Friday, September 20, 2019

When Easy Is Hard (and Vice Versa)

9/19/19 

Barbara was to head back home today, so we opted to go to Santa Ana NWR, as it was close, and her main target (the Beardless Tyrannulet) was reasonably easy to get.  Katinka joined us again, and before long we were hitting the trail, covering the Chachalaca Trail, then hugging the full Willow Lake (whichever one that is) on the Tower Trail, going past said towers, then picking up the Willow Lake Trail past the big overlook, then back to Chachalaca.  The air was full of birdsong:  Altamira Orioles and Green Jays were dominant, and large flocks of White-winged Doves and Red-winged Blackbirds flew over.  On the way to the restroom I discovered an Io Moth that was reticent to show his “eyes” for Barbara’s camera!

Io Moth

Heading down to the “roundabout” we heard several Olive Sparrows lisping and Carolina Wrens fussing, and before long Katinka spotted her life Long-billed Thrasher!  We stopped for every little guy, as Barbara was still looking for Alder Flycatcher and odd warblers, but the vast majority were Yellow Warblers or Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.  Both Tropical and Couch’s Kingbirds were all over, as well as four kinds of swallows swooping overhead in addition to the Chimney Swifts!  Something that I didn't recognize was going "tuck tuck", and we never could get it to come out, but the next morning on an exercise walk the perp came out for me, and it turned out to be a Yellow-breasted Chat!  We got to the first Willow Lake overlook where the girls spotted a raptor in a tree that I never could get on, but was probably a Harris’ Hawk from their description.  A pair of Mottled Ducks flying over were our only ducks, and Baltimore Orioles were going through in good numbers, but we also had some Hooded Orioles wheeping, with one female showing.  A Northern Waterthrush pinked near the big blind, and the Olive Sparrows finally showed for Katinka (another lifer), along with Black-crested Titmouse and Verdin.  A group of anis bounced through, and a Myiarchus flycatcher with a paler throat was labeled as a Brown-crested.  But I was very disappointed, as every exercise walk I’ve taken around the Chachalaca Trail (on a near daily basis) has produced the tyrannulet, and we didn’t hear one WheeK!  L

Groove-billed Ani

Barbara trying to pin down a mystery call (which turned out to be a Yellow-breasted Chat)

Katinka and Barbara pinning down a warbler

Barbara (left) and Katinka by the Big Blind
  
Continuing on the Tower Trail, we found Killdeer on the little sandbar, but Barbara spotted the Green Kingfisher shooting across!  A little further down an empid came and sat, and we had a discussion as to whether it was a Least or an Alder, as the former was my first impression (especially after Katinka’s pictures showed a dark tip to the lower mandible).  However, while we were watching that bird, I was hearing a pit coming from elsewhere that exactly matched the call note of the Alder, so she could at least bag that target (which, frankly, was the harder one to get)!  Someone spotted a raptor fly into a tree, and a look through the scope revealed a young Red-shouldered Hawk!  (They were hoping for a Roadside… J)  As we left the lake, a Ringed Kingfisher decided to sound off!

The "far" Willow Lake along the Tower Trail

Killdeer

Baltimore Oriole

We continued on past the towers, logging a Yellow-billed Cuckoo pair, and a nice look at a pewee.  Katinka saw a Nashville Warbler somewhere in there, and the bird of the day for me was a Chuck-will’s-widow that we flushed near the towers!  Approaching the overlook along the Willow Lakes Trail a Chachalaca let loose with an alarm call, and a Common Ground Dove sat on the railing (but not long enough for a picture… L).  As we rested there, what should come screaming in but the Ringed Kingfisher with a Couch’s Kingbird hot on her tail!  She made a couple of splashes and seemed to ignore the kingbird pair (we thought there was just one but the photos revealed two) until she finally found a perch out of sight.

Ringed Kingfisher (bottom right) and tormentors (Couch's Kingbirds)

Close-up of the kingfisher

Eastern Wood Pewee
  
Things were quieting down as we circled around, and I suggested we pass through the Spanish Moss-laden section of the Chachalaca Trail again, but no tyrannulet was to be had… L  However, during the second pass by Willow Lake, what I assumed was a Diamondback Water Snake came “slithering” across the lake (Katinka and I were transfixed but Barbara se fued the joint J)!  After posting the video on Facebook, several snake experts suggested that it was actually a young Indigo Snake, as the way it was swimming wasn't consistent with a water snake!

Young Indigo Snake
  
We crawled down the road and back to the Visitor’s Center, and while I got us signed in and took a peek at the back feeders (where a White-tipped Dove was poking around), we still had a little time left, and after some hemming and hawing Barbara asked if we could take one more swing around Chachalaca Trail, which was fine, so off we went!  I’d love to say that this time we hit pay dirt but sadly, the tyrannulet never called, but we did pick up a Great Crested Flycatcher on the return leg!  Barbara’s consolation was that she would hopefully pick it up at the King Ranch in a couple of weeks!

Surprised-looking Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  
We finally called it a day after that, with 52 species for the morning.  Bird list:

Mottled Duck
Plain Chachalaca
Inca Dove
Common Ground Dove
White-tipped Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Groove-billed Ani
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Chuck-will's-widow
Chimney Swift
Killdeer
Turkey Vulture
Red-shouldered Hawk
Ringed Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Alder Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
Couch's Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Green Jay
Black-crested Titmouse
Verdin
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Barn Swallow
Cave Swallow
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Carolina Wren
Long-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
Clay-colored Thrush
House Sparrow
Lesser Goldfinch
Olive Sparrow
Yellow-breasted Chat
Hooded Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Northern Waterthrush
Nashville Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Dickcissel

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Bust and Bounty

9/18/19 

Once again, Barbara was down to the Valley from the Hill Country to try and wrap up a few year birds, and while she hit pay dirt the evening before on her own (bagging anis and the screech owl at Estero), this morning was kind of a bust so far as targets for her went, but Katinka, a visiting guide from Honduras, joined us and racked up several life birds!

Barbara’s targets were limited to Alder Flycatcher and oddball warblers that might show up, so we headed to South Padre for the morning.  We went straight to the Convention Centre where skies were sunny with a slight breeze blowing, and Katinka’s sharp eyes picked up several Yellow Warblers, a Wilson’s, and an empid that unfortunately was just a Least…  A Blue Grosbeak sitting on the high dead branches was nice, but he was shortly replaced by a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, who was then upstaged by a Loggerhead Shrike!  But the one day I forgot to pack my Off Wipes was the one day we really needed them:  the mosquitos were horrendous!  Bird-wise we had a couple of Northern Waterthrushes and an Ovenbird out in the “back yard”, and from the overlook we picked up Marbled Godwits, Willets, both Blue-winged Teal and Mottled Ducks, and the normal cormorants, pelicans, and herons (including our pie-bald Reddish Egret playing hide-and-seek behind the island out in the Laguna Madre).  Out on the boardwalk we had the resident spoonbills and a few Western Sandpipers, but the only migrant we had out in the mangroves was a male Baltimore Oriole sitting up top (plus the wintering Belted Kingfisher out on the very end).  Dickcissels were flying all over, giving their brat flight calls, and on the way out we checked the circular area again and had a female Orchard Oriole.  Just as we were driving out Katinka spotted an Eastern Kingbird!

Heading over to South Padre Island on the Causeway

Katinka spots a warbler!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Loggerhead Shrike
 
Katinka and Barbara take the long way around!

Marbled Godwits (and Willet in the back)

Interesting fungus (also below)


Heading back...

Looking for goodies on the boardwalk...

Marbled Godwit (left) and Blue-winged Teal

Baltimore Oriole

Female Orchard Oriole
  
Barbara decided she wanted to take her Ford Expedition out on the Flats, so we took the shortcut road and headed out to enjoy several terns (Forster’s was a lifer for Katinka), skimmers (including some crisp juveniles), and more Piping Plovers hanging with the Sanderlings!  Barbara spotted a single Semipalmated Plover out there, and of course there were some Black-bellieds that still had their black belly, but alas, no Red Knots showed up… L

Caspian (left) and Forster's Terns

Black Skimmer - adult

Juvenile

Sandwich (left) and Royal Terns with skimmer

Piping Plover that escaped being "blinged"


Stretching...

Sanderlings
  
From there we headed to the Birding Center where a Kiskadee flopped around right in front of us as we parked, and an Osprey greeted us right away on a pole!  Barbara was a sport and agreed to hike the whole boardwalk (the only real migrant trap is the tiny little butterfly garden, where we saw zilch, zero, nada):  lots more Mottled Ducks greeted us (and wanted a handout, of course), and we found Big Padre the Alligator and his smaller kin.  I was still hoping for Red Knot for the year, and thought I saw a couple fly by, but the only chunky shorebirds we could find in the flats south of the boardwalk were Short-billed Dowitchers and Black-bellied Plovers.  While checking those out Barbara hissed, “Right in front of us!!”  A little guy was flopping around in a close mangrove, and since she glimpsed stripes on the head she thought she had her coveted Worm-eating Warbler, but when it finally gave us a decent look it turned out to be a Red-eyed Vireo…  Clapper Rails sounded off very close, and Barbara was actually able to spot one near the boardwalk – another lifer for Katinka!  (They get the split-off Mangrove Rail in Honduras…)  Several White Ibis on the railing entertained us, and a Least Sandpiper gave a good look on the east-bound loop.  Green Herons flew across while Least Bitterns sounded off unseen, and while trying to sort things out in the East Pond, an adolescent Common Gallinule whined at us from just over the boardwalk; even Momma acted like she was expecting a handout!  Back at the car, Barbara spotted (no pun intended) a Spotted Ground Squirrel beyond the fence, a nice mammal to get here!

Katinka acts as photographer for a visiting couple!

Tricolored Heron

Barbara enjoys the tame White Ibis on the railing!

Here he takes a drink (and his eye is fine - he's blinking!)

From there we headed over to Sheepshead, where there was actually a bit of action:  right away a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher hopped around in a mesquite before we even got out of the car, and an Olive-sided Flycatcher sat on the wire!  Two pewees song-battled it out next door to the “dark side”, and we glimpsed an American Redstart before we had to escape due to some electrical work being done on the power lines!  We actually checked the “sunny side” first where we had another Least Flycatcher and another couple of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, but on the “dark side” about the only thing we could muster up was the ever-present Northern Waterthrush.  A second Olive-sided Flycatcher showed up, which was kinda cool!

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Katinka points out a pewee on the Sunny Side

We called it a day after that, adding a Northern Harrier along SR 48 on the way home, and ending with 67 species for the morning.  Bird list:

Blue-winged Teal
Mottled Duck
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Clapper Rail
Common Gallinule
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
Killdeer
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
Least Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Laughing Gull
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Royal Tern
Sandwich Tern
Black Skimmer
Neotropic Cormorant
Brown Pelican
Least Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Tricolored Heron
Reddish Egret
Green Heron
White Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Northern Harrier
Belted Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Eastern Kingbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Red-eyed Vireo
Loggerhead Shrike
Barn Swallow
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Northern Mockingbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
American Redstart
Yellow Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Blue Grosbeak
Dickcissel

Monday, September 9, 2019

A Push for the Plovers

9/7/19 

Since Joakim had reported Piping Plovers on the Flats (and eBird had reported Red Knots at the Birding Center), I set my sights on South Padre Island for Saturday’s outing!  It promised to be a gorgeous day, and as I arrived at the Flats around sunrise, the tide was in enough so that it prevented me from going “around the corner” (someone had already claimed that spot, anyway), but I could still drive up to some of the birds.  Besides hearing Dickcissels “bratting” overhead, the usual players were loafing, not in huge numbers, but a lot of juveniles made up the mix.  At least (no pun intended) a dozen Least Terns wheeled in that were all juvies, and several Black Skimmers and Royal Terns were youngsters as well.  Right at the get go was a large flock of White Ibis all preening away, plus a few Willets, Sanderlings, and Ruddy Turnstones running around.  Further out was a large flock of Short-billed Dowitchers with a few Marbled Godwits thrown in, and while I picked up both Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers right away, I couldn’t find the coveted Piping L.  While checking out the terns on the far north side I spotted some little bodies, but I had to get good close looks and scrutinize them well to convince me they weren’t odd-looking Semipals, as their plumage overall looked too dark for Piping, but they certainly had the plain face pattern (and a few tell-tale leg bands)!  Best I could figure was that the angle of the morning sun was playing tricks on their very worn plumage…  A Snowy Plover was in the mix as well, and his back color was about the same as the Pipings (as they should be), so I figured it was the sun…  I did hear one calling, so we’re safe… J

The Flats at dawn

White Ibis group

Close-up of one of the ibis

Willet

Black Skimmer

Royal Tern

Sandwich Tern

Black-bellied Plover

Immature Least Tern

Piping Plover (also below)


Snowy Plover
  
From there headed over to the Convention Centre, where I decided I liked the idea of parking on the far side of the Circular Area and working my way through to the Centre, even if things seemed slow (as “you never know”).  No birds graced my journey but a pair of Common Green Darners “in the wheel” and shining brightly in the sun was a treat!  A pewee was performing from the top of a tree near the sidewalk, and three Orchard Orioles landed briefly in the tree tops before moving on.  A five-minute vigil at the water feature yielded a cooperative Northern Waterthrush and a very uncooperative Kentucky Warbler, then ran into a couple of guys in the “back yard” who pointed out a female American Redstart, some Yellow Warblers, a female Baltimore Oriole, and an empid that struck me as an Alder (I had heard a pit earlier that I suspected might have been said bird).  The marsh lookout in the back had a Great Blue Heron and several Neotropic Cormorants lined up on the pilings, plus a good comparison of a Little Blue and Tricolored Heron.  Our piebald Reddish Egret was running around, showing even more white feathering on his neck, but a close look at the pictures led me to think he was just worn…  On the way back ran into Mark Esparza who had seen some frigatebirds fly over, but they eluded me…  

Common Green Darners

Eastern Wood Pewee (also below)


Great Blue Heron and Neotropic Cormorants (also below)


Little Blue (left) and Tricolored Herons

Reddish Egret (also below)
  

On the way to the boardwalk I heard a Groove-billed Ani, and a little Least Flycatcher showed off close on the boardwalk (but took off the minute I pulled out the camera L)!  Both Clapper Rails and Least Bitterns were calling but not showing themselves, Roseate Spoonbills were hanging out in the East Pond, and the friendly Common Gallinule was at his post.  Migrants had been reported in previous days but they weren’t showing themselves this day, except for a pair of Blue Grosbeaks.  These little crabs were running all over the “Mangrove Boardwalk”, looking like miniature tarantulas!  A Common Nighthawk fluttered way overhead, Green Herons flew and called, and a couple of Yellow-crowned Night Herons flew by at the end of the “Marsh Boardwalk”.  The Belted Kingfisher was back, and after using the restroom I was blasting past the water feature when a Red-eyed Vireo caught my eye, so I decided to spend another five minutes there, enjoying the vireo as he proceeded to take a dip!

Crab sp.  (Any guesses??)

Common Gallinule

Red-eyed Vireo (also below)


Brown Anole
  
The Birding and Nature Center was next, where the butterfly garden had a little action with another waterthrush, another Yellow Warbler, plus a Hooded Warbler and gobs of Eastern Kingbirds!  Many Mottled Ducks were out on the sandbar, and several larids and shorebirds were way out there but too far away to ID.  A Black Tern batted by at one of the blinds, and somewhere in there a Gull-billed also powered by.  A scan of Laguna Madre picked up a single Pied-billed Grebe, and Tropical Buckeyes were showing off along the spur boardwalk that used to connect with the CC boardwalk.  There were more White Ibis in that little open area that’s usually packed with birds (and sometimes even an alligator), but no shorebirds this time.  A baby gallinule was poking along the reeds parallel to the East Pond, but I couldn’t pick up anything interesting besides the spoonbills.

View from the Birding and Nature Center Deck

Eastern Kingbird

The Enforcer...

Mottled Duck

Tropical Buckeye

White Ibis

Common Gallinule

The "East Pond"

Roseate Spoonbills
  
Off to Sheepshead, where I ran into Mark again!  He had spotted a Worm-eating Warbler (gone at the moment), but another waterthrush came in while I was there in addition to more Yellow Warblers.  After checking out the “sunny side” I returned to the “dark side”, where Mark thought he had a Blackburnian Warbler!  Thankfully it came down to viewing distance and showed well (what looked like a first-year female), and as I was following some action in the back, his Worm-eating Warbler showed up!  That was very exciting (and sent us both wildly snapping pictures as that plus the Blackburnian were both flagged in eBird)!

Three shots of the immature Blackburnian Warbler



Worm-eating Warbler

Was time to eat lunch and then head home, where I added a pair of White-tailed Hawks on the toll road, bringing the list up to 81 species for the morning!  Bird list:

Muscovy Duck (Domestic type)
Mottled Duck
Pied-billed Grebe
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Groove-billed Ani
Common Nighthawk
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Clapper Rail
Common Gallinule
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
Black-bellied Plover
Snowy Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
Killdeer
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
Dunlin
Least Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Laughing Gull
Least Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Black Tern
Forster's Tern
Royal Tern
Sandwich Tern
Black Skimmer
Neotropic Cormorant
Brown Pelican
Least Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Reddish Egret
Green Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
White Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
White-tailed Hawk
Belted Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Alder Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Red-eyed Vireo
Loggerhead Shrike
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
European Starling
Northern Mockingbird
House Sparrow
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Great-tailed Grackle
Worm-eating Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Kentucky Warbler
Hooded Warbler
American Redstart
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Blue Grosbeak
Dickcissel