Monday, November 30, 2015

Two Couples from Seattle Hunt for Targets

13-14 NOV 15

[Note:  names were changed to protect privacy, but Ed (Ernest) posted his own version of the whole trip, which can be viewed on the next blog, so you're gonna get their real names anyway... :-): ]
            I ran into Brody and crew in Portal, AZ, last August while feeder-watching, and while we were sharing stories I had mentioned that I had just been hired at the Alamo Inn B&B, and that if they were considering coming to south Texas to bird that they should stay with us!  Well, he actually took me up on it J and he and his wife Danielle, along with his friend Ernest and his wife Dee, arrived on the 12th, and we all went birding Friday and Saturday!  The weather forecast had been dismal all week, but miraculously the morning of the 13th the chance of rain up in Salineño went down to 10%, so we decided to head up there first (but not without driving through some pretty good squalls to get there).  Before we left we bagged Tropical Kingbird right across Main Street in the little city park!

            It was good to see Merle and Lois again (the steadfast Winter Texan couple who faithfully stocks the feeders at Salineño), but I was saddened to hear that their loveable dog Jake had died.  But their two Maltese were as cute and friendly as could be (until the couple with the longhair dachshund showed up)!  Audubon’s Oriole was the main target here, and we didn’t have to wait long for him to show up, giving everyone great views!  It took a little longer for his cousin the Altamira Oriole to show up, but eventually the crew got decent looks of many of their targets:  Long-billed Thrasher, Green Jay, White-tipped Dove, Black-crested Titmouse, and even Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Kiskadee were a hit!  An Olive Sparrow showed up briefly, and I think everyone got at least a glimpse of him before he was upstaged by the Hispid Cotton Rat!  Even the lone Bronzed Cowbird was exciting for them!
Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Audubon's Oriole

Green Jay mug shot

Altamira Oriole

Heading to the feeders
            After we had gotten our fill of the feeders we meandered down to the boat ramp, where it was pretty quiet bird-wise but several fishermen had the place staked out (Ernest practiced his Spanish on them J)!  Downriver was a distant cormorant that a scope proved to be a Neotropic, and a couple of Ospreys were patrolling the joint, but the star of the show was a Zone-tailed Hawk that circled overhead!  We poked down the trail a little, but I didn’t realize there had been a fire in there; the place was pretty ravished.  But we did manage to spook a nighthawk that (thanks to Brody’s photo) we were able to pin down as a Lesser, and indeed John Arvin’s checklist shows that they do hang around here until mid November!
Mediocre shot of the Zone-tailed Hawk

Lesser Nighthawk
            Since they already had the typical southwestern species under their belts, we decided to skip Falcon SP and head back to Bentsen (or Anzalduas if it was raining by the time we got there).  We stopped for lunch (where the guys got their life Cave Swallow in the rain) then drove through another cell in Rio Grande City, but by the time we got to Bentsen it was only dripping, and then soon stopped altogether!  But on the way down Bentsen Palm Drive the guys spotted a hawk hunting low in the field, and Brody did a Uie so we could get better views (as the bird had landed); turned out to be a young White-tailed Hawk which gave wonderful scope views!  Two more youngsters were flying around, and soon all three were circling!  A Caracara had also been sitting in the field earlier on.

            Once in the parking lot we went on a sapsucker chase for a few minutes, but seeing as it was getting late I wanted to try and get them on the Eastern Screech Owl Ranger Roy had staked out for the RGV Bird Festival folks, so I had them bird the gardens in search of their Buff-bellied Hummingbird (and the Tropical Parula if it was around) while I checked us in and got our “bands”.  Sure enough, they had found one (the hummingbird, that is)!  We made a cursory check at the canal for Green Kingfisher (nada), then headed to the Gatehouse Feeders where I was hoping a Clay-colored Thrush would come in.  Everyone got killer looks at Chachalacas instead (and more Green Jays of course), but when it became apparent that the tram wasn’t coming any time soon I suggested we walk on down to the Pavilion area.  Some Red-shouldered Hawks were screaming, and shortly thereafter a Gray Hawk joined in.  Once down to the grove, someone thought they heard a Ringed Kingfisher, so we meandered down to Kingfisher Overlook, but there wasn’t anything except another Osprey, I believe.  So we wandered over to the restrooms, and I was warning everyone to approach carefully, only after careful scrutiny we saw that Mr. Owl had flown the coop (and not only was this a lifer for them, but it’s a candidate for a split as well).  So then we floated over to Green Jay Blind where we enjoyed the namesakes trying to avoid being eaten by a Sharp-shinned Hawk patrolling the area (although there was some discussion that it could have been a male Cooper’s as well)! 

            We finally dragged ourselves away and poked back down the road to the visitor’s center, where an Orange-crowned Warbler was showing off.  I directed Brody to take West Military Highway to avoid the freeway construction, and in doing so we had two beautiful White-tailed Kites (and also a nice Harris’ Hawk somewhere along the way)! 

            We made it back safe and sound, deciding to hit Estero Llano Grande the next day, but with continued reports of Hook-billed Kite, Brody greeted me the next morning with the desire to hit Anzalduas first, which sounded great to me!  After we gathered everyone together I asked if they needed Monk Parakeet, which they did, so we took a swing through Hidalgo first.  I was sweating a little, however, as the parakeets weren’t hanging around their nests, but suddenly Brody spotted a small silent group on the wires, and everyone jumped out to get great looks at yet another life bird! J

            From there we headed to Anzalduas, where we found three species of swallows all lined up on the wire over the spillway, and then ran into a gal who was on a couple of the field trips I led for the RGV Bird Fest!  She was looking for Sprague’s Pipits (I told her, and my crew, that here that involved forming a scrimmage line and walking through the field, so they passed on that), but she did say the Greater Pewee was still around, so we thanked her and headed for the river.  As always, my clients were amazed that Mexico was “right there” (to say nothing of the fact that, at this point in the river, you’re actually looking north into Mexico)!  One of the gals spotted a Green Kingfisher sitting across the river on the little “island”, and Dee did hear a distant Ringed Kingfisher, but alas, we never saw the guy.  We worked the trees there for warblers and picked up a Black-throated Green for the day.  I was also able to feign exuberant excitement over a House Finch teed up on a tree (although considered accidental in the Valley, this otherwise widespread species can be reliably found at Anzalduas)!  But the best bird was feeding next to a Great Egret out in the river: a young Reddish Egret dancing away!  (These birds are expected on the coast, but are rare anywhere inland…)
Distant shot of the young Reddish Egret - expected on the coast, but rare inland!

The gang works the trees for warblers

House Finch, considered "accidental" in the Valley, believe it or not!
            Heading over to the pewee spot, we ran into a group of birders who already had the bird, so my gang was able to get another easy lifer!  I was pleased to see a few Eastern Bluebirds sail in, and soon they joined another feeding flock where we were able to pull out both White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, a Black-and-white Warbler, a knockout Yellow-throated Warbler, a few Chipping Sparrows, and my personal favorite, an “Audubon’s” Warbler (which is a “junk bird” to Washingtonians, of course)!  Raptors were quite plentiful, and we had a Hookbill false alarm for a minute when what looked like a very fat-winged raptor went sailing away from us and behind the trees!  If it was indeed the same bird that reemerged, it turned out to be a young Harris’ Hawk, but in addition we had a young Broad-winged Hawk, an adult Swainson’s, a Red-tailed Hawk, and a beautiful pearly Gray Hawk that put on a show!  There were lots of vultures of both flavors around, and we ran into my RGV Fest friend again valiantly trying to turn one into a Zonetail!  But a real odd-looking “raptor” flying overhead turned out to be an Anhinga!
The continuing Greater Pewee

Female Vermilion Flycatcher
            Deciding to give up on the Hookbill, we continued on to Estero, where we enjoyed lunch on the deck and the Coots in Ibis Pond.  A couple of young Black-bellied Whistling Ducks had us going for a minute (we were specifically looking for Fulvous), but it was good lesson on key field marks to look for in each species.  Dee was able to get a satisfying look at a Buff-bellied Hummingbird at the feeders, and Danielle enjoyed the Golden-fronted Woodpecker coming in to oranges off the deck!  When we were finally ready to hike, we went straight to Alligator Lake, where we enjoyed views of both night heron species, and thanks to a gentleman who wandered by with his camera, we all got knockout views of the resident Pauraque after he pointed it right out to us!  We then snuck around the back way to see if the resident Eastern Screech Owl was sitting in his hole, but he wasn’t, so it was yet another dip on this coveted species.  The big mama Alligator lazing up on the bank at the overlook somewhat made up for it!

Immature Black-crowned Night Heron

Snoozing Pauraque
            Park host Huck Hutchins had another owl staked out, so we made our way back to the Tropical Zone, but not before climbing up onto the levee to look for the Groove-billed Anis, a bird that normally clears out in the winter but a few always seem to hang around.  I wasn’t sure exactly where on the levee they were, so after enjoying some Avocets and Shovelers in the actual Estero Llano, we headed east, and it wasn’t long before some black things flopped into the bushes!  Anis!!  Shortly they decided to show themselves, and everyone got great looks at their honkin’ noses and eventually heard their squeaky calls!  Miraculously a Verdin finally decided to show himself as well!  Heading back down the levee we added several herons and a couple of Roseate Spoonbills to the list, along with one of the same White-tailed Kites we had seen during the Bird Fest sitting in the same tree!

            Then it was time to find Huck’s owl, but we kept getting waylaid by various ducks, Indigo Buntings, and a variety of sparrows that included Savannah, Field (thankfully Brody got a picture as it was flagged by EBird), and Swamp!  At the boardwalk on Ibis Pond another target bird, the Least Grebe, started trumpeting, and we finally got on a close one and saw his yellow eyes!  Several Soras actually showed themselves, but I didn’t want to keep Huck waiting too long, so we hustled back into the Zone where he had the fluffiest Screech Owl just sitting pretty on his stump!  The crew was thrilled, and I advised them to bank this one (“McCall’s Screech Owl”) in case the rumored split became a reality!  Huck also told us about the Crazy Ant problem, and we were all shocked to see how they had even invaded an electric meter!  A Couch’s Kingbird was “pupping” near the old shuffleboard courts, so that was another target “ticked” off, and Huck showed us another Pauraque (another backup in case I couldn’t find the regulars on a future trip).  More American Robins made themselves known, but alas, no Clay-colored.  Someone did spot another gorgeous Altamira Oriole, but unfortunately another target bird, a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, did one wheeeK! and then shut up…
Female Northern Pintails

Female Indigo Buntings

Enjoying Least Grebes from the boardwalk

"McCall's" Screech Owl
            We were pretty beat after that, so we headed home, but talk about the Green Parakeet Show on 10th Street got everyone excited again, so we headed over there with plans for dinner afterwards!  I advised Ernest just to cruise up 10th with the windows down, and when we heard some, we went careening into the nearest parking lot and got great views of the parakeets staging on the wires (we were especially entertained by those that would hang upside down and preen each other)!  Not only that, but we happened to park under a little oak tree where they eventually all came screeching in, chowing down on acorns!
Snapping the Green Parakeets in urban McAllen!

Playful parakeets


            We had a great celebratory dinner after that at The Blue Onion, then headed back to the Alamo Inn with well over 100 species for the day!


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