This Big Day was planned months ago, but the week before it was to take place, the suggestion came to use it as a fund raiser for Church Camp! Miraculously I got a handful of sponsors, and some upped the ante if I hit over 150 (which I honestly didn’t think was possible, at least the way I do Big Days), so we were on our way! Walking out the door at 3:50 am, a Mockingbird started the list, and when I got off the freeway at SR 100, House Sparrows (2) were yelling up a storm under the overpass, even at that hour!
One of the tricks is to find a wooded area where you feel safe going an hour before dawn, and in Cameron County’s case, that place was Resaca de la Palma State Park. Just for kicks and grins I decided to stop periodically along New Carmen Road, and that hit pay dirt, adding Common Nighthawk (3), chattering Scissor-tailed Flycatchers (4), a flyover Dickcissel (5), a Couch’s Kingbird sneezing his dawn song (6), and the best catch, a singing Chuck-will’s-widow (7)! Thankfully the first gate was open, so I parked in the relative seclusion of the dirt lot, and I didn’t have to go very far into the park to pick up “McCall’s” Screech Owl (8), along with Cardinals (9) and Brown-crested Flycatchers (10) tuning up already! I walked to a little picnic area in the main parking lot and was surrounded by White-winged Doves (11) awakening the dawn, and was sweating the Pauraques until finally a few started to give their distinctive songs (12)! The sound of another car pulling in sent me back to my own car, and not knowing who it might be I chose to pull out and into the outside lot (my headlights, as I was turning around, revealed what looked like a couple probably wanting to awaken the dawn together…), but what that showed me was that all the night birds (including the Chuck) were easily heard right there by the road, and in addition added White-tipped Dove (13), Long-billed Thrasher (14), Red-winged Blackbirds (15) in the fields across the street, Green Jays (16) back in the woods, a Lark Sparrow (17) across the way, a distant Kiskadee (18), the inevitable Great-tailed Grackle (19), Carolina Wren (20), and lastly, just before leaving for Sabal Palm Sanctuary at around 6:30, an Olive Sparrow (21) giving his bright bouncing ball song!
Mourning Doves (22) were on the road going back up to the freeway, but I kept the window down as I went, picking up Bobwhite (23), Eastern Meadowlark (24), a chattering Baltimore Oriole (25 – there would be tons later), and a Laughing Gull (26) overhead along FM 511. Pulling into the entrance road, a Bronzed Cowbird (27) was on the wire, and the Chachalacas (28) were starting the Morning News. A pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (29) were perched near the Wall, and in the wooded area along the road added White-eyed Vireo (30), Ladder-backed Woodpecker (31), Altamira Oriole (32), Starling (33 – he was actually a flyover), Black-crested Titmouse (34), and Golden-fronted Woodpecker (35). On the way to check in a Buff-bellied Hummingbird (36) chattered, and a Hooded Oriole (37) wheeped from the palms. Starting on the trail, an Eastern Wood Pewee (38) plaintively called, and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak (39) squeaked, but along the Resaca Trail I flushed a young hawk that I initially thought was a Coop, but after I got my bins on it I could see it was a Gray Hawk (40, and one whistled later for good measure…). Along the Vireo Trail an Orchard Oriole (41) sang and finally showed himself, and a Mottled Duck (42) quacked unseen from the pond. At a rest stop an empid flew in and flipped his tail very nicely, and the fine eyering, pale underparts, and greenish complexion made me comfortable calling it an Acadian Flycatcher (43). A female Indigo Bunting (44) popped up, and a Lesser Goldfinch (45) gave a variety of calls. Coming back along the back side of the pond, a “Brownsville” Common Yellowthroat (46) sang its unique song, and a Least Grebe (47) trumpeted from behind the foliage, as did a Coot (48). At an opening I could see a Neotropic Cormorant (49) and a Common Gallinule (50), and a Green Kingfisher (51) gave its typewriter-like rattling call. On the way to the blind a Warbling Vireo (52) was singing tentatively, and from the blind itself was able to add Pied-billed Grebe (53) and a hiding Black-crowned Night Heron (54) to the list. On the way out I was surprised to hear a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (55) buzzing, although a few do hang around all summer.
Stopped for gas on the way to Old Port Isabel Road, logging Chimney Swifts (56) overhead, with the first bird of the road being a Killdeer (57). A Verdin (58) called from the thornscrub, and at one stop had a Barn Swallow (59) shooting overhead. The next patch of thornscrub had a singing Bewick’s Wren (60) while a Willet (61) flew by the car. At another stop some Gull-billed Terns (62) were calling, and eventually a Cassin’s Sparrow (63) popped up and sang (no Botteri’s yet L). Was happy to bag a flyby Caracara (64) but even happier to spot two Aplomado Falcons (65), one which had just snatched breakfast and was enjoying it on the wire (looked to be an adult and juvenile). Neither bird was banded, so there was no doubt that these were not captive-bred birds! A stop at the canal near the north end was very productive, adding Great Egret (66), Tricolored Heron (67), a Spotted Sandpiper (68) with all his spots, a distant White-tailed Hawk (69) that eventually flew right overhead, and surprisingly a Whimbrel (70), which should be gone by now! Even more unusual was a Long-billed Curlew (71) screeching its cur-LEEE! call! A Horned Lark (72) up in the plowed fields near the shooting range was the last bird of that leg.
Junior Aplomado Falcon chows down while Mom/Dad supervises...
Jackrabbit making his getaway...
Truly Spotted Sandpiper
Heading to the Island, added a Great Blue Heron (73) lumbering along SR 100, a Turkey Vulture (74) amongst the recognizable raptors along this busy road, and once in Port Isabel, Collared Dove (75) and Rock Pigeon (76) were easy additions, along with a Cattle Egret (77) in the grass after coming off the causeway. The first stop was The Flats just north of the Convention Centre, with Royal Tern (78) being the prominent larid. The water was way out there, so I could drive practically up to the posts behind the Centre, adding a Wilson’s Plover (79) close to the grass, and on the water’s edge a brilliant Black-bellied Plover (80 – with its black belly), mating Black-necked Stilts (81), several Dunlin (82) also in breeding plumage, a few Sanderlings (83 – some of which were in their confusing breeding plumage), and incongruously a female Brown-headed Cowbird (84) bopping around on the beach! A Greater Yellowlegs (85) yelled from somewhere, and further out a few Short-billed Dowitchers (86) fed, later giving their distinctive tu-tu-tu calls for good measure. A Least Tern (87) called scratchily as he fed, and the Black Skimmer (88) flock hid a single Ring-billed Gull (89) in its midst. Finally found a couple of Sandwich Terns (90) in the mix, and down where the human revelers were enjoying the morning a Reddish Egret (91) was dancing with the best of them!
A few Dunlin shots from various angles...
Sanderling transitioning into breeding plumage
It was then time to make the rounds at the Centre, and I was pleasantly surprised that there were still a number of migrants around, as it was a beautiful day with south winds, and I figured they’d be well on their way north! A lady American Redstart (92) was the first warbler to greet me in the trees, and in addition to the hordes of ducks, pigeons, and buntings feeding next to the wall, a Lincoln’s Sparrow (93) had joined them! But the best bird was the male Bay-breasted Warbler (94) that fed happily in front of me! Continuing to the water feature I ran into Brad McKinney, who was waiting for a MacGilligray’s Warbler to show up, but in the meantime I added a cooperative Red-eyed Vireo (95), Black-throated Green Warbler (96), Black-and-white Warbler (97), Magnolia Warbler (98), Tennessee Warbler (99), and Yellow Warbler getting the honor of being #100! A Catbird (101) peeked out, and when I mentioned that I hadn’t seen a Wood Thrush this year yet, both Brad and Lizzy mentioned that not only had it come in previously, but it was currently at the end of the water feature (102)! A Swainson’s Thrush (103) came in for a bath while an Ovenbird (104) strutted around in the background. Not a new bird, but another Acadian Flycatcher came in that everyone felt confident calling it as such!
Official Greeter (Black-bellied Whistling Duck)
Cutie female Yellow Warbler that made Bird #100!
About that time I decided to sit on one of the benches along the side, where a female Scarlet Tanager (105) came in to share an orange with a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, along with what I think was the Baltimore Oriole the others had been talking about that acted like it wasn’t quite up to snuff. I wasn’t there long before Lizzy informed me that the female Lazuli Bunting they were mulling over had reappeared, so I scrambled back over and documented the thing along with everyone else (106)! Returning to my seat, I was once again uprooted when the MacGillivray’s Warbler showed up, but alas, he went into the brush before I could get on him… L
Back and front views of a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Female Scarlet Tanager
I was concerned that the thin streaking visible on this female bunting (especially in the below shot) might disqualify it from being a Lazuli...
...but in these shots of the same bird, the underparts clearly show a Lazuli pattern! (Apparently the wingbars are a mite too strong for Indigo as well...)
From there I took up watch on a couple of benches along the back side, adding the tame White Ibis family (107) while a Lesser Yellowlegs (108) called from the wetlands. The first of many Eastern Kingbirds (109) showed up, and a Gray-cheeked Thrush (110) caught bugs from the white rope barrier. An odd oriole showed up that I initially ID’d as Bullock’s, but there was enough doubt on Mary G’s end to make me set it aside for the time being (especially since it reminded me of a funky female Baltimore we had several years ago that everyone was calling a Bullock’s)… I took a quick look at the Flats from the back but didn’t add anything new, and on the way to the “corner seat” a Roseate Spoonbill (111) flew over. Added Nashville Warbler (112) and finally a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (113) came in for a sip before I headed for the “center bushes” to look for the reported Western Wood Pewee and the Chestnut-sided Warbler Lizzy had seen. Brad was again back there, and we had at least two pewees (that had a spat at one point), but neither spoke anything but “Eastern Wood”. The warblers had left the tepeguaje trees (except for a lady Redstart), but on the return leg I thought I heard a Least Flycatcher giving its soft whit, then found the perp on the south side (114)! A Least Bittern (115) obligingly cackled before I even made it onto the boardwalk!
Both Gray-cheeked (above) and Swainson's Thrushes (below) like to hunt bugs from the white barrier rope!
This female oriole showed up that screamed "Bullock's" to me, but the strong lower wingbar and prominent yellow chest had some people wondering...
She cooperatively came in and feasted on a grapefruit right in front of me! The facial pattern looks good for Bullock's, as does the grayish tone to the back and the "toothed" upper wingbar. After others weighed in, I ended up adding this bird to the end of the list.
Female Indigo Bunting, where the streaks are very apparent.
Male Baltimore Oriole (on the right) is apparently challenged by the Orchard Oriole pair (or at least the wife) on the left!
Escaping to dry out a little...
A Western Wood Pewee was confirmed earlier, and this guy raised suspicions due to his dusky bill tip, but he never said anything to clinch the ID...
This guy, on the other hand, definitely spoke "Eastern"!
Eastern Kingbirds came through by the dozens!
Back at the water feature, a Gray-cheeked Thrush comes in for a bath!
A Black-and-white Warbler joins him
On said boardwalk, a Ruddy Turnstone (116) flew into the east pond, and there I added Green Heron (117) and Stilt Sandpiper (118; the Redheads had apparently left). Over by the blind a trio of Blue-winged Teal (119) flew past, and several Cave Swallows (120) swooped around. On the leg that heads out over the lagoon, a Western Kingbird (121) flew around, and thankfully the Oystercatcher (122) made a pass, but not calling this time! J On the way back a Least Sandpiper (123) shot past and called, and a pair of Purple Martins (124) perched on a wire.
Dragged myself away from there (was sorely tempted to spend another 15 minutes at least at the water feature, but when doing a Big Day ya gotta keep moving) and headed to Sheepshead, as Merle had reported that a Golden-winged Warbler had shown up there! Hopeful for some new species, I was mildly disappointed to arrive and find the main patrons to be doves and buntings, and the only warbler to come in to the drip on the south side was a Yellowthroat. After 15 minutes I migrated to the north (“sunny”) side where things were seeping but just not showing themselves. Another young couple showed up, and thankfully a female Painted Bunting (125) put in an appearance for them! Just as they were leaving a Blue Grosbeak (126) showed up, so I called them back post haste!
I made a quick stop at the Pearl Pond, but both the scoter and the Purple Gallinules were apparently gone, so headed over the causeway and made a side trip to Port Isabel Reservoir. Like at Delta Lake, I picked up a couple new things, but nothing I didn’t get later on (Avocet – 127, and Wilson’s Phalarope – 128), and was hoping to pick up some additional small plovers. Am wishing now that I had gone ahead and checked the rest of Holly Beach Road, because I missed two birds that I assumed I would pick up along the Cannon Road Loop (Curve-billed Thrasher and Harris’ Hawk), but didn’t… L On the way to the freeway I stopped at a resaca near Bayview and picked up White-rumped Sandpiper (129), and heard a thrasher I suspected was the Curve-billed, but just couldn’t find him. With the window down I picked up a tittering Tropical Kingbird (130), and a Shrike (131) on the wire near the freeway was a nice addition!
I took FM 800 over to Weaver Road, a little concerned that the afternoon sun would complicate things, but I needn’t have worried, as the north end of the sod farms could be viewed in wonderful light, and that’s where most of the birds were! J Right away another flock of Whiterumps wheeled around, but in with them were several Buff-breasted Sandpipers (132)! To the west were several Long-billed Dowitchers (133), and a couple of Pectoral Sandpipers (134) joined the Buffies. Out in the field were a couple of American Golden Plovers (135), and as I took the southbound road, I was surprised to kick up a Savannah Sparrow (136)! I had been pondering how difficult it can be right now to pick out a Baird’s Sandpiper (as I’ve been fooled by dull Whiterumps before), but thankfully a pair in classic breeding plumage posed right by the ditch (137)! Already counted, but still pretty was a Least Sandpiper also in breeding plumage – a real sharp little bird! I looked hard for the Hudsonian Godwits that had been reported earlier in the week, but couldn’t find any – was to hear that Rex Stanford (Mr. Shorebird himself J) found them the next day! L
American Golden Plover
Several views of a Buff-breasted Sandpiper hiding in the grass
From there crawled through the NWR tract hoping to nail the aforementioned Harris’ Hawk and had a flyover Common Ground Dove (138) instead, but I almost ignored a bird on the wire that turned out to be an Olive-sided Flycatcher (139)! Since the light was good, I went up on the dike to view Adams Garden Reservoir in hopes of bagging some swallows, but none were found, although a flyby Yellow-crowned Night Heron (140) was nice! A ragamuffin Forster’s Tern (141) batted by, but the only other birds there were Neotropic Cormorants. Descending to the “ground floor” some swallows on the wire turned out to be Banks (142), and I was pondering the fact that I hadn’t seen a Snowy Egret yet, when suddenly one popped up from the marsh (143)!
I had planned to hit Tiocano Lake as my last stop of the day, in hopes that the King Rails would be calling closer to sunset. They certainly were (144), but in addition to that bagged some nice additions as a pair of Fulvous Whistling Ducks (145) flew in, a Little Blue Heron (146) pumped past, and a line of White-faced Ibis (147) glided along! In addition there were more lovely spoonbills (the second camera battery died about then L), avocets, and other shorebirds already logged, but nothing new, so with what time I had left (and actually nearing the 150 mark, which I never dreamed I’d actually do) I thought that maybe I could pick up White-tailed Kite at least at La Feria Nature Park! It wasn’t to be; I waited till sunset then headed to the Whataburger for a celebratory milk shake. But the final (at the time) bird was our local Lesser Nighthawk (148) batting around the apartments when I got home!
But that wasn’t the end of it: more expert opinion confirmed that funky oriole as a Bullock’s, which brought me up to 149!! I thought maybe those who pledged higher at 150 were off the hook, but when comparing the pre-numbered list with the BirdBase list (which I input from a pre-printed checklist to remind me of what I saw, as I sometimes forget to write stuff down at the time), BirdBase was coming up with 150!! So after carefully comparing my field list against the BirdBase list, I discovered my error: at Sheepshead we had a lovely female Northern Parula come in to the “sunny side”, and I had forgotten to write it down! God has a sense of humor: all my fussing about missing “stupidly common” species in order to go over the top was for naught, as a simple clerical error closed the gap! J
Bird list in taxonomic order:
Black-bellied Whistling-DuckFulvous Whistling-Duck
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Black-throated Green Warbler