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                        


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