Monday, December 24, 2012

Choke Canyon - Dec. 23, 2012

With a long weekend and beautiful weather, we decided it was time to take a trip down to Choke Canyon State Park. Our friends from New Jersey, Gordon and Nancy joined us.

It being the Sunday before Xmas, FM 99, usually busy with large semi trucks from the Eagle Ford oil projects, was empty enough to allow us some "old time" birding. Though not as birdy as in the past, it still gave us a good start to the day.

Disappointment hit when we reached the Choke Canyon reservoir areas near the intersection of 99 and 72. They are virtually dried up, with virtually no habitat for the usual ducks, shorebirds, kingfishers, cormorants, anhinga, etc.

However, the area wasn't totally devoid of interest. We saw a bird of prey in the distance, which I desperately wanted to turn into a Bat Falcon because of its bright coloration. It turned out to be a magnificently colored juvenile Northern Harrier, which became apparent when we saw its owl-like facial disks through the scope.

I also managed to get a great shot of a Double-crested Cormorant, certainly not an unusual bird for the area, but posed perfectly for me to use for one of my bird mugs at a future date. (Advertisement: You can find my pottery here.)

Birding in the park was good. The parking lot by the old swimming pool had a Vermilion Flycatcher on every tree, most of them fully feathered males.

The nearby Bird Trail was also active, with mixed flocks of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black-crested Titmouse, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. At the back end of the trail, by the water pumping area, we had our "difficult" bird of the day. (You need at least one or your trip hasn't been worthwhile, say I.)

It was a Kingbird, but was much too light for it to easily be counted as a Couch's Kingbird, the most likely in the park this time of year. The three of us who saw it all agreed it was right for a Western Kingbird; but they aren't supposed to be there in December. Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to photograph it, so it might well remain a conundrum, unless someone refinds the bird.

Once again, as in our past several visits, Olive Sparrows were nowhere to be seen. I wonder if the prolonged drought has affected their habitat that much?

As usual, butterflies caught our eye and I managed to get photos of two different species: 


I'm not sure what type of butterfly this is.
From there, we drove over to 75 Acre Lake, where there were interesting birds -- just on the opposite shores. However, with the scope, we were able to see well enough through the late morning heat shimmer to identify a good number of ducks, shorebirds, and a couple of Harris's Hawks.

The interesting birds here were four Black-winged Stilts past their season (though not as unlikely as that Kingbird!).

We also saw the good-sized Alligator that tends to inhabit this body of water.

After a quick drive through the RV area, with nothing of interest, we drove to the exit of the park and came upon about six Northern Bobwhite by the side of the road. Three flew off as we approached. The remaining three seems unbothered by my photographic efforts, the best of which I share below.

And, before the day's list, I leave you with one of the park's mammals, reaching young adulthood.

The list:

Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Northern Bobwhite
Wild Turkey
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
White Ibis
White-faced Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Harris's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Common Gallinule
American Coot 
Sandhill Crane 
Black-necked Stilt 
Greater Yellowlegs
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Crested Caracara
Eastern Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee 
?? Kingbird 
Loggerhead Shrike
White-eyed Vireo
Green Jay
Black-crested Titmouse
House Wren
Bewick's Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern/Western Meadowlark
Great-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow

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