Thursday, January 26, 2017

When the Birds Are VERY Cooperative!

1/25/17

Well, if yesterday was a Day of Disappointments, today was definitely a Day of Delights, as we had a list of specific target birds and we managed to find all of them! J  Since the becard was still being seen at Estero first thing in the morning, we decided to head there first and work backwards.  We headed straight in to the Tropical Zone once we got there, hearing Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in the distance and stopping briefly to enjoy a Kiskadee family at the top of a dead tree, only to discover that a pair of Clay-colored Thrushes was also playing tag amongst them! First target out of the way!

Clay-colored Thrush

The Screech Owl wasn’t showing, so we meandered down to Pauraque Hall, where except for chirping Orange-crowned Warblers it was rather quiet.  Since they had seen a female becard in Arizona before, seeing this male was only a “nice to get” bird, so we agreed to give it 15 minutes as we wandered around the area and checked the trees.  And right about the time my timer went off, Steve announced that he had the bird!  Thankfully Marion saw the bird as well, but I couldn’t get on it before it flew (at least saw that), so we left the bird with the group that had just shown up in hopes that they could refind it!  On the way out we enjoyed an Altamira Oriole and another obliging Clay-colored Thrush.

Steve and Marion scour the Tropical Zone for the Rose-throated Becard

A beautiful Altamira Oriole shows off!


  
I couldn’t find the Pauraque that had been on the corner when I had Gary and sons with me last November, so we headed to Alligator Lake, dutifully padding the list with the ducks in Ibis Pond.  Dowitcher Pond was in terrible light, so about the only thing we added passing that was a bobbing Spotted Sandpiper.  A brief going-over of Grebe Marsh added a herd of Least Grebes and more ducks to the list (no toothy alligator this time), and turning the corner we added a ton of Yellow-crowned Night Herons with a token Black-crowned.  A White-tailed Kite hovering overhead was an added bonus!  Thankfully the Pauraque pair was right where we left them, and Steve and Marion got great looks at this cryptic bird!

Obligatory Pauraque photo...

Sleepy Yellow-crowned Night Heron

On the way back we exchanged pleasantries with the morning bird walk, then spent a few minutes at the VC feeders to see if a White-tipped Dove would come back (Marion had seen one there earlier), and thankfully one made a brief appearance back in the bush, while Chachalacas raided the oranges, a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers chased each other, and a Buff-bellied Hummer put on a great show for a lot of happy folks! 

Chachalaca raiding the oranges

Since we had bagged the thrush and dove already, we opted to head straight to McAllen Nature Center for the Audubon’s Oriole. After parking a Pyrrhuloxia popped up, which was a nice bird for an urban area!  On the way to the check-in station I heard Green Parakeets first on one side of the road and then the other, but we never spotted them.  After checking in we headed straight for the feeder area where the oriole had been showing up (and where a Birdathon was taking place, joined a little later by fellow butterflier Ken) and took our spots on the picnic table.  One of the first birds to come in was the famous leucistic female Cardinal (first clue was that she was lacking the sooty face), followed by a Long-billed Thrasher that hung out near the drip, while Green Jays made repeated appearances.  Once again, just before my timer went off, the Audubon’s Oriole came tearing in, and eventually made his way over to the seed (!) feeder and proceeded to stuff his face!  What a beauty!  A nice White-tipped Dove decided to come out into the open just before we left as well!

Leucistic female Cardinal

Audubon's Oriole stuffing his face

A more dignified pose...

Next stop was Anzalduas for the Sprague’s Pipit, and on the way we happened to see a White-tailed Hawk with what looked like snake in his talons circling overhead!  Once at the park I played the Sprague’s call note for them, and warned them that the birds were flushing nicely but not landing where you could see them, and that was the case today; we thought we had one surrounded, and I was convinced he had actually crawled off somewhere, when he suddenly burst from the grasses!  Marion got a great look at the tail pattern of a bird that popped up in front of her, but that’s about the best look we could promise at that point.  After using the restrooms (and picking up the obligatory Black Phoebe) we circled around and found a “Mexican” Duck that definitely had a bit of “Northern” Mallard in him, as he had a white tail and a green gloss to the top of the head!

"Sprague's Pipit Field" at Anzalduas Park

After pretty much bagging everything they really needed, we opted to get lunch at Stripes and then head to Bentsen to chill at the feeders!  Marion was interested in having the butters pointed out, so at the VC we found several White Peacocks (I never really realized they had blue bodies until she pointed that out!) and a Common Mestra fluttering around, but after I sent them to the Gatehouse Feeders while I used the restroom, after coming out I stumbled across this little orange and black butterfly that looked kind of like an Elf, a very rare butterfly from Mexico!  I managed a shot of the ventral and left a message with Mike Rickard, one of our local butterfly experts, and then went to find my charges.  We were hoping an Olive Sparrow would come in to the trip, but one never came, and we just enjoyed more Green Jays and the ubiquitous Red-winged Blackbirds.

White Peacock

Mystery lep whose identity will be revealed later (don't wanna spoil the punchline...) 

After a while we decided to walk to Kiskadee Blind (hitched a ride with the tram part of the way), where there was a little more action: Altamira Orioles, more jays, and even a “Myrtle” Warbler came in, along with a brilliant Mexican Bluewing!  When things slowed down we decided to walk over to the Green Jay Blind, and on the way over I was telling them about our vagrant Red-naped Sapsucker that had visited for several winters in a row, when suddenly a sapsucker popped up!  She turned out to be a female Yellow-bellied (which was nicer to see for a pair of Californians J)!  At the Resaca the dock at the island was lined with Neotropic Cormorants, and Steve spotted a Tricolored Heron over there as well.  Like the Kiskadee Blind, the Green Jay Blind was pretty active when we got there with lots of jays and an immature Altamira, but then it quieted down, so we started back, planning on hitching another ride with the tram should we run into it.  We did see a tram, and it happened to be Ranger Roy leading the afternoon tram tour (consisting of two people), so we hopped on and joined them for a bit.  He swung up to Kingfisher Overlook where we did indeed find a Green Kingfisher, but I then noticed Mike himself over at the butterfly gardens with his wife Ginny and fellow butterflier Jan Dauphin, so I rushed over to show him my picture.  He confirmed what I was afraid of – that it was actually a day-flying moth of some kind, so I determined to do a little research once I got home.  When I got back to the group and told Roy about it, he said, “Oh, yeah, that orange thing’s been fluttering around there for a while!” :-/

Male Cardinal blends in with the bird feeder! 
 Curious Yellow-rumped Warbler


Here you can see where they got their nickname "Butterbutt"!

Immature Altamira Oriole

Green Jay

Joining the bird walk at Kingfisher Overlook

I needed to get Steve and Marion to the airport so they could pick up their rental car, so we headed back to the parking lot and eventually back to McAllen, where we kissed goodbye (after plotting the map to the parakeet staging areas on 10th) and went our separate ways.  And the little moth turned out to be an Orange Satyr Moth – quite a beauty!

Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  “Mexican” Duck                                                      
  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Cinnamon Teal                        
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Northern Pintail                     
  Green-winged Teal                    
  Ring-necked Duck                     
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Least Grebe                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Anhinga                              
  Great Egret                           
  Snowy Egret                          
  Tricolored Heron                     
  Black-crowned Night-Heron            
  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron           
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Osprey                                
  White-tailed Kite                    
  Cooper's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  American Coot                        
  Killdeer                             
  Spotted Sandpiper                     
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Mourning Dove                        
  Inca Dove                            
  White-tipped Dove                    
  Common Pauraque                      
  Archilochus Hummingbird            
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird             
  Green Kingfisher                     
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker             
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                      
  Green Parakeet                       
  Black Phoebe                         
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Rose-throated Becard                 
  Green Jay                            
  Tree Swallow                          
  Cave Swallow                         
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  Verdin                               
  House Wren                           
  Carolina Wren                        
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                 
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Clay-colored Thrush                  
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  American Pipit                       
  Sprague's Pipit                      
  Black-and-white Warbler              
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Savannah Sparrow                     
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Pyrrhuloxia                          
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Western Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Altamira Oriole                       
  Audubon's Oriole                     
  House Sparrow                        

73 SPECIES

When the Birds are Uncooperative...

1/24/17

Well, you can’t have it go your way all the time, and we learned that truth big time today on my third trip to Laredo to see the Amazon Kingfisher, only this time she was a no-show.  Steve and Marion had flown in all the way from California and were hoping she’d still be around (and she was indeed reported two days ago), but she was either hiding up the tributary or had flown the joint (plus we were the only birders there today, so it could be that people are just no longer looking for her).  We started off the day with the requisite grackle/cowbird mob in Alamo, then had several handsome Caracaras on the way to Laredo, in addition to some Harris’ Hawks and one “Fuertes’” Red-tailed Hawk (which led to a discussion about Hollywood using Redtail calls for Bald Eagles… J)!  Marion spotted a Merlin as we passed Kestrel after Kestrel, along with shrikes and a Green Jay I never saw as I was focused on driving!

After stocking up on snacks and chicken legs at a Stripes just outside Laredo, we made it to Dos/Tres Laredos Park (this time without getting lost J) and pulled into a shady spot under the Railroad Bridge.  Unlike the time with Howard and Pat, the Amazon was nowhere to be seen, although we had a pair of Black Phoebes, Neotropic Cormorants, an Osprey, a Spotted Sandpiper, and a Black-crowned Night Heron in the vicinity.  We decided to walk the edge of the river, and a “green type” kingfisher did pop up that got us all excited, but alas, she had white spots in the wings (plus we saw her mate nearby).  A Ringed Kingfisher flew overhead calling that was almost ignored while we were initially trying to get the scope on this Amazon wannabe!  A House Finch flew over that I heard but Marion saw, and commented on how dark it looked; I confirmed that the birds we get are probably the redder Mexican birds.

Spotted Sandpiper along a little ditch

We wandered back to the car, picking up a young Green Heron and Couch’s Kingbird for the day, then decided to take a short walk down the nice caliche road that Pat and I had taken in hopes of kicking up some seedeaters.  A Verdin actually gave pretty good views, and the regular winter visitors fed busily in the tamarisks, but there was nothing unusual amongst them.  In the cane, I did hear the whistle of a seedeater, but it never did want to come out (didn’t even call again), so that was rather disappointing (the only thing that seemed upset at our pishing was a male Cardinal).

The "trail" off Eagle Pass Road

Young Green Heron

Waiting forlornly for the Amazon to show up...

We dragged ourselves back to the car and munched on chicken, and after some discussion decided to take a look at Zecate Creek, even though the chances of the bird being there this time of day (based only on previous reports) were slim, but Griffin’s report of the seedeaters from the trail there moved us onward.  This time we did get turned around trying to find the place J, and part of the problem was that some prankster had turned the street signs at the very intersection we were supposed to turn!  But we eventually got there and first scanned the creek, picking up a pair of Spotted Sandpipers, but that was about it.  We found Griffin’s trail, which was actually very scenic and pleasant:  you were bordered on the right by picturesque limestone rocks, and bordered on the left by woodland, with the cane stands closer to the river!  Being the time of day it was (and 91 degrees out L) we really didn’t get much out of that trail except some good exercise and a kettle of vultures that included a Cooper’s Hawk making dives at them once in a while, but a female Filagree Skimmer closer to the water was very exciting!

Zecate Creek

Marion and Steve scan for the Amazon...

 We find a cryptic female Filagree Skimmer instead!

Scenic trail along the Rio Grande

We reluctantly headed home after that, drowning our sorrows (or at least mine, anyway) with a F’Real!  I was surprised we made it up to 51 species for the day (54 including the three additional ones Marion and Steve saw)!  Bird List:

  Gadwall                              
  “Mexican Duck”                                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Green Heron                          
  Black-crowned Night-Heron            
  Black Vulture                        
  Turkey Vulture                        
  Osprey                               
  Cooper's Hawk                        
  Harris's Hawk                        
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  American Coot                        
  Spotted Sandpiper                     
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  Mourning Dove                        
  Inca Dove                            
  Ringed Kingfisher                    
  Green Kingfisher                      
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Black Phoebe                         
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Chihuahuan Raven                     
  Northern Rough-winged Swallow        
  Cave Swallow                         
  Verdin                               
  House Wren                            
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat                   
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  White-collared Seedeater             
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Western Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                  
  Bronzed Cowbird                      
  House Finch                          
  House Sparrow                        

51 SPECIES

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Family Affair

1/21/17

Saturday’s outing was definitely a family affair, with Fred’s sister Carolyn and her husband Jim joining us, along with Steve, Denbi, Carrie, and Jim #2! J  Fred opted to drive, as they rented a vehicle that could carry five people, while the second carload followed us, and since most everyone was a new birder, we all headed to Bentsen State Park first to see what we could see!  (On the way everyone marveled at the Hitchcockian mob of grackles and Bronzed Cowbirds at the intersection at Business 83…)  At Bentsen, their first bird was a Kiskadee in the parking lot, and it was fun to see everyone get so excited about a bird we tend to take for granted!  Heading towards the gardens, what should pop up but the wintering Hooded Oriole, which rightfully elicited many ooos and ahhs!  (I warned Suzanne, who was inputting into EBird as we went, that that one was gonna get flagged… J)  The Buff-bellied Hummingbird chattered, but the only one to show himself was a male Black-chinned Hummingbird that challenged another, seemingly doing a little bit of a display flight!

Fuzzy Hooded Oriole in the morning sun

Black-chinned Hummingbird - in the shot above you can see the characteristic "blobby" outer primary


We arrived at the Nature Center just as the feeders were being filled, and everyone delighted in all the Chachalacas waiting to get at breakfast (and then later chorusing to beat the band)!  After we all sat for awhile and let the birds get used to us, a Kiskadee came in, and shortly after a male Golden-fronted Woodpecker gave everyone great looks at his multi-colored crown!  Green Jay was high on the wish list of many, and before long one after another came in to the feeder, to gasps of delight from the group!  Even the Red-winged Blackbirds were studied with relish as the female looked so different!

Happy birders enjoying the morning show!

Chachalaca waiting for the feeders to be filled...

After awhile we reluctantly headed back to the cars (I had heard a distant Altamira Oriole, but none showed themselves this day), where a flock of Lark Sparrows gave great looks. From there we headed over to Anzalduas, stopping for a very distant White-tailed Hawk and a Crested Caracara along Old Military Highway.  A pair of White-tailed Kites showed well along the entrance road, and a flock of Western Meadowlarks flew in front of us.  Everyone was willing to take the Sprague’s Pipit Hike, and we ended up flushing several birds (none landing, unfortunately), and everyone got to hear their distinctive flight call, along with a couple of American Pipits.  A mystery hawk hiding in the trees turned out to be a Cooper’s once he flew, and checking out the raft of Lesser Scaup singled out a male Ring-necked Duck amongst them.  Two Ospreys sat in the trees across the way, and a very distant hawk had me wondering if we had the Hook-billed Kite that had been reported the day before (a big shadow across his back wasn’t helping), but thankfully he shuffled his plumage enough to reveal that he was a Red-shouldered Hawk…

Sleepy Lark Sparrow

Driving slowly I heard a Tropical Kingbird, so we parked along with all the cop cars and went after it, only to hear a Couch’s Kingbird as well, so that was neat to have both of them together!  A Vermilion Flycatcher was a big hit, and a Black Phoebe tried to pull our attention away from his brighter cousin.  I did have a single rose-rumped House Finch, and even a female House Sparrow caused some excitement!  A stop at the bathrooms added some Eastern Bluebirds to the day list.

Couch's Kingbird

We hadn’t even made it past the boat ramp when folks were starting to crave those barbacoa tacos I had been bragging about at Stripes J so we headed up to Military Highway and indulged (mentioning that it tasted like moist pot roast was enough to convince one of our party to get one J), then took the back way to Santa Ana, picking up three fly-by Monk Parakeets in Hidalgo.  I was hoping we might run into Clay-colored Thrush and Beardless Tyrannulet at the refuge (to say nothing of the vagrant Tropical Parula), but being “that time of the day” (and unseasonably warm to boot), we didn’t see much of anything besides titmice, Orange-crowned Warblers, and a variety of butterflies and waterfowl at Willow Lakes (including many Least Grebes and some Black-necked Stilts), but a flyover Harris’ Hawk was exciting.  Several things sang but didn’t want to show themselves (like Carolina and Bewick’s Wrens, along with the ever-stubborn Verdins), but coming over the levee I heard the descending whistle of a Gray Hawk, and going on faith that it wasn’t a Green Jay imitating one, I went ahead and counted it! J From there we headed on to Estero Llano Grande SP as our last stop of the day.

Car #2 had originally planned to drop out around noon, but they ended up persevering for the whole day (although mentioning that one could spend the rest of the afternoon chilling on the covered deck watching the water birds appealed to several folks)!  After getting checked in and enjoying the ducks (including the Cinnamon Teal and the Green-winged Teal whose green mask actually looked purple at the angle we were seeing them), we spent about 15 minutes at the hummingbird feeders, but only a handful managed to get a glimpse of the Buff-bellied Hummer that came in and perched briefly.  Those who were up for it made the trek out to Alligator Lake, where we paused briefly to enjoy Avocets and dowitchers in Dowitcher Pond, and at Grebe Marsh the toothy Alligator with gaping maw got all the attention!  (One Least Grebe obligingly stretched his leg so the folks could see one of the characteristics that differentiated them from ducks…)  Making the turn to Alligator Lake we admired all the night herons of both flavors, and I enjoyed building the suspense by having the group be very quiet (we were a boisterous bunch J) while I snuck up to find the Pauraque, and thankfully there he was in plain sight (which is not always the case)!  So I motioned to them to slowly come up, and it was a hoot to hear the gasps of discovery as each one in turn suddenly picked up on this “log bird” only a few feet from them!

Group shot in the Estero parking lot

Chilling on the deck

Green-winged Teal showing purple on the head where it's normally green!

Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teals

Toothy Alligator
 

Gadwall

Least Grebe gives us the evil eye and then stretches his wing and foot!



The ever-present Pauraque

Unfortunately the owl wasn’t in his hole, and what I suspected was a Long-billed Thrasher was being most uncooperative (although a Curve-billed gave brief looks).  But we had a couple more Alligators for our troubles, along with a pair of Bobwhites calling to each other across the Resaca.  The overlook was rather quiet except for a distant White-tipped Dove cooing and a flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers (one of our group delighted in actually seeing the “butter butt”), and we did manage to get brief looks at a Common Ground Dove in the brush, but Fred spotted an Anhinga on the way back, which was nice!

We were all pretty beat after that, but those who wanted to try for the becard managed to drag ourselves into the Tropical Zone, where several other birders were also waiting hopefully!  It was really quiet (and hot – about 95) by then, so we didn’t pick up much more than a Turkey Vulture and some White Pelicans flying overhead.  On the way out Park Host Rick tried to find us a Malachite that had been coming in to the butterfly bait, but even he had hidden himself away, so we headed home with what turned out to be 88 species for the day! 

Camouflaged Mexican Bluewing near a grapefruit

Bird List:

  Gadwall                              
  Mottled Duck                          
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Cinnamon Teal                        
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Northern Pintail                     
  Green-winged Teal                    
  Ring-necked Duck                      
  Lesser Scaup                         
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Northern Bobwhite                    
  Least Grebe                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Double-crested Cormorant             
  Anhinga                              
  American White Pelican               
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Cattle Egret                         
  Black-crowned Night-Heron            
  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron           
  White Ibis                           
  White-faced Ibis                     
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Osprey                               
  White-tailed Kite                    
  Cooper's Hawk                        
  Harris's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Red-shouldered Hawk                  
  Gray Hawk                            
  Common Gallinule                      
  American Coot                        
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  American Avocet                      
  Killdeer                             
  Long-billed Dowitcher                
  Rock Pigeon                           
  Mourning Dove                        
  Common Ground-Dove                   
  White-tipped Dove                    
  Common Pauraque                      
  Black-chinned Hummingbird            
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird             
  Belted Kingfisher                    
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Monk Parakeet                        
  Black Phoebe                         
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Vermilion Flycatcher                 
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                    
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  White-eyed Vireo                      
  Green Jay                            
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  Verdin                               
  House Wren                           
  Carolina Wren                        
  Bewick's Wren                         
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Eastern Bluebird                     
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                     
  American Pipit                       
  Sprague's Pipit                      
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Lark Sparrow                         
  Savannah Sparrow                     
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Western Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Bronzed Cowbird                      
  Hooded Oriole                        
  Altamira Oriole                      
  House Finch                          
  Lesser Goldfinch                     
  House Sparrow                        

88 SPECIES