Saturday, July 30, 2016

Laguna Seca Road


One of the most fun ways to bird when it's hot is from the car!  I've been exploring a new road-birding route that basically follows Laguna Seca Road in northwestern Hidalgo County but also includes some nearby "dead end" roads.  From FM 490, Laguna Seca runs north, but also has an east-west paved portion that ends at US 281.  Along this initial northbound section I almost always get a "Fuertes'" Red-tailed Hawk any time of year, so I'm assuming he's resident! 

The habitat along the whole route is mainly mesquite savannah with patches of thornscrub woodland and farmland.  After checking the paved Laguna Seca, I continue north as the road zigzags and eventually joins FM 3250.  Then there are two east-west roads running off 3250 that I check (Miller and Floral respectively), and finish by going north on CR 4557 off Floral (which in real life I think is called Lazy Palms, after the RV park up the road).  This road dumps out on FM 1017, and that's where I end the route.

Today probably the best bird was a singing Audubon's Oriole; I'm told they disperse into this area, and on road trips into the brush country northwest of here I do run into them regularly.  Three hen Turkeys on Miller Road were a treat as well.  Just for kicks and grins I checked out another side road that ended at a ranch and had a family of Anis, plus the route's only Couch's Kingbirds.  Other birds typical of this habitat included Bullock's Orioles (Orchards were migrating through), Painted Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, lots of Bobwhites, a few Cactus Wrens, good numbers of both Pyrrhuloxias and Cardinals, a couple of Roadrunners, and a nice selection of raptors including Harris' and White-tailed Hawks, plus several caracaras.  Upland Sandpipers were flying over as well; always fun to hear their didilly-do!

Groove-billed Ani

Beat-up male Cardinal

His mate... 

Cactus Wren
Rat Snake (I think - feedback welcome)

Crested Caracara
Hidalgo Co.--Laguna Seca rd., Hidalgo, Texas, US Jul 30, 2016 6:46 AM - 10:50 AM
Protocol: Traveling
25.0 mile(s)
Comments:     79 - 91 degrees; mostly sunny to mix of sun and clouds; calm to slight breeze
49 species
Northern Bobwhite  42
Wild Turkey  3     Three hens; unmistakable large, dark-bodied birds with pale, naked heads, poking through mesquite woodland.  Expected in this area.
Black Vulture  3
Turkey Vulture  17
Harris's Hawk  3
White-tailed Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1     Fuertes' subspecies; seems to always be here!
Upland Sandpiper  5
Eurasian Collared-Dove  6
Inca Dove  3
White-winged Dove  19
Mourning Dove  50
Greater Roadrunner  2
Groove-billed Ani  8
Common Nighthawk  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  18
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  7
Crested Caracara  7
Brown-crested Flycatcher  3
Great Kiskadee  15
Couch's Kingbird  2
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher  20
Loggerhead Shrike  3
White-eyed Vireo  6
Green Jay  3
Purple Martin  6
Black-crested Titmouse  4
Verdin  17
Bewick's Wren  17
Cactus Wren  3
Curve-billed Thrasher  8
Northern Mockingbird  31
European Starling  7
Cassin's Sparrow  1
Olive Sparrow  6
Lark Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  35
Pyrrhuloxia  32
Blue Grosbeak  5
Painted Bunting  1
Dickcissel  5
Eastern Meadowlark  4
Great-tailed Grackle  10
Brown-headed Cowbird  3
Orchard Oriole  4
Bullock's Oriole  6
Audubon's Oriole  1     Slow, sad song (unfortunately not for the recorder); has occurred in this area before.
Lesser Goldfinch  4
House Sparrow  30

49 species

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Birder Patrol Shorebird Hunt


It was about this time last year when the Collared Plover showed up at Hargill Playa for the second year in a row, so we decided to run this month's Birder Patrol trip to check the playa, plus other fast-drying wetlands for shorebirds.  We rolled in from various parts of the Valley around 7:00, ending up with four vehicles altogether, and viewed the playa from the north side.  There was a good selection birds there; although we couldn't find a Wilson's Plover (a normally coastal bird that has taken up residence here), we did find several Snowy Plovers, along with Least and Stilt Sandpipers, both yellowlegs, dowitchers, tons of Laughing Gulls and Black-necked Stilts, and four tern species which included Black, Least, Caspian, and Gull-billed.  Both Roseate Spoonbills and White Ibis kept flying over in lines, and songbirds included nice looks at Dickcissels.  A big surprise was three Chimney Swifts overhead, only because I usually get these in the city!  An amusing sight was a Green Heron on the telephone wire!

The Harlingen contingent of the Birder Patrol arrives at the Hargill Playa (note the mist in the background)!

Paula and Alicia lead the pack!

Mexican Fruit Fly on my car window

Looking for goodies over the playa

From there we headed up to the ponds along CR20; even though out in the boonies, I had advised everyone to park beyond the ponds as the road where the ponds actually are is rather skinny, and cars do go through there (in fact, we had at least four go by while we were there)!  A Glossy Ibis had been reported here, and there were indeed several Plegadis type ibis, but none that we could definitively call a Glossy (although we did find a White-faced with a very pink face).  The oversummering female Pintail was still there, along with a couple of Ruddy Ducks and just tons of Wilson's Phalaropes, Avocets, and Least Sandpipers, along with a few odd herons.  Probably the best bird was a female Vermilion Flycatcher that was flopping around.  On the way out a nice White-tailed Hawk showed off for us.

Checking out the birdies at CR20

From there we tootled over to the 1015 Pond, which was totally and absolutely dry, so then we headed on to Sugarhouse Pond, which we heard was drying up fast, and indeed it was, but there were still good numbers of birds WAAAY out there; Long-billed Curlews and Coots were new for the day, but otherwise it was just more Avocets, phalaropes, stilts, and gulls pretty much.

It was still pretty early, so Pat suggested we try and see if we could access Valley Acres Reservoir, as this was a tremendous spot we covered during the Weslaco CBC.  It's imperative that you ask permission, however, and while we waited Pat went into the hangar to do just that and instantly made friends with Tiger, their Pit Bull "guard dog"!  Javier, the guy on duty, gave us his blessing (and a bunch of cards in case anyone wanted to make arrangements to come back at another time, as there is good habitat all around the lake), and this is truly where we hit the jackpot:  not only was the reservoir full of water, but it was full of birds as well!  The island of trees across the way was loaded with Wood Storks, and down below (where we had the young Brown Pelican during the CBC) were several White Pelicans, but what tickled most everyone were the hundreds of Fulvous Whistling Ducks packed along both sides of the island like a platoon of little soldiers, so much so that we thought it was a spit of land at first!  Families of Black-bellied were around as well, of course, but there was also a mob of Least Sandpipers on shore, amongst which we were able to pick out at least one Semipalmated and one Western!

Black-bellied Whistling Duck family

L-R:  Pat, Tiger the Killer Guard Dog, Virginia, Paula, and Alicia 

Wood Storks are hanging out in the tops of the trees and spreading their wings at the bottom, but look carefully for just a small portion of the Fulvous Whistling Duck mob! 

Linda, Sue (in the back) and Pat checking out the mob
 We called it a day after that with 67 species for the morning!  Bird list:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Fulvous Whistling-Duck               
  Mottled Duck                         
  Northern Pintail                     
  Ruddy Duck                           
  Northern Bobwhite                     
  Wood Stork                           
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  American White Pelican               
  Great Blue Heron                      
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Little Blue Heron                    
  Tricolored Heron                     
  Cattle Egret                         
  Green Heron                          
  Black-crowned Night-Heron            
  White Ibis                           
  White-faced Ibis                      
  Roseate Spoonbill                    
  Turkey Vulture                       
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  American Coot                        
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  American Avocet                      
  Snowy Plover                         
  Spotted Sandpiper                    
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  Lesser Yellowlegs                    
  Long-billed Curlew                   
  Stilt Sandpiper                      
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Semipalmated Sandpiper               
  Western Sandpiper                     
  Long-billed Dowitcher                
  Wilson's Phalarope                   
  Laughing Gull                        
  Least Tern                           
  Gull-billed Tern                     
  Caspian Tern                         
  Black Tern                           
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  Mourning Dove                        
  Common Nighthawk                     
  Chimney Swift                        
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird             
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Crested Caracara                     
  Vermilion Flycatcher                 
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher            
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  Horned Lark                          
  Northern Rough-winged Swallow        
  Bank Swallow                          
  Barn Swallow                         
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Lark Sparrow                         
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  House Sparrow                        


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Weslaco Butterfly Count


Butterfly counts take place all over the country in July (traditionally called the 4th of July Butterfly Count), so I ended up being the sole census-taker for Estero Llano Grande SP, part of the Weslaco Circle.  My route included the parking lot, the brick walkway, the trail past the feeders and the area before the Ibis Pond boardwalk, the Tropical Zone garden (next to which some little kids were having some archery lessons), the Green Jay Trail, then back to the parking lot again before throwing in the towel around noon.  I had nothing unusual, but I was blown away by the number of Mexican Bluewings:  I ended up with 27 altogether, with bunches of them at the base of the Flycatcher Trail, on the Green Jay Trail, and next to the VC building.  Flowers are drying up, so I had a weak showing of 29 species, but my favorite (besides all the Bluewings) was the Zebra Heliconian just before the entrance to the deck!  Here are some pictures, with the species list and numbers at the end.

Rounded Metalmark

Mating Clouded Skippers

South Texas Satyr

Ceraunus Blue

American Snouts won the abundance prize...

Zebra Heliconian

Large Orange Sulphurs came in a close second...

Token ode - I think it's a young female Blue Dasher (was quite small), but feedback welcome!

Gray Hairstreak (above and below) 

Mexican Bluewing (above and below) 

Sickle-winged Skipper

Ladder-backed Woodpecker (token bird)

Clytie Ministreak (above and below) 
Species List:

Giant Swallowtail - 3
Cloudless Sulphur - 1
Large Orange Sulphur - 77
Lyside Sulphur - 1
Little Yellow - 3
Mimosa Yellow - 1
Gray Hairstreak - 4
Mallow Scrub Hairstreak - 1
Lantana Scrub Hairstreak - 1
Clytie Ministreak - 4
Cassius Blue - 6
Ceraunus Blue - 31
Reakirt's Blue - 2
Rounded Metalmark - 1
American Snout - 91
Gulf Fritillary - 1
Zebra Heliconian - 1
White Peacock - 11
Mexican Bluewing - 27!
Common Mestra - 1
South Texas Satyr - 1
Queen - 4
Soldier - 1
Sickle-winged Skipper - 1
Tropical Checkered Skipper - 3
Laviana White Skipper - 3
Clouded Skipper - 12
Whirlabout - 1
Eufala Skipper - 1

Saturday, July 9, 2016

More Butterflying at Bentsen and Beyond


            With the Erato Heliconian still hanging around (and with a buddy no less) and the possibility of a life butterfly if the Telea Hairstreak was still there, decided to revisit Bentsen and the National Butterfly Center today, and despite the gusty conditions, it was another wonderful adventure!  Ranger Karla showed me the area the Erato had been hanging out in (basically the cleared area by the dragonfly pond), but after a quick walk-through I checked the gardens by the offices where the highlight was an Altamira Oriole right over my head!  There were still tons of Snouts and Large Orange Sulphurs around (along with both a Mimosa and Little Yellow), plus several Thornbush Dashers.  A Roadrunner also was making off with something big in its beak, but went into hiding before I could get a good look!

Altamira Oriole

Female Thornbush Dasher

Making my way back towards the dragonfly pond I ran into a sunny spot that had a Mexican Bluewing sunning on a palm frond and a Banded Peacock, among other things.  Heading down to the pond I was amazed by all the Banded Peacocks as they tend to be somewhat of a rarity!  But as I was standing along the little culvert they have there, suddenly the Erato flitted by!  Couldn’t get a shot, but was glad to have seen it, at least! 

Female Tawny Emperor

Roseate Skimmer

Beat-up Snout

Banded Peacock

Female Band-winged Dragonlet

Female Large Orange Sulphur

Mexican Bluewing

After finally finding Karla to tell her it was still around, she was actually showing a young man named Ernest where the bug had been hanging out!  He had found a Spot-celled Sister at the McAllen Nature Center previously, so he was excited about finding new bugs!  I actually ran into him again as we had both circled around to get a better view of the Turk’s Caps, and he actually had the Erato in his sights as it rested in the shade!
Erato Heliconian, or "Common Postman", so called because it tends to "make the rounds" visiting the same flowers!

I then went to circle the trees by the tram stop as Dan Jones had had a Telea Hairstreak back there last week, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when a little green butter fluttered up in the ebony and landed – had it not been flying I never would have seen it!  I got a couple of shots and went running to find Ernest, and we were both thrilled to see this life butterfly, only when I examined the photos later I wasn’t convinced it wasn’t a Clench’s Greenstreak (which is still a rare bug, but not new for me – it thankfully was for Ernest, though), as Telea has a lot more “purple” on the trailing edge of the hindwing and a more zig-zaggy median line to boot.  Oh, well – someday!

Clench's Greenstreak - still a rare bug, but just not a lifer!

Last week’s “sunny spot” that was so productive still had Gulf Fritillaries, but also a pair of Red-bordered Metalmarks, along with a Sickle-winged Skipper that kept trying to bully them!  The rest of the garden still had its Celia’s Roadside Skippers, Cassius and Ceraunus Blues, and more White Peacocks than you could shake a tick at, so wrapped up there and headed over to the NBC. 

Gulf Fritillary

What might just be an elderly Thornbush Dasher

Same bug after it came closer

Female Red-bordered Metalmark

Crimson Patch

Sickle-winged Skipper dwarfs a male Red-bordered Metalmark

Love the golden eyes on this Thornbush Dasher!

Tropical Checkered Skipper

White Peacock

Turk's Cap White Skipper

There was lots of activity in the front gardens but nothing out of the ordinary:  lots of Queens, Snouts, White Peacocks, a few Brown Longtails, and lots of Clouded Skippers along with a couple of Whirlabouts and Fiery Skippers (plus a Desert Firetail in the ode department).  After finally caving and getting a membership, headed into the back gardens, which don’t get nearly as much attention from butterfliers apparently as the old gardens by the levee, but they’ve done a great job back there!  No Zilpa Longtail this time, but aside from tons of Tawny Emperors and Queens, managed to scare up a stunning Two-barred Flasher, a couple of Mexican Fritillaries, a cute little Common Mellana, both Mallow and Lantana Scrub Hairstreaks (the latter which I haven’t seen in years), Giant Swallowtails, a Great Southern White (which is usually more common on the coast), and a Soldier amongst the Queens.  Checking out their new little stream added a Kiowa Dancer to the “ode list”.

Desert Firetail

Two-barred Flasher

Tawny Emperor

Common Mellana (with a Tawny Emperor behind it)

Common Mellana

Gray Hairstreak

Pearl Crescent

Giant Swallowtail


Mexican Fritillary

Large Orange Sulphur

Kiowa Dancer

It was getting late, so after driving down to the old gardens and finding a shady spot to park, I headed straight back to the shady bird feeding area where they also but out butterfly bait in hopes of spotting the Silver Emperors that had been seen.  Had several Mexican Bluewings along with the tons of Tawny Emperors (perhaps the friendliest butterfly on the planet – I had several land on me), and on a bait log hidden along a little “horseshoe” trail there was a Band-celled Sister enjoying the brew!  Walking along the trees next to the gully only kicked up more emperors and a few Tropical Leafwings along with a Band-winged Dragonlet or two, but no crackers or rare emperors.  Checking the other bushes added a few things to the list, such as a pretty Crimson Patch.  It was noon and I was shot, so headed back to the car, but not before spooking yet another Glazed Pellicia in the bush next to the parking lot! 

Band-celled Sister

Female Band-winged Dragonlet

Glazed Pellicia
Lep list:

Giant Swallowtail
Great Southern White
Southern Dogface
Cloudless Sulphur
Large Orange Sulphur
Lyside Sulphur
Tailed Orange
Mimosa Yellow
Little Yellow
Dainty Sulphur
Gray Hairstreak
Mallow Scrub Hairstreak
Lantana Scrub Hairstreak
Dusky-blue Groundstreak
Clytie Ministreak
Clench’s Greenstreak
Cassius Blue
Ceraunus Blue
Fatal Metalmark
Red-bordered Metalmark
American Snout
Gulf Fritillary
Mexican Fritillary
Variegated Fritillary
Zebra Heliconian
Erato Heliconian
Theona Checkerspot
Bordered Patch
Crimson Patch
Phaon Crescent
Pearl Crescent
White Peacock
Banded Peacock
Common Mestra
Band-celled Sister
Mexican Bluewing
Tropical Leafwing
Tawny Emperor
Brown Longtail
Two-barred Flasher
Glazed Pellicia
Sickle-winged Skipper
White Checkered Skipper
Tropical Checkered Skipper
Laviana White Skipper
Turk’s Cap White Skipper
Clouded Skipper
Southern Skipperling
Fiery Skipper
Common Mellana
Celia’s Roadside Skipper
Eufala Skipper