October 6 and 7, 2015 -- Dauphin Island, Alabama

    I took Rachel to the Pensacola airport on Tuesday afternoon (the 6th).  As we were leaving the beach in the morning, the sun finally burst through the haze and the beach looked glorious.  Previously we had gotten enough glimpses of sun to get a little color and to show us how pretty Destin Island can be.  When the sun came out so bright as we were leaving, it took a lot of discipline to keep walking to the car.  I guess we'll have to come back. 

    From Pensacola, I traveled about two hours to the west to Dauphin Island, Alabama, a barrier island 30 miles south of Mobile.  This is a major spot for warblers coming back into America in the spring and supposedly also very good birding in the fall.  I really did not see that this week, but perhaps I am down here a little ahead of the migration.  The Alabama Bird Festival was the previous week and I repeated the progression of sites that were listed for the festival Dauphin Island trip.  At Goat Trees and the Shell Mounds, I completely struck out -- a few birds, but all so far up in the top branches of the trees or tucked deep into brush that it was impossible to tell what they were.  I had better luck at the airport marsh where there were Tri-colored Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and a Black-capped Night Heron.  I walked the Audubon Trails in the evening on the first day and early in the morning on the second day.  This is set up to accommodate a lot of birders and I think that at times it gets major activity, especially in the spring.  I was the only birder on these trails on these two days.  I saw a few warblers that I have good enough pictures of to identify.  When I finish working through that, I'll update this section.  I also got good close up photos of a Brown Thrasher and of a Great Blue Heron.  I saw a few Carolina Wrens and several Blue-grey Gnatcatchers.  At the lake, I saw an alligator and a Snapping Turtle and saw a dragonfly land in the lake and get eaten by the turtle.  In the sunny marshes late in the morning, there were lots of dragonflies.  I got good pictures of Prairie Warblers near a boardwalk at the facility called The Estuarium.   I spent a lot of time on these because they also look like non-breeding Magnolia Warblers. 

The second day morning walk at the Audubon Trails turned up a small hawk, which I think is a Kestrel.  Also I found the same Great Blue Heron at the lake as yesterday and this time he was sharing his tree with an Osprey.  They did not seem at all bothered by me and let me walk up really close and take their pictures together.  I experimented with different focusing and decided on the one with the GBH in focus and the Osprey behind him, a little bit out of focus.   At some point, I'll experiment with increasing the depth of field of the picture, but that won't be soon.  The two birds together remind me of two expert old-timer fishermen with one looking over the shoulder of the other giving unwanted advice.

   Osprey:  "You'll never get a good fish with that hunt and peck technique.  You should learn the dive and grab like I do."

   GBH:  "I like the hunt and peck."

   Osprey:  "It's a bad technique.  You can only catch little fish that way."

    GBH:  "You mean like the size that I can swallow whole."

    Osprey:  "You should catch a big fish and rip it up.  It's easier.  I bet you a fish that I can catch a pound of fish faster than you can."

    GBH:  "I would take that bet and win it, except that I don't take food out of the mouths of baby birds.  That's what I'd be doing when I won.  Taking the food out of your baby bird's mouth.  How about this.  You do the dive and grab.  I'll do the hunt and peck.  Okay."

 

Two fishermen at Dauphin Island, Alabama

 

    The bird at the Estuarium that I thought was either a non-breeding Magnolia Warbler or a Prairie Warbler, largely because of the streaking on the sides, is actually a Yellow-rumped Warbler.  I had a lot of pretty shots of the head and sides, but the picture that gave the id is the one showing the underside of the tail.  It matches the picture of the under tail of a Yellow-rumped in The Warbler Guide by Stephenson and Whittle.   The picture also shows how misleading color can be.  The sides of the wings look very dark because of a shadow that is on them.

 

Yellow-rumped Warbler (not Magnolia or Prairie), Dauphin Island, Alabama, October, 2015

 

 

 

October 8, 2015 -- Driving thru Mississippi and most of Louisiana

    All day long I kept passing by signs welcoming me into wildlife refuges, wildlife management areas, state parks, local parks, and beaches.  Several times, I had my turn signal on and was going to stop.  These two states are blessed with natural beauty and deserve to be visited specifically for that.  I did not know that before.  Here is something else that I didn't know.  The people are generally really nice.  They are friendly, pleasant, intelligent, and helpful.  That's true of a lot of places, but not everywhere.  My first impression of both states, made by driving thru and stopping a few times to get stuff and to chat, is that this is a very nice region to spend a lot of time in.

    In Pascagoula ,Mississippi, I stopped and bought a Pascagoula High School Panthers football shirt.  We are currently 5-2 overall and 3-0 in the district.  I'm glad we beat Moss Point.  Maybe I hate those guys.  I'm not sure yet.  I haven't been a fan long enough to hold a proper grudge.  But we are definitely doing better than my other favorite team, the 1 and 3 NFL Philadelphia Smeagles (Gollum!  Gollum!).  Go Goula!!  Hey!  Don't call me a front runner!  I'm more of a front walker.

    I got to my campsite at Sam Houston Jones State Park (877-226-7652), fifteen miles north of Lake Charles, Louisiana and got set up with an hour to spare for a walk.  I took a boardwalk to an observation platform where I heard a lot of clucking that sounded like quail, but I didn't see the birds.  One of the characters in Michael Crichton's "State of Fear", who was much braver than me, pointed out that alligators can mimic the sounds of their prey to attract them.  I could see lots of beware of the gators signs, so I stayed on the paths and away from the marsh.  Along the river, I saw a Bald Eagle.  That was cool.  Not much else in terms of birds or other wildlife this evening.  It was a very pleasant hike and a good place to visit and, in my case, to crash for the night.  Tomorrow, I will be driving on The Creole Nature Trail, route 27, one of the first designated scenic highways in the U. S.

 

October 9, 2015, early morning -- Cameron Prairie NWR, Louisiana

    This place is awesome.  I got up early, ate oatmeal and camp coffee, broke camp,  bought gas for under $2 per gallon, and was at the Visitors Center by 8:30 AM.  I feel bad saying this, because the young guy who gave me info was really nice and extremely helpful, but this location is so beautiful that the people who work there should be charged a fee to be there.  It is surrounded by beautiful pools and a boardwalk in front.  In the back is a boardwalk and observation deck that stretches out into a huge marsh.  No lie, a Cardinal was trying to get into the building from the back boardwalk, pecking on the glass door (or maybe he was just fighting his own reflection, Cardinals can be like that).   This is still off-season for the migrating winter ducks, but there was still a lot of bird activity far out in the marsh and around the center.  In just a few minutes, I saw Mockingbirds, Cardinals, wrens, ibis, a big rail, flocks of ducks, Red-winged Blackbirds, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Mourning Doves, and a Flicker.

    The main point of interest is a three mile wildlife drive called Pintail Wildlife Drive.  I realize that on any given day or at certain times of the day, a great spot can disappoint.  It's like fishing or hunting.  You don't get something every time that you go out.  Today, I hit a bull-eyes at the Pintail Wildlife Drive.  The welcoming birds on the way in were Great Egrets, Killdeer, and a Great Blue Heron.  Next were Red-winged Blackbirds, a Woodduck in its awesome breeding plumage, and Cattle Egret that walked right up to the car, indicating that the advice to stay in the car was correct.  The slow moving vehicle acts like a bird blind.  Get out and the birds fly.  Stay in and they don't feel threatened.  A little beyond the egrets, I came along a beautiful sight.  Feeding in a pool right next to the auto path were Roseate Spoonbills, Little Blue Heron, Ibis (which because of the location were probably White-faced Ibis and a life bird for me), White Ibis, Tri-colored Heron, Snowy Egret, and others.  They were actively feeding and as long as I stayed still (and the other car in the refuge at the time stayed still) the birds kept right on foraging.  The spoonbills were swishing their beaks through the mud and the egrets were coming up with nice sized fish.  After a fun period of picture-taking and just watching, I moved on to see the rest of the drive.  There were more of the spoonbills and herons and egrets and also moorhen, ducks (not mallards), coot, grebe, a Green Heron, and Black-necked Stilts.  The striking dark black and bright white of the stilts, next to the pink of the spoonbills was a pretty sight.  Near the end of the circle, I spotted a Virginia Rail (a life bird for me).  I've been looking for this small, long-legged marsh bird for over a year, so I'm glad to see him here.  Although he was too fast for me and I only got a picture of the brush that he ducked into, I was happy about the sighting.  Baby steps.  Next time, maybe I'll get a blurry picture of this rail and after that a clear picture and eventually a good picture.  This could take some time.  That's not a bad thing.

    Before I left, I went back to the start of the loop and walked on the boardwalk that curves out into a part of the marsh.  I didn't expect to see birds other than grackles, but was treated to a Kingbird and a Belted Kingfisher.   I decided to bet my two kings and if a King Rail shows up, I'm going All-in.

 

Cattle Egret, Cameron Prairie NWR, October, 2015

 

"I got a fish!", Great Egret, Cameron Prairie NWR, October, 2015

 

Roseate Spoonbill, Cameron Prairie NWR, October, 2015

 

Little Blue Heront, Cameron Prairie NWR, October, 2015

 

Alligator, Cameron Prairie NWR, October, 2015

 

October 9, 2015, mid-day -- Sabine NWR, Louisiana

    This is one of the great refuges in America.  It is huge and preserves over 120,000 acres of coastal marsh primarily for habitat for migrating ducks.  I am ahead of that migration in the season and visiting at the worst time of day, early afternoon in 90 degree heat.  Even though I would not see many birds, I still wanted to see the refuge.  I continued to drive south on highway 27, followed 27 and 82W along the gulf,  and paid a dollar to use a ferry to cross an inlet to the gulf.  While waiting for the ferry, I spotted a dolphin right next to the dock.  I did not get its photo because one of the many SWARMS of mosquitoes drove me back into the car.

    At the Sabine Wetlands Walkway along 27, I ate a leisurely lunch on the observation deck.  A visitor from England stopped to chat me up and he told me a little about his trip.  He had started in the Blue Ridge Mountains, swung down into The Smokies in Georgia, seen alligators on an airboat in eastern Louisiana, and on the last day of his trip was visiting Sabine and Cameron NWRs.  The mosquitoes had driven him away on his first attempt, but now he was back wearing new long pants and shirt and lots of bug spray.  He did the walk and, since the mosquitoes left him alone, was going to encourage his wife to get out of the car and see a little of the refuge.  While I was finishing my peanut butter and honey sandwich, a Kingfisher perched near the deck and ate a fish.  It was lunchtime all through the marsh. 

    When I took my turn on the walk, I could hear the egrets and herons clucking in the grass, but rarely did they pop up to show themselves.  A few spoonbills flew up just long enough to let me know that they were there.   I was almost finished with the loop when I came up on an alligator right next to the path.  He was eating a big round ball of something disgusting.  I think that's called a bolus (didn't find the term on a quick internet surf, but I think I heard it on a nature show), which the gators make up of from the remains of their rotting prey.  The gator seemed to like it a lot and I decided not to get any closer than I already was, about ten yards.  I was thinking that ten yards is pretty far.  The Eagles running backs seem to have a hard time going that far.  I have a feeling that this particular gator could cover the distance pretty fast, if he thought someone was interested in trying to get his bolus.   As delightful as that particular wad of rotting meat looked, I decided to go back the way I had come, redoing almost the whole loop.  No big deal.  I need the exercise.

    I got a present for the effort.  In a bush along the sidewalk part of the trail, there was a bird that had the coloration of a Mockingbird, but looked too small.  So I snapped his photo.  It was a Loggerhead Shrike, a small bird of prey whose range is throughout the south US and Mexico.  I've only seen this bird once before, at High Island in April, 2014.  I should get out more.

 

Sabine gator eating enjoying a meal (I think), Sabine NWR, Louisiana, October, 2015

 

October 9, 2015, evening -- Anahuac NWR, Texas

    On the way to my camp site in Texas (a three hour drive from Sabine), I let Google Maps send me along the gulf.  I went through High Island and the Bolivar Flats, which are two deservedly famous birding sites, especially productive during the spring migration.  Before I got to those, intending to bypass High Island and bird through the Flats, I saw the sign for one of my favorite NWRs.  It struck me as strange that in my third year of birding, I have favorite birding sites in Texas, but I do.  I could not resist the lure of Anahuac NWR, only eleven miles off of my route.

    At the Skillern location, I saw Spoonbills, a Harrier, smaller birds that I didn't stay to identify, and another Alligator.

    At the main Anahuac location, I took the entire three-mile wildlife drive, admittedly a little faster that usual.  I saw lots of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, new to the location since I was last here in April of 2014.   I read that they are extending their range.  The birds kept lining up along the road, so it is obvious that the refuge has not been getting a lot of auto traffic lately.   I also saw Neotropic Cormorants (can usually only see them in the US here.  Has a clear white V around beak), coots, Moorhen, egrets, herons, ibis, spoonbills, tens of thousands of Red-winged Blackbirds, a Belted Kingfisher, and grebes (probably Pied-billed).  I loved my little side trip.  When I was in Texas with Mike for two weeks in 2014, I went to this spot three or four times.  There was more water then and more little birds, like sparrows and warblers and more variety of ducks.  Still it was a very good impulse decision today to detour over to see it, saving me four hours of round trip driving back up from Galveston Island to see it on Saturday.  I noticed after leaving that I was no longer tired from the long day in the car and from walking around and being eaten by mosquitoes.  I was charged up on an adrenaline high.  Nice.

 

Neotropic Cormorant, Anahuac NWR, Texas, October, 2015

 

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Blockade (I don't think it is going to work), Anahuac NWR, October, 2015