Day 5 – transition day

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I forgot to feature this bird in yesterdays post – Roseate Spoonbill. Quite the Bobby dazzler

Today was a transition day, moving south from the Anahuac / High Island area down towards the Rio Grande, stopping overnight at Port Aransas. We birded up until lunchtime, then took the 200 mile, scenically challenging, drive to our hotel. First stop this morning was the coastal reserve at Bolivar Flats. Plenty of shore birds but nothing new over yesterday, except the rather surprising addition of Glaucous Gull. There’d been an Iceland Gull reported at this location over the past week but a birder, staying in the same hotel as us at Winnie, found the Glaucous whilst looking for the Iceland! It seems very odd to see this species, which I associate with Norfolk in mid-winter, straying as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. We caught the ferry to Galveston and checked out a couple of sites – one being Corp Woods which we visited on our last trip to Texas in 2009, the other being Lafitte’s Cove. We did add a couple of new species but generally it was pretty unexceptional.

Clapper Rail in the early morning sun – West Frenchtown Road, Bolivar Flats

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Spotted Sandpiper, taken at the same location – like our own Common Sandpiper, only with spots!

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Perhaps the biggest surprise of the trip so far, Glaucous Gull – found by a birder looking for the reported Iceland Gull – Bolivar Flats. Record shots only

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Day 4 – Anahuac & Rollover Pass

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The generally elusive Sedge Wren at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

We spent a tremendous morning driving the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge’s, Shoveler Pond loop – two and a half miles through reed-bed, ponds and wet-land. First stop was The Willows, an area of scrub which is known to be good for migrants. We had a few there including Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Common Yellowthroat, Painted Bunting and Great Crested Flycatcher. We also caught up with the generally elusive Sedge Wren. Then on to the other pull-ins along the route, adding numerous fresh-water wader and wildfowl species. Top birds were another couple of difficult to see species – Virginia Rail and Marsh Wren. After lunch we went to the beach, Rollover Pass, to be precise – a great place for shore birds. Here we had seven species of tern and a hat-full of saltwater waders. Our final stop was back at the woods and ‘yards’ of High Island where, on our way through to the coast, we had lunch whilst watching Hooded Warbler, Ovenbird, Brown Thrasher and, best of all – the elusive Swainson’s Warbler!

Just one of the array of wildfowl, heron  and wader species – Least Bittern

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Another difficult to see bird is Seaside Sparrow – seen at Tuna Road

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But the ‘stand-out’ species of the day – found by our resident ‘birding pursuivant’ Jake, was Swainson’s Warbler – Hooks Wood. Record shot!

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Day 3 – High Island

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We were particularly looking for warblers today and although it was a relatively ‘slow day’ at Boy Scout Wood, we did manage to find a few, including this fine specimen of  Hooded Warbler. Photo courtesy of Jake

Our first full days birding in Texas since our departure from the UK. We spent around eight hours watching migrants in a few small blocks of woodland and yards on High Island, starting and finishing with more exploration of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. We finished the day on a list just shy of a hundred – not a bad start for our GABRAT.

Other nice birds for the day included this handsome Brown Thrasher

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And this Upland Sandpiper – strange looking birds!

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Day 2 – GABRAT

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A superb Bald Eagle, near the public boat-ramp at Anahuac, this evening

Most of Day 2 of our Great American Birding RoAd Trip was taken up with flying from Manchester to Texas – a rather turbulent experience for most of the four hours from the Canadian border to Houston! We arrived at about two thirty and finally departed the airport, in our brand new Hyundai Tucson hire car, for Winnie our base for the next three days, an hour or so later. We did manage to do a bit of birding on route, around Anahuac, clocking-up a total of 37 species, including a superb fly-by Bald Eagle.

We saw a few nice waders around Anahuac, including this nice Killdeer

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Great American Birding RoAd Trip

Summer Tanager

A taste of things to come – Summer Tanager, Lost Maples, Texas 2009

Jane and I depart shortly on our two month long Great American Birding RoAd Trip (or GABRAT for short!), following the birds on their Spring migration – travelling from east to west and south to north. We arrive in Houston, Texas mid-April, travel down the Gulf of Mexico and then east along the Rio Grande, Neal’s Lodge to Big Bend, then on to El Paso via Fort Davis. On this first leg we’ll be joined by our youngest son and keen birder Jake. At El Paso we meet up with our long-time birding friends, Bob & Sue, for a tour of south-east Arizona, before heading north to the Grand Canyon and then to Vegas. A few days there then it’s on to Death Valley, Yosemite and over to the coast at Monterey, in the hope of catching a pelagic. North to Point Reyes, where we say goodbye to our friends, before heading on into Oregon – Klamath, Crater Lake, and the sites around Bend. Our final adventure, after we meet up with my brother and his wife from Australia, is a brief tour of north-west Washington State, including a ‘mini pelagic’ ferry trip to Vancouver Island. Finally departing from Seattle for home, sometime in mid-June. Hopefully, I’ll be publishing regular blog-posts, capturing the birding highlights, as we follow the awesome spectacle of American Spring bird migration…

Birds of Italy

Marble Parrot table-top, in the Pitti Palace Royal Apartments

Despite the fact that this was an entirely cultural trip, I even left my binoculars behind – first time I’ve done that since pre-1972!, we did manage to see a few birds. Black Redstart, House Sparrow and Rock Pigeon around the city streets, Long-tailed, Blue & Great Tit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Serin, Collard Dove, Magpie, Starling and Kestrel in the parks and gardens, along the river Cormorant, Great & Little Egret, Grey Heron, Mallard, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed, Herring / Yellow-legged Gull, Cetti’s Warbler, Pied Wagtail, Hooded Crow and Stonechat, from the train Moorhen, Marsh Harrier and Common Buzzard, and over Florence city walls a single Swallow – Spring is on it’s way!

We also found a few interesting birds in amongst the historical artefacts. This picture, in the Pitti Palace collection, was amazing! Approximately 12″ x 15″, it looked like an OK water colour of a group of birds. Look closer and you see it’s made up of thousands of tiny mosaic tiles, no more than a millimetre square!

 

Florence – Spring City Break

 

The conveniently located, if a little noisy, Atlantic Palace Hotel – Florence

We’re on our way home from a short city break to Florence – on Jane’s ‘bucket list’ and a place she’s wanted to visit for ages. We flew EasyJet from Luton to Pisa, caught the train to Florence and stayed at the Atlantic Palace on Via Nazionale – equidistant between the train station on the Duomo. All very easy and convenient. We visited a few of the many cultural attractions including: the Cathedral, Dome, Baptistry and Campanile; the Uffizi; Museo Horne; Palazzo Pitti; Ponte Vecchio; Piazza Della Signoria; Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo and did a couple of City walks. On our return we stopped-off and did the sites in Pisa. Looking forward to a rest now!

A few general views from the historic centre of Florence – beginning with the utterly amazing Duomo

Statue of Brunelleschi, key figure in the design & construction of the Duomo – a founding father of the Renaissance

The Baptistry

and the Campanile – we climbed both the tower and the dome!

Jane ‘leaning on a lamp-post’ and The Dome, at night

The interior of the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo  – an un-missable stop on any cultural itinerary

Containing this incredibly old and amazing sculpture

and the Penitent Magdalene by Donatello, carved in wood, mid 15th c

Interior of the Horne Museum – my personal favourite

Ponte Vecchio bridge at night

View from inside the Royal Apartments, Palazzo Pitti – during a not infrequent down-pour

One of the paper-making shops

Exterior of the Bargello Museum – the old gaol and one of the oldest buildings in Florence

Finally, in this introduction, a bit of street art.. probably be in a museum in two hundred years time!