve followed the Weather Channel on TV every day for updates of possible hurricanes, flash flooding and lightening warnings. We managed to visit Brazos Bend State Park before the rain started late in the afternoon.

Upon arriving a visit to the visitors                       centre was very interesting as they had live reptiles on show which included the two snakes that in Texas are to be avoided (Texas Coral and Copperhead). An exhibition on Alligators and what to do if you come across one proved invaluable later in the afternoon.

Leaving the centre we ventured out in to the park and walked a mile around a small lake, here were, Great White, Little and Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, Little Blue, Green, Tricolour, Great Blue Heron. Black Bellied Whistling Ducks and Moorhens had chicks in tow. American Coot is not so plentiful here as I only managed three in the whole park.

Walking through woodland gave up Downy Woodpecker, Common Grackle and Field Sparrow. Upon walking in the open park the sky above had five Turkey Vultures circling on thermals. A look at the surrounding tree tops also produced two Black Vultures.

As we approached a lily covered swamp many of the birds were very easy to spot, Wood Duck and Moorhen on the water, Little Egret, Tricoloured and Green Heron on the lily pads. Anhinga, Cormorant and White Ibis were all perched within the swamp trees. However lurking within the lilies were young alligators two were seen briefly before we moved off to walk around the large lake. Along the way were American Crow and a great many Common Grackles. Feeding on the grass were Fox Squirrels and Cattle Egrets patrolled the area looking out of sorts. While walking around the lake there was a small creek running parallel for about a quarter of a mile on one side, this was covered in vegetation with Black Bellied Whistling Ducks, Little Egrets and Moorhens, suddenly a huge splash and crash had me jumping out of my skin as a young Alligator jumped forward from under the lily pads towards one of the ducks, it missed and the duck didn’t become lunch for this small Gator.

Walking further and still a little twitchy due to the recent fright from the small gator, we noticed the bushes moving and from within in what appeared to be slow motion, a huge Alligator appeared and walked towards where we were! All the gators seen so far on this trip have been no longer that six feet long, the full adult was a lot bigger and this one may have been at least eight to nine feet long?

After the encounter trying to keep focused on the birds was almost impossible as my thoughts were very much on perhaps meeting another big gator!

A fantastic day and one I’ll not forget in a hurry.

Houston Audubon Society HQ – Edith L. Moore Sanctuary.

Species seen 14.

Visiting the main headquarters for the Houston Audubon Society was almost like going in to a furnace as the heat was very intense and therefore we stayed for only a few hours.

Following a chat with the staff in the office we proceeded to take a look around this small sanctuary. The location is set within a housing estate with a small creek running through and is right on the verge of a major road.

Birds of note seen were Mourning, White Tipped and Common Ground Doves.  All the trees and shrubs had many Red Cardinals as well as Blue Jays.

Three species of Woodpecker were easily located due to drumming and sometimes at just above head height! First was Red Bellied Woodpecker followed by Downy and Northern Flicker.

Also seen were American Robins in good numbers and after following a small wren like bird through the trees above the creek I soon had sight of a Marsh Wren.

Before leaving we spent half an hour sitting near the feeders which gave us Carolina Chickadee, House Sparrow, House Finch and many Ruby Throated Hummingbirds.

Also seen were Red Eared Slider Turtle, Coral Snake, Western Cottonmouth Snake, Common Skink, Green Anole, Fox Squirrel and Swamp Rabbit. As with many places we’ve visited there was a great deal of Gulf Fritillary Butterflies.

Bolivar Peninsular – Gulf of Mexico.

Species seen 14.

Taking a stop at the Bolivar Peninsular Wildlife Refuge was an interesting hours birding as at one end you have the beach and lots of people enjoying the beach and sea for the day and a little way inland there is grassed and marshland areas with plenty of birds on view.

The first birds of note were Willet and Reddish Egret taking fish from the sea.  High above and diving were Brown Pelicans and scattered along the beach were Laughing gulls. 

Moving back from the beach towards the marshes gave great views of Black Tailed Stilt, Least Sandpiper, Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs,Semipalmated Plover, Bar Tailed Godwit, Little Egret,Great White Egret, White Ibis, European Starling and American Black Ducks.

A brief time was spent here; however, I got two lifers which made the stop off even better! Here a few other shots from the visit.

Upon returning to our apartment this Ruby Throated Hummingbird visited our feeder, not great, but a record shot at least!

High Island, Boy Scout Woods & Oaks Wood Sanctuary – Texas.

Species seen 19.

Having read about the area known as High Island a trip here was a must, albeit the summer isn’t the best time, like everywhere else spring and autumn is the time to visit! Well beggars can’t be choosers and when an opportunity comes along and offers you and your fiancee a holiday in Texas, you take it by the horns! 

Today was another very hot day; we took the Galveston ferry across to the Bolivar peninsular and began our road trip towards High Island. While crossing on the ferry we sighted more than 20 Bottlenose Dolphins and a great many jellyfish. 

Also seen were Brown Pelicans, Magnificent Frigate birds and hundreds of Laughing Gulls. For those people who have seen the movie” The Big Year” High Island featured in it and does when there is a major “Fallout” off the Gulf of Mexico. Starting at Boy Scout Woods and finishing at Oaks Woods sanctuary the visit was very challenging due mainly to the high temperature and the mosquito's. Walking through the woods we soon had our first bird and one that was on my hope to see list, the Northern Cardinal is one beautiful bright red bird of which I saw two. The shot is poor due to the distance, however a record to keep. 

Moving to an opening where a platform over the swamp area gave a welcome break from the insects, soon we had the following overhead, Turkey Vulture, Broad Winged Hawk, Short Tailed Hawk, in the trees and on posts or cables were the following birds, Black Vulture, Cormorant, Anhinga, Eastern Kingbird, White Ibis, Ground Dove, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Mockingbird, Yellow Warbler and Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher. While walking through the woodland of Oaks sanctuary I stumbled across a Great Horned Owl perched on an overhanging branch, sadly it took to flight, but I did manage to see this magnificent huge Owl for a few moments. 

Ruby Throated Hummingbird very high up above

Sadly the visit didn't result in many bird photographs as it was hard enough trying to see them let alone shoot them.

The pools areas also had small Alligators and a few Red Eared Slider Turtles and the trees had some very large spiders whose webs were like fishing line!

This large Spider was about 6 inches long!

Aranuac National Wildlife Refuge – Texas.

Species seen 19.

Day two of our stay in the Gulf of Mexico took us to the Aranuac National Wildlife Refuge which is about 10 miles north of High Island. Stopping at the entrance pool the trees were full of Brown-headed
Cowbirds. Moving around the pool I flushed a Green Heron which sat in a bush for some time afterwards. Many of the small bushes had Gulf Fritillary and Monarch Butterflies visiting them.
As I made my way around the pool a Great White Egret stool motionless waiting to strike at any passing fish? It didn’t move even when a small Alligator floated by? Also seen here were two Killdeer and an unidentified Hummingbird, I only got the briefest of glimpses as it was in silhouette before taking off to somewhere else. Up on the electricity cables was a small flock of Tree Swallows, I counted over 50 before carrying on.

Moving through the Refuge the following water birds were seen, Great Blue Heron, Tricoloured Heron, Little and Cattle Egrets.

Above us were circulating Turkey Vultures and perched in a far off dead tree were two Crested Caracara with their striking orange faces. One took to flight however it was far too high to get nothing more than a record shot.

Other birds seen where, Starling, Ringed Plover,
Greenshank, White Winged Dove, Eastern Kingbird,
Laughing Gull, Brown Pelican and Cormorant.

Before leaving we went to look for Kingfishers in the bayou, sadly none were seen even with the fish jumping out of the water! A quick scan along the bayou gave us a second Alligator sighting for the day. This time it wasn’t a small “Gator” but a fully grown adult which had just taken a Great White Egret and was slowly chomping it down. A pure wildlife moment and a reminder to stay close to the vehicle while in the swamp and bayou areas. 

Other record shots from our visit.