Friday, February 21, 2020

A Birding Break, Part 2

2/5/20 

Boy, what a change from the day before! L  The cold front came through with a vengeance, and thankfully we weren’t heading to a destination that involved a lot of hiking!  We headed west towards Starr County, and while the first planned stop was Salineño, it was actually misting by the time we got to the turnoff, so I decided to take us down the Chapeño Road where 15 Red-billed Pigeons had been reported the day before!  We crawled along the road going in just to make sure we didn’t miss any good thornscrub birds, but it was so windy that what did chirp just didn’t wanna come out (although a Caracara seemed to enjoy being blown around)!  We got to the bend in the road and saw a couple of other vehicles at the other end, which prompted the story of the owner of El Rio RV Park warning us (on a previous trip) not to go down to the boat ramp because there was some “activity” going on! L  Turned out to be other birders, who hadn’t seen hide nor feather of the pigeons, so we also turned around at the end, only to see the whole crowd in one of the vehicles pile out ahead of us and get their scope on something!  I immediately pulled up behind them and jumped out, asking the leader, “Did you find one?” to which he replied, “Oh, no – we’re from Seattle and this is our first day here, and everything’s new!”  (Turns out they had the scope on a Golden-fronted Woodpecker at the top of a pole… J) 

So since it had obviously stopped misting we headed back to Salineño, seeing a Javelina cross the road but dive into the scrub before Jan could get a picture (and wonder out loud if we’d ever see any more…).  Since Jan’s main interest was photography, we went straight to the feeders and spent about an hour there all bundled up – Lyn was a trooper, as it was freezing cold (especially when a gust went through, turning up little mini vortexes in the dust)!  But the feeders were going bonkers with the regulars:  Kiskadees were making repeated strafing runs at the peanut butter mixture, and we didn’t have to wait at all for Green Jays, Cardinals, Black-crested Titmice, and Altamira Orioles!  I was glad to see the Olive Sparrow come in, as Jan had missed that one the day before, and the Long-billed Thrasher also gave fleeting views.  Chachalacas kept to the back this time, along with hordes of redwings and grackles (there weren’t as many doves as usual, either).  The Ruby-crowned Kinglet was back (Mike confirmed that this was the first winter they had braved coming to the feeders), along with several Orange-crowned Warblers and a brief visit by a Bewick’s Wren.  Thankfully the male Ladder-backed Woodpecker put on a good show (another one we kept missing yesterday), and the Golden-fronted showed once or twice.  The Audubon’s Oriole hadn’t shown by the time my timer went off, but Jan was cold enough that he wanted to walk the trail to warm up, so down we went!

Orange-crowned Warbler

Altamira Oriole

"What're YOU lookin' at?!"

Immature

Great Kiskadee

Bewick's Wren

Red-winged Blackbirds

Olive Sparrow

House Sparrow

Green Jay

And exercise was about all we got, as the trail was pretty birdless!  Mike had told us where he had seen Barn Owls, so Jan was interested in taking a look; we scrambled up the hill and towards the area he described, but we didn’t see any owls (I didn’t really expect to, as another gentleman had gone up earlier and come back empty), but we did see an Osprey with breakfast on the way back!  A flyby Double-crested Cormorant was the only other bird we added until we got back to the car, when suddenly I heard the sad whistle and Scrub Jay-like shack of the Audubon’s!  Turns out there were four of them in the tree right overhead, but very uncooperative for pictures, so we decided to head back up to the feeders in hopes that that’s where they were headed!

Lyn and Jan at the cul-de-sac

Osprey

Jan shooting the Osprey

Chatting with other birders

It wasn’t long after we settled back in that the group from Seattle showed up, so we all enjoyed our lunches while the birds continued to enjoy theirs!  One newcomer that broke up the party was a Roadrunner who suddenly exploded from the side and went after something that was on one of the logs (don’t think he got it)!  Merle (I think it was) mentioned he had gotten a House Sparrow previously (the Roadrunner, not Merle J)…  But it wasn’t long before we heard the Audubon’s behind us, and suddenly he was there on the log, along with his mate (and yes, it was “Baldy”)!  The only regular we had missed was the Clay-colored Thrush, and indeed he returned just as we were leaving (we were already on the road when Mike called us back), but having gotten that bird in Costa Rica Jan was keen to check out the birds at a specific campsite at Falcon State Park that Mike had told us about!

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Audubon's Oriole


"Baldy"

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

So we headed straight there, picking up a fleeing Gray Hawk going up the dirt road and a White-tailed Hawk after getting our pass at the state park, then found the campsite in question with a covey of Bobwhite in the guy’s “back yard”, scratching away (Jan likened it to the native dances he’d seen)!  An adult and immature White-crowned Sparrow were closer to the road, which I personally was thrilled about, while a Lincoln’s hopped around about halfway between the two birdy spots!  A truck had quietly come up behind us and was polite enough not to honk at me J, so we skedaddled over to the restrooms and parked, and while Lyn huddled in the car Jan and I walked back towards the campsite.  Suddenly we surprised a pair of Javelina in a vacant campsite, and I was a little concerned because the one (presumably the male) had his back hair raised a couple of times, but they calmed down and Jan was able to get his coveted shots!  (Another guy with a camera came past us, and Jan was nonplussed that he waved off the Javelina as though they were no big deal – they actually are pretty easy to see there…)  Back at the campsite we waited for the Bobwhite to come back, and this time they were joined by several Inca Doves and a single Common Ground Dove (that I discovered in the pictures later)!

White-crowned Sparrow doing the "Towhee Shuffle" while Jan comments on capturing the Bobwhite scratching away!

Said Bobwhite scratching away!

Lincoln's Sparrow

Jan shoots the Javelina (Collared Peccary) pair we surprised (below)!


  
It was almost time to leave, so we just cruised with what little time we had; not even a Pyrrhuloxia showed its face this time (and thankfully they had gotten that one in Arizona)!  But as we headed towards the boat ramp we spotted a Roadrunner right out Jan’s window, so I swung around and started messin’ with him, and definitely got a reaction (Lyn was especially taken with his red ear patch)!  He decided to sun for awhile, which was a behavior they had never seen, so that was fun!  After one last “mess” the bird came over to my side (right under the window, actually), then decided he had had enough and went running off into the brush…

Roadrunner

Sunning (note the fluffy back feathers)


Running away...

It was definitely time to go home after that with a meager 43 species for the day, but considering the blustery weather (and the sun was finally coming out by the time we had to leave L), it wasn’t bad – we did have some excellent quality encounters!  Bird list:

Plain Chachalaca
Northern Bobwhite
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Inca Dove
White-tipped Dove
Mourning Dove
White-winged Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Double-crested Cormorant
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Harris's Hawk
White-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Gray Hawk
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Great Kiskadee
Green Jay
Black-crested Titmouse
Verdin
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
House Wren
Bewick's Wren
Long-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
House Sparrow
Olive Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Altamira Oriole
Audubon's Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal

Friday, February 14, 2020

A Birding Break, Part 1

2/4/20 

Jan (pronounced “Yahn”) and his wife Lyn were a couple from Britain with long time square-dancing friends in the Valley, so the bulk of their time here was to hang with them (they told me they had visited the famous Christmas House in Falfurrias the day before), but Jan was also an avid wildlife photographer and wanted to procure some nice portraits while here!  Lyn was the self-proclaimed “sidekick” J, but they were both interested in enjoying the birds, so we started at the Valley’s “must see” place, Estero Llano Grande State Park!  Again the Tropical Kingbird greeted us right in the parking lot, and a White-eyed Vireo actually showed himself in a bush next to the car, along with an Orange-crowned Warbler!  But the big show was in a rather leafless tree further back:  an Altamira Oriole hopped up, followed by several Green Jays, and then a brilliant male Summer Tanager!  That was quite a colorful tree!

Tropical Kingbird

Summer Tanager

Kiskadee (above) and Altamira Oriole

This time I opted to go straight to the deck to give the volunteers time to fill the feeders; like last time, there were lots of pretty ducks out there to shoot (with the camera), and with it being overcast the photography wasn’t as much of a challenge as it can sometimes be in the morning.  Blackbirds were all over of course, and eventually Lyn spotted the friendly Wilson’s Snipes poking around in the mud!  The Black Phoebe was flopping about on a log on the other side of the pond, but there was no sign of the Vermilion Flycatcher this time…

Wilson's Snipe

After the Visitor’s Center opened we went in to check in, and the gal said she thought they had already filled the feeders, so we headed back to the Tropical Zone by way of the “back trail”, but not before running into my friends Larry and Linda!  Larry also sported a fancy Canon camera, so the two guys talked photo gear while Lyn and I enjoyed a couple of Chachalacas on the “restroom feeders”!  Thankfully we saw a couple more on the back trail where Jan could get some photos (try as we might, we couldn’t break up the guys’ conversation J), and an Olive Sparrow that gave fleeting views, along with an Orange-crowned Warbler reflecting a golden belly from the grapefruit he was dining on, and a Hispid Cotton Rat down below!  Continuing on, we did find the young male Vermilion Flycatcher and a perched Harrier, but the Screech Owl wasn’t in his hidey hole.  Not only that, but the Picnic Table Feeders were virtually empty, unlike like the last time when the place was crawling with Chachalacas and White-tipped Doves! L  But we sat and gave it 15 minutes anyway, and were visited by a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers, and a White-tipped Dove did eventually make it to the tray feeder.  The Indigo Blind wasn’t much better – the only visitor we had was a rather grizzled-looking Fox Squirrel!

Nothing can deter Jan from talking cameras with Larry and Linda!

Plain Chachalaca

Olive Sparrow

Hispid Cotton Rat


Orange-crowned Warbler

Northern Harrier

Interestingly-colored Fox Squirrel - leucistic or just old??


  
So we headed back to the deck, enjoying a large flock of Least Sandpipers on the way.  After a restroom break we headed to Alligator Lake, where we had much more action:  a cooperative Green-winged Teal gave good photo ops at Dowitcher Pond, while the Spotted Sandpiper called and bobbed on a log.  I found a lone Cinnamon Teal way out there, and we sat at Grebe Marsh for awhile waiting for the Least Grebes to stay afloat long enough to get pictures! J  After getting our fill there we enjoyed the night heron show (the Blackcrowns were especially cute with their bills tucked in their breast feathers); at one point a female Anhinga came crashing in and rudely awakened one of them!  Our only Neotropic Cormorant plopped in and eventually sat up on a stick, and Jan had a conversation with a Snowy Egret trying to get him to pose a little better! J

Three-teal log (L-R:  Green-winged, Blue-winged, and Cinnamon on the top)

Green-winged Teal

Rummaging in the mud for breakfast...


Snoozing Black-crowned Night Heron

Sleepy-looking Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Primping...

Female Anhinga shortly after rudely awakening the night heron in the corner...


Snowy Egret

Jan tries to get her to pose a little better...
  
From there we easily found the Pauraque, and Lyn (I think it was) actually found a second bird!  After enjoying them I heard the Green Kingfisher ticking, which took us back to the night heron spot where we could clearly see him across the way!  About then the White-tailed Kite came sailing in, so we ran over to the Little Overlook and enjoyed him (although we all kept calling it a “her” for some reason J)!  A couple with a young Husky came by (so I got my doggie fix J), but they mentioned they had seen even more Pauraques (they asked us if we had seen the “rock birds”, as they could never remember the real name J), so they pointed out two more birds to us – four in all!  The Big Overlook was pretty quiet, but on the way out another guy pointed out the big Alligator floating in the lake, just showing the top of his head and back with his spikes!  On the way out the Snowy Egret was sharing his log with a couple of Mud Turtles, and a couple of Red-eared Sliders showed at Grebe Marsh.

Pauraque #1 (look carefully for his legs)

Pauraque #2

White-tailed Kite

Spiky Alligator


Green Kingfisher

Mud Turtles

Least Grebe

We were pretty beat by then (another lady told us about some Stilt Sandpipers at the other end of Dowitcher Pond, but no one wanted to schlep out there to see them), so we headed back, at least hearing stilts, avocets, and a Greater Yellowlegs in the distance.  An Armadillo was right out in the open by the trail, which was a real treat!  My charges got a brief look at a Buff-bellied Hummingbird while I was in the restroom, and a Long-billed Thrasher came to a fallen orange, while another Orange-crowned Warbler visited the tray.  On the way out a Couch’s Kingbird was pupping from the power pole in the parking lot, where the Tropical had been earlier!


Jan shoots a friendly Armadillo (below)!

  
We all grabbed some food and ate along the way; the plan was to hit Anzalduas and then the Butterfly Center, but the construction traffic going through McAllen on Military Highway slowed us down so much (got a White-tailed Hawk out of it, anyway) that I decided to hit the Butterfly Center first, which was a good choice; we went straight to the bird feeders after checking in (Luciano told us that they had just stocked them) and spent a good hour there just enjoying the show!  Tons of Cardinals and Green Jays entertained us, along with lesser numbers of White-tipped Doves, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, titmice (that were usually too quick for the camera), and Altamira Orioles!  A Long-billed Thrasher with a bum leg came in (Jan noted that he literally fell off the log, and then we saw why… L), and eventually the Clay-colored Thrush rushed in and even bullied the other birds off his log!  An Olive Sparrow lisped but never came in to the water feature, while mammalian highlights were more Fox Squirrels and another Hispid Cotton Rat.  I was actually distracted early on by a Zebra Heliconian, and another couple sitting there pointed out a Gulf Fritillary that they were admiring!  A Red Admiral also showed, wherein Jan mentioned that the ones in Britain were huge by comparison, but I figured the one we were looking at could have been a runt due to the lack of rain…  During all this a Gray Hawk was whistling and eventually flew in and perched out of sight, so when he did his descending cry, I knew it was really him and not a Green Jay mimic! J

Gulf Fritillary

Zebra Heliconian laying her eggs

Jan settles in for the photo shoot!

Northern Cardinal


Leucistic female (or else she was in the wrong place at the wrong time...)

Green Jay


Clay-colored Thrush

Gimpy Long-billed Thrasher


Great Kiskadee


Plain Chachalaca

Conehead-cute Black-crested Titmouse


Golden-fronted Woodpecker


"Hey!  What's THAT over there?!"

"Hmm - never seen one of THESE before!"

Altamira Oriole

Like other icterids, they'll go after seeds as well!

"The Mad Oriole"
  
After having our fill we headed over to Anzalduas, where this time even the Great Blue Herons had abandoned the field!  The regular shrikes and kestrels were there, however, and coming over the levee, the Say’s Phoebe was in his regular spot!  Nothing was in the spillway, however (although we did hear Killdeer), but the field was just covered in Western Meadowlarks!

Say's Phoebe, a rare but regular winter visitor

We passed on the Pipit Poke and just cruised, picking up three male Vermilion Flycatchers altogether, plus the continuing Eared Grebe in with the Coots, along with the female Ruddy Duck and a Common Gallinule.  It was really pretty quiet:  we managed the House Finch flock on the south side, and making the second swing by the river I heard a bright chirp, and spotted a Yellow-throated Warbler close by!  I really insisted that Jan try and shoot it, as it’s such a brilliant little bird, and he finally got a decent shot when it eventually came out!  We thought we were done for the day, but on the way out, a beautiful male Belted Kingfisher posed on a tree at eye level over the canal, and we both got great shots, which is a miracle seeing how skittish those things can be!  The male Harrier in the distance almost went unnoticed!

Vermilion Flycatcher

House Finches, considered "accidental" in the Valley but definitely making an inroad from Mexico!


Belted Kingfisher

  
We headed home after that with 82 species for the day!  Bird list:

Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Gadwall
Mottled Duck
Green-winged Teal
Lesser Scaup
Ruddy Duck
Plain Chachalaca
Least Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Rock Pigeon
White-tipped Dove
Mourning Dove
Common Pauraque
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Common Gallinule
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Killdeer
Least Sandpiper
Wilson's Snipe
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Anhinga
Neotropic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
White-tailed Hawk
Gray Hawk
Belted Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
Couch's Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Loggerhead Shrike
Green Jay
Black-crested Titmouse
Verdin
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
House Wren
Carolina Wren
European Starling
Curve-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
Clay-colored Thrush
House Sparrow
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
Olive Sparrow
Western Meadowlark
Altamira Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Summer Tanager
Northern Cardinal