August 1, 2023
(This is the first in a four-part series of blog posts about my birding activities while traveling by rail to the Pacific coast for just over two weeks in June. I previously described my visits to baseball stadiums on June 28, and after finishing the posts on birding will write a summary of my general (i.e., non-baseball, non-birding) tourist experiences.)
June 12, eastern Texas: While passing through east Texas on the Sunset Limited train leaving from New Orleans, I saw a Mississippi Kite. It was probably near the city of Beaumont, and there is a small chance it could have been on the Louisiana side of the state line. I didn't have time to do any birding during my brief stay in New Orleans; about sixteen months earlier I had done a fair amount of birding in and around that city. I arrived in Houston in the late afternoon/early evening, and walked about eight blocks from the Amtrak station to the bus stop downtown. Along the way I passed a nice park along a river which I later learned is actually called the Buffalo Bayou. There were dozens of swallows flying around, and I noticed many Great-tailed Grackles in downtown city parks. They are not shy around humans, I noticed. I had forgotten what a loud, hysterical racket they make, but after consulting my trip reports from Mexico City in 2003, I see that I had the same initial impression back then.
June 13, Houston: It was quite hot during the two-and-a-half days I spent in the nation's fourth-largest city. I saw more Great-tailed Grackles in various places during the day. While passing in front of Christ Church Cathedral on my way to a baseball game in downtown Houston on June 13, I noticed a White-winged Dove perched on a tree limb.
June 14, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge: The first major bird outing during my cross-country rail journey was to Anahuac NWR, about 40 miles east of Houston. To get there I rented a car from Enterprise, and everything worked out fine. That location was recommended by my younger brother John, and as usual his birding advice was sound. As I approached the destination I saw a flock of at least 40 Cattle Egrets following a tractor that was mowing grass -- and kicking up insects! The temperature was in the upper 90s when I arrived about noon, and not surprisingly I did not see any other birders during my entire visit. I was disappointed that the visitor center was closed, but fortunately one of the staff people was there accompanying some young visitors, and she was glad to give me some tips. The actual refuge is located about ten miles south and east of the visitor center, and I started by walking along the Willows Trail. There I saw many Cliff Swallows, a Tricolored Heron, and an immature Little Blue Heron. I was a little disappointed, but almost as soon as I began driving on the road leading to the Boardwalk Trail just to the west, I hit the jackpot. Nearly all of the expected wading birds were present, such as Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, as well as both White Ibises and White-faced Ibises -- the latter being a life bird! (Each life bird will be denoted herein by underlines.) Many Common Moorhens were there as well, but I only saw one Purple Gallinule. Both Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Fulvous Whistling Ducks (life bird!) were seen in fair numbers. (That lady had told me I was sure to see plenty of them, but it wasn't until I was almost done with that loop that I saw them.) From the boardwalk I heard a Clapper Rail within 30 yards, but it refused to emerge from the reeds, so I can't definitively claim it as a life bird. One surprise was a Long-billed Dowitcher, considered rare in Anahuac according to the checklist. They are supposed to migrate to the northern tundras of Alaska and Canada. Toward the end of my visit to Anahuac I was startled to hear a PEENT call, and sure enough there was a Common Nighthawk swooping around. (It was only about 4:30 PM!) It perched briefly, providing me with a photo op, but its head was turned the other way, unfortunately. My original plan was to stop at other places within Anahuac and then head southwest to Galveston and loop back up to Houston, but I was running late and didn't want to miss my train to Los Angeles, so I headed straight back to Houston.
June 15, western Texas: While on the train approaching the town of Alpine in western Texas the next day I saw my first-ever Barn Owl, perched on a fence. How bizarre! The maps in my field guides indicate that they are more common in southern and western states, so perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised. In southeastern Arizona late in the afternoon I glimpsed a probable Swainson's Hawk, which has a unique pattern under the wings.
As usual, the above photo montages can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page, and additional photos, including some closeup images, will soon be posted there as well in the near future.
NEXT: Birding in Los Angeles, California!