Monday, December 18, 2017

An Early Christmas Present

12/11/17 

I wasn’t holding out much hope that the Green-breasted Mango had survived the historic snowstorm of last Friday (and neither was Howard, frankly, after two days with no reports of the thing), but he had purchased his tickets and was gonna go for it anyway, so this morning we headed to Quinta Mazatlan by way of Whataburger for breakfast J, and killed time in the parking lot until they opened the gates at 8:00.  It was another crisp, somewhat sunny, calm morning, and there were lots of feathers right there:  both Orange-crowned and Black-throated Green Warblers, gnatcatchers and kinglets, a Mockingbird and Curve-billed Thrasher side by side, and even fighting phoebes!  Finally when a Quinta truck came through we asked them about the gate, and he shrugged and said no one had said anything to him about their making a special opening of the park (normally they’re closed on Mondays), but he bade us enter anyway, so in we went, with Chachalacas running along ahead of us and Clay-colored Thrushes flying back and forth across the entrance road!

Treetop Eastern Phoebe

After getting Howard settled I went into the VC to check in and use the facilities, then took up watch (I would make several trips back there to get coffee, etc. – that sure felt good on a cold morning J)!  Every 15 minutes I would get up and walk the circle around the education center just in case the bird was laying low back there; Green Jays were fussing at something, and at one point I did flush something big that I thought might have been an owl, but later we saw the Red-shouldered Hawk flying around, so that could have been what I flushed.  Before long Chris Lopez and his dad arrived; Chris got some nice kinglet pictures which led to a discussion about how to tell them from Hutton’s Vireos (don’t have to worry about that here, but in the Hill Country or Big Bend it could come in handy)!  At one point I heard White-fronted Geese cackling in the distance, and three Gadwall wheeled overhead, but besides the Kiskadees and the other usuals, things weren’t very exciting until I heard a Summer Tanager calling over near the entrance road!  A Wilson’s Warbler got added to the list at one point, but around 11:30 we decided to do some road birding and then maybe come back later.

Howard takes up watch 

Inca Dove along the entrance road

Flyover Red-shouldered Hawk
  
The closest “bird road” was Wallace Road, so up we went, and that turned out to be very productive!  Right away we had several Red-tailed Hawks (including a couple of Fuertes’), and at one point we had a young White-tailed, but what was even better was a young Swainson’s, which is rare this time of year!  The folks who had bought the former Monte Cristo Tract had evidently cleared some trees, because now you could see the big lake from the road, with a Great Blue Heron perched on one of the snags!  Further down, the wetlands were in good shape; Howard spotted a Belted Kingfisher right away, with several Least Grebes floating along below it!  A Swamp Sparrow peeped behind us, and as we were checking the shorebirds a state trooper pulled up behind us, his lights flashing!  I thought I was pulled over enough, but his real reason for stopping (and he was very congenial) was to see what we were up to, and when he was convinced I was a “real birder”, he explained that this stretch was a popular “pickup” spot for illegal aliens!  I didn’t doubt him for a minute, as I often saw “creepy” cars along there and never felt comfortable enough to go far from the car!  But we saw a good variety of ducks (including a few Cinnamon Teal), a White Pelican, some nice shorebirds including Stilt Sandpipers and both flavors of yellowlegs, a perky Vermilion Flycatcher, and even overwintering Scissor-tailed and Least Flycatchers!

Red-tailed Hawk in flight

Redtails can be quite variable; this one leans closer to a "Fuertes'" type due to the nearly pristine underparts.


This one is much more typical, showing a stronger belly band.

The pale eye suggests that he's a youngster as well.

This juvenile Swainson's Hawk should have been in South America by now!


Like the Swainie, a few Scissor-tailed Flycatchers hang around all winter.

From there we blasted south on US281, stopped at the McDonald’s for a late lunch, and then decided to revisit Quinta after much hemming and hawing!  So we headed back in and set up shop, and after about an hour I happened to look up into the sugar hackberry tree that was the favorite hangout of the Mango, and there he was!!  Howard quickly got on him, and I miraculously got the scope on him, and we got great looks as he moved around and showed off every field mark (much better looks than I got the last time)!  He even gave us a breast view so we could see that diagnostic black stripe down the center!

The mango returns!  He has his back to us in the above shot, but you can still see that decurved bill.

Here he's showing a bit of his white underparts...

...but the black stripe down the middle is diagnostic, even in this lousy shot!

We took off after that, and with the Wallace Road romp we ended up with a respectable 78 species for the day!  Bird list:

  Greater White-fronted Goose          
  Gadwall                              
  American Wigeon
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Cinnamon Teal                        
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Ring-necked Duck                     
  Ruddy Duck                           
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Least Grebe                          
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Double-crested Cormorant             
  American White Pelican               
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Cattle Egret                         
  White-faced Ibis                     
  Black Vulture                        
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Harris's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Red-shouldered Hawk                  
  Swainson's Hawk                      
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  Common Gallinule                     
  American Coot                        
  Killdeer                             
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  Lesser Yellowlegs                     
  Stilt Sandpiper                      
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Long-billed Dowitcher                
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  White-winged Dove                     
  Mourning Dove                        
  Inca Dove                            
  Green-breasted Mango                 
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird             
  Belted Kingfisher                    
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Least Flycatcher                     
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Vermilion Flycatcher                 
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                    
  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher            
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  Green Jay                            
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  Verdin                                
  House Wren                           
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Clay-colored Thrush                  
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  American Pipit                       
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                 
  Black-throated Green Warbler         
  Wilson's Warbler                     
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Swamp Sparrow                        
  Summer Tanager                       
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Western Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  House Sparrow                        

78 SPECIES

Before the Storm...

12/7/17 

Todd only had a couple of Valley specialties to get under his belt (although a handful of other more widespread lifers would have been nice), so we made plans to hit all the regular Aplomado Falcon haunts the next day, followed by the only hotspot with a fairly recent sighting of Ringed Kingfisher that you could theoretically get from the car:  Delta Lake!  Reason for that being that the forecast called for highs in the mid 40s and drizzly rain with wind all day, and that’s exactly how it panned out – it was a miserable day!  But we made it safely to our first destination, Boca Chica Boulevard, and cruised the road slowly looking for falcons, checking the hacking platform and reasonable-looking perches.  We did find a Harris’ Hawk all hunkered down, along with a few Sandhill Cranes flying over the road!  Along Palmito Hill Road we at least heard a few things, best of which was a Long-billed Curlew, but about the only thing we actually saw were some flyover White Pelicans!  We tried calling up Cactus Wrens but they were smarter than we were… L

Heppy had a pretty good layer of mud on his "feet" after traversing Palmito Hill Road!

We didn’t go beyond that, but instead opted to head up to Old Port Isabel Road, where we knew that, with this weather, we weren’t gonna get beyond the pipeline work entrance (that’s when the “good” part of the road ends and the “crappy” part begins…).  That hacking platform was empty as well, and the birdlife was even more sparse:  we heard a couple of meadowlarks, spooked up a couple of Savannah Sparrows, and had a Tropical/Couch’s type kingbird near the chicken coops.  As it turned out, we wouldn’t have been able to go beyond the pipeline work entrance even if we wanted to, as the big rigs were lined up to get in and effectively blocking the road!  So we figured that was a good place to turn around…

Since we were going by it anyway and there had been historical reports of Aplomados, we swung by Palo Alto Battlefield for a brief look, picking up a lovely male harrier for the day, but also several Killdeer feeding in the grass.  We picked up SR 100 by way of Los Fresnos, and that stretch seemed empty of all raptors except for Kestrels!  Past the official falcon viewing area we did see a largish raptor hunkered next to one of the tall power poles, so we pulled over to look, and Todd’s camera (which was better than a scope when you were in a hurry J) revealed it to be a Peregrine, which was a new bird for his trip!

Killdeer

From there we went through Laguna Vista, picking up a mob of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in Roloff Park!  We went up Buena Vista Road as far as we could, only picking up an Osprey in a field, so we backtracked to FM 510 and took FM 1847 up to the newly opened General Brant Road, and it was glorious (to drive – the birdlife still stunk)!  Along that stretch (and heading in to the Laguna Atascosa NWR visitor’s center) we had a grand total of six species, the best of which was another harrier!  It was too cold and windy to even watch the feeders for very long, so we checked in and then headed to Osprey Overlook just to pad the list.  We didn’t stay up there long, either – just long enough to ID a flock of peeps on the shore (Westerns) and run back to the warmth of the car!  After jumping in a mob of ducks flew by that were probably Redheads, as they looked “pochard-y” through the windshield…  A flock of Pintail flying over the car while we were heading out was a nice addition.  A White-tailed Deer crossing the road several times was the mammalian highlight.

Western Sandpiper (Photo ©2017 Todd Hooe)

Lakeside Drive
  
We logged a grand total of three species going back out General Brant before heading over to Delta Lake, hoping to find some geese in a field somewhere, but again, they were smarter than we were…  Although we didn’t see any kingfishers of any kind, we were rewarded with somewhat of a decent bird list despite the wet and cold:  a stately Great Blue Heron greeted us along the canal, and a pair of Caspian Terns accompanied us along the road!  In the “back section” one tree was loaded with Yellowrumps and Orange-crowned Warblers, while Killdeer and Starlings fed side by side in the grass.  Back in the big picnic areas a Ladder-backed Woodpecker almost let Todd get a picture J, while a brilliant Vermilion Flycatcher allowed wonderful photos!  Finally, on the lake itself, we hit the jackpot with two different rafts of ducks:  on the west side were Coots, Pintail, Shovelers, and Blue-winged Teal, and on the other side were the pochards:  Canvasbacks, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and scaup (with a Pied-billed Grebe thrown in)!  The Tree Swallows didn’t seem to mind the rain, either, as they were swooping around in force!

Great Blue Heron

Vermilion Flycatcher

We were ready to call it a day after that, but on the way home we passed some Snow Geese in a field (granted, only five birds, but we were happy to see them)!  We were shocked that we did as well as we did, with 50 species for a miserable, wet, cold, and windy day (and I got word that it was supposed to SNOW here the next day!!!)! 


Snow Goose

Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Snow Goose                           
  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Northern Pintail                      
  Canvasback                           
  Redhead
  Ring-necked Duck
  Lesser Scaup                         
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Double-crested Cormorant             
  American White Pelican               
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Black Vulture                        
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Osprey                               
  Harris's Hawk                         
  American Coot                        
  Sandhill Crane                       
  Killdeer                             
  Long-billed Curlew                   
  Western Sandpiper                    
  Laughing Gull                         
  Ring-billed Gull                     
  Caspian Tern                         
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  American Kestrel                     
  Peregrine Falcon                     
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Vermilion Flycatcher                 
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  Green Jay                            
  Tree Swallow                          
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                 
  Savannah Sparrow                     
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 

50 SPECIES

Friday, December 15, 2017

Baldy is Back!

12/6/17 

The cold front hit the Valley with a vengeance today, but thankfully the accompanying rain stayed in Hidalgo County and avoided Starr County, which was our destination this day!  We headed straight to Falcon State Park first, figuring that even with the cold weather early morning would be better for bird activity, but got distracted by a Curve-billed Thrasher on a residential connector street after we made the turn to the park!  (He was posing perfectly until Todd got his camera on him… L)  Along the entrance road to the park a flighty bird that landed on top of one of the gas rigs turned out to be an Eastern Bluebird, and a little further a Bewick’s Wren came in for a great view!  Todd got a shot of a mystery sparrow that I never saw, but his photo looked like it might have been a Lark Bunting, and that was the consensus of my Facebook friends as well!  Just before the entrance kiosk a covey of Bobwhite ran across the road but didn’t linger!

Good quiz bird - the buffy wing patch nails it as a Lark Bunting!  (Photo © 2017 Todd Hooe)

Once we checked in we crawled slowly along the roads; the normal wintering stuff was around, and Verdins chinked enticingly (although Todd said he did finally get a good look at one J).  In the primitive camping area a young Vermilion Flycatcher batted around, but that was the extent of the birdlife until we got out again to pish at some wrens, and a Roadrunner popped up behind us!  The boat launch parking lot was totally empty (the first time in my experience), but with no boats on the lake, the birds had taken over, with over 100 White Pelicans and probably twice as many cormorants floating in the cove!  They would lift off and move around, and we’d end up encountering them every time we found another cove; in the picnic area they were joined by a bunch of Laughing Gulls and a handful of Ringbills!  We had up to four Ospreys at once, and on the way out of the picnic area a pretty Kestrel and handsome Caracara posed for pictures!  We hiked a bit of the Verdin Nature Trail but got more exercise than birds (although another Roadrunner ran out in front of us before he saw us, put the brakes on, and backtracked)!  A day like today (with temps in the 50s) would have been a perfect day to hike the whole three-mile loop trail!

With no boaters on the lake, the pelicans and cormorants take over!


White Pelicans


Todd checks the lake from the end of the picnic area

More White Pelicans prepare for liftoff...

Fluffy male Kestrel


Fluffy-headed Crested Caracara


Perturbed-looking Osprey

  
From there we went straight to SalineƱo, picking up a cooperative Black Phoebe on the road to the river!  We planned to give the feeders at least an hour for the orioles to show up before taking up River Watch – well!  We hadn’t even reached the porta potty before Todd spotted the Audubon’s Oriole!  (Hostess Lois confirmed from his photo that it was "Baldy", the odd-tufted bird from last year...)  There was actually a pair that was feeding on some PB mixture on the other side of the tree, so we continued on to the seating area where Merle and Lois’ “assistant” Mike was holding down the fort!  M&L (and their rescue dog Chamois - pronounced "Shammy") shortly came out when they heard us talking, so we settled in for a great time of catch-up, dog-loving, and feeder-watching!  We joked that we didn’t even have to wait the full hour for the Audubon’s to show up, but in the course of the time we did spend there Todd quickly added Olive Sparrow to his photo list, in addition to more great looks and photos of both woodpeckers, Kiskadees, Green Jays, Cardinals, a Long-billed Thrasher, an Orange-crowned Warbler, White-tipped Doves, and finally the Altamira Oriole!  Sadly the Hooded Oriole hadn’t returned; they were afraid that maybe something happened to the pair that nested in Falcon Heights and provided babies for so many years…

Black Phoebe

Green Jay


Lady Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Olive Sparrow

Long-billed Thrasher

Cardinal

Altamira Oriole


Orange-crowned Warbler

White-tipped Dove

Audubon's Oriole (Photo ©2017 Todd Hooe)

When we finally tore ourselves away from there, the show wasn’t over yet, as a “Turkey Vulture” flying overhead morphed into a Zone-tailed Hawk!  We went ahead and hiked the Seedeater Trail next, but had no seedeaters (or much of anything else, for that matter); the most interesting birds were a flock of “Mexican” Ducks on the river, one with a rather curly tail!  More cormorants lined the logs (mostly Doublecrests with one Neotropic), and a couple of Ospreys hung out here as well.  I heard a Gray Hawk “whine” but wasn’t sure it wasn’t a Green Jay imitation, so we headed up the hill and back down the driveway, and sure enough, the Gray Hawk took off, calling for good measure!  Alas, no Ringed Kingfishers graced us, but the Audubon’s Orioles were calling like crazy down the trail!

Shooting the Rio Grande

With what little time we had we opted to crawl down the Dump Road, and turning the corner onto the main road hit pay dirt with a beautiful little Black-throated Sparrow right out the window!  He was the climax, however, as the road was as dead as a doornail after that, so we headed on home.  That wasn’t the end of the adventure, however, as driving back through McAllen three Green Parakeets flew across the freeway!  We ended up with a respectable 61 species for the day. 

Black-throated Sparrow
 Bird List:

  “Mexican” Duck                                                      
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Northern Bobwhite                    
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Double-crested Cormorant             
  American White Pelican               
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Black Vulture                        
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Osprey                               
  Northern Harrier                     
  Harris's Hawk                         
  Gray Hawk                            
  Zone-tailed Hawk                     
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  American Coot                        
  Killdeer                             
  Lesser Yellowlegs                     
  Laughing Gull                        
  Ring-billed Gull                     
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  White-winged Dove                    
  Inca Dove                            
  White-tipped Dove                    
  Greater Roadrunner                   
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  Green Parakeet                       
  Black Phoebe                         
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Vermilion Flycatcher                 
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Green Jay                             
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  Verdin                               
  House Wren                           
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                  
  Eastern Bluebird                     
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Black-throated Sparrow               
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Western Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Altamira Oriole                      
  Audubon's Oriole                     
  House Sparrow                        

61 SPECIES