Thursday, March 1, 2018

Picture Perfect, Part 2


The day got off to a good start with Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flying over the Inca Dove Cottage (where I picked up my charges), and a Clay-colored Thrush calling in a nearby tree!  We then headed up to La Sal del Rey in hopes of bagging some back country birds, but we were a bit dismayed at the weatherman’s total mis-forecast when what was supposed to be another warm day turned into drizzle with highs in the 60s! L  I decided to start on Rio Beef Road so we’d be traveling Ken Baker Road with the sun to our backs (ha), trying to shoot “improvement shots” of the multiple Pyrrhuloxias that sat enticingly in the trees next to the road!  I was thrilled to hear Sandhill Cranes along Ken Baker, and Tovi actually saw them grazing in a cattle field!  Gaby’s first lifer of the day, a White-tailed Hawk, flew in front of us and then obligingly landed on a pole; not the best light or perch, but it worked!  (I also heard some distant Snow Geese while Gaby was getting his hawk…)  A covey of Bobwhite exploded from a hidden area next to the road and disappeared in the brush, leaving us with a mob of snorting Lark Sparrows and huddling Mourning Doves.

Sandhill Cranes coming in for a landing

Landing gear down...

When we came to the trailhead, we hiked in to the lake in hopes of Snowy Plover, but got several little groups of Least Sandpipers instead.  But on the way in, we heard a little tsp, and a little coaxing brought the coveted Olive Sparrow right out into the open!  (Tovi observed that I, too, suffered from “Shutter Stress Syndrome”, meaning that while the bird was sitting in the open I wasn’t hearing any shutters going off from Gaby’s end, and I was nearly jumping out of my skin screaming in my head, “Shoot it!!  Shoot it before it leaves!!” J)  Cassin’s Sparrow was sadly a no-show along the route, however.  A nice addition was a big ol’ Turkey in the middle of the road along Brushline, and as we passed there were at least two others in the brush!

Trail to La Sal del Rey

The lake

Gaby on the beach

Gaby on the overlook

Wild Turkey

From there we headed down to Estero Llano Grande to hopefully bag Least Grebe, Pauraque, and Buff-bellied Hummingbird (plus a hope-against-hope Beardless Tyrannulet)!  We first made a short foray into the Tropical Zone to see if the “McCall’s” Screech Owl was on his totem pole (he wasn’t), then headed up to the VC to check in.  We spent a good 15 minutes on the deck, and I was sweating the fact that the normally reliable Least Grebe apparently wasn’t there! L  Tovi dutifully kept an eye on the hummingbird feeder while Gaby and I scanned every single waterfowl (no sign of the “Mexican” Duck, either, but the Cinnamon Teal showed up in spades this time)!  An Archilochus hummer was the only thing to come in to the feeder; it was rather long-billed (a characteristic of Black-chinned that Gaby noticed right away), but the outer primary looked rather pointed (which would point – no pun intended – to Ruby-throated), so in a situation like that it’s usually better just to call it an Archilochus.  We spent another 15 minutes at the feeders near the butterfly garden, and while looking at a female Cardinal through my bins, there was the Buffbelly sitting way back in the trees!  Poor Gaby was desperately trying to get on it (another reason to get one of those laser pointers), and by the time he did the bird decided to leave… L

Archilochus hummer; ID open to discussion!

Tovi and Gaby

From there we went on the boardwalk to look at the waterfowl from another angle, and while looking into Avocet Pond, what should Gaby find but the Least Grebe!  It was pretty distant (and pretty uncooperative as it kept diving), but so long as he could get a shot, it counted!  So we headed on to Alligator Lake, taking a cursory look at Dowitcher Pond, where a dark ibis feeding close to shore turned out to be a Glossy (at least to my eyes – subsequent discussion of the photographs and additional field views by others are leading the experts to lean towards a hybrid, as they were picking up some lavender tones in the face that I just couldn’t discern)!  Continuing on, what should finally show up in Grebe Marsh but the Least Grebe, and obviously much closer than in Avocet Pond!  Gaby was a happy camper! J  We dutifully enjoyed the night herons (a Black-crowned was sitting on a stick in the middle of the pond just asking to have his picture taken J) then headed towards the Pauraque spot.  I was really starting to sweat at that point, because he wasn’t in any of his usual spots!  So I told my charges to keep looking while I poked along to the overlook to check that area (startling a pair of ground-feeding Curve-billed Thrashers in the process), when before long Gaby called me back – he had found it!  And I easily saw how I missed it:  he was angled behind that camo-patterned tree so that he was totally blocked to someone walking toward the overlook, but perfectly visible looking back the other direction!  But I was so relieved that Gaby could add the “most photographed Pauraque in the world” to his collection! J  The owl box there was empty as well, and I didn’t hear any wheeK from a tyrannulet, so we headed back to the VC.

Out on the boardwalk

Cinnamon Teal

Dark ibis in question:  the pinkish color under the bill is a point for White-faced...

...but the blue-gray face and dark eye are points for Glossy.

Immature White-faced and Glossy are virtually identical, but the White-faced should be showing its red eye by now.

Some local experts are therefore leaning towards a hybrid on this particular bird...

Least Grebe in front of a preening Shoveler

More Least Grebes looking cute...

Black-crowned Night Heron

Yellow-crowned Night Herons

The famous Pauraque (note the white outer tail feathers)

Eastern Phoebe

 We spent another 15 minutes at the feeders with no excitement except for a female Redwing that hit the window; I held her for the rest of the watch and then took her into the office where they had a box they could keep her in until she recovered.  Gaby was agreeable to try some of the feeders in the Tropical Zone, so we gave the one near the drip another 15 minutes (and while the rest of the feeders were lively, only another Archilochus came in to the hummer feeder), then ran into Park Host May Snider who sent us to the feeder by the Turk’s Cap plant along the Kingbird Trail, where we found Mary Gustafson and her charges waiting as well!  Their main target appeared to be the female Rufous Hummingbird, but before long the Buffbelly rattled and came in, perching on a thin branch (which was preferable to the feeder, according to Gaby), so he finally got his Buffy!  When Mary asked us where we were headed next we said, “Lunch”! J and headed to Subway to eat and run on the way to Santa Ana!

Orange-crowned Warbler getting bugs off the wooden feeder!

Waiting for the hummers...

At another feeder the female Rufous Hummingbird shows nicely!

The main target here was the tyrannulet; we actually checked in under the wire as they were closing, and ran into Sue and John Ewan who had conducted the bird walk that morning with no tyrannulet, but we’d give it a shot!  The highlight on the Chachalaca Trail was a family group of Harris’ Hawks right there, who didn’t seem at all bothered by our presence!  (If only they had been Hook-billed Kites… J)  Willow Lake didn’t have anything unusual until I heard a zhreeeee! and looked up to see four Pine Siskins land in the tree!  We ran into them again later on the trail, and at the Big Blind, Gaby was ecstatic with the pod of Least Grebes (they were my backups in case the Estero bird went AWOL)!  A breeding-plumaged Pied-billed Grebe swam by in back of them for good measure!  Tovi found a close Ladder-backed Woodpecker when I suddenly thought I heard the tyrannulet, which took us all the way back to the trailhead with no additional vocalizations.  We did see a nice Long-billed Thrasher sitting with a Mockingbird, though!

Gaby shoots some cooperative Harris' Hawks (look carefully and you can find all three)!


Cinnamon Teal

More Least Grebes

These are in non-breeding plumage with the whitish throat...

...while this one is coming into breeding plumage!

Pine Siskins (a rare winter visitor in the Valley) fly in!

 Called it a day after that, with an impressive 84 species for the day!  Bird list:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Snow Goose                           
  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Cinnamon Teal                        
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Green-winged Teal                    
  Northern Bobwhite                     
  Wild Turkey                          
  Least Grebe                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Great Egret                           
  Snowy Egret                          
  Cattle Egret                         
  Black-crowned Night-Heron            
  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron           
  Glossy Ibis                          
  White-faced Ibis                     
  Black Vulture                        
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Northern Harrier                     
  Harris's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  American Coot                        
  Sandhill Crane                       
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Laughing Gull                         
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  Mourning Dove                        
  Inca Dove                            
  Common Ground-Dove                   
  White-tipped Dove                     
  Common Pauraque                      
  Ruby-throated Hummingbird            
  Rufous Hummingbird                   
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird             
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  American Kestrel                     
  Eastern Phoebe                       
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Green Jay                            
  Northern Rough-winged Swallow        
  Purple Martin                        
  Cave Swallow                         
  Black-crested Titmouse               
  House Wren                           
  Carolina Wren                        
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                 
  Clay-colored Thrush                   
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Long-billed Thrasher                 
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Wilson's Warbler                     
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Lark Sparrow                         
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Western Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Altamira Oriole                      
  Pine Siskin                          
  House Sparrow                         


1 comment:

  1. Really enjoy your posts, can't wait to be there....only 2 weeks! Is the RGV good for Warblers by the beginning of April?