Kay was a return visitor who was initially interested in bagging some of these crazy winter vagrants we’d been having, but due to many factors had to change her reservation to spring migration time (boo hoo, right? J), and she actually timed it pretty well! For one thing, the Tamaulipas Crows hadn’t shown up when her original trip was scheduled, so this was one lifer that seemed pretty reliable, so off to the Brownsville Dump we went!
She opted to drive in her Subaru Outback, so having just been there I knew exactly where to direct her. But before we even got to the hill a flock of Baird’s Sandpipers was feeding right next to the road, which also turned out to be a lifer! Barn Swallows were swarming all above the compost, and once up on the hill where the fences were (I guess they’re technically “barricades” according to the dump personnel), we turned around and just waited! In the meantime we were treated to a long line of pink Franklin’s Gulls sitting with the Laughings, and one Black Vulture next to us that didn’t seem to want to hang with the Turkey Vultures! We were starting to sweat a little when suddenly, there they were, wafting in and landing on the fences! There were actually two pairs, and two of the birds called nicely so we could hear their frog-like croak! But before long they were off again and over the hill, and we were in awe of how perfect the timing was! On the way down we refound the Baird’s Sandpipers and were able to get a little closer, and found a Semipalmated Sandpiper in with them!
Fences at the Brownsville Dump where the crows liked to hang out
From there we headed up SR48 towards the Island, adding Harris’ Hawks and a Chihuahuan Raven on the fly (interestingly there were none at the Dump). We went straight to The Flats, as Kay needed some Cameron County shorebirds, and she braved the puddles in order to get us close to Dunlin, Dowitchers, Willets, Sanderlings, and even Piping and Semipalmated Plovers (along with a few Black-bellied)! The larids were further out, and some “scope photography” (snapping a picture with the Powershot and zooming in closer than any scope could get you) revealed some Common Terns in with the regulars. Kay relished the Sandwich Terns flying in front of us, and several Least Terns posed on the sandbar.
Larid flock with Skimmers and Royal and Common Terns
Black Skimmers sailing in
From there we went to the Convention Centre, and thankfully there were still some migrants around, even with the southernly winds: the Pectoral Sandpiper was still on the grass (just another sod farm J), and plenty of Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, the odd Summer Tanager, and tons of Catbirds and Tennessee Warblers represented the songbirds! A Gray-cheeked Thrush was in the circular area along with a couple of Wood Thrushes (Kay Lifer) and a Northern Waterthrush, and while lots of Barn Swallows swooped around, we found one that was grounded; I tried to rescue it in order to take it to Peggy’s Hospital up at the building, but my attempt failed and he thankfully was strong enough to fly into a tree… A Golden-winged Warbler had been reported in the area, but it eluded us…
After that we poked around the main Convention Centre area: lots of Indigo Buntings were still in evidence along with a few Painteds (couldn’t find the reported Lazuli/Indigo hybrid), and the “back yard” still had a male American Redstart flopping around on the grass, and lots of Savannah and Lincoln’s Sparrows, along with a couple of Clay-colored. A quick look at the Back Flats added the white morph Reddish Egret, a young Double-crested Cormorant that has us guessing, Redhead and Blue-winged Teal for the duck list, Marbled Godwit for the shorebird lineup, and Kay spotted an Eastern Kingbird across the way. We heard a Sedge Wren singing, which would have been another lifer, but getting them to come up is nearly impossible without playback (which is a no-no there); I recommended Attwater PC NWR where they sit on the fences in the winter! On the way back the lost Junco showed up, an Eastern Wood Pewee fly-caught from his perch, and a Black-and-white Warbler worked one of the trees.
We then checked out the boardwalk as the Purple Gallinule and Least Bittern would be county birds; we found the bittern pair without too much trouble, but San Diego Jack reported that he couldn’t find the gallinule (and neither could we), but we had a nice Sora, Little Blue Heron, and both yellowlegs as consolation prizes. Kay spotted a young Yellow Warbler in a small tree at the intersection, after which we spent a few minutes at the Magic Mesquite up the other boardwalk; the only thing that showed up was a Western Kingbird and a Chat, so we headed on to the Birding Center, seeing as a MacGillivray’s Warbler had been reported.
So we wheeled in and checked the parking lot; no Mac (except “Big Mac” the Muscovy J), but the “orange tree” was dripping with Tennessee Warblers, orioles, and tanagers! Birding Buddy Betty came over and joined us, and before long a stunning male Blackpoll Warbler (Kay Lifer) came in to indulge! On the other side of the drive a pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were hogging the seed feeder, and the male Cape May Warbler (Kay Lifer) had abandoned the Convention Centre (probably heard that it was gonna be closed due to a big truck show and decided to find another audience) and was enjoying another “orange tree” along with a Swainson’s Thrush (found out from a post by Javi later that the trees were Sea Grapes that were killed by the Big Freeze)! The “dirty” immature White Ibises had also migrated over from the Convention Centre, and rumor had it that’s also what happened to the Purple Gallinule, as Betty reported one out on their boardwalk! After a while Betty encouraged us to go sit on the deck for a while (admission was lowered due to Earth Day), and that turned out to be very productive, with two Wood Thrushes, both Hooded and Kentucky Warblers (the latter another lifer for Kay), and a Solitary Sandpiper of all things hogging the drip! (Betty had been missing him all morning, and the minute she left, he showed up again – and she came running when we called her! J)
We decided to give Sheepshead a try, where the “Sunny Side” drip was quite active with orioles, Catbirds, Tennessee Warblers, and even a Chat! Yellow-headed Blackbirds were on the “Dark Side” (this was also where all the cowbirds went), and Kay spotted a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker fly off (right after another lady was asking us what kind of woodpecker had a black bib), but it was quieting down, so we decided to head home via SR 100 and try for the Aplomado Falcon, another potential lifer for Kay. I had been told that a pair had started nesting on the power pole where some cactus was growing out of an old nest, but we saw nothing there except a distant pair of White-tailed Hawks and a Caracara on the ground across the highway, so we turned around and headed over to the official viewing area. We hit pay dirt when we found a bird sitting on the platform north of the cell tower! While closing out the eBird list I heard a Bobwhite in the distance (along with an Eastern Meadowlark that was chattering and singing the whole time), and just as we were pulling out, there was another Aplomado (or maybe even the same bird) sitting on a pole directly in front of us! What a look!
Headed home after that with 98 species for the day and seven lifers for Kay! Bird list:
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Cape May Warbler