Thursday, October 13, 2016

Escape from South Dakota

October 8-9, 2016

Mary from Portland, TX (whom I had birded with last spring at South Padre), talked her friend Luanne from South Dakota into coming down to the Valley for some fall birding, and since Luanne was a new birder and this was her first time to South Texas (as a birder, anyway), everything was new (which makes it easier on the guide :-))!  On Saturday we decided to focus on south Hidalgo County and started with Bentsen Rio Grande State Park.  I warned them that the specialties are much easier to see after they start feeding the birds in November, but even so we managed great looks at Green Jay, both Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers together, and a gorgeous Altamira Oriole!  Couch's Kingbird also showed well, but the Olive Sparrow was elusive...

Mary and Luanne at Kingfisher Overlook

From there we headed over to Anzalduas via Old Military Highway, and we hadn't gone far before we spotted a big, beautiful female Ringed Kingfisher sitting along the levee!  She allowed great looks and wasn't fazed a bit by all the Border Patrol vehicles whizzing by her on the levee! :-)

Ringed Kingfisher

Anzalduas was a little disappointing in that it didn't produce the specialties I was hoping for (at least by sight - we heard both the Black Phoebe and Tropical Kingbird), but the consolation prize was a noisy Osprey and a cute little subadult Vermilion Flycatcher!  We startled a roosting Black-crowned Night Heron along the little "Dam View Trail" (he stayed put long enough for everyone to get views), then made a quick stop to see if the Burrowing Owls had arrived yet (they hadn't).  After that we headed straight for Quinta Mazatl├ín (actually, we may have hit Tony Roma's first :-)), where we did manage to see the target Chachalacas and Clay-colored Thrushes, but my personal highlight was an Owl Moth that we flushed, and then which thankfully landed on a tree!  Butterflies were plentiful by the Education Center, with a nice Julia Heliconian showing off.

Along the Rio Grande at Anzalduas County Park

Cutie pie Vermilion Flycatcher

Owl Moth (it's the lighter-colored piece of bark... :-))

Sampling the cactus tunas...

Clay-colored Thrush

Julia Heliconian

With what time we had left we elected to head to Estero Llano Grande State Park, which is always a great place to go in the afternoon as the lighting is perfect for viewing Ibis Pond!  This day it had several snoozing Blue-winged Teal, along with a White-faced Ibis alternately feeding and preening (this turned out to be Luanne's favorite bird of the trip :-))!  We headed straight out to Alligator Lake, pausing to check out some yellowlegs at Dowitcher Pond, but alas, we couldn't find the Pauraque (Park Host Huck DID warn us that he didn't see it that morning), nor was the Screech Owl out, but we did see a nice adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron, and the Alligator was a big hit!

Mottled Duck

Waterbird lineup at Ibis Pond (Pied-billed Grebe, Coot, Blue-winged Teals, and White-faced Ibis)

Alert and laid-back Blue-winged Teals

White-faced Ibis

The next day we headed out to Cameron County, with the first destination being Old Port Isabel Road.  We were greeted right away with a covey of Bobwhite and lots of Eastern Meadowlarks and Long-billed Curlews, but I was sweating a little when the Aplomado Falcon wasn't at his appointed spot near the nesting platform!  Thankfully we didn't have to go far before we spotted him near the top of one of those high-wire towers, and he even performed by darting out and catching a dragonfly for breakfast!  Harris' and White-tailed Hawks also showed off nicely, and we managed nice views of Cactus Wrens, while other "western" specialties (like Verdin and Bewick's Wren) were most uncooperative.  A Wood Stork sailed across the road, and we had nice studies of Cave Swallows in with all the Barnies on the wires!  The road itself lived up to its reputation, and the north end especially was in HORRIBLE shape (but thankfully dry, so we were able to get through)!  I told the girls they could now say that they survived the infamous Old Port Isabel Road! :-)

Northern Bobwhite

Distant view of an Aplomado Falcon

Cactus Wren

White-tailed Hawk

Thankfully it was dry...

Having survived that, we headed straight over to South Padre Island, where we first checked the condos for the wintering Peregrine (a no-show) then hit the bayside flats for water birds.  The water level was not low but not high, either (we watched a van go plowing through the water to get to the other point), but there was a nice collection of birds to the north that we could get closer to by skirting the edge, which we did.  The girls enjoyed great looks at a dancing Reddish Egret, skimmers, several types of terns (including a Common), a nice Franklin's Gull in with all the Laughings (we were keeping an eye out for a reported Sabine's that was hanging around various places around the Island), and my personal favorite, the cute little Piping Plover!

Watching the water birds...

Black Skimmers

Wind-blown Piping Plover doing his Dinner Dance...

View of the flats

Semipalmated Plover, similar to the Piping but the color of "wet sand".

Headed over to the Convention Centre after that, and as Dan Jones reported, we had to work hard to find the migrants!  Mary had been with me last spring when she remembered "hundreds" of Magnolia Warblers and other migrants, but it was quite different today!  We found a Catbird by the water feature, and several Indigo Buntings (that were not "indigo" to Luanne's chagrin) carried on in the scrub.  We did have our first Orange-crowned Warbler of the season along with a Tennessee Warbler, and a nice man with a Big Gun alerted us to the presence of a Clay-colored Sparrow, Northern Waterthrush, and Scarlet Tanager, all of which we eventually saw (Mary found a Swainson's Thrush that the rest of us missed)!  We took a quick jaunt out to the boardwalk where the resident show-off Common Gallinules performed as expected :-), and the Clapper Rails sounded off, but it was pretty quiet otherwise (except for a nice Tricolored Heron that landed in front of us).

Luanne and Mary in the back of the Convention Centre

Clay-colored Sparrow

Common Gallinule

Tricolored Heron

After lunch at Parrot Eyes (great fried fish) we checked out Sheepshead, which had a few things like Least Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Nashville and Magnolia Warbler, and American Redstart.  After checking out the flats at Pier 19, we made a brief stop at the Highway 48 Boat Ramp for the American Oystercatchers, then called it a day (but not without stopping at Stripes for a F'Real milkshake :-))!

Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Northern Bobwhite                    
  Least Grebe                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Wood Stork                           
  American White Pelican               
  Brown Pelican                        
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Little Blue Heron                    
  Tricolored Heron                     
  Reddish Egret                        
  Cattle Egret                         
  Black-crowned Night-Heron            
  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron           
  White Ibis                           
  White-faced Ibis                     
  Roseate Spoonbill                    
  Turkey Vulture                       
  White-tailed Kite                    
  Harris's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Clapper Rail                         
  Common Gallinule                     
  American Coot                        
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  American Oystercatcher               
  Black-bellied Plover                 
  Semipalmated Plover                  
  Piping Plover                        
  Spotted Sandpiper                    
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  Lesser Yellowlegs                    
  Long-billed Curlew                   
  Marbled Godwit                       
  Ruddy Turnstone                       
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Western Sandpiper                    
  Laughing Gull                        
  Franklin's Gull                      
  Caspian Tern                         
  Common Tern                          
  Forster's Tern                       
  Royal Tern                           
  Sandwich Tern                        
  Black Skimmer                        
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  White-winged Dove                    
  Mourning Dove                        
  Inca Dove                            
  Common Ground-Dove                   
  White-tipped Dove                    
  Lesser Nighthawk                     
  Ruby-throated Hummingbird            
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird             
  Ringed Kingfisher                    
  Belted Kingfisher                    
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  American Kestrel                     
  Aplomado Falcon                      
  Green Parakeet                       
  Least Flycatcher                     
  Black Phoebe                          
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Vermilion Flycatcher                 
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                    
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher             
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Blue-headed Vireo                    
  Green Jay                            
  Northern Rough-winged Swallow        
  Barn Swallow                         
  Cave Swallow                         
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  House Wren                           
  Carolina Wren                        
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Cactus Wren                          
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Clay-colored Thrush
  Swainson's Thrush                  
  Gray Catbird                         
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Northern Waterthrush                 
  Tennessee Warbler                    
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Nashville Warbler                     
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  American Redstart                    
  Magnolia Warbler                     
  Yellow Warbler                       
  Wilson's Warbler                     
  Olive Sparrow                         
  Clay-colored Sparrow                 
  Savannah Sparrow                     
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Scarlet Tanager                      
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Blue Grosbeak                        
  Indigo Bunting                       
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Altamira Oriole                      
  Lesser Goldfinch                     
  House Sparrow