Saturday, April 17, 2021

Excitement on the Border

4/12/21 

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!

 
The channel at Old Hidalgo Pumphouse

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Painted Bunting

Kiskadee on a Norfolk Pine that was killed by the Big Freeze

Turkey Vulture

A tiny part of the monster kettles!

Close ups of the Broad-winged Hawks


Altamira Oriole

Cedar Waxwings

Tropical Kingbird

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 

The Rio Grande

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!

Bannworth Park

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Red-eared Sliders

Soft-shelled Turtle on the move...

Male Brewer's Blackbird

Female 

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!  

Feeder area at the National Butterfly Center

Chachalaca on the lookout for rivals...

Hen Turkey in the Back 70

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…)

Clay-colored Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Green Jay caught in a wing-flip...

Cardinal

Golden-fronted Woodpecker 

We ended up with a modest 60 species for the day, but had some wonderful experiences!  Bird list:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Plain Chachalaca

Wild Turkey

Pied-billed Grebe

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

White-tipped Dove

White-winged Dove

Mourning Dove

American Coot

Black-necked Stilt

Laughing Gull

Neotropic Cormorant

Great Egret

Snowy Egret

Cattle Egret

Turkey Vulture

Osprey

Northern Harrier

Harris's Hawk

White-tailed Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Crested Caracara

Monk Parakeet

Brown-crested Flycatcher

Great Kiskadee

Tropical Kingbird

Couch's Kingbird

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

White-eyed Vireo

Green Jay

Black-crested Titmouse

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Barn Swallow

Cliff Swallow

House Wren

European Starling

Curve-billed Thrasher

Long-billed Thrasher

Northern Mockingbird

Cedar Waxwing

House Sparrow

Pine Siskin

Olive Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Eastern Meadowlark

Altamira Oriole

Red-winged Blackbird

Bronzed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brewer's Blackbird

Great-tailed Grackle

Northern Cardinal

Indigo Bunting

Painted Bunting

Thursday, April 15, 2021

An Unexpected Migrant

4/10/21 

Met Jackie, an enthusiastic gal from Denton, Texas, outside the Garden Suites and decided I would drive her rental (seeing as I’m such a control freak when it comes to driving down here)!  We had been going back and forth for a while regarding an itinerary, as she had a very organized wish list, but spring migration being what it is, we wanted to be flexible (although Valley specialties were a priority)!  I had suggested La Sal del Rey as she had a few birds on her list (like White-tailed Hawk and Common Ground Dove, along with some specialties) that could be found there, so we headed up there first, but not before starting the morning with our nesting Curve-billed Thrashers right there at the suites!

We picked up several Caracaras on the way up, and once we turned onto North Brushline, we hadn’t gotten far before spotting a Golden-fronted Woodpecker in a tree, a Pyrrhuloxia on a wire, and hearing Cassin’s Sparrows singing and Turkeys gobbling in the distance!  We pulled over about a mile down and got out, trying to pull out Verdins and a singing Long-billed Thrasher, but they were stubborn.  However, a much-wanted Olive Sparrow was singing close by, so we tried a little coaxing, but with apparently no response.  We were getting ready to get back in the car when I heard the thing quietly “talking” near the fence, and there he was!  Jackie got a great look, and commented that he was so much more pretty in person than in the book! J

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Jackie enjoys her life Olive Sparrow!

Other “wanted” birds called way in the distance (like Brown-crested Flycatcher and Green Jay), but about that time the cold front rolled in, and she wondered aloud if it might be more productive to go somewhere where we might get some migrants.  So we turned around and headed down to Frontera Audubon, picking up Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and a Swainson’s Hawk on SR 186.  We made a brief stop at Delta Lake, where it looked pretty empty to start (the water was high), but added both flavors of vultures, Blue-winged Teal, Mottled Duck, Coots, Laughing Gulls, and a swarm of Cave Swallows overhead!  The other bank had a Great Egret and a young Black-crowned Night Heron flying around.  A Black-necked Stilt flew over the road while crawling through Elsa…

Checking out the west side of Delta Lake

Black Vultures

Frontera can be a good migrant trap if conditions are right, but that north wind hadn’t arrived by the time we got there, and it became hot and sunny!  Plus the resacas were either low or dry altogether (except for Payne Pond), so no kingfishers were to be had… L  But Jackie was delighted as another of her “most wanted birds”, a Chachalaca, posed on the trail!  It wasn’t long before they started chorusing, but try as we might, we just couldn’t spot a pair out in the open!  Despite the low water level, we took a quick look at the pond deck, and the highlight there was a “Turkey Vulture” that morphed into a Zone-tailed Hawk!  Jackie was amazed as she admitted she wouldn’t have given it a second glance as it acted just like a TV, but the hawk’s head gave it away (and being an immature, he didn’t have the banded tail which would have been the other clincher)!

 

Exploring the trails at Frontera Audubon Thicket

From there we just slowly checked the trails:  one side trail had a little action where Jackie flushed her first Pauraque!  A Long-billed Thrasher also gave her a good look, and a White-eyed Vireo deigned to let us see him.  A peek into Payne Pond produced some Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, but that was about it.  Near the Sabal Palm grove Jackie got a good look at a White-tipped Dove, and a male Common Yellowthroat gave great looks.  We ended up making a wrong turn and ended up at the feeding stations; that was perfectly fine as Jackie got a big kick out of the Chachalacas clamoring all over one of the feeders trying to get some seed!  We sat for a bit and only saw a White-winged Dove and a Cardinal (same at the other station), so continued on the trail, where Jackie spotted one of the Chimney Swifts I had been hearing earlier – she was very excited about that!

 

White-winged Dove

Chachalaca trying to figure out the feeder

We decided to swing around on the trail that I missed the first time, where we heard a Clay-colored Thrush give all his vocalizations, but just didn’t wanna play ball…  At the dry water drip a family of Chachalacas nonetheless stood sentry, and we got some cute titmice to come in close!  Going down the Dead End Trail bagged us brief looks at a Buff-bellied Hummingbird, but the highlight was yet another nightjar that we flushed back on the main trail; I assumed Chuck-will’s-widow (as that’s usually what I kick up in here), but Jackie saw it land and we were both able to get on it (and I was able to photograph it):  the light wasn’t the greatest as it had dappled sunshine on parts of it (particularly the crown which apparently is one of the deciding ID factors), but the overall grayish coloration, the thin white border around the dark throat, and mottled breast made me think Whippoorwill (and the bird also showed buffy corners to the tail when it flew, but females of both Whips and Chucks can show that).  Looking at the pictures on the computer later, the crown appeared to have a darker area in the center of the crown (which is good for Whip), so I felt better about the ID!

Eastern Whippoorwill

"Yep - that's it!"

It was time to head home after that, but we spent an extra five minutes at the water feature, adding a Blue-headed Vireo by doing that!  Even back in the parking lot we got distracted trying to find an uncooperative Hooded Oriole, but a very friendly Carolina Wren popped in briefly!  On the way home a “conference call” with my friend Pat resulted in the planning of an afternoon trip to Estero Llano Grande for her and Jackie (the Yellow-faced Grassquit showed up again), and after dropping Jackie off at the suites, a pair of Green Parakeets went screeching over – another unexpected life bird!

We ended up with a modest 57 species for the morning.  Bird list:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Blue-winged Teal

Mottled Duck

Plain Chachalaca

Wild Turkey

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Inca Dove

White-tipped Dove

White-winged Dove

Mourning Dove

Common Pauraque

Eastern Whip-poor-will

Chimney Swift

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

American Coot

Black-necked Stilt

Laughing Gull

Great Egret

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Swainson's Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk

Green Parakeet

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Crested Caracara

Brown-crested Flycatcher

Great Kiskadee

Couch's Kingbird

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

White-eyed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo

Green Jay

Black-crested Titmouse

Verdin

Cliff Swallow

Cave Swallow

House Wren

Carolina Wren

European Starling

Curve-billed Thrasher

Long-billed Thrasher

Northern Mockingbird

Clay-colored Thrush

House Sparrow

Cassin's Sparrow

Olive Sparrow

Hooded Oriole

Red-winged Blackbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

Great-tailed Grackle

Orange-crowned Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

Northern Cardinal

Pyrrhuloxia

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

More Birders Than Birds

4/8/21 

The girls were debating right up to the last moment whether to go to South Padre by way of the toll road (fastest route) or SR 100 to check the Aplomado viewing area (life bird for Peggy)!  Peggy won J so we headed out that way under foggy conditions.  We made a brief pit stop at the Stripes in Los Fresnos, and since we had driven separately because I only had a half day to give them and it behooved them to stay longer if they wanted, I led the way but actually beat them to the parking area by several minutes!  My heart sank when I saw the platform was unoccupied, but as I started scanning I heard “falcon noise” behind me, and there he was, up on the cell tower!  The girls rolled in about then, so I used frantic but subtle hand signals to hurry up and park because the bird was right there!  Peggy jumped out of the car and got her life look before it flew (I was commenting on our timing – a few minutes later and we might have missed it), but before long Terry spotted him winging his way back in for more great looks (just before the fog rolled in and obscured his view)!  While we enjoyed him we logged singing Eastern Meadowlarks and Olive Sparrows for the day.

"Proof shots" of the Aplomado Falcon

From there we headed straight to Sheepshead (after another pit stop) where the fog had lifted and it was nice and sunny, but pretty dead; even so, there’s always something during spring migration, even if most of the stuff is being blown over, and here the highlight was a female oriole that a gentleman from Wisconsin and I were debating (I called it an Orchard because it looked small and olive to me, whereas he was calling it a Hooded)!   I finally took some pictures and we scrutinized the bases of the secondaries, which did indeed indicate Hooded!  I admitted my error to the guy and we had a good laugh about it, but boy, those female orioles are tough!  A pretty Yellow-throated Warbler briefly came in to an orange, and a pair of Kiskadees fussed with each other on the “dark side”, but that was about it.

Female Hooded Oriole

Note that the bases of the secondaries are gray right up to the borders of the coverts; an Orchard Oriole would show dark bases.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Checking out the "Dark Side"

 

Great Kiskadee

Over at the Convention Centre, the old saying that there were more birders than birds came into play:  a Savannah Sparrow hopped up on the curb in the circular area, and there were a few Butterbutts in the “back yard”, but all the bird life was out on the Flats with tons of shorebirds and larids!  (We were all lazy and hadn’t brought the scopes, thinking there wouldn’t be much out there – ha…)  Peggy went back for their scope and I for mine, hearing a Sedge Wren singing in the grassy area next to the boardwalk on the way!  Back at the Flats, highlights included both Semipalmated and Piping Plovers, Marbled Godwits, and Dunlin coming into breeding dress.  Hemmed and hawed on some distant shorebirds that I finally decided were Stilt Sandpipers, but we definitely had some dowitchers, some even coming into breeding plumage!  Other goodies included a Black-bellied Plover, some Western Sandpipers, and the bigger Sanderling.  The Least Terns were back, and I was able to point out the vocal differences in Royal and Sandwich Terns.  The skimmer gang was way out there, along with several vehicles that were inadvertently moving the birds around L…  Some Blue-winged Teal were in the ponds near the boardwalk, along with a couple of Yellow-crowned Night Herons, and a Brown Pelican flying at us head on fooled Terry into thinking it was a raptor!  On the way back a young male Orchard Oriole came into the Bottlebrush tree, a beat-up Orange-crowned Warbler bopped around in another tree, and a brilliant Indigo Bunting added some much appreciated color! 

 

Indigo Bunting

Dunlin

Out on the boardwalk we managed to add a spoonbill to the list (“East Pond”, as always, was right in the sun from our angle), and ran into birding buddy Tamie and Father Tom on the “mangrove” portion of the boardwalk!  Was still awfully quiet:  they had had a Hooded Warbler, and while we missed that, we did manage to pin down both Warbling and White-eyed Vireos!  Peggy spotted an “in-between” yellowlegs as we looked through a small window in the mangroves (where the bill didn’t look quite right for either species), but thankfully we logged both during the course of the morning!  Out on the pier we had a small pod of Pied-billed Grebes, and a gray-and-white thing out in the water got me excited about a possible loon, only a scope view revealed a red bill, making it a female Red-breasted Merganser…  A White Ibis fed along the edge of the mangroves, and on the way back another couple pointed out a Prothonotary Warbler that Terry was able to photograph (hopefully)!  A Marsh Wren was rickety-racking from the marsh, and a Little Blue Heron said hello on the railing.  A final vigil at the water feature produced a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but that was it (some other folks had spotted an Ovenbird way back in the shadows).

 The girls actually beat me to the Birding and Nature Center; when I walked up to the entrance table the only one behind it was Big Mac the Muscovy!  (Didn’t think he’d be very efficient at collecting the money! J)  Found the girls at the deck overlooking Songbird Alley and chatting with birding buddy Betty, who was working as a greeter!  Things were slow as far as migrants went, but there’s always something to be seen there:  A Spotted Sandpiper was getting his spots, a Green Heron was on the nest, and a Tricolored Heron was dancing for his dinner!  Sometimes the little dead end heading towards the tortoise area hides migrants, so we checked it out, but instead were blown away by at least 25 Alligators sprawled out in the enclosure below us!! 

"Big Mac" guards the door...

Mob of Alligators

Spotted Sandpiper

Tricolored Heron

More Marbled Godwits were out on the flats, and as we approached the boardwalk that heads out over the bay, Terry swore she saw a Green Kingfisher, which of course disappeared the minute she mentioned it!  I did hear some distinctive ticking, but since Greens are so rare on the Island, I texted Javi (the resident naturalist who leads regular bird walks) to find out if any had been reported lately, and he immediately texted back and said “Yes!”  And right where we had him, too!  The presumed Northern Waterthrush pinked from the area he had been all winter, and a couple of sunlit Common Gallinules were in an inlet in the mangroves.  We were searching for a reported Prothonotary Warbler in the area, and the girls found him, deep in the vegetation!

On the boardwalk

Common Gallinule

I had to leave about then, so kissed the girls goodbye and headed out by way of SR 48, picking up Chihuahuan Raven on the way home.  Personally, the list stood at 70 species, but the girls could have picked up a few more! J  Bird list:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Blue-winged Teal

Mottled Duck

Red-breasted Merganser

Pied-billed Grebe

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Mourning Dove

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Common Gallinule

American Coot

Black-necked Stilt

Black-bellied Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Piping Plover

Marbled Godwit

Stilt Sandpiper

Sanderling

Dunlin

Western Sandpiper

Short-billed Dowitcher

Spotted Sandpiper

Greater Yellowlegs

Willet

Lesser Yellowlegs

Laughing Gull

Least Tern

Caspian Tern

Royal Tern

Sandwich Tern

Black Skimmer

Neotropic Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Brown Pelican

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

Little Blue Heron

Tricolored Heron

Green Heron

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

White Ibis

Roseate Spoonbill

Osprey

Green Kingfisher

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Aplomado Falcon

Great Kiskadee

White-eyed Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Chihuahuan Raven

Purple Martin

Barn Swallow

Sedge Wren

Marsh Wren

European Starling

Northern Mockingbird

Olive Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Eastern Meadowlark

Orchard Oriole

Hooded Oriole

Red-winged Blackbird

Great-tailed Grackle

Northern Waterthrush

Prothonotary Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

Indigo Bunting