The fog didn’t lift in South Texas today until right around 9:30AM, which worked out well because we didn’t make it out to Laguna Atascosa until right around 9:00. Temperatures were supposed to surpass 100 yet again today, but in the end they only reached the mid-90’s. As a result of the poor weather our morning was not very birdy, but we did get to see a Bobcat cross the road in front of our car. Another non-bird species we identified was a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, which I got great pictures of as he was sunning himself on the road. An interesting fact I learned about venomous snakes was that roughly 50% of venomous snake bites are dry, meaning no venom is injected. I don’t want to test that statistic though.
Eventually the fog lifted and the heat arrived, spurring more bird activity across the coastal tidal flats. Some of the highlights were very playful Reddish Egrets, a cooperative Cassin’s Sparrow, and an incredibly distant Aplomado Falcon. After the 15 mile loop around the Gulf’s edge, we headed into the freshwater wetland in search of whatever else the refuge had to offer. We found a shaded pavilion where we set up the scope to view the Terns flying overhead. As an added bonus, we added Least and Forster’s Tern as well as the always stunning Black-necked Stilt. Finally, back at the visitor center an Eastern Screech-Owl was roosting, which even though they are in my backyard in Illinois, were a life bird for me today, my 40th of the trip. All in all, spending the day birding at Laguna Atascosa NWR was remarkably good considering the uncooperative weather.
I have noticed the effects of drought all week, but nothing as apparent as what I witnessed today. Many of the coastal tidal flats which we visited early in the morning are famous for playing host to thousands of shorebirds. Although there were some around, many of the tidal lakes were completely dry. One target species at Laguna Atascosa was any type of rail, but due to droughts they have supposedly become increasingly difficult to find as their habitat diminishes. Furthermore, in a dried up tidal lake we witnessed 2 Long-billed Curlews and 1 Whimbrel. Both of these birds are supposed to be in water, and I really have no idea why they were miles away from their usual habitat. Nonetheless, today was more evidence of the fact that the drought is effecting birds and potentially their populations in South Texas.
I have heard there is inclement weather up North and due to that my dad and I have decided we don’t want to spend half a day birding and then make the 23 hour drive back home. Thus, tomorrow morning we will depart for Peoria with the hopes of making the drive more manageable. It has been an amazing several days in South Texas and I will certainly miss the beautiful birds and nice weather. I will post again when I return home sometime Monday evening.