Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Shooting the Shorebirds


I had barely landed from a two-week road trip up to Michigan when Keith announced that a last-minute visitor from Austin might want some guiding Monday!  (Justin, one of our “back-up guides”, was taking care of him Saturday and Sunday…)  He was mainly interested in photography, and since Justin had taken him to all the Hidalgo County hotspots already (and these days “hotspots” had a double meaning L), we convinced him that a trip to Cameron County was in order!  So we made plans to meet Monday morning and head out.

Jack was like me in the sense that, when on a road trip, the car is packed to the gills and you know where everything is, so he preferred to drive, and since he had a Subaru Outback, I knew it could handle Old Port Isabel Road (OPIR) and the Flats out on South Padre, so off we went!  After a stop for tacos and another for a potty break and coffee, we hit the south end of OPIR and immediately bagged the White-tailed Hawk on a pole!  (He and Justin had seen one on Brushline, but the light was horrible for photography…)  This one (and his mate) were in a much better position for portraits!  A little further down the road we would see a young Whitetail bracketed by two Turkey Vultures, and a Mockingbird giving him fits!

White-tailed Hawk gives us the looking-over and then flies over to her mate!

A youngster peers our way while a Mockingbird hassles him off-camera...

We stopped at the first hacking station with nary a falcon in sight, but we did see a Long-billed Curlew and have a pair of Gull-billed Terns fly over.  Crawling along we had a lot of typical dry brush birds as heard-onlies, like White-eyed Vireo, Cactus and Bewick’s Wrens, and Olive and Lark Sparrows, but a Curve-billed Thrasher and Verdin allowed only fleeting views, while a beat-up Mockingbird came right out!  Several Cassin’s Sparrows were singing, and one finally posed for Jack’s camera.  It may have been that stop when suddenly the Aplomado Falcon went shooting by, but he was against the sun and wasn’t stopping, but was going the direction of another hacking station that I didn’t even know was out there!  Near the “chicken coops” I couldn’t believe I spotted a nighthawk snoozing on a mesquite branch, and when his mate flushed (that we didn’t know was in another tree) the position of the white bar nailed him as a Common.  At the canal we had a cooperative Botteri’s Sparrow sitting up and singing, and two Black-bellied Whistling Ducks posed with a Snowy Egret.  Meadowlarks were quite plentiful, and one of the many Bobwhites we were hearing sat up for Jack!

Jack scans for falcons along Old Port Isabel Road

We spot a Common Nighthawk in a mesquite (who also spots us)! 

A cute little Botteri's Sparrow sings away!

From there we headed over to the Island and the Flats, which were in pretty good shape (but he admitted that had I not told him that the ground was solid under the “ponds”, he would have been leery of going out there himself).  As promised, we were able to drive right up to Laughing Gulls, Sandwich and Royal Terns (was looking for an Elegant as they had been reported from North Padre Island), Black Skimmers, and various shorebirds including Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, dowitchers, godwits, and best of all, all four “little” plovers, including Piping Plovers that were still in breeding finery!  We enjoyed dancing Reddish Egrets and diving Brown Pelicans, and even the Neotropic Cormorants put on a show.  An immature Tricolored Heron was quite impressive with his rusty margins!

Immature Tricolored Heron

Piping (left) and Semipalmated Plovers

Piping Plover looking cute...

Western Sandpipers

Snowy Plover

Black Skimmer

Neotropic Cormorant

From there we headed to the Convention Centre where I bragged about how great the place was in spring migration (an incentive to come back then J), then headed out onto the boardwalks where we honestly didn’t see much except for a Pied-billed Grebe out at the end (and heard the Clapper Rails).  So we headed over to the Nature Center which was much birdier (and much more crowded with families, we were surprised to see):  an Osprey posed right away, and the Mottled Ducks were where they always are.  Comedy relief was supplied by a guy with a long net trying to fish someone’s hat out of the drink! J  Around the corner we had several Common Gallinules, White Ibis, egrets, herons, and even a Least Bittern whizzed by a couple of times, but Jack was invariably shooting something else when she did! L  The “common pond” (which you can also see from the Convention Centre but the light is better from the Nature Center boardwalk) had the usual spoonbills, a white morph Reddish Egret, and a couple of lone shorebirds like Stilt Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs.  All the families were of course looking for Alligators (of which we saw none), but we did see lots of Blue Crabs!  Back at the parking lot the decorative pond there had three juvenile Black-necked Stilts, and a momma Mottled Duck with her brood of darling fluffy babies under the tree (and she was studiously watching us until the grackle got too close J)!

Jack shooting a Common Gallinule (below)

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

A Green Heron changes positions several times within his little patch of vegetation!

Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Stilt Sandpiper

White morph Reddish Egret

Young Roseate Spoonbill

Lesser Yellowlegs

Juvenile Black-necked Stilt (also below)

Momma Mottled Duck goes on the alert when a grackle comes too close to her brood!

We made a quick visit to the Gulf side just so Jack could wade in the surf (like everyone else was doing) and then called it a day – it was pretty hot out there, but we still managed 83 species! 

Enjoying the surf at South Padre!

Bird list:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Mottled Duck                         
  Northern Bobwhite                     
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Brown Pelican                        
  Least Bittern                        
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                           
  Snowy Egret                          
  Tricolored Heron                     
  Reddish Egret                        
  Green Heron                          
  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron           
  White Ibis                           
  Roseate Spoonbill                    
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Harris's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Clapper Rail                         
  Common Gallinule                     
  American Coot                        
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  Black-bellied Plover                 
  Snowy Plover                         
  Wilson's Plover                      
  Semipalmated Plover                  
  Piping Plover                        
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  Lesser Yellowlegs                    
  Long-billed Curlew                   
  Marbled Godwit                       
  Ruddy Turnstone                      
  Stilt Sandpiper                      
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Western Sandpiper                     
  Short-billed Dowitcher               
  Laughing Gull                        
  Least Tern                           
  Gull-billed Tern                     
  Forster's Tern                       
  Royal Tern                           
  Sandwich Tern                        
  Black Skimmer                        
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  White-winged Dove                    
  Mourning Dove                        
  Common Nighthawk                     
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Crested Caracara                     
  Aplomado Falcon                      
  Brown-crested Flycatcher             
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                    
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Purple Martin                        
  Barn Swallow                         
  Cliff Swallow                         
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Cactus Wren                          
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                     
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Botteri's Sparrow                    
  Cassin's Sparrow                     
  Lark Sparrow                         
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Blue Grosbeak                        
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Bronzed Cowbird                      
  Orchard Oriole                       
  House Sparrow                        


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