I soon discovered that Texas has LOTS of vultures. LOTS. Both Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures. There were times along the drive that the sky seemed filled with 30-40 vultures and hawks circling, catching thermals, or vultures gathering to scavenge. The ride set the stage for the hundreds of vultures we'd see throughout our stay, whether in the country near Canyon Lake, circling office buildings in the suburbs of Houston, or above the city of San Antonio.
We were also introduced to the Great-tailed Grackle along the ride. These images were taken at a rest area, where we saw male grackles displaying to establish dominance over other males, and strutting and posturing in front of the browner females. Great-tailed Grackles are also very abundant in Texas, perching in just about every tree in the San Marcos outlets' parking lot to joining us for dinner along the Riverwalk in San Antonio.
Another exciting bird we saw along the way was a Crested Caracara. We actually saw a couple of them - one perched on a fence post and one soaring with the vultures and other hawks. In both instances, the bird just looked...well, different.
When perched, it was very long legged which made it look very tall. In flight, its black and white pattern on the wings, tail, and breast made it stand out from the vultures and other hawks. Caracaras are commonly seen in east-central Texas. I didn't get an image of the caracara but you can read more about it on Cornell's All About Birds site.
Most numerous along the drive, however, were Cliff Swallows. At just about every overpass as we headed out of Houston, we saw hundreds of swallows catching insects on the wing and flying in and out of their mud nests that were tucked up under the lip of the overpass. They were seen more during the first half of our drive; as we got closer to San Antonio, they were still present but not in as great of numbers.
These swallows were drinking from a puddle near a gas station.
Even though birding was not the main focus of our visit, we did see many birds, including some life birds. Watch for posts throughout this week recapping our Texas vacation, including more on vultures, Texas BBQ, the Mr. Bird plant, basketball, and of course, more birds.