Monday, August 28, 2017

Hurricane Harvey Hidalgo Hop


Well, Hurricane Harvey was forecast to give us torrential rain here in the Valley along with everyone else on the Texas Coast, but he went “poof” at the last minute (at least in our neck of the woods; unfortunately his full wrath was unleashed on Houston and vicinity), and Saturday turned out to be a gorgeous day!  So at the last minute I decided to survey Old Military Highway (OMH) and Anzalduas County Park, seeing as I needed data for the latter for late August.  I begin the OMH route right at the Bentsen Rio Grande State Park entrance, follow OMH eastbound up onto the levee, and then continue on the levee to just before La Lomita Mission (you used to be able to go straight through to Anzalduas, but now the Border Patrol keeps that exit closed, even though the gate near La Lomita may be open, so it’s a good idea to just turn off there and continue to Anzalduas via FM 494).  On the way to the starting point I was treated to a gorgeous sunrise and a “beenting” Common Nighthawk along Bentsen Palm Drive!

Two views of the sunrise

I got to the starting point pre-dawn, and it was surprisingly quiet – only a Kiskadee and Couch’s Kingbird were announcing the dawn!  Stopping along the fields yielded flyover Dickcissels and lots of blackbirds, while a stop up on the paved portion of the levee bagged a flyover Upland Sandpiper, a Yellowthroat hiding in the cane, and a surprise Cactus Wren singing from deep in the thornscrub on the north side!  A Gray Hawk was whistling on the caliche portion of the levee, and the area around Chimney Park had the requisite urban birds.  Shortly past that is the turnoff, where I finally picked up Black Phoebe for the route.

Going that direction, I usually stop along the entrance road to Anzalduas to pick up anything that may be hanging out in the ag fields; this time the most interesting thing was an Orchard Oriole giving his nyeh call, but I spooked a raptor that unfortunately flew away from me at an angle that rendered him unidentifiable (although I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was a Swainson’s Hawk).  Pulling up onto the levee, I was surprised (and disappointed) to see the gate to the park closed (even though there were several city trucks in there)!  Figuring they had probably made their plans based on the forecast of four days’ worth of rain that never materialized, I pulled in the overlook to the spillway and just logged what I could in five minutes:  several Black-necked Stilts in the little wetland, a distant Osprey, a Carolina Wren and Groove-billed Ani vocalizing from the woodlands, and an Eastern Meadowlark rattling in the spillway field.

The "Pipit Field" (and the Rio Grande in the distance) at Anzalduas

View of the spillway from the overlook

With those plans dashed, I decided to follow my normal Big Day route just for kicks and grins, which led me to Quinta Mazatlan next.  Thankfully they were open, so wandering their beautiful trails there, added Chachalaca (actually, three were having a tussle right in the parking lot), friendly Olive Sparrows, several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Black-crested Titmice, Clay-colored Thrush families, some Yellow Warblers, plus a close bird giving a soft, downward whistle that had me totally stumped; all my pishing got the titmice excited and drew in a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, but the whistler sat stubbornly until I could finally look in there and get a peek – it was just a silly Mockingbird! L

Black-crested Titmouse growing in some new tail feathers

Their new trail is now open, so I headed in followed by the feeding flock I had gotten all riled up (along with a Brown-crested Flycatcher), but in addition was a bird that had me totally stumped until I did some on-line photo studies, and concluded I had a Bell’s Vireo with two strong wing bars, not just one (still a great bird)!  The new trail basically circled through an open area with mesquites and picnic tables, but on the return leg I was surprised by a friendly Roadrunner!  When he hid behind a palm tree I “messed” with him by cooing, and he practically jumped in my lap!  (Try getting a picture that way! J)  Quinta’s resident bird guide John Brush just happened to be coming the other direction and gleefully witnessed the whole episode, very happy to see the reported “roadrunner in the park”, which is quite unusual for an urban setting!  A beautiful Giant Swallowtail decided to float by and pose as well, while near the new Dragonfly Pond a Tawny Emperor tried to hide on a tree.

The new trail with official Greeting Bunny

Brown-crested Flycatcher

Olive Sparrow

New picnic area; Green Parakeets often nest in the palm trees that are just out of sight on the right

Ratty-looking (but still glossy) Great-tailed Grackle

Friendly Roadrunner

Giant Swallowtail

Tawny Emperor

Bordered Patch (above and below)

With only enough time for one more stop, I opted for Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, which was a good choice as I picked up several water birds for the day:  tons of Neotropic Cormorants, several Snowy Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, and a couple of Greens flying around graced the north pond.  Across the way I almost wrote off a “grackle” that morphed into a Groove-billed Ani!  The “Jungle Trail” had the day’s only White-tipped Dove, and a great look at a ratty-looking Clay-colored Thrush.  Their signature Buff-bellied Hummingbirds were all over, along with their resident group of Chachalacas.  Walking the trail next to the canal added a Yellow-crowned Night Heron for the morning; checked out the south pond but it was empty except for a lone Snowy Egret across the way.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

"Jungle Trail"

Another Buffbelly watches the trail from his overhead perch

Two Neotropic Cormorants trying to stay cool

(The head-on look is rather interesting...)

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Gulf Fritillary
Headed home after that, but the excitement wasn’t over:  when I got home I noticed a message from Dan Jones on the RBA WhatsApp Group that he had a Magnificent Frigatebird up at Delta Lake!  (He had seen the Texbirds report of bunches of them being blown down the Arroyo Colorado near Rio Hondo so figured Delta Lake would be a good place to look for one for Hidalgo County…)  Since my friend Pat was a big county lister (and I was sure our other friend Joyce would be interested as well), the three of us headed up post haste where Mary Gustafson had joined the watch, and miracle of miracles the bird was still visible!  Unfortunately she was too distant for a decent photo, but before we had gotten there she had flown right overhead, allowing Dan to get some fabulous photos (which he graciously let me use for the blog)!  While there added a handful of things to the day list, but was really surprised I only had barely cleared 60 species for the day!  (Oh, and a nice Swainson’s Hawk did put on a show as I was pulling into my apartment…)

Female Magnificent Frigatebird that got blown into Hidalgo County (photo courtesy of Dan Jones)

Bird List:

  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Magnificent Frigatebird              
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Snowy Egret                          
  Green Heron                          
  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron           
  Black Vulture                        
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Gray Hawk                            
  Swainson's Hawk                      
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  Upland Sandpiper
  Laughing Gull                        
  Caspian Tern                         
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove                
  White-winged Dove                    
  Mourning Dove                        
  Inca Dove                            
  Common Ground-Dove                   
  White-tipped Dove                    
  Greater Roadrunner                   
  Groove-billed Ani                    
  Common Nighthawk                     
  Chimney Swift
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird             
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Black Phoebe                          
  Brown-crested Flycatcher             
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                    
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Bell's Vireo                         
  Green Jay                            
  Northern Rough-winged Swallow        
  Barn Swallow                         
  Cave Swallow                         
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  Carolina Wren                        
  Cactus Wren                          
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Clay-colored Thrush
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                     
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Yellow Warbler                       
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                  
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Orchard Oriole                       
  Lesser Goldfinch                     
  House Sparrow                        


Monday, August 21, 2017

Blocked from the Beach


Wanted to get out to the coast today, so decided to survey the portion of Boca Chica Boulevard that goes through the NWR tract and down to the beach.  About a half mile past the Border Patrol checkpoint is a good place to stop and look for Aplomado Falcons (as there’s a hacking station to the north), but none were about today.  But a lot of Valley birds were singing up a storm:  Olive Sparrow, Long-billed Thrasher, a calling Altamira Oriole, Bobwhites, and even the first of several Botteri’s Sparrows giving their clipped songs!  About two miles up the road, the powers that be really improved one of the roads going into the NWR (according to Google Maps this appears to be Gavito Ranch Road), and this was a wonderful place to go slow and listen and look for thornscrub birds (where a Long-billed Thrasher popped up to pishing)!  In a more open area the Chachalaca couples were calling back and forth in the distance, and the occasional Dickcissel would fly over.  Common Ground Doves were all over the road, and White-eyed Vireos actually got flagged by EBird as I had entered so many!  (At half-mile stops with at least one or two birds singing at each stop, they add up fast when you cover 14 miles!)  The road virtually ends a little bit into the cotton field, as the main road hangs left but there’s also a sign clearly stating the area beyond it is closed, so that's basically the turnaround point for that leg.  A real surprise down there was four Chimney Swifts flying overhead!

Long-billed Thrasher hiding in the thorn scrub

Mourning Dove prancing across the road in early morning light

Gavito Ranch Road (also below)

Back on paved Boca Chica, it looks like they’re widening the road, and indeed multiple big rigs roared by and turned off to an area to the north, with two Constables guarding the entrance either way.  Had a Caspian Tern fly over at one stop (followed by a squealing youngster), and a handful of Caracaras and Harris’ Hawks along the way.  Palmito Hill Road is another good, wide dirt road that goes into the NWR tracts, and the open areas with lots of cactus had (of course) Cactus and Bewick’s Wren (with a Carolina singing in the distance), more Botteri’s Sparrows, and meadowlarks.  This road also turns into good thornscrub habitat, and at the turnaround point I was surprised to see a Roadrunner actually running towards me (and I wasn’t even messin’ with him by cooing at him)!  He was quite a ways down the road at first and ended up almost right at the car as he rattled his bill; I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a nest near where I parked.  At the same spot several Cave Swallows rattled overhead, and on the way back had a beautiful pair of White-tailed Hawks posed on a pole.

Curious Roadrunner (also below)

White-tailed Hawk pair

Continuing on Boca Chica, one stop happened to be right next to a group of Groove-billed Anis!  Not to be outdone, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo sang nearby, soon to be joined by his mate!  It wasn’t too long past that that that I reached the first part of the Flats area, but alas, Heppy apparently decided he had had enough of this stop-and-go stuff and refused to start!  A couple of Good Samaritans tried to jump him, but to no avail.  About a half hour later a nice State Trooper happened by, and when he attached the cables and cranked the key, Heppy started right up!  (Guess the cop scared him… J)  So I never made it to the beach (or even to “Dan Jones’ Road” to the river, although I was tempted just to drive down there and not stop), and as it was already past 11:00, I just headed on home.  Discovered to my chagrin when I got home that in my excitement I forgot to throw my three-legged stool back in the car and drove off without it! L  Oh, well; it’s an excuse to get one of those nice ones with a back! J 

Shy Groove-billed Ani

Stop along Boca Chica Blvd. where the anis and cuckoos were

Olive Sparrow (above and below)

EBird List:

Boca Chica LRGV-NWR (LTC 043)
Aug 19, 2017
7:02 AM
13.70 miles
204 Minutes
All birds reported? Yes
Comments: Start:  77 degrees, clear, calm
End:  77 degrees, mix of sun and clouds, breezy Submitted from eBird for iOS, version 1.5.3 Build 148

22 Plain Chachalaca
15 Northern Bobwhite
4 Brown Pelican
4 Harris's Hawk
3 White-tailed Hawk
1 Upland Sandpiper
1 Long-billed Curlew
1 Least Sandpiper
1 Willet
5 Laughing Gull
3 Caspian Tern
19 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
2 Eurasian Collared-Dove
15 Common Ground-Dove
6 White-tipped Dove
23 Mourning Dove
4 Groove-billed Ani
4 Greater Roadrunner
4 Yellow-billed Cuckoo
4 Chimney Swift
23 Golden-fronted Woodpecker
8 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
5 Crested Caracara
4 Brown-crested Flycatcher
10 Great Kiskadee
9 Couch's Kingbird
2 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
1 Loggerhead Shrike
33 White-eyed Vireo -- 15 mile route; at least one bird at every half mile stop
1 Purple Martin
8 Barn Swallow
8 Cave Swallow
1 Black-crested Titmouse
13 Verdin
4 Carolina Wren
16 Bewick's Wren
5 Cactus Wren
2 Curve-billed Thrasher
13 Long-billed Thrasher
18 Northern Mockingbird
5 European Starling
10 Botteri's Sparrow
15 Olive Sparrow
12 Northern Cardinal
4 Dickcissel
8 Eastern Meadowlark
1 Orchard Oriole
1 Altamira Oriole
3 Great-tailed Grackle

Number of Taxa: 49

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Estero Llano Grande State Park


On Saturday morning I only had time for a “quick” exercise walk (that lasted 2.5 hours J), so I headed over to Estero Llano Grande State Park, getting there a bit before dawn.  Cicadas drowned out most everything, but managed to hear a couple of Green Jays going, as well as Dickcissels flying overhead!  Once I got over to the deck I was pleasantly surprised to see water in Ibis Pond!  Turns out they just started adding the water, as they let the ponds evaporate earlier in the summer so they can eradicate weeds, so with that all accomplished, they wanted to get the wetlands “wet” again in time for shorebird migration!  While there I could hear a Beardless Tyrannulet calling from the Tropical Zone!

View of the wetlands and Visitor Center (note the ducks coming in!)

There were a few nice birds:  permanent residents there included gobs of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and lots of Black-necked Stilts, but once on the Spoonbill Trail boardwalk I was able to pick out a few Lesser Yellowlegs and a flock of Least Sandpipers, plus one Pectoral Sandpiper that gave its harsh chrrrk as it took off!  Several Upland Sandpipers gave their whiddly-do as they flew overhead, and Cave Swallows uttered their strained gurgles as they too swooped by, along with many Barn Swallows and a single Cliff.  Spooked a roosting Common Nighthawk off one of the mesquite trees while I was at it…

Dowitcher Pond had even more whistling ducks, including young’uns of all ages!  A flock of about 20 Fulvous Whistling Ducks flew over, and three Spotted Sandpipers made their way down the trail before migrating over to the logs.  Before tackling the Camino de Aves I took a quick peek at Grebe Marsh from the back side (where the light is better from that angle) and picked up several different kinds of herons, including two piebald Little Blues.

Dowitcher Pond

"Teenage" Black-bellied Whistling Ducks - they don't get the red bill until adulthood

Adult Black-bellied Whistling Duck with little ones...

More adults

Fulvous Whistling Ducks flying over; note the lack of white in the wings and the white rump on the bird on the lower right.

Camino de Aves is drier than the rest of the park with more desert scrub type of habitat; here I added Bewick’s Wren, Curve-billed Thrashers, Common Ground Dove, Verdin, and Black-crested Titmouse amongst others.  The thicker trail back by the orchard fenceline is lovely, and back here picked up the only Groove-billed Ani of the day, along with a couple of Clay-colored Thrushes, a singing Orchard Oriole, and a White-eyed Vireo (ironically this is where the House Sparrows hang out).  On the way out I startled a Texas Tortoise by the wayside!

Texas Tortoise

Camino de Aves Trail (below also)

Heading back to Alligator Lake I was able to scare up a nice Yellow-crowned Night Heron, but both the Pauraque and Screech Owls were no-shows (although I didn’t spend a lot of time looking for the former).  Only had a Great Egret at the overlook, with a Bobwhite calling in the distance, and a bunny chowing down near the ramp.  From there I went up on the levee (picking up both Couch’s and Tropical Kingbirds on the way, along with a singing Carolina Wren), where I picked up the only Forster’s Terns of the day (sometimes the actual Estero Llano Grande, the name of the little river, can be stuffed with birds).  Came back down and ran into Rangers John and Lorena doing a run-through of the park on the electric tram, and that’s when he told me about the water in the ponds.  After exchanging sightings and jabs J I continued on to the Visitor’s Center to check in, where a pair of Chachalacas looked at me curiously on the walkway!  

Eastern Cottontail

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Heading up onto the levee

Dowitcher Pond from the levee

Levee Trail, with the actual Estero Llano Grande on the left

Roseate Skimmer

Plain Chachalaca growing in his tail feathers!

His/her mate...

Since I had a little bit more time before having to head home and get ready for a “Girls Only Lunch”, decided to hike the Green Jay Trail at the start of the Tropical Zone, which I hadn’t hiked in ages!  This trail goes through the heart of the thornscrub woodland and can be great for darners (those huge dragonflies), but not today, although lots of other odes were floating around.  Except for a Yellow-billed Cuckoo at the start of the trail and White-tipped Doves therein, it was rather quiet in there this time, but still a lovely walk.  In the butterfly department a nice Sickle-winged Skipper posed, and back out in the parking lot a tiny Cassius Blue finally settled down for a picture!

Green Jay Trail

Sickle-winged Skipper

Cassius Blue

Oh, and I supposed I should mention the gazillion White-winged Doves… J

Headed home with 60 birds on the EBird list!  Here it is:

Estero Llano Grande SP WBC (LTC 054)
Aug 12, 2017
6:54 AM
3.00 miles
160 Minutes
All birds reported? Yes
Comments: Start:  78 degrees, mostly sunny, calm
End:  83 degrees, mix of sun and clouds, slight breeze Submitted from eBird for iOS, version 1.5.2 Build 140

90 Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
30 Fulvous Whistling-Duck
8 Mottled Duck
2 Plain Chachalaca
6 Northern Bobwhite
1 Neotropic Cormorant
1 Great Blue Heron
2 Great Egret
2 Snowy Egret
4 Little Blue Heron
1 Tricolored Heron
3 Green Heron
2 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
1 Turkey Vulture
24 Black-necked Stilt
8 Killdeer
5 Upland Sandpiper
20 Least Sandpiper
1 Pectoral Sandpiper
3 Spotted Sandpiper
4 Lesser Yellowlegs
5 Forster's Tern
1 Inca Dove
6 Common Ground-Dove
10 White-tipped Dove
340 White-winged Dove
18 Mourning Dove
1 Groove-billed Ani
1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo
2 Common Nighthawk
2 Buff-bellied Hummingbird
11 Golden-fronted Woodpecker
3 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
1 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
2 Brown-crested Flycatcher
8 Great Kiskadee
2 Tropical Kingbird
2 Couch's Kingbird
1 Loggerhead Shrike
3 White-eyed Vireo
2 Green Jay
17 Barn Swallow
1 Cliff Swallow
3 Cave Swallow
2 Black-crested Titmouse
1 Verdin
2 Carolina Wren
6 Bewick's Wren
3 Clay-colored Thrush
10 Curve-billed Thrasher
9 Northern Mockingbird
3 European Starling
3 Olive Sparrow
8 Northern Cardinal
12 Dickcissel
110 Red-winged Blackbird
21 Great-tailed Grackle
3 Orchard Oriole
5 Lesser Goldfinch
8 House Sparrow

Number of Taxa: 60