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!
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…
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!
Hispid Cotton Rat
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)
Rummaging in the mud for breakfast...
Snoozing Black-crowned Night Heron
Sleepy-looking Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Female Anhinga shortly after rudely awakening the night heron in the corner...
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)
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!
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
Zebra Heliconian laying her eggs
Jan settles in for the photo shoot!
Leucistic female (or else she was in the wrong place at the wrong time...)
Gimpy Long-billed Thrasher
Conehead-cute Black-crested Titmouse
"Hey! What's THAT over there?!"
"Hmm - never seen one of THESE before!"
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!
House Finches, considered "accidental" in the Valley but definitely making an inroad from Mexico!
We headed home after that with 82 species for the day! Bird list:
Blue-winged TealCinnamon Teal
Northern Rough-winged Swallow