Texas October 2011

We were lucky to have have 8 weeks off work this year and decided to spend a week in Texas as the first part of a round the world trip. Our plan was to fly into Houston, spend two nights at Galveston Island before driving down south to the Lower Rio Grande Valley for three nights, before driving back up to San Antonio for two nights.

Galveston Island
We spent a good two hours getting through customs at Houston airport. Quite possibly the worst system I have ever encountered with three officials trying to process a huge amount of people. We picked up the hire car and then set off to the Lost Bayou Guesthouse http://www.lostbayou.com/ on Galveston Island. A great colonial place with fantastic themed bedrooms. Alison and I were in the Garden room.

The following day was a mixture of checking out suitable Dragonfly habitats and sightseeing. The priority for me whilst in Texas was to get video footage of the two species of North American Dragonfly that have occurred in the UK. This was Green Darner and Blue Dasher. The former has occurred a handful of times as an autumn vagrant when hurricanes have blown them across the Atlantic. Often at the same time as Monarch Butterflies and migrant North American Birds. These species all expecting to spend their winter in Mexico or even further south, not Cornwall! Blue Dasher has only made the trip once, with a female being found dead on a Shetland oil rig in September 1999. 

On our first foray into the wetlands it was apparent that Green Darner was very common although more often than not, seen in flight and difficult to video. However a walk around Galveston Island State Park provided my first footage of a pair in tandem with the female ovipositing. Nice to get this one in the bag early! We had to brave the blood thirsty mosquito's though. Long trousers from now on I think!

Other species of Dragonfly seen included:
Black Saddlebags
Red Saddlebags
Variegated Meadowhawk

Our day on Galveston Island produced the following birds:

Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) 8
Brown Pelican [sp] (Pelecanus occidentalis) 20
Neotropic Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) 10
Great Egret [sp] (Ardea alba) 3
Snowy Egret [sp] (Egretta thula) 10
Black-crowned Night-heron [sp] (Nycticorax nycticorax) 4
White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) 30
Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) 1
Osprey [sp] (Pandion haliaetus) 1
Northern Harrier [sp] (Circus cyaneus) 4
Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) 1
American Kestrel [sp] (Falco sparverius) 1
Black-necked Stilt [sp] (Himantopus mexicanus) 3
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) 1
Willet [sp] (Tringa semipalmata) 6
Long-billed Curlew [sp] (Numenius americanus) 1
Marbled Godwit [sp] (Limosa fedoa) 1
Sanderling (Calidris alba) 6
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) 12
Laughing Gull [sp] (Leucophaeus atricilla) Common
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) 12
Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri) 4
Royal Tern [sp] (Thalasseus maximus) 6
White-winged Dove [sp] (Zenaida asiatica) 20
Mourning Dove [sp] (Zenaida macroura) 12
Common Ground-dove [sp] (Columbina passerina) 4
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) 3
Loggerhead Shrike [sp] (Lanius ludovicianus) 3
Blue Jay [sp] (Cyanocitta cristata) 1
American Crow [sp] (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 1
Sedge Wren [sp] (Cistothorus platensis) 2
Northern Mockingbird [sp] (Mimus polyglottos) 25
Seaside Sparrow [sp] (Ammodramus maritimus) 6
Eastern Meadowlark [sp] (Sturnella magna) 3
Common Grackle [sp] (Quiscalus quiscula) 42
Boat-tailed Grackle [sp] (Quiscalus major) 10
Great-tailed Grackle [sp] (Quiscalus mexicanus) 50

The following video shows a selection of the Dragonflies I encountered on this trip

Lower Rio Grande Valley
We left the Lost Bayou Guesthouse after a leisurely breakfast, and spent half a day driving down towards Alamo (not the actual Alamo, that comes later) and our accommodation at the Alamo Inn

As we drove south, we saw the following roadside birds:

Anhinga [sp] (Anhinga anhinga) 2
Great Egret [sp] (Ardea alba) 6
Snowy Egret [sp] (Egretta thula) 10
White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) 20
Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) 5
Black Vulture [atratus] (Coragyps atratus atratus) 10
Turkey Vulture [sp] (Cathartes aura) 100
Northern Harrier [sp] (Circus cyaneus) 1
Red-shouldered Hawk [sp] (Buteo lineatus) 1
Red-tailed Hawk [sp] (Buteo jamaicensis) 2
Crested Caracara [sp] (Caracara cheriway) 1
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) 40 New
Loggerhead Shrike [sp] (Lanius ludovicianus) 5
Northern Rough-winged Swallow [sp] (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) 100

I met the Alamo Inn owner Keith Hackland at the Birdfair in August and his Birder orientated accommodation seemed was just the job. We stayed in one of the suites situated across the block from the Alamo Inn itself. This place is highly recommended and good value. Alamo is a great place from which to explore the area and only 10 minutes from Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. We had three nights here, which gave two full days to explore the area. A whistle stop tour, I admit, as you could spend two weeks here quite easily.

Most of our time was spent at Santa Ana and especially around the pond at the entrance. this pond teemed with Green Darner and a few of them posed quite nicely. Also here was my second target, Blue Dasher. I can almost hear the American Dragonfly guys laughing as I desperately tried to get video of one of their most common species. For such a great pond there was surprisingly little access to the edges making filming a bit tricky at times. I was told by one of the Rangers, that heading off the path was a violation of the park rules (hmmm!). I saw lots of Blue Dasher but was not that impressed with my footage of them here.

There were a number of other species here including:
Thornbush Dasher
Spot-tailed Dasher
Roseate Skimmer
Black Saddlebags
Red Saddlebags
Band-winged Dragonlet
Eastern Amberwing
Blue-ringed Dancer

We walked a number of the trails in the refuge and the area was pretty dry. In one area the Rangers were taking the opportunity to net big Garfish that had got into the Lagoons when a levee flooded some time ago. These Garfish I am told were voracious predators and enjoyed there time eating the lagoon's resident fish.

Birds seen at Santa Ana during our visit included:

American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)
Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
Least Grebe [sp] (Tachybaptus dominicus)
Pied-billed Grebe [sp] (Podilymbus podiceps)
Neotropic Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)
Great Blue Heron [sp] (Ardea herodias)
Great Egret [sp] (Ardea alba)
Snowy Egret [sp] (Egretta thula)
White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)
White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi)
Black Vulture [sp] (Coragyps atratus)
Turkey Vulture [sp] (Cathartes aura)
Hook-billed Kite [sp] (Chondrohierax uncinatus) New
Harris' Hawk [sp] (Parabuteo unicinctus)
Crested Caracara [sp] (Caracara cheriway)
American Kestrel [sp] (Falco sparverius)
Killdeer [sp] (Charadrius vociferus)
Black-necked Stilt [sp] (Himantopus mexicanus)
American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)
Solitary Sandpiper [sp] (Tringa solitaria)
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)
Willet [sp] (Tringa semipalmata)
Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
White-tipped Dove [sp] (Leptotila verreauxi)
White-winged Dove [sp] (Zenaida asiatica)
Buff-bellied Hummingbird [sp] (Amazilia yucatanensis) New
Green Parakeet [sp] (Aratinga holochlora) New
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
Golden-fronted Woodpecker [sp] (Melanerpes aurifrons) New
Ladder-backed Woodpecker [sp] (Picoides scalaris) New
Vermilion Flycatcher [sp] (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
Great Kiskadee [sp] (Pitangus sulphuratus)
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus)
Loggerhead Shrike [sp] (Lanius ludovicianus)
Green Jay [sp] (Cyanocorax yncas) New
Northern Rough-winged Swallow [sp] (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
Barn Swallow [sp] (Hirundo rustica)
Cliff Swallow [sp] (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
Northern Mockingbird [sp] (Mimus polyglottos)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher [sp] (Polioptila caerulea)
Nashville Warbler [sp] (Vermivora ruficapilla)
Common Yellowthroat [sp] (Geothlypis trichas)
Olive Sparrow [sp] (Arremonops rufivirgatus)
Red-winged Blackbird [sp] (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Eastern Meadowlark [sp] (Sturnella magna)
Great-tailed Grackle [sp] (Quiscalus mexicanus)

A trip to the Bentsen Rio Grande State Park produced the following species:

Plain Chachalaca [sp] (Ortalis vetula) 20 New
Zenaida Dove [sp] (Zenaida aurita) 6
White-tipped Dove [sp] (Leptotila verreauxi) 1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird [sp] (Amazilia yucatanensis) 5
Green Kingfisher [sp] (Chloroceryle americana) 1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker [sp] (Melanerpes aurifrons) 6
Black Phoebe [sp] (Sayornis nigricans) 1
Green Jay [sp] (Cyanocorax yncas) 30
Clay-colored Robin [sp] (Turdus grayi) 1
Northern Mockingbird [sp] (Mimus polyglottos) 2
Great-tailed Grackle [sp] (Quiscalus mexicanus) 10
Altamira Oriole [sp] (Icterus gularis) 2   New

Our short time in the Rio Grande Valley was over all too quickly and then it was a four hour drive to San Antonio for a couple of nights.

San Antonio
We spent our two nights at the Riverwalk Plaza Hotel. Nicely located near the famous Riverwalk. We spent are first afternoon visiting the Mexican Market. I thought the Mexican Market was a bit naff, and there is only so much time you can spend looking at the same wrestling masks in the shops.We had a late lunch in a restaurant with some serious Guacamole on the Nachos. We then walked around the Riverwalk to the Alamo. The proper one this time. I am sure when I saw it on TV with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas it was in the middle of a desert! Not now, it isn't. Anyway it was certainly worth a look.

The bars and restaurants along the Riverwalk were great. We tore ourselves away on our second evening to go and see San Antonio Rampage ice hockey. What a sensory overload experience that was, a great night out with legitimate violence included!

We left San Antonio to return to Houston airport. On the way we stopped at Eagle Lake which proved to be a good move as the river entering the lake was buzzing with Blue Dashers. These gave much better video opportunities than the ones at Santa Ana. Also here were more Green Darner, Eastern Pondhawk and Fragile Forktail.