It was another lovely day, and this time granddaughter Elena came with us! We headed straight to South Padre Island with a stop at the Aplomado Falcon Observation Lot, where the only raptors we had were Red-tailed Hawk, Kestrel, and one of many Osprey throughout the day, but we ran into some other birders who were also staying at the Inn, and they got us on the gang’s life Long-billed Curlew! That was great!
Onto the Island we went, and straight to the Flats, where the tide was way out, and so were the birds: the big flocks were non-existent! (Well, a single Greater Yellowlegs welcomed us at the entrance… J) But the good news was that the sun was perfect for views of several key species, almost all of which were lifers for the gang: Semipalmated, Black-bellied, and cute little Piping Plovers, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstones, and Sanderlings in the shorebird department, plus a few gulls and terns of the expected varieties. (Everyone in our car was teasing Dale behind his back as he hates getting his cars dirty… J)
Fran scans the Flats for goodies...
Distant Brown Pelicans (with a token White)
From there we went to the Convention Centre where a Wilson’s Warbler was very friendly, and a Savannah Sparrow out back sat up for scope views! Nothing new was on the mudflats, so we headed onto the boardwalk where a pair of Clapper Rails grunted right away, and Dale was actually able to spot it deep in the reeds! The other folks only saw a few feathers if anything at all, so we were hoping for a better view. Same thing happened with the Sora (also deep in the reeds), and only a few of us got a glimpse. The Common Gallinules were only too cooperative of course, and we had great looks at White Ibis, Snowy Egrets, Green, Tricolored, Great and Little Blue, and Black-crowned Night Herons! A Roseate Spoonbill wheeled in a one point, which thrilled everyone, and a white morph Reddish Egret showed well in the “east pond”, along with a Lesser Yellowlegs. A Marsh Wren gave tantalizing glimpses, and on the way out to the pier we spotted a few Least Sandpipers; on the way back a Northern Waterthrush pinked from the mangroves. On the way to the car Jim and I were treated to a point-blank Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the “central area”!
Watching said Savannah Sparrow through the scope...
Scanning the Flats...
White Ibis on the boardwalk
Black-crowned Night Heron
Little Blue Herons
Jim tries his luck at digiscoping a Great Blue Heron (below)
American Wigeon at the end of the boardwalk; the green on the head only shows if the sun hits it right!
American Coots have lobed toes, unlike ducks!
From there we headed over to the Birding Center, where we finished lunch in the parking lot (and enjoyed watching an Osprey eat his lunch on the water tower) and were treated to another friendly Wilson’s Warbler, and a Great-tailed Grackle that had found a deceased lizard to dine on! We promised Fran she would get her Mottled Ducks here, and she certainly did in spades, along with Rock Pigeons that almost let us pet them, and more gallinules and coots. Out on the pier we were treated to hundreds of Redheads and several American Wigeon in beautiful light, along with one of the funky Reddish Egrets that had white patches in its wings! And speaking of white, we found what may have been a leucistic female Redhead in the crowd, as she had quite a bit of pale feathering on her nape!
Monarch in the Birding Center Parking Lot
Great Southern White
Statuesque Great Blue Heron
Mottled Duck pair
We found this leucistic female Redhead (right) in the mob!
Male Redhead parading across the flats
Continuing on the loop the hoped-for Soras never showed, but to Elena’s chagrin, a huge Alligator was basking on the bank; he even shifted positions for us! (She had seen the sign and was hoping the cold weather was keeping them hidden…) A couple of male Blue-winged Teal graced us, and comedy relief was provided by a Pied-billed Grebe that was bullying a Redhead! But at the very last “blind”, what should be swimming across the water but a Clapper Rail! Fran et al had fallen behind, so Kathie and I yelled back for them to hurry, but unfortunately Fran never saw it before it snuck into the reeds. But the good news was that it snuck out the back and to another clump of reeds where she could finally see her rail! A Belted Kingfisher teased us on the way out.
Green Heron with "pantaloons"
Redhead that was being bullied by a Pied-billed Grebe (that part got on video...)
An alert had come over the RBA that the Tamaulipas Crow had been seen at Sea Ranch Marina that morning, so we hightailed it over there next, but agreed that if wasn’t a slam-dunk when we got there, we’d head on to the Hwy 48 Boat Ramp with what time we had left, as (disappointingly) we had dipped on both Black Skimmers and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks! No crows (although a couple of grackles gave us a scare J), so we headed across the causeway and south on 48. We could see lots of shorebirds in the mudflats as we shot south, and at the boat ramp, we “ramped up” (pun intended) several new species for the gang! What really shocked me was four Wilson’s Plovers – I had them pegged as a summertime bird and to not expect them! But the TOS Handbook does say that they are “uncommon locally” in the Valley in winter, so that explains it. Besides the plovers, we bagged the skimmers, Avocets, Forster’s Terns, Short-billed Dowitchers, Willets, and a Western Sandpiper as new birds for the group! A Caracara fed on a distant spit, and unfortunately the Oystercatchers didn’t show, but I was thrilled to get those plovers!
The guys and Elena opted to head back as Dale needed to run some errands, so we three “Golden Girls” took the toll road (picking up a lovely White-tailed Hawk) and discussed options for the next day. But those whistling ducks were bugging me, and since we were a little ahead of time, it dawned on me that I usually had lots of them at Harlingen City Lake, so we took a detour (with “Google-Garman’s” help – I had never gone there from that direction before), and when we got there, both the girls nearly fainted: there must have been at least 300 whistling ducks packed up on the dam! Unfortunately there were no Fulvous amongst them, but on the lake we added Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks for the day, along with a feral Muscovy! We also had good scope views of the Double-crested Cormorants there, and were able to see the diagnostic orange lores well.
Headed home after that with 76 species for the day! Bird list:
Black-bellied Whistling-DuckMuscovy Duck
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron