First off, many words of gratitude to all the friendly Texans who made my post Thanksgiving trip to Texas so enjoyable and productive! My trinity of fantastic guides put me on fabulous photo ops with the Aransas Whooping Cranes, ranchland birds at Laguna Seca, and assorted avian treasures of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Well done, Ryan McLaughlin, Paul Denman and Mary Gustafson! I also had Deputy Sheriff C.M Hill approach me in Rockport, and instead of a warning for shooting on private property, all he wanted to do was inform the obvious bird photographer that Whooping Cranes were feeding on a ranch on Goose Island about 5 miles away, and he even provided a police escort… only in Texas are the hearts of the people as big as the roadside cattle!
The first leg of the trip was all about the cranes near Rockport, and it had been nearly 20 years since I had last visited the statuesque wintering Whoopers on the Texas coast. My trusted local guide, Jim Friebele, was nursing a foot injury, but he took care of me, regardless, setting me up with a trusted local fishing guide. Captain Ryan took me out on the Intercoastal Waterway for two sunny mornings in a row, and the cranes were cooperative well beyond my expectations. A pair flew in from a mile away and landed right in front of the boat, chasing off another pair in a prime feeding area at Aransas. Special birds like Peregrine Falcon, Long-billed Curlew and Reddish Egret would appear from nowhere for a close fly-by. The highlight for me was a family of Whoopers with their tawny juvenile finally coming into camera range for some nice shots. Twice before they were well over a hundred yards away from our nearest access and simply out of camera range. On the third attempt they finally came in for close-ups that had been planted in my mind’s-eye for over a decade. Back at the dock the good times rolled along with Brown and White Pelicans scrumming over scraps at the fish cleaning station. I never met a pelican that I didn’t love!
After a wonderful visit to South Texas in 2012 I had to return, and the Valley did not disappoint. My favorite Texas park is Estero Llano Grande State Park, with never a dull moment as the half dozen ponds, gardens, feeding stations and scrub area always have great moments to offer, like Least Grebes, Great Kiskadees and Vermillion Flycatchers grabbing scads of dragonflies! I spent two days at Laguna Seca Ranch with photo blinds set up at several ponds and feeding stations. The Green Jay show was impressive, with many species visiting the ponds, including a wily coyote at dusk. My guide, Paul Denman, did a fantastic job setting me up for endless phot ops. The last two days were with local guide, Mary Gustafson, who is delightful, and current on every significant bird sighting in the Valley. The photo ops with Mary were a 2-day parade… hunting White-tailed Kites, all 3 kingfisher species in one day, a Zone-tailed Hawk, hungry Couch’s Kingbirds, a not-so-shy Screech Owl, and bathing beauties like the Altamira Oriole and Green Jay. Even the staff at the Holiday Inn Express in Pharr were wonderful, so helpful and friendly! So looking forward to a return trip in April 2017 for that Painted Bunting and other South Texas gems!
Last, but certainly not least, I thank God for presenting me all these great folks and encounters!