Friday, January 26, 2018

Sabal Surprise


I had been telling Tom and Nancy about the success of the “resurrected” Sabal Palm Grove (a Valley hotspot currently “behind the Wall”), so we decided to start there today on what turned out to be an absolutely perfect day weather-wise!  After checking in and being appropriately wowed by the restored Rabb House, we headed onto the Resaca Loop.  Even before we got to the “trail hub”, Carolina Wrens were singing all over, and we even had a couple of Catbirds competing!  In the woods we heard a distant Gray Hawk whistle, and closer to the Resaca an Olive Sparrow allowed brief views on the side of the trail.  While we dipped on the reported White-throated Sparrow, a hawk gave a brief pass low overhead that turned out to be a Zone-tailed!  That was pretty unusual for Cameron County (my first “Zonetail” out along Boca Chica Boulevard turned out to be a very dark young White-tailed…), and thankfully the bird perched down the way and gave prolonged scope views in great light!  When it finally flew it gave a great look at the Turkey Vulture-like pattern and the thin gray bars on the tail that denote an immature bird. Shortly after he left a Red-shouldered Hawk started yelling, so we couldn’t help but wonder if the Zonetail was upsetting him…

Olive Sparrow

Young Zone-tailed Hawk

Tom's IPhone shot through his Swarovski scope (©2018 Tom Goetten)

Except for a Kiskadee and a pair of territorial Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, it was pretty quiet up on the Vireo Trail, but it’s always a lovely walk.  We took the Oriole Trail cutover and ran into a bunch of other birders, telling them about the Zonie, then headed towards the big blind.  On the way we ran into a feeding flock that included a Nashville Warbler in addition to Orange-crowns, Yellow-rumps, gnatcatchers, and a slew of titmice!  In the blind, the gentleman that leads bird walks for Sabal was with a young man who apparently had never birded before, and we enjoyed Least Grebes, a variety of ducks, and a liftoff of vultures!  Lo and behold, a black blob off to the side turned out to be our Zonetail again, so I’m glad we weren’t the only ones to see it (the volunteer said he had only seen a Zonie one other time there, knowing how rare they are that far east)!  The bird really put on a show as he flew back and forth across the Resaca, showing off every field mark!

We headed back to the car after that and decided to take a quick peek at the hacking station along Boca Chica, seeing as my colleague Justin had seen some there the night before.  On the way in, however, we swung around to get wonderful looks at a stunning White-tailed Hawk!  We played tag with the water-spraying truck as we snuck down to the road opposite the platform; no falcons, but the mob over at the Dump was something else!  Going back through the checkpoint one of the Border Patrol guys said he had actually seen the falcons previously!

Considering the time, I decided to head straight to South Padre, even skipping the famous Boat Ramp along SR48 (even Nancy said it looked pretty packed with fisher-people), but we did manage to pick up a pair of White-tailed Kites, Roseate Spoonbills, and a mob of White Pelicans out in the bahia on the way!  We went straight to the flats, where the water was way out, but it appeared to be birdless, and what was even more surprising on this sunny Saturday afternoon was the lack of people!  But as we made our way out there we saw the place was dotted with birds:  both Piping and Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderlings, Dunlin, and Black-bellied Plovers were the main characters, along with a couple of Western Sandpipers.  There was no big larid flock, but rather a meager selection of the regulars.  The mob instead consisted of thousands of Redheads out in the bay!  A Peregrine Falcon powered over, and before we left Tom spotted a white morph Reddish Egret way out there!

Herring Gull

The ever-endearing Piping Plover

Dour-looking Semipalmated Plover
From there we wheeled into the Convention Centre which surprisingly had quite a few people, but not too many birds (ran into Willie, Martin, and Sheridan there, three birding acquaintances from central Texas that I rarely see)!  An extremely friendly Mockingbird sat watching the proceedings on the back deck from a bush literally only feet away while we scoped the mudflats out back!  The boardwalk was a little more productive, with stilts and ducks in the East Pond, and the resident show-off Common Gallinule near the end.  A hovering Belted Kingfisher put on a show, a Black-crowned Night Heron gave great looks, and a Sora even popped out into the open!  Folks were telling us about a Stingray visible on the other boardwalk, so we headed out there and enjoyed that little critter, plus the “almost” dark morph Reddish Egret (with the handful of white wing feathers) that always seems to be there!  We saw that the bird mob would be in better light from the Birding Center’s boardwalk, so we hightailed it over there next…

Friendly Mockingbird

Gulf Fritillary

Tom and Nancy check out the East Pond

Snoozing Black-crowned Night Heron

Great Blue Heron

The friendly Common Gallinule


The same night heron from the other boardwalk...

Sting Ray

Reddish Egret

Tom and Nancy fell in love with the place (and want to see boardwalks like that built in their local birding hotspot in Illinois)!  A Great Egret posed point blank, and we had eyeball looks at both Tricolored and Little Blue Herons!  A Great Blue Heron was soaking up the sun with a “yoga” pose, and Nancy got to enjoy seeing the Coot’s toes!  Out on the “pier”, we did indeed get cracking views of wigeon, pintail, Redheads, a single skimmer, and the ubiquitous gulls (Nancy even got to hear them “laugh” J)!  Although in terrible light, we added Short-billed Dowitcher to the list, along with more Dunlin.

Great Egret

Wind-blown Belted Kingfisher

Tom and Nancy on the Birding Center's boardwalk

Another Common Gallinule

"Myrtle" Warbler

Several shots of a focused Little Blue Heron

An American Wigeon poses with a Pintail behind him, plus a Coot and a couple of snoozing Redheads

Northern Pintail

View of the Convention Centre's pier from the Birding Center's pier!
Continuing on the trail we ran into Gunnar, one of our “Winter Texans” who likes to stay at the Inn along with his wife Lorna, and he told us about a Clapper Rail down the way!  (“Just look for the Alligator…”)  We thanked him profusely and headed down, ignoring the pack of White Ibis until we could bag this rail!  And bag him we did:  he was right out in the open, along with the whining gallinule, a Mottled Duck, and a pair of grackles (the gallinule even tried to beat up on the duck)!  The Green Heron that flew in almost got ignored!  After the rail slunk away we returned to the ibis and enjoyed them before moving on (and the Alligator decided to haul out on the bank in the meantime).  We did manage to add a pair of Blue-winged Teal, and in the East Pond a female Green-winged Teal and some Lesser Yellowlegs were hanging out with the birds already seen earlier, but alas, we couldn’t kick up a bittern.  But Nancy was pleased as punch with the rail (as was I)!

Clapper Rail

Pack of snoozing/preening White Ibis

Green Heron

Had to rush home after that, but with a nice list of 87 species!  Bird list:

  American Wigeon                      
  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Northern Pintail                     
  Green-winged Teal                    
  Lesser Scaup                         
  Least Grebe                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  American White Pelican               
  Brown Pelican                        
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Little Blue Heron                    
  Tricolored Heron                     
  Reddish Egret                         
  Green Heron                          
  Black-crowned Night-Heron            
  White Ibis                           
  Roseate Spoonbill                    
  Black Vulture                        
  Turkey Vulture                        
  White-tailed Kite                    
  Harris's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Red-shouldered Hawk                  
  Gray Hawk                            
  Zone-tailed Hawk                     
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  Clapper Rail                         
  Common Gallinule                     
  American Coot                        
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  Black-bellied Plover                 
  Semipalmated Plover                  
  Piping Plover                        
  Lesser Yellowlegs                    
  Ruddy Turnstone                      
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Western Sandpiper                    
  Short-billed Dowitcher               
  Laughing Gull                         
  Ring-billed Gull                     
  Herring Gull                         
  Forster's Tern                       
  Royal Tern                           
  Black Skimmer                        
  Rock Pigeon                           
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  Mourning Dove                        
  Belted Kingfisher                    
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Peregrine Falcon                     
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Tropical Kingbird                    
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  Green Jay                            
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  House Wren                           
  Marsh Wren                           
  Carolina Wren                        
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Gray Catbird                         
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Nashville Warbler                     
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Great-tailed Grackle                  
  House Sparrow                        


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