It was pretty barren as we sailed down US 77 towards the Lower Rio Grande Valley. I was driving.
“There has to be something we can stop and check out on our way,” Barb commented.
“The drive south on US 77 offers some of the best roadside birding in south Texas,” Sue read from A Birder’s Guide to the Texas Coast. “As you begin, be sure and check your gas tank,” she continued. Fortunately, we had recently filled up. After scanning a couple of more pages in the guide, Sue discovered our first stop of the day – the Sarita Rest Area, where Hooded Orioles are known to nest in the palm trees.
When I pulled off, we could see the tall palms, as well as many Live Oak trees. Almost immediately, we caught a glimpse of the orioles. Since Tropical Parulas some times nest in the oak trees, we systematically walked from one end of the rest area to the other, checking out each oak – with no luck.The best viewing spot was under an oak where a large puddle had accumulated from watering. We sat on a bench and watched the parade of birds that came in to drink: Indigo Bunting, Green Jay, Great-tailed Grackle and Brown-headed Cowbird. A Buff-bellied Hummingbird even lazily buzzed by.
And then we were off to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, grateful for the brief respite from our drive.A pond and water drip in front of the refuge Visitor’s Center attracted a myriad of birds, including: White-tipped Dove, Green Jays, Bronzed Cowbirds, Great Kiskadee, Northern Cardinal and Great-tailed Grackle. Even a javelina stopped by.
We ate our picnic lunch under the shade of some trees, while entertained by jays cardinals.
Our target bird was the Masked Duck, which had been reported in the Alligator Pond.
On our way to the parking area at the Osprey Lookout on the east sore of Laguna Atascosa, and we stopped briefly Resaca de los Cuates, an old river oxbow, where we spotted Roseate Spoonbills, White and White-faced Ibis, and Reddish and Tri-color Egrets.
We had to park our car and walk a quarter of a mile into the pond. The gray dirt and crushed rock trail reflected the heat from the middle-of-the-day sun, making the trek seem longer than a quarter mile. A couple of Common Ground Doves flew across the trail. At the pond, we found a semi-shaded area on a wooden platform over-looking the water.Common Moorhens inched amongst the water plants, their red and yellow-tipped bills bobbing as they went. There were Blue-winged Teals, Mottled Ducks, Fulvous Whistling Ducks and Least Grebes, but we could not find any Masked Ducks. Solitary and secretive, we presumed they were hidden under the leaves of the water plants at the far end of the pond.
A Gull-billed Tern swooped over the water, and then was off.
As we left, we stopped to watch the nostrils of the alligator periodically emerge from the water.
After checking into our motel in Brownsville, we headed over to South Padre Island Convention Center. It was late in the afternoon and the breeze off of the water felt refreshing, although it was still hot. At the ‘warbler rest stop,’ a few Yellow and Wilson’s Warblers were grabbing insects before heading off again at sun down.
The biggest thrill was the boardwalk nature trail where shorebirds and waders were finding plenty to eat.“There is a Purple Gallinule,” someone told us who was leaving. It was easy to spot, with its purple and teal-colored feathers that contrasted with its red and yellow bill and bright yellow legs. It seemed not to notice the visitors peering over the edge at it as it unearthed invertebrates and seeds from the matted straw-like grasses of the marsh.
A little further on, a Sora and a Least Bittern made their rounds.
Peeps blended in with the dried vegetation and were not noticeable until they moved. We could look right down on them and identified Least, Baird’s and Pectoral Sandpipers. There also were Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitchers and Dunlin.
Black-necked Stilts and Neotropic Cormorants females were sitting on nests dotted around the marsh. Several of the areas of boardwalk were closed to allow them to nest in peace.
A row of White Ibis sat on a railing of an area that was closed. A lone Roseate Spoonbill sat in their midst, the bright pink plumage contrasting with the white of the ibis.
A number of Great Blue Herons were settling in for the evening. A male preened the tousled breeding plumage on its long neck. There were Green, Little Blue and Tri-colored Herons and a Great Egret.
“Oh, my gosh,” Sue exclaimed. “The Clapper Rails are mating.
“Clap on, clap off,” Barb said laughing, since by time we turned around to watch, they were nonchalantly preening themselves with their backs to each other.The fading light bounced off the plumage of a Great Blue Heron, giving it a golden hue. The perfect ending to the day.