Monday, January 29, 2018

Bunting Blitz!


Although overcast, it turned out to be a very pleasant day as we focused on finding local rarities, but the minute I saw Glenn’s camera I knew he’d be interested in photo ops as well!  His wife Diane was still suffering from a cold, so we picked up their buddy Bob, who had driven down from Houston just for the day and was staying in the Historic Building, before heading to Estero Llano Grande!

The light wasn’t the greatest for photography to start, but we did see several Clay-colored Thrushes upon entering the Tropical Zone!  We would run into another flock closer to the eastern fenceline (the anacua berries were ripe there, too), and while visible for viewing, they were either behind branches of right against the light, so they weren’t being very cooperative for the camera!  We sat at the drip for awhile and enjoyed White-tipped Doves, Chachalacas, and the occasional Orange-crowned Warbler, but no Tropical Parula came in. L  We did hear distant Red-crowned Parrots, and a Wilson’s Warbler “chepped”, but he wasn’t very cooperative, either…  At least a big flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flew overhead!  Making the rounds we had a kingbird that thankfully talked and proved himself a Couch’s, and heard a Buff-bellied Hummingbird at the end of the Kingbird Trail, but no Hammond’s Flycatcher showed itself… L  So we decided to get checked in and see if the Pauraque and Screech Owl were showing themselves…

Glenn shoots a Couch's Kingbird while Bob enjoys it at a distance...

Chachalacas at the feeders

Friendly Yellow-rumped Warbler

Ibis Pond had a few nice ducks, the Least Sandpiper mob, and the icterid group (minus the Common Grackle), and as we walked out on the boardwalk to get better lighting (the sun did come out at that point), we enjoyed brilliant Green-winged Teal, snappy Shovelers, and the Cinnamon Teal!  As we stood there a shorebird came blasting in and plopped himself on the shore – a Snipe!  He allowed great looks (and photos) before slinking into the reeds!

Green-winged Teal

Northern Shoveler

Great-tailed Grackle

Wilson's Snipe

Least Sandpipers

From there we headed out to Alligator Lake, pausing to check out some sparrows another gentleman was looking at; they were a little far to see well, but while two looked clearly like Savannahs, one had a clear breast, so we tried Todd’s trick of shooting the thing and then blowing up the picture, which revealed our mystery bird to be a Grasshopper Sparrow!  He later came a little closer and gave Glenn some great photo ops!

Grasshopper Sparrow

We gave Dowitcher Pond a cursory look (a Spotted Sandpiper came sailing in and then promptly disappeared) before heading across the bridge.  I had no sooner told the guys about the Green Kingfisher and “his” canal when I heard him ticking!  And he was pretty hidden, too; we felt like we were right on top of him, when suddenly the guys saw him!  He put on quite the show!  A Beardless Tyrannulet was calling in the distance all the while, and the teal in Grebe Marsh were virtually ignored!

At the turnoff we enjoyed the requisite night herons of both flavors, plus the Neotropic Cormorant (the Anhinga had left) and both kinds of grebes, but suddenly there was the kingfisher again!  He seemed insistent that we pay attention to him and take more pictures! J  I noticed the tram tour ahead of us past the Pauraque place, so I left the guys with the kingfisher and snuck down the trail, taking quick looks at the normal spots and not seeing a Pauraque before approaching the group.  I asked the gal if they had seen the Pauraque, and she led me right to him (he was in a normal spot; I just wasn’t looking carefully L), but also mentioned that they might be different birds as they seemed really skittish.  So after promising not to spook him I retrieved the guys, and they enjoyed great looks (and he did indeed look different than the other Pauraques I had seen there)!  The owl wasn’t home, but we heard another Wilson’s Warbler (and at least Bob and I got definitive looks), but the thing took off before Glenn could get a shot…  On the way back we had what we thought was the same kingfisher making noise along the canal, but it turned out to be a female!  Back at the deck I heard some tittering, and we finally found the Tropical Kingbird sitting across the way!

The attention-demanding Green Kingfisher poses behind a Yellow-crowned NIght Heron

The male Green Kingfisher has a rusty breast.

Snowy Egret

Least Grebe

Black-crowned Night Heron

Pauraque - that "false eye" behind the REAL eye was something I hadn't noticed on other birds.

Female Green Kingfisher

Glenn contacted Diane about that time (she wanted to join us later), as mention of a Painted Bunting at the National Butterfly Center got Glenn’s juices going, so we made plans to pick up Diane (and a Whataburger J) and head first to Quinta Mazatlan for the Blue Bunting.  A pair of Curve-billed Thrashers greeted us right in the parking lot, and sure enough, that troupe of Clay-colored Thrushes was still along the entrance road, but they weren’t being as cooperative for photos this time around…poor Glenn!  He really wanted that “robin”!

Clay-colored Thrush

We went straight to the mansion to check in, and the gal told us that the bunting was actually coming in to the feeders at the amphitheater area!!  So we hightailed it over there, found our seats, and sorted through all the House Sparrows in hopes of seeing something blue!  After awhile Bob announced he had it, and before long the Blue Bunting did indeed hop on one of the log feeders and lingered there for the longest time!  What a great look! 

Young male Blue Bunting, a rare visitor from Mexico!

Another couple behind us told us about a Western Tanager that was hanging around near the other feeders in Ebony Grove, so we headed out there next, enjoying a female Lesser Goldfinch at the bridge.  But after waiting a good long time only Curve-billed Thrashers came in (along with the ubiquitous Green Jays) so we took a swing around the grove and then continued on the Wildcat Trail.  When we were almost to the end Bob spotted a Cooper’s Hawk sitting in the water feature – with all the statuary along the trails he thought it was fake at first! J  But as we were leaving I heard a weak eeek, which I suspected was the Blue Bunting again, and sure enough, Diane spotted it and confirmed that’s what it was!  That little guy was making the rounds (and if you look at Quinta’s map showing where he has been found, the sightings are basically all over the park)!

Curve-billed Thrasher

Glenn hoping for one more shot at the thrush...

From there it was time to head to the Butterfly Center, and after checking in Luciano showed us exactly where the Painted Bunting and the Audubon’s Oriole had been hanging out.  So we drove down to the old gardens and paused at the feeders for a minute, where a nonbreeding male Indigo Bunting showed up!  After enjoying the jays and titmice we continued on, where a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher foraged inches from us, and a Carolina Wren zipped across the trail and gave us fleeting looks in the undergrowth!  Another gentleman asked us if we were looking for the Painted Bunting – well, he had just seen it!  It was in an area north of the bathrooms, so I circled the bush he apparently had flown into to no avail, but then suddenly there he was, feeding on the ground!  He then retreated to another bush and gave fleeting looks where another Winter Texan volunteer couple, Tom and Connie, helped us get on him!  Glenn got eyeball shots, and even Diane mentioned that she had never noticed the “red circle around the eye” before!

Green Jays

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Overwintering Painted Bunting

Glenn taking his shot at the bird...

Onward, and as we circled around and Diane and I got separated from the guys, we suddenly noticed them and another couple on another trail feverishly shooting something; I assumed it was the two Long-billed Thrashers fighting and rolling in the dirt, but it was actually the Audubon’s Oriole that had come in to a bait log!  Glenn got cracking photos (which he kindly shared with me J), but alas, Diane and I would never see it, although I heard it a couple of times (and on one occasion a “distant” calling Audubon’s turned out to be a “close” scolding White-eyed Vireo…). 

Glenn's shot of the Audubon's Oriole (© 2018 Glenn Chambliss)

More Clay-colored Thrushes played hide-and-seek before we finally decided to spend some time at the feeders, and it was there that Glenn finally got his “robin” shot as a very bold bird challenged the grackles and jays for a spot on the water feature! J  We noticed, however, that he had an injured eye, and when we ran into him again down the trail, we nearly stepped on him, so we didn’t think he was doing too good…  (That prompted a story from Bob about how he witnessed a Boat-tailed Grackle chase down a House Sparrow into the corner of a building and basically “stab” the thing, then fly off – didn’t even eat it!  He then said the other sparrows gathered around the deceased sparrow before flying off themselves…)  Anyway, the feeders were a great place to end the day:  lots of Green Jays, of course, along with a titmouse that gave us fits by zooming in to get a seed then zooming out again before we could fire off any shots! J  A Lincoln’s Sparrow showed nicely, and even a Hispid Cotton Rat came in to tear apart a dropped orange!

Black-crested Titmouse

Green Jay

Friendly Clay-colored Thrush that came in for a bath (below)...

...and then got attacked by a very UNfriendly female Great-tailed Grackle!

Not sure if this is the same bird, but we noticed his eye appeared to be injured... we couldn't help but wonder if that grackle was the culprit! 

Lincoln's Sparrow

White-eyed Vireo

We run into what we assume is the same thrush with the injured eye!

It finally warmed up enough for at least one Red Admiral!

Called it a day after that, taking them home the “back way” and showing them how to access Anzalduas and Hidalgo that way (we also picked up a White-tailed Kite and a Harris’ Hawk using a For Sale Sign as a perch)!  Upon dropping them off at the Inn added Green Parakeets screaming overhead unseen as a final bird of the day!  Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Cinnamon Teal                        
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Green-winged Teal                    
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Least Grebe                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Neotropic Cormorant
  Great Blue Heron                 
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Tricolored Heron                     
  Black-crowned Night-Heron            
  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron           
  Turkey Vulture                       
  White-tailed Kite                    
  Cooper's Hawk                        
  Harris's Hawk                        
  Red-shouldered Hawk                  
  American Coot                        
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  Spotted Sandpiper                    
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Wilson's Snipe                       
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  White-winged Dove                    
  Mourning Dove                        
  Inca Dove                            
  Common Ground-Dove                   
  White-tipped Dove                    
  Common Pauraque                      
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird             
  Green Kingfisher                     
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  American Kestrel                     
  Green Parakeet                       
  Red-crowned Parrot                    
  Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet        
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                    
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Green Jay                            
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  House Wren                           
  Carolina Wren                        
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Clay-colored Thrush                  
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  American Pipit                       
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Wilson's Warbler                     
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Savannah Sparrow                     
  Grasshopper Sparrow                   
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Blue Bunting                         
  Indigo Bunting                       
  Painted Bunting                      
  Red-winged Blackbird                  
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Altamira Oriole                      
  Audubon's Oriole                     
  Lesser Goldfinch                     
  House Sparrow