Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Quail for Lunch


Another beautiful day greeted us as we headed up to Starr County!  The Salineño feeders were of course closed by now, but we had high hopes of bagging the seedeaters, as they were being seen regularly.  The river was quite high when we got there, and another car had beaten us there, so we parked behind them and immediately saw the Lesser Scaups swimming backwards (just appearing to with the strong current J) and hearing but not seeing the Gray Hawk.  The Chachalacas were also chorusing but not showing themselves.  We headed up the trail, and the first thing we tried to zero in on was the singing Cassin’s Sparrow, who happened to be sitting right out in the open for scope views!  A pair of Verdin was also very cooperative!

Lesser Scaup

Female Ring-necked Duck

Tam at the river's edge

We arrived at the end of the trail where another birder had a scope up, and as we approached we asked what she had, and she was looking at five Red-billed Pigeons!  We were jazzed:  they were sitting right up top in beautiful light for knockout looks!  While watching them both an Altamira Oriole and a Cardinal hopped up to join them, giving us a splash of color!  The gal’s name was Nina, and shortly her two friends Theresa and Brian came down the hill with no luck with the seedeaters; turned out they were all from Houston coming down for some “spectacular” birding!  We gave the spot a few minutes then crawled up the hill where the same Ringed Kingfisher from last time was in the dead tree, this time with a mate!  Coming from the opposite direction this time, I saw the bank that they were in all probability nesting in, so we kept our distance but still got some nice pictures.  I saw smaller holes in the bank and wondered if they were used by the Bank Swallows we were hearing overhead.  Coming back down the hill I thought I heard a distant seedeater, but it never sang again, and I just wasn’t sure, so we let that one go.  A Red-tailed Hawk soared over the river, proving itself to be a clean-breasted Fuertes’.  After Brian pointed out a Caspian Tern and then showed us where a Ladder-backed Woodpecker had made a nest, we headed back to the car, where the Osprey was again on his pole with a big fish!

Red-billed Pigeons (with a token grackle)

A closer bird...

Jamie shooting the Ringed Kingfisher pair (below)

©2018 James Hayden

Couch's Kingbird
Next route was the Dump Road, where on the connector road we found a House Finch on a wire!  In the thornscrub we added several Caracaras, Black-throated Sparrow, and Pyrrhuloxia; Tam actually walked much of the road while we crawled along, and managed to spot a lot of stuff that way, including a White-eyed Vireo!  While stopped to enter the eBird list, someone spotted a hawk, so I jumped out, and it turned out to be a very high Swainson’s Hawk!

Jamie captured this fabulous in-flight shot of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!  (©2018 James Hayden)

Black-throated Sparrow

Pyrrhuloxia (©2018 James Hayden)

Crested Caracara

From there we headed to Falcon (Starr) County Park, as Vermilion Flycatcher was high on the want list.  We crawled in the main road and parked at the restrooms, and Tam said, “Watch the Vermilion show up the minute I go in!”  Well.  She disappeared and I spotted a red bird right in front of us – the Vermilion!  That got a good laugh when she finally came out (she had actually already seen one, but Jamie hadn’t), and as they chased the thing around, there turned out to be two birds, one that looked like a young male to me (as his “red” areas were more orange), but they were certainly interacting strangely!  On the way out another cooperative Verdin worked the bushes right next to the car!

Stalking the elusive Vermilion Flycatcher (below) at Falcon County Park

Very cooperative Verdin (©2018 James Hayden)

From there we went to Falcon State Park to kill time until it was time to head to Rancho Lomitas.  We ran into another birder who was RVing with her husband, and she alerted us to a nearby Ash-throated Flycatcher, another lifer for Jamie!  We also spotted a White Pelican for Tam, and after that we actually didn’t get very far before it was time to head to the Ranch.  But on the way out we were held up by a very cooperative Roadrunner!

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Fleeing Roadrunner

Eadweard Muybridge proved in the late 1800s that all four feet of a horse are off the ground in a gallop; now we know that both feet of a Roadrunner are off the ground in a run! 

This was only my second time to Rancho Lomitas (a native plant nursery where one must call ahead for access), but since Scaled Quail was on Jamie’s “want” list, this is about the only place in the Valley where they’re almost guaranteed!  Jim and “Pal” (the little dog) met us at the gate and showed us to his little bungalow where he puts out the food, and sure enough, after awhile they came in and screwed up the courage to come right to the platter where Jim had put the feed out!  What looked like a little Mexican Ground Squirrel stuck his head out briefly, and a White-tipped Dove made an appearance way in the back, but the quail were definitely the stars!  With what little time we had left, we took the loop trail around the property and down to the pond, picking up Cactus and Bewick’s Wrens, a friendly Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Curve-billed Thrasher, both Inca and Common Ground Dove, and at Toni’s patio another Ash-throated Flycatcher!  (Toni and Benito actually own the property, and besides plants, also rent out casitas to folks…)

Tam makes friends with Pal (Jim's doggie)

Scaled Quail 

Bewick's Wren

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Cactus Wren

We headed home the back way (via FM 490), and I resolved to explore some of these dirt roads we were traveling for future road-birding routes; the habitat looked wonderful! 

Bird List:

  Lesser Scaup   
  Ring-necked Duck                       
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Scaled Quail                         
  Double-crested Cormorant             
  American White Pelican               
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                           
  Black Vulture                        
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Harris's Hawk                        
  Gray Hawk                            
  Swainson's Hawk                      
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  American Coot                        
  Caspian Tern                         
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Red-billed Pigeon                    
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  White-winged Dove                    
  Mourning Dove                        
  Inca Dove                            
  Common Ground-Dove                   
  White-tipped Dove                    
  Greater Roadrunner                   
  Ringed Kingfisher                    
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  Vermilion Flycatcher                 
  Ash-throated Flycatcher              
  Great Kiskadee                        
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher            
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Green Jay                            
  Northern Rough-winged Swallow        
  Purple Martin                        
  Tree Swallow                         
  Bank Swallow                         
  Cave Swallow                         
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Cactus Wren                          
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Cassin's Sparrow                     
  Black-throated Sparrow               
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Brown-headed Cowbird                 
  Altamira Oriole                      
  House Finch                           
  House Sparrow                        


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