Never mind. I finished my work in Nashville on Wednesday night, but had a 6am flight to San Antonio, so I had to be ready to leave at 4am. Problem was, I was still finishing off with my work well after midnight and by 2am I had decided that if I fell asleep I wouldn't be able to wake up on time, so decided to go without sleep until 2:30 in the morning when I fell asleep anyway, while watching old episodes of Mission Impossible on Netflix.
So I was up at 4 in the morning, flying by 6am, and attempting to sleep on the plane, so I'd be prepared for the adventure in Texas. I arrived in San Antonio at 10:30 in the morning and the first order of business was to drive to Big Tree, in Rockport, Texas, home to a famous and nearly 2000 year old Live Oak Tree. It was there, or near there, that I would find the Whooping Cranes. I expected whole colonies of Cranes to be standing regally on the grass when I pulled into the Big Tree parking lot. The only things there were the tree and two retired ladies who had just taken a picture of the tree. However, they did direct me further down the road, to where I would see Whooping Cranes.
I drove down the road, to a parking lot adjacent to the water and a large grass field, a likely habitat for the Cranes. However, before I even got the scope set up, a big white bird with black wing tips flew by. I got my binoculars on it quickly and recorded the sighting of my first Texas White Pelican. Not quite whooping with joy, was I. At least yet.
I walked up the road and got to see lots of ducks, including many, beautiful, Northern Pintails, and a lot of Ruddy Turnstones. There were more ducks and lots of gulls, but I wanted Cranes. I scanned the grassy fields, but no big, white birds. I returned to my car to try a different location when a couple pulled up in a pick-up truck and, after we exchanged niceties, got down to business. "Seen any Whooping Cranes?" asked I. "Yes, they usually fly over and land yonder in the grass," answered the husband. I was told that they came across later in the day, but if I wanted to check out the pond, I might find some there.
So I got back in the car and followed the road up to the next turn and drove along until I saw the pond they spoke of. Meanwhile, a woman in a compact sedan, grey, I believe,(the car, not the woman), was slowly driving the streets. I suspected birder. I would later be proved correct in my rather obvious assumption. I got out of the car and checked out the little pond, but it was empty, except for the water. The mystery car pulled up ahead, stopped briefly, and made a U-turn. As the car approached I was eager to find out if she was the keeper of the Crane knowledge. Turned out she was. Not only that, but if I had just walked 100 feet further up the road I would have found the birds myself,(and I am sure I would have, but it was nice to have the help).
A pair of Whooping Cranes, number 574 for the year, were in a field about a hundred yards off and I watched them through my scope for a while and then started taking photos. I decided to walk across part of the field to get better shots and I was punished for my near trespassing by getting my shoes and pants covered in needle sharp burrs, that were laying in wait for me. I got some great photos, including of the birds in flight, and then had to remove the burrs from my shoe laces and pants, in what turned out to be quite a painful procedure.
I drove the neighbourhood for another 20 minutes looking for the family of cranes that was supposed to be around, finding more ducks but eventually returning to the first location and watching and photographing the cranes for a little while longer. But I had to get down to Weslaco so I could get a full night of sleep for my day of birding in the Rio Grande Valley, which was to start, once again at 4am.
I spent today birding with Huck Huchenson of Estero Liano Grande State Park. We had a great time and saw lots of birds on my last trip and we did the same today. I had hoped with Huck's help I would be able to get the White-collared Seed Eater, but even though Huck knew all the best habitats, the bird once again eluded me. As did the Red-billed Pigeon down at the Falcon River. However we did see all three Kingfishers down there, and an Audubon's Oriole. We both heard it's sweet song and saw it on two occasions, while down at the river.
Later we birded the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge and saw, amongst at least 20 species of duck and shorebird, a Wilson's Phalarope, in winter plumage, feeding in and amongst the ducks. It wasn't spinning, but rather feeding in circles. Very high on the cute scales, I would say. We also saw lots of hawks and raptors, but no Hook-billed Kite. Huck says you could watch for three days without seeing one or just arrive at the right time after sunrise and pick it up quickly. Alas, it will have to wait for another year.