A family from Canada (Linda, Murray, and Robert) had found me on Facebook and wanted to bird Texas, so after birding a bit on their own for a couple of days they came to the Inn and we spent good, quality time on Thursday at Estero Llano Grande State Park, seeing as a good batch of their target birds could be gotten there! Since the Rose-throated Becard had been making return appearances, we decided to head straight back to the Tropical Zone, where a flock of the target Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flew overhead! We staked out the feeders and drip area, logging both White-tipped and Common Ground Doves, Chachalacas, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Orange-crowned Warblers, and a single male Wilson’s that gave a brief look!
Murray and Linda admire a bougainvillea in the Tropical Zone!
After about a half-hour of feeder-watching we decided to make the loop, when another gentleman waved us over by the back fence – he had just had the becard! (Actually, it left the minute we got there… L) I figured that was the last of it, but as we circled around Benten Basham’s place, I caught it flying into a tall tree along the (appropriately named) Becard Trail, and thankfully Linda was able to get onto him and get a photograph! Heading back towards the main entrance, we ran into several feeding flocks, one of which included a Black-and-white Warbler, but not the hoped-for Tropical Paula. A flock of Red-crowned Parrots batted by in the distance, and then we were waylaid by a hummingbird that turned out to be the female Rufous, which I really had no hope of running into! While we were enjoying her, a nice Buff-bellied Hummer came in to the nearby feeder! Both May Snider and Ranger John Yochum saved the day later by IDing the lovely flower the Rufous was hanging around as Hong Kong Orchid!
Linda's photo of the Rose-throated Becard (copyright 2017 Linda Dow-Sitch)
Robert on the "middle road"
Female Rufous Hummingbird against the Hong Kong Orchid
The Visitor Center was open by then, so we got our “bands” and enjoyed birds off the deck for a while, the highlights being a lovely Roseate Spoonbill, the “odd” Cinnamon Teal, and several Least Grebes! On the way to Alligator Lake we enjoyed a lady Yellow-bellied Sapsucker playing hide-and-seek with us, along with a Spotted Sandpiper on a log stalking several bugs! We tried unsuccessfully to pin down a Lesser Goldfinch, but a brilliant Vermilion Flycatcher was showing off at Grebe Marsh, making the nearby Rough-winged Swallow that was also perched appear rather dull!
Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (above and below)
Spotted Sandpiper (just starting to get his spots) stalking bugs
The night herons at the lake were certainly a hit, with a Green Heron an added bonus! The Pauraque again provided comic relief as Murray was understandably looking too far into the undergrowth when the bird was practically at his feet – it’s always fun to see the reaction when the person finally sees the thing! J The owl was a no-show, but we had another pretty Yellow-crowned Night Heron at the overlook along with a Tricolored Heron and several Neotropic Cormorants, plus the requisite Alligator. On the way out a turkey-tailed Anhinga flew over, and then we ran into another group that had a Long-billed Thrasher in their scope, so they very kindly let my friends take a look as well! Passing the feeders next to the VC we startled a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers working on an orange, and after getting drinks and snacks we headed to the car, but not before adding a calling Beardless Tyrannulet to the list.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron along the "Pauraque Trail" (above) and at the main overlook (below)
The gang enjoys a singing Long-billed Thrasher!
Curve-billed Thrasher figuring out the best way to attack his orange...
Both Linda and Murray had identical cameras to mine, so once it became clear that they reveled in simply enjoying and photographing the birds and butterflies, I made a command decision to head over to the National Butterfly Center for lunch, more feeder watching, and a crash course in common (and maybe not-so-common) butterflies! A Varied Bunting had just been reported when we arrived, so we headed down to the “old gardens” where the bird had just disappeared into a big bush, and the waiting game was on for a bunch of folks! We opted to grab our lunches and head to the picnic tables, enjoying the birds coming in for their lunches as well! Besides the normal Green Jays, grackles, and House Sparrows, we had regular visits from Cardinals, an Altamira Oriole, Kiskadees, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Chachalacas, and a Black-crested Titmouse that was way too fast for Linda’s camera!
A House Sparrow takes his place amongst the Green Jays and Altamira Orioles!
Monster Cardinal (more normal pose below)
After lunch we wandered the garden and I pointed out some of the more flashy butterflies, including this big ol’ swallowtail that had a lot of blue on the hindwing in addition to the yellow stripes, and I was sure we had something “rare”! Mike Rickard and Ken Wilson wandered by about that time, and Mike assured me it was just a female Black Swallowtail, but I had never seen one with such stunning blue cells! He also informed us that there was a female Chestnut Crescent down at the entrance to the Walking Trail; there had been several reports of this very rare butter from Mexico, so I was anxious to see it! On the way we had more flashy common stuff like Gulf Frits, Giant Swallowtails, and Zebra Heliconians. Dan Jones was already down there and had saved the crescent for us, where we had good comparative views of this female and the almost look-alike (and much more common) Texan Crescent!
Black Swallowtails as I'm used to seeing them...
...and the flashy ones that were out!
Showing its "skirt" on the upstroke...
Soldier, showing the "watermark" that separates it from the similar Queen
Beat-up female Chestnut Crescent, a very rare visitor from Mexico!
On the way back to the tables the guys pointed out a Double-dotted Skipper (another rare bug usually found on the coast), and while settling down for more feeder-bashing, an Olive Sparrow suddenly came in and gave everyone extended photo ops as he took his bath! A report of an Angled Leafwing sent me scrambling (with Linda and Murray’s blessing J), but by the time we got there said bug had vamoosed, although we had a nice Band-celled Sister and Mexican Bluewing as consolation prizes!
Olive Sparrow enjoying his bath!
Mexican Bluewing, the Valley's signature butterfly!
We decided to call it a day after that, but not before making a quick stop at the Old Military Highway Canal Bridge to add Black Phoebe to the list! We ended up with 73 species for the day! Bird List:
Little Blue Heron
Northern Rough-winged Swallow