Monday, March 22, 2021

Trying Out Texas


Rich and Mary were fellow southern Californians, here to give South Texas a try after visiting Southeast Arizona for so many years!  As a result, almost everything was new (except for our “western” birds and a few eastern backyard birds at their daughter’s place in Tennessee)!  We started at Estero Llano Grande State Park where a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and several Orange-crowned Warblers greeted us in the parking lot.  Their first Golden-fronted Woodpecker was attached to a power pole near the brick walk, while a Long-billed Thrasher faaaad from the undergrowth and actually gave decent views!  The other shocker was an Olive Sparrow that hopped by practically at our feet – boy, was I glad to get that one under their belt!

Visibility from the deck wasn’t the greatest, of course, first thing in the morning (as it would turn out to be a beautiful, sunny day), so we headed for the boardwalk, but not before bagging their first Chachalacas at the “restroom” feeders!  Purple Martins were back in force, and out on the boardwalk the main players were Shovelers, Mottled Ducks, and a few Blue-winged Teal, but a flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks came sailing in, which was very exciting for them!  Two Soras whinnied, but only one gave us a brief butt shot…  Kiskadees played on a dead log in the water, along with several Red-winged Blackbirds.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, along with Mottled Ducks and a single Shoveler in the foreground.

Mottled Ducks

From there we headed towards Alligator Lake, making a quick stop at Dowitcher Pond to see what was there.  A pair of Avocets was nice (one coming into breeding plumage) and we enjoyed their antics as they chased around a Black-necked Stilt!  The same set of ducks were joined by two male Cinnamon Teal, plus Coots and some wheeling Least Sandpipers.

Grebe Marsh actually had a little pod of Least Grebes, but no kingfishers L.  A couple of Common Gallinules were new for the day list, however.  A Harrier flew by close (sending a few things scattering), and a Couch’s Kingbird pupped and finally showed himself; a little later a pair of Tropical Kingbird tittered near the same place!  It looked as though most of the night herons had fled Alligator Lake, as we only spotted three Yellow-crowned Nighties (although that’s the rare one in southern California).  A close Neotropic Cormorant gave us a good view of its gular pouch, but sadly we couldn’t local the Pauraque or the McCall’s Screech Owl (which is par for the course once they start breeding).  

Least Grebes

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Rich and Mary view a close night heron

We made a brief scan at the big overlook, and not finding anything (even an alligator) we headed back to the visitor’s center, picking up some Long-billed Dowitchers in their namesake pond on the way.  A quick second look at Ibis Pond added its namesake White Ibis (we had seen White-faced earlier), and while I was in the restroom Mary got her first Altamira Oriole and a Black-chinned Hummingbird at the feeder!  As we were checking in Mary noticed that a Roseate Spoonbill had been seen, which I knew was hit or miss, but a quick look at Avocet Pond across the way bagged the spoonbill!

Dowitcher Pond


Purple Martins (and House Sparrows) at the apartments!

Black-bellied Whistling Duck thinking about jumping up on the feeder...

After that we headed to the Tropical Zone.  At the foot of the brick walk a White-eyed Vireo was singing, which would have been another lifer, so I cringed and started looking (they can be tough to pull out), but lo and behold this guy came right out in the open (albeit briefly)!  He was chasing another bird, which frankly made it easier…

White-eyed Vireo 

We then headed to Steve and Sue’s (the park hosts) feeders!  At the time we were the only visitors, but were immediately treated to several Altamira Orioles and the female Hooded Oriole (the male came in later)!  A pair of Golden-fronted Woodpeckers came in, along with a pair of Ladder-backed, and eventually a Buff-bellied Hummingbird visited his own feeder.  The Clay-colored Thrush put on a very good show, and several Lincoln’s Sparrows bounced around, but unfortunately almost immediately after Rich left to use the restroom, the Audubon’s Oriole came in! L  (Mary and I made a pledge not to break the news to him when he returned… J)  While Rich was gone birding buddy Huck showed up, who volunteers a lot at the park, shortly to be joined by Ranger John, and even Steve!  When Rich returned Mary caved and told him about the Audubon’s J, but thankfully he came back several times and Rich was able to get his pictures!

Hooded Oriole

Audubon's Oriole

Clay-colored Thrush

Huck had offered to show us where two staked out screech owls were, so we followed him back into the Zone, and had he not pointed this thing out way up in the tree I never would have found him!  But we explained how this was a good bird to put in the “bank” as it might be split off from Eastern Screech in the future!  He showed us the second stake-out, but he wasn’t home…  He then showed us the general area where the lady trogon had been hanging out, then tried to spot the “other” Pauraque in its well-guarded patch, but we couldn’t find him, either… L 

Huck confers with another birder while we wander on

After that he left us to explore on our own, so we and another couple wandered back behind Ben Basham’s old trailer, not finding much of anything, really, so we meandered over to the Indigo Blind.  Giving that spot 15 minutes finally bagged us a White-tipped Dove, and the Carolina Wrens were coming in to one of the grapefruit feeders!  Rich was finally able to get a picture of a Green Jay (we had had fleeting looks all morning), and titmice would light but be off in a flash.  The Buffbellies rattled but never came in to the feeder…

A special app correctly ID's a mystery plant as an Anacua!

Great Kiskadee

Lincoln's Sparrow

About that time a lady came in with her doggie and announced that she had seen the trogon!  So we all hightailed it over to the area to which she directed us (which was right where Huck had told us she was hanging out), but couldn’t find a thing.  We then saw three other birders, one of whom was Sue the Park Host, and they had just glimpsed the bird, who flew off to the other side of the patch!  Rich decided to take that back road (might have been Kingbird Trail – I get all confused back there) while Mary and I stayed on the main road.  I shortly got a phone call from Rich saying he had the bird!  But she had flown back towards us, and when Rich finally caught up with us, we got a decent view of her shooting from the tree she had been and into another tree, where we lost her totally.  Rich had gotten a decent “dorsal” photograph, however, and since they had seen trogons in Arizona before, the quick look was good enough for Mary!

Female Elegant Trogon (Photo © 2021 Richard Castillon)

After taking a second look at the screech owl (he was actually in a better position) we decided to head to Quinta Mazatlan, taking the back way to avoid the construction on I-2.  Heading south on FM 1015 we had a lovely White-tailed Kite hovering over the spillway!  Once on US 281, we made a quick stop to check the Burrowing Owl’s standpipe, but he wasn’t there and had presumably headed back north.  When we got to Quinta, the parking lot was stuffed, and they were actually taking payment in the little “private office” there just past the gate; we asked if an event was going on, and in addition to Spring Breakers, they were having a special kid’s book event (it had to do with a Dr. Seuss book, as they had kid-sized pages from the book all along the trails), so needless to say the place was packed!  We managed good looks at a Curve-billed Thrasher (another potential split from the one in Arizona), but the trails were so crowded that we decided to sit at the amphitheater feeders for 15 and then head on.  I unfortunately had to play the “mean ol’ lady” by asking a bunch of kids who were having a big time to come out of the feeder area! L  We bumped into Ryan who had seen the Dusky-capped Flycatcher earlier, but he was nowhere to be found now (the flycatcher, not Ryan)…  Otherwise (after the kids vacated the feeders) we enjoyed Chachalacas, Inca and White-winged Doves, and of course lots of House Sparrows, but nothing unusual came in.

"McCall's" Screech Owl

Rich enjoying a thrasher at Quinta Mazatlan

Inca Doves

Joined by two larger White-winged Doves

Curve-billed Thrasher

After checking out the mansion (read: restrooms) we headed to Bannworth Park in Mission for a shot at the Fulvous Whistling Duck.  The park wasn’t nearly as packed (with birds or people) as I’ve seen in the past, but there were still lots of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, a couple of stilts, some Double-crested Cormorants, a nice golden-slippered Snowy Egret, and plenty of domestic-type waterfowl.  (The Soft-shelled Turtles and Red-eared Sliders plastering the entire far shore were pretty amazing as well!)  We almost got ready to leave when I decided to walk up to the bank to get some pictures, and there was the Fulvous, peeking his head up!  They all meandered out into the water of course, but what a way to get a life bird!

Rich and Mary at Bannworth Park

Red-eared Sliders and Softshell Turtles hauled out on the opposite bank

Black-necked Stilts

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

The target:  Fulvous Whistling Duck!

We still had some time, so consulting Bird’s Eye, Mary said she’d really like to see a Caracara, so the closest spot where one was seen recently was Anzalduas County Park, so down we went!  Thankfully it was open (I warned then that sometimes they close it if there’s “activity” across the border), and they were duly impressed with the Rio Grande and the humble little park across in Mexico!  We added Pied-billed Grebe on the fly, and since Mary and Rich were game to try for Sprague’s Pipit, we hiked across the field but with nothing to show for it except three presumed Western Meadowlarks.  Over in the river was the requisite raft of coots and Lesser Scaup, plus a complaining Osprey on a dead tree.  A flock of Gadwall wheeled in while we were there, which was nice, and a pair of Laughing Gulls was another lifer for Rich and Mary (they even laughed a little for us)!

I play the Sprague's Pipit flight call so Mary will know what to listen for!  
(Photo © 2021 Richard Castillon)

Laughing Gulls

Continuing on,  Rich spotted a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on a fence wire (they said people are always mistaking their feral Pin-tailed Whydahs for Scissortails)!  We stopped at the “corner” and checked the river again, only adding a Least Grebe to the birds already seen.  Crawling along we added Loggerhead Shrike and Kestrel to the list, and even stopped to try for the Rock Wren at the dam; he was a no-show, but we at least picked up Rough-winged and Cliff Swallows.  But the best bird was in a dead tree on the other side of the levee:  an adult Gray Hawk!

Loggerhead Shrike

Gray Hawk

Blue-winged Teal

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Nothing else popped up except a little mob of Cardinals under a picnic table, but after some consultation on where to bird the remainder of their week here, we headed home the back way, with a total of 75 species for the day!  Bird list:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Fulvous Whistling-Duck

Blue-winged Teal

Cinnamon Teal

Northern Shoveler


Mottled Duck

Lesser Scaup

Plain Chachalaca

Least Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Rock Pigeon

Inca Dove

White-tipped Dove

White-winged Dove

Mourning Dove

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Buff-bellied Hummingbird


Common Gallinule

American Coot

Black-necked Stilt

American Avocet


Least Sandpiper

Long-billed Dowitcher

Laughing Gull

Neotropic Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Snowy Egret

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

White Ibis

White-faced Ibis

Roseate Spoonbill

Turkey Vulture


White-tailed Kite

Northern Harrier

Gray Hawk

Eastern Screech-Owl

Elegant Trogon

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

American Kestrel

Great Kiskadee

Tropical Kingbird

Couch's Kingbird

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

White-eyed Vireo

Loggerhead Shrike

Green Jay

Black-crested Titmouse

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Purple Martin

Cliff Swallow

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Carolina Wren

European Starling

Curve-billed Thrasher

Long-billed Thrasher

Northern Mockingbird

Clay-colored Thrush

House Sparrow

Olive Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Western Meadowlark

Hooded Oriole

Altamira Oriole

Audubon's Oriole

Red-winged Blackbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

Great-tailed Grackle

Orange-crowned Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

Northern Cardinal 

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