Clayton, a journalist with Texas Highways, wanted to write an article about the Valley, found our hotel, and booked a room and a guide (me)! J Neither she nor her photographer Kenny were birders, but their purpose was to do a “go with the flow” type of trip to the Valley (no GPS, and no technology – just reading the maps the old fashioned way J), and seeing Santa Ana was high on their list. So we took off very early this morning to beat the heat!
We even beat the automatic gate going in J, but as I warned them, we’d probably hear a lot more than we’d see this time of year! So I tried to point out what I was hearing: White-winged and White-tipped Doves, Clay-colored Thrushes, and Olive Sparrows were amongst the early-morning songsters, and as we got out of the car a Chachalaca posed on a tree (which was also big on Clayton’s “wish list”), but didn’t stay around for a scope view…
It was just after sunrise when we got there, so Kenny wanted to try and get some early morning shots in an open area, so we headed to Pintail Lakes first. It was a beautiful morning and was actually quite pleasant to start; going over the levee we had a pair of Roseate Spoonbills fly past, and once out in the open and by the lakes a pair of Mottled Ducks greeted us first off (but again, didn’t stick around for scope views), and an adult and immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron posed on some dead branches. A pretty Black-bellied Whistling Duck sat out in the lake, so we scoped him while Kenny took pictures of us enjoying the duck! J
On the Pintail Lakes Trail
Clayton and Kenny
A Common Ground Dove sang and then darted past, but then I heard a Ringed Kingfisher call, so we hightailed it down to the last lake (also to get the sun to our backs) and were greeted with lots more night herons! Each lake is numbered (and I keep forgetting which is which L), but the lake we ended up at had lots of Pied-billed Grebes on the nest, trumpeting Least Grebes, both Neotropic Cormorants and an Anhinga drying their wings, and Black-necked Stilts flying overhead! Both Tropical Kingbird and Great Kiskadee gave us scope looks, and before long I heard a Blue Grosbeak singing – and there he was, right on top! What a looker!
Yellow-crowned Night Heron on the trail...
...and on the wood!
The kingfisher was in a tree along the trail, but obscured by branches, and as we tried to get closer he took off, but thankfully landed on a branch across the pond which was actually in great light! So everyone got scope looks at him before he took off and showed off his lovely chestnut underparts! Both Great Egrets and a Great Blue Heron flew in; Clayton relayed a story where one seemed to follow them all the way down the Guadalupe River on a boat trip! I heard an ani, but never could spot him, telling my charges that he looks kinda like a grackle with a big schnozz!
Clayton enjoying scope views of the Ringed Kingfisher
We headed back after that, enjoying a pair of Blue-winged Teal that had joined the Mottled Ducks and a female Marl Pennant (until told otherwise) watching us from a stem! Some Lesser Goldfinches fed in some sunflowers along the main trail, and taking the cutoff trail back to the tour road bagged us a pair of Altamira Orioles! Up on the road a Beardless Tyrannulet called loud and clear, but as per usual wouldn’t let us get a look… L We were on our way to the Willow Lakes connector trail and enjoying a Yellow-billed Cuckoo when the Rare Bird Alert went off on my phone: a Mexican Violetear (which had initially shown up the day before at Quinta Mazatlan) had reappeared! When I told them how rare this bird was (a life bird for me, definitely) and suggested they may want to write about chasing a rarity as part of the “birding culture” (plus the fact that the mansion itself has such a great history), they were very game! So we double-timed it back to the car and headed to Quinta Mazatlan!
Female Marl Pennant
Kenny getting some photo ops
We found a spot in the almost-full parking lot, and right away the Chachalacas were doing their thing right there in the lot, spreading the morning news! A Clay-colored Thrush zipped in while a Curve-billed Thrasher fed on the ground, but we quickly headed in, checked in, then found the clearing behind the amphitheater where the bird had been hanging out. My friend Pat and I had zipped over the previous day and dipped (Keith gave his blessing to take a long lunch hour J), but we saw old friends, and practically the same crowd was back today! The bird wasn’t visible when we walked up, but we gave it about 15 minutes before exploring the rest of the place, and in good journalist fashion, Clayton “interviewed” Mary G., Lizee C., and I think even Simon K. a little! I had explained that this bird was a recent “split”: what used to be known as Green Violetear – ranging from Mexico down into South America – was now the Mexican Violetear (for the birds in Mexico down to Honduras) and Lesser Violetear (everything south of there). I wasn’t sure what the split was based on, so Mary gave us a rundown on the subtle differences in plumage and vocalizations. In the meantime we enjoyed a little female Black-chinned Hummer that came in, and a family of Chachalacas that came right out on the road!
After a while the group broke up while we waited out the 15 minutes, hearing a Hooded Oriole sing and a cowbird rattle (Clayton didn’t think very highly of their parasitic habits)! After said 15 minutes I took my charges on a stroll around the main trail, where we had more closeup looks at Chachalacas, a family of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, and a baby Curve-billed Thrasher being chased by an adult! Clayton enjoyed the animal statutes (in case you didn’t see the real thing J). We were just coming out of the Ebony Grove where I had been showing them the Green Parakeet nesting trees area when another alert came over my phone – the bird was back! So we zipped back over there (along with everyone else who had gotten the alert) and again, the bird was gone by the time we got there… L But this time he didn’t stay away long: I think both Mary and Lizee announced at once that they had the bird, and this time he posed just beautifully! I eventually got the scope on him, and Clayton was just delighted with this sparkling little guy! Even Kenny was able to get a digiscoped picture (which he immediately posted on Facebook J)!
Clayton enjoying the statuary
A young Ladder-backed Woodpecker entertains us with its acrobatics!
Back at the watch site, Lizee, Mary, and Simon enjoy the vagrant Mexican Violetear (below)!
After that Clayton and Kenny explored the old mansion while the rest of us continued to enjoy the violetear, then eventually called it a day. We had a modest 60 species for the morning, but you couldn’t beat the quality! Bird List:
Black-bellied Whistling-DuckMottled Duck
Great Blue Heron