Monday, April 25, 2016

Day One with the Great Danes - Exploring the Back Roads


            We were graced for four days by a group of birders from Denmark, the leader of which, Frands Jensen, had taken Pat Heirs birding while she was in Denmark, so now she was returning the favor! J  I was along as Alamo Inn’s guide, so since the forecast on their first birding day was for rain, we figured going somewhere where we’d be in (or close to) the vehicles would be a good idea! 

            One of Pat’s favorite routes is FM 493 going north out of Donna, as there are very often flooded fields and bogs that have interesting birds.  But first she wanted to take the group to a grassy field next to the Wal-Mart, which often has grasspipers!  It did not disappoint, as it had several Pectoral Sandpipers and a couple of Baird’s!  Down the road at a resaca Pat spotted a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, which was definitely a hit!  One of the nearby kingbirds finally tittered, confirming it as a Tropical!  Heading north, we stopped at another field near a bar that had an Upland Sandpiper and a pair of White-tailed Kites!

Happy group of Danes, with leader Frands in the middle (lavender shirt) and Ian, the co-leader, to the right re-checking the fields...

Checking the field

"There's a White-tailed Kite!"

             Nittler Road is always worth checking, and it proved productive this day, with many avocets and stilts and several species of ducks, including some Fulvous Whistling Ducks and a very late Canvasback!  A Horned Lark was an exciting find for the group as well.  We continued east on Nittler to Delta Lake County Park (about the only restroom stop out in this “middle of noplace”), where Pat found a baby Cane Toad in the ladies’ room!  The area proved quite birdy as well, with “common” things causing a lot of excitement, such as Kiskadees, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and a Brown-crested Flycatcher, and a not-so-common Bullock’s Oriole along with some Baltimores!  The little skuzzy canal had a Solitary Sandpiper feeding close by.

Checking out the birds along Nittler Road...

Fulvous Whistling Ducks (with a Black-necked Stilt in the foreground)

American Avocets in breeding (left) and non-breeding plumages

Flighty avocets with a Black-necked Stilt on the right
Baby Cane Toad in the ladies' room

Solitary Sandpiper

The gang at Delta Lake Park
            The lake was too high for shorebirds at the pullout, so we continued up to Rio Beef Road, where a stop at the little marsh there proved surprisingly productive (only because it’s hard to see in there), with Least and Pied-billed Grebes, and heard-only Soras.  A Summer Tanager was a big hit, but like most everyone, the gang really wanted to see a Roadrunner, so a large bird on the road in front of us got us excited until we realized it was a Turkey!  (That became very exciting when we discovered a male in display just up the road!)  The group did get glimpses of Green Jays, Lincoln’s Sparrows, and the like, and a picnic lunch near the stockyard (they said they didn’t mind the smell J) enabled us to enjoy Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, along with a Bewick’s Wren we finally got to come out!  The gang decided to take a walk down the road while Pat and I stayed behind and chatted with one of the participants who also decided to stay behind and pondered over this pretty purple plant; after posting it on Facebook my friend John Brush identified it as a Silverleaf Nightshade!

Picnic time at Rio Beef

Pat chats with one of the participants while the rest poke along Ken Baker Road in search of brushland specialties...


Silverleaf Nightshade
            From there we took Brushline north to its terminus, and at one spot where we stopped to try and pish something out (probably either a Verdin or a Pyrrhuloxia, as both were proving elusive), their co-leader Ian spotted a Roadrunner by the side of the road!  Unfortunately only a few people saw it before it slunk into the bushes, but Ian tried valiantly to herd it back out, to no avail…  We continued on, hoping to get something good in the farm pond, which we did:  a late pair of American Wigeon!  Somewhere along the drive we also managed good looks at White-tailed and Swainson’s Hawks, along with plenty of Caracaras.

            The last stop was Hargill Playa, where viewing was tough, but a cute little Snowy Plover did show itself on the close shore!  We also managed to log Gull-billed Terns, and Ian managed to find an American Golden Plover!  (He couldn’t find Pat her county Dunlin, however… J)  Ian also zeroed in on one of the local Wilson’s Plovers, which most of us couldn’t find…
Scrambling up the berm to view Hargill Playa
            The total group list was probably different than mine (below), but I ended up with 98 species for the day!

Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Fulvous Whistling-Duck               
  American Wigeon                      
  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                      
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Green-winged Teal                    
  Ruddy Duck                           
  Northern Bobwhite                    
  Wild Turkey                          
  Least Grebe                          
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Least Bittern                         
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Tricolored Heron                     
  Cattle Egret                         
  Black-crowned Night-Heron            
  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron           
  White Ibis                           
  Black Vulture                         
  Turkey Vulture                       
  White-tailed Kite                    
  Cooper's Hawk                        
  Harris's Hawk                         
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Swainson's Hawk                      
  Common Gallinule                     
  American Coot                        
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  American Avocet                      
  American Golden-Plover               
  Snowy Plover                         
  Solitary Sandpiper                   
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  Upland Sandpiper                      
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Pectoral Sandpiper                   
  Long-billed Dowitcher                
  Laughing Gull                         
  Franklin's Gull                      
  Gull-billed Tern                     
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove                
  White-winged Dove                    
  Mourning Dove                        
  Inca Dove                            
  Common Ground-Dove                   
  Greater Roadrunner                   
  Chimney Swift                        
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Brown-crested Flycatcher             
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                     
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  Western Kingbird                     
  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher            
  Loggerhead Shrike                     
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Green Jay                            
  Horned Lark                          
  Northern Rough-winged Swallow        
  Barn Swallow                         
  Cave Swallow                         
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Cactus Wren                          
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Clay-colored Thrush                  
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Common Yellowthroat                   
  Cassin's Sparrow                     
  Chipping Sparrow                     
  Clay-colored Sparrow                 
  Lark Sparrow                         
  Summer Tanager                       
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Bronzed Cowbird                      
  Brown-headed Cowbird                 
  Bullock's Oriole                      
  Baltimore Oriole                     
  House Sparrow                        


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