Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Walk Behind the Wall

1/8/19 

Alan and Sandy were Winter Texans from Chicago and staying with us for about a month before heading to other places in the Valley, and had already done quite a bit of birding on their own, but were curious about the “guiding” aspect: they preferred hiking to road birding, wanted to go someplace new, and not too far away.  Well, two outta three ain’t bad, as they had already visited the few places in Hidago County that offered good long hikes, so I suggested that if they could endure a 45 minute drive to and from, they might enjoy Resaca de la Palma State Park!  Sounded good, so off we went!

Well.  On the way we got to talking about The Wall and border issues, and the subject of Sabal Palm Sanctuary came up as an example of a refuge that is actually behind the current Wall and is better than it’s ever been!  That piqued their curiosity, so we continued south to the toll road.  Only I had forgotten about the road construction on 511 and we got totally turned around… L  Finally made our way back to 511 via Ruben Torres, and made it to the sanctuary!

After paying the entrance fee and using the facilities, we headed through the new butterfly gardens where we actually got pretty good looks at three skulkers right away:  a very friendly White-eyed Vireo, a Long-billed Thrasher sitting out in the open (until another one chased it off), and an Olive Sparrow poking along next to the path!  As we made our way through the woods more skulkers vocalized but didn’t show themselves, primarily House and Carolina Wrens.  As warned, the Resaca was dry (the guy in the office told us how much it cost to pump the water in; we almost had collective strokes), but we enjoyed a beautiful walk through the woods and especially up on Vireo Lane through the mesquite forest.  Most of the action was in the form of feeding flocks that we tried to sort through:  Black-crested Titmice were the dominant species, and surprisingly more White-eyed Vireos were very cooperative!  Green Jays powered through, and Orange-crowned Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets gave us the looking over.  We got great looks at several Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, and one Golden-fronted posed for scope views.

The Rabb House

Sandy gets on a vireo while Alan consults the Sibley...

Circling around, we spotted a blind that was new since the last time I was there, so we headed down and found the “puddle” the guy had told us was still hanging on…  A Sora cried almost immediately, and of course Yellowthroats were chacking all over, but the highlight was the Gray Hawk that made a couple of passes!  We didn’t bother with the big blind but rather went straight to the Forest Trail, where we ran into another feeding flock that, in addition to what we had already seen, had a Black-and-white Warbler and at least two Wilson’s Warblers that cheked but never gave us a look.

View from the new blind

Sandy and Alan on the Forest Trail

Getting closer to the feeders, we flushed White-tipped Dove after White-tipped Dove in the woods, but they never did actually come into the feeder area.  Some Green Jays gobbled down what was in one of the hanging feeders, but the real action was yet another feeding flock that contained a Black-throated Green Warbler, a lifer for Sandy!  A Buff-bellied Hummer rattled but never came in…

Green Jays gobbling down breakfast...

From there we headed on to the Native Trail, heading through the old butterfly garden, where Sandy found an American Robin sitting on a log!  (I think they were dubious of the fact that the locals get excited about them, as they’re actually rarer than the Clay-colored… J)  The weather wasn’t the best for butters (nice temps but overcast skies), but a Turks-cap White Skipper showed well.  Yet another feeding flock (and yet another friendly White-eyed Vireo) showed up near the Rio Grande overlook, along with a pupping Couch’s Kingbird (that was hanging with a Golden-fronted Woodpecker wherever it went; we thought that was kinda funny), and while nothing sailed by while we waited, it was a nice rest!  We hiked the rest of the trail, but it was rather quiet by that time; we kicked up a wren of some kind that didn’t stick around while a Verdin called in the background, and we heard some Chachalacas making little chuckling noises unseen in the bushes; a Border Patrol guy rolling by on the narrow levee was the extent of the excitement!  However, a pretty Cardinal did decide to give us nice looks on the way back to the Visitor Center!

American Robin, rarer here in the Valley than the Clay-colored!

Sandy and Alan at the Rio Grande overlook

Shy Northern Cardinal

I was a little bummed at the number of species, but after comparing today’s count with other surveys I’ve done of the reserve during January, this was actually the highest count I’ve had for the month with 33 species!  Bird list:

Plain Chachalaca 
White-tipped Dove 
Buff-bellied Hummingbird 
Sora 
Killdeer 
Turkey Vulture 
Gray Hawk 
Golden-fronted Woodpecker 
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 
American Kestrel 
Great Kiskadee 
Couch's Kingbird 
White-eyed Vireo 
Green Jay 
Black-crested Titmouse 
Verdin 
House Wren 
Carolina Wren 
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 
American Robin 
Long-billed Thrasher 
American Goldfinch 
Olive Sparrow 
Lincoln's Sparrow 
Red-winged Blackbird 
Black-and-white Warbler 
Orange-crowned Warbler 
Common Yellowthroat 
Yellow-rumped Warbler 
Black-throated Green Warbler 
Wilson's Warbler 
Northern Cardinal 

Old Friends, New Hobby - Part 2

1/4/19 

For a half day of birding the standard “go to” place is almost always Estero Llano Grande State Park!  Today (although starting out at a brisk 40 degrees) would prove to be a gorgeous day, with sunny skies and no wind, getting up into the 70s!  Several potential life birds (including both whistling ducks) and a couple of rarities (like Tropical Parula and Hooded Oriole) had us heading in with high hopes!  A fussing Long-billed Thrasher right in the parking lot was uncooperative, but at least we heard the ticking Green Kingfisher coming from the hidden canal!

My initial plan was to head over to Alligator Lake first and give the Tropical Zone time to warm up, but upon hearing Carolina Wrens (another potential lifer), we headed on in anyway, and instantly got a trio of Clay-colored Thrushes!  A female Archilochus hummingbird posed nicely that showed all the characters of a Ruby-throated, so that’s what we called her.  Then no less than three Long-billed Thrashers vocalized near the camp host area, and we finally found one sitting at the tippy top of a tree!  The Carolina Wren sounded very close, but as we snuck up on the sound, several Black-crested Titmice materialized, which made me think I was actually hearing a very wren-like titmouse singing… L  However, as we scoured a little feeding flock there we found a very nice Pine Warbler, a lifer for both girls!

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Continuing towards Pauraque Hall, Barbara called us back when she spotted a couple of suspicious birds in the bushes:  one was a better look at a Long-billed Thrasher, but another fluffy guy sitting rather still turned out to be a Curve-billed Thrasher!  A young Harris’ Hawk was yelling from a perch and eventually fell off (quite literally)!  We then ran into the gentleman who was filling the feeders, who then asked us if we’d like to see the Pauraque!  Hey, if he had one staked out right there, let’s go for it!  He was very proud of the fact that he found it all by himself J, and indeed, he was hard to spot!  So after enjoying him we sat at the feeders for 15 minutes, as he had told us than an Ovenbird had been visiting the drip, but we enjoyed the regulars:  Green Jays, White-tipped Doves, titmice, and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers all put on a show, along with a Buff-bellied Hummer.  The best bird actually flew high overhead: a Ringed Kingfisher giving its single-noted flight call!  We then sauntered over to the new Indigo Blind, as Ranger Raul told us that’s where the parulas were hanging out, but instead we just enjoyed more great looks at the regular takers (and Julia finally got her Green Jay picture J)!  Another Long-billed Thrasher snuck in briefly as well, along with a bunny and Fox Squirrel…

Young Harris' Hawk (be sure to watch to the end!)

Julia and another birder shoot the Pauraque (below)

(Video grab - a great alternative when the light's too low for a standard picture!)

Video grab of a Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Green Jay pondering the seeds

Julia's coveted Green Jay portrait!  (Photo © 2019 by Julia Corbett)

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Black-crested Titmouse
  
From there we made the circle, and on the back side closer to the old Methodist camp we hit pay dirt when both an Altamira and the Hooded Orioles showed themselves!  At first Barb found the female, but then the male popped up for good comparisons!  We checked the feeding flocks carefully but just got the standard fare:  Orangecrowns, gnatcatchers, kinglets et al, but a Blue-headed Vireo and Nashville Warbler were nice additions!  A couple of Lincoln’s Sparrows actually sat still for scope views!  More Carolina Wrens sang in stereo, but as per usual, we just couldn’t pin one down… L  The hawk serenaded us the whole time, and at one point had claimed the very tippy top of one of the Norfolk Pines!  On the way out another birder cottoned us on to yet another Pauraque behind a sign!

Video grab of the male Hooded Oriole, rare this time of year!

Julia shoots a second Pauraque

The bad news was that Raul had informed us that the thousands of whistling ducks that had been there last month were totally gone, except for some that were hanging out in the actual Llano Grande! L  I had heard some fly over earlier, so I was hoping we’d see some somewhere eventually!  When we got to the main building to check in and take care of business, he was indeed right:  not a whistling duck to see seen anywhere!  The light was terrible (as per usual on a sunny morning), so we headed to the boardwalk so we could get the sun to our backs; we scared a Sora out from under the boardwalk, and Barb spotted a couple of Cinnamon Teal, but the place was alive with Green-winged Teal and Shovelers!  There were also plenty of Least Sandpipers around, and as we headed on, several Stilt Sandpipers were feeding alongside them.  A flock of dowitchers had flown by earlier, but we never saw them land.  But we did get a grassy view of a feeding Lesser Yellowlegs.  A Kiskadee posed over the boardwalk for Julia’s camera! J

Hiding pair of Cinnamon Teal

Male Northern Shoveler with his harem...

We took the long route to the levee, scaring up several Savannah Sparrows in the process (and hoping for something more exotic J); as we passed Curlew Pond I heard a Tropical Kingbird, and as we were trying to spot him a Least Flycatcher gave its wit call!  We then headed towards the levee and ran into the same gentleman with a big gun that was at the “kite spot” yesterday (he reported he stayed all day and the birds didn’t show up until the afternoon), but he sadly informed us that there were no Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in the llano L but the Fulvous Whistling Duck was in Dowitcher Pond!  So we skipped the levee and headed straight to said pond, where we had lots of Black-necked Stilts and more teal, and even a Pintail!  We were sweating a little until we finally found the Fulvous in beautiful light!  The Tropical Kingbird decided to show as well, so we got scope looks at him.

Julia heads out to Dowitcher Pond

A Snowy Egret primps for the day...

Julia's version (Photo © 2019 by Julia Corbett)

Fulvous Whistling Duck
  
It was almost time to head home, so we opted to go back to the Tropical Zone (the guy said he also had both parulas near the camp host area), only we got waylaid by the Sora who was coming out in wonderful light, so of course both Julia and I had to get some pictures! J  After that we really had to get going, so we headed straight to the car and headed home with 66 species for the morning.  

My Sora...

Julia's Sora!  (Photo © 2019 by Julia Corbett)

Bird list:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 
Fulvous Whistling-Duck 
Blue-winged Teal 
Cinnamon Teal 
Northern Shoveler 
Gadwall 
Mottled Duck 
Northern Pintail 
Green-winged Teal 
Plain Chachalaca 
White-tipped Dove 
Mourning Dove 
Common Pauraque 
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 
Buff-bellied Hummingbird 
Sora 
American Coot 
Black-necked Stilt 
Stilt Sandpiper 
Least Sandpiper 
Long-billed Dowitcher 
Spotted Sandpiper 
Lesser Yellowlegs 
Neotropic Cormorant 
American White Pelican 
Great Blue Heron 
Great Egret 
Snowy Egret 
Harris's Hawk 
Ringed Kingfisher 
Green Kingfisher 
Golden-fronted Woodpecker 
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 
Least Flycatcher 
Eastern Phoebe 
Great Kiskadee 
Tropical Kingbird 
Couch's Kingbird 
White-eyed Vireo 
Blue-headed Vireo 
Green Jay 
Black-crested Titmouse 
House Wren 
Carolina Wren 
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 
Clay-colored Thrush 
Curve-billed Thrasher 
Long-billed Thrasher 
Northern Mockingbird 
European Starling 
American Pipit 
Olive Sparrow 
Savannah Sparrow 
Lincoln's Sparrow 
Hooded Oriole 
Altamira Oriole 
Red-winged Blackbird 
Great-tailed Grackle 
Orange-crowned Warbler 
Nashville Warbler 
Common Yellowthroat 
Pine Warbler 
Yellow-rumped Warbler 
Northern Cardinal 
House Sparrow 

Old Friends, New Hobby - Part 1

1/3/19 

Barbara and Julia had been friends since age four, but it was only recently that the latter got the former into birding, so they were both down during a break in the academic year to see some new birds!  Julia had traveled the world and had seen many of our “semi-specialties” in Arizona (and even Costa Rica!), but almost everything was new for Barbara!  I had planned the standard tour, but decided to check the now-famous levee for the Hook-billed Kites!  It was even colder and windier than when Sue and Billy and I had come last Saturday, but unlike last Saturday, the birds were a no-show for the half hour we gave it (and the birds apparently hadn’t been seen the day before, which didn’t bode well).  But it wasn’t a waste as far as my charges were concerned:  every little feather was special!  Right off the bat an Anhinga flapped overhead, a pair of Altamira Orioles gave great views, and Green Jays entertained.  A brilliant Vermilion Flycatcher gave some a brief view as did a peeping Black Phoebe, and a Marsh Wren sang unseen.  We heard a Red-shouldered Hawk yelling, but never spotted it.  A male Ladder-backed Woodpecker put on a great show in a dead tree right next to the levee, while a female Golden-fronted was further back in the woods.  On the way back to the car two Tricolored Herons flew overhead.

Looking for Hook-billed Kites along the now-famous levee

We finally decided to head to the feeders at Bentsen, where the most action seemed to be right in the parking lot:  a whole herd of Chachalacas came running over, and were promptly bullied by a Mockingbird!  That was a first!  A tree full of American Goldfinches had a few House Finches in with them, which shortly joined a big flock of Lark Sparrows and even more House Finches on the ground, and the males had a variety of colors, from orange to rose!  At the canal the Black Phoebes were way down there and showing only when they flew over the water, so we continued to the Nature Center Feeders to see what would come in.  An Orange-crowned Warbler was checking out the empty peanut butter feeder, but the east side had more action, with several White-tipped Doves on the ground, more orioles and jays, plus Cardinals adding to the color!  A couple of Chachalacas came in as well, along with a pretty Golden-fronted Woodpecker.  On the way out the Black Phoebe was more cooperative, and a Buff-bellied Hummingbird gave a brief appearance at the tram stop, along with an Olive Sparrow on the ground!

American Goldfinches

House Finches (still considered rare in the Valley but are becoming somewhat expected in some places); rosy ones...

...and an orange one!

Altamira Oriole

White-tipped Dove

Golden-fronted Woodpecker


Chachalacas vs. Mockingbird...

From there we headed down Old Military Highway towards Anzalduas.  I heard a Couch’s Kingbird pupping in the sunflower field, so we piled out and got brief views as he flew off, but a flock of Lesser Goldfinches feeding on the sunflowers stole the show!  We took the levee to Anzalduas, and the girls were duly impressed with the view of the Rio Grande, but we didn’t pick up much bird-wise until we got to the “hawk field”, where the numbers were down from Saturday but we still picked up several White-tailed Hawks (mostly juvies), some Caracaras, and a distant young Redtail in a tree.  There were some other birders there, and one gentleman got on a distant hovering hawk that he thought might be the Ferruginous, so we all tracked it until it finally came closer and landed in the field to the north, showing us the nice white pitagials!  Another lifer for the girls!  Heading down the entrance road I casually waved to another carload of birders and stopped for some Savannah Sparrows, when the car suddenly started backing up and parked right next to us – it was my friend Tamie and Father Tom! J  Didn’t realize who it was when we passed them, and they weren’t gonna let me get away without saying hi! J

Distant immature Ferruginous Hawk, accidental in the Valley

The park was open today, but Julia had already seen Sprague’s Pipit in Arizona (and none of us were thrilled with the idea of tromping across the field in that bitter wind), so we car birded the park; no kingfishers on the river, but we did see a nice Osprey, and the girls picked up a couple of Coots.  Loggerhead Shrikes were quite cute and fluffy, but the highlight here was no less than three Vermilion Flycatchers (one a bright, full adult male)!  A titmouse came out at one feeding flock that we stopped for, but not long enough for everyone to get a good look… L  

Young male Vermilion Flycatcher

Looking for the titmice..

Barb and me (photo © 2019 by Julia Corbett)

Julia and Barb (photo © 2019 by Julia Corbett, even though I took it... 😄)

We discussed options after that and decided to go to Santa Ana, but not before Barbara spotted a Coyote trotting across the “pipit field” on the way out!  Billy had pointed out the Harris’ Hawk pair Bill Clark had banded and that had a territory along busy Military Highway, so I was keeping an eye out for them along the way, and there he was on a wire!  We detoured to Hidalgo for the Monk Parakeets (a flock of Green Parakeets had shot over the freeway on the way to Mission, but the girls couldn’t discern them in the gloom), and Barbara was amazed at the pretty winter pattern of the Starling (I think she described them as “greasy black” back home J)!  It was still cool and breezy at the refuge, but some little things were moving here and there along the trail; we didn’t run into the Golden-crowned Kinglet, but we had the Ruby-crowned along with Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  Three Common Ground Doves flushed into a tree and gave us scope views, and I heard a Beardless Tyrannulet that of course didn’t wanna play ball, as did a fussing Long-billed Thrasher and a couple of song-battling White-eyed Vireos.  What was cooperative to my surprise was a brilliant Verdin overhead!

Coyote hightailing it across the field

Willow Lakes contained their life Mottled Ducks and Least Grebes (the latter was a big target), along with the usual Gadwall, Shovelers, and both Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal (interestingly, the latter was not a lifer for either one).  Shorebirds included Black-necked Stilts, several Greater Yellowlegs, and pods of Long-billed Dowitchers across the way.  Soras were crying all over, and as we approached the final deck, Julia grabbed me by the jacket and pulled me back – she had spotted a Green Kingfisher on the culvert!  We saw her dart away, but thankfully she shortly came back and gave everyone great views!  On the hike back I pointed out the tree snails that are the staple Hook-billed Kite diet.


Julia shoots a tree snail (below), staple of the Hook-billed Kite!


Northern Shoveler

Consulting the bird app...

Since the Ringed Kingfisher was high on their list, we decided to head to Edinburg Wetlands for our last stop.  Hoping to scare up more songbirds (and scaring up a Zebra Heliconian instead), we took the long way to the north pond, where we added both flavors of cormorant, lots of Snowy Egrets, several White Pelicans, and a couple of Black-crowned Night Herons.  I planted the girls at the observation deck while I ran to the facilities, and by the time I got back they had found the Ringed Kingfisher down by the spillway, along with a Belted!  We decided to go down to that observation platform to get a better look, but on the way discovered a pod of Roseate Spoonbills in the canal!  The Snowy Egrets with them were quite fluffy as well, but as we watched yet another Green Kingfisher ticked from the branches!  (Another Buff-bellied Hummer also made a brief appearance at the feeder…)

Zebra Heliconian

Young Roseate Spoonbills

Fluffy Snowy Egrets


Heading on down to the platform, we got great looks at the Ringed Kingfisher (“tangerine” colored, one of them quipped J), along with great comparative looks at both cormorants decorating one of the trees across the way!  While Barbara visited the facilities Julia and I headed down the canal trail and eventually to the little blind near the entrance; a Wilson’s Warbler gave great views, but something batted around that I just couldn’t place – it looked and acted like a White-eyed Vireo put with no color and a plainer face!  The girls didn’t let me live that one down as I was totally stumped!  Best I could guess was a young White-eyed, as I recall those buggers fooling many of us in times past, making us think we had a Bell’s a first!

Ringed Kingfisher

Headed home after that, with 85 species for the day!  Bird list:

Blue-winged Teal 
Cinnamon Teal 
Northern Shoveler 
Gadwall 
Mottled Duck 
Northern Pintail 
Plain Chachalaca 
Least Grebe 
Pied-billed Grebe 
Rock Pigeon
Common Ground-Dove 
White-tipped Dove 
Mourning Dove 
Buff-bellied Hummingbird 
Sora 
American Coot 
Black-necked Stilt 
Killdeer 
Long-billed Dowitcher 
Greater Yellowlegs 
Anhinga 
Neotropic Cormorant 
Double-crested Cormorant 
American White Pelican 
Great Blue Heron 
Great Egret 
Snowy Egret 
Tricolored Heron 
Cattle Egret 
Black-crowned Night-Heron 
Roseate Spoonbill 
Black Vulture 
Turkey Vulture 
Osprey 
Northern Harrier 
Harris's Hawk 
White-tailed Hawk 
Red-shouldered Hawk 
Red-tailed Hawk 
Ferruginous Hawk 
Ringed Kingfisher 
Belted Kingfisher 
Green Kingfisher 
Golden-fronted Woodpecker 
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 
Crested Caracara 
American Kestrel 
Monk Parakeet 
Green Parakeet 
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet 
Black Phoebe 
Eastern Phoebe 
Vermilion Flycatcher 
Great Kiskadee 
Couch's Kingbird 
Loggerhead Shrike 
White-eyed Vireo 
Green Jay 
Black-crested Titmouse 
Verdin 
House Wren 
Marsh Wren 
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 
Long-billed Thrasher 
Northern Mockingbird 
European Starling 
American Pipit 
House Finch 
Lesser Goldfinch 
American Goldfinch 
Olive Sparrow 
Lark Sparrow 
Savannah Sparrow 
Lincoln's Sparrow 
Western Meadowlark 
Altamira Oriole 
Red-winged Blackbird 
Great-tailed Grackle 
Orange-crowned Warbler 
Common Yellowthroat 
Yellow-rumped Warbler 
Wilson's Warbler 
Northern Cardinal 
House Sparrow