Friday, February 13, 2015

NE Texas, 2/8-11/15

Even though eBird shows no reports for Henslow's Sparrows in Texas this winter, Bodclau Wildlife Management Area near Shreveport, Louisiana has had a bunch of them.  So I thought I would make a run over there to see some and maybe use my experience to find some in Texas.  On the way I found a likely looking field, tall grass and sedge bordered by pines, on US 59 and FM 357 in Polk County so I gave it a try.  I couldn't find any Henslow's Sparrows but I got some great LeConte's Sparrow photos.

A bit up the road at the Alabama Creek WMA I found a trail wandering through a nice stand of pines and was rewarded with three Red-cockaded Woodpecers and a Brown-headed Nuthatch.

I spent the night in Marshall and drove over to Bodclau Dam 60 miles to the east in Louisiana where as many as 26 Henslow's Sparrows were reported over a two day census on the grassy spillway of the the dam.  I think it helped that they had prior experience and a half dozen people to chase down sparrows when they were flushed from the tall grass.  It took me three hours but I finally found one which flew from the grass to land under a shrub at the edge of the field.  I almost got some pretty good photos of the green-headed little beauty.  It had been 35 years since I had seen some on their breeding grounds in SW Missouri on the Niawatha Prairie Reserve.

That afternoon I checked out the Caddo Lake NWR where Henslow's Sparrows have been reported through the years but I could not find any good looking habitat.  It was nice seeing a few Eastern Towhees. The next morning I drove up to Olney Road where Henslows had been seen two years ago.  I couldn't find any there either and the habitat looked a bit degraded.  Henslow's Sparrows are choosy with regards to their habitat.  A field that they find suitable can quickly regenerate with shrubs and soon not be to their liking.

So I decided to just enjoy the day of birding and not be so obsessed with Henslow's Sparrows.  I soon found a wonderful little park I was unfamiliar with, Dangerfield State Park.  Old tall pine trees surrounded a peaceful lake and campground.  Here I found a cooperative Brown-headed Nuthatch and some Red-headed Woodpeckers.

After a couple of hours at the park I decided to go farther north and found myself in Red River County not far from the Oklahoma Border.  I randomly chose a county road leading north from the small town of Avery and scored a much wanted bird, Hairy Woodpecker.  I heard the call first and was fortunate to get a diagnostic photo.  My previous sightings of the species in Texas were a bit iffy so I'm glad to get this one cleaned up.  The long bill and unspotted outer rectrices rule out Downy Woodpecker.

And soon a female Purple Finch landed over my head, my first self found one for Texas.

I spent the night in Paris (it's not as great as it sounds) because Henslow's Sparows have been reported in the past at Camp Maxey.  Even though I could not enter the National Guard base, I hoped to find suitable habitat in the area.  I didn't find much at Pat Mayse WMA and was really disappointed with the Caddo National Grasslands.  It has a few nice lakes and some fine stands of pines, but not the tall prairie grasslands I had hoped for.  At least I couldn't find any.  So I had to settle for a few Harris's Sparrows.

At this point I was not that far from Dallas so I decided to just head for home.  And if I made good time, I might get south of Temple in time to make a run for the much maligned Striped Sparrow which has been present for several weeks east of Granger.  Striped Sparrow is a nonmigratory species from the arid high county of western and central Mexico with no history of wandering, even in Mexico.  So there's a high probability this bird received human assistance with its 600+ mile journey.  But it's still a beautiful bird and I've never seen one despite lots of birding in Mexico.

I arrived at the intersection of CR 428 and CR 361 east of Granger in Williamson County at 4:40 PM and parked.  After walking around the bend, I saw a flock of birds feeding on seed that had been put out by birders the past couple of weeks.  I was about a hundred feet from the flock while five other birders were about the same distance down the road on the other side of the flock.   After just a few minutes the Striped Sparrow joined the crowd.  I later heard that a couple of those birders had been waiting for ten hours!

Even though I failed in my goal of finding a Henslow's Sparrow in Texas, I still got to see one in Louisiana plus I got to see some neat Texas birds.  So it was a very successful four day birding trip.  Now I need to head out to west Texas and try to get some photos of the Henslow's Sparrow's cousin, Baird's Sparrow.

No comments: