Thursday, September 8, 2016

Guiding the Guide


Bird Fairs are a great way to meet new friends, and Keith and Audrey did exactly that at the British Bird Fair when they met Ian Saville, co-owner of Wrybill Birding Tours of New Zealand!  (His company's claim to fame was rediscovering the New Zealand Storm-Petrel after being written off as extinct for over 100 years!)  "Sav" and his wife were coming to the States anyway, so they decided to take a swing down to the LRGV and fill in some gaps in his North American list!

Sav's "want list" was pretty straight forward, targeting the common "Valley specialties", so we started pre-dawn at Bentsen where several things were tantalizingly calling but not wanting to show themselves:  Couch's Kingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, and even Green Jays played hide-and-seek until the sun broke over the horizon and gave us some light!  Dickcissels earned the name "Dotcissels" as they flew overhead giving their "brat" calls!  Chachalacas were a bit more cooperative (especially a family that was right overhead as we started out), but unfortunately one of the best targets, a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, called once in the distance and then never called again.  A Gray Hawk posed briefly (twice) on a dead tree, and at the Resaca we heard Least Bitterns and got barely passable views of his first Kiskadee, but it was rather quiet.  When a pair of Clay-colored Thrushes shot through and I calmly pointed them out, he nearly fainted - he didn't realize that they're pretty much a "backyard bird" now! 

We headed back via the Kiskadee Trail (where an Olive Sparrow miraculously hopped out onto the trail) and Acacia Loop (hoping for another shot at the Gray Hawk), and I was frankly feeling disappointed at the lack of cooperative birds when I heard some Groove-billed Anis a bit past our turnoff, so we headed down the loop a little, and before long a whole family group gave crippling looks!  (Unfortunately I had left my camera in the car...)  The bird action actually picked up a bit on the way back to the parking lot, with a Roadrunner that came out onto the road in response to my coo, a magnificent Ringed Kingfisher flying right overhead, Cave Swallows at the bridge (I heard a distant Black Phoebe but he didn't need that one J), and finally a Buff-bellied Hummingbird in the gardens!  While we were waiting for the hummingbird to show up, an Upland Sandpiper called overhead, sending Sav running around the corner to try and spot it, which he did!  We also had a tree full of orioles which included three species:  Baltimore, Hooded, and Orchard!

When I asked him the day before if he was "into" butterflies, he said he was, so I figured a visit to the National Butterfly Center was in order:  not only do they have feeders where more of his target species would probably appear, but a report of not one, but TWO Mercurial Skippers had ME chomping at the bit to at least try for them!  We flushed a Bobwhite heading down to the "old gardens", but we didn't spend a whole lot of time carefully "grooming" the jasmine tree where one of the rare skippers had shown up as birds were the priority.  I did point out some common things like Fiery Skipper, Giant Swallowtail, Gulf Fritillary, and Brown Longtail, but the Clavipes Sphinx took the prize!  Snouts were all over the place, and he mentioned that most every car and truck coming down the highway from Galveston was stopping to clean their windshields of the hapless little buggers!  The feeders came through for us, with lots of Green Jays, a cooperative White-tipped Dove, a couple of Black-crested Titmice shooting in and out, and finally a young Altamira Oriole allowing a brief view.

Clavipes Sphinx

From there the plan was to head to Anzalduas County Park via the levee road, but as we poked down Old Military Highway Sav suddenly knocked on my dashboard - I thought he was warning me about the state trooper parked on the side ahead of us, but he had seen TWO Ringed Kingfishers perched on the wire in front of us - he was just so excited he couldn't get it out! J We actually had another Gray Hawk along the levee (that didn't stay put) and unsuccessfully tried to lure out a Long-billed Thrasher, but did get some nice looks at migrating Eastern Kingbirds.  When we got to the park we discovered it was closed due to storm damage!  It was still cool to show him the Rio Grande and Mexico across the way, however...

That actually worked out for the best, as that allowed us to continue on to Quinta Mazatl├ín, where despite the heat we could somewhat escape within the trails!  More Chachalacas greeted us, and a thrush-like "chup" got us onto a motionless but beat-up Clay-colored Thrush!  The Green Parakeets were long gone from the new trail, but we got plenty of Inca Doves, and just before the visitor's center we came across a Guava Skipper that I insisted he "needed" for his butterfly list! J Near the feeders we heard a hawk calling overhead, so I ran out into the open to try and spot it, and initially found a Mississippi Kite WAY up there, but that certainly wasn't what was calling!  Sav spotted it - a nice Swainson's Hawk!  No specialty odes were at the pond, but on the way back to the main road Sav spotted his life Canada Warbler, along with a Black-and-white doing its "nuthatch" thing!

"Sav" in the Quinta Mazatlán parking lot

Clay-colored Thrush

Guava Skipper

Near the pond

Dropped him off for "siesta" after that, and at 5:00 his wife Jody joined us for a trip to Estero Llano Grande State Park!  But first, a stop at the Progresso Silos was in order, as Bronzed Cowbird was another target bird!  Bagged that one easily enough (along with tons of House Sparrows), then headed up to Estero.  The saying, "Estero Never Disappoints" was sure evident this afternoon, as the light was just perfect for viewing waterbirds in Ibis Pond, and in short order we got his target Least Grebes, along with both yellowlegs, dowitchers, stilts, Blue-winged Teal, Common Gallinules, and a posing Black-bellied Whistling Duck!  Swallows were all over:  mostly Banks, but also a few Barns and Roughwings, and Sav spotted a Tree.  A few minutes at the hummingbird feeders got another Buff-bellied, along with a young male Ruby-throated showing just a couple of red feathers!

Jody and Sav at Estero

Least Grebes

Ibis Pond

Common Gallinule

Shy Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Young male Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Heading over to Alligator Lake, we checked out Dowitcher Pond quickly but only found a family of Black-bellied Whistlers.  Grebe Marsh had a Spotted Sandpiper, and what I thought was another one turned out to be a Solitary Sandpiper!  After the turnoff we found two Yellow-crowned Night Herons, and at the new overlook there Sav spotted his Green Kingfisher!  The Pauraque hunt was next, and I was sweating a little as he wasn't in his usual spot right next to the trail, but after going around to the "back" trail, I miraculously spotted him in a position where great looks were had by all!  (Sometimes he'll sit facing you all hunkered down in some roots...)  We didn't think much could beat that, but the screech owl box had not one, but TWO little Eastern Screech Owls peeking out of the hole!  I told Sav to put this one "in the bank", as they may split it in the future! 

Solitary Sandpiper

Yellow-crowned Night Heron


"McCall's" Screech Owl twins

No Alligators at the overlook (or much else for that matter), so we headed back to the parking lot, where Sav decided to give the parrot roost a try after all!  A young Harris' Hawk sat on a pole on the way out, but it was getting pretty late (and we did have nighthawks of unknown species batting overhead), so cruising through the suburbs of Weslaco proved fruitless (except for a low-flying Chimney Swift), so we decided to call it a day.  My list was 88 (and Sav saw a couple I didn't), so our combined list was probably well over 90 for the day (right along with the temperature)!  Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Northern Bobwhite                    
  Least Grebe                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Least Bittern                        
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Little Blue Heron                    
  Tricolored Heron                     
  Green Heron                          
  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron           
  Black Vulture                        
  Mississippi Kite                     
  Harris's Hawk                        
  Gray Hawk                            
  Swainson's Hawk                      
  Common Gallinule                      
  American Coot                        
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  Spotted Sandpiper                    
  Solitary Sandpiper                   
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  Lesser Yellowlegs                    
  Upland Sandpiper                     
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Long-billed Dowitcher                
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  White-winged Dove                    
  Mourning Dove                        
  Inca Dove                            
  Common Ground-Dove                   
  White-tipped Dove                    
  Yellow-billed Cuckoo                 
  Greater Roadrunner                   
  Groove-billed Ani                    
  Eastern Screech-Owl                  
  Common Pauraque                      
  Chimney Swift                        
  Ruby-throated Hummingbird            
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird             
  Ringed Kingfisher                    
  Green Kingfisher                     
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet        
  Eastern Wood-Pewee                   
  Black Phoebe                         
  Great Crested Flycatcher             
  Brown-crested Flycatcher             
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                    
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  Eastern Kingbird                     
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Green Jay                            
  Northern Rough-winged Swallow        
  Bank Swallow                         
  Barn Swallow                         
  Cave Swallow                         
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  Carolina Wren                        
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Clay-colored Thrush                  
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  Black-and-white Warbler              
  Yellow Warbler                        
  Canada Warbler                       
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Bronzed Cowbird                      
  Orchard Oriole                       
  Hooded Oriole                        
  Altamira Oriole                      
  Baltimore Oriole                     
  Lesser Goldfinch                     
  House Sparrow