Monday, April 2, 2018

As the Crow Flies


Jamie had rented a nice SUV, so he opted to drive for our three days together!  He and Tam had an extensive target list, being their first time to South Texas, and he was also interested in photographing the birds, but the two things that intrigued him the most were the Aplomado Falcon and the Brownsville Dump (the latter just because he’d heard so much about it)!  So we started at Boca Chica, actually stopping for a Harris’ Hawk and a Chihuahuan Raven on the way, and at the platform about a half mile past the checkpoint, there was an Aplomado (granted, a distant view, but it still counted)!  The plan was to head straight to the Dump after that, but we had a hard time leaving, as we enjoyed Eastern Meadowlarks, calling Bobwhites, and distant Chachalacas all splitting the air!  Several swallows flew around and actually gave identifiable views against the blue sky:  most were Caves, but I also pulled out a couple of Cliffs and a Tree.  We also had several Caracaras, but I came as close to promising them as I dared that we’d get better looks at the Dump! J 

Harris' Hawk on the way in...

Chihuahuan Raven

Use your imagination and you can see an Aplomado Falcon stretching its tail on the right side of the platform; use it even more to see the second bird on the left behind the bars!

Loggerhead Shrike

Lark Sparrow

Another (or the same) Harris' Hawk on the way out

After chatting with the Border Patrol agents (and getting distracted by a Lark Sparrow on the wire) we headed on up, and I think this is where we had our Scissor-tailed Flycatcher sail by!  Since Jamie was driving, I had him sign in, and just as we pulled in a Ringed Kingfisher of all things went rowing overhead!  The guy gave us three orange safety vests, which was a first!  (Good idea, actually…)  I had told J&T that the Tamaulipas Crows had been reported the day before, so our hopes were high, but Jamie didn’t feel it was necessary to, say, spend an hour there waiting for the things to show up.  Well.  We ended up spending almost an hour and a half there, as the birding was so great!  They had once again moved the mountain, so the road they sent us up gave us a great view of the settling ponds just south of the landfill that were stuffed with birds!  But even before we got up that far, we pulled over to enjoy beautifully-lit Caracaras and vultures, and even another Chihuahuan Raven!

A Chihuahuan Raven welcomes us to the famous Dump!

An adult Crested Caracara looks for a morsel...

"Find anything good in there?"

Youngsters are more brown; this subadult is just starting to get his red face.

Jamie caught this great action shot of two caracaras!  ©2018 James Hayden

Jamie and Tam (©2018 Tamara Hayden)

Another view of the raven...

...and here you can see why the old name was "White-necked Raven"!

Herring Gull

Laughing Gulls (with a couple of token Herrings in the back)

Jamie sneaks a shot of Tam enjoying the spectacle!

Said spectacle...

Settling ponds

We finally made it up as far as we could safely go, parked, then walked across the road to check out the birds on the fences for crows.  After a bit Jamie happened to turn around and yelled, “Look behind us!”  A big flock of Tamaulipas Crows was wafting by right behind us – we estimated about 30 birds!!  (Thankfully we both got some pictures of the group; I didn’t think anyone would believe us otherwise…)  After they flew by and down the hill, we spotted a lone individual circle over us, and we could even hear its frog-like croak!  He landed on another fence a ways away, but what a show!  We ended up walking along the outside of the fenceline to see if we could see where the flock went, and checked the birds down below while we were at it; while we could pick out no odd gulls, we added Black-necked Stilt, Shoveler, Mottled Duck, and both cormorants to the Hotspot list.  A couple of guys from Oklahoma showed up about then (as Jamie put it, this time we were on the “giving” end of the “you just missed it!” scenario…), so after enjoying some young White-tailed Hawks that they pointed out to us, we left them to look and headed back to the car.  Driving down the hill on the way out, however, I saw a suspicious black bird on the fence, and sure enough, it was the crow, leaning over and croaking every so often!  (Probably was the same one that had circled around earlier…)  What a great time!  [Update:  they ran into the same guys later in the week, and thankfully they did get the crow!]

Three members of the huge Tamaulipas Crow flock!

You can see the squared-off tail on the bird on the far left, ruling out Chihuahuan Raven.

Jamie's shot of 27 Tamaulipas Crows!!  ©2018 James Hayden

We refind the straggler on the way out!

From there we headed to Old Port Isabel Road, as there was always the off chance we’d spy a falcon close the road for pictures.  We crawled up towards that hacking platform, but Jamie spotted something on a yucca, and sure enough, it was another Aplomado!  While we were enjoying him through the scope, suddenly a second bird showed up, and the two of them started bombing a pair of White-tailed Hawks that were hunkered in the bush next to the first falcon, that we hadn’t even seen!  That was quite the show! 

Very distant Aplomado Falcon!

Things were pretty slow after that, but we did manage to add Long-billed Curlew, a backlit Bewick’s Wren singing from a yucca, and invisible Cassin’s Sparrows singing out in the field.  At the canal we added a Great Blue Heron and Great Egret, plus a Spotted Sandpiper that I missed, along with a kingfisher of some kind that darted from the bridge and into the same bush that the Belted had on our last trip.  On the other side Tam spotted an LBJ hanging on for dear life in a wind-blown bush that turned out to be a Savannah Sparrow.

Tam on Old Port Isabel Road

Next stop was South Padre, and every photographer has to visit the Flats, so out we went!  There were gobs of birds apparently unbothered by the nearby parasailers:  lots of skimmers, terns (all three “biggies”), and Laughing Gulls (couldn’t pick out a Franklin’s yet), plus lots of Dunlin with a single Western Sandpiper thrown in.  We also enjoyed both morphs of Reddish Egret, a single Tricolored Heron, some Marbled Godwits, and several Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, and Black-bellied Plovers.

Tam and Jamie check out the birds on the Flats

Western Sandpiper

Ruddy Turnstone

Black Skimmers

All three "big terns" (with a token Ring-billed Gull in the back)

Sandwich is the smallest, with a yellow-tipped black bill

Royal is next up, with an unmarked orange bill.

Here is a Sandwich Tern (left) next to a Caspian, the largest tern.

These are told by their heavy, dusky-tipped red bills

Telling someone off...

Headed to the Birding Center after that, where right away Jamie spotted a pair of Oystercatchers all hunkered down!  They happened to be next to two Double-crested Cormorant and a Neotropic, so that was a great size comparison.  Lots of Barn Swallows were flying around, and I saw something dull brown fly up and land; as I got the scope on it, it looked suspiciously like an American Golden Plover, which would have been a life bird for Jamie (and he agreed that it looked too slender to be a Blackbelly), but I would have felt better if I had seen the thing fly again…

Tam and Jamie outside the SPI BNC (©2018 Tamara Hayden)

As usual, the birds were fearless (the Coots were actually asking for a handout J), but Jamie spotted something out in the bay that looked suspicious, so we tootled out there to discover a pod of Pied-billed Grebes in the green stuff!  One American Wigeon pair was still hanging around the mangroves, so that was nice.  We heard several Soras, and finally both Jamie and Tam saw one come out (I missed that one), but in the same little area we had great views of White Ibis, a Spoonbill, Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, and of course many Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.  In the songbird department a Yellow-rumped Warbler was flitting around, and a little pishing brought up a smacking Lincoln’s Sparrow (plus several hiding Yellowthroats)! 

Common Gallinule

American Coot

Tam and Jamie on the boardwalk

Snoozing (but alert) Roseate Spoonbill

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

White Ibis

The spoonbill decides to preen a bit (along with the ibis)

Then makes his move to come down and get a little lunch...

Pectoral Sandpiper

I heard a Least Bittern cackle, so after enjoying a Black-crowned Night Heron and the resident Green Heron in his culvert, we headed out towards the “south pond” (the one that’s visible from both the Birding Center boardwalk and the Convention Centre’s), as that’s the direction the cackle came from.  Couldn’t find the bittern, but we had another collection of nice birds, including a Snipe that Jamie spotted!  We had nice comparative views of both yellowlegs species, more Pectorals, some Stilt Sandpipers, a couple of Short-billed Dowitchers, and a couple more suspicious-looking Pluvialis plovers, but thankfully one of them spread his wings briefly, proving him to indeed be a Golden!  Cha-ching!  A Purple Martin gurgled overhead, and an Osprey was enjoying his lunch on the blue water tower on the way to the parking lot.

Jamie spots a distant Wilson's Snipe that gets photobombed by an American Golden Plover (below)!

More views of the plover

Green Heron

Mottled Ducks

Showing the purple speculum

Tam meets one of the friendly Great-tailed Grackles (result below)

©2018 Tamara Hayden

We had to head home after that, finishing with an impressive 94 species for the day!  Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  American Wigeon                      
  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Northern Shoveler                     
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Northern Bobwhite                    
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Double-crested Cormorant             
  Brown Pelican                         
  Least Bittern                        
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Tricolored Heron                     
  Reddish Egret                        
  Cattle Egret                         
  Green Heron                          
  Black-crowned Night-Heron            
  White Ibis                           
  Roseate Spoonbill                    
  Black Vulture                        
  Turkey Vulture                        
  Harris's Hawk                        
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  Common Gallinule                      
  American Coot                        
  American Oystercatcher               
  Black-bellied Plover                 
  American Golden-Plover               
  Spotted Sandpiper                             
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  Lesser Yellowlegs                    
  Long-billed Curlew                   
  Marbled Godwit                       
  Ruddy Turnstone                      
  Stilt Sandpiper                       
  Pectoral Sandpiper                   
  Western Sandpiper                    
  Short-billed Dowitcher               
  Wilson's Snipe                        
  Laughing Gull                        
  Ring-billed Gull                     
  Herring Gull                         
  Caspian Tern                         
  Royal Tern                           
  Sandwich Tern                        
  Black Skimmer                        
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  Mourning Dove                        
  Ringed Kingfisher                    
  Belted Kingfisher                    
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  Aplomado Falcon                      
  Couch's Kingbird                     
  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher            
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                      
  Tamaulipas Crow                      
  Chihuahuan Raven                     
  Northern Rough-winged Swallow        
  Purple Martin                        
  Tree Swallow                         
  Barn Swallow                          
  Cliff Swallow                        
  Cave Swallow                         
  House Wren                           
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Curve-billed Thrasher                
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Cassin's Sparrow                     
  Lark Sparrow                          
  Savannah Sparrow                     
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                  
  House Sparrow                        


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