Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Birding in the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

We did return to the refuge yesterday as we had learned in our previous visit that guided bird walks were offered daily at 8:30 AM.  It was 48 degrees and misting, but we did the hike and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  My sister Linda is visiting us and has only a few days to spend here.  Yesterday was supposed to be the better one of the next two days, so we drove over to the refuge, not even being sure that a ranger was going to do a birding hike because of the inclement weather.  What is amazing was that, even with the winter-like gray pall which seemed to hang over the park, the refuge was still pretty with the hanging Spanish moss, green cactus, mesquite, and red flowering shrubs.  Pictured below is the Turk's cap shrub.
When we arrived at the visitor's center of the park a staff member had just put food out in the bird feeding station's outside of the center, everything from orange slices to suet to bird seed.  I teased the park ranger and told her that since there were so many birds at the feeding stations,  I saw no need to go out on a hike to find them!  The first bird I saw at the feeding station was an Altamira oriole,  I was interested in seeing that oriole because it is only located in the tree and willows of southernmost Texas  It has very striking black and orange coloring.  Another bird which I had been wanting to see was the golden-fronted woodpecker.  That bird came to feed at a suet bar hanging from a tree.  That bird has an orange nape, and the male has a spot of red on the top of his head.  I did not initially have my camera with me, but after our hike with the ranger I returned to the feeding station with my camera.  Many kiskadees and red winged blackbirds were then at the feeding station, and some chachalacs also made an appearance.  Two other birds which I found interesting at the feeding station were the Inca dove and the olive sparrow.  The latter is a striking small green colored bird.  It was interesting to see different birds other than the usual morning dove and the brown sparrow.
After viewing the feeding station, where our guide for the birding walk pointed out many other different birds, we hiked to two different lakes in the refuge.  The first lake, Pintail Lake, was out in the open, with no tall trees sheltering it- it was bitterly cold and here the mist seemed to turn into big drops of rain.  But it did not matter, we were thrilled to see a variety of ducks in the lake, also some shore birds as black-necked stilts and sandpipers.  A beautiful little blue heron hung around the lake, in flight his deep purple coloring stood out brilliantly against the gray sky.  We also saw white-faced ibis.  I was puzzled when our guide said they were ibis, having only seen white ibis, and  the white faced ibis we saw is black.  When our guide pointed out the long curved beak, I then could identify them as being in the ibis family.  At Willow Lake we were a lot more comfortable, with the rain stopping and the wind less intense .  I believe that it was there that the ranger espied a loggerhead shrike high in a tree.  She shared with us the information that the black-masked bird is known as a "butcher bird".  It impales its prey (as rodents, small birds and snakes) on thorny brush, and them consumes them.  After two hours of hiking with the ranger, we left her to explore a bit more of the park on our own.  We found a hanging bridge which connects two 25' observation towers. Those high vantage points gave us a great view of the refuge and from them we saw more chachalatas scurrying around on the forest floor. At that point we were quite chilled so we did not try to see any other wildlife.

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