February 24, 2009

More State Park Adventures

Curve-billed Thrasher at Estero Llano Grande - by Joel Such

We’re back at Estero Llano Grande for our morning birdwalk with Huck.  We did see the Rose-throated Becard today, as well as a Tropical Parula, and some other more typical birds.

Mid-day we birded Frontera Audubon Sanctuary where we spent most of our time waiting for a Crimson-collared Grosbeak to make her appearance.  It was very hot and humid and hunger finally drove us onward without seeing this rare bird.

Black-throated Green Warbler - by Joel Such

Black-crested Titmouse - by Joel Such

By evening, we have our tents set up in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.  The only way into this primitive campsite is by foot or by a tram that can drop you in the general vicinity.  As it was getting dark, we joined a guided nighttime wildlife watch.  The trip began right outside our campground where the group was looking at an Eastern Screech Owl in a snag.  Since this trip is booked up for a good month in advance and the van was full, we were invited to hurry along with another family by foot.  At their next stop, they actually couldn’t get the van door open, and the “older” people inside had to climb out over the back and front seats to get out.  Carol Navarro, the park ranger, ended up going back to headquarters to exchange the van for a tram.  This was a turn of good luck for us and for the other family, because now there was room for all of us!

Jim, our other guide, stayed with us and pointed out a distant Great Horned Owl.  When Carol got back with the tram, we all loaded up and continued on.  We used a “bat box” which picked up bat radar.  When we heard a bat flying over, a light was shined up and we’d catch a glimpse of a Mexican Free-tailed Bat flying by.  Walking down the dark roads, a flashlight beam would catch the orange eyeshine of Common Pauraques.  Down near a resaca, we heard the sound of amphibians and one of the sounds was new to the park folks.  They were thinking that maybe the native Cane Toad had made its way here.  In a grassy area, Carol showed us how to find spiders by putting a light up next to our eye.  The light reflects off the eight eyes of the spiders.  Indeed that works and the grass lit up!  It looked like someone had tossed a handful of small diamonds out in front of us.  If you follow the sparkle to its source, there you’d find a spider!  With a black light bulb in a small flashlight, scorpions showed up as glow in the dark figures in crevasses.  Joel found a leafcutter ant trail and we watched the ants as they stripped the leaves off a tree and carried them off down a trail and down into the ground to their underground farm.  Carol told us that they compost these leaves to make fungus.  They actually eat the fungus, not the leaves.  People often mistake these leafcutters for fire ants and unfortunately destroy them.  After 3 ½ or so hours of this fun, we went back to camp, crawled into our tents, and fell asleep to the sounds of crickets, the Eastern Screech Owl, and Common Paraque.

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