Saturday, 1 March 2008

Texas December 29 - 31, 2007

Trip Report
TEXAS
December 29 - 31, 2007
David M. Gascoigne and Miriam Bauman

December 29, 2007

Our plane from Panama touched down in Houston on schedule at 12:30h and within an hour we had cleared customs and immigration, picked up our car from Hertz and were heading south on Highway 59.
In accordance with our plan we intended to stop at Port Lavaca before heading up to Three Rivers to be ready to bird at Choke Canyon State Park first thing the next morning.
Port Lavaca was a little farther than we had figured and when we arrived there it was a huge disappointment. The last time I had been there several years ago, it had been a real birding bonanza. By now the area around the boardwalk which goes out across the coastal marsh is surrounded with camp sites, with all the attendant traffic and noise. Furthermore, the wetland seems to be substantially degraded, There were rusted bikes, a couple of tires and other trash of every description in the marsh. Perhaps some volunteer group needs to undertake a serious cleanup.
But, worst of all, there were virtually no birds! All that we saw there were two American White Pelicans, about twenty Double-crested Cormorants, five Great Blue Herons, five Great Egrets, two Tricoloured Herons, about thirty Snowy Egrets sheltering from a very cold, strong wind, twenty Greater Yellowlegs, six Willets, about twenty-five Ring-billed Gulls and ten Laughing Gulls.
On the journey down from Houston to Port Lavaca we had seen numerous birds, principally Loggerhead Shrike, Red-tailed Hawk and American Kestrel.
We did not stay long at Port Lavaca and headed out for Three Rivers. We arrived there at 19:00h and were lucky to have made a reservation at the Best Western Three Rivers ($96.62 per night, including taxes) since the whole town seemed to be full of hunters and there appeared to be no accommodation anywhere.
We had dinner at the Staghorn Restaurant and returned to the room for an early night, since we had been travelling from Panama since 4:30h that morning.

December 30, 2007

We awoke at around 06:00h and went for the complimentary continental breakfast in the lobby. It was an excellent meal with a good deal of choice. We returned to the room, gathered up our stuff, checked out and headed to Choke Canyon.
The birding here was as spectacular as Port Lavaca had been disappointing. We started at the South Shore Unit and almost as soon as we arrived we had Ash-throated Flycatcher and Neotropic Cormorant - both lifers for Miriam. American Coots dotted the water everywhere, American White Pelicans sailed in on outstretched wings, Great Blue Herons fished in the shallows, and five Black-crowned Night-Herons shared a snag.
Our species count just kept on growing. Green Jay, Pyrrhuloxia and Olive Sparrow were all lifers for Miriam. And all of the birds were easy to see. Other than for the Olive Sparrow we really didn’t have to track down any of them.
We birded in this segment of Choke Canyon State Park until lunch time, and went to eat at Nolan’s Ryan’s local restaurant. His pitching was better than his food!
After lunch we went over to the Calliham Unit where the birding was equally as good. One of the exciting moments there was to watch an Osprey hit the water, talons outstretched and come up with a fish. Vermilion Flycatchers seemed to be on every second post (and I think that Miriam photographed all of them!) And we considered ourselves fortunate to have spectacular looks at several Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. I am always reminded of a quote from a birder who said, “I know I don’t have much sense of colour coordination, but anyone who says that pink and grey don’t go together never saw a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.” One of our target birds to add to Miriam’s life list was Golden-fronted Woodpecker. We finally lost count of how many we saw!
Another lifer was Crested Caracara, and even though we had seen one on a fence post while driving to Three Rivers last evening, it was wonderful to have one perched in a tree to study to our heart’s content. Finally it even flew to let us appreciate it in flight also.
On a walk along a dike, we saw a lone White Ibis and a Sora.
Our last bird as we exited was a small covey of Bobwhite - a fitting farewell we thought.
We had hoped to stay longer and also return the following morning, but just before leaving home for Panama we were advised by Air Canada that our flight time had been changed, and we would be leaving almost six hours earlier.
Thus, instead of spending a second night in Three Rivers, we headed out to drive as far as Victoria, so that we wouldn’t have to get up so early the next morning to get to Houston Intercontinental Airport by the recommended two hours before flight time. That meant that we would have to be there at 09:00h, allowing time to return the rental car ahead of that.
We spent the night at the Lone Star Inn and Suites ($63.23 including taxes).

December 31, 2007
We left for Houston dark and early at 05:00h. We left too early to enjoy the Continental breakfast at the motel, so we picked up a Sausage MacMuffin and coffee at a MacDonald’s restaurant along the highway. Neither of us could remember the last time we ate at the Golden Arches.
The car return and entry into the airport went smoothly, but we were about an hour late taking off for Toronto.
We arrived at Pearson International Airport in Toronto at 16:10h EST, cleared customs and immigration, picked up our car and drove home.

Acknowledgements

Ingrid Huskey went out of her way to first of all let us know about the birding opportunities at Choke Canyon, and then contact all of her local friends to make sure that we got all the information we needed. We are deeply indebted to her.
Gary Wagerman sent us a checklist which was extremely helpful in doing some preplanning.



If you would like further information concerning this trip please contact us at theospreynest@sympatico.ca of at 519 725-0866, fax 519 725-1176. A complete list of all the birds seen on this trip can be emailed to you as a separate PDF file.

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