The hoped-for weather system petered out on us, but we decided to go ahead with the plan to hit the Island, come what may. With the construction on SR100 a stop at the Blue Shack was impossible, but we were able to swing in the Observation Parking Lot, which was a good thing, as Mike missed the Chihuahuan Raven pair on the wires going by but thankfully another one popped up at the tower and even flew around a bit before disappearing! A Bobwhite called once in the distance which was good for the day, but alas, no Aplomado Falcon there. L
Continuing on, we went straight to the Convention Centre, where the usual Greeting Committee of whistling ducks, pigeons, and White Ibis met us, and even as we walked up to the water feature there was a little flurry of activity with the continuing Catbirds, Blackpoll Warbler, and Common Yellowthroat! When that died down we decided to walk around back, where we once again ran into Huck who had an Eastern Wood Pewee; I heard something that could have been the Yellow Warbler that folks had seen earlier, but I just wasn’t sure (and it never showed). Three Indigo Buntings briefly perched in the tops of the trees, then moved on, and the Sedge Wren gave its bright chink but never showed. The row of Laughing Gulls on the poles (along with their Reddish Egret) was gone, but there were several Dunlin out there, and some Short-billed Dowitchers came screaming in making a very odd vocalization before giving the familiar tu-tu-tu! A flock of Franklin’s Gulls wheeled overhead, which was great, as those were the only ones we saw all day! I received a text from my friend Baceliza about then informing us that a Rose-breasted Grosbeak was at the water feature, so we went tearing back there and enjoyed this striking fellow, who was undoubtedly the star of the whole day! (Mike was especially happy as it was the bird on the cover of his Sibley’s… J) A Lincoln’s Sparrow also tried to draw attention to himself by hopping around out in the open and bathing!
Blackpoll Warbler (also below)
Official Greeters (Black-bellied Whistling Ducks
A Lincoln's Sparrow comes in, ponders the water feature, then takes the plunge!
From there we hit the boardwalk and only made a cursory scan of the east pond (seeing as it was directly in the sun) picking up the normal suspects, but some Stilt Sandpipers were nice for the day. Making our way to the end of the “marsh” boardwalk, a couple of guys (one with a camera) put their hands up and quietly informed us that they had a Least Bittern out in the open! I sent Mike and Sally ahead, and sure enough, the female was just sitting there, looking around! She shortly crept back into the reeds, but then the male crept out and allowed some views of his wonderful breeding colors! But the icing on the cake was when both of them hopped over to our side of the water, scaring out a Marsh Wren in the process that practically sat on us!
A few poses of the female Least Bittern
Note the black cap and back and neon bill colors of the male in full breeding condition!
Marsh Wren that got scared out of hiding...
We got word that there was a “very cooperative” Clapper Rail on the other boardwalk, so we scurried over there, but not before discovering a subadult Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Sally mentioned that he reminded her a little of their Stone Curlews, and in that plumage, I could see the resemblance)! The rail was still out, thankfully, so Mike was able to get some nice pics; both the Brits were impressed with his size, as their Water Rail is a little guy! Continuing into the mangroves a chip revealed a surprise Yellow-rumped Warbler still in winter plumage, and the pod of Pied-billed Grebes at the end was a definite hit. We didn’t stay long as a couple was having a picnic at the blind, complete with complementary music… L
Subadult Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Close-up of the head
Sally on the boardwalk
From there we decided to hit the Flats, and that was great fun as we were able to drive right up to gulls, terns, and skimmers; species numbers were down (no Franklin’s Gull or Common Tern, for one), so we quickly wrapped up there and headed to Subway for lunch and then Sheepshead. Another young couple was already there, so we set up watch, and didn’t have to wait too long before there was a sudden flurry of activity: both an Indigo and Painted Bunting came in, a female Kentucky Warbler kept making return appearances, the Warbling Vireo that had been singing finally showed, and a stunning male Baltimore Oriole finally came in (he had been chattering, along with several Dickcissels that were singing away but never did show themselves). Unfortunately Mike missed the Summer Tanager, but since the Dickcissels had “migrated” across the street, we decided to go over there for a while, and that drip started jumping with a Hooded Warbler and a Northern Waterthrush (not to mention a big Blue Crab in the back)! Something big and patterned swooped in, and eventually came to the drip – a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!
Taking up watch at Sheepshead...
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a little on the late side...
Best guess is a Blue Crab
The Dickcissels never did cooperate, so we decided to head on to Laguna Atascosa where we had a chance at photographing some Green Jays (which was high on the list). We stopped at Port Isabel Reservoir on the way, logging Wilson’s, Semipalmated, and Snowy Plovers, plus a big flock of Whimbrel, but not the hoped-for Wilson’s Phalaropes. Continuing on, we went straight to the visitor’s center and the open water feature, which was already hopping with activity: the Green Jays came right in, as did Bronzed Cowbirds and the Chachalacas, plus the lone Cattle Egret that had been hanging around! When things slowed down we went to the blind, and while the light was a little harsher, there was constant activity with more Green Jays and Chachalacas (watching them trying to get at the suet feeder was entertaining), plus a Long-billed Thrasher, lots of White-tipped Doves, and even a little Mexican Ground Squirrel! The parting shot was a Lark Sparrow that came down for a drink!
Cattle Egret sneaking into the water feature
Long-billed Thrasher, with a White-tipped Dove behind
Impersonating Groucho Marx...
We really had to start heading back by then, so I wrapped a chain around Mike and dragged him out of the blind J and headed back to the car. But I did promise I’d stop for anything that was a life bird! Well. We had made it past the General Brant turnoff when the first stop happened: a big, beautiful White-tailed Hawk took off from the field and gave us a great view as it turned circles! Then, as we were nearing the end of the refuge area and yapping about who knows what, what should fly right in front of us but the Aplomado Falcon!! It thankfully landed on a pole, and it’s a good thing no traffic was coming either way as I swung around sideways so Mike could get a picture! J Then it took off and landed on the road for the briefest of moments before taking off again and heading back into the refuge! What a way to end the day (not to mention the tremendous rainstorm we drove through on the way back)!
We ended up with 98 species for the day! Bird List:
Black-bellied Whistling-DuckMottled Duck
Great Blue Heron