Jackie was able to do a lot of birding on her own on Sunday, and while visiting Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, she reported a bird hanging with a Painted Bunting that she admitted had to be an escaped exotic, as the app she used to identify it came up with Blue Finch, a near-threatened Brazilian species (turquoise blue with a bright yellow bill)! So I was naturally curious to see if we could refind and document the thing, so we changed plans once again and headed out there, deciding to go ahead and spend the day in the Hidalgo/Mission area seeing as she had to pick up her doggie from the groomers in San Juan at 3:00!
We went the back way via US 281 which led straight into Hidalgo and the Pumphouse. Jackie loved the place; we checked the channel for kingfishers and Black Phoebe (nada), but had a tittering Tropical Kingbird nearby. Her mystery bird was along a neighborhood fence visible from the levee, so we headed straight there; nothing except barking dogs, but we did pick up the Monk Parakeets and their stick nest from up there! We decided to walk down to where the bike path veers off, picking up an adult and immature Altamira Oriole – lifer! A cooperative Ladder-backed Woodpecker was in a nearby dead tree, but it wasn’t long before the event of the morning started taking place: kettle after kettle after kettle of Broad-winged Hawks! It was incredible; we estimated at least a thousand birds! Try as we might, we couldn’t pull out any kites in with them this time (although a few Turkey Vultures and Laughing Gulls joined the dance); we even pointed them out to the National Guard guy at his post, who had never seen anything like that! Coming back after our rest on the bike path bench we did spot a couple of Painted Buntings in the grass, along with an Indigo Bunting and a singing Lark Sparrow, but no exotic little beastie showed itself. Cedar Waxwings in the trees were fun, a couple of Couch’s Kingbirds called from the refuge land south of the wall, and in the midst of all this a late Pine Siskin cheered overhead!
Next was Anzalduas, where we added Harris’ Hawk and Eastern Meadowlark on the way there. On the way in an Osprey was ripping apart a fish, and Jackie saw more Broadies while I was filming the Osprey. We headed up on the levee, and while the gate was open, the Constable was turning people away due to “activity” in the area (I warned Jackie that they sometimes do that), but since she wanted to take a picture of the river he gave us the okay to go ahead and park at the other end of the levee (the overlook area where I always used to stop for five anyway before the “No Trespassing” signs went up) and get our pictures. While Jackie shot, I scanned, and we added Pied-billed Grebe, Coots, and Great, Snowy, and Cattle Egrets to the list from up there (there were some things in the river that you needed a scope for, but we both agreed that pulling out the scope would be pushing the envelope…)!
Osprey chowing down on a fish
Since Fulvous Whistling Duck was on her want list, we headed straight up Shary Road to Bannworth Park in hopes that the Fulvous that had been hanging around all winter was still there. The bird numbers had thinned considerably: still lots of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (and domestics), but not nearly as many as on previous visits. Just two Black-necked Stilts graced the lake, and Jackie got a big kick out of the turtles, especially this Soft-shelled Turtle that was making tracks across the lawn and into the water! The Fulvous appeared to be gone, but better than that was a pair of Brewer’s Blackbirds in the parking lot!
From there we decided to check the feeders at the National Butterfly Center, picking up a nice male Harrier and Red-tailed Hawk along Military Highway on the way. Once there we got our bands and headed down to the south gardens. The Chachalacas were chasing each other around like nobody’s business, and a Long-billed Thrasher came in to drink, but since it wasn’t quite time for the afternoon feeding, things were quiet, so we decided to check the Back 70 and then come back after the food had been put out. Best bird back there was a hen Turkey in the grassy wetland!
Back to the garden we went, poking along until 1:30 when the guy was gonna put out the vittles. A pair of Curve-billed Thrashers claimed the pavilion, and we heard a Brown-crested Flycatcher that just would not let us find him! We did spot another Altamira Oriole, and their signature butterfly, the Mexican Bluewing, made a quick pass as well (was glad to see them come back after the freeze)! Back at the feeding station, besides the tons of blackbirds and grackles and continuing Chachalacas, we also enjoyed Green Jays, Cardinals, a Golden-fronted Woodpecker, White-tipped Doves, and a Clay-colored Sparrow hanging with a Lincoln’s! Alas, the Clay-colored Thrush never came in before we had to leave, but as Jackie agreed, it was just another excuse to come back! We added a Caracara just before pulling out of the center’s drive, and heading back on Military Highway, what should be soaring over the road but an adult White-tailed Hawk! That was another one on the “wish list”, and we got it at the 11th hour! (The Cooper’s Hawk over the levee was anticlimactic…)
We ended up with a modest 60 species for the day, but had some wonderful experiences! Bird list:
Northern Rough-winged Swallow