Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Fall Big Day


I was curious to see how fall migration would compare to spring migration along my Cameron County Big Day route, so headed first thing to Resaca de la Palma State Park pre-dawn in the hope of bagging some night birds.  Heading down New Carmen, the first bird of the day was actually a Couch’s Kingbird doing its dawn song!  A bit of eye shine in the headlights followed by a body jumping up off the road revealed the first of several Pauraques (2)!  Settling down in the parking area just outside the inner gate, I enjoyed one Pauraque that sounded like he was practically at my feet!  A pair of “McCall’s” Screech Owls (3) were trilling nearby, and in the gloom something flew over that was either a Great Horned or Barn Owl, but I couldn’t tell which… L  A Mockingbird (4) scolded and shortly began his own dawn song, and a pair of Chachalacas (5) poked silently up the tree across from me as it gradually got lighter.  Naturally, there wasn’t as much song this time of year, so it took awhile to add species, but eventually added Green Jay (6), Carolina Wren (7), Eastern Wood Pewee (8), Kiskadee (9), and a Long-billed Thrasher fussing (10).  In the morning light a flock of Great-tailed Grackles (11) commuted to work, and a couple of Indigo Buntings (12) buzzed and called behind me.  The last songbird before sunrise came was a lisping Olive Sparrow (13).  While it was still gloomy another car crawled in, paused when it saw me sitting there, but then continued on in after I waved at them; turned out to be a younger couple arriving for their morning jog (they were probably wondering who this character in the chair was J)!

Next stop was Sable Palm Sanctuary, so headed back up New Carmen, logging a Kestrel (14), several Turkey Vultures (15), and a chattering Eastern Meadowlark (16) on the way.  Taking the freeway almost down to the bridge, I was thrilled to see a large group of Wood Storks (17) float over the freeway!  The more expected Rock Pigeon (18) and Laughing Gull (19) also got added, but another exciting addition was a small group of Green Parakeets (20) shooting over with their characteristic flight pattern!  A delta-shaped Starling (21) also got added on the fly, and while cruising through the neighborhoods with my window down added Cardinal (22) and House Sparrow (23).

The entrance road to the sanctuary had several Mourning Doves (24) on the wires and Red-winged Blackbirds (25) flocking around.  Driving through the initial woodland added Black-crested Titmouse (26), Verdin (27), White-eyed Vireo (28), Ladder-backed Woodpecker (29), and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (30).  After checking in a Buff-bellied Hummingbird (31) was an easy add in the butterfly garden!

I should also mention that, seeing it was also prime butterfly and dragonfly season, I wanted to try and keep a list of both while focusing primarily on the birds.  The sun was up by now (although the wind was picking up), and the gardens had a nice selection of butters including Fawn-spotted, Clouded, Olive-clouded, and Tropical Checkered Skippers; Queens, Clouded Sulphurs, and a White-striped Longtail.

Fawn-spotted Skipper

White-striped Longtail

Heading into the woods, I flushed a White-tipped Dove (32) repeatedly, and finally logged a Golden-fronted Woodpecker (33).  A Cave Swallow (34) chattered overhead, and a Yellowthroat (35) chacked from the closed-off Resaca Trail.  A dry chep revealed a Wilson’s Warbler (36 - one of many), and a Gray Hawk (37) called annoyedly and flew over for good measure (and which may have explained the closed trail if they were nesting back there).  A presumed Ruby-throated Hummingbird (38) gave its soft call, and along the upper Vireo Trail had a couple of friendly Redstarts (39) and Northern Parulas (40).  The big resaca was dry as a bone (although I was pleased to see a new blind on the east side), but still heard a Blue Grosbeak (41) pink from the other side.  On the way back to the parking lot a Barn Swallow (42) swooped overhead, and a Hooded Oriole (43) gave a little song-chatter (and another would wheep from the garden).  The enclosed trails had a few butters including Giant Swallowtail, Large Orange Sulphur, and Snouts, and the first (and only for the park) ode of the day was a Red Saddlebags near the dry resaca.  Back at the garden added Whirlabout and Fiery Skipper to the butter list, and driving out a large covey of Bobwhite (44) exploded from the road!

Next destination was Old Port Isabel Road (OPIR), not knowing if I’d make it all the way through or not with all the rain we’d been having, but the south end is usually in good shape, so I still had hopes for the falcon.  Heard a Killdeer (45) on the way, and a Cooper’s Hawk (46) surveyed highway 511 from a wire.  Turning on to OPIR had a Harris’ Hawk (47) fly by, and a Snowy Egret (48) flew overhead.  At the canal a couple of immature Little Blue Herons (49) stared at me, but no falcon occupied the hacking box.  Continuing on, several Scissor-tailed Flycatchers (50) lined the wires, and a Loggerhead Shrike (51) fluttered down to catch something.  A Common Ground Dove (52) was near the little cactus-laden homestead (along with several horses, a burro, and an adorable colt), and a pretty female Marl Pennant landed on the fence and got added to the ode list!  (Most of the odes were floating around and wouldn’t let me get a look… L).  The normally-dry wetland past the homestead was full of water now, so added Great Blue Heron (53), Coot (54), a couple of stunning Pied-billed Grebes (55), and several Black-necked Stilts (56) to the list.  Further down a group of Black Vultures (57) lifted off, and that reminded me to add the Caracara (58) that I had seen on the way to the freeway earlier!

Female Marl Pennant

Not too far after that is the pipeline construction area and the end of the well-maintained road, and indeed, the road beyond that was a wet, muddy mess!  So I turned around and got out to scan (the wind was picking up by now; several things seeped that I suspected were Cassin’s Sparrows but they just wouldn’t pop up), and way far away on a fence post was a suspicious-looking black-and-white raptor; a view with the scope confirmed him as an Aplomado Falcon (59)!  So I was very happy to see him, plus a few of the “floating odes” came close enough that I felt comfortable calling them Wandering Gliders (as that is their habit, anyway)!  On the way out I had a little better view of Loma Alta Lake and was able to add some complaining Forster’s Terns (60), a few flying Mottled Ducks (61), and some lazing White Pelicans (62)!

I don't think so...

Aplomado Falcon
The backup shortcut to South Padre is Highway 48, so I blasted up there, stopping at the boat ramp to see what I could add.  The light was bad and the wind even worse, but managed to log Brown Pelicans (63), a fleeing Ruddy Turnstone (64), a couple of Great Egrets (65), and a handful of Willets (66); everything else was Laughing Gulls best I could tell!  A beautiful Wood Stork floated in just before I left, but promptly disappeared in the vegetation.

Continuing on to South Padre via Port Isabel, caught sight of my First of Season Harrier (67) floating over the Bahia Grande Unit, and heading over the causeway added the expected Osprey (68) on the light post.  I debated about visiting Isla Blanca Park in hopes of finding the Masked Booby, but figured that on a Saturday the place would be packed (and the booby probably wouldn’t wanna share the jetty with a bunch of humans, anyway J), so I went straight to The Flats.  Well.  For maybe only the third time in my memory the water was all the way up to the Shack (and come to think of it, the last time it was like that was also in October when I took a German journalist who wanted to see “lots of birds” out there – not)!  I squeezed around the few people who were parked there and logged some Royal Terns (69), some Skimmers (70), and a single Sandwich Tern (71) I spotted when they all took off.  Swinging back I ran into my friends Alan and Baceliza (almost literally, as they were trying to get on the Flats) who had come out especially to see shorebirds, and there weren’t any!! L  But they reported that the vagrant White-crowned Pigeon was still at the Birding and Nature Center, and promised that they’d let me know if they saw the booby, as they were headed there next.

But I first wanted to check out the Convention Centre for migrants, and ran into a guy from Denmark who had found (or refound, as one was being seen on and off for awhile) a Prairie Warbler!  A Common Gallinule (72) cackled while we chatted, but alas, the Prairie would remain elusive.  Heading into the “back yard”, however, I was able to add an Empid that I initially ID’s as an Alder, as the eyering looked thin and the tail looked broad to me, but after scrutinizing the pictures a little better, I’m now leaning towards Least Flycatcher (73), as the eyering looked a little bolder than initially thought, and the primary projection looked rather short (plus they’re more expected).  Some nice warblers bounced around, including a brilliant Yellow-throated (74) that the Danish guy also told me about, and a young Mourning Warbler (75) in addition to more Redstarts.  A quick look at the Flats from the overlook added nothing new.

I initially ID's this empid as an Alder but am now leaning towards Least - comments welcome!

Yellow-throated Warbler

Instead of exploring the CC’s boardwalks (as it was already getting quite warm) I opted to head next door to the Nature Center and do their boardwalks (after hopefully getting the pigeon), logging a pretty Roseate Skimmer (ode, not bird) flying right alongside me on the way out!  I flushed a Green Heron (76) from the water feature in the parking lot, and upon asking the maintenance guy if he knew where the pigeon was, he showed me the areas where it liked to hang, but a visiting birder and his friends beat me to the punch when I noticed him feverishly snapping pictures right near the parking lot – the pigeon was right in front of us at eye level (77)!  Normally a bird of south Florida and the Keys (plus other Caribbean islands), people were musing whether this immature bird got blown here by the hurricanes, but he seemed very content to munch on berries, as he had been doing all week!

Lost White-crowned Pigeon

A full adult would have a completely white crown

Having gotten him under my belt, I headed through the center and back into the butterfly garden to try and log some bugs; nothing was flying, and I couldn’t pick out anything new out in the wetlands, so I headed onto the boardwalk, enjoying several White Ibis (78) and a cooperative Long-billed Curlew (79).  Gallinules were all over with their mostly grown kids, and at one point a Least Sandpiper (80) zipped by calling.  Several Tricolored Herons (81) fed almost like Reddish Egrets, and a few Common Green Darners (ode) floated around close to the water.  At one point I heard a robust chirp and wondered if it could have been the reported Mangrove Warbler; eventually a bright yellow bird did cooperate, but I couldn’t turn it into anything but a plain ol’ Yellow Warbler (82).  In the butter department, in addition to Great Southern Whites, however, another “Florida” specialty batted around the mangroves that I unfortunately couldn’t document with a photo:  a Mangrove Buckeye!  The “North Pond” was rather sparse as well, but it gave me several Blue-winged Teal (83) and a Black Saddlebags on a twig, which would turn out to be the last (identifiable) ode of the day.  A White Peacock (which for neophytes is a butterfly, not a bird J) batted around the reeds as well.  (Yes, it gets confusing when the same name is used for both birds and bugs…)

Long-billed Curlew

Great Blue Heron

Common Gallinule

Fishing Tricolored Heron

Black Saddlebags

Decided to give Sheepshead a try, and I’m glad I did, even though it was rather quiet:  a couple of Catbirds (84) came into the drips on the “shady side”, along with several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that were fighting over the Turk’s Caps!  A Nashville (85) and Magnolia Warbler (86) came in on the “sunny side” (and the new vegetation that was planted last spring has just exploded), and good for the day were the city-dwelling Collared Doves (87).  While there Baceliza reported via text that there was no booby at either Isla Blanca or Pier 19 (the other place it liked to hang), so I felt better about foregoing that destination, but I would find out two days later via eBird that somebody did find the booby that day! L  Oh, well!

Having finally been shown where this Laguna Vista Nature Park was located, I decided to check it out, but got lost once again! L  A nice policewoman got me going in the right direction, so after finding the place I checked out their very nice walking trail complete with blinds and drips; a Zone-tailed Hawk had been reported there, so I checked every Turkey Vulture, but to no avail…  It was pretty warm so there wasn’t much action, but did add Curve-billed Thrasher (88) and Tropical Kingbird (89) to the list, while a small flock of parulas and titmice got upset at me.  Another Ground Dove poked around one of the blinds, and added a Little Yellow and a Common Buckeye to the butter list.

One of the drips at Laguna Vista Nature Park

Nice, easy trails!

Next stop was Port Isabel Reservoir, and this was where all the shorebirds were hanging out!  The wind was howling by now, so the best I could do was add what was close and obvious:  a couple of Stilt Sandpipers (90) fed with the stilts, and while I could see several dowitchers, I heard some high-pitched keeking so felt comfortable calling them Long-billed (91).  In addition to the mob of stilts, their cousins the Avocets (92) were in good numbers, and the first small peeps I could get a decent look at looked to be stubby-billed Semipalmated Sandpipers (93).  I heard a Semipalmated Plover (94) call, and right there on the shore was a nice little pod of them, along with some longer-billed Western Sandpipers (95), a pale, orange-legged Piping Plover (96), and a handful of Snowy Plovers (97)!  Out in the water several Shovelers (98) fed, and while I was watching them the distinctive tu-tu-tu of a Short-billed Dowitcher (99) sounded off!  The hardy little Ceraunus Blues (the last butter of the day) were braving the wind and clinging to their low vegetation!

Plover party - the ones with broad breast bands are Semipalmated Plovers

Wondering what bird would have the honor of being #100, I continued down Holly Beach Road, enjoying lots of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, but shortly that road got too dicey as well, so I turned around and headed to the next destination, the resacas near the Las Palomas WMA Ebony Unit.  On the way #100 went to the ignominious Cattle Egret…

At the resaca, I dipped on the Least Grebes that are almost always there, but picked up Gadwall (101) and a handful of Ruddy Ducks (102).  Across the way at the “Rangerville Resaca”, the reeds had grown up pretty good, but they hid a couple of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (103) and more gallinule families.  A squadron of Purple Martins (104) sat on the wire above the resaca.

Checking out the Weaver Road Sod Farms came up blank so far as any grasspipers went (Uplands were long gone anyway), and a dicey romp down the west side of Adams Garden Reservoir only logged a Neotropic Cormorant (105).  Crawling down Jimenez Road added a Lesser Goldfinch (106) in someone’s yard, Rough-winged Swallows (107) circling overhead, and a couple of White-winged Doves (108) batting by at the intersection with Rangerville Road.  Heading north on said road added a flyover White-tailed Kite (109).

I planned to see in the sunset at Tiocano Lake, but only stayed long enough to bag the resident King Rails (110) and a cackling Least Bittern (111) to the list before fatigue (and the need for a shower) set in and I called it a day.  But the bittern wasn’t the last bird of the day, however, as a beautiful Swainson’s Hawk (112) flew across the road and landed on a post!

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