Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Great Birthday Adventure, Day 1


As a birthday present, Griffin from Connecticut was given his choice of a birding destination, and he chose south Texas! J  So on this first day of his adventure, I met him and his mom Diane outside the Inn and headed in the fog to Bentsen State Park.  They had made a quick visit to Santa Ana the evening before and bagged the easy specialties (and a couple of not-so-easy ones, including the Fulvous Whistling Duck), but still had several on his wish, including Buff-bellied Hummingbird.  So we checked out the garden feeders at the visitor center upon arrival, but instead, what should come to the feeder near the tram stop but a nice male Black-chinned Hummingbird, which was also a life bird for him!  We stopped at the canal to scan, and what should come rowing towards us head-on but a gorgeous male Ringed Kingfisher!  Walking up to the Gatehouse feeders a mob of Chachalacas gathered to await breakfast, and amongst them was a pair of White-tipped Doves!  Quickly a Clay-colored Thrush whizzed in and gave great views, and three Altamira Orioles landed on top of one of the telephone poles on the way out!  Although not a target, a pair of Black Phoebes at the canal was nice for the day list, and Griffin spotted a pair of Olive Sparrows in the bushes near the tram stop; they both agreed that for a “killing time till Anzalduas opens” spot, it was pretty productive! J

A Chachalaca stares us down at Bentsen

The mob waits for breakfast...

Clay-colored Thrush 

As the spoiler stated, Anzalduas was the next stop, where we parked and got our feet soaking wet tromping across the field in search of Sprague’s Pipits!  We flushed several, and Griffin was able to get some “belly shots” as a couple of birds bounced overhead, but alas, we couldn’t corner the one bird that decided to land amongst the Western Meadowlarks.  We searched in vain for Zone-tailed Hawk, but a nice Red-shouldered Hawk posed instead.  Another target bird, a pair of Mottled Ducks, showed well, along with Griffin’s life Crested Caracara perched across the way.  Nice “non-targets” included a huge flock of Lesser Scaup, a Vermilion Flycatcher, and both species of cormorant. 

The next stop was Quinta Mazatlan for Tropical Kingbird and an off chance at parrots and parakeets, but not before spotting a young White-tailed Hawk along Shary Road that we almost passed off as a Redtail as it had the classic white chest/belly band pattern!  A Tropical Parula had been reported, so when we ran into a good feeding flock with a suspicious bird, the adrenalin started flowing, but when the bird decided to give us a non-backlit view we discovered it to be a classic male Northern Parula (still good for this time of year).  The flock itself was quite varied, with Blue-headed Vireo and Black-throated Green and Black-and-white Warblers in addition to the normal winter birds.  More Chachalacas sat inches from us along the trail, and we finally got great looks at the Buff-bellied Hummingbird around a large cactus that was in bloom.  As is so often the case, the Tropical Kingbird showed up “back at the car”, along with a Curve-billed Thrasher (another “bank bird” in case they decide to split our bird off from the Arizona race). 

Young White-tailed Hawk

Curve-billed Thrasher

Tropical Kingbird

Griffin tries recording the kingbird (circled in white) 

We decided to make a return visit to Santa Ana for the tyrannulet, and indeed, we heard it shortly after hitting the Chachalaca Trail!  However, the tree it was in was right in the sun, so we continued on hoping the one closer to the tour road would sound off.  It didn’t, so back we trucked, and this time the bird called and came down low near the blind area, giving great looks!  We padded the day list with ducks and grebes in Willow Lake, and Griffin spotted a lovely adult White-tailed Hawk through the trees! 

Aside from the obstinate Tropical Parula (several had been reported at various places) and members of the parrot tribe (which you almost have to plan a sunset roost trip to see), we had pretty much cleaned up on Griffin’s targets, so we headed To Estero Llano Grande for the Pauraque and McCall’s Screech Owl!  On the way Griffin thought he had a flock of Snow Geese flying in the distance, so I pulled over to check it out, and it turned out to be a White Pelican Ballet!  Once at Estero we enjoyed more ducks and grebes off the deck (including the Cinnamon Teal), picked up their lifer Couch’s Kingbird along the trail, and chuckled at Diane’s reaction to the huge Alligator in Grebe Marsh! J  The Softshell Turtle was on his same rock at Alligator Lake (along with the night herons), and as we took up our positions behind the Pauraque’s barrier, I almost didn’t see the one bird that had settled so close to said barrier that I was practically within touching distance (and he saw me long before I saw him, as his eye was on me)!  Diane spotted a second bird that was actually shuffling a little bit; they were both surprisingly sitting in the direct sunlight, and we got to wondering if they were thinking about shifting to a more shady spot…  Unfortunately the owl was down inside his box, and both the other stakeouts were not at home, either.  L

Couch's Kingbird

Lazing Alligator

Waterfowl Club

Great Kiskadee


We headed back to the Tropical Zone as that’s where Estero’s parula had been hanging, and we ran into Huck Hutchins, May and Rick Snider, Mary Gustafson, and Ben Basham all lined up on the benches patiently watching the water puddle!  Huck had indeed seen the parula earlier, but it turned out that’s not what they were waiting for:  an Ovenbird had shown up that morning!  (Diane ruefully said, “We’ll mail you one…” J)  After a few minutes Griffin and I made the loop (as that’s apparently what the parula had been doing) and managed to pick up a Nashville Warbler in with the Orange-crowns, but not much else.  We put in a valiant watch for a good long time (during which we heard Sandhill Cranes in the distance), but then decided to head on home when a visiting birder from Tennessee (whom Griffin and Diane had met at Santa Ana the day before and we had run into again that morning) offered to show us the long-lived Guatemalan Cracker that was still hanging around!  (The Blomfeld’s Beauty was seen that morning but was gone by the time we walked by…)  While looking at that Griffin noticed a raptor coming at us and then circled overhead, which turned out to be a Peregrine!

Griffin checks out a feeding flock in the Tropical Zone

An Orange-crowned Warbler pondering the grapefruit

Long-lived Guatemalan Cracker 

We actually got back to Alamo a little early, so I offered to take them on a short walk down to Fannin Street in hopes of maybe at least hearing some fly-by parakeets and show them where I had found yet another Tropical Parula the day before (but as we all agreed, these feeding flocks move around and your chances of finding them again are slim).  All we got out of that jaunt was a White-winged Dove, barking dogs, and more exercise J, so we called it a day.   

Griffin had caught sight of Eurasian Collared Dove and White-tailed Kite while I was watching traffic, so his two additions made it a “centennial” day! J  Bird list:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Muscovy Duck (two feral birds at Anzalduas)
  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Cinnamon Teal                        
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Northern Pintail                     
  Green-winged Teal                    
  Ring-necked Duck                     
  Lesser Scaup                         
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Least Grebe                          
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Double-crested Cormorant             
  American White Pelican               
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Snowy Egret                          
  Black-crowned Night-Heron            
  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron           
  White Ibis                            
  White-faced Ibis                     
  Turkey Vulture                       
  [White-tailed Kite]                          
  Cooper's Hawk                        
  Harris's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Red-shouldered Hawk                  
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  Common Gallinule                     
  American Coot                        
  Sandhill Crane                       
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Long-billed Dowitcher                
  Wilson's Snipe                       
  Laughing Gull                        
  Caspian Tern                         
  Rock Pigeon
  [Eurasian Collared Dove]                          
  White-winged Dove                    
  Mourning Dove                        
  Inca Dove                             
  Common Ground-Dove                   
  White-tipped Dove                    
  Common Pauraque                      
  Black-chinned Hummingbird            
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird             
  Ringed Kingfisher                    
  Belted Kingfisher                     
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Peregrine Falcon                     
  Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet        
  Black Phoebe                         
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Vermilion Flycatcher                 
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                    
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Blue-headed Vireo                    
  Green Jay                            
  Tree Swallow                         
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  House Wren                           
  Carolina Wren                        
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Clay-colored Thrush                  
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Sprague's Pipit                      
  Black-and-white Warbler               
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Nashville Warbler                    
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Northern Parula                      
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Black-throated Green Warbler         
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Savannah Sparrow                     
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Western Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Altamira Oriole                      
  Lesser Goldfinch                     
  House Sparrow                        

98 SPECIES (100 with Griffin’s extra two)

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