Lee and Ruth were two birding buddies from New Mexico who just wanted to see a “nice variety of birds” as they had never been to Texas, so after hearing about a stupendous hawk liftoff at Santa Ana, I asked Lee if they’d like to bird there first thing, and they were definitely up for that! So we left a little later and got there right around sunrise, where we ran into fellow guide Mary Gustafson who also had a client! After checking in we compared routes, so since they were heading straight for the Tropical Parula, we decided to head out to Pintail Lakes first and then go for the parula on the way back.
That turned out to be a great decision, as after we got on the Pintail Lakes Trail, a Beardless Tyrannulet started calling close! What was even more miraculous was that the little bugger actually let us see him! J (He drew the line at letting the girls get pictures, though… L) We crossed the tour road and continued on the trail, and as we came out into the open and headed south, we saw Broad-winged Hawk after Broad-winged Hawk lifting off and forming several kettles (we actually flushed a couple along the trail)! It was amazing; we ran into a ranger who had already counted several hundred, and it seemed like everywhere we looked a Broadie was circling! What a show!
About the best we could manage with the tyrannulet...
Interestingly, they were the only species I could pick out (aside from Turkey Vultures, and a lone Cooper’s Hawk later), but we were hoping for a Swallow-tailed Kite as one was seen the day before! No such luck L but we did have wonderful views of various ducks and shorebirds as we made our way to the end and then worked our way back with the sun to our backs: in the next to last pond we had to hike south a little bit in order to see the Least Grebes (one was actually on a nest), and the Pied-bills were in stunning breeding plumage in the main lake. Also in the main lake were both flavors of whistling duck (I was particularly pleased to see the Fulvous, but this is the time of year they start showing up), a Little Blue Heron, and several White-faced Ibis amongst the regulars. Shorebirds included both types of yellowlegs and a Wilson’s Snipe that Ruth spotted! A Spotted Sandpiper was in full spots, and what we thought was another Broadie kettle at first turned out to be a kettle of Anhingas! On the way out we had scope looks of both Tropical and Couch’s Kingbirds, and the girls were able to get on a singing White-eyed Vireo.
Black-bellied Whistling Ducks
Fulvous Whistling Ducks
Chatty Tropical Kingbirds
Pensive Couch's Kingbird - can you tell them apart? Aside from their voice, it can be tough to tell!
"I found the White-eyed Vireo!"
We made our way back to Willow Lakes where we spotted a couple of Verdins along the trail (one without his tail) and amazingly several Olive Sparrows on the ground! At the big blind added Solitary Sandpiper to the list, and over at the big overlook we ran into Mary again, who pointed out some Baird’s Sandpipers across the way. We also added a Cinnamon Teal, a couple of dowitchers and a Stilt Sandpiper, and they had gotten the parula, so I was glad to hear that! In fact, after they left, the thing was singing right behind us, so we moseyed over to the intersection with the cutoff trail, and it was singing right over our heads (for a moment the gals were distracted by a Black-crested Titmouse J), and the fact that it was with a feeding flock didn’t help as we’d first get on a kinglet, then a gnatcatcher, before searching again, but finally Lee spotted it, and we eventually all got great looks (but again, no photo ops, as the little guy was just too busy…)! As an addendum, one or both of the gals thought they had two parulas, and sure enough, the next week Ranger Garza reported two birds! Are little parulas in the future? J
Solitary Sandpiper - can you tell them apart?
It was getting warm (and the wind was kicking up), so after that we headed to Anzalduas, stopping in Hidalgo to see the Monk Parakeets busy at their nests! At the park, I was surprised that there weren’t many people there given it was Palm Sunday! (That was rectified by the time we left the place… J) The girls passed on the Pipit Poke, so we dove right into road-birding. I did get out at the corner to check out the duck flock (the scaup had been joined by Shovelers), but no kingfishers this time, although the girls spotted a fleeing Black Phoebe that I missed. I heard the Gray Hawk that we could never spot, but the star of the place was definitely the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers posing for pictures! We took a quick look at the Cliff and Rough-winged Swallows building their nests under the dam, finished the loop, then headed out as we couldn’t add anything else to the list except a flyover Harris’ Hawk.
Monk Parakeet busy on its nest
Wallace Road was next, and that was pretty windy and dry as well (about the only songbirds we kicked up were both kinds of goldfinches that were hiding in the roadside sunflowers), but the wetlands had a few things, such as another pair of Least Grebes, a Common Gallinule, lots more ducks, several Least Sandpipers, and a nice Pectoral Sandpiper! After finishing that we continued on to Laguna Seca Road which was much birdier: almost right away we added a wonderful Caracara on a pole, plus the Fuertes’ Hawk! Further up a wonderful White-tailed Hawk showed off along with a couple of Black Vultures, and we had a few sparrows on the wires, mainly Lark and a couple of Vespers (Cassin’s were singing all over). A Pyrrhuloxia chattered hidden next to us, and it was a relief that my charges weren’t really interested in pulling that one out, as they have them in New Mexico! More Scissortails played with us, and we crawled past this property that was for sale where Lee spotted our only Great Blue Heron for the day in a barely visible wetland! Before long it was time to head back, so we headed to the freeway with an incredible 97 species for the day!
Checking out the wetlands on Wallace Road
A Crested Caracara watches us from his post...
They'll often let you drive right up to them!
Yet another Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Black-bellied Whistling-DuckFulvous Whistling-Duck
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Northern Rough-winged Swallow