Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"I'm So Excited!"

2/14/18 

Had a delightful morning with Cynthia and Boyd from Colorado, visiting the Valley for the first time when most everything was new!  Like many couples I know, they had a “rule” where they couldn’t count a bird unless both had seen it (at the same time; they related the story where individually they saw Sandhill Cranes flying over their house when the other spouse was absent, so it’s not on either’s list L), but Cynthia especially had a love and appreciation for creation that lent an air of excitement to everything we saw!  I had looked at their “wish list”, and since we were only doing a half day I presented several possibilities based on that list, and they chose Estero Llano Grande SP, a great place to spend a morning!

It started off cool, but the rain from the day before had abated (they said they got caught in that at Santa Ana).  One of the best birds was seen along International Blvd. on the way to the park: a mob of Green Parakeets on the wires (in fact, Cynthia spotted them)!  After pulling in the parking area we had a kingbird on the wire that was probably a Tropical, but since it didn’t say anything, I felt it best to leave it unidentified.  We had the same issue at the hummer feeder off the deck: two female Archilochus came in (Ruby-throated would have been new), but she just didn’t show all the field marks to help in narrowing it down to one or the other (and eBird didn’t like putting in more than one Blackchin), so we had to let that one go as well.  But I decided to take them into the main part of the park first this time, then hit the Tropical Zone, as I didn’t seem to be having much success in bagging the Hammond’s Flycatcher and Tropical Parula by hitting it first, so I reasoned that later in the morning maybe there’d be more bugs to catch!  Just before the VC several Inca Doves were feeding on the tray feeder; while most of them exploded into the bush at our approach, a couple brave souls stayed put and allowed great looks!

Long-billed Thrasher in the parking lot

Being overcast, we had great looks at the ducks off the deck (including several Cinnamon Teal), and Huck and company looked dutifully for the Common Grackle amongst the mob of Redwings, but he seemed to have disappeared.  The funky Least Grebe was feeding amongst the Mottled Ducks (which were new for my charges – the ducks, that is), and an Eastern Phoebe wagged his tail from a snag.  We hurried on towards Alligator Lake to give the bird walk people some space, picking up a nice male Yellowthroat at the edge of the water.  While the Swamp Sparrow didn’t even peep, I was thrilled to see the Grasshopper Sparrow pop up along with his Lincoln’s friends, who all gave very nice scope views!  Dowitcher Pond actually had a lone Long-billed Dowitcher flying around, and a couple of Snipe exploded from the shore, but the Spotted Sandpiper that’s always on the log there was actually starting to get some spots!

Lincoln's Sparrow

Green- and Blue-winged Teal (the male Bluewing is one of those oddities that has some white on the back of the head)

Green-winged Teal

We headed over the bridge; no kingfisher, but several Snowy Egrets had taken his place along the canal!  Grebe Marsh only had a few Shovelers, but as we walked along I stopped them short – Red-crowned Parrots were calling in the distance!  (Which doesn’t help much if you want to actually see the bird…L)  We continued on to Alligator Lake, where six Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flew overhead, and Cynthia and Boyd were appropriately blown away by all the night herons (of both flavors)!  The one fearless Yellowcrown posed for IPhone shots (others weren’t as friendly), and I showed them the difference between the adult and subadult Blackcrowns.  Even a Tricolored Heron showed up.  But suddenly Cynthia spotted the Green Kingfisher across the way (I heard him ticking, but took me a while to find him in the scope)!  Great looks!

Yellow-crowned Night Herons


Photo op (heron is circled)
  
We then quickly found “Pancake the Pauraque” (I’m not gonna let Allison live that one down J), but the Screech Owl wasn’t in his hole, so we continued to the overlook where the Anhinga pair showed nicely (another new bird).  A Neotropic Cormorant was actively drying his wings, flapping them ever so slightly to hurry up the process, while a Great Egret fed across the way (too cold yet for the Alligators, I guess).  On the way out I heard the Beardless Tyrannulet call, so since the owl was absent I didn’t feel guilty about hoofing it over there and trying to find it, and he actually showed himself (and even more miraculously, both Cynthia and Boyd got on it)!  The bird walk had caught up with us by then, so, not wanting to lose the tyrannulet, I asked if one of them would be willing to tell the group that we had the tyrannulet, so Cynthia went to fetch them, but in the process missed the Wilson’s Warbler that came in! L  (So that was another one Boyd couldn’t count…)  But the tyrannulet perched right overhead, and I’m not even sure any of the group got on it before it took off for the netherlands…  We did all get on an uncharacteristically cooperative White-eyed Vireo, however (and the gnatcatchers were being particularly cute J).

Pauraque

Anhinga

Black-crowned Night Heron

Neotropic Cormorant
  
I had heard a Bewick’s Wren while all that was going on, so seeing as that would have been new, I decided to take them back on the Camino de Aves Trail, before which we picked up a cooperative Common Ground Dove!  We had to loop around quite a bit before tracking the bugger down (and he never did pop up), but what was even better was an Indigo Bunting, also on their “want list” (although not nearly as pretty this time of year)!

Common Ground Dove


We headed back to the VC and then on to the Tropical Zone after that, greeting park host Rick Snider on the way (being from Colorado, my charges didn’t need the Broad-tailed Hummer, which prompted a story from a passing birder about a friend who would drive for hours just to add what was normally a backyard bird to another county list).  He told us where the flycatcher and parula had been seen (actually, they didn’t need the Hammond’s, either), but both birds again eluded us.  The place was lousy with Clay-colored Thrushes, however (and not surprisingly, with all the anacua berries), and lo and behold the Screech Owl I had been told about that likes to sit on the totem pole was actually there!  They had gotten their life bird the day before, but this one was a better view, they said, and I of course explained to them about the potential split of McCall’s (our Screech Owl) from the nominate race!  Cynthia spotted a thrasher thrashing, which was indeed the Long-billed, but as I circled around to hopefully get them a scope view, I noticed a Curve-billed Thrasher with him in the same binocular view!  They really didn’t need the scope at that point (I also advised them to put our Curvebill in the bank, as they had seen the bird in Arizona, and that might be split down the road as well)!  We sat at the drip for a few minutes, only getting an Orange-crowned Warbler to come in, but a Cooper’s Hawk was calling quite regularly from beyond the old shuffleboard courts, so we weren’t surprised that not much was coming in (except a bold Green Jay)…

"McCall's" Screech Owl

Cynthia points the owl out to a passing birder...

It was time to head back to Alamo after that, but not before running into Rick's wife May and two of our Winter Texan residents at the Inn - Cathy and Bill - who again tried to tempt us with the Broad-tailed Hummer!  We still ended up with a modest 66 species for the morning!  Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Gadwall                              
  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Cinnamon Teal                        
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Green-winged Teal                    
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Least Grebe                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Anhinga                              
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Tricolored Heron                     
  Cattle Egret                         
  Black-crowned Night-Heron            
  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron           
  Cooper's Hawk                        
  American Coot                        
  Spotted Sandpiper                    
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Long-billed Dowitcher                
  Wilson's Snipe                        
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Inca Dove                            
  Common Ground-Dove                   
  White-tipped Dove                    
  Eastern Screech-Owl                  
  Common Pauraque                      
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird
  Archilochus hummingbird             
  Green Kingfisher                     
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Green Parakeet                       
  Red-crowned Parrot                   
  Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet        
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Great Kiskadee              
  Tropical/Couch’s Kingbird        
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Green Jay                            
  Tree Swallow                          
  Cave Swallow                         
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  House Wren                           
  Carolina Wren                        
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                 
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Clay-colored Thrush                  
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat
  Wilson’s Warbler                 
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Grasshopper Sparrow                  
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Indigo Bunting                       
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Lesser Goldfinch                     

66 SPECIES, 2 unknowns…

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Beating the Rain

2/9/18 

Had the honor of guiding two Indian couples (now residing in Austin) around south Hidalgo County this day:  Sukumar had a passion for photographing new birds, and his wife Veena was a more laid-back birder, while their friends and neighbors Harsh and Rekha were along for the ride! J  Harsh actually did all the driving (even from Austin), and was used to Chicago and Atlanta traffic as well as Austin, so he was well equipped to be the driver in the crazy Valley traffic!

Since photo ops were the priority (and it was still a dismal, overcast day), we headed to Bentsen first.  On the way I advised them to watch the power lines, as one time we had Green Parakeets at the light before the Bentsen turnoff, and the words were no sooner out of my mouth when a huge flock flew right over the car!  We found a parking lot and piled out, and everyone got great looks at these noisy critters!

Sukumar shoots the parakeet mob while Veena and Rekha (below) enjoy the show!


Heading on in to Bentsen, we made a quick stop at the canal to look for kingfishers (got the Black Phoebe instead) before heading to the Nature Center feeders.  The guy had just put out the food, so the place was inundated with Chachalacas, Green Jays, and Kiskadees – Suku was like a kid in a candy shop! J  An immature Altamira Oriole came in, an Orange-crowned Warbler made a brief visit, and a couple of Cardinals made an appearance, but I think the Chachas stole the show!

Enjoying point blank views of the Chachalacas!

(There's plenty of food for everyone, but they still get a little testy with each other!)


Green Jay

Great Kiskadee

Northern Cardinal

They were game to visit the National Butterfly Center next door after mention of the Painted Bunting and more feeder bird ops (although I warned them that the weather was not conducive to butters L).  The girls spotted the bluebirds right in the parking lot, so that was exciting!  Inside, Luciano gave us the rundown (and then ran down to put the food out after his assistant showed up J); the bunting had just been seen by the old visitor center, so we went down there first, although we came up empty.  After being led around by various little things in the trees we finally made it over to the feeders, where we enjoyed more Green Jays, Chachalacas, Kiskadees, White-tipped Doves galore, and of course the blackbirds and grackles, but a cute little Lincoln’s Sparrow also made an appearance.  Luciano called the gang over to view some adult Altamira Orioles and pointed out a Clay-colored Thrush on the back side of the bubble fountain while an unchaseable Ringed Kingfisher made a racket up and down the canal.  Suku was anxious to try for the bunting, so we made the rounds around the trails; the bunting was a no show, so we ended up watching Spike the Tortoise eat his breakfast… J

The gang near the canal

Bird feeding area

Luciano sets up his IPhone to record slo-mo videos of incoming birds!

Female Great-tailed Grackle, Green Jay, and male Red-winged Blackbird

Northern Mockingbird

Green Jay

Lineup of White-tipped Doves

These normally-skulky birds are easy to see when free food is offered!

Note the lovely lavender wash on the neck!



Plain Chachalaca

Lincoln's Sparrow


Luciano points out some Altamira Orioles to the group

L-R:  Rekha, Harsh, Veena, and Suku

Spike eats a healthier lunch than most of us!

It started spitting on us, so we made a run for the car and decided to do Old Military Highway/Levee to Anzalduas Park; had a couple of nice Harris’ Hawks and a young Cooper’s, and the gang dutifully gawked at the Rio Grande from Chimney Park!  Suku picked up some Savannah Sparrows that the rest of us missed…  They were also impressed with the view into Mexico as we entered Anzalduas, and picked up the American Wigeon in the spillway by taking a quick peek.  They agreed to take the Pipit Poke across the field (even though I warned Suku that getting a photo would be problematic), but we managed to flush one Sprague’s, and I tried to herd it over to Suku after it landed, but about the same time it popped up again, so did 20 Western Meadowlarks and a couple of swallows that passed between us, so he never got on the right bird! L  But we had nice views of the Scaup and the Osprey.

Harris' Hawks

Young Cooper's Hawk

We went “backwards” as we needed to use the facilities, spotting a Sharp-shinned Hawk darting overhead.  Over by the dam we spotted the young male Vermilion Flycatcher and the American Pipit flock, and when we got back by the river I heard both the House Finches and the Pine Siskins calling from one of the open areas!  On the way out one of the gals spotted another Vermilion Flycatcher while we were stopped so I could enter the eBird report, and this was a full male!

It was starting to rain in earnest by then, so we all agreed to look for a sit-down place to eat lunch to wait it out.  The gang decided that they wanted Mexican since they were here, so Suku did a search on his phone and found a place near Quinta Mazatlan called Pancho’s Mexico Nuevo Restaurant along the eastbound frontage road, and it was great:  the atmosphere was wonderful, and the food was mouth-watering!  I had a seafood combo, and being vegetarians, the rest of the crew asked our waiter about options, and he went the second mile and had a whole platter of roasted veggies prepared for them!  Talk about special service! J  Definitely would recommend this place!

Rekha and Harsh get ready to dive in!

By the time we were done the rain had abated, so we headed over to Quinta Mazatlan in hopes of bagging the Blue Bunting.  We ran into John Brush who was on his way to put more seed out, but we didn’t get far as it was:  a nice feeding flock was right there, that included the over-wintering Summer Tanager, an in-your-face Blue-headed Vireo, a Black-throated Green Warbler, and the female Black-throated Gray!  (Was hoping the reported Townsend’s would show, but it wasn’t to be… L)  After checking in, the girls were enamored of the mansion, and after waiting at the feeders for awhile they (and Harsh) decided to walk the trails and then tour the house while Suku and I put in a full hour waiting for the bunting.  Inca Doves were plentiful to begin with, but after they wheeled out the place was empty except for blackbirds, the occasional Kiskadee, and a couple of Fox Squirrels.  A little guy came in with the titmice that turned out to be a Nashville Warbler, and a nice Buff-bellied Hummingbird came in to the feeder, but we finally gave up and walked the trails ourselves, picking up some lovely male Lesser Goldfinches, a thrashing Long-billed Thrasher along the Ebony Trail, and the mob of Clay-colored Thrushes near the buildings (I told John that eBird wouldn’t let me put in more than 15, and he said they’ve had as many as 18 captured at once for banding)!  About that time Suku’s battery died, so he went running back to the car for a fresh one while the rest of the gang eventually trickled in, and when Suku returned we enjoyed multiple Tropical Kingbirds (and probably one Couch’s, as one was calling somewhere…), plus yet another male House Finch!

Harsh, Rekha, and Veena pose for the obligatory group shot...

Peek-a-boo Blue-headed Vireo


Non-breeding Summer Tanager against the sky

Shy Inca Dove

Tropical Kingbird


Yet another House Finch!

This Clay-colored Thrush is in anacua heaven!



We decided to call it a day after that, with a modest 69 species for the day.  Bird List:

  American Wigeon                      
  Lesser Scaup                         
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Cattle Egret                         
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Osprey                               
  Sharp-shinned Hawk                   
  Cooper's Hawk                        
  Harris's Hawk                         
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  American Coot                        
  Killdeer                             
  Caspian Tern                         
  Rock Pigeon                          
  White-winged Dove                     
  Mourning Dove                        
  Inca Dove                            
  White-tipped Dove                    
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird             
  Ringed Kingfisher                    
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker             
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  American Kestrel                     
  Green Parakeet                       
  Black Phoebe                         
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Vermilion Flycatcher                 
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                    
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Blue-headed Vireo                    
  Green Jay                             
  Northern Rough-winged Swallow        
  Cave Swallow                         
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  Verdin                               
  House Wren                           
  Carolina Wren                         
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Eastern Bluebird                     
  Clay-colored Thrush                  
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                  
  European Starling                    
  American Pipit                       
  Sprague's Pipit                      
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Nashville Warbler                    
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Black-throated Gray Warbler          
  Black-throated Green Warbler         
  Olive Sparrow
  Savannah Sparrow                       
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Summer Tanager                       
  Northern Cardinal                     
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Western Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Altamira Oriole                      
  House Finch                          
  Pine Siskin                          
  Lesser Goldfinch                     
  House Sparrow                        

69 SPECIES