Thursday, November 15, 2018

RGV Bird Fest: Boca Chica


We were all hoping the weather would clear today, but it didn’t L, so Bob Powell, Simon Kiacz, and I headed out in the mist with two van-loads of folks to see what we could find along Boca Chica Boulevard.  As expected, we ran into the construction and finally found our way to the Stripes for a bathroom break, but instead of backtracking and going south to SR 4 as the directions said, Simon suggested we go straight on Ruben Torres and make a right on Medford, and that turned out to be a great decision, as we went by a large pond that the Birder Patrol had discovered several years back that was very productive!  This time we initially found many Shovelers and Ruddy Ducks, but presently a truck pulled up next to Simon’s van, talked with him a bit, then pulled on ahead of us and turned in his driveway; he turned out to be the pastor of this retreat center on whose property the pond was located, and was inviting us to come on in!  That was really a blessing as the lady who owned the property gave us an open invitation to call ahead and come any time, and it turned out to be a terrific place:  right away a female Vermilion Flycatcher welcomed us, and from the new angle we found several Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, and both grebes!  In addition some of the folks found both Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, Gadwall, and American Wigeon, but a bright chirp in a tree turned out to be a Northern Parula!

That certainly added to the day list as we continued on to Boca Chica, where we stopped at the normal falcon viewing area just past the Border Patrol checkpoint.  It was misting again by now and pretty miserable, but we did manage to spot a “gray ghost” (male Northern Harrier) and a brown blob that was probably his mate!  We couldn’t pull out any falcons, so we continued on, stopping at one of the dirt roads that goes into the refuge proper and walking a little.  That hit pay dirt with a Groove-billed Ani that put on a show – he was definitely the star for a lot of folks!  Other dickey birds that gave brief views (or at least vocalized) included Altamira Oriole, Long-billed Thrasher, White-eyed Vireo, and a couple of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks!  A pair of Harris’ Hawks were on the nearby poles as well, and two flocks of pretty Roseate Spoonbills flew overhead.

The gang admiring a Harris' Hawk (below) along Boca Chica Boulevard

We made a command decision to head straight to the beach and then work our way back, but we were compelled to stop several times:  first for a pair of White-tailed Hawks right next to the road, then for tons of shorebirds closer to the end of the road; the light was horrible, but we could pick out Semipalmated and Snowy Plovers, Least and Western Sandpipers, Sanderlings, and a lone Ruddy Turnstone.  Horned Larks were also chasing each other around, and a white morph Reddish Egret was a distant sighting.  A Gull-billed Tern batted around, and a little further down a big pod of Avocets huddled in the cold.  Snow Geese flew by close enough to ID without bins, and several Scissor-tailed Flycatchers sailed overhead (one guy was hoping for a Fork-tailed J)!

White-tailed Hawk (also below)

Comparing photos...

We line up to enjoy shorebirds...

...then "play in the puddles" to get the mud off our boots!

Mob of American Avocets
We finally made it to the beach, but nothing much was down there (although the road in was the best I’ve ever seen it); the waves were crashing in, and about the only bird there was a Laughing Gull!  We had lines of Brown Pelicans further out, but not even any terns showed up!  A small flock of White-winged Doves batted past, interestingly, that were the only ones for the day.  

Scanning the Gulf

Laughing Gull with a missing foot

So we started back with plans to stop at Palmito Hill Road, but we ran out of time (especially if we wanted to make another Stripes stop) and instead decided to stop once again at the regular falcon spot.  This time, after much scanning, Bob finally spotted a distant pair that was showing all the pertinent field marks!  High fives all around!  But that wasn’t the end of the birding:  at the urban Stripes an Anhinga flew overhead and a friendly Yellow-throated Warbler came down to say hello, and then we witnessed a ballet of White Pelicans on the drive home!  The whole day list came to 103 species!

Medford Pond list:

26 species

Fulvous Whistling-Duck  6
Blue-winged Teal  11
Northern Shoveler  6
Gadwall  10
American Wigeon  1
Ring-necked Duck  7
Lesser Scaup  1
Ruddy Duck  12
Least Grebe  1
Pied-billed Grebe  3
American Coot  3
Black-necked Stilt  1
Killdeer  5
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Solitary Sandpiper  1
Laughing Gull  80
Little Blue Heron  2
Cattle Egret  80
Turkey Vulture  3
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  1
Vermilion Flycatcher  1
Tropical Kingbird  1
Green Jay  1
European Starling  6
Great-tailed Grackle  15
Northern Parula  1

Boca Chica list:

66 species

Snow Goose  20
Northern Shoveler  30
Northern Pintail  30
Lesser Scaup  20
Eurasian Collared-Dove  2
White-winged Dove  5
Mourning Dove  3
Groove-billed Ani  1    
Black-necked Stilt  1
American Avocet  60
Black-bellied Plover  1
Snowy Plover  1
Semipalmated Plover  5
Killdeer  3
Ruddy Turnstone  1
Dunlin  5
Least Sandpiper  70
Western Sandpiper  15
Willet  5
Laughing Gull  20
Ring-billed Gull  4
Herring Gull  1
Gull-billed Tern  1
Caspian Tern  1
Forster's Tern  2
Double-crested Cormorant  13
Brown Pelican  8
Great Egret  2
Snowy Egret  2
Reddish Egret  2
Cattle Egret  30
Roseate Spoonbill  41
Turkey Vulture  2
Osprey  3
White-tailed Kite  1
Northern Harrier  2
Harris's Hawk  5
White-tailed Hawk  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  2
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Crested Caracara  2
American Kestrel  1
Aplomado Falcon  2
Great Kiskadee  1
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher  5
Loggerhead Shrike  3
White-eyed Vireo  1
Horned Lark  6
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  1
Tree Swallow  2
Barn Swallow  3
House Wren  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Curve-billed Thrasher  1
Long-billed Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  4
European Starling  7
Savannah Sparrow  4
Lincoln's Sparrow  3
Eastern Meadowlark  12
Altamira Oriole  1
Red-winged Blackbird  40
Great-tailed Grackle  9
Common Yellowthroat  1
Northern Cardinal  2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  2    

RGV Bird Fest: South Padre & the Bay Cruise


I was really concerned about the weather today, as it was supposed to be cold and rainy, and as one person quipped the day before, “You will get wet!”  But I was pleasantly surprised by the migrant show at the Convention Center (herewith CC)!  I got to meet Jesse Huth, a young man who works for Partnership for International Birding, along with Arturo Kirkconnel (a guide from Cuba, also with PIB) and Rene Valdez, a Mexican bird guide.  We had a small group, so after piling on the bus we headed out and finally arrived at the CC, and thankfully the rain had let up, although it was still very gloomy.  We hadn’t gotten far from the bus before Jesse announced that he had a Brown Creeper climbing the wall!  This is a very rare bird for the Valley (and my first for the area); the bird left only to return and whang into the door and stun himself, but everyone got to see him well as a result; Jesse rescued him and placed him on a little branch in the vegetation!  (Others later would report that he recovered nicely and made a lot of visiting - and local - birders very happy!)

The hapless Brown Creeper after nearly knocking himself out...

...and after being rescued by Jesse!

We quickly checked the water feature and then headed onto the southern sidewalk where we noticed skein after skein of ducks and geese flying overhead; we were able to ID a couple of flocks of Snow Geese, but the ducks were way too high to tell (we reasoned later that some of them could have been Redheads).  In the dickey bird department we had a cooperative Eastern Wood Pewee, and others spotted a Summer Tanager and some Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  At one point a warbler we assumed was an Orange-crowned morphed into a Tennessee when Jesse spotted the tell-tale white undertail coverts!

Continuing on, Jesse’s young eyes spotted a Wood Thrush, and other participants spotted both the reported Swainson’s Thrush and also a Hermit (I got a glimpse of the former)!  An American Redstart also showed next to some Collared Doves.  We eventually made it to the Flats Overlook, where good numbers of various lounging larids were out there but quite distant.  We were able to pick out a Reddish Egret in between two Great Blues, some Franklin’s Gulls hiding in with the Laughers, several Black Skimmers, and three species of terns to sort out.  Both White and Brown Pelicans gave good size comparisons, and a lone Pied-billed Grebe stuck its head up like the Loch Ness Monster!  A Sedge Wren called in the middle of all this but of course wouldn’t come out; the Indigo Buntings feeding in the grass were much more cooperative!  On the way back to the boardwalks a Catbird entertained us by trying to swallow a big red berry, and Arturo found a Black-throated Green Warbler (I later saw one without a tail…).

The gang in the Convention Centre's "back yard"

Lingering Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Tailless female Black-throated Green Warbler

We finally made it out onto the boardwalks where the gloomy sky actually worked in our favor, as we could view the “east pond” with no glare!  We enjoyed snoozing spoonbills, several Blue-winged Teal, coots and gallinules, and a Black-necked Stilt.  A Least Bittern cackled way back in the stuff, but no one wanted to volunteer to go flush it out… J  Jesse found a female Anhinga sitting quietly, while a Belted Kingfisher rattled and darted about.  There was nothing of note at the end of that leg, and we were just getting ready to go down the other leg when someone announced they had a Hooded Warbler at the water feature!  That got everyone back into the “back yard” (and the custodian finally opened up the restrooms to the relief of most everyone J) where people kind of spread out and refound some of the earlier birds:  a Lesser Nighthawk shot through, and Rene found a Yellow-billed Cuckoo back in the foliage!

Blue-winged Teal and Roseate Spoonbill

Jesse (in the red hat) looks for goodies along the boardwalk

Great Egret


Summer Tanager

Before long it was time to recall Jose (who had to park the bus in the “big lot”) and head over to Dolphin Docks for the Bay Cruise, which was also a new experience for me.  It was too blustery for Scarlet Colley to take her group out in her small boat, so Mary G. arranged to have them join us (seeing as we were only 18 people), and spirited away Rene, giving us Chris Benesh (a professional guide for Field Guides) in return!  Scarlet also joined us, and greeted her aquatic charges enthusiastically as we left the dock and were joined by several dolphins! J  

Heading into the Laguna Madre with the Isabella Causeway on the left

The wet weather doesn't damper our spirits!

The captain had initially shown reticence at heading across the bay to Pier 19 for the Masked Booby (another very rare bird away from its pelagic haunts), but apparently changed his mind as we made a beeline over there, paralleling the famous causeway!  The booby was actually sitting on the steps of the pier, but when he saw us coming his way he took off and came straight for us!  Landing on the water, he proceeded to bathe and look for tidbits under the surface, but Scarlet confirmed that people were feeding him little bits of fish, so it probably was no surprise that he came to greet us, expecting a treat!

That white dot on the stairs is the Masked Booby at his normal hangout at the end of Pier 19

He sees us coming and comes out to meet us!

(Probably thinking he's gonna get a treat...)

Everything was anticlimactic after that, but Scarlet did have the captain take us over to some mangroves where they had the Mangrove Warbler the day before, but it was probably too blustery even for them!  We did manage glimpses of the Surf Scoters that had been sighted by the causeway along with Scarlet’s first Common Loon of the season, and had more views of various larids and pelicans, best of which was a Sandwich Tern that flew close and provided several folks a great “lifer” view!  Going by some beaches we even managed a Snowy Plover!  We enjoyed a very wet Osprey coming in, but the icing on the cake was back in port where a Peregrine Falcon was sitting on the rigging of a shrimper!

Some of us huddle in the stern, away from the wind!

Sandbars and mangroves where the unique "Mangrove" Yellow Warbler hangs out

A Sandwich Tern powers by

Peregrine Falcon back at port!

We were cold, wet, and tired after that, but it was a great day with lots of birds!  SPI list:

59 species

Snow Goose  100
Blue-winged Teal  3
Gadwall  2
Mottled Duck  1
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
Yellow-billed Cuckoo  1
Common Gallinule  2
American Coot  2
Black-necked Stilt  3
Black-bellied Plover  5
Killdeer  3
Long-billed Curlew  1
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  20
Willet  1
Laughing Gull  45
Franklin's Gull  4
Ring-billed Gull  1
Caspian Tern  10
Forster's Tern  3
Royal Tern  25
Black Skimmer  25
Anhinga  1
Double-crested Cormorant  50
American White Pelican  10
Brown Pelican  25
Least Bittern  1     
Great Blue Heron  4
Great Egret  3
Snowy Egret  2
Little Blue Heron  1
Tricolored Heron  2
Reddish Egret  1
Cattle Egret  3
White Ibis  6
Roseate Spoonbill  4
Osprey  1
Belted Kingfisher  2
Eastern Wood-Pewee  1
Couch's Kingbird  1
White-eyed Vireo  1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  4
Brown Creeper  1     
Sedge Wren  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  5
Swainson's Thrush  1     
Gray Catbird  5
Northern Mockingbird  4
Red-winged Blackbird  25
Great-tailed Grackle  10
Common Yellowthroat  1
Hooded Warbler  1
American Redstart  1
Black-throated Green Warbler  1
Summer Tanager  2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  1     
Indigo Bunting  5

Bay Cruise list:

36 species

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  10
Surf Scoter  3    
Pied-billed Grebe  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
Black-bellied Plover  5
Snowy Plover  1
Killdeer  1
Long-billed Curlew  2
Spotted Sandpiper  3
Willet  4
Lesser Yellowlegs  1
Laughing Gull  150
Franklin's Gull  15
Ring-billed Gull  2
Herring Gull  1
Caspian Tern  8
Forster's Tern  5
Royal Tern  20
Sandwich Tern  4
Black Skimmer  45
Common Loon  1
Masked Booby  1     
Double-crested Cormorant  55
American White Pelican  20
Brown Pelican  250
Great Blue Heron  8
Great Egret  1
Snowy Egret  1
Little Blue Heron  1
Tricolored Heron  2
Black-crowned Night-Heron  2
White Ibis  6
Osprey  4
Peregrine Falcon  1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  10
Great-tailed Grackle  3

RGV Bird Fest: Butterflies!


We were all hoping that Derek’s prediction that the rain wouldn’t start until we wrapped up the butterfly trip was true, but while we were all waiting to board the vans in relatively warm temps, it suddenly dropped about ten degrees and started dripping! L  But that didn’t discourage 22 intrepid butterfly-watchers, and we headed out in three vans headed up by Bob Behrstock, Dudley Edmunson, and Mr. Butterfly himself, Derek Muschalek!  Since everyone was a birder as well, we enjoyed the Caracara and White-tailed Kite seen on the way out there!

The dripping was on and off all morning, but Derek knew how to search for cold butterflies hanging tight to the leaves, and right away everyone got to enjoy Snouts, Fiery Skippers, and of course several Queens!  One big brushfoot had us all stumped, but we suspected Mexican Fritillary (which usually sits with its wings open, but not today), so after everyone got good looks and pictures, I tried to coax the little guy onto my finger, when he did briefly show us his dorsal side, which confirmed him as the Mexican Frit.  We also saw a couple of Gulf Fritillaries, and Derek found a Soldier in with the Queens, so he got to point out the “snowballs” (I think he called them) on the ventral hindwing!  (That was probably a better description, as some folks weren’t sure what I meant by a “watermark”…)  In addition to the Fiery Skippers, we also saw Whirlabouts, a Common Mellana,  and plenty of the two dark brown skippers:  Clouded and Fawn-spotted (in fact, one perched on Jean's finger)!

This is South Texas?!

Despite the weather, we still find butterflies!

A very cold Mexican Fritillary

Fiery Skipper

Jean tries to point out a Clouded Skipper and the thing lands on her finger!

A Roadside Hawk had been photographed there that morning, but it was long gone by the time we got there, along with the Malachite and Gray Cracker that had been hanging out near the woodland trail during warmer times…  But we did find several Tawny Emperors near the bait logs, including one that hitched a ride on my jacket! J  We also saw both Hackberry Emperor and Empress Leilia, but they were hard to pin down as the tell-tale bars on the forewing were hidden!  The Leilia got on my finger and the wind blew her wings open enough that we could see the two solid bars that differentiate her from the Hackberry (who has one bar “hacked”).  

Empress Leilia

Hitch-hiking Tawny Emperor

Io Moth caterpillar

After exploring the Sunken Garden area we actually drove down to the old garden, where we explored the conservatory (which was sheltered) while a brief downpour occurred outside!  But inside we had some nice bugs:  Phaon Crescent, Theona Checkerspot, Laviana White Skipper, and Southern Broken Dash were all winners, plus a huge Vine Sphinx!  We had a bit of a debate over a Fatal/Rounded Metalmark (I deferred to Derek who declared it a Fatal J), and a Short-winged Katydid was a winner in the non-lep department!  



Fatal Metalmark

Photo op with a Theona Checkerspot (below)

Short-winged Katydid

Southern Broken Dash

Vine Sphinx

Phaon Crescent

Derek helps a participant ID something while Dudley keeps a lookout for more butters

Once the rain quit we perused the old gardens in hopes of Mexican Bluewings or Red-bordered Pixies, but the most decorative thing we could find was an exquisite little Dusky-blue Groundstreak.  A South Texas Satyr bounced around, inspiring a discussion about the origins of the mythical creature!  Bird-wise we were hoping the vagrant Varied Thrush would put in an appearance, but other forlorn folks had been waiting all morning and it never showed… L  A Gray Hawk flying overhead and calling was the most exciting avian action, along with a mob of Chachalacas that checked out the feeder area; even the Green Jays weren’t interested in coming in!

South Texas Satyr (still called "Carolina" by some authorities)

Chachalacas descend upon the feeder area

We continue to find butters!

Dusky-blue Groundstreak

After having lunch in the shelter we packed up and headed to the vans after Derek showed us our last butter for the day:  a hiding Mallow Scrub Hairstreak!  Butter list:

Little Yellow
Gray Hairstreak
Mallow Scrub Hairstreak
Dusky-blue Groundstreak
Ceraunus Blue
Fatal Metalmark
American Snout
Gulf Fritillary
Mexican Fritillary
Theona Checkerspot
Bordered Patch
Phaon Crescent
Pearl Crescent
White Peacock
Hackberry Emperor
Empress Leilia
Tawny Emperor
South Texas Satyr
Brown Longtail
Sickle-winged Skipper
White Checkered Skipper
Laviana White Skipper
Fawn-spotted Skipper
Clouded Skipper
Fiery Skipper
Southern Broken Dash
Common Mellana
Eufala Skipper