Paul and Robyn make a living of traveling and sharing their stories on Instagram (A Couple Without Borders), so after hearing about the Alamo Inn they came to check us out and do some birding! My friend Juan Sabastian took them out three of the four days they were with us, and I took them out today to do some clean up! Two of their “followers”, Jeremy and Nate, wanted to come along, so we all managed to pile into Heppy and set out to chase!
One of the things Robyn still needed on her life list was the Beardless Tyrannulet, so we headed down to Santa Ana first. Even before hitting the Chachalaca Trail we encountered three Chachalacas on the levee! Several heron species were coming off roost and flying overhead, but the rest of the trail was rather quiet except for White-eyed Vireos, Kiskadees, and Couch’s Kingbirds, but close to the Spanish Moss we heard a distant tyrannulet! Before long he was right by the trail, and thankfully everyone got great looks and pictures; a miracle indeed! So since we had several targets to shoot for, we turned around there and headed back to the parking lot, but not before spotting a pair of Ringed Kingfishers calling and circling overhead! Several Broad-winged Hawks were lifting off, so the guys wondered if the kingfishers were disturbed by them. On the way out a Gray Hawk whistled in the distance.
Chachalacas greet us on the trail!
Nate and Paul stroll the trail while Robyn shoots the tree snails
Focused on the tyrannulet...
I got a brief glimpse but his call comes through loud and clear at the end!
The next stop was the Progresso Sod Farms for Upland Sandpiper. On the way there along US 281 I warned the gang to be looking for birds flying around the fields, and while Robyn and I were yapping in the front seat Jeremy sheepishly mentioned that he though he saw shorebirds “back there”, so after much razzing we turned around and found the field, only the birds in there turned out to be Horned Larks, which were good for the day! Heading back to the unnamed road east of the sod farm, the road shortly became impassable, although I did hear an Uppy calling (but could never spot it), so after a quick scan of what sod we could see we debated about stopping at Estero Llano Grande State Park, as a Zone-tailed Hawk had been reported a few days previously but I thought the chances of our finding it were pretty slim. The gang voted to head straight to Superior Turf Farms via Cannon Road, but that, too, was impassable, so we continued to Rangerville Road, taking a quick peek at the resaca for possible Yellow-crowned Night Herons (I had heard one flying over in the dark that morning, and Nate mentioned that it would be a life bird for him). We picked up several Common Gallinules and a Least Grebe, but no nighties… We continued on to Jimenez to Weaver Road, but we didn’t even get that far before three Upland Sandpipers exploded from the side of the road and landed very close to the car! Robyn was ecstatic, as that was one she really wanted to see (and she got some tremendous pictures to boot)!
Next stop was Palo Alto Battlefield for Cassin’s Sparrows. It was starting to spit (and the forecast called for somewhat sunny skies L), but we went on faith, picking up lots of Eastern Meadowlarks on the way in. I was sweating a little as I didn’t hear one Cassin’s going in (whereas last time they seemed to be all over), but after parking in the far lot I heard a couple of distant birds, so we took a hike down the trail, and eventually got wonderful looks of the bird skylarking and then zipping into its nest! (Comedy relief was provided by Paul when he was so happy to have gotten a picture of the sparrow when what he actually photographed was a shrike… J) We also enjoyed a Harris’ Hawk and a lovely Northern Harrier in the raptor department.
Success! The modest little Cassin's Sparrow (also below)
(Paul's shrike was also perched on a yucca spike...)
Paul and Jeremy compare shots
Having bagged the target, we drove back to the visitor’s center for necessities, and I was barely out of the car when Jeremy (I think) hissed, “There’s quail!” Sure enough, a couple of Bobwhite were feeding next to the sidewalk, which also happened to be a lifer for Robyn that she hadn’t counted on! After that excitement a Hooded Oriole darted into one of the palms, and inside the VC we enjoyed the displays, bought some souvenirs, ate some lunch outside, and tried unsuccessfully to shoot both a singing Bewick’s Wren and Verdin. We then headed out to Old Port Isabel Road, only to have to turn back for an emergency bathroom run: apparently the cactus jelly that Robyn had bought at the gift shop (and just tried a taste of) didn’t like her! J
Shy female Bobwhite
That of course became a big joke for the running story (not being a partaker of Instagram before this, I was fascinated by how these “stories” are uploaded in real time, so their “followers” can literally “follow along”, complete with captions and emojis attached to the videos and pics), but we eventually made it down to Old Port Isabel Road. We saw the White-tailed Hawk pair right away, and near Loma Alta Lake we had a Long-billed Curlew fly overhead, and were able to see several White Pelicans and Gull-billed Terns seeing as it was still overcast (otherwise the glare makes it impossible to see what’s on the lake). A Kestrel had us going for a while, and a pair of Harris’ Hawks gave us the looking over! Lots of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers gave great photo ops; Nate got a fabulous shot of one in flight! There were the usual ducks on the various ponds, and the guys finally spotted a Bewick’s Wren at the chicken coops! What we thought at first was a Texas Tortoise crossing the road turned into a Red-eared Slider, so the guys had a good time jumping out and photographing that one! About that time the road started living up to its impassable reputation, so we turned around with no Aplomado L, but we were treated to a huge skein of White Pelicans gliding overhead!
Paul checks things out
The guys shoot an uncooperative Red-eared Slider
Time to turn around!
So that meant the next stop was the Aplomado Viewing Area on SR 100 (they had visited it with Juan Sebastian earlier in the week but dipped), only Jeremy discovered a tick imbedded in the back of his head! (He said that because he keeps it shaved, he’s intimately familiar with how it should feel… J) The plastic tweezers in my first aid kit didn’t do the job, so we found a drug store in Los Fresnos that unbelievably did not carry tweezers! We tried Dollar Tree where they obtained their quarry (they resisted the temptation to get the glitter-studded tweezers J), and Paul was able to successfully extract the offending head of the insect (and yes, that episode went into the Instagram story as well J)! The gang informed me that those with Type O blood (like Robyn and Jeremy) are more attractive to biting insects than those of us with type A blood (i.e., Paul and myself; not sure what Nate’s blood type was), and that seemed to play out earlier at Santa Ana as well as they were feeding the bugs but we were fine!
Paul shows off the extracted head of the offending tick...
Headed on to the viewing area, stopping first at the Blue Shack (nothing). But thankfully this time you could just see a little head sticking up from the nesting platform, and with a scope view (and a lot of imagination) you could see the tell-tale white supercilium! Robyn actually got an amazing shot that showed that field mark very well! Just before we left I thought I was hearing a high-pitched croak, and sure enough, a Chihuahuan Raven launched from the cell tower and gave great looks!
Red circle is the nesting platform (below)
You can just make out the Aplomado Falcon's head!
That took care of Robyn’s lifer list (at least those she was aware of at the time J), so since the Varied Bunting was a life bird for Nate and a county bird for me, the gang was very amenable to revisiting Laguna Vista Nature Park! So after an ice cream and potty break at the traditional corner Stripes, we headed up to the park (along with several other people, it looked like J)! A couple of guys had seen an Indigo, and as I wandered ahead a little, Paul suddenly said he had it! I headed back right when a bunting shot past and landed, but it was the Indigo (pretty male, though…). Paul said they were both together, so apparently the Varied went another direction. Long story short, Nate got it, I didn’t… L But there was a lot of activity at the blinds: a female Summer Tanager was bathing along with a Long-billed Thrasher and both Olive and Lincoln’s Sparrows, and both Ruby-throated and Buff-bellied Hummers came in. At another blind a Black-and-white Warbler crawled around a mesquite, and some American Goldfinches were ba-boying (which the gang had seen earlier in the week), but they wouldn’t come out for documentation, as eBird was flagging them at that point. I think the guys were more entranced with the lizards we were seeing: both Rosebelly and a colorful Texas Spotted Whiptail put on a good show (the latter almost crawled up on Jeremy)! On the way out I heard a Brown-crested Flycatcher pupping, which would have been another lifer, but we just couldn’t spot the thing…
Female Summer Tanager
Bathing Lincoln's Sparrow
Gang on the trail
We find a Rosebelly Lizard (below)!
Even better was a friendly Texas Spotted Whiptail in full breeding colors!
We really didn’t have time to visit the feeders at Laguna Atascosa (we heard that the entrance road was closed for construction anyway), so we crawled along Buena Vista and General Brant Roads, hoping for a better view of a falcon. We paused at that first resaca you come to going west on General Brant and picked up some American Wigeon and Gadwall, but scooted after that as we had to get back. We ended up careening off the road a couple of times, though: once when I heard a Sedge Wren that unsurprisingly refused to show (Robyn realized that was a lifer as well) and again when the guys spotted a pond full of shorebirds, most of which were Solitary Sandpipers but also included a couple of Greater Yellowlegs and a Black-necked Stilt. Keith was free to take them on a Parrot Quest that night, so we headed on home with a respectable 91 species for the day!
Keith is ready to take Paul and Robyn on a parrot hunt! (If you're on Instagram, check them out at ACoupleWithoutBorders!)
Black-bellied Whistling-DuckBlue-winged Teal
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Varied Bunting (the gang only L)