This year, my family vacationed on a cruise ship in late November. We drove from Indiana to Texas to board the ship. I saw a few birds along the way as we rocketed through the states. Missouri and Arkansas had quite the welcoming committee of Red-Tailed Hawks. They were posted like sentries along the highway. We were a little surprised at the number and consistency of the hawks so we started counting. On average we saw two Red-Tailed Hawks every mile. Most rodent-free (or rodent-filled) highways ever!
My parents were kind enough to screech to a halt now and then and make some u-turns so I could get better views and photos of some of the birds along the roads and highways from Texarkana to Galveston. I spotted a Harris’s Hawk, several Crested Caracaras, and a White-Tailed Kite. At a traffic light in Austin, we were surrounded by Monk Parakeets.
In Texas, my parents spent a day being nostalgic. My older brother, Scott, was born in Austin, Texas (a proud native Texan!), but my parents moved when he was a baby. They wanted to show him their old home and some of their favorite places. Naturally, I watched for birds at each location.
We stopped at one of my parents’ favorite restaurants in the hill country – The Oasis – and in the parking lot I was surprised to find several Lesser Goldfinches! While Scott climbed Enchanted Rock nearby, I scoured the brushy areas below and found White-Winged Doves, Inca Doves, Bewick’s Wren and Black-Crested Titmouse.
On the way to Galveston where we would board the ship, my parents squeezed in a very short stop at Aransas Wildlife Refuge for me. I was lucky to be there when they were having a special birdingprogram with a naturalist who was an expert birder. I saw Whooping Cranes, Great Kiskadee, Reddish Egret, Long-Billed Curlew, Ladder-Backed Woodpecker and Roseate Spoonbill.
We also squeezed in some birding in Galveston just before boarding the ship. On the Texas City Dike I saw several American Pipits and White-Faced Ibis. Also in the Galveston area, I saw a Piping Plover, Dunlin, Nelson’s Sparrow, Mottled Duck, Black-Necked Stilt, Neotropic Cormorant, Marbled Godwit, Reddish Egret, Seaside Sparrow, White-Tailed Kite and Yellow-Crowned Night Heron.
It’s not easy birding from a cruise ship, but it can be done! You just have to get creative. I watched for birds from our balcony, the docks and during the shore excursions.
There were surprisingly few birds at the docks and almost none as we cruised along in the ocean. There were the typical gulls and terns, but I did manage to snag one lifer at one of the docks in Mexico – a Black Tern.
During the shore excursions in the Caymans and Mexico, I had to bird from my seat in the tour busses and during the tours themselves. Some tours were easier to bird in than others; some tour guides were flexible but some were rather rigid.
In the Caymans, we made several stops across Grand Cayman Island in different habitats, so I saw a nice variety of birds. I saw Smooth-Billed Ani, Bananaquit, Yellow-Billed Cacique, Greater Antillean Grackle, Hooded Oriole and others.
In Mexico, I spotted some wonderful birds during our shore excursions. I had to wander away from the tour groups now and then, but it was worth it! I saw a Turquoise-Browed Motmot, Keel-Billed Toucan, Brown Jay, Black-Headed Saltator, Military Macaw, Bronzed Cowbird, Melodious Blackbird, Altamira Oriole, and many more.
I may not have been able to spot as many lifers during the trip as I would have if it were abirding trip, but I was able to do so many other fun things so I can’t complain. It was an awesome vacation!