Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Road-Birding Around La Sal


            After analyzing the weather report and what birds were left on their “need list” (taking into consideration what was reasonable as well), we decided to head up to the La Sal del Rey area for Joe and Mary’s last day.  Again, it started off foggy, and as we wheeled onto Nittler Road from FM 493, the Avocets feeding in the little wetland were ghostly!  Continuing north, we headed west on FM 490 to Brushline Road, where we crawled northward, stopping for suspicious chirps and scouring any wetlands we encountered.  The sun actually came out while we were on this road, and even a local landowner stopped by to see what we were up to! J  (At that particular spot we were enjoying a pair of distant Red-tailed Hawks…)  The wetlands held the usual ducks and waders, but one of them had some coveted American Wigeon feeding in the field!  Both Harris’ Hawks and Crested Caracaras gave great photo ops, and even a couple of Kestrels uncharacteristically stuck around!  I was surprised we had no Horned Larks in the plowed fields (except a brief flyover), but Joe and Mary got great looks at Lark, Savannah, and Vesper Sparrows at various stops!  The little reedy wetland that had a Swamp Sparrow when I brought Brad this way last year still had the (uncooperative) Swamp Sparrow, and the “Purple Gallinule Wetland” had an Eared Grebe (along with a bunch of other waterfowl)!  A Peregrine flew over at one stop, and at the intersection with SR 186 a beautiful flock of Sandhill Cranes showed off for us!

American Avocets in the fog

Scanning the wetlands

Kestrel checks us out

Harris' Hawk

Sandhill Cranes


            Crossing over, Joe noticed a “clump” by the side of the road about a half mile up, and they couldn’t believe it – it was another Roadrunner!  This one transformed himself into a typical Roadrunner shape as we approached, and Joe was able to get some more pictures!  Two more White-eyed Vireos sang right by the road but would not come out, no matter how much we coaxed them! A little further, another “most wanted” bird, a White-tailed Hawk (albeit a youngster) was circling with a few Turkey Vultures, and at that boggy area that had the road closed for awhile, a nice Vermilion Flycatcher flopped around!  At the intersection with Chapa Road we stopped to see if we could pish out any Cactus Wrens, but as Providence would have it, four potentials lifers all decided to show up at that point:  the White-eyed Vireo finally came out into the open, as did a Verdin (!!!), and behind us both the Cactus and Bewick’s Wrens enticingly called, but we couldn’t get the latter two to show themselves… 
Greater Roadrunner

Curve-billed Thrasher
Continuing on Brushline we were thrilled to have an adult White-tailed Hawk hanging in the wind while a Caracara tried to chase him, doing loop-de-loops in the process!  Yet another Roadrunner posed, and somewhere along the route my own personal wish came true, and a Say’s Phoebe (rather rare in the Valley but reported in the area recently) posed on the wire!  At the farm pond near the end of the road we had Roseate Spoonbills and another pair of Wigeon in addition to the regulars.  I headed down to the gate to turn around and hit gold:  in amongst a flock of Savannah Sparrows that popped up on the fence were two beautiful Grasshopper Sparrows!  High fives!

Grasshopper Sparrow
Say's Phoebe, normally pretty scarce in the Valley, but this seems to be a boon winter for them!

            We scooted down to Ken Baker (aka GI Road to us old timers J) and continued our crawling, and as we approached Rio Beef Feedyard there wasn’t a blackbird in sight.  I had heard from others that if you ask at the office, they may give you permission to bird the feedlots, so we headed in (picking up yet another Say’s Phoebe in the field), got the coveted permission (just stay in the car, they said), and had crippling views of the needed Brewer’s Blackbirds, along with every redwing, cowbird, and grackle in the area J, but try as we might, we couldn’t pick out a Yellow-headed.  (Joe and Mary got a kick out of the icterids sharing the feeding troughs with the cattle… J)  A flock of Snow Geese fed in a protected area behind the lots, and while they were too far away to pick out any Ross’, a couple of blue morphs were easy to pick out.  Joe was able to pick out a couple of Western Sandpipers next to some Leasts in a nearby wet spot, and a big flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks wheeling into the feeding area was fun!
A very buffy-looking Mourning Dove!

            Continuing on, I hit the brakes for an odd-looking sparrow, and after pishing, a beautiful Black-throated Sparrow popped up!  Mary got a great look, but unfortunately Joe didn’t get on it until it flew… L  I was very bummed, but Joe seemed to take it all in stride…  But unbelievably after that we kicked up yet another Say’s Phoebe!  I couldn’t believe it!
Yet another Say's Phoebe ready to book...
Didn’t pick up much else, so headed on down to Delta Lake to check for shorebirds.  Unfortunately I didn’t realize that the angle of the sun would be horrible, but we were able to at least add their Long-billed Dowitchers, plus Laughing Gull and Caspian Tern to the day list.  A swing around the park proper bagged a nice male Belted Kingfisher and a pretty pair of Redheads (ducks, not people J), but not the hoped-for Green Heron.
            Called it a day after that, with 96 species logged, and I believe Joe and Mary had well over 30 lifers!  Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Snow Goose                           
  American Wigeon                      
  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Northern Pintail                     
  Green-winged Teal                    
  Ring-necked Duck                     
  Lesser Scaup                         
  Ruddy Duck                           
  Eared Grebe
  Least Grebe                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  American White Pelican               
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                           
  Cattle Egret                         
  White-faced Ibis                     
  Roseate Spoonbill                    
  Black Vulture                        
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Northern Harrier                     
  Harris's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Red-shouldered Hawk                  
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  Common Gallinule                     
  American Coot                        
  Sandhill Crane                       
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  American Avocet                      
  Spotted Sandpiper                     
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Western Sandpiper                    
  Long-billed Dowitcher                
  Wilson's Snipe                       
  Laughing Gull                        
  Caspian Tern                         
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  Mourning Dove                        
  Greater Roadrunner                   
  Belted Kingfisher                    
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Peregrine Falcon                     
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Say's Phoebe                         
  Vermilion Flycatcher                 
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Green Jay                            
  Horned Lark                          
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  House Wren                           
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Cactus Wren                           
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                     
  American Pipit                       
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Vesper Sparrow                       
  Lark Sparrow                         
  Black-throated Sparrow               
  Savannah Sparrow                     
  Grasshopper Sparrow                  
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Swamp Sparrow                        
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Western Meadowlark                   
  Brewer's Blackbird                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Brown-headed Cowbird                  
  American Goldfinch                   
  House Sparrow                        


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