Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Laguna Seca Road


One of the joys of birding in the Valley is exploring new areas, and especially the back roads that can be very birdy but where few people go.  One of those roads is Laguna Seca Road in northern Hidalgo County; named after the ranch (a worthwhile visit if you’re a nature photographer, as that’s their primary service), the road traverses several miles of typical south Texas brushland, and side roads include some ag fields that can bag additional birds.  The whole route (not counting the backtracking) is about 18 miles.

I’ve only covered this route in the late spring and summer seasons so far, but plan on gathering data for the whole year, as the place looks great for wintering sparrows!  I generally start the route off FM 490 and take northbound Laguna Seca from there; at this point the road is good caliche, and I almost always pick up a Fuertes’ Red-tailed Hawk, which is considered unusual in the Valley (you normally find this race in the southwest).  The open area is great for Bobwhite and Cassin’s Sparrow as well, and if you get there early enough, Common Nighthawks will be “beenting” overhead!

"Fuerte's" Red-tailed Hawk

Shortly paved Laguna Seca goes off to the right, and I bird this to the freeway; the trees are taller along here, and you’re apt to pick up more woodland-type birds such as Green Jay, the woodpeckers, Brown-crested Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Olive Sparrow, and Great Kiskadee.  You pass a quarry where I’ve often had Wild Turkeys, and there’s an ag field just before the freeway which is always worth checking out for Horned Larks and even Crested Caracaras; on this trip I heard quite a few Upland Sandpipers flying over.

The paved portion of Laguna Seca Road

Backtracking to the caliche road, I continue north and follow the main road as it zigs and zags; the first jog to the left is a good place to stop as there’s a wide pull-off there, and was the only place I had White-tipped Dove this trip.  At the next “zig” to the right you’ll come across an historic marker for Laguna Seca Ranch; there’s plenty of room to stop here as well, where we’ve gotten Blue Grosbeak and Painted Bunting in the past.  Much of this road goes through lovely mesquite savannah and can be good for raptors and sparrows; on this trip I ran across Common Ground Doves quite regularly in addition to the ubiquitous Mourning Doves (only had one White-winged, though)!  Both Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias can be abundant, and it can sometimes be hard to tell them apart by song, but the Pyrrs have a distinctive quail-like chitter that betrays their presence!  While you want to avoid stopping directly in front of anyone’s home, there’s an old building at one of the corners that had a Barn Owl fleeing it on one trip!  Verdins and Bewick’s Wrens are all over, and occasionally I’ve picked up Cactus Wren.  Bullock’s is the default breeding oriole, but now the Orchards are coming through; listen for their nyeh calls.  Dickcissels are also flying overhead, picked out by their obnoxious brat call!

Bewick's Wren

Building from whence a Barn Owl fled!

There’s a huge gate and beautiful ranch on the left as you continue north; this may be part of the larger “Laguna Seca”, but the actual photography ranch is on the right.  I had a Roadrunner poking around behind the big gate, and a couple of others rattling at various places along the route.  I scared up one Groove-billed Ani, but you could potentially run into them anywhere, as this mesquite brush is the kind of habitat they like. 

Roadrunner sneaking by behind the gate

Mesquite savannah behind the fence

After more zigs and zags (the road becomes FM 3250 at some point), the next right turn you can make will be onto Miller Road, which also ends at the freeway, at which point you’ll need to backtrack.  This stretch had a mob of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers along the wires, as there’s a big field on the north side, but also look for Western Kingbirds this time of year.  There are some huge high tension wires that pass through here, on which were two more Red-tailed Hawks, but since they both had their backs to me I couldn’t tell if they were more Fuertes’ or the conventional type…  And birds aren't the only critters you may see; this last trip a Coachwhip slithered across the road and thankfully stopped long enough for a picture!

Coachwhip - head shot and full shot

Once back on FM 3250, the road is paved and two-lane with a speed limit of 60, so be careful along this stretch (although there’s still not much traffic).  It’s very open along here with many homes set way off the road, but before long you come to Floral Road on the right.  There won’t be many places to pull over until you pass all the homes (where you’re more apt to pick up Inca Doves), but the ag fields can be interesting; on this trip I had a flyover Long-billed Curlew and a flock of Laughing Gulls.  This road also stops at the freeway (if you’re reticent to use “the bumper or the bushes”, the little store across the highway has a bathroom), so you’ll need to backtrack.  But instead of going all the way back to 3250, turn right on Lazy Palm Road, and this will take you past an RV park (where I had a Loggerhead Shrike this trip) and into more mesquite woodland and past a quarry.  This road eventually dumps out on FM 1017, which is the end of my route; turning right takes you directly to US 281.

For more pictures of the habitat along this route, go here:

To read the Birder Patrol report of this route from 2012, go here:

Here’s the EBird list, giving the pertinent data including time, weather, and totals for the morning:

Hidalgo Co.--Laguna Seca rd.
Aug 5, 2017
7:06 AM
18.30 miles
222 Minutes
All birds reported? Yes
Comments: Start:  83 degrees, mostly cloudy, calm
End:  94 degrees, mix of sun and clouds, breezy Submitted from eBird for iOS, version 1.5.2 Build 140

24 Northern Bobwhite
5 Turkey Vulture
2 Red-tailed Hawk -- Not sure if these two were of the Fuentes type as they both had their backs to me.
1 Red-tailed Hawk (fuertesi) -- White underpants, lack of belly band; always here...
1 Killdeer
11 Upland Sandpiper
1 Long-billed Curlew
12 Laughing Gull
5 Eurasian Collared-Dove
1 Inca Dove
4 Common Ground-Dove
1 White-tipped Dove
1 White-winged Dove
30 Mourning Dove
1 Groove-billed Ani
3 Greater Roadrunner
4 Common Nighthawk
18 Golden-fronted Woodpecker
5 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
2 Crested Caracara
4 Brown-crested Flycatcher
13 Great Kiskadee
1 Couch's Kingbird
3 Western Kingbird
18 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
1 Loggerhead Shrike
3 White-eyed Vireo
5 Green Jay
6 Barn Swallow
3 Cave Swallow
1 Black-crested Titmouse
17 Verdin
12 Bewick's Wren
1 Cactus Wren
2 Curve-billed Thrasher
1 Long-billed Thrasher
8 Northern Mockingbird
4 European Starling
5 Cassin's Sparrow
4 Olive Sparrow
10 Lark Sparrow
21 Northern Cardinal
26 Pyrrhuloxia
2 Blue Grosbeak
6 Dickcissel
55 Great-tailed Grackle
9 Orchard Oriole
3 Bullock's Oriole
1 Lesser Goldfinch
17 House Sparrow

Number of Taxa: 50

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