We got a last minute request from Ruth Hoyt to help guide some serious photographers from India, so I was called into service to show Anil (who actually lives in Dallas now) and his buddies Ananth, Maduth, and “Doctor Rao” around some local areas where they could get some good photos (and being their first time to South Texas, everything was new)! The down side was that, this time of year, most of the nature parks have stopped feeding the birds by now, but a wonderful volunteer named Donna was still stocking the feeders at Estero Llano Grande SP, and the National Butterfly Center does feed all year round, so those were the two spots we were gonna concentrate on.
We all piled in Anil’s SUV and headed over, and the plan was to check in first, chill on the deck at Ibis Pond, and then head back to the feeders in the Tropical Zone. We ran into Ranger John getting ready to start the bird walk (and Ian and Julie yet again J), and when I mentioned what we were doing, he gave me the bad news: they had just quit stocking the feeders for the season! L He actually offered to run over there to do it himself, but then said one of the other rangers volunteered to do it, so after thanking him profusely we enjoyed what was in Ibis Pond: several Black-necked Stilts, a pair of Mottled and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, and both yellowlegs and Long-billed Dowitcher in the shorebird department (couldn’t turn it into a Hudsonian Godwit J). Barn Swallows were swooping all over the place as well, and the guys enjoyed shooting the doves at the office feeders.
Black-necked Stilt (above and below)
Anil and friends on the deck
But they were antsy to get to the “real deal”, so we headed back, where one of the guys spotted a Clay-colored Thrush and was able to snap off a picture! (It was kinda fun watching Anil use Ananth’s shoulder as a tripod… J) We obviously beat the feeder man to the feeders, and after awhile in the Indigo Blind with no action, I headed back to the office with the intention of offering to fill the feeders myself (and saw a flyover Yellow-crowned Night Heron on the way, to the chagrin of the rest of the guys), but Ranger Jose and another guy were jumping into the truck with the goods, and by the time I got back the seed and PB mixture had been applied! (Jose said they’d probably use up what they had, and then that would be it for the season…) After crowning him and his assistant with hero status J I joined the guys in the blind, where it wasn’t long before the action started, and they all got fabulous shots of Green Jays, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, all three “large” doves, a Kiskadee, a Black-crested Titmouse, a Catbird, a Lesser Goldfinch pair, a female Cardinal, and a female Painted Bunting (we all wanted their hubbies J)! They were especially entertained by a Fox Squirrel that acted as though it was positively posing in different positions, just for the camera! J A Brown-crested Flycatcher flew into the area, but didn’t put himself in a position to be photographed. While all this was going on I heard a Warbling Vireo scold behind us, but he never became visible…
Young Altamira Oriole on the way to the Tropical Zone
The guys wait inside the Indigo Blind
Green Jay (above and below)
Female Golden-fronted Woodpecker (above and below)
Male Golden-fronted Woodpecker
White-tipped Dove showing the lovely subtle colors on its neck
Several shots of the Black-crested Titmouse
Female Painted Bunting
Young male Lesser Goldfinch
Female Cardinal (above and below)
Posing Fox Squirrel (token mammal)
Anil (in the camo) conferring with his buddies
Someone spots a Clay-colored Thrush!
A shoulder makes a good tripod!
They all wanted to time things so that we’d arrive at the National Butterfly Center in time for the 1:30 feeding, plus stop for lunch someplace beforehand, but when they saw the patch on my frumpy shirt with the picture of the Yellow-crowned Night Heron, they all announced that they wanted to see one, but a long hike out to Alligator Lake with all that heavy equipment really wasn’t an option (especially since the night heron throng that’s usually back there had long since left), so since “Bird’s Eye” informed me that one was sighted at Frontera the day before, we decided to scoot over there.
We really couldn’t spend much time there if we were gonna make feeding time, but Chris informed us that she had seen a night heron that morning, so we were hopeful! We were momentarily distracted by a Great Crested Flycatcher and Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and a careful perusal of the resacas and ponds yielded no night herons or Green Kingfishers, but what was a surprise was the male Belted Kingfisher still hanging around (and it indeed got flagged by eBird)! We were really rushing to stay on schedule, but a very colorful Texas Spiny Lizard distracted all of us! Then in the parking lot the Chachalacas started chorusing in plain sight, so of course the guys couldn’t resist shooting that!
Texas Spiny Lizard (above and below)
We finally got on the road, stopped at a Stripes at my insistence (I told the guys that you can’t come to South Texas without having a Stripes taco J), then headed on to the Butterfly Center. After checking in (we had just missed a big mob of kidlets) we drove down to the “old gardens” and then planted ourselves in the only shady spot by the feeding area! Another lady joined us after a while, but the feeder people’s schedule had been thrown by all the field trips, so it was a while before they came to stock the stumps! But once that happened we started getting the more colorful visitors: besides the grackles who were bullying everyone else, the guys were really excited about the Bronzed Cowbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds! The Chachalacas gave great photo ops as they cackled at each other, and the Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Kiskadees, and Green Jays came in occasionally, but the real star (like yesterday) was the Altamira Oriole! I even heard a Baltimore singing and chuckling from a nearby tree, but he never came in… An Olive Sparrow made a very brief appearance, and a female Yellow Warbler did acrobatics in one of the mesquites, as did a stunning male Magnolia Warbler, but a presumed Black-throated Green was just content to “chink” from the trees, along with a hiding Yellow-billed Cuckoo doing its “cou—cou—cou” call. Even a flyover Turkey Vulture got them excited! The titmice were pretty cooperative here, and a male Cardinal made a brief appearance but never came in to the feeders; I assured them that they’d probably get them at Laguna Seca the next day! “Dr. Roa” started shooting butters on one of the stumps with bait after a while; looked like most of them were Tawny Emperors. Besides the Fox Squirrel the “mammal models” included an Eastern Cottontail and a flighty Hispid Cotton Rat.
A pair sunning
Red-winged Blackbird (above and below)
Sunning Great-tailed Grackle
Showing glossy colors
Golden-fronted Woodpecker (above and below)
Check out the golden belly!
Several shots of the star, the Altamira Oriole!
We packed up around 4:15 to head back to Alamo (and about that time the Altamira pair came in once again, of course J), and even on the way back picked up a nice day bird: a flyover Osprey with a fish! For primarily “feeder bashing” it wasn’t bad with 55 species for the day! Bird list:
Black-bellied Whistling-DuckMottled Duck
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Great Crested Flycatcher
Black-throated Green Warbler