Monday, September 10, 2018

The Birder Patrol Invades Frontera


A nice little group showed up for this month’s Birder Patrol led by Pat Heirs, and since migration was well under way, Norma (president of Arroyo Colorado Audubon, aka ACAS) had chosen Frontera Audubon Thicket in Weslaco, a jewel of a place within suburbia that is often a great migrant trap, to say nothing of being a superb rarity trap!  No rarities today, but right away in the parking lot we had constant flyovers of Chimney Swifts, both Barn and Bank Swallows (with at least one Cliff), and a dozen Red-crowned Parrots!  We headed in to give Chris our entrance fee, then hit the trails, keeping an ear and eye out for stuff.  There was a bit of activity near the “Green Kingfisher Resaca” (some dragonfly folks call it the “Mexican Wedgetail Resaca”, and we did indeed see an amberwing of some kind there); the main show was a Great Crested Flycatcher or two, plus a beat-up Clay-colored Thrush.  The main pond had a Snowy Egret and Spotted Sandpiper, and while we never spotted them (no pun intended), both Ringed and Green Kingfishers called unseen.  Dragonflies were all over, but the only ones to settle down were Roseate Skimmers.  Someone thought they heard an Eastern Phoebe, but I pointed out that it was actually a Lesser Goldfinch incorporating that into his song; surprisingly they do a fair bit of mimicry!  I also heard a pik-a-chooing Summer Tanager that Ken eventually saw.

Julie, Baceliza, Pat, and Alan look for a Great Crested Flycatcher while Kathy enjoys a rest on the bench!

The great rains of late June had caused much flooding, and in one of the new “wetlands” we found a group of Yellow-crowned Night Herons.  We checked out the pond beyond the chain link fence (owned by Mr. Payne we found out, in addition to the manicured pond behind his house where a feral Muscovy was hanging out) and picked up a Great Blue Heron, but no kingfishers.  Anis were calling throughout, and someone (I think it was Baceliza) finally spotted one!  I thought I heard a waterthrush, but couldn’t get him to come out.  We were discussing the difference between Sabal and Washingtonian Palms (the former is our only native one), and while the shape of the leaves could be subtle, George pointed out that the Washingtonian has thorns on the “branches” whereas Sabals don’t – that’s a lot easier to see!

Yellow-crowned Night Heron
We took a quick look at the boardwalk area, and sharp-eyed Ken spotted a Guava Skipper on some milkweed (I think that’s what he said it was)!  Back in the woods on the “Dead End Trail” a shy Julia Heliconian fluttered around; earlier we had had a similar Gulf Fritillary.  Rounding the corner Pat was pointing out all the spots where the Blue Bunting had shown up (they have multiple drips along the trails), when a Beardless Tyrannulet started calling fairly close!  He never showed, of course, but a migrating Eastern Wood Pewee was much more cooperative!  A tree-full of Couch’s Kingbirds were joined by Easterns, and a quick sit at the feeders gave us looks at Chachalacas and both White-tipped and White-winged Doves, along with a Buff-bellied Hummingbird.  

Guava Skipper (also below)

The Birder Patrol on the Boardwalk

Shy Julia Heliconian

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Most of us were pretty much ready to call it a morning after that (although Ken spotted some Yellow Warblers in a Tepeguaje).  Altogether we had 48 species (if you include the feral Muscovy Duck J) for the morning!  Bird List:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  6
Muscovy Duck (Domestic type)  1
Plain Chachalaca  3
Inca Dove  4
White-tipped Dove  3
White-winged Dove  30
Groove-billed Ani  3
Chimney Swift  12
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  3
Killdeer  1
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Great Blue Heron  1
Snowy Egret  1
Green Heron  1
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  5
Ringed Kingfisher  1
Green Kingfisher  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  3
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
Red-crowned Parrot  12
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet  1
Eastern Wood-Pewee  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  2
Great Kiskadee  4
Couch's Kingbird  5
Eastern Kingbird  12
White-eyed Vireo  5
Green Jay  5
Bank Swallow  8
Barn Swallow  8
Cliff Swallow  1
Black-crested Titmouse  4
Carolina Wren  4
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  3
Clay-colored Thrush  4
Northern Mockingbird  3
Lesser Goldfinch  3
Olive Sparrow  1
Hooded Oriole  1
Red-winged Blackbird  2
Great-tailed Grackle  1
Mourning Warbler  1
Yellow Warbler  1
Summer Tanager  1
Northern Cardinal  2
Dickcissel  3
House Sparrow  2

Monday, September 3, 2018

Exploring the Rice Tract


The Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR has many disjunct tracts throughout the Valley, and the Rice Tract is one of them – fairly unknown, and generally hard to get to!  Rice Tract Road, despite what the map says, is impassable around its middle section, so unless you have a major off-road vehicle and a sense of adventure to match, you pretty much have to stop when your driving discomfort meter goes off and take a walk!  The birdiest place along the route is the “Rice Tract Oasis”, a resaca right where the off ramp from I-69E and SR 100 connect; at the intersection you turn right over the railroad tracks, and you’re now on Rice Tract Road with the resaca on your left.  I got here a few minutes before dawn, and already the place was stuffed with Roseate Spoonbills and Cattle Egrets!  Black-necked Stilts had their almost-grown babies feeding about, and at least three Green Herons were stalking breakfast in the middle of the water.  A Ruddy Turnstone and some Least Sandpipers were the only other shorebirds I could pick out, but just before I left I heard some Least Terns calling.  
Roseate Spoonbills

With Cattle Egrets

Once the sun came up I continued on Rice Tract Road, stopping periodically, and along one nice little patch of thornscrub had several migrant flycatchers:  Eastern Wood Pewee, Least Flycatcher, and a robust-sounding Great Crested Flycatcher!  It’s not long after that where you reach the dicey part, but there was a nice area to pull over, and I took a ten-minute walk down the rutted road and into the woods.  I felt a little creepy back there, so maybe going with a buddy would be prudent, but decided that on future trips maybe just staying within eyesight of the car would be okay; in that area alone I had White-tipped Doves, an Olive Sparrow getting something from some discarded horse hay and “road apples”, a surprising “McCall’s” Screech Owl trilling, a pair of Chachalacas that flew across the road, and a young Altamira Oriole that came out to pishing!  I didn’t even notice the nest until I was walking back, nor had I noticed the little fresh water marsh by the side of the road, although no bird life was to be heard or seen (I did hear a Pied-billed Grebe while I was back there, so there’s water somewhere back there)!

A couple views of the dicey westbound part of Rice Tract Road

Young Altamira Oriole (also below)

Altamira Oriole nest

Hidden marsh near the "trailhead"

Heading back out I checked the oasis again, where Black, Forster’s, and Caspian Terns had joined the lineup!  More herons had arrived as well, including a pretty immature Tricolored and all white Little Blue, but the star was a handsome Green Kingfisher that posed on a stick!  I turned south on FM 1421 and stopped where the resaca crosses the road, scaring up a Spotted Sandpiper in addition to what I had already logged (I suspected there were some yellowlegs on the east side but with the glare you couldn’t tell).  

"Rice Tract Oasis"

Roseate Spoonbill

Immature Tricolored Heron

Green Kingfisher

The plan was to check out some of these other resacas, and while the next one next to Serenity Road was dry, the road itself looked interesting, so I poked along that, spotting several Groove-billed Anis in addition to the usual suspects.  This road dumped back out on Rice Tract, so I looped around once again, down to FM 1732, over to US 281, then north on FM 1577, hoping to access the west end of Rice Tract and also explore some other roads that were near resacas (according to the map).  I did stop at a couple of the resaca crossings, but they were pretty sparse bird-wise, and the residential streets contained everything from gorgeous mansions to pit bull-guarded shacks, but no access to the resacas.

I found the west end of Rice Tract Road, and there you have a view of a beautiful resaca that had tons of Neotropic Cormorants and a lone White Ibis!  Continuing past the residential area, there was a section of decent dirt road that went by some agricultural areas (thinking that they might be productive in winter), but before long I came to an area that, while not as dicey as the other end, it was rutted enough that I wasn’t prepared to take my car down it, so I parked and walked down another ten minutes.  Even though it was getting warm, there were some nice birds on this end:  Eastern Kingbirds joined the mobs of Barn Swallows flying overhead, and kicked up a couple of Common Ground Doves amongst all the Mournings.  A Cooper’s Hawk fled his perch, and a Black Vulture joined the Turkeys.  A Great Pondhawk was the only ode to settle down, and I tried my best to identify some of the plants along the way, but I’m afraid that Mesquite and Retama were the only ones I recognized… L

Neotropic Cormorant starting to show his breeding plumes!

Resaca on the west end of Rice Tract Road

The drivable portion of the dirt part

Eastern Kingbird

Northern Mockingbird

Dry wetland at my turnaround point

Two views of the "trail"

Great Pondhawk

From there I wanted to find Lago Road, and once I found it, there was a good-sized little lake there with Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and a sleepy Yellow-crowned Night Heron!  The rest of the road went into a field, I think, and the main road actually went north and turned into PFC Juan Garza Road, which took me back to the frontage road; a couple of stops along here ironically gave me a few whiz-by Ruby-throated Hummingbirds!  An attempt to find the east end of Lago Road failed, so I called it a day.  Even with what seemed like endless wandering, ended up with 70 species for the morning!  

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (mate is hiding)

Bird list (generated from eBird):

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  3
Plain Chachalaca  4
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  4
Common Ground-Dove  2
White-tipped Dove  5
White-winged Dove  23
Mourning Dove  58
Groove-billed Ani  7
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  3
Black-necked Stilt  8
Killdeer  2
Ruddy Turnstone  1
Least Sandpiper  9
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Laughing Gull  3
Least Tern  1
Caspian Tern  1
Black Tern  3
Forster's Tern  1
Neotropic Cormorant  23
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  4
Snowy Egret  1
Little Blue Heron  2
Tricolored Heron  1
Cattle Egret  30
Green Heron  4
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  2
White Ibis  1
Roseate Spoonbill  7
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  4
Cooper's Hawk  1
Eastern Screech-Owl  1
Green Kingfisher  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  14
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  7
Eastern Wood-Pewee  3
Least Flycatcher  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  1
Brown-crested Flycatcher  4
Great Kiskadee  14
Tropical Kingbird  4
Couch's Kingbird  10
Eastern Kingbird  3
Loggerhead Shrike  2
White-eyed Vireo  6
Green Jay  11
Bank Swallow  1
Barn Swallow  81
Cave Swallow  3
Black-crested Titmouse  2
Verdin  2
Carolina Wren  14
Bewick's Wren  1
Curve-billed Thrasher  4
Long-billed Thrasher  4
Northern Mockingbird  19
Olive Sparrow  6
Orchard Oriole  3
Altamira Oriole  2
Red-winged Blackbird  3
Brown-headed Cowbird  2
Great-tailed Grackle  14
Yellow Warbler  1
Northern Cardinal  6
Dickcissel  4
House Sparrow  15

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Seasonal Hotspots


Pat Heirs joined me Saturday morning in an exploration of the Hargill area:  there were several eBird hotspots in the vicinity, and I wanted to see if I could create a road-birding route that covered them.  This route included the famous 1015 Pond, a couple of seasonal ponds on CR 2500, Delta Lake County Park, Nittler Road, and Israel Cavazos Road in Hargill (which basically covers the Hargill Playa and a couple of wetlands north of the road). It was a beautiful day with a good variety, and we ended up with 76 species for the morning!

We bagged a Caracara on the way up that didn’t get included in any of the hotspots, but after totally zipping by the 1015 Pond (which is easy to do), we made a U-ie and enjoyed several water birds (as the pond doesn’t always have water in it, and with the drought we were concerned):  seven species of herons (including a cackling Least Bittern), Pied-billed Grebes, Mottled Ducks, Common Gallinules, and Black-necked Stilts made up the water birds, while the first of many migrating Yellow Warblers chirped in the mesquites.  

Pat checks out the 1015 Pond (below)

Then, heading north to FM 490, we hung a left (where a Common Nighthawk batted across the road) and then another left on FM 88, and then turned right on CR 2500; the wetland here was dry, but the habitat was great, so we bumped along this two-track road with a forest growing in the median, enjoying a couple groups of Bobwhite running ahead of us, some Lark Sparrows, a flopping Least Flycatcher, a Cardinal, and a really funny-looking young grackle!  We turned north at an intersection (the road was a tad better) which according to Google Maps is CR 30, and hit the jackpot along here with great looks at a Groove-billed Ani, a young Bullock’s Oriole, a female Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and a Couch’s Kingbird that perched overhead!  I also noticed an interesting thing about the updated mobile eBird app:  apparently if a bird’s never been recorded at that hotspot, it gives you a red dot – we added several that day!  Another symbol is “infrequent”, which I assume means that it’s been reported in the hotspot, but not very often…

Female/young Great-tailed Grackle that had us doing a double-take!

Bobwhite family

CR 2500

Several shots of the young Bullock's Oriole (note the flanges on the mouth)

Female Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Couch's Kingbird

Shy Groove-billed Ani (listen hard for his "pit-tweek!" calls)

We backtracked to 88 and checked the west side of Delta Lake, which was high, but picked up a Snowy Egret and Laughing Gull, along with a couple of Black Vultures.  Across the street two Least Bitterns called to each other, and a Great Egret stood ignoring the fishermen and their big Husky dog!  In the park we practically had the whole place to ourselves, but the swarms of cowbirds were incredible!  There were also great numbers of swallows (particularly Purple Martins), but a pair of early Tree Swallows got flagged.  While shooting the swallows a large flock of White Ibis flew over, and later a smaller flock of White-faced Ibis went by in the distance.  Pat spotted a Lesser Nighthawk on a branch, and more Yellow Warblers chirped from the trees.  A pair of Black-necked Stilts was in the little north side pond, and Cave Swallows came within touching distance on the bridge to the back area!  It was pretty quiet back there, so we came back out and crawled around the picnic area where a flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flew over, but no hoped-for Black Phoebe.  Pat thought she had a low-flying Turkey Vulture, but it had a fat head, so I jumped out in time to get my bins on it as it flew over the car and showed off a stunning banded tail:  Zone-tailed Hawk!  Too bad it disappeared before we could properly document it!

Lesser Nighthawk

Early Tree Swallows (top and bottom) hanging out with Bank and Rough-winged Swallows

Close-up of the two birds

The "back area"

Pat chose to chill in the car while I quickly checked out the little walkway to the spit; a White-tailed Kite flew overhead and a Coot was in the marsh, but that was about it.  An Upland Sandpiper flew over, and after using the restrooms (the only ones on the whole route, just so you know…) we headed down to Nittler Road.  Any signs of past wetlands were long gone, but in the thornscrub we had nice looks at a Brown-crested Flycatcher, Orchard Oriole, Long-billed Thrasher, and Olive Sparrow, while a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher buzzed unseen.  An Olive-sided Flycatcher landed on a wire, and we also found an Osprey sitting in a field!

Marsh from the bridge leading to the spit trail (below)

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Up to Hargill we went, adding a Swainson’s Hawk on the way, where the heat waves were just too strong to make out many shorebirds in the playa; about the only thing I could ID were a handful of Wilson’s Phalaropes and Stilt Sandpipers, but there were gobs of peeps across the way.  A large flock of Laughing Gulls had two Caspian Terns in with them, and while you could barely see into the playa from Israel Cavazos, the berm was still overgrown, so you really couldn’t get any height.  The wetlands further down the road were dry, of course, but more cowbirds and grackles got added to the list.  The next hotspot north on 490 and CR2500 was dry as a bone, so since it was past 11:00 we didn’t even bother making an eBird entry for that one and decided to head on home.

Hargill Playa
Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Mottled Duck                         
  Northern Bobwhite                    
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Least Bittern                        
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Little Blue Heron                    
  Tricolored Heron                     
  Cattle Egret                         
  Green Heron                          
  Black-crowned Night-Heron            
  White Ibis                            
  White-faced Ibis                     
  Black Vulture                        
  Turkey Vulture                       
  White-tailed Kite                    
  Swainson's Hawk                      
  Zone-tailed Hawk                     
  Common Gallinule                     
  American Coot                        
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  Upland Sandpiper                     
  Stilt Sandpiper                      
  Wilson's Phalarope                   
  Laughing Gull                        
  Caspian Tern                         
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  White-winged Dove                    
  Mourning Dove                        
  Inca Dove                            
  Common Ground-Dove                   
  Groove-billed Ani                    
  Lesser Nighthawk                      
  Common Nighthawk                     
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  Olive-sided Flycatcher               
  Least Flycatcher                     
  Brown-crested Flycatcher             
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                    
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher            
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Northern Rough-winged Swallow        
  Purple Martin                        
  Tree Swallow                         
  Bank Swallow                         
  Barn Swallow                         
  Cave Swallow                         
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Yellow Warbler                       
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Lark Sparrow                         
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Bronzed Cowbird                      
  Brown-headed Cowbird                 
  Orchard Oriole                       
  Bullock's Oriole                     
  House Sparrow