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.
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
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
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron