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!)
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
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!
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.
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
Yet another House Finch!
This Clay-colored Thrush is in anacua heaven!
American WigeonLesser Scaup
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler