Monday, April 3, 2017

Birding the Back Roads


Bud and Beverly were “700 Clubbers” who were building up their year lists, and were on a magnificent road trip that included the Valley (to which they had visited many times)!  But Bud had heard about the infamous Old Port Isabel Road (OPIR), and they had indeed tried it once but had to turn back, so seeing the road and the Aplomado Falcon for the year was a high priority!  In the meantime Beverly had gone over their trip list and had a handful of things she really wanted for the year, and American Golden Plover was on the top!  White-tailed Kite was a close second, so the first place we headed to was the Progresso Sod Farms seeing as I had noticed that they had just watered it when we were there on Tuesday.

Heading up the dirt road (and you really have to know where to turn on that thing), there surprisingly wasn’t much except grackles on the west side, but the east side (and thankfully the angle of the sun wasn’t too bad yet) did indeed had a handful of the plovers; “Mission accomplished!” exclaimed Beverly!  Having bagged that bird we cut over on Baker to head to the Progresso Silos, as they said they could use Yellow-headed Blackbird for the trip/year, but I couldn’t believe it:  all the blackbirds were gone and replaced by a ton of pigeons!  We did find a group of cowbirds (both kinds), and picked up Collared Dove for the day, but the consolation prize was a Peregrine Falcon on top of one of the silo towers!

They actually hadn’t seen Green Jay yet, and since Bud was interested overall in some of these back roads I take, I decided to do the Cannon Road Loop next.  Just before the woods were two immature White-tailed Hawks, and going slowly through the woods, we didn’t pick up Green Jay, but we were able to bag Verdin and Bewick’s Wren for the trip.  The best bird along here was a Common Ground Dove that flushed and then perched in the open in perfect light!  Cruising around the ag fields (we didn’t go up on the reservoir) was pretty barren, but we were still hoping for the elusive White-tailed Kite.  Weaver Road also turned out to be pretty lifeless, so since everyone was ready for a break, we headed up Rangerville Road to the freeway and stopped at a convenience store before heading to OPIR.

Common Ground Dove along Cannon Road

Even though we dipped on the Aplomado here, the road was pretty productive:  right at the get-go we had a pair of Chihuahuan Ravens, and at the hacking station stop we picked up three Whimbrel by the road!  We had several singing Cassin’s Sparrows with a few that actually sat up on the fence or cactus, and a Cactus Wren sat up on a yucca and sang (Derek shoulda been with us…)!  Another immature White-tailed Hawk soared very low overhead for great views, a handsome Caracara strutted through a field, and at one point in the road a pair of Horned Larks hopped and ran and flew on ahead of us for quite a while!  At the canal there was a congregation of both Great and Snowy Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, and a couple of Neotropic Cormorants.  The road was actually in pretty good shape, and we made it to the north end unscathed (but with no falcon), so we continued on to the “Blue Shack” and pulled over.  I saw a falcon further on that was inconclusive from where we were, so we got back on SR 100 and got up even with it before pulling off, and it indeed turned out to be the Aplomado!

Whimbrel along OPIR (above and below)

Crested Caracara

Blooming cactus

Having that in the bank, we headed over to South Padre with the main target being Least Bittern, but also anything coastal for the trip (they weren’t too worried about the latter as they were heading to Corpus the next week).  I told them about The Flats, and they were interested, so thankfully we could get in there (there were whitecaps on Laguna Madre, so I wasn’t sure if the wind had blown the water clear up to the kiosk or not), and there were tons of birds!  Three different gangs had lots of Black Skimmers (that outnumbered the Laughing Gulls, interestingly), plus the three big terns represented.  Shorebirds included the regular Dunlin, Willets, Marbled Godwits, Sanderlings, and Ruddy Turnstones (I thought I had a distant Piping Plover, but the thing vanished by the time we got over there).

Three Royal Terns plus a Caspian (with the black-tipped red bill) post in front of a group of Black Skimmers

Marbled Godwit

Snoozing Dunlin (you can see them starting to get their black bellies)

Next was the Convention Centre, where we hit the boardwalk first, and right away a group of birders already had the Least Bittern already in a scope!  That was very handy! J  I was distracted by a pair of Brown Anoles "making more anoles" right there on the railing, but another passerby broke up the orgy and I only got the male on film...  The Belted Kingfisher eluded us (I thought I heard it but I think it turned out to be a grackle making noises), but we picked up a lot of day birds like Sora, Redhead, Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal, and Common Gallinule.  Another birder had a Green Heron on the nest in his scope, so that was cool to see!  The Clapper Rails were still silent (even another birder, who may have been leading the group, mentioned that she hadn’t been hearing them), but from the end of the boardwalk we managed to bag the white morph Reddish Egret for the day, and the Osprey was on that same stump in the mudflats that everyone on Facebook seems to be photographing! J  The garden area was birdless (except for a tame White Ibis), as were the Sheepshead Lots (although a Prothonotary Warbler had just been seen before we walked up), so after perusing Beverly’s “need list” (and seeing that there hadn’t been any recent reports of close-by kites or Anhingas), we decided to head down to the SR 48 Boat Ramp to try for American Oystercatcher for the trip.

Brown Anole (above and below)

Green Heron on the nest

I had heard it was better to visit this place in the afternoon, and they were right:  the lighting was just perfect!  I was just setting up the scope when the oystercatcher flew right by at point blank and landed, giving us great views!  Scanning the rest of the birds gathered there added Herring Gull, Forster’s Tern, and both Semipalmated and Wilson’s Plovers to the day list, and a high-pitched, harsh kidick kidick announced the presence of my FOS Least Terns!  Beverly was very happy to get that! J

The resident American Oystercatcher pays us a visit!

About that time my friend Pat called and announced that she had a Western Tanager in her yard back in Alamo, so when I asked Beverly if they wanted to try for that, she had an “is the Pope Catholic?” look on her face J so off we went (still looking for White-tailed Kite on the way)!  I called Pat back to let her know we were coming, and by that time my boss Keith had made it down there and saw the bird just before something spooked it! L  We figured it might stick around (Pat said it looked tired), so the time flew on the drive back as Beverly shared their ancestral history (right back to Revolutionary times), and before long we were back in Alamo and poking through Pat’s yard, but all we could scare up were her “pet” Chachalacas.  I offered to take them down Alamo Road for a last-ditch effort at the kite, but they were “all done in” as they say, so we called it quits with a nice round total of 90 species for the day!  Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Plain Chachalaca                      
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Brown Pelican                        
  Least Bittern                        
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Little Blue Heron                    
  Tricolored Heron                     
  Reddish Egret                        
  Cattle Egret                         
  Green Heron                          
  White Ibis                           
  Roseate Spoonbill                    
  Turkey Vulture                       
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Common Gallinule                      
  American Coot                        
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  American Oystercatcher               
  Black-bellied Plover                 
  American Golden-Plover               
  Wilson's Plover                       
  Semipalmated Plover                  
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  Lesser Yellowlegs                    
  Marbled Godwit                       
  Ruddy Turnstone                      
  Short-billed Dowitcher               
  Laughing Gull                        
  Herring Gull                         
  Least Tern                           
  Caspian Tern                         
  Forster's Tern                       
  Royal Tern                           
  Sandwich Tern                        
  Black Skimmer                        
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  White-winged Dove                    
  Mourning Dove                        
  Common Ground-Dove                   
  White-tipped Dove                     
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Aplomado Falcon                      
  Peregrine Falcon                      
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                    
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher            
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Chihuahuan Raven                     
  Horned Lark                          
  Northern Rough-winged Swallow        
  Purple Martin                        
  Barn Swallow                         
  Cliff Swallow                        
  House Wren                           
  Carolina Wren                        
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Cactus Wren                          
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Cassin's Sparrow                     
  Savannah Sparrow                     
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                  
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Bronzed Cowbird                      
  Brown-headed Cowbird                 
  House Sparrow