I admit a bias in all matters relating to Birder's World, including one for Hotspots Near You, written by locals with first-hand knowledge of the best birding places in North America. So during a mid-December trip to San Antonio, Texas, I stopped by the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center, number 25 on our list and a good place to see a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, pictured above.
I was not disappointed. Eagle-eyed local birder Andy Garcia, a docent for the center, led me on a grand tour of the vast network of dikes and ponds, guiding me to views of dozens of species, including such regional specialties as Least Grebes, Neotropical Cormorants, a Crested Caracara, and a Loggerhead Shrike. He needed only a glance to pick Bufflehead, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Hooded Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler and Ruddy Duck out of a cluster of waterfowl hundreds of yards away.
As we bounced over the rutted dirt tracks, I saw hundreds of American White Pelicans and egrets, both Great and Snowy. A few Great Blue Herons flapped lazily overhead, sharing the skies with Osprey, cormorants, and an American Kestrel. Kinglets, Eastern Phoebes, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Northern Cardinals flitted in and out of the bushes alongside the car. Rafts of American Coots paddled on several ponds.
Near one pond, at least half a dozen Black-crowned Night-Herons, both adults and juveniles, roosted in branches. As we drove along, American Pipits pecked at the path in front of our car, so reluctant to get out of the way that at one point I had to leave the vehicle to shoo them off.
Because Mitchell Lake attracts so many birds, even the surrounding area is rich in birding opportunities. While waiting for the center to open, I parked near a roadside wetland and watched the rising sun cast its light on foraging Black-necked Stilts, egrets, Little Blue Herons, and dowitchers. And everywhere, Great-tailed Grackles could be seen and heard, whistling and clacking away.
I visited Mitchell Lake on two consecutive mornings. The weather was cool for that part of Texas in mid-December but sunny and comfortable, especially for this northerner. For a few days, I dodged the snowstorm that was burying Milwaukee (and closed our offices), but the fun wouldn't last. Returning to Milwaukee's airport (also named Mitchell), I found my car buried in snow. I definitely prefer the other Mitchell. -- E.M.