Thursday, March 2, 2017

Fishing for Birds, Part 1


Things worked so well Thursday by doing Estero first that I decided to do the same thing this morning with Ken, a former Fish and Wildlife guy (and professional fisherman) from Alaska, as again, many of his target birds could be gotten there, so we headed over through the fog first thing, and were surprised to find that another group had just beaten us there!  We let them get ahead of us a little, but we hadn’t gotten far before we heard a Couch’s Kingbird doing his sneezy dawn song!  The other group had obviously found him, as numerous camera lenses were pointed in that direction J, but we eventually got up to where he was sitting on a wire, at which point he darted out and caught himself a huge White-lined Sphinx moth for breakfast!  That was a hoot!

Foggy morning in the Tropical Zone

Couch's Kingbird with White-lined Sphinx for breakfast!

We checked on the Screech Owl Stump with no Screech Owl, then settled on the benches by the Pauraque Hall Drip for 15 minutes to see what would come in.  The Feeder Guy had just put out the food, and the Chachalacas were all over the platform feeder like a bunch of chickens!  They eventually came over to where we were, along with three White-tipped Doves.  A pair of Clay-colored Thrushes were overhead, but unfortunately the only look Ken got was as they took off! L Like on Thursday, the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks only provided fly-over looks.

After the group moved on we moved over to the picnic table to watch those feeders and drip, and enjoyed more White-tipped Doves, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and Green Jays, but after a while I heard a little squeal, and by golly if the becard hadn’t shown up his tree!  I got Ken on him and he got a great look, and thankfully the other group heard the commotion and came back so they could get a look as well (the little guy was pretty active)!  My friends Alicia and Linda from Harlingen suddenly materialized (they were there for a Master Naturalists class), and they eventually got looks, too!

Fuzzy-headed becard through the fog

Ken enjoying the atmosphere of the Tropical Zone

We then decided to make the loop in hopes of refinding one of the thrushes or a feeding flock with warblers; it was pretty quiet (although we did hear an invisible Buff-bellied Hummer), so we headed on to the deck, where the morning bird walk was getting ready to roll.  After getting ourselves checked in the group had moved on, so we checked out the ducks and the hummer feeders, picking up an active titmouse, but that was about it.  We overtook the group and hightailed it to Alligator Lake, picking up some territorial Least Grebes in appropriately-named Grebe Marsh, along with the Vermilion Flycatcher, and got Ken’s Yellow-crowned Night Herons with no trouble.  We could see that another couple had already found the Pauraque, and this time he was in a better viewing position (plus, the second bird was also visible)!  The owl was another no-show, and we couldn’t find any kingfishers at the overlook, but another couple had spotted a close Curve-billed Thrasher that was feeding in a tree!

The famous Pauraque

Curve-billed Thrasher

Sleepy Yellow-crowned Night Heron 

Least Grebe pair 

Vermilion Flycatcher

We took the long loop back in hopes of picking up some sparrows, but nada; the pretty Cinnamon Teal was in with some Bluewings at Dowitcher Pond, and a clean-breasted Eastern Phoebe showed off at Curlew Pond.  Coming back by way of the boardwalk allowed stunning looks at the ducks, including Ken’s life Mottled Duck!  After a break on the deck where we enjoyed some Roseate Spoonbills that had just arrived and schmoozed with the Master Naturalists and Dr. Tim Brush’s ornithology class, we headed towards the parking lot, but since Ken was definitely interested in butterflies and they were starting to fly, I pointed out a White Peacock that was harassing us on the boardwalk, plus all sorts of little guys near the brick walkway including a Sachem, Brown Longwing, Funereal Duskywing, Vesta Crescent, and tons of Queens!  Mike had told me that Rick and May had male Chestnut Crescents in their garden, so we stopped by there, and sure enough, one finally showed up amongst the similar Texan Crescents!  Someone told us about a Red Rim back at the VC, so we went running back, but couldn’t find him. L  A Northern Beardless Tyrannulet teased us, however, but at least Ken’s lifer White-eyed Vireo decided to give us a look!

Ken's life Mottled Duck poses next to some Green-winged Teal

Northern Pintails

Backlit Roseate Spoonbill

Chestnut Crescent

After a quick search of the parking area for the reported Tropical Parula, we headed on to Santa Ana, but not before making a quick stop at the Progresso Silos for Bronzed Cowbird!  We finally found a couple of “Darth Vaders” along a wire amongst the hundreds of Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds, and we even picked up a handful of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, which is a good bird to see in the Valley.  Continuing to Santa Ana, we planned just to eat lunch at the feeders, as it was getting rather warm to hike out to Pintail Lakes for the Virginia Rails.  We made a side trip up Border Road in hopes of Sprague’s Pipits, but got Horned Larks and a Harrier instead, and a great show of Turkey Vultures, White-tailed Hawks, and a young Caracara that were cleaning up after a cane burn!  Ken was gratified to see so many Kestrels, as their numbers have diminished in Alaska due to the use of pesticides.

Can you pick out the Yellow-headed Blackbirds?

We were not prepared for what turned out to be Winter Texan Appreciation Day at Santa Ana – the place was mobbed!  But we did manage to see a Buff-bellied Hummer come in to the feeders while eating our sandwiches, after which we decided to head on to Anzalduas.  But first we stopped at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, as Ken was also interested in local history and enjoyed reading about the pumphouse’s past!  We picked up a calling Tropical Kingbird in the parking lot and a nice Black Phoebe at the overlook, then headed over to the residential neighborhood to bag the Monk Parakeets.

Ken at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse

Monk Parakeet
From there we headed to Anzalduas, and hoping we wouldn’t have to hike too far into the field, we set out to find the Sprague’s Pipit, and finally had one that popped up and called (but wouldn’t sit for us of course)!  It was really way too hot to walk around, but we did check out one of my favorite groves where Ken spotted a Green Kingfisher in a tree!   We cruised and listened for feeding flocks after that, picking up Eastern Bluebird, House Finches, and some Ruby-crowned Kinglets, but it was pretty quiet.

With what time we had left we cruised the Old Military Highway and Levee and really didn’t add anything new, but it was a road I sometimes got Ringed Kingfisher and Gray Hawk on, both of which would have been life birds.  It was almost 90 out, so we decided to call it a day and head home, but not without having racked up 82 species for the day!

Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Cinnamon Teal                        
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Northern Pintail                      
  Green-winged Teal                    
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Least Grebe                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Double-crested Cormorant              
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Green Heron                          
  Black-crowned Night-Heron            
  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron           
  White-faced Ibis                     
  Roseate Spoonbill                    
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Northern Harrier                     
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  Common Gallinule                     
  American Coot                        
  American Avocet                      
  Spotted Sandpiper                    
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Long-billed Dowitcher                
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  Mourning Dove                        
  White-tipped Dove                    
  Common Pauraque                      
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird              
  Green Kingfisher                     
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Monk Parakeet                        
  Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet        
  Black Phoebe                         
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Vermilion Flycatcher                 
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                    
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  Rose-throated Becard                 
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Green Jay                            
  Horned Lark                          
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  House Wren                            
  Carolina Wren                        
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Eastern Bluebird                     
  Clay-colored Thrush                  
  Curve-billed Thrasher                 
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Sprague's Pipit                      
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat                   
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Savannah Sparrow                     
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Western Meadowlark                   
  Yellow-headed Blackbird              
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Bronzed Cowbird                      
  Brown-headed Cowbird                 
  House Finch                          
  Lesser Goldfinch                     
  House Sparrow                         


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