Howdy Yall,

Chip, chip, warble, warble (Bird talk for "We just flew in from Texas, and boy are our {if birders: primaries; else if non-birders: wings; else if confused: arms; end if} tired").

BACKGROUND

Thanksgiving of 1998, Sharon and I spent about five days in the Hawaiian Islands chasing such birds as Junglefowl, Great Frigatebird, Anianiau, the remarkable Akiapola'au, the beautiful red and black I'iwi and other Island birds. Just before our return trip, United Airlines offered us $400 each in travel vouchers plus seats on a plane leaving 90 minutes later on a different airline. Needless to say, we jumped on THAT.

We had used $400 worth in 1999, so we used the last $400 for a "free" weekend trip to the Texas Gulf Coast. It was this or try for a Snowy Owl in the northern US, and I picked this because we had a shot at several more species.

OBJECTIVE

As an engineer, you have to have an objective. My first objective was to be spontaneous. My second was to try and see as many of the following life birds (never seen by us before) as possible, in approximate order of desirability: Whooping Crane, Yellow Rail, American Oystercatcher, Least Grebe, Piping Plover, Seaside Sparrow, Nelson's Sharp-tail Sparrow, Northern Gannet, Sedge Wren, Red Knot, Mottled Duck.

Sharon had no objective.

I had near certain expectation for the Whooping Crane, the Oystercatcher and the Mottled Duck. All of the others were various degrees of questionable, and we would need a moderate amount of luck to see more than one of them. I was hoping for one or two of these more difficult ones, for a total of perhaps FIVE lifers.

[In this report, when we see a bird for the first time on the trip, it will be in UPPER CASE. When such a sighting is a life bird, it will be in UPPER CASE* and bold, with an asterisk.]

TIME PERIOD

We flew from San Francisco to Houston on United, Friday 3/10/00, arriving Houston about 4:40pm their time. We rented a car and drove to our Days Inn Motel in Ingleside, NE of Corpus Christi, arriving about 11pm. That's a lot of driving in one shot. Only an hour short of San Jose-to-Los Angeles, and more than Kansas City-to-St. Louis.

We birded full-speed (our full speed, anyway) Saturday, Sunday and Monday, March 11th, 12th and 13th.

We flew out of Houston Tuesday morning 3/14/00 at 8:00am, arriving San Francisco about 10:10am.

PLANNED LOCATIONS

ARANSAS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, NE of Corpus Christi, for Whooping Crane and American Oystercatcher.

Two places in CORPUS CHRISTI for Least Grebe.

Beach near ROCKPORT (between Corpus Christi and Aransas NWR) for Piping Plovers.

SAN BERNARD WILDLIFE REFUGE south of Houston, for Yellow Rail, Seaside Sparrow, Nelson's Sharp-tail and Sedge Wren.

GALVESTON ISLAND for American Oystercatcher, Piping Plover, Northern Gannet, Seaside Sparrow and Nelson's Sharp-tail Sparrow.

ANAHUAC NWR for Yellow Rail, Seaside Sparrow, Nelson's Sharp-tail Sparrow and Sedge Wren.

Mottled Duck seemed to be possible everywhere

ACTUAL LOCATIONS

Time prevented us from trying for Piping Plovers near Rockport because of the Sarita addition below.

We added a pond NW of the town of SARITA, about 45 minutes south of Corpus Christi, trying for Least Grebes. And we added HIGH ISLAND BEACHES, trying for Piping Plovers and Red Knots there. We also decided to bird the HIGH ISLAND WOODS just for fun (This place will be jumping in about four weeks, with warblers and other migrators who cross the Gulf of Mexico), and to see if there were any early travelers, like us.

PLAY-BY-PLAY

Friday, March 10, 2000

The trip to SFO and the flight to Houston were nominal. You know, no surprises = rate it a 10.

We picked up our luggage, our Chevy Malibu from Hertz, loaded up, and headed out. A front was moving through and earlier that day, it had been 85 degrees. During the evening, thunderstorms moved in, but we were south of all of them. The effect we felt was very gusty crosswinds during our drive down and cooling temperatures.

There is a town called Refugio, on the highway between Houston and Corpus Christi. Now if you can imagine I-70 in Missouri or I-5 in California narrowing down from 70 mph divided four-lane interstate, to 65 mph non-divided four-lane, to 45, then 35 mph non-divided two-lane, then going through town at 25 mph, with about eight stoplights, then you'd have it. Well, plus, there was lots of construction going on in Refugio. And also plus it was Friday afternoon weekend-getaway time. It was just horrendous.

But that's ok. I just kept thinking about those Whooping Cranes.

We stopped to eat at a little restaurant called "Skillets. Good Cooking." It reminded me a lot of the Pioneer Inn in Versailles, Missouri. We both decided to order Chicken-fried Steak. I went to the restroom while Sharon ordered her a small, and me a large. I didn't know there were two sizes, as I only saw the small one on the menu before I left for the rest room. She didn't know which I wanted, so she ordered me the large. Her small was about right for both of us to split. And I had twice as much as she did. Mashed potatoes and gravy were fantastic. Very strange tasting green beans. Service very slow, but everybody in there seemed to know each other, and they were enjoying the evening. Texas friendly. I enjoyed the break from the gusty winds.

We found our Days Inn motel with no problem, and it was extremely comfortable at $60 per night. Cable TV, HBO, dataport for laptops, comfortable beds, clean room, hot water, etc. I collected my email, but didn't get any new leads on Texas Gulf birds.

The website for the Wharf Cat (http://www.wharfcat.com/html/bird_tours.html) said that there was a morning tour 8-12 and an afternoon tour 1-5. Not enough people signed up for the morning trip, so we reserved space for the afternoon tour (I did this Friday morning, by telephone, from San Jose)

Saturday, March 11, 2000

We got up, had our free breakfast at the Days Inn and packed up the car. Then we headed for Pollywog Pond, a Corpus Christi wastewater facility where there was a chance for Least Grebe, according to Edward A. Kutac's "Birder's Guide to Texas."

[Now I'm going to switch to present tense. It seems more exciting and I'm sorry I didn't start out this way.]

Immediately upon leaving the room, we see LAUGHING GULLS overhead, with their black heads, plus lots of GREAT-TAILED GRACKLES. These tie for the ubiquitous bird of the trip.

On the way to the Pond, we also add AMERICAN COOT, TURKEY VULTURE, GREAT EGRET and SNOWY EGRET, swallows of some kind, several STARLINGS, PIGEONS (Rock Doves), and a DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT.

At the Pond, we pick up two HOUSE SPARROWS on a wire and a NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD at 906 am.. There are two trails, one going left, and one right. A sign indicates that a trail goes completely around three separate small ponds, so either way will work, we figure. We take the right trail.

The grass is wet and Sharon's boots are perfect, but I have to return to the car for my Neos (waterproof, canvas, slip on over your shoes, very light). Then I'm ready again.

We immediately get a pair of BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS and a NORTHERN CARDINAL. He serenades us with his song as he seems to parallel us in the trees and undergrowth. We get an EASTERN PHOEBE at 921 am. At 925, Sharon sights a pair of GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKERS, then we get another flycatcher, which we can't identify. A LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (called a Butcherbird by some for his behavior) surveys the territory from a snag, and we see quite a few of these during our trip.

The ponds seem to be dried up, and we head back. Later, we learn that the Houston area has had drought for 3 of the last 4 years, including this one. And no end in sight, apologizes the weather channel.

At 954 am, just near the start of the trail, and on our way back out, we run into a Victor Emmanuel Nature Tours (VENT) group. [First we heard an Eastern Screech-Owl, which turned out to be a recording played by one of them.] There are two vans worth of birders, including two guides. They have an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER and a WHITE-EYED VIREO, which we see too. I tell them that the ponds are mostly dried up and that we are trying for Least Grebes. "About 45 minutes from here, near the town of Sarita, you should be able to get them," one of the leaders says.

I'm not sure whether we have time or not. I do a quick calculation. I really want this bird. I think to myself, "Let's see 45 minutes there, 45 minutes back, 45 more to get over to the boat. I want to get to the boat at 12:30. That should work." In my haste, I decide we have time to drive there, bird for 45 minutes, and still get to the boat in plenty of time. What I DO is neglect to add the 45 minutes for the drive from where we are right now, over to the boat. All rough numbers. In the words of a young man helping his uncle build a barn back in 1963 when something refused to work out quite right, the problem seems to be "poor planning."

But that's later.

I tell Sharon and we're off. At 11:00am, we arrive, and I suddenly realize that we have about 5 minutes to bird, not 45! I tell Sharon, and set up the scope. It's incredibly windy. Sharon scans the water with her binoculars while I'm on the scope, and we find NORTHERN SHOVELER, PIED-BILLED GREBE, BLUE-WINGED TEAL and various other ducks. Sharon gets on the scope while I call the Wharf Cat on the cell phone to confirm that they are going, with the heavy wind and all. She picks up a SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER in a tree in the pond.

"You bet," Dory says. "We're in Sarita, so I got some hot driving to do," I tell her, and hang up

I then get on the scope one more time while Sharon gets out of the wind. I am pretty sure I have a pair of Least Grebes, but they are too far away, the scope is vibrating too much in the wind, and Sharon can't see the red eye that I saw during a moment when one of the birds turned to be at just the right angle from the sun. DANGIT! We have to leave.

We take off, and I drive 4 miles over whatever the speed limit is all the way back to Corpus Christi, thru the city, back over the causeway, up to Rockport, and to the wharf. There is a parking space right across from the boat, and there is a line of people getting ready to load onto the Wharf Cat. I get out the gear I'll need for the trip while Sharon goes to check us in. As I'm gathering the stuff, Sharon sticks her head around the corner.

"She needs $60 RIGHT NOW!" she says. They're waiting for US. I double-check that I have everything, cross the street, and pay up. We get in line, and they begin the review of the dos and don'ts for today's boatride. The engine is so loud that I can't hear anything the lady is saying. And Sharon says to add, "Plus you're going deaf." I THINK that's what she said anyway.

We get on the double-decker catamaran, and take off in about ten minutes. Ray Little is a very qualified birder, and narrates the four-hour trip. He has the same sense of humor that my dad had. He tells his jokes with a perfectly straight face. For example, we were talking to him, and he referred to some smoke we saw rising from beyond the outer island. "See that smoke. The water's on fire over there." Perfectly straight face. "You mean there's an oil slick?" I ask. No answer, and absolutely no change of expression as he continues to look right at me. "What do you mean?" I ask again. "I was joking," he says, again with no change of expression. Then I chuckle.

Laughing Gull, flying next to our boat, the Wharf Cat

Sharon and I get great video of Laughing Gulls sailing right beside us, headed into the wind, just as the boat is. We see a tern which Ray identifies as a ROYAL TERN. "Too bad the water's so murky today," he says over the loud-speaker. "These terms pick up eels in their beaks. They dive in and pluck them out of the water, usually grabbing them in the middle. They then fly real high, and drop the eel. Next they dive down, overtake and catch the eel by one end, so they can swallow them. They can't swallow them if they have them by their middle.

A minute later, I notice the Royal Term about thirty feet behind and above us. He has an eel in his mouth -- by the middle. We watch him with binoculars, but he drops too far behind for us to witness his trick.

We see several groups of WHITE PELICANS. Ray points out a pair of MOTTLED DUCKS* in a small pond on our left. Sharon gets binoculars on them, and I get the scope. We see enough to check our field guides. I am 95% sure, so a few minutes later, I ask him, "Ray, how do you tell Mottled Ducks from Mallards?" He responds, "Simple. We don't have Mallards down here," meaning in the International Waterway where we are, I think. So there's our first lifer of the trip.

A few minutes later, we get our second lifer as we come upon our first WHOOPING CRANES* -- two adults and a first or second-year youngster. The little one has mostly rusty color mixed with white. I get some video of all three of them. Walking around, craning their necks. Where'd that expression come from anyway?

Just before the halfway point of our trip, just before we turn around, we come upon a pair very close to our boat. "These two are talking," Ray says, and makes a rattling, purring kind of sound. "Listen for that. The male wants to fly, but the female doesn't want to, so he has to talk her into it. Keep your cameras ready, and I'll tell you when they are about to fly."

I start the video camera, and run off about a minute while waiting, then put it on PAUSE. I don't want to use up the battery. I keep a sharp eye out. Then I noticed the male stretching his neck out. I figure this must be it, so I punch REC and begin taping again, just as Ray says, "Get ready, they're going to go RIGHT NOW!" And with a dip and a little jump, they both spring into the air, pointing into the strong wind. They have slow, steady, elegant wingbeats. After heading upwind for about four beats, they turn left, and fly across the small body of water on the island next to the boat. They turn upwind again on the other side, then set their wings and sail, as they lose altitude and slowly drop into the shallow water, right at the edge.

Whooping Crane pair, flying in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

"That's what it's all about," says Ray. And you can tell that even after doing this for 15 or 20 years, he still loves to watch these birds fly. I get the entire flight on video, from takeoff to landing. Sharon comes running up to the front of the boat, where I was taping. "I thought you missed it. I was scared to death you got sick or something, and were in the rest room." "I got it all," I say, and we high five. We can't wait to look at the video later

Ray counts off the different places that now have a few Whooping Cranes. But they are "Hooping Cranes," in his accent. Like the "Hooping Cough" I had as a kid. Some birds are injured and being rehabilitated, some bird organizations are trying to establish other sites besides Anahuac NWR, so that a single, isolated disaster won't wipe out the species. There are about 430 Whoopers total, in the world, including this flock of 185, which winters here and migrates to northern Northwest Teritories, Canada, to Wood Buffalo Park to breed. There, each pair may establish a nest that's a mile from the next closest nesting pair. They need a LOT of room.

This group of 185 don't go all at once, like big flocks of Canada or Snow Geese. Instead, they fly a few at a time, taking several weeks to empty out the whole flock. A family of three may take off, then hours later, a group of "teenagers," then next day a group of two adults, and so on, till they're all gone by the end of March.

The Whooper is a tall bird, like a Sandhill Crane, and adults are mostly white. Deep black primary feathers (wingtips) provide a breathtaking contrast in flight. And they have a spot of red skin on top of the head, and another triangular patch below each eye. The legs are dark, but what the eye notices first is WHITE

On the way back, we start quizzing Ray on where we might find certain other birds in the area. When I mention another bird that's supposed to be not too difficult to find here, he puts his binocs to his eye, and starts scanning the tiny gravel islands we are passing. He finds us a couple of AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS*, and we are sure of the IDs. But they're a long way off, nevertheless, and we hope for an upgrade before we leave Texas. For Northern Gannets, he says be on the north end of Galveston Island at sunrise, and we'll see immature gannets leaving the island, heading out to sea. They apparently come in to sleep on the shore at night. The adults have already left, he says. But we can't work this into our schedule. The gannets will have to wait. I think we'll get them in Florida in April

A big, dark flock passes over, and Ray IDs them as a combined flock of CANADIAN and WHITE-FRONTED GEESE.

Other birds seen on the boat trip: GREAT BLUE HERON, BROWN PELICAN, GADWALL, BUFFLEHEAD, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, NORTHERN HARRIER, AMERICAN AVOCET (mixed winter and summer plumages), GREATER and LESSER YELLOWLEGS, RUDDY TURNSTONE, HERRING GULL.

We pull back into port, and are in our car, heading up the highway by 515 pm, towards Bay City. Some time later, we are in a Best Western hotel -- the Bay City Matagorda Inn. Very clean and well furnished, plus cable TV of course. We order takeout at the Dairy Queen next door, and I go back over again for desserts after dinner. I check email, but again, no help

Sunday, March 12, 2000

While loading up the car, Sharon notices a little INCA DOVE, in the leaves on the ground. He picks up a small twig, and flies into a nearby tree, where we see his mate, already sitting on a nest that appears to be only about 20% complete. We watch a few minutes, and he mixes bringing nest material with mating in a manner that seems to be satisfactory to both of them. There is another nest nearby which has been abandoned, and we figure it's probably theirs also. A Northern Mockingbird flies in and lands near the tree, but neither species pays much attention to the other.

At 842 am, we are headed for San Bernard NWR, on the gulf. Sharon sees a large black bird soaring overhead, and yells for me to stop because it has white wing-tips. The opposite pattern from the White Pelican and the Whooping Crane. I turn around, head back up the highway, and turn off on a road which we figure will take us close. I hop out, take the scope out of the back, and set it up. BLACK VULTURES. There are about a half-dozen, and they have been roosting in a couple of trees across the road. There are four in the air, and two still in the tree. We get our fill and head back south, towards San Bernard.

Near the entrance, I catch an EASTERN BLUEBIRD on the wire. Missouri's state bird. We see 4-5 EASTERN MEADOWLARKS. We embark on the auto tour, and immediately Sharon spots a pair of COMMON YELLOWTHROATS. On the rest of the auto tour path, we see several YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, some Pied-Billed Grebes and another Eastern Phoebe. Near the very end, we see a couple of WHITE IBISES.

But, all in all, it's a little bit of a disappointment for me. The drought has dried up lots of waterholes, and the number of waterbirds is way down, according to people we talk to. We decide to head on up and over to Galveston Island. Sharon is not disappointed at all, she says, since she had no objective. Dang. No objective? How can that be?

On the way north, we zip past a big bird in a small tree. We look at each other. Caracara? I U-turn as quick as I can and come back, pull off beside the road very slowly. He stays in place, and it's a gorgeous CRESTED CARACARA. We admire him a little before he takes off. South Texas' handsome carcass cleanup bird, in addition to the Turkey and Black Vultures.

Crested Caracara, perched in a tree north of San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge

We maneuver over to Galveston Island, 8 Mile Road and to the end of Sportsman's Road. There, we park by lots of cars of fishermen. On the way, in the water ditch beside the road, we see perhaps a half-dozen LITTLE BLUE HERONS, though we first called them Reddish Egrets. From our car, we get the scope out and can see two mixed flocks of White Ibises and beautiful, pink SPOON-BILLED HERONS. About 80% Ibises. As we're setting up, my cassette recorder slips from my shirt pocket and drops to the pavement. I pick it up and test it, and it seems to be ok. We take a walk around the marshy area, and the drought effect is clear. Mostly dried-up empty water holes, normally home to many more birds, we figure. We get a very nice TRICOLORED HERON, formerly called Louisiana Heron, and several LONG-BILLED CURLEWS. We don't see any Seaside Sparrows or Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows, but we do find a much closer American Oystercatcher than we got on the Wharf Cat tour. It's sunning itself on a dock, with many Laughing Gulls and Forster's Terns.

On our way back out to the main road, Sharon spots a female BELTED KINGFISHER, with her rusty belly band.

We drive further down the island to Galveston Island State Park, and have lunch in the picnic area, by the beach. There are lots of Laughing Gulls and Great-tailed Grackles sitting around, waiting for food scraps. We drive across the highway to the Nature Center, but the young fellow manning the counter today is new, and doesn't know much about birds. We drive out to the trails, and the drought has really taken its toll here. We see very few birds, lots of dried-up ponds, a fallen-down bridge, and not much more. We take a couple of the walks, but the water is a long way from the trails, and we just see a couple of water birds we already have picked up on the trip. Nothing happening here.

We decide to drive to the south end of the island, away from the crowds. Actually the island runs ENE to WSW, and everybody here, including the books, call it east and west. So when I say north, they say east. And when I say south, they say west. You say tomato…

By mid-afternoon, we have driven down the island (west), under the bridge, and are headed back up the island, right on the hard, surf-packed beach. There are quite a few Sunday afternoon weekenders enjoying the weather too. We drive up and down and pick up RING-BILLED GULLS, but not much more. We make our way back to the highway, and head north (east). We spot a large fresh-water pond and pull over. We get an excellent pair of Mottled Ducks that we get long looks at. There are several Blue-winged Teal and lots of Laughing Gulls in the water too.

We drive up to Baytown, and stay in a Days Inn, next to a Denny's. I really like this motel chain. I tried to buy some stock in them a couple of years ago, but like a food chain of increasingly larger fish, eating the next smaller ones, they had been bought by a bigger chain a year or more ago. And THAT chain had just got bought by another one. So I let it go. Whatever great things Days Inn were doing, that effect would be miniscule in a huge conglomerate which owned them and twenty more companies.

Monday March 13, 2000.

We're up early to make it to Anahuac NWR, where we are going to try to "stomp up" some Yellow Rails, which winter in wet prairie habitat here in the refuge. These are tiny chicken-like birds, which have white trailing wing edges visible during flight. We drive into Anahuac, stop and check out the maps and so forth. Sharon spots a BROWN THRASHER while I'm in the rest room.

We begin driving in and see several nice COMMON MOORHENS, showing off their colors in the sun. The Yellow Rails are supposed to be at "Yellow Rail Prairie," four or five miles into the refuge. We pick up several COMMON SNIPES in the water ditches beside the roads on the drive in.

Although it is a fineable offense to play bird sound tapes to attract them, it's recommended etiquette for two people to grab hold of each end of a long rope with weighted plastic milk cartons in the middle, walk on two parallel, mown paths dragging the rope between them, and cause the rails to fly. This seems strange, and we're a little uncomfortable doing it. Plus we don't have any rope. Or cartons. Or weights. Plus the only parallel paths we see look like tractor tire trails, a tractor-width apart, and they are barely visible sometimes.

The grass is deep and the prairie is wet. We tromp in, and several single sparrows fly up, away from us perhaps 20-30 feet, and down into the grass again. We never can tell what they are. Most are SAVANNAH SPARROWS we are told by another birder who comes by, but others have a rustier, oranger color. They could be Sharp-tailed Sparrows or Seaside Sparrows. But they are not rails. And we can't tell which they are.

This is some of the most difficult habitat for us to walk we've ever been in. It's really tough. We go in perhaps 200 yards, finally give up and make our way back out. The wind direction is normally IN, so the grass is all leaning that way, and though we didn't realize it, the IN direction was the easy-walking direction. Coming back out, you have to lift your foot higher than the grass, then step down. What an exercise. We finally make it out and are pooped.

We decide to do the driving tour but not do any more heavy walking here. We drive the Shoveler Pond tour and stop to tape our first alligator. We see perhaps 30 total around the pond tour, and don't pay nearly the attention to #30 that we did to #1. We see a REDDISH EGRET, "pruning" himself, I say into the cassette recorder. "Preening" says Sharon. Oh, yeah, that's what I meant. Pruning? There are lots of ducks when we finally do find a big pond of water that's not dried up, and we add AMERICAN WIGEON, GLOSSY IBIS and BLACK-NECKED STILTS to our trip list, plus Sharon spots a SORA. We list these birds for a touring family, and the dad says, "Sora? Where? That would be a new bird for me." Sharon points out the area, and later we find out that they saw the little bird too.

We decide that the area is so dry, that we're not going to see any new birds here, so we make an on-the-spot adjustment. We decide to drive to High Island, to the beaches and see if we can find Piping Plovers or Red Knots.

High Island is a tiny little "town" that gets its name because of the salt dome that sits underneath it, which raises the area above the surrounding sandy, marshy land. There are some woods around the town, also here because of the raised area, and this is a spectacular sight in the spring when warbler migration is in full swing

Hundreds and thousands of warblers, orioles, tanagers and other birds fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico from South and Central America, and this is the first land they come to after the huge cross-water flight. On some days, when a weather front has moved through, an event called a "fallout" occurs. Birds just fall out of the sky, they are so tired. They battled their way clear across the gulf, then had to battle the winds to finally just make it to land.

But there are beaches here too, so we stop at the junkiest-looking building you can imagine that says, "Don't be afraid. Come in and try America's Best Sandwich." We are afraid, but go in anyway. The lady working the counter says, "Oh, Oscar did that. He was a little foreign guy. He used to own this." "I'll have a Barq's Root Beer to drink," I say. "What?" she asks. I repeat it, and point to the sign. "Oscar put all those up. We just have REGULAR Root Beer. Is that OK?" That's just fine, I say. The sandwich is just about the most average thing you can imagine.

We eat it while parked down on the sand by the beach. There are no birds there, except for the seemingly ever-present Laughing Gulls. Then we drive along the beach, and pick up some winter-plumage BONAPARTE'S GULLS, who will have black heads like the Laughing Gulls, when they come into summer plumage. We also see a single winter-edition BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, several WILLETS, a small flock of SANDERLINGS working the surfline, and one SNOWY PLOVER. But no Piping Plovers, no Red Knots.

We decide to check out the woods, and imagine what it will be like in a month, here. A sign says $5, but there is no one around yet, to collect. We bird anyway, and get BLUE JAY and RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, with his flashing red crown line. We see another Brown Thrasher, and Sharon gets a WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH. Sharon hears, then I spot a female DOWNY WOODPECKER, working a dead tree. There are many Yellow-rumped Warblers, but they are here all winter, I think.

No signs of migration yet, except for our migration tomorrow back to California. Our birding is done for this trip.

Seventy trip birds, including three new lifers (Whooping Crane, Mottled Duck and American Oystercatcher). Plus lots of excellent upgrades. I had hoped for five lifers, but this has been a fun trip and I don't feel disappointed in the least. After all, it was free.

You know, zero for the plane tickets, $160 for the car, $280 for hotels, $60 for the boat trip, another $60 or so for gas, $100 or so for food. Free.

We make our way back to I-10, then back into Houston, up to a Days Inn near the airport, and crash for the night. This Days Inn is vastly inferior to the others, so the world isn't perfect. This is some weird combination of Days Inn and Ramada Inn. Each has their own check-in lobby, but all the airport vans have both names on them.

Tuesday, March 14, 2000

Next morning, we check the car in, ride the Hertz shuttle to the United Terminal, check our luggage and get our boarding passes. Our flight home is uneventful and here I sit at my Macintosh, typing up this report for yall.

Objective for today: begin finalizing plans for our Florida/Trinidad & Tobago/St. Lucia/Belize trip in April and May.

Cheers,
blutman@aol.com

"I intend to live forever. So far, so good." - Steven Wright



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