Monday, May 14, 2018

Cameron County Big Day 2018


With a mild front coming through (and even the threat of a little rain), it was looking like the migrant show in Cameron County might be good!  Started the count with a singing Mockingbird (1) and flyover Killdeer (2) outside the apartment.  Drove straight to Resaca de la Palma State Park, arriving an hour before dawn, where I wound up adding Pauraque (3) even before I got to the park, as they were sitting on the road!  Once at the dirt lot just outside the gate I just set up my chair and enjoyed the dawn chorus:  like last year, the White-winged Doves (4) were dominant, but also added Couch’s Kingbird (5), and thankfully heard the Screech Owls (6) trilling!  A Yellow-billed Cuckoo (7) let loose, followed by (in order of appearance J) Brown-crested Flycatcher (8), White-tipped (9) and Mourning Doves (10), Common Nighthawk (11), Cardinal (12), Great Horned Owl (13), Altamira Oriole (14) right overhead, Green Jay (15), flyover Red-winged Blackbirds (16), Olive Sparrow (17), Carolina Wren (18, that actually sat up and showed itself J), Kiskadee (19), noisy Great-tailed Grackles (20), and Golden-fronted Woodpecker (21).  It was light enough to wander by then, so I went into the main parking area to see if I could nab this Yellow-green Vireo that was reported earlier.  Added Black-crested Titmouse (22), and an Inca Dove (23) that was singing near the buildings, along with a laughing Ladder-backed Woodpecker (24).  Was actually heading out when I heard some clipped, House Sparrow-like phrases coming from where some yellow Caution tape was stretched across some of the lot, and sure enough, there was the Yellow-green Vireo (25), singing away!  I ran into a British couple on the way back to my car and told them about it, and thankfully the thing came to us and started singing robustly!  By then the Chachalacas (26) were tuning up, and on the way north along New Carmen Road added Harris’ Hawk (27) on a pole, and a Barn Swallow (28) swooping by.  In the fields heard both Blue Grosbeak (29), Bobwhite (30), and Eastern Meadowlark (31).

The next stop was Sabal Palm Sanctuary, and by taking the “scenic route” through urban Brownsville (with the window down) was able to add House Sparrow (32), Rock Pigeon (33), Laughing Gull (34), Starling (35), and Tropical Kingbird (36)!  Once on the entrance road I heard White-eyed Vireo (37), and in the parking area a Hooded Oriole (38) wheeped, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (39) flew overhead, and a Bronzed Cowbird (40) sang his distinctive song.  After checking in picked up the Buff-bellied Hummingbird (41) in the garden, and a stroll along the Resaca Trail added Long-billed Thrasher (42), the “Brownsville” Yellowthroat (43), and by a miracle I actually spotted a Gray Hawk (44) in a tree (didn’t hang around for pictures, though…)!  A Groove-billed Ani (45) gave his squeaky calls, but the Vireo Trail had the treasures:  both male and female American Redstarts (46) came in close, along with a beautiful Magnolia Warbler (46)!  A Catbird (48) also showed up, but the star of the show was a knockout male Blackburnian Warbler (49)!  A couple of other things showed but I just couldn’t get good looks; one bird looked like it morphed from a Tennessee Warbler to an Orange-crowned Warbler to a Philadelphia Vireo, so I just let that one go…  I was surprised to hear an Acadian Flycatcher (50) give a little bit of his Whatzup! song!  The pond at the big blind was surprisingly productive, with several Pied-billed Grebes (51), a Green Kingfisher (52) claiming the dead snag that the Ringed Kingfisher had claimed on a previous trip, plenty of Blue-winged Teal (53), a Little Blue Heron (54), and a Greater Yellowlegs (55) that flew in.  A Bank Swallow (56) chattered as it shot by, and back up on the main trail a Rose-breasted Grosbeak (57) gave its pik call.  Picked up Lesser Goldfinch (58) on the way back to the parking lot, and added a flyover Tricolored Heron (59) just before jumping in the car!

Green Kingfisher

Old Port Isabel Road was next, and a short stop where the road turns to dirt added Rough-winged Swallow (60).  Stopping at the traditional falcon viewing area just past the canal added some Gull-billed Terns (61) batting around, plus a singing Lark Sparrow (62) on the wire, but I was really bummed when I looked at the nesting platform and didn’t see a falcon L.  But a little extra looking found him on a small tree nearby – Aplomado Falcon for #63!  Down the road the Willets (64) were calling and displaying, and picked up a Curve-billed Thrasher (65) flying into a bush.  In the open fields was tickled pink to hear my FOS Botteri’s Sparrows (66) along with the ever-present Cassin’s (67)!  At subsequent stops along the road added Verdin (68), Cactus Wren (69), Caracara (70), an immature White-tailed Hawk (71 – would have been really bummed had I missed this one in this county, too!), Turkey Vulture (72), flyover Dickcissels (73), and Bewick’s Wren (74).  At the canal added Cave Swallow (75) and Snowy Egret (76), plus a Horned Lark (77) closer to the north end in the ag fields.

Blue Grosbeak

Cassin's Sparrow

Now it was time for the big show at the Island! J  Got the Eurasian Collared Dove (78) out of the way on the way, but once I got near the Convention Centre, holy smokes!!  Cops were everywhere directing traffic, and there were mobs of people everywhere: people were even parking on The Flats!  That sure didn’t bode well for finding a spot at the Convention Centre L, but I went by faith and checked out the beach bums:  Great Blue Heron (79), Black-bellied Plover (80) in their fine breeding dress, and Royal Terns (81) trying to impress the ladies.  Ruddy Turnstones (82) were also gorgeous, and one Least Tern (83) even had a fish for his missus!  Added Sandwich Tern (84), Black Skimmer (85), Short-billed Dowitcher (86), and even a couple of Common Terns (87) hiding in the mob!  Franklin’s Gulls (88) were showing well, and the Dunlins (89) were just gorgeous with their red backs and black bellies!  Most of the Sanderlings (90) looked to still be in basic plumage, though…  A scruffy-looking Black Tern (91) flew by while a Caspian Tern (92) gave its retching call, and a few White-rumped Sandpipers (93) flew by, leaving no doubt as to their identity!

Black-bellied Plover

Lineup of larids

Franklin's Gulls (back) and Common Terns (front)

Snoozing Dunlin

Pseudo-snoozing Sanderling; this female is actually in her breeding plumage!

Short-billed Dowitchers

Ruddy Turnstones

With baited breath I rolled into the Convention Centre and miraculously found a spot!  I headed to the water feature first, where the reported Purple Gallinule (94) was just showing off!  (A Yellow-green Vireo had also been reported, but having already bagged that one at Resaca I didn’t look for it too hard…)  Mama Mottled Duck (95) and her babies were there as well, and a female Indigo Bunting (96) briefly showed herself.  It was beginning to look rather bleak, though, as far as the hoped-for “lots of migrants” was concerned; a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (97) buzzed overhead, while finally a Gray-cheeked Thrush (98) hopped out into the open.  I thought I heard a Cedar Waxwing, then tracked him down right overhead (99)!  In the “back yard” an Eastern Wood Pewee got the #100 honor, while a Black-and-white Warbler (101) was the only other migrant I could dig out.  Looking out over the Flats from the back of the CC added Reddish Egret (102) and a Neotropic Cormorant (103) to the list.  By then the “tame” White Ibis (104) had shown up, but I was ready to throw in the towel until I ran into Brad McKinney, who encouraged me to stick it out as he had just seen both the Prairie and Blackpoll Warblers!  About that time a group was on something and asked his opinion: it was a Philadelphia Vireo (105)!  I stuck close to Brad after that, and shortly after adding a young male Orchard Oriole (106), Brad had the Prairie Warbler (107) by the “corner bench”!  Another couple had reported a Common Loon out in the bay, so we headed for the boardwalk, adding Green Heron (108), a flyby Baltimore Oriole (109), Black-necked Stilts (110) in the “east pond”, a cackling Common Gallinule (111), and a crying Sora (112).  Sure enough, a beat-up basic-plumaged Common Loon (113) was right off the pier (funny I never saw him on previous trips)!  On the way back Brad found a Tennessee Warbler (114) deep in the mangroves!  I headed back to the Centre, where I planted myself at the water feature and Brad went to the corner area, promising to give a shout if the Blackpoll Warbler showed up!  Didn’t take long, and shortly a nice male Blackpoll became Bird #115!

Friendly Purple Gallinule

Cedar Waxwing

Young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak hiding out in the mangroves

Beat-up Common Loon that should have left a long time ago!

Interesting view of the bill...

After thanking him profusely for helping me nail some good birds, I headed over to the Birding Center, where a Golden-winged Warbler had been seen in their butterfly garden.  I heard some Oystercatchers (116) scream by, and while no warbler popped up (except for a Tennessee that another couple was ruminating over), an interesting empid allowed close views and photos, and after eliminating all other possibilities I at least narrowed it down to “Traill’s”, and made a gun-to-the-head decision to call it an Alder (117) after some discussion, due to the eye ring (I rarely see one on a Willow).  Heading out on the boardwalk added a beautiful Great Egret (118) with his plumes, the ubiquitous Coots (119), and a female Summer Tanager (120) in that “secret” area by the building Baceliza had told us about!  Continuing on, I was surprised to see what I assumed was the same loon, now hauled out on a bank inside the boardwalk trail!  Sadly, he didn’t look real good…  I was also dismayed at the lack of spoonbills, but managed to add Least (121), Pectoral (122), and Stilt Sandpipers (123) to the list.  Near the end of the boardwalk a Northern Waterthrush (124) pinked and showed himself, and a Purple Martin (125) gurgled by the water tower.

While most of my "consultants" weren't willing to go beyond "Traill's" on this one, a couple felt comfortable calling it an Alder Flycatcher!

Summer Tanager

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret decked out in his plumes

The hapless loon has made his way from the bay to the shore, which is a good indication that he's sick, as they only come to land in order to breed.

Note his foot off to the side
Pectoral Sandpipers

Headed over to Sheepshead after that, where I ran into Brad again, but it was really dead; some Chimney Swifts (126) flew over, and the same couple who had told us about the loon had cottoned me onto a Least Flycatcher (127) flopping around the “sunny side”!  I gave the place my normal 15 minutes, but then decided to head on to Weaver Road.

Gray Catbird

This was my only shot at specialty “grasspipers”, and was sweating a little when the only thing I could kick up was a Brown-headed Cowbird (128)!  A Loggerhead Shrike (129) was near the house south of the sod farms, and a pair of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers (130) frolicked along Jimenez Road.  From there went straight to the resaca at the Ebony Unit of Las Palomas WMA, where I added Least Grebe (131) and Wilson’s Phalarope (132), but on a lark decided to check “Rangerville Resaca” (which was bone dry the last time I came by with clients), and this time it had water in it!  It still had quite a bit of “shoreline”, so was able to add Semipalmated (133) and Spotted Sandpiper (134) to the list.  Heading back down Jimenez and up onto the dike at Adams Garden Reservoir, a Common Ground Dove (135) shot by on the way, and was very happy to see a Roseate Spoonbill (135) fly overhead and then land in the little canal!

Roseate Spoonbill (and chopped off Snowy Egret)

Last stop was Tiocano Lake; there wasn’t much visible (and I had actually gotten there earlier than I had last year – spent a lot more time on the Island last time, I think…), but did catch a Black-crowned Night Heron (137) fly over the marsh.  After poking around a bit and hearing a Least Bittern (138) cackle, I decided to just pull over near the one spot where you can see open water, and just sit in the car and watch and listen, seeing as I was facing east.  That was great, as eventually the King Rails (139) came through, and a beautiful Yellow-crowned Night Heron (140) flew in!  Heard the distinctive wheeze of a Fulvous Whistling Duck (141), and before long he circled around overhead where I could actually see him!  Seeing as I had gotten pretty much all I was gonna get there, I headed out, adding a singing Marsh Wren (142) on the way.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Tiocano Lake

That would turn out to be the last bird of the day, as a quick look at the wetlands at La Feria Nature Park added nothing but a good exercise walk…  Oh, and Brad enlightened me as to the hubbub on the Island:  it was Cinco de Mayo!  Duh…

Hidalgo County Big Day 2018


Having had to postpone the Hidalgo County Birdathon until May 3rd due to a blown tire and ruined rim L, I was hoping the later date wouldn’t affect the species count too much!  But while I missed some things I had last year, this year was much more productive!

It started outside the apartment with a Western Kingbird (1) singing his dawn song and Purple Martins (2) gurgling overhead unseen in the dark.  Our nesting Lesser Nighthawks (3) came through as they both whinnied and trilled!  A White-winged Dove (4) tuned up in the distance, and of course the cacophony of Great-tailed Grackles (5) on the wires along Business 83 could be heard even through the car windows!

Arrived at Bentsen an hour before dawn as planned, but was concerned about how the wind might affect hearing any night birds.  Thankfully the Pauraques (6) were not only vocal, but even allowed looks as their red eyes reflected in my flashlight, and one even wafted by silently, with just enough light from the moon to illuminate his white wing patches!  At the resting bench a Common Gallinule (7) cackled from the hidden resaca, and both Brown-crested Flycatchers (8) and Couch’s Kingbirds (9) started tuning up.  Heard the barking of the Elf Owls (10) as I neared the resaca, but hadn’t heard any Screech Owls yet, so I went onto the Kiskadee Trail for a bit to listen; just picked up Mourning Dove (11), Cardinal (12), and thankfully a Great Horned Owl (13), but no Screech L.  Heading over to my regular spot overlooking the resaca, a Beardless Tyrannulet (14) was belting out his dawn song, and as the morning gradually broke added Kiskadee (15) and  Red-winged Blackbird (16) to the list.  Swarms of swallows wheeled over the resaca, but in the poor light the only ones I could positively ID were Barn (17) and Rough-winged (18).  A White-faced Ibis (19) flew by, and one of the swallows proved to be a Bank (20) with his rapid-fire chattering.  More early-morning songsters started up, including Olive Sparrow (21), Altamira Oriole (22), and Golden-fronted Woodpecker (23).  Started back at dawn, adding a Mockingbird (24) to the list, but was very glad to get the Mississippi Kite (25) flying overhead!  Between the Resaca and the canal added Hooded Oriole (26), Ladder-backed Woodpecker (27), Long-billed Thrasher (28), Verdin (29), Chimney Swift (30), Black-crested Titmouse (31), the morning chorus of Chachalacas (32), a flyover Dickcissel (33), Green Jay (34), White-eyed Vireo (35), and a single Tennessee Warbler (36) that came out to pishing.  A Clay-colored Thrush (37) gave its mournful song as I headed out of the woods, and Cave Swallows (38) were flying around the canal, along with the Black Phoebe pair (39).  A Buff-bellied Hummingbird (40) was chattering around the garden, and an Inca Dove (41) flushed just before getting to the parking lot.

Black Phoebe
Heading down Old Military Highway, I stopped and backed up for a bird that was feeding on the grass, which turned out to be a Curve-billed Thrasher (42)!  Heard an Eastern Meadowlark (43) on the way to my first stop where the Butterfly Center’s Walking Trail terminates at the road.  Heard a Yellowthroat (44) in the brush, and a Bronzed Cowbird (45) was on the wire, but I was pleased to get the Blue Grosbeak (46) in the same spot I had him last year!  What was an even bigger surprise was a group of Eastern Bluebirds (47) that should be long gone by now, and when they finally got into a position where I wasn't looking at them against the sun, they turned out to be spotty babies!  Later I would find out that someone actually put up a nest box in the Butterfly Center, and the wintering bluebirds apparently decided to stay and raise a family!

The baby Eastern Bluebirds in various poses...

Continuing onto the levee, added Lesser Goldfinch (48), Cattle Egret (49), Black-bellied Whistling Duck (50) and Groove-billed Ani (51) calling from the thornscrub!  A Swainson’s Hawk (52) soared overhead as well, and once at Chimney Park and the more “urban” part of the levee added three of the four “Euro-trash” birds (Rock Pigeon – 53, House Sparrow – 54, and European Starling – 55).  Cutting down to FM 494 a Lark Sparrow (56) was singing in the field.

Picked up Loggerhead Shrike (57) on a wire along the entrance road to Anzalduas, and a Least Grebe (58) in the spillway.  A few Coots (59) were still in the river, and a Mottled Duck (60) was on a little platform in said river.  A Turkey Vulture (61) sailed overhead along with a Laughing Gull (62), and Killdeer (63) were in the grass near the dam.  A few lingering Lesser Scaup (64) were in the same area, along with a pair of feral Muscovy Ducks (65), although the one had all the characteristics of a wild bird!  Neotropic Cormorants (66) were behind the dam, and picked up the nesting Cliff Swallows (76) on the dam!  Heard a Bobwhite (68) calling from the fields on the way out, and while going through Granjeno with the window open I couldn’t believe it:  a Common Nighthawk (69) was batting around and beenting!

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Barn Swallow

Muscovy Duck
The next destination was Quinta Mazatlan, where the next bird was an uninspiring Brown-headed Cowbird (70), but the woodlands produced some nice migrants, including a pretty male American Redstart (71) and a female Scarlet Tanager (72), which I was very pleased to get for the year!  Baltimore Oriole (73) also got added, and at the dragonfly pond a lingering Lincoln’s Sparrow (74) was skulking near the fence.  Heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (75) give its cou cou cou call on the way out.

Picked up the last of the “Euro-trash” (Eurasian Collared Dove – 76) on the way up to Brushline Road and the La Sal del Rey Route, adding the expected “open country” and “desert thornscrub” stuff:  Common Ground Dove (77), Painted Bunting (78), Caracara (79), Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (80), Harris’ Hawk (81), Roadrunner (82), Bewick’s Wren (83), Pyrrhuloxia (84), Bullock’s Oriole (85), Cactus Wren (86), and Cassin’s Sparrow (87).  Was very pleased to bag Black-throated Sparrow (88), as this is really on the edge of their range here!  Up at the farm pond added the Stilt Sandpiper (89) right away, but a pleasant surprise was a pair of mating Least Terns (90), new for my La Sal del Rey list!  Also added the more expected Least Sandpiper (91) and Black-necked Stilt (92) to the list, plus our Baird’s Sandpiper (93) and Snowy Egret (94) from our last visit here with the Dutch folks.  Heading down Ken Baker added Black Vulture (95), but am sorry to say I dipped on the White-tailed Hawk… L

Crested Caracara - note the full crop (which he conceals in the photo below)

Mating Least Terns
Made a quick stop at the “FM 1015 Pond” directly east of Delta Lake, as you never know what’s gonna show up there; this time just added Blue-winged Teal (95), which I got elsewhere, but the Gadwall (97) was unique for the day, so it was worth the stop!

I had made arrangements with Javier Jimenez the day before to include Valley Acres Reservoir this time around in lieu of Delta Lake (as the latter had nothing I didn’t get elsewhere last year), and that was a great switch, as I had several birds there that I logged nowhere else!  With permission, you can drive all around the reservoir, and good birds often hang out in the lake’s central island, so in addition to the Horned Lark (98) added on the way in, a Greater Yellowlegs (99) was first on the list, and White Pelican had the honor of being bird #100 this time around!  Before even starting the trek around the lake added Roseate Spoonbill (101), Gull-billed Tern (102; Least Terns were at this location as well), a pair of pink Franklin’s Gulls (103), and a group of Long-billed Dowitchers (104) to the list!  Spooked a White-tailed Kite (105) at the Boy Scout camp, and both Green Heron (106) and Black-crowned Night Heron (107) going past the tamarisks.  Just before the exit I took another look at the lineup out on the spit (which was mostly pelicans and cormorants), and noticed that some cormorants were noticeably bigger than the others, so I could safely add Double-crested Cormorant (108) to the list, along with a Great Egret (109) that was closer by.

Road around Valley Acres Reservior

Neotropic Cormorant

Lineup of White Pelicans and both types of cormorants

Frontera Thicket was next, in hopes of some migrants, but got much more than that; an Eastern Wood Pewee (110) was nice, but had I not been looking up I would have missed the pair of Yellow-crowned Night Herons (111) up in the trees!  The Green Kingfisher (112) ticked and splatted from the pond, and added Northern Parula (113) and Warbling Vireo (114) in the feeder area.  A Yellow Warbler (115) was near the front water feature, and just as I was heading back to the car some Green Parakeets (116) screeched overhead!

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Green Kingfisher

Off to Estero Llano Grande State Park, which provided a mess of shorebirds in Ibis Pond!  The afternoon light was great, so had wonderful looks at Wilson’s Phalarope (117), Pectoral Sandpiper (118), and White-rumped Sandpiper (119).  A Sora (120) called, and the truly spotted Spotted Sandpiper (221) wheeled in!  Circling back to the Tropical Zone, added a singing Carolina Wren (122), a Catbird (123) at the drip, and on the way out the McCall’s Screech Owl (124) was thankfully in his box, as they hadn’t come through for me at Bentsen!  A little excitement was had as this huge tree had fallen over and blocked the entrance after my arrival, so the crews were there chopping it up, and Ranger Javier was there directing foot traffic and giving a hand where needed!

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Stilt Sandpipers

Wilson's Phalaropes

White-tipped Dove

Doing his "coke-bottle" coo...

"McCall's" Screech Owl

The Progresso Sod Farms were disappointing, only because stuff was way out there and the wind was horrendous, so the only thing I could see well enough to positively ID was a Lesser Yellowlegs (125).  So headed on to Santa Ana NWR, which turned out to be much more productive than last year, adding Black-throated Green Warbler (126) in the migrant department, and Tropical Kingbird (127) in the non-migrant department!  Willow Lake was housing a bunch of stuff; new birds included Tricolored Heron (128) and a lingering male Cinnamon Teal (129) and Shoveler (130).  I thought that was it for the day, but when comparing my BirdBase list (entered from a pre-printed checklist that reminds me of what I saw each day) to the written list, I discovered I had forgotten to jot down the White-tipped Doves (131) singing at Bentsen (and later coming to the drip at Estero)!

Dickcissel at the Progresso Sod Farms

Just a few of the hordes of Mississippi Kites sailing over at Santa Ana!

A lingering Cinnamon Teal was flagged by eBird!