Photo Shoot Report: October 15th, 2011 @ Cook’s Slough Nature Park
Reading about a place for a long time and then finally getting to visit always creates a unique situation. As an example, I’d read about the puffin cliffs at Látrabjarg a good three years before I actually got visit them. Years of anticipation of how good it could be based on the reports I read written by others who I respected. When I finally made it there I was relieved that it was as good or better than I expected. But there was still that nagging doubt that it wasn’t going to be worth the time.
I had the same level of anticipation for my recent visit to Cook’s Slough Nature Park. I had first read about Cook’s Slough as a possible photo location when I was living in San Angelo. Folks on the web forum formerly know as Texas Photographer’s Forum had discussed it and visiting was on my list of “I’d like to visit someday” places. But at 3½ hours away it was not an easily accessible day trip. For that long of a drive I could have been in Dallas, Austin, or San Antonio with all the places to visit there. Or at around 90 minutes closer on the same basic path as a trip to Cook’s Slough I could be at South Llano River State Park where I knew I would make some great images and be able to sit the whole time in the bird blinds. So Cook’s Slough went on the back burner and I never made a trip there, even though I had stayed in a cabin less than 20 minutes away over a weekend right before I left for school.
Fast forward a couple of years later. I was enjoying the heck out of my dragonflies during my two year exile to Ohio. I also knew that I was heading back to Texas. So I started reading and participating in the TexOdes discussion group on Yahoo! Groups. And there was that name “Cook’s Slough” popping up again. So as I started to build my wish list for day trips, Cook’s Slough went towards the top.
And then I returned to Texas. And it was hot. Really hot. And the reports I read was that the dragons at Cook’s were just so-so this year. Super hot plus just okay meant to me push this trip back.
Summer became fall and I still hadn’t been out to Cook’s Slough. And then the weekend I planned to go out there it rained so hard that I was afraid all the animals would pair up two-by-two. Push it back a week.
Finally I made it out there and wow as I happy I did. Cook’s Slough is a good solid 110+ acres of paradise for birding and dragonfly viewing. In many ways it was like a couple of my favorite haunts in Ohio put side by side and then throwing in some desert terrain to go with it.
A little bit about the trip itself. I arrived a little before 9:30AM. As I was pulling up two other folks had just arrived to do some birding. I followed them for a bit while we talked birding, odonata, and the great state of California. Along the way the gentlemen I was with said there was another coming. Well he did, along with two lady birders (from a pair of fairly well-known college towns–one from here in Texas and another from Tennessee). That additional gentlemen knew Cook’s Slough like the back of his hand and I don’t think there was much of the park’s 110+ acres that we did not see. They left around 12:30 to go find some lunch while I spent another almost hour trying to meet a couple of notional personal goals.
Birding was the surprising winner for the day. The visit was a 5 bird add to my birding life list. Olive Sparrow, Great Egret, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, and Long-billed Dowitchers were all adds in one day. Also see out and about were Black Vultures, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, Cactus Wrens, Great Blue Herons, Orange-crowned Warblers, and a number of other species that I didn’t think to write down.
Dragonflies were as good as I’ve seen at Mitchell Lake. I identified 11 different species of dragons and damsels, to include adding the Black Setwing to my Odonata life list. I also have another one that may also be a life list add, or may just be a variant on one I’ve seen before. I hope to get that one resolved, too.
It was a good day for reptiles and I got to see my first Red-eared Slider turtle and Texas Spotted Whiptail lizard. No snakes, though they certainly exist out there.
The only knock I have against the place: It may be the worst signed park I have ever been to. The only thing on the main road that speaks to there being a park down the road is a Heart of Texas West sign from Texas Parks & Wildlife Division. Had I not known exactly where I was going I never would have made it there.
My thanks go to the numerous members of TexOdes who have written about the place, with special thanks to Ken & Terry who provided some study material right before I headed out so I knew where I was going and what I should be looking for. My thanks as well to Richard and Bob who helped guide impromptu group walk through the park and help with a couple of identifications. All four of you rock.
Overall I walked away from the day sore (too much walk… I should have taken more breaks along the way when opportunities presented themselves), but with a little over 330 images and a lot of good memories. Can’t wait to get out there again the early spring. The anticipated results were far better than I could ever have hoped for.
About the images:
Literally these images are in reverse chronological order from when I shot them. The Texas Spotted Whiptail (Cnemidophorus gularis) was a find from towards the end of my day out at the park. Pretty lizard, but with a tail way too long for the angle I was trying to shoot. This version is an extreme crop of just his face. This version does a better job of capturing his spots. A more representative image can be seen at Flickr.
The Black Setwing (Dythemis nigrescens) was my life list add for the day, shot shortly before our group broke up. When I saw it I knew it was a life list, but it took me a while after the fact to figure it out. Next time I’m there I will spend more time in the vicinity of where I made this image…looks like a good place for odonata.
I’ve made many images of Familiar Bluet damselflies (Enallagma civile), but the added attraction of the autumn vegetation is what makes this image for me. This is a tighter crop than what I used on Flickr, done because of the small format I use here and the extreme small size of the creature.
And last, but not least, was one of my five life list adds for the birds. These Long-billed Dowitchers (Limnodromus scolopaceus) were about the third birds I saw for the day (after the Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron). I’m glad the guys who were there birding knew what they were because otherwise I would have spent hours here trying to figure them out.