Derek and Helen had just come in from a five-day blitz on the Central Coast and the Hill Country with Jon McIntyre, so I was relieved that he had already bagged some of the more difficult Valley specialties for me! J However, just because the bird was on the list didn’t mean that they didn’t have a few “BVDs” (birder lingo for “Better View Desired”), so their desire was to get good looks at our local birds, plus get some help with the vocalizations. We had already talked about going up to Salineño to get some of the upriver specialties (thankfully they logged Audubon’s Oriole at Choke Canyon), and after an introductory trip to Santa Ana on their own, they already had a handful of our local specialties (like Chachalaca), so this was going to be a laid-back sorta day up in Starr County to see what we could see.
The first stop was Falcon (Starr) County Park in hopes that the Red-billed Pigeons would be feeding on the coma berries, but I guess that gang of eleven cleaned them all out two weeks ago, as there wasn’t a pigeon to be seen! It was a beautiful day, though, and the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were back in force, which delighted these two Brits to no end! The other hit was the Vermilion Flycatcher pair; even the female had her subtle beauty! At the same stop we finally got scope views of a singing Bewick’s Wren, and a Lark Sparrow teed up on a tree for looks. Making the circle we added the Ash-throated Flycatcher by the office, and closer to the south fence a Caracara flew over. Hugging the “center island” I was thrilled to hear a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher giving his pish-like scold, and after some coaxing he finally sat up and showed off, black cap and all!
Lark Sparrow (above and below)
Giving up on the pigeons, Derek and Helen really wanted to see a Roadrunner again (they had seen one with Jon, but it was distant), so we wheeled into Falcon State Park right next door. The entrance road actually turned out to be quite birdy: a pair of House Finches sat on a wire first (which are considered “accidental” in the Valley), and then a thrasher was singing really close, so we parked and got out to investigate. While we were searching a Verdin came right out and perched in the top of a dead tree! Before long we spotted the singer: a nice Long-billed Thrasher who was partially hidden at first, until a Pyrrhuloxia came blasting into the Verdin’s tree as if to say, “Why are you looking at him?! Lookit me!!” About that time the thrasher decided to sit up as well, so we got great looks at three special birds!
House Finch, considered "accidental" in the Valley
Long-billed Thrasher (above and below)
After checking in and making the right turn as is my habit, we didn’t have to wait long before we spotted a Roadrunner next to the road (of course)! A camper scared him into the campground entrance road, but as we crawled up he stayed put and we got stunning views! We saw another one down the road doing his cooing song, but as we crawled up he walked into the brush. I demonstrated my compulsion to “mess with Roadrunners” (their song is very easy to mimic), and suddenly he appeared in the middle of the mesquite, looking all around and cooing back to me! What a show! We saw yet a third Roadrunner before hitting the primitive camping area!
I think my Brits woulda been happy if they saw nothing else at that point J, but turning right at the road to the primitive camping area gave us a great look at a preening Curve-billed Thrasher on a wire! I was telling them that this was a good area for Cactus Wren (and they were admiring yet another Scissor-tailed Flycatcher) when suddenly something even better started singing: a Bell’s Vireo (also considered accidental in the Valley)! Unfortunately he was being drowned out by a Mockingbird, so the recording wasn’t the best, and the trash picker-upper was coming by in his noisy little vehicle, so we bagged the idea of trying to pull the vireo out and headed on. I heard a Cassin’s Sparrow and we are actually able to spot it doing its parachuting display song, but every time he landed he quickly moved to another spot, only to rise and parachute down again!
Down at the boat ramp, my passengers agreed to some four-wheeling in the hopes of pulling up something new near the water’s edge; a Greater Yellowlegs was nice, but what we did kick up was an unexpected but pleasant surprise: a pair of Bobwhite (and the female sat on the track for a good long time, giving us great views)! Bouncing back up to the pavement we headed over to the picnic area, where we actually had a picnic J while I took the scope down the path to check out the pile of larids on the spit; it was tough judging them in the heat waves, but we ended up with a Caspian Tern, a couple of Ring-billed Gulls, and a mob of Laughing Gulls (plus the odd Great Egret).
We cruised around the cabin area not picking up anything new (it was getting to be that time of day), then swung around the county park one last time (same story) before heading out to Salineño via the Dump Road. Unbelievably we scared up yet another Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, and also got fleeting looks at Black-throated Sparrows, but again the Cactus Wrens refused to cooperate, even though they were singing and calling fairly close. The butters were just going nuts: mainly Lyside Sulphurs attacking these white-flowered bushes, but I was able to point out a Reakirt’s Blue to Derek and Helen.
Derek and Helen along the Dump Road
Down at the boat ramp we parked and decided to hike the trail first, and almost immediately I heard the seedeater singing! So down we went, and we got pretty close to him (close enough to get a decent recording for documentation), and by going down the little side trail that had been blazed last year during the seedeater “invasion”, we were able to get brief views as the male sat right up on a dead stalk! Not for long, unfortunately, but what was either the female or a young male followed him, as I thought I heard that one singing as well. But he was going up and down along the whole length of that trail, just like last year, as we heard him both at the cul-de-sac and then again at the trailhead (no sign of the nice black-and-white one David and I had seen).
A watch at the river for almost an hour yielded no specialties except a Green Kingfisher that shot across and then headed down towards the island. The Chachalacas were tuning up, and we had at least four pairs spreading the afternoon news from behind us to Mexico to the island upriver! The “resident” Ospreys were there, of course, and the Spotted Sandpiper finally showed up (along with a Killdeer who enjoyed taking a bath at the foot of the boat ramp). Here, too, the butters were nuts, reminding me of that huge mudding party along the shores of the Sarapiqui River in Costa Rica, only our species diversity was lower: again, mainly Lyside Sulphurs, with a few Snouts and Large Orange Sulphurs in the mix.
Killdeer watches the sky as he cools off!
Mostly Lyside Sulphurs with one Large Orange Sulphur
A closer look at the Lysides
We were talking about stopping at Hidalgo for the Monk Parakeets on the way back, but everyone was pretty bushed, so we decided to call it a day with a surprising 71 species for the day, which is tough when the feeders are closed! Bird List:
Great Blue Heron
Northern Rough-winged Swallow