Saturday, December 7, 2019

In Search of the Perfect Picture, Part 2

11/29/19 

Lori was gonna rent her own car so she could go kite-boarding on the Island, so Slava and I took off at six to head for Old Port Isabel Road in search of Aplomado Falcon!  It was pretty miserable driving out there, however, and I was concerned about the condition of the road!  But by the time we got there it was just misting (and the first part of the road looked good), so I was hopeful!

We started the crawl, and while the traditional nesting platform was empty, we spotted different stuff along the way, like White-tailed and Harris’ Hawks, Long-billed Curlews, a few songbirds calling along the way (including stubborn Sedge Wrens in the grass and lots of Mockers out in the open), and a distant Osprey that got our blood going for a minute!  Slava spotted a pair of Pied-billed Grebes in one of the ponds near the road, but we eventually came to a point just past the pipeline construction where the condition of the road demanded that I declare a turnaround.  As we got out to scan at that point, we spotted a bird on the wire quite a ways down, and Slava walked down enough to get an ID shot – it was a pair of Aplomados!  I gazed at the Grand Canyon Ruts ahead of us (which would have been no issue if the road had been absolutely dry, but it wasn’t), so since the road was good past the canyons and the ridges looked pretty solid, we gave it a go.  A little slip-sliding before we made it across encouraged Slava to offer to drive when we headed out (he also owns a Forrester)! J

Hunkered-down White-tailed Hawk

Weather-weary Harris' Hawk

At any rate, once on the good road we crept up, wheeled the car around so he could shoot out the window, and by doing that several times he was able to get what I considered knock-your-socks-off photos!  But being a professional photographer he was looking for the “perfect shot” that you could “hang on your wall”, and with the weather the way it was (and the choice of perch the falcons had made), it wasn’t the most artistic setting, but like Keith told me later, if the picture I got was stunning (according to him), the pictures Slava got must have been incredible (and they were)! J

Several views of the Aplomado Falcon
 

 

Old Port Isabel Road (the good part)

Having gotten our fill, we headed out, and I indeed let Slava get us through that dicey section (had I been on the ball I would have gotten a video of the experience) and we were soon on solid ground again!  We were surprised to spot a female Anhinga in a wooded section (we surmised there must be a hidden wetland somewhere in there), and a quick look over of Loma Alta Lake added several White Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, Pintail, Coots, and American Wigeon to the day list, along with a heard-only Black-bellied Plover.  A Belted Kingfisher flew over the little canal, and I had already closed out the eBird list just before getting on the paved feeder road, when there on the concrete siding were a Roseate Spoonbill and Great Egret hanging out together!  Thank God for the edit option! J

Female Anhinga

Immature Roseate Spoonbill
  
Slava’s other reasonable target was the Sprague’s Pipit, so since I had seen them along some of the back roads of Willacy County in the past, we headed up there next.  Taking FM 1018 just north of Sebastian, we headed to the big water tower which is the landmark turn onto “Primrose Path” (CR 375 on Google Maps), only I received a Rare Bird Alert just as I did so:  Justin and Stephanie had sighted a Ferruginous Hawk, also in Willacy County!  When Slava fed the coordinates into his phone he exclaimed, “I don’t believe it – it’s right here!”  It was actually south of us off FM 507, but on his little map you could see the pin and our position close together, so since that was a life bird for him as well, we headed down!  We didn’t see any hawks at the “spot”, but saw an empty car parked near the levee, and the next thing I know Justin is calling me saying, “Is that you guys?” J  They were walking on the levee, and said that the bird had flown east, so we got on the levee (driving) and started heading that way.  They had lost the bird, but we headed on, as I suddenly remembered that Sprague’s Pipits love these levee roads as well, so maybe we could knock off two lifers!  It wasn’t long after that, actually, when two pipits did flush and land briefly, and Slava was able to get a picture shot off, but he had forgotten to change his settings from the falcons, and it was all blurry! L  He had been telling me how, with technology and RAW digital photography, you can do miraculous things to “fix up” an otherwise inferior photograph, but camera shake is not one of them!

So we continued on, shooting a very cooperative immature White-tailed Hawk (that was banded; got that data to Bill Clark J), but we also spotted a very nice Krider’s Red-tailed Hawk closer to the end of the levee (which was gated, so we had to turn around and come all the way back)!  I was checking it carefully, though, as young Ferrugies can be nearly identical, but this guy had the bare shanks, so that nailed it (Ferrugies have feathered shanks, which Justin’s photograph of his Ferrugie showed beautifully).  Several Harriers were cruising around as well.  

Immature White-tailed Hawk


"Krider's" Hawk, a pale race of the Red-tailed
  
We returned to “Primrose Path” just to show Slava the road, as he and Lori were going to spend the night closer to the coast and he would probably try again for the pipit on his own the next day.  No pipits, but we did add a Black-necked Stilt, Shovelers, and Ruddy Ducks for the day in the big pond (and some very curious Brahman cattle J).  We wheeled up to the beginning of the “Santa Monica Route” so I could show him that road, as I sometimes had pipits there; for photography purposes he had a lot of questions about the bird’s behavior and what to expect (e.g., are they skittish, or will they stop and look at you after they flush, or do they just keep on walking once they land?  All of the above…)!

It was still raining on and off the whole time, so Slava suggested trying for the Plumbeous Vireo at Roselawn Cemetery again.  We headed back out by way of FM 498, where a pair of Sandhill Cranes flew across the road, and lots of Kestrels and shrikes lined the wires.  After a stop at the Subway in Combes for lunch (and then a subsequent stop at the Starbucks in Weslaco) we headed over and finally found the place (with the construction on the freeway it was tricky)!  Even though the sun was breaking out, the wind was whipping something fierce, so we really couldn’t pick up much; Chipping Sparrows were nice for the day, along with Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Cardinals, a Tropical Kingbird, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  We found the spot where Huck had flushed a nightjar whose identity was still up in the air, but I figured he was long gone (the bird, not Huck).  A funeral was also starting up, so we decided to call it quits and headed home with a modest 52 species for the day (which, considering the crummy weather, wasn’t bad).  

Roselawn Cemetery
Bird list:

Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Northern Shoveler
American Wigeon
Northern Pintail
Ruddy Duck
Pied-billed Grebe
Eurasian Collared Dove
Mourning Dove
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Black-necked Stilt
Black-bellied Plover
Killdeer
Long-billed Curlew
Greater Yellowlegs
Laughing Gull
Anhinga
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Roseate Spoonbill
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Northern Harrier
Harris's Hawk
White-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk (Krider’s)
Belted Kingfisher
American Kestrel
Aplomado Falcon
Eastern Phoebe
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
Green Jay
Horned Lark
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Sedge Wren
Curve-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
Sprague's Pipit
Chipping Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Western Meadowlark
Eastern Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal

Friday, December 6, 2019

In Search of the Perfect Picture, Part 1

11/28/19 

Slava and Lori had joined us on a Birder Patrol trip years ago, so now they were back, and Slava, originally from Russia and being a serious photographer, had a definite target list of birds of which he wanted to obtain “perfect photographs”!  Certainly couldn’t guarantee that J, but I knew we’d have a more than decent chance to bag one of the “high priority” birds on his list, the Audubon’s Oriole, at the famous Salineño feeders, so that was our first destination!

Actually, Slava confessed that he had made a dry run there the night before when they drove in from Corpus Christi just to case the place for photography purposes, and he assured me that it passed the test! J  After a quick stop at Starbucks, we headed up, picking up a few “road raptors” on the way and a pair of Pyrrhuloxias along the Salineño road.  It was still overcast as a mild cold front had moved through the day before, but the birds were coming fast and furious:  besides the ubiquitous grackles and redwings were Green Jays, Kiskadees, Cardinals, Chachalacas, and even a normally furtive Long-billed Thrasher came out into view several times!  The Altamira Oriole came in several times, and the party was often broken up by a Green Jay sounding the alarm, but on one occasion a real live Sharp-shinned Hawk came in and shook things up!  (Slava, after a lot of maneuvering, was even able to get a decent photograph!)  With the exception of a single White-winged Dove, I was surprised that the only doves to come in were the Eurasian Collareds (they’re fairly recent newcomers to the feeders).  A Roadrunner rattled unseen, and another lady visiting from New Mexico spotted an Olive Sparrow that the rest of us missed.  A Zone-tailed Hawk made several low passes overhead while a Black Vulture batted by behind the trees, and eventually both Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers came in.  When Merle went in to get himself a bowl of cereal, it wasn’t too long after that that I heard the characteristic shack shack and sad whistle, and before long here came Baldy to get his own breakfast!  (To new readers:  “Baldy” is the Audubon’s Oriole with a couple of screwy head feathers who’s been coming in for the last five years…)  Mrs. Baldy also came in to take a bath, but I think they both left before Merle came back out again; he said that his leaving the premises was apparently a new strategy to lure them in J!

Long-billed Thrasher

Green Jay


Zone-tailed Hawk

Altamira Oriole

Audubon's Oriole

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Great Kiskadee
  
Having gotten that target, Slava was ready to try for the Mexican Duck along the river, so down we went (both the lady from NM and Bob Powell from north Texas had already gone down there to try for the seedeater).  The resident Osprey was on his favorite pole with a huge fish, and Bob had already set up his chair at the trailhead just to sit and wait, but we headed on to the cul-de-sac.  Slava was excited about the prospect of getting a new species in the Morelet’s Seedeater, but his balloon was greatly busted after finding out that Morelet’s was the old White-collared Seedeater (“When did that happen?!”), as he had tons of photos from Costa Rica!

We passed Mike who had seen the seedeater pair at the culvert, but when we got there, the lady from NM hadn’t seen them (Mike reported they had flown across to the island).  I did shortly hear the characteristic tew coming from said island, so we could at least log it as a “heard-only”, along with an unseen singing Black Phoebe, while a Vermilion Flycatcher fed across the way in Mexico.  A group of Shovelers wheeled in, followed by a Snowy Egret, an American Pipit, and a few Least Sandpipers, while a Gray Hawk whistled in the distance.  A Belted Kingfisher made a brief appearance while a Green Kingfisher spent a little more time on the rocks, long enough for some photos!  But suddenly Slava had some ducks beating a hasty retreat behind the island, and not being as contrasting in coloration as I would expect a Mottled to be, I felt reasonably comfortable calling them Mexicans (although I would have felt better if I could have seen the white speculum border in flight…)  But he got his photo!

Green Kingfisher

Heading back we had a little feeding flock consisting of titmice, Orange-crowned Warblers, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Slava was hoping for a Black-tailed), then we checked the bird-life at the boat ramp:  three Double-crested Cormorants posed with a single Neotropic, and there was a nice lineup of waders with a Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, and presumed White-faced Ibis all together!  But I took a bunch of pictures of the ibis just to be sure, and the face sure looked good for a Glossy: blue-gray with a thin white border on top, with a dark eye!  First year birds can be problematic as they both show a blue-gray face and their eye color doesn’t change until February, so I figured the final verdict would be out, but I later saw that the eBird reviewer had confirmed my sighting, so Glossy it was!

Glossy Ibis, rare at any time in the Valley but especially so in Starr County!


They show a dark gray face with thin white borders, and a dark eye; the more expected White-faced has a pink face with a red eye.

Slava wanted to spend a few more minutes at the feeders, which we did, but food was calling us, so we eventually headed into Rio Grande City for lunch, picking up a lovely White-tailed Hawk on the way (Merle was afraid no place would be open on Thanksgiving, and indeed we were about the only patrons at the Burger King)!  After discussing everything from matters of faith to Sprague’s Pipits J, we eventually found our way to Roselawn Cemetery with the help of Ciri, and began our search for the Plumbeous Vireo.  We started right away trying to nail down a calling Summer Tanager, but about then Slava realized he had left his backpack at Salineño! L About that time all these voice mails and messages came through (after going through several “No Service” spots), as Lois had been desperately trying to get ahold of me to “Come back!  You left your backpack!”  So Slava suggested I drop them off at the Inn where he could jump in his truck and drive back upriver (and Lori could get a nap in J), so we did so, settling on our pickup time for the next day.  He wasn’t too disappointed:  he figured he might get a better shot at that Mexican Duck!

Male and female (below) Cardinals from our return visit to the feeders

  
We ended up with 53 species for the day, which is about average for Starr County.  Bird list:

Northern Shoveler
Mexican Duck
Plain Chachalaca
Pied-billed Grebe
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Least Sandpiper
Neotropic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Glossy Ibis 
Turkey Vulture
Black Vulture
Osprey
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Gray Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
White-tailed Hawk
Belted Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Black Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
Green Jay
Black-crested Titmouse
Verdin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
House Wren
Long-billed Thrasher
European Starling
House Sparrow
American Pipit
Altamira Oriole
Audubon's Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Summer Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Pyrrhuloxia
Morelet's Seedeater

Brushline Birding

11/25/19 

Sudha suggested we leave earlier in order to get to Brushline Road around sunrise, so we did just that, enjoying a lovely pink and red sky in the process!  The drive to South Brushline was uneventful, but as usual, stuff was chirping the minute we made the turn onto the dirt road:  Green Jays bounced around, and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker finally gave us a great view!  We eventually had great looks at Lark and Savannah Sparrows, Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias side-by-side, and even the two “crowns”:  the Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Orange-crowned Warbler in the same bush right in front of us!  A Long-billed Thrasher was stubborn, but a Curve-billed posed next to a Mockingbird for another great comparison!  Horned Larks called but never showed from the ag fields, whereas we did spot the Long-billed Curlews that were calling and then flew over the horizon!  We passed a more open field with tons of Mourning Doves on the wire fences, but also a Vesper Sparrow (that took off the minute I got the scope on it… L)!  A Common Ground Dove exploded from a tree and then thankfully landed again, and along the portion dubbed “The Swamp” (even though we couldn’t see any water in it) was a pair of nice Harris’ Hawks!  At another stop a Verdin miraculously came out in the open, and just before we reached SR 186 a covey of Bobwhite crossed the road one by one!

South Brushline at dawn

Lady Ladder-backed Woodpecker


Mockingbird (left) and Curve-billed Thrasher

Close-up of the thrasher

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Vesper Sparrow

Harris' Hawk

We crossed the highway, but not before a caravan of three cars made the turn onto North Brushline before we did, and we figured they were probably birders as well as they were crawling along, just like us!  We came up to a spot where they had also apparently stopped where some House Wrens were fussing, but try as we might, no Ferruginous Pygmy Owl came in…  We eventually passed them (we heard one lady announce she had seen a tortoise), but things were rather quiet until we came upon a posing Caracara that we enjoyed for some time!  His mate flew in while a flock of White Pelicans sailed past behind them!  

Crested Caracara

With mate

Just about that time a Roadrunner popped up beside the road!  He started to go back into the brush before I decided to mess with ‘im, and sure enough, he stopped short and started tentatively making his way towards us!  When he did creep back into the brush, I said to Sudha, “Five’ll get you ten that what he’s gonna do is creep down the fenceline behind the bushes until he’s even with us!”  And sure enough, she soon whispered, “He’s right there!” (invisible to me, of course…)  He then started making a funny grunting sound I had never heard a Roadrunner make, when suddenly there was a scuffle, and apparently a second Roadrunner had come in to investigate!  

Greater Roadrunner

Things got really quiet after that; we made the turn onto Ken Baker and continued to crawl, not seeing much of anything except a cooperative Kestrel and some very distant Sandhill Cranes flying over the road.  An Eastern Phoebe sang but wouldn’t show, and heading down Rio Beef a Krider’s Red-tailed Hawk circled overhead!  The marsh near the end of the road was pretty dead as well, but as we headed west on 186 towards the freeway, I noticed a new parking area between Rio Beef and Brushline; apparently there’s a new access trail there!  Will have to try that one out…

The list this morning was pretty meager with only 47 species (with White-tailed Hawk being a big miss L) But my charges had some really nice looks at some special birds (Sudha said the Caracara and the Pyrrhuloxia were her favorites), so they were happy!  I knew their own day list would get substantially bigger, however, as they were fixing to explore Estero Llano Grande on their own that afternoon!  Bird list:

Northern Bobwhite
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Common Ground Dove
Mourning Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Long-billed Curlew
American White Pelican
Great Egret
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Harris's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
Great Kiskadee
White-eyed Vireo
Loggerhead Shrike
Green Jay
Black-crested Titmouse
Verdin
Horned Lark
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
House Wren
Bewick's Wren
European Starling
Curve-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
House Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Western Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal

Pyrrhuloxia

New Birds for New Birders

11/24/19

Rajiv and Sudha, retired physicians from Michigan (and originally from India), were making a last-minute trip to South Texas to see some new birds:  they were beginners (Rajiv admitted that Sudha was really the birder J), so since their time was limited she was trying to consolidate the best bang for their buck in terms of species!  (She confessed that it was a trip to Costa Rica that really got her hooked on birding!)  We started at Santa Ana, where Green Jays were all over the parking lot, and Rajiv (who also went by Sitar) spotted a White-winged Dove in great light!  I finally herded them into the Visitor’s Center where the volunteer had just put the feed out in back, and we had a great time:  Chachalacas were crowding the seed on the ground, Green Jays were again all over (including one with a funky tail), White-tipped Doves paraded back and forth, a Black-crested Titmouse would zip in, grab a seed, and zip out (as is their habit), and a male Golden-fronted Woodpecker showed off in all his glory!

White-winged Dove

Chachalaca feeding frenzy

Shy Green Jay

With funky tail

Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  
After using the restrooms we headed out to the trails, and we had barely gotten past the levee when not only a House Wren actually showed itself, but an Olive Sparrow as well!  On the Chachalaca Trail we had a very cooperative Blue-headed Vireo, and we could hear lots of stilts and ducks even before we reached the overlook!  But the very first duck we saw once we got there was the coveted Wood Duck!!  (He had been reported all week – while considered somewhat of a vagrant, usually one or two show up every winter…)  The resident Harris’ Hawk was sitting across the way in his tree, and the ducks and shorebirds had certainly discovered the newly-filled lakes:  Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall, Mottled Duck, and Shoveler were all represented, and both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs fed on the other side along with lots of Black-necked Stilts.  A couple of fluffy-butt Least Grebes floated along, and several Kiskadees showed off in great light, but the stars (besides the Wood Duck J) were the Green Kingfishers as they ticked and splatted and flew back and forth!  I heard a Sora from the blind along with lots of Yellowthroats chacking, but nothing new besides the calling Beardless Tyrannulet that of course didn’t wanna show…  

Blue-headed Vireo (also below)


Willow Lake

Wood Duck, a rarity in the Valley!

Least Grebe
  
Sitar wanted to rest a spell, so we sat him down at the bench where the Pintail Lake Cutoff Trail empties out, but even then Sudha and I didn’t get far as three Altamira Orioles made an appearance in this lone scraggly tree out in the middle of noplace, along with a couple of Eastern Phoebes! We finally got going (as I was hearing the Ringed Kingfisher in the distance), but it was special bird after special bird on the way out there:  first off, an incredibly cooperative male Kestrel sat still as we walked past him and positioned ourselves for photographs, and he was so laid back that Sudha was even able to digiscope him!  A brilliant male Vermillion Flycatcher showed off, and the main lake had several White Ibis of all ages, Snowy Egrets, and a pod of Long-billed Dowitchers trying to snooze.  Even more ducks were out in the deeper stuff; in addition to what we had already seen we added a female Bufflehead, some Ruddy Ducks, a single female American Wigeon, and Sudha spotted the lake’s namesake, a pair of Northern Pintail! J  We flushed several Snipe as we headed for the end pond, and paused for a look at a Tropical Kingbird on the way.  We finally made it to the back pond, where the Ringed Kingfisher was performing well, albeit not in the best lighting conditions, but she caught a fish for us a couple of times and flew to various perches and showed off at all angles!  After enjoying the kingfisher we studied a couple of Plegadis ibis that were “right there” in with the Whites, close enough to see that their faces were pink and not gray, nailing them as the expected White-faced Ibis.  

Sudha and Sitar check out the Altamira Orioles (below)



Friendly (!) American Kestrel (also below)


White Ibis and Long-billed Dowitchers

Tropical Kingbird

The same Kestrel (probably) follows us to the far lake!
  
On the way back we had a tailless Black Phoebe, and as I scanned the lake I noticed that Sitar was standing under a tree right next to the lake!  So we headed that way, passing three university students who asked a lot of questions about why the dowitchers were sleeping instead of eating J, and then headed back to the bench to pick up our jackets we had left with him and then head back to the visitor’s center.  On the way I pointed out the whistling of the (unseen) Gray Hawks, although Sitar said he saw a “speckled” hawk at the bench, which could have very easily been a juvenile.  We had gotten all the way back to the car when I realized I didn’t have my camera L, so the guy on duty very graciously let me use an electric scooter to zip back to Pintail Lakes to retrieve it (given it was still there)!  That was a fun adventure, never having driven one of those puppies before (except for the electric grocery cart when I broke my ankle L), and negotiating a bumpy trail was particularly adventurous, but thankfully (and obviously) the camera was still there!  Comedy relief was supplied when I was putzing my way back (those things don’t go very fast) and went to check something on my phone only to have it say, “You will not receive notifications while driving!” J

Pintail Lake (look hard for Sitar under the tree!)

The next planned stop was Anzalduas, but Sudha had a lot of questions about several nearby places, so since it was on the way, we decided to stop at Old Hidalgo Pumphouse and bag the Monk Parakeets on 5th and Gardenia!  Unlike the last time I went there during “inclement weather”, the birds were out and about and showing well!  We headed on quickly in order not to cause the neighborhood pit bull too much stress, and checked out the pumphouse; no birds to speak of, but I did point out the early version of The Wall and the tract of LRGV NWR land behind it.

Monk Parakeet

Gardens at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse

Sudha and Sitar on the overlook

Still shooting for Anzalduas, we made the obligatory stop for Burrowing Owls in Granjeño, and I was ready to give up when I finally spotted one staring at me, and before I could get the scope on him he actually jumped up and flew to a rock where he stood in the open – what a view!  Then we finally made it to Anzalduas, where Sudha was up for the Pipit Poke; the pack of Western Meadowlarks was out there, of course, and she was just as fascinated by them!  We eventually did flush a Sprague’s Pipit and even managed to get him in the scope, and as is often the case, as we were heading back and amiably chatting, a second bird exploded from our feet!

Burrowing Owl (also below)


Sudha enjoying her life Sprague's Pipit!

As usual, my charges enjoyed the fact that Mexico was also right there (there was certainly more party action on that side than our side J), but the birdlife was in bits and pieces:  the Osprey had a big fish for lunch, and Coots (plus a single Common Gallinule) and the resident feral Muscovy were in the Rio Grande.  I believe we had another Vermilion Flycatcher or two, but the real star was an immature Zone-tailed Hawk sailing high overhead!  Cutting through the midsection I heard one of the resident House Finches (my charges always get a kick out of the fact that they’re actually rare down here), and some American Pipits were foraging in one of the lawn areas on the way out.  But just before we reached the entrance shack I heard a metallic call note and saw three dark birds wheel in and land in the field; Sudha and I jumped out to confirm that we had three Brewer’s Blackbirds – a male and two females!  That was a hoot, seeing as about the only reliable place in the Valley to get these things is up at the Rio Beef Feedyard (and one of the HEB parking lots, I think…)!

Brewer's Blackbirds - common as dirt out west but hard to find in the Valley!
  
It was time for lunch after that, and Sitar had noticed a Subway on the way, so we swung back, only to find that that whole strip was closed tight!  So we ended up at the Stripes (I tell everyone that you can’t come to South Texas without stopping at a Stripes J), and since we really didn’t have time to do Wallace Road by then, we decided to quickly check out Edinburg Wetlands.  Only when we got there, I had totally forgotten that the place was closed on Sundays! L  No worries:  the South Pond is always open, so we parked and headed over there, where a lady was already enjoying a friendly Tricolored Heron!  Across the way were the expected Neotropic Cormorants and Snowy Egrets (with a few Cattle thrown in), but a female Anhinga was a hit as well!  A Green Heron called and fled, and several White Pelicans floated further out in the water, along with a Pied-billed Grebe being followed by a Least Grebe!  Sudha was distracted by the Yellow-rumped Warbler that flew in, and on the way out we had wonderful sunlit views of a Curve-billed Thrasher and Orange-crowned Warbler feeding on the cactus tunas!  Some scaly Inca Doves were somewhat anticlimactic, and Sudha spotted a Cardinal on the way out feeding under a bush.  

Enjoying the Tricolored Heron (below)


Curve-billed Thrasher (also below)


Orange-crowned Warbler (also below)


My internal clock was urging me to give the Parakeet Show on 10th a try (an hour before sunset is the ideal time to start looking), so we headed down to Trenton and then to 10th, and by the time we arrived at the traditional hotspot at 10th and Dove (specifically, the Lowe’s parking lot), there they were!  Many were bathing in the fountain at the entrance, and the sunlight on them was just gorgeous!  We parked and enjoyed the spectacle as more and more wheeled in and lined the wires; there must have been at least 200 birds there!  What a show!

Green Parakeets enjoying the fountain in the Lowe's parking lot!

Pondering whether to take the plunge...




Headed home after that with 91 species for the day!  Bird list:

Muscovy Duck (Domestic type)
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Mottled Duck
Northern Pintail
Bufflehead
Ruddy Duck
Plain Chachalaca
Least Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Rock Pigeon
Inca Dove
White-tipped Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Sora
Common Gallinule
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
Killdeer
Least Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Anhinga
Neotropic Cormorant
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
White Ibis
White-faced Ibis
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Northern Harrier
Harris's Hawk
Gray Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Burrowing Owl
Ringed Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Monk Parakeet
Green Parakeet
Black Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Loggerhead Shrike
Green Jay
Black-crested Titmouse
Verdin
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
House Wren
Marsh Wren
Carolina Wren
Curve-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
House Sparrow
American Pipit
Sprague's Pipit
House Finch
Olive Sparrow
Western Meadowlark
Eastern Meadowlark
Altamira Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal