Saturday, January 30, 2016

Texas Hotspot: Choke Canyon Calliham Unit

Halfway between San Antonio and Port Aransus, Texas lies a little slice of heaven. Friends told me to visit the Choke Canyon Reservoir, specifically the Calliham Unit.   If you are an E-bird enthusiast you'll want to check out the stats.  A number of the birds one might drive all the way to McAllen to see, can also be found at Choke Canyon.

When there is a sign to announce the birding- things should be good.

Vermilion Flycatcher
In a short amount of time, we were enjoying Say's and Eastern Phoebes hawking for insects near the water.  Our attention soon turned to a flycatcher with much brighter hues: the Vermilion Flycatcher. These eye-popping birds are a south-western specialty also known for flycatching insects near waterways. There is no mistaking a male, but the females are much more subdued. One might not realise they are the same species, as she looks a bit like a tail-less scissor-tailed flycatcher.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
The Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were in good numbers at Choke Canyon.  They have mostly disappeared from northern Texas for winter, so this must be their "south."  It was difficult to get a clear photo, as they were being buffeted by a heavy wind which played havoc with those tails.

Picnic anyone??
A picnic lunch was next on our list for this state park. The Corvids (the Jay family) often haunt picnic areas and we planned to let them find us. Or our lunch. You might call this reverse-birding.

We apparently picked the wrong picnic area, but some nice campers told me that Green Jays had been visiting their campsite on a regular basis.  Word to the wise birder, don't hesitate to be friendly and chat up other people in the parks and preserves.  It is nice to be nice and you can often get some great information!
Green Jay  (Cyanocorax yncas)
Sure enough a stunning specimen was found not far from the good folks' camper. Its hard for one's brain to process the magnificence of this bird! The Green Jay was flitting about on the edge of the woods playing hide-and-seek behind the grasses and downed limbs. The rainbow hued bird is the Holy Grail of Texas jays. Choke Canyon really delivered the goods. After all, I thought we would have to drive nearly four hours south towards Mexico to see one.

Queen (Danaus gilippus)
Winter butterflies are always a pleasant surprise.  The 6o degree weather had the Texas butterflies out in good number.  This Queen, a close relative of the Monarch butterfly, was making the rounds at the local nectar bar. She too, will lay her eggs on milkweed plants. Queens are a true southern species.  Found only in Mexico and the southernmost United States, it is not given to migrations like its cousin the Monarch. 
Least Grebe
Last, but not least- a very Tex-Mex water bird.  The Least Grebe is another Texas endemic which people endeavor to add to their birding list.  This adorable little bird is easy enough to locate on calm bodies of water in southernmost Texas.  The golden eye color instantly sets it apart from all other grebes.

Texas is filled with specialities for the engaged naturalist.  I've only featured a small number of the birds we enjoyed and only one insect.  But then again, the sign at Choke Canyon only promised birds.


  1. Thanks, Ron! It was a tough day for butterflies, as the wind was near gale force! We will definitely visit this preserve again.