A few miles north of the town of Panhandle, Texas is a playa lake. In moderately wet years it covers 10 or 15 acres on both sides of Highway 207 to a depth of maybe 6-8 ft, tops. Last summer it was dry as a bone every time I went by it. We’ve had some pretty substantial rains this spring and, although calling it a lake is a stretch, it does have a little water and a lot of mud and grass right now–wading bird paradise.
I hadn’t thought to go out there since the rains, but last Friday a friend of mine mentioned that he had driven by there and had seen quite a few large, dark birds, so I drove out. It’s a little less than a 20 minute drive, which is as far as I can get from the station when I’m on call. It was well worth the drive.
I was able to add 3 new birds to my life list (2 for sure, the 3rd one is kind of iffy,) a Black-crowned Night-Heron, a Spotted Sandpiper, and about 40 small waders that could be any of about 4 birds collectively known as “peeps.” I think these are White-rumped Sandpipers, but they could also be Least, or Western, or Semipalmated or Baird’s Sandpipers. They all look and sound very similar and I’m waiting for help from eBird for a positive ID. I’ve had positive IDs on the Baird’s and the Least Sandpiper before. Sandpipers, plovers and the like are tough for me to get right. (ebird confirms they are White-rumped.)
There were several large Mallards and about 15 or 20 Blue-winged Teals, a score or more Red-winged blackbirds, Killdeer and, best of all, 2 Sandhill Cranes. I’ve seen the Sandhills fly over last fall and earlier this spring in flocks of 10 or 12 but hadn’t found any on the ground nor had I been able to get any photos. There were pretty far off and the day was cloudy and windy so the pics aren’t the best, but I was pretty excited to see them. After I had reported them on ebird they turned up on the area’s rarity list-another first for me. It’s evidently unusual to see them this late in the spring.
See more of the birds (and pronghorns) mentioned in this post in the Playa Lake gallery.