Germans Bird South Texas
by Keith Hackland (firstname.lastname@example.org) photo credit: Keith Hackland
published April 2016
It may have occurred before today, but if it did, I don't know
about it ... a birding tour of South Texas by a tour group from Germany.
We have the privilege of hosting this tour for a remarkable
group of birders who all speak German. How many of us can do
that while we bird South Texas. The tour has its own co-ordinator,
an excellent birder and a teacher with a PhD in Biology. He also
translates for the group from the English spoken by our guide,
Michael, or myself as assistant guide.
We met the group at Houston airport, arriving
on two different airlines. Very friendly folks,
even after their 13 to 15 hour flights from Germany,
travel across eight time zones that tests
the mettle of the toughest travellers.
Texas has 640 species of birds recognized for
listing purposes. The tour is here for 13 days.
How many species will they see, considering
that they are here in late March, after wintering
species have departed and before most of
the spring migrants arrive. The number of species
seen depends on how good the birders and
guide are at identification and at locating good
birding spots, and how many hours are spent
in the field each day. A good count for this trip
would be 160 species.
After escaping the magnetic force of George
Bush International Airport and navigating
thick Houston traffic, we stopped for the night
in the Woodlands, aptly named for the woods
we planned to visit on our first day. That night
the group was excited at the prospect of birding
a new area in a new country, and started their
list with seeing Great-tailed Grackles.
Up at 6 am and on the road before 8 am, our
first morning was spent exploring local woodland,
where we found plenty of species, including
the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker,
Downy Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker
and Red-bellied Woodpecker. A Yellow-bellied
Sapsucker made its appearance and we all listened
to and craned our necks to see a Brownheaded
Nuthatch, as it effortlessly moved up a
Loblolly Pine, mostly behind the tree from us.
Cedar Waxwings and Pine Siskins entertained
us all. Leaving the woods with over
twenty species, we tracked down a U.S. specialty,
Burger King, and introduced our new
friends to American fast food.
In the afternoon we drove through Houston,
but not the easy way. My Garmin navigation
device tricked us into driving onto the toll way.
We had to go through four toll gates, something
that took us way too long. We had to
drive through the "Cash - change made" lanes,
and that day it took 15 to 20 minutes each time.
Just before 5 pm we made it to our destination,
Brazos Bend State Park, where we birded
until sunset. The park was full of spring break
families, and also some great birds. We saw
possibly two hundred Little Blue Herons, an
attractive bird that is usually seen alone.
This American Bittern was hard to miss. Usually
a really shy, camouflaged bird with the
habit of hiding in the cattails, this sighting satisfied
everyone. One of our group used his very
impressive professional camera equipment to
photograph each new bird. He would not count
it as properly seen until he had a good photo of
the species. He is a serious photo-lister, a challenging
way to count species.
As the sun set we managed to pull folks away
from this great park, and hit the road. As assistant
guide I drove the cargo van, filled with
travel bags and suitcases. At dusk as we navigated
the county roads, Michael, driving the
passenger van behind me, flashed his lights a
few times, and then u-turned and headed back.
Dutifully following, until they pulled over and
stopped, I looked for a bird they must have
found, but could not see it. Later I found out
that it was a Great Horned Owl, resting in a tree
close to the road. Imagine spotting that from
a van you are driving at 60 miles per hour. It
takes a great eye to accomplish that. Michael
has a great eye. Our stop at a local eatery for
supper was appreciated by all, and at 11:30 pm
we reached Refugio and our hotel.
Back up at 6 am we hit the road and stopped
to bird along a creek, where we were rewarded
with Carolina Chickadees, and a Great Peewee,
a rare visitor from Mexico. There were
also Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers.
The habitat here in Refugio is of great
interest. Here deep South Texas tropical trees
like Cedar Elm and Anacua mix with East Texas
oaks. This is about as far East as the tropical
trees occur. By mid-morning we had to hit the
road again and head for the coast.
Stay with us in next month's issue for this
birding trip and follow the Germans on tour.