Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Great Birthday Adventure, Part 5

1/13/17

 Despite our “modern sophistication,” there’s still an instinctive pall about “Friday the 13th”, so I like to believe that, contrarily, a special blessing is in store!  That certainly happened this day, as since Griffin finally got his seedeater way back up Laredo (and the anis finally showed themselves at Falcon State Park), he wanted to target the famous Brownsville Dump as a Vega Gull (the Siberian race of Herring Gull and a candidate for a split down the road) had been reported there.  Trying to find one gull in a flock of a gazillion gulls was gonna be a miracle, I knew, but there was always the chance of finding some other odd gull in the mix as well.

I don’t visit the Dump often, and when I do, the access is always different, and since they actually built a visitor’s center at the entrance (and I noticed on the way out that the old entrance office had a mural of bird paintings on its walls), the new check-in office was actually down the road a bit; the nice man brought out his book for us to sign, and we were on our way!  We had also taken separate cars this time, as Griffin wanted to stay out longer than I’d be able to, so they followed me in and up the old back road, only I noticed to my chagrin that the old “wetlands” to the north of the dump were no more!  (And there were no gulls visible on the hill, either; the garbage is always moving…)  So we headed back down and up the hill where all the action seemed to be, only to find out that we couldn’t go any further due to that being the “active area”, but that nice man directed us back down the hill and to a road that would take us to the back side of the area where they were working (out of harm’s way).  On the way over we stopped to scan some distant gulls in a wetland of sorts, picking up a few large shorebirds for the day, but then decided our best bet was to get up to where the mob was.

And what a mob it was!  If you’ve never been to The Dump, you need to go at least once to experience the thing!  Swarms and swarms of gulls floated around the bulldozers as they moved around the “stuff”, and on the ground Black Vultures and Caracaras were finding nice little morsels for breakfast (ugh) while White-tailed Hawks waited in the wings (I noticed with some amusement that the latter two species were all youngsters – no adults hanging out there)!  A few Chihuahuan Ravens also hung out on the fence, the wind showing their white neck feathers very nicely!  But the gulls were the big show, so we set to work studying those that actually sat down next to the rubbish.  Mostly Laughing Gulls, with a handful of Ring-billed and “regular” Herring Gulls, and I was wondering how in the world I was gonna pick out this bird with a “shade darker” mantle and darker eye, when suddenly Griffin found it!  We all got on it, and it was true:  once you saw the thing and saw how different it was from the other Herrings (he also had a lot of dark mottling on the head), he really stood out!  Superficially, he reminded me of a California Gull with pink legs, as they often have the same amount of mottling on the head, and the mantle shade is about the same, along with the darker eye.

Mob scene at the famous Brownsville Dump


Fuzzy Chihuahuan Raven, showing why they used to be called "White-necked Raven"

Black Vultures join the gulls

(Shades of Alfred Hitchcock...)

The mob consists mostly of smaller Laughing Gulls, but also has several Herring Gulls of various ages mixed in.
A few Ring-billed Gulls are also present.

"Standard" Herring Gull showing pale gray mantle and pale yellow eyes

Here the darker-mantled Vega Gull (left) tries to sneak by unnoticed...

The darker eye also helps separate him from the other Herrings.

Here he tries to hide behind a young Crested Caracara... 

More shots of Mr. Vega... 

Here he is with another "standard" adult Herring Gull (at right)
 


Fuzzy in-flight shot 

After enjoying him, we bumped down the road (I was amazing that their little white sedan didn’t bottom out) and headed up to South Padre.  At the Convention Centre (where some kind of market-like event was going on as the place was absolutely packed with people) everyone piled into my car and we headed out onto the flats, which I warned could look a little “scary” to people who weren’t familiar with the (in reality) hard-packed beach with a lot of deep pools strewn all over!  We drove close to a flock of resting larids, but not too close as we noticed someone with a monster lens set up taking pictures, so we got behind them and scanned the flock for Griffin’s only remaining Valley target, the Sandwich Tern!  We initially couldn’t find one (although there were lots of Royals, Forster’s, and Skimmers around), but other nice birds included both flavors of Reddish Egret, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, and a Common Loon out in the bay. 

Bumping down the hill to the exit
Bayside Flats at South Padre

Brown and White Pelicans together

Beat-up Willet 

Griffin studies the flock while others beach-comb and photo-shoot...

Mostly Laughing Gulls and Black Skimmers

Snoozing Skimmers

Revelers flying their kites 

After awhile they let me talk them into checking the back of the Convention Centre, where a couple of Sedge Wrens calls and one of the flocks was in better light, but no Sandwich Tern.  So then we went down to the Hwy 48 Boat Ramp, as the Sandwich had been seen there a day or two previously, but didn’t get anything out of that trip but a Yellow-crowned Night Heron for the day. L  So we decided to head back to the flats and just wait it out, and patience finally paid off when one lonely little Sandwich Tern showed up in the flock!  That was all we needed!

Griffin was curious about Sabal Palm Grove (and thought it’d be nice to see a Yellow-throated Warbler, although that really wasn’t a target), so we headed down there, and found out that three Tropical Parulas were hanging around down there!  We didn’t run into any of them, and the wind was really starting to whip up, so we headed to the Big Blind willing a Masked Duck to show up J, but the best we could conjure up was a Mottled Duck that definitely had some Northern Mallard blood in him as he had a curly tail!  A hike around the Vireo Loop added a shy Yellow-bellied Sapsucker to the list, and a little feeding flock had a Nashville and Wilson’s Warbler in with them.

Scene along the Resaca Trail at Sabal Palm Sanctuary

I had to head home about that time, so we kissed goodbye and went our separate ways!  With three additional species seen by Griffin, our day total was 70 on the nose!  Bird List:

  Gadwall                              
  Mottled Duck                         
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Redhead                              
  Red-breasted Merganser               
  Common Loon                          
  Least Grebe                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Double-crested Cormorant             
  American White Pelican               
  Brown Pelican                        
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  [Little Blue Heron]
  Reddish Egret                        
  Cattle Egret                         
  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron           
  Black Vulture                        
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Osprey                               
  Cooper's Hawk                        
  Harris's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  American Coot                        
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  American Avocet                      
  Black-bellied Plover                 
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  [Spotted Sandpiper]
  Willet                               
  Marbled Godwit                       
  Ruddy Turnstone                      
  Sanderling                           
  Laughing Gull                        
  Ring-billed Gull                      
  Herring Gull                         
  Caspian Tern                         
  Forster's Tern                       
  Royal Tern                           
  Sandwich Tern                        
  Black Skimmer                        
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker             
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Eastern Phoebe                        
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                    
  Blue-headed Vireo                    
  Green Jay                            
  Chihuahuan Raven                     
  Horned Lark                          
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  House Wren                           
  Sedge Wren                           
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Hermit Thrush                        
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Nashville Warbler                    
  [Wilson’s Warbler]
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 

70 SPECIES (with Griffin’s)

The Great Birthday Adventure, Part 4

1/11/17

 Today it was “Seedeaters Or Bust” for Griffin, as he and his mom had gone up to Falcon and Salineño the day before and dipped on both the seedeaters and reported anis, so we headed up once again with the seedeater being our sole target bird!  We got to the boat ramp first thing with the Osprey pair greeting us, then hiked the short trail, spending time at each of the “hotspots” where the birds had been seen in the past, along with other birders also looking for the same quarry!  We continued to work the trail, spending extended time at the “dead end”, and since the birds had been reported the day before, Griffin was content to wait it out at this spot rather than continue on to San Ygnacio or even Laredo.  While waiting we saw several swallows, including good looks at Cave, but also Bank and Barn, which we knew would be flagged by EBird, so Griffin got some documentation shots.  Not “flaggable” but still interesting were three adult Herring Gulls flying downriver, and a flock of Long-billed Curlews flying overhead!  A lovely male Green Kingfisher came in close and shone like an emerald in the morning sun!  Griffin spotted a small flock of Chipping Sparrows, and somewhere a House Finch chirped.

View of the Rio Grande from the end of the "Seedeater Trail"

This male Green Kingfisher is also peering down, looking for breakfast!
Patience was definitely the order of the day!  I made a few passes back and forth just to see if I could hear anything, running into birding buddy Michael who was also taking a couple of people around to see the avian sights!  They headed down towards the dead end while I continued to pace, and finally at one point heard the distinctive down-slurred whistle of a seedeater!  We all headed towards the sound, and at one point I caught onto movement and saw the bird just as it exploded from the cane and into the brush, never to be seen again… L  Griffin saw the bird but not well enough to see any detail (and all I saw was a pale body with some darker smudging), but he and Diane set up watch at the “hotspot” that’s about midway between the beginning and the end of the trail (it’s more of an overlook, with an Altamira Oriole nest off to the left which is a good landmark…).  I went on down to the cul-de-sac again, when before long I heard a whistle and yelled to Griffin just before a big ol’ white pickup came down the dicey side road and parked!  Turned out to be an unmarked Border Patrol truck, and the guys were amused, I think, when I blurted that I had a White-collared Seedeater and that my friend was desperate to see this bird and was going to be running down the trail any minute!  Sure enough, here came Griffin (followed more slowly by Diane), but the bird never showed, and we got to chatting with the BP guys, extending our appreciation that they were there, making things safer for tourists!

We did hear at least two birds on and off during the course of the day, but with the wind picking up (and the fact that invariably one of them was calling from the cane across the river), we were quickly giving up hope of getting a better look!  A soaring Zone-tailed Hawk was a nice consolation prize, and a Mexican Duck hanging out with what looked more to be a Mottled Duck was interesting, but no Muscovy came barreling down the River (although the cormorants would get us going for a minute).  While Diane and Griffin were back at the “Oriole Nest Watch Spot”, I was coming back from the cul-de-sac and heard a descending Keeerrr!  Sounding like the real deal and not a Green Jay imitation, I looked up to see a Gray Hawk making circles overhead, eventually showing off for all the birders scattered in various parts of the area! During one lull one of the Ospreys came in with a huge fish, took a couple of bites, and spent the rest of the time yelling at his mate/rival/whatever!

Various views of a Zone-tailed Hawk soaring overhead 
 

Powdered Dancer

Blue-ringed Dancer

Griffin scans the Mexican side for seedeaters

"Heppy" guards the parking area at the foot of the "boat ramp"

Towards 2:00 even Griffin’s patience was beginning to wane, so we all agreed it was time to veg at the feeders!  We hadn’t been seated five minutes before the Audubon’s Oriole showed up in all his glory!  What a show!  It was hard to break away when it was time to go, as even the Chachalacas were starting to come in, but we tore ourselves away and headed home with 63 species for the day. 
A "patriotic" Red Admiral indulges while we wait for the avian diners to show up... 

Black-crested Titmouse

Audubon's Oriole
 

"This is MY orange!"

Bird List:

  Gadwall                              
  “Mexican Duck”                                                       
  Mottled Duck                         
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Double-crested Cormorant             
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Cattle Egret                         
  Black Vulture                        
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Osprey                               
  Cooper's Hawk                        
  Harris's Hawk                        
  Gray Hawk                            
  Zone-tailed Hawk                     
  American Coot                         
  Spotted Sandpiper                    
  Long-billed Curlew                   
  Herring Gull                         
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  White-winged Dove                     
  Mourning Dove                        
  White-tipped Dove                    
  Ringed Kingfisher                    
  Green Kingfisher                     
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Green Jay                            
  Tree Swallow                         
  Bank Swallow                         
  Barn Swallow                         
  Cave Swallow                         
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  Verdin                                
  House Wren                           
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Cactus Wren                          
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Clay-colored Thrush                   
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  White-collared Seedeater             
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Chipping Sparrow                     
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Altamira Oriole                      
  Audubon's Oriole                     
  House Finch                          
  House Sparrow                        

63 SPECIES

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Amazon Run Take Two!

1/10/17

 Word gets around, and Keith’s friend George had shared his Amazon Kingfisher adventure with his friend Howard, who in turn made arrangements with his friend Brad to come down and add another hot bird to their ABA lists!  (Howard and Brad, like George, were “twitchers” who would readily hop a plane to chase a mega-rarity!)  Unfortunately Brad caught The Crud and couldn’t make it, so I invited my friend Pat to tag along seeing as she hadn’t seen the bird for the year yet, and off we went

It’s a long drive to Laredo for sure, but it went fast (you get Pat together with most anyone, and especially with someone like Howard who has had such a fascinating career in crystallography) and the conversation was great!  Google sends you north and west through the Brush Country, and with the sun to our backs we had stupendous fly-by looks at Harris’ and White-tailed Hawks, and Crested Caracaras!  This was the first time I had attempted to go straight to Tres Laredos Park (as opposed to going there from Zacate Creek), and after getting turned around trying to “merge” with US83, we finally got on the right road after asking directions the old fashioned way from a nice local guy (as opposed to “Ciri”, who had no clue what Tres Laredos Park was…) and found our way there without accidentally heading into Mexico! J  The bird had been hanging out by the “Railroad Bridge” (where we had seen it last time), so after parking in the pullout just under the bridge, we headed over to the little overlook, and there was lady Amazon, right where we left her last time (and we were gratified to see that she was still there after that horrific cold front last weekend)!  So Howard settled down to enjoy her while Pat scanned for other stuff, and we had a pair of Green Kingfishers and one female Ringed, in addition to a few White-faced Ibis, a couple of herons, some coots, and a Gadwall.  Howard was content to sit and watch so Pat and I explored a little of this good caliche road that paralleled the river in hopes of scaring up some seedeaters.  The most exciting thing we saw along that trail was a pair of flyover Monk Parakeets, so we headed back, and after awhile Howard was ready to go.

View of the "Railroad Bridge" from the little parking area

The lady Amazon Kingfisher eyes breakfast below her and readies for the plunge, showing her spotless wings that help separate her from the Green Kingfisher!


Afterwards she sits on a stick close to the river to shake off the water!

The parking area near the bridge 

The Amazon was his only target, but he admitted it’s still fun to see birds you don’t always get to see, so we wheeled by Lake Casa Blanca State Park in hopes of something odd (several years ago a Slaty-backed Gull showed up, and there had been historical reports of Western Grebes and seedeaters).  Had some nice views of a few Least Sandpipers, a family of Black-throated Sparrows, and a Great Egret coming into breeding colors, but the only gulls were Ringbills, so we decided to head on to Salineño on the off chance that a seedeater might come to the boat ramp (but not before Pat talked us all into getting a F’Real at the next Stripes J).

Great Egret at Lake Casa Blanca State Park

Least Sandpiper (above and below) 

We headed on down, where Howard set up shop and enjoyed the river view while Pat and I poked down the Seedeater Trail for a bit.  It was late and very quiet, so we headed back where Howard agreed that it was time to sit at the feeders!  So we did so, where eventually all the regulars (except for Mr. Audubon) came in and put on a show; five Altamira Orioles at one time was certainly eye candy!

View of the Rio Grande at Salineno, and the cane that the seedeaters like to hang out in

Pat checks her list on the way in to the feeder area

A fuzzy-headed lady Ladder-backed Woodpecker comes in for a treat! 


A male Golden-fronted Woodpecker also comes in


Altamira Orioles love the PB mix!




Another Golden-fronted Woodpecker (this one a female) shows her "third eyelid"! 

All too soon it was time to head back, with 53 species for the day.  Bird List:

  Gadwall                              
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Double-crested Cormorant             
  American White Pelican               
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Tricolored Heron                     
  White-faced Ibis                     
  Black Vulture                        
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Osprey                               
  Harris's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  American Coot                        
  Spotted Sandpiper                    
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Ring-billed Gull                     
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  White-winged Dove                    
  Mourning Dove                        
  Inca Dove                            
  White-tipped Dove                     
  Ringed Kingfisher                    
  Amazon Kingfisher                    
  Green Kingfisher                     
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                      
  American Kestrel                     
  Monk Parakeet                        
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  Green Jay                            
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  Verdin                               
  House Wren                           
  Marsh Wren                           
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Black-throated Sparrow               
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Altamira Oriole                      

53 SPECIES