Posted by Nydia Tapia – Gonzales and written by birding tour guide Mary Beth Stowe. Mary Beth also blogs for the Alamo Inn B&B.
We received a last-minute call from a family of Swedes wanting to come down and do some birding upon recommendation from a local friend of theirs, so this morning we headed to Estero Llano Grande State Park! Adrian, a student at UT Austin, had built up his Texas list pretty well in the short time he had lived here, but his folks (Joakim and Elizabeth) had never been to North America before, much less the States, so everything was new! (His sister Nova was along for the ride… J) It turns out they knew Kalle Sjolund, a guy who had taken me birding around Stockholm when our choir did a tour there in 2003! Small world, indeed!
We started off with a bang bagging the local Lesser Nighthawks batting around the Inn, and aside from the computerized climate control in their rented Jeep acting up on the way over there, we arrived without incident! Adrian volunteered to carry my scope (and my back was supremely grateful by the end of the walk J), so we poked along the Tropical Zone trying to zero in on one bird at a time: a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers gave a very brief view near the Green Jay Trail, but the Couch’s Kingbird was much more cooperative. Diligent searching by Joakim paid off trying to track down a close-sounding Carolina Wren, and the Brown-crested Flycatchers finally allowed some decent views. An Inca Dove and a Clay-colored Thrush kept luring us back to the park host area; the former gave a great look at its display on a wire, but the latter was less cooperative until Adrian (I think) finally spotted him on the ground near the drip! A Chachalaca showed well (Joakim’s comment that it reminded him of a turaco made sense once I watched the thing fly), and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo let loose and actually showed himself near the picnic table feeders! I didn’t really expect anything at said feeders since feeding had stopped for the season, but Joakim spotted the coveted Green Jay on one of the dead trees! Unfortunately, Elizabeth missed it, but thankfully another popped up in plain sight along the Kingbird Trail! A titmouse finally gave us some looks that weren’t against the sky, and Adrian spotted an ani in a tree, which eventually flopped to the other side of the trail and gave better looks, while the Buff-bellied Hummingbirds only gave brief views as they chased the flycatchers around. The White-tipped Doves sang left and right but never showed themselves until Adrian spotted one bobbing along in one of the old hookup sites!
From there we headed to the visitor center, and I was shocked: the last time I had been there, Ibis Pond was filled to the brim, but this time it was bone dry!! L I entered the office with, “What happened?!” The poor gal behind the counter replied that it was just the normal summertime evaporation, and I was really concerned we were gonna dip on some good water birds, but all was not lost: Avocet Pond on the other side of the boardwalk was filled with Great and Snowy Egrets, plus several Roseate Spoonbills! After using the facilities I went to find the guys, who were back in the office with my scope, and they had recruited the services of Ranger Jose to tighten up my wobbly tripod – my hero once again! J
We headed towards Alligator Lake, hearing Yellowthroats but not being able to coax them out… A pair of Kiskadees put on a great show (a lifer for Adrian but ironically not for Joakim and Elizabeth, as they had seen plenty in Paraguay), and Dowitcher Pond had the big party going on, with at least 20 Snowy Egrets squabbling, plus more spoonbills, adult and pie-bald Little Blue Herons, a handful of White Ibis, and a Tricolored Heron to top it all off! The only shorebirds around were Black-necked Stilts and Killdeer, and several Black-bellied Whistling Ducks joined the party (again ironically, Fulvous would not have been a life bird for Joakim and Elizabeth having gotten them in Africa)! A Common Ground Dove showed well at the bridge, and Grebe Marsh had an immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron (the adult must have been hiding as the two of them took off, squawking away)! We looked in vain for Least Bitterns at Alligator Lake, and even more in vain for the Pauraques (although this time of year they’re always tough). After enjoying the Green Herons at the overlook we started the Pauraque hunt again; Ranger Javier and another lady ranger came by with two trams about then (they were hosting some special needs kids) and after dropping them off at the overlook he came back to help us look, but to no avail. But in the process of looking the guys found something almost as good: a momma Olive Sparrow feeding its full-grown baby right out in the open! A Bewick’s Wren was singing right overhead as well, so as the guys continued Pauraque-hunting I tried to help Elizabeth get on this bird, which ended up giving us only a brief look before wagging its tail at us and taking off…
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