Thursday, December 14, 2017

Road Birding and a Rebellious Ride


Since rain was in the forecast, I opted to take Mike on the La Sal del Rey Loop, starting at “South Brushline Road” (the stretch between FM 490 and SR 186).  The fog was pretty thick when we first left Alamo, but once it cleared along FM 493 we had a nice view of a Red-tailed Hawk on a pole (first of many).  After leaving Hargill the sun was out, and we passed a magnificent Peregrine Falcon on a wire (!) that we just had to stop and enjoy!  When we made the turn onto Brushline, there was a cacophony of birds right there on the corner:  several Kiskadees were displaying (kept missing that perfect shot when they puff up their yellow crown), a Long-billed Thrasher actually sat out in the open, and lots of “bitty birds” were around but proving hard to pin down for pictures:  Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, titmice, and Orange-crowned Warblers were all in the mix.  Even a Verdin chirped and gave a brief view, but he would prove to be a nemesis bird for Mike throughout the day!  As we crawled along and periodically stopped we had flyovers of both flavors of pipit, managed looks at a Pyrrhuloxia, White-tailed Hawk, and a pair of harriers, and finally three Sandhill Cranes!  The big show, however, was a mob of Caracaras feeding on a dead crane (we were hoping it hadn’t been shot and dumped…)!

Mike shoots a Red-tailed Hawk on the power pole as we head towards Hargill

A Peregrine Falcon gives us the evil eye just out of Hargill!

Displaying Great Kiskadee

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Pyrrhuloxia (dubbed "Half-painted Cardinal" by another Brit!)

Lark Sparrow

Fleeing Sandhill Cranes

White-tailed Hawk

Loggerhead Shrike

A group of Caracaras chow down on a deceased crane!

Crossing SR 186 we continued on, stopping when we heard feeding flocks or something in particular that Mike wanted to photograph, like Bewick’s Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, or that dratted Verdin! J  We tried for Cactus Wren but none would respond, but at one stop Mike spotted a Cassin’s Sparrow sitting quietly in a bush!  The other home run (also spotted by Mike) was a Lark Bunting right next to the road!  At that point we only saw the one, but on the way back we would flush a flock of about 30 that briefly landed on the wires overhead before taking off again!  In a more heavily wooded area I thought I heard a whit, and sure enough, with a little encouragement a Least Flycatcher popped up!  Near the trail to the lake (Mike preferred letting the car doing the walking, and I confessed that I concurred) a Turkey was clucking in the distance, and a family of Javelina crossed the road ahead of us (with a Roadrunner in the background).  Sadly we found a dead White-tailed Hawk next to the road; it was still pretty fresh, and I didn’t see any evidence that it was shot or otherwise injured, so its demise remained a mystery.

Least Flycatcher; most have migrated through, but a few overwinter

Javelina family getting out of the way...

Lark Bunting

Fleeing Red-tailed Hawk showing off the red tail...

We tried for Cactus Wren again along the east/west portion of Brushline, but instead got more “bitty birds” to respond; a Verdin actually did pop out into the open, but unfortunately Mike’s camera rebelled and the only photo he got was a ball of fuzz…  He did manage decent shots of both the kinglet and the gnatcatcher, so he was pleased (as these birds are constantly on the move and trying to follow them with a heavy lens is a trick)!  A Pyrrhuloxia also kindly posed on a wire right next to the car!  Up at the pond we padded the list with a few ducks and shorebirds (Avocet and Green-winged Teal were nice), and on the way back we had a “role reversal” of the two male Vermilions that were dogfighting at Santa Ana:  here we had two presumed females chasing each other!  They seemed oblivious to the shrike they kept leapfrogging with, and while all this was going on a Curve-billed Thrasher danced for us in front of the car…


Various poses of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher moving through the trees...

Mike checks out the farm pond along North Brushline while the threatened storms come our way...

American Avocet

Green-winged Teal

Long-billed Dowitcher and Black-necked Stilts

We made the turn onto Ken Baker and resumed crawling, along which the threatened rain began (we had tremendous views of the cells all round us; Mike was afraid I was going to switch to storm-chasing mode any minute J); interestingly we ran into another flock of Lark Buntings, and after finally talking Mike into at least driving to the Rio Beef Feedyard gate, we were rewarded with a Say’s Phoebe flopping around the tractors, and despite the dripping rain, they had a sprinkler going in front of the office that was attracting hundreds of Brewer’s Blackbirds!  So he was happy after all that we were rewarded with two new birds for him (and write-up ones at that)!

A mob of Brewer's Blackbirds feeds outside the Rio Beef Feedyard office!

Males are black with yellow eyes, much like miniature grackles...

...while females are dark brown with black eyes.

Say's Phoebe is considered a rare visitor from the west, but one or two show up most every winter.

No cranes or geese were in the “barren field”, and since it was raining I opted to go down Rio Beef Road with its solid caliche and good roadside habitat (but not before sighting an Indigo Snake making haste across the road, unfortunately too fast for Mike’s camera).  Some Yellowthroats were calling in the marsh, but since it was still spitting we didn’t get out to investigate.  Just before we hit SR 186, however, a nice Krider’s Hawk was sitting on a pole along the highway!

Presumed young "Krider's" Hawk, although some young "Eastern" Redtails can be pretty pale as well...

With what time we had left we opted to stop at the “1015 Pond”, seeing as we’ve had flyover geese and cranes in the past; on the way we spotted a rather bedraggled White-tailed Kite!  At the pond we had a nice selection of shorebirds and ducks, but nothing unusual (added a ffting Marsh Wren for the day).  Just as we were getting ready to head home I heard geese in the distance, and sure enough, a flock of Snows looked like they were coming right at us, then suddenly wheeled around and headed the other direction!

Unfortunately Heppy had decided he had had enough and refused to start (exactly what happened on the Boca Chica Adventure), but this time AAA came to the rescue, determined he had a bad battery, and got us going so we could head home!  The delay enabled us to be treated to a spectacular sunset, however, and we almost broke 70 species for the day!  Bird list (those in italics were heard-only):

  Snow Goose                           
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Green-winged Teal                    
  Wild Turkey                          
  Great Egret                          
  Turkey Vulture                       
  White-tailed Kite                    
  Northern Harrier                     
  Harris's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  Sandhill Crane                       
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  American Avocet                      
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  Long-billed Curlew                   
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Long-billed Dowitcher                
  Rock Pigeon                           
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  White-winged Dove                    
  Mourning Dove                        
  Common Ground-Dove                   
  Greater Roadrunner                   
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker             
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Peregrine Falcon                     
  Least Flycatcher                     
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Say's Phoebe                         
  Vermilion Flycatcher                 
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Green Jay                            
  Horned Lark                          
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  House Wren                           
  Marsh Wren                           
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  American Pipit                        
  Sprague's Pipit                      
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Cassin's Sparrow                     
  Lark Sparrow                         
  Black-throated Sparrow               
  Lark Bunting                         
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Western Meadowlark                   
  Brewer's Blackbird                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Brown-headed Cowbird                 
  House Sparrow                        


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