Southeast Texas Trip Report  – April 13th-16th, 2006

 

I spent four days in southeast Texas over the Easter weekend visiting with my wife’s family.  I was able to spend some time in the field near where we were staying (south of Galveston).  The weather was quite warm (actually record temps the last day of my trip) and the mosquitoes were out in droves anywhere where the wind wasn’t blowing (and it blew quite a bit!)  The birding was very good and the herping had it’s moments as well.  Here’s a recap of the trip as far as wildlife is concerned…

 

April 13th, 2006 –  I arrived at Houston Hobby airport around 2:00 PM, got my bag and rental car and was on the road by 3:00, I started heading south, passing several Houston apartments and shops, toward my final destination which is a little town called Surfside Beach, about 30 miles south of Galveston, right on the Gulf coast.    I took a couple of detours on the way taking a few farm/country roads in Brazoria county to just get a lay of the land, stopped by a few streams and quickly spotted numerous Red-eared sliders and Texas River Cooters sunning themselves along the banks and on floating debris.  

 

One of many groups of Red-eared Sliders that can be found just about anywhere there is water in the area...

 

 

I also noted that Scissor-tailed flycatchers were our in numbers as were the nest-building Cliff Swallows.  I arrived at my final destination around 5:00 PM.  My wife and relatives that were meeting me there had gotten hung elsewhere so I had the place to myself for a while, I got my bags unloaded, set up shop, got the camera gear prepared and then took a quick walk around the area to see  if there was anything of interest. 

 

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were everywhere, one of the most commonly encountered or at least obvious birds on the entire trip...

 

 

The surfside beach area is dotted with hundreds of small lagoons, lakes and rivers that all feed into, or are a product of, the Gulf of Mexico; the landscape is rather barren with lots of salt grass mixed with a variety of low-lying shrubs, there is a great deal of bird life in the area, mostly shorebird species although even at the beach there were several pairs of Scissor-tailed flycatchers busily eating up the local insect life which I believe is made up predominately of huge, blood-thirsty mosquitoes… did I mention the mosquitoes?  I made the mistake of putting on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt before my aforementioned short walk which lead me to the nearest “lake” which was just a few blocks down and across the main street in the area.  I had seen a pair of flycatchers and wanted to snap some quick shots just to get into the spirit of things.  Well, I walked across this field of low-lying grass and was literally attacked, I mean like I have only seen one other place in my life and these guys were bigger and nastier than what I had previously encountered in my other loosing battle with their relatives, in Kings Canyon, many years ago.  You can feel these guys jab their proboscis into you!  I looked down at my legs and there were at least 50 of them on each leg, I started swatting, they lit on my arms and my neck and my face and I started swatting more and then… running…  They followed me almost all the way to the waters edge where fortunately the wind was unabated and I think they just couldn’t keep up…  The next day, as the swelling and itching started I took the time to just see how many bites were on one leg, I stopped counting at 100… I am itching now as I write this just thinking about it.   Have only myself to blame as I had plenty of long sleeve shirts, jeans and DEET to go around, lesson learned… 

 

I took some shots of the local shorebirds, mostly Greater Yellow-legs, Brown Pelicans, Caspian and Forster’s Terns and Laughing Gulls and then went back to the house, changed clothes, sprayed myself with repellent and then when back to where I was trying to photo the flycatchers.  I didn’t find the flycatchers but I did find this cool and cooperative Ruby-throated Hummingbird that let me follow him around for a while as he had dinner.

 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird showing off...

 

Little Blue Heron

 

The rest of the crew arrived at the house around 7:00 and we spent the rest of the evening eating, talking and the finally falling asleep.

 

April 14th, 2006 – I got up early, heading for Brazos Bend State Park to spend the day hiking around the various trails that wrap around a series of oxbow lakes in the area.  I didn’t get too far before running into the first herp of the day.  I literally pulled on to the main road, drove about 50 yards and slammed on my brakes to allow a Three-toed Box turtle to finish its early morning jaunt across the road.  I of course, briefly interrupted his travels so I could do a quick photo shoot, she was quite the beauty…

 

Three-toed Box Turtle - Terrapene carolina triunguis

 

Three-toed Box Turtle - Terrapene carolina triunguis

 

More Three-toed Box Turtle pictures...

 

Even more...

 

I arrived at Brazos Bend State Park around 8:30 AM, the day was beautiful, scattered high puffy clouds, a slight breeze and warm but not hot temperatures and medium level of humidity.  I had been to this location several times in the past, it’s pretty well traveled but not too over-crowded and since I only had a few days and this was a guaranteed place to pick up some good shots of birds, turtles and alligators at the very least I thought I’d start with a sure thing before venturing to more unknown territories.  As I mentioned above, there are a series of trails that envelop the park, the trail I was starting out on follow a set of oxbow lakes.  There were quite a few people around the main trail so I quickly headed for more remote areas of the park so I had a better chance of spotting something interesting.  The usual plethora of bird life was found in the area along with the ubiquitous American Alligators, Red-eared Sliders and Texas River Cooters.

 

American Alligator - Alligator mississippiensis

 

American Alligator - lots of young gators were around, I saw at least a dozen in the 1-2' long range, looks like they are breeding well here...

 

Red-eared Slider - Trachemys scripta

 

Texas River Cooter - Pseudemys texana

 

Texas River Cooter

 

Texas River Cooter

 

  

There were a couple of surprises including this Pallid Spiny Softshell which was a new lifer for me.

 

 

Pallid Spiny Softshell - Apalone spinifera pallida

 

 

I also was able to get a couple of Green Anoles to cooperate in some defensive posturing, giving me the opportunity to shoot a few pics of them as well.

 

Green Anole - Anolis carolinensis

 

Green Anole - Anolis carolinensis

 

I spent about 5 hours in the park and saw in excess of 40 Alligators and innumerable turtles, a Green Treefrog in an out-building, but nothing real exciting so I left there in the early afternoon and headed back toward the beach to do some bird photography. 

 

Green Treefrog - Hyla cinerea

 

I found a couple of good areas and took some shots but again nothing real spectacular, the day had started out great with the Box Turtle but after that it was pretty much the same old stuff.  I arrived back at the beach house in the late afternoon to find that some of the boys (we had about 15 people staying there) had roused a rattlesnake from inside an abandoned water slide business.  They took me over to the spot where they had found the rattler which was all of 100 yards from the beach but alas the snake was long gone, there were holes everywhere as well as tons of debris but no snake.  By their description I am pretty sure it was a Western Diamondback.  Later that evening I took a quick drive around the area and found a DOR Water Snake however I wasn’t able to identify it as it was a little to flattened if you know what I mean.  Later in the evening I unloaded the pictures from my camera (all 816 of them – 1 just upgraded to a 4Gb CF card and can now hold over 1,000 8Mp pix without changing out the CF) and gave a quick slide show to those interested.  Of course, now everyone wanted to go see the “gators” the next day – I couldn’t get anyone up to go in this morning.  So I told those that were interested that they better be ready to go by 7:00 AM.

 

Here are a couple more shots from the outing...

 

The ubiquitous Bullfrog - Rana catesbeiana

 

Black Swallowtail Butterfly

 

A very young Cooter with dragonfly looking on as sentry...

 

The rest of the evening was spent cooking, eating and visiting although I did take one venture out of the house after dark to the area where the kids had found the rattler however my old friends the mosquitoes (did I mention mosquitoes?) quickly guided my retreat back to safety.

 

FYI... Here's why you want to protect yourselves from Mosquitoes!   This was all done in a span of less than 5 minutes and was less than 24 hours after I was "attacked", it got worse... 

 

Can you say "Itch!"  Boy was I stupid or what!

 

April 15th, 2006 – So, as mentioned earlier, I had quite a bit of interest in seeing the “gators” today but when 7:00 rolled around and I tried to wake some of the kids interested the night before, well, you know the story… I ended up with my wife and one young lady going with us so we spent another day cruising various spots looking for wildlife, went by Brazos Bend again and walked another trail, mostly the same stuff as the day before with the exception of this huge Texas Rat Snake that came blazing across the trail right in front of me, up the side of a tree and into a opening faster that I could grab him.  He then proceeded to watch me cautiously with his head protruding from the hole for a few minutes.  When I tried to extract him with my hook he quickly retreated back up inside the tree and disappeared.  I got the distinct impression that it was a regular hang-out for this beautiful creature.  I estimated the size at around 5 feet.  Here are a couple of pics before he went up up and away…

 

Texas Rat Snake - Elaphe obsoleta lindheimerii

 

Texas Rat Snake - Elaphe obsoleta lindheimerii

 

Texas Rat Snake - Elaphe obsoleta lindheimerii

 

Saw a couple more interesting birds but other than the Rat Snake, nothing of much interest.  The girl that had gone with us was also tired out from the hiking so my wife and I decided to take here back to the home base before heading back out, so we did, dropped her off and picked up another kid that was now interested in seeing what there was to be seen.  He also had an ulterior motive, he was hoping that we’d drive by a video game store somewhere as he had some money burning a hole in his pocket, we found the video store before any additional wildlife however I had gotten a tip from one of the other folks staying there that there was a large wildlife refuge not far from where we were staying, I had seen it on the map earlier and had planned on going there anyway so we made our way over to Brazoria National Wildlife refuge late in the afternoon.  I liked it right away as it was definitely not that well traveled plus the fact that within a minute of turning down the first road I had spotted a snake…  I of course slammed on the brakes, slid (it was a gravel road) and jumped out of the car as the snake didn’t have any intention of waiting for me… I pulled something between the car and the snake which slowed me down and I missed it before it went down a crayfish hole.  I think it was just a Western Ribbon Snake but I’ll never know…  I limped back to the car and about three minutes later found a freshly killed Yellow-bellied Racer. 

 

Yellow-bellied Racer - Coluber constrictor flaviventris

 

We stopped a couple of times to take some pictures of wildflowers and birds but as it started getting more toward evening the mosquitoes (did I mention mosquitoes?) once again made their presence felt, aggressive little buggers they are down here!  They filled up the car every time you’d stop, I had the appropriate gear on having already experienced what it’s like to be eaten alive however it was freaking the others out a bit and there were shrimp and steaks cooking back home so we decided to call it an afternoon.  I also decided that this was a good looking area for some road cruising so I made a note to come back later.

 

Here are a couple of other interesting critters that we ran into during our travels that day...

 

Black Swallowtail Larvae

 

I believe this is called a Forest Tent Caterpillar...

 

Well, dinner was great, etc. and by the time I was able to sneak out and get back there it was already after 11:00 PM.  The temps were still in the low 70’s but it was apparent as I drove toward my destination that the movement for the evening had already happened.  It was just a few days past a full moon so most of the movement was probably more toward the early evening (not sure if this is really true as I have had some great night-driving experiences on a full moon but non-the-less, it was darker the first few hours after sundown than when the moon came up around 11:00).  Anyway, there was a lot of road kill, I stopped for a couple of DOR Texas Rat Snakes, a DOR Cottonmouth and a couple of DOR Waters Snakes, one was a Blotched Water Snake, the other one was not recognizable.  I drove down the same road I had missed the snake on earlier in the day and was surprised and delighted to find a live herp!  It was just a small Western Cottonmouth but it was cool anyway!  It was also just finishing a meal and it seemed to be gulping it down as fast as possible in my presence! 

 

Western Cottonmouth - Agkistrodon piscivorus

 

Western Cottonmouth - Agkistrodon piscivorus

 

 

 

I drove around some more and found another DOR Rat Snake but that was it for the day and I got back to the house a little after 1:00 AM.


April 16th, 2006 – My wife went with her relatives to Easter services in the morning and I headed to Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge to do some photography.  The day before it turned out that we were on the “wrong” end of the park so after consulting with the locals I was given the proper instructions on how to find the “real” entrance and did so, arriving just after 8:00 AM.  It was really great, there was about a 15-20 mile loop around a variety of habitats and I was the only one in the park for several hours!  I got several bird lifers in the morning including one I really wanted to get on this trip which was the Roseate Spoonbill.  I was expecting to get them when I was in Costa Rica last year but when we visited the area where they are always supposed to be we were told that they had “disappeared” and nobody knew where they went.   So when I saw the pink birds at a distance I was really stoked and hiked across bog and swamp to get a few closer shots of them. 

 

Roseate Spoonbill

 

Roseate Spoonbills and White Ibis

 

Two more Roseate Spoonbills feeding

 

 

Also got some good shots of some other wetland birds.   There were also American Alligators here, not in the same numbers as in Brazos Bend State Park but enough of them!  Which leads me to the next picture…  I found this large Red-eared Slider, slowly walking down the side of the gravel road, I stopped to take a picture of him and then saw his shell, holy smokes!  Talk about escaping the jaws of death!  I inspected the holes and they looked to be completely healed up and probably more than a season old from the looks of them so this guy is what I would consider a real survivor, obviously thwarting the attempt to be an Alligator snack.

 

The picture really doesn't do justice to the extent on the damage to this guys shell.  There are 4 holes, forming a crescent, all are about 1/4 inch deep and about the diameter of a dime (this is a large Red-eared Slider).  Lucky turtle...

 

I made two complete loops around the park, stopping in interesting areas to hike around and slowly driving through others trying to get shots at the birds, etc., it was around noon  before finding my first herp of the day, by this time there were at least 3 or 4 other cars in the park which still isn’t too bad considering how much land there was here.  Unfortunately, one of the cars had found this Western Slender Glass Lizard before I did…

 

Western Slender Glass Lizard - Ophisaurus attenuatus

 

On my third loop around the park all of a sudden the snakes started to move!  First up was this really nice speckled Kingsnake, what a nice snake he was, totally cooperative and really tried hard not to get upset with me.

 

Speckled Kingsnake - Lampropeltis getula holbrooki

 

Speckled Kingsnake - Lampropeltis getula holbrooki

 

Speckled Kingsnake - Lampropeltis getula holbrooki

 

Five minutes after releasing the Kingsnake I saw movement out of the corner of my eye on a side road, backed up and could tell there was a snake slowly moving across a road that bisected two ponds.  I got out of the car and ran toward the snake to find this nice Western Diamondback Rattlesnake stretched out across the dirt road and flattening it’s body to get some afternoon sun.  Again, it didn’t have the slightest interest in me and what I was doing, I was able to get right in it’s face without the slightest bit of agitation on it’s part.  It wasn’t until I touched it’s tail that it became concerned and then just took a mad dash for the undergrowth.  It wasn’t until it had gotten completely out of my sight and under some dense vegetation that it rattled and then only for a few seconds.

 

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake - Crotalus atrox

 

 

 

 

 

So, 2 snakes in 5 minutes, that was good!  I drove for about 3 more minutes before sighting the next one.  This one was very cool for me although any of you that live east of the Rockies would probably laugh hysterically at this but I have been trying to find a Green Snake for years!  I admit that I don’t get into their habitat very often but every time I do I spend an inordinate amount of time searching branches, near water, etc. for them.   I know where they are supposed to be found and have been pointed in the direction of where they have been found but I still had never seen one in the wild until now!  There on the road (not quite how I envisioned finding my first one) was a small, Rough Green Snake…  I looked around to see if the environment was what I would have expected and to be honest it was not!  The area was almost grassland, very low thorn scrub mixed with some salt grass and a variety of short bushes and plants, definitely dense growth but nothing taller than 2-3 feet for hundreds of yards in any direction.  In any event, I know have the Rough Green Snake on my life list and I was very happy.

 

Rough Green Snake - Opheodrys aestivus

 

Rough Green Snake - Opheodrys aestivus

 

I continued on, another mile or so down the road, another snake!  Must have been a racer though, never had a chance at this one, it was across the road and long gone before I ever got the car in park but still, between 2:30 PM and 3:30 PM I had seen 4 snakes, all moving across dirt roads.  And that was it!  I spent another 4 hours looking, hiking, driving, etc. and found nothing!  It’s a very interesting phenomena and it has happened to me enough times over the past 30 years or so that I know there is something to it in terms of when the herps move and it’s both during the day as well as the night.  I think you notice it more at night because when you are night driving it is more obvious, one minute there is nothing and an hour later the road is splattered with dead snakes and then they are for the most part gone again.   I have seen it during the day as well, like this day but not usually as obvious other than late evening times when you get the crepuscular guys moving about.  In any event, not too bad!  I took some more bird pics before heading back to the house.  Everyone was back from Easter services and festivities and were packing up as it was a school day for them the next day.  I had planned on doing some more night driving however I ended up having to taxi folks back to Alvin and most of the evening was spent doing that.  I did see a couple more DOR snakes including another very large Texas Rat and another Green Treefrog (below) but that was about it for the trip.

 

Green Treefrog - Hyla cinerea

 

Here are a few additional (mostly bird) photos that I didn’t throw in elsewhere.

 

Anhinga

 

American Avocet

 

Barn Swallow

 

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

 

Black-necked Stilt

 

Clapper Rail

 

Cool Dragonfly

 

Eastern Kingbird

 

Great Blue Heron on the prowl

 

Great Egret

 

Great-tailed Grackle

 

Lesser Yellow-legs

 

Northern Cardinal (Female)

 

Pied-billed Grebe

 

Purple Gallinule

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

Sora

 

Tri-colored Heron

 

White Ibis

 

White-faced Ibis

 

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

 

 

Thanks for looking and good luck “herping”

- Brad

 

Herps observed:

 

American Alligator – well over 40

Red-eared Slider - TMTC

Texas River Cooter - 15

Pallid (Spiny) Softshell Turtle - 1

Three-toed Box Turtle - 1

Green Anole - 3

Western Glass Lizard – 1 (dor)

Mediterranean Gecko - 3

Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer – 1 (dor)

Western Cottonmouth – 3 (2 dor)

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake - 1

Speckled Kingsnake - 1

Blotched Water Snake – 1 (dor)

Rough Green Snake - 1

Texas Rat Snake – 4 – (3 dor)

Green Treefrog - 2

Bullfrog – 1

 

Also observed 1 unknown lizard on road, presumed to be Ground Skink

2 live snakes observed but unable to identify, one possibly a Western Ribbon Snake and several DOR Nerodia sp.

 

Birds observed:

 

American Avocet

American Coot

American White Pelican

Anhinga

Barn Swallow

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-necked Stilt

Blue-winged Teal

Boat-tailed Grackle

Brown Pelican

Carolina Chickadee

Caspian Tern

Cattle Egret

Chipping Sparrow

Clapper Rail

Cliff Swallow

Common Crow

Common Moorhen

Common Raven

Crested Caracara

Double-crested Cormorant

Dunlin

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Meadowlark

European Starling

Forster’s Tern

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

Greater Yellow-legs

Great-tailed Grackle

House Sparrow

Killdeer

Laughing Gull

Least Sandpiper

Lesser Yellow-legs

Little Blue Heron

Long-billed Dowitcher

Mallard

Mourning Dove

Neotropic Cormorant

Northern Harrier

Northern Mockingbird

Pied-billed Grebe

Pileated Woodpecker

Purple Gallinule

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-winged Blackbird

Roseate Spoonbill

Royal Tern

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Seaside Sparrow

Sora

Tri-colored Heron

Tufted Titmouse

White Ibis

White-faced Ibis

Willet

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

 

CLICK HERE FOR MORE TRIP REPORTS!

 

 

 

 



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