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Germans Bird South Texas More
by Keith Hackland (alamoinn@aol.com) photo credit: Keith Hackland
published May 2016

(continued from April 2016 issue)

After a great start to the tour, birding very full days, we were up early next morning, following back roads from Refugio to Rockport, stopping at wetlands to see Mottled Duck, Black-necked Stilt and Teal. We stopped on a busy road where the group wandered along peering through binoculars and scopes, bird watching. Unfortunately I had to watch the cars skim by and my heart was in my mouth as I motioned to traffic to slow down, but to our German birders there were no cars, only birds.

We stopped again at short grass land with mirrors of water lying here and there. A lone bird had everyone's attention. Its legs were yellow, slim build, speckled light brown body, large eye with white eyebrow, short yellow bill with black tip. It was an Upland Sandpiper. A great find. They move through on migration, often seen solitary, and are a bird one stumbles across rather than expects to see.

Observing the feeding of a mixed flock of waders, Long-billed Dowitcher, Terns, and Greater Yellow-legs reminded everyone that lunch time was approaching. At about 12:30 we pulled in to a Subway because we were short of time and thought it would be a quick stop. We had to meet a birding boat scheduled to depart at 1:30 ten miles away. Well no one in our group was familiar with what to do or say or how to select options at a Subway. There were way too many choices, and only one server, who had to do a lot of explaining without the benefit of being able to speak German. We concluded that Subway was a bad idea for the future, and with much patience, managed to have everyone served. Then we drove on to Fulton Harbor.

We made a stop en route to admire several Common Loon, a winter visitor that conjures up memories of their melancholy call on quiet lakes in Wisconsin and Canada. The Loon's image is used on the one dollar coin in Canada, commonly referred to as a loonie. The Skimmer, our ride for the afternoon, is a boat designed to be stable for watching birds on the ocean near the shore, and to travel at a good speed between birding hot spots. Its home port is Fulton Harbor, where it hides amongst dozens of shrimp boats.

The trip, while a little rough on the swells, was most enjoyable. Our number one target, Whooping Crane, was greatly admired and photographed by all. There are some 300 Whooping Cranes now in the wild that winter in Texas at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, a big improvement from the 14 birds remaining in the 1940s. Back from the boat trip about 4:30 pm, we took a quick drive north to a bridge and stream. This is the line where the last Boat-tailed Grackles can be seen, before they all become Great-tailed Grackles in the remainder of South Texas and into the Rio Grande Valley. We managed to find a few Great-tailed, before retracing our steps and driving through Port Aransas to the Port Arthur ferry. With no waiting, it was a quick ferry ride into Port Aransas. We stopped at our hotel to check in, then made a quick birding stop at the water processing plant, before enjoying supper at Trout Station. My favorite item on their menu is Seafood Jambalaya. It is a dish to write home and tell the folks about . . . it is that good.

Great views of Tricolored Heron, Greenwinged Teal, Black-crowned Night-heron, Double-crested Cormorant, White Ibis, Common Yellow-throat (a warbler), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (a woodpecker), and a dozen more birds made for an exciting morning, as we worked our way South on Mustang Island, finally stopping at a What-a-burger for lunch. This was another novelty for our guests, who were amazed and amused at the way Americans eat.

Another two stops, Blucher Park and Hazel Bazemore County Park in Corpus Christi yielded new birds, with a stop at a pond in Riviera, and finally at the Sarita Rest Stop, where we admired Brewer's Blackbirds and Green Jays, as they ate our peanuts. Night fall brought us to Alamo Inn B&B, with a Tex-Mex supper and Mexican beer at El Dorado Restaurant. We had finally made it to the Valley.

The next week our friend Michael Marsden guided our German guests throughout the Valley, to the Island and a great boat ride with Scarlett Colley to see Mangrove Warblers, Brownsville, Boca Chica, and all the other great hot spots. At the end of the week I received an early morning call that Michael had to take a well deserved day off due to illness, and it was my time again, going on one of my favorite outings to Brushline Road. It is a sandy route north of Alamo through dry land farms to La Sal del Rey, a good road from which to view pot hole lakes supporting water fowl, fields where Whitetailed Hawks fly and sometimes Wild Turkeys strut, and the ubiquitous brushline. While we saw a lot of birds, we missed the Wild Turkey. Birders always say it is not birding if all one's target birds are found, and it is always good to leave something to return to see.

Making our way back to Houston we found a Barred Owl in the park in Refugio, and by the end of their tour our group had 264 bird species, a really excellent count, reflecting the advanced skills of the German birders and the great guiding of Michael Marsden. We hope to see many more German birding tours visiting South Texas during the coming years!