Monday, May 28, 2018

The Birder Patrol's Wild Vireo Chase


The original plan for the monthly Bird Patrol trip was Port Mansfield, but in the meantime a rare Black-whiskered Vireo (BWVI) showed up at the South Padre Island Convention Centre!  Discussion amongst the core members was had, as the vireo had shown up early in the week and the trip wasn’t until Saturday – would it stick around?  History with Texas BWVIs suggested it wouldn’t, but the majority voted for South Padre anyway (there’s always something to see there regardless), and as it turned out, that was the better choice as the biggest fishing tournament of the year was to take place in Port Mansfield that day!

So meeting at the Jack-in-the-Box on Ed Carey in Harlingen, our group consisted of myself, Norma Friedrich, Sue Griffin and her hubby Billy Snider, Marilyn Vincent, Alicia Cavazos, and Linda DeRosiers (the latter two who met us there).  The bird hadn’t been reported since Wednesday, so we knew  we were taking a chance, and as we arrived we could tell right away that the place was gonna be pretty dead; about all that were around were grackles and mockingbirds (although I thought I heard an oriole at one point).  I mentioned that the BWVIs I had seen in Florida were almost always associated with mangroves, so we decided to head out there before it got too hot.

The Birder Patrol checking the back side

We definitely had more action there, although it was all of the waterbird kind (except for the Common Nighthawk batting around):  in the little flat to the north, we found a pair of Wilson’s Plovers along with two adorable babies!  A few Black-bellied Plovers and a Willet were also hanging around along with a few White Ibis, but nothing but blackbirds were in the mangroves.  Out on the pier we had a Pied-billed Grebe and a pair of Neotropic Cormorants, and Alicia spotted some Brown Pelicans way out there, but we ended up sitting under the shelter and schmoozing quite a bit! J  On the way back we tried to pick out what was in the “east pond” (always tough when you’re looking into the sun) and were entertained by several baby Black-necked Stilts, and adult White-rumped Sandpipers being chased by the parent stilts!  Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Reddish Egret, Common Gallinule, Great Blue and Yellow-crowned Night Heron, and a cackling Least Bittern were also added to the list (Billy was the only one to actually see the bittern, though).

Wilson's Plover

Neotropic Cormorant

Black-necked Stilt

Norma and Linda pose while Alicia checks out the plovers...

Baby Black-necked Stilt

With its reflection

Do I hear any "awwww"s yet??

Check out those legs!

After that Norma, Alicia, and Linda had to leave, so the rest of us piled in Marilyn’s van and headed to The Flats in order to give our feet a rest!  The birds weren’t as numerous as they normally are, but we added Royal, Caspian, Sandwich, and Least Terns to the list, as well as a dancing white morph Reddish Egret and a couple of Sanderlings.  After searching in vain for more plovers, we headed over to the Birding Center to use the restrooms and get a book Sue was looking for as a gift.  In the meantime we began chatting with Javi Gonzales, the staff naturalist (who inadvertently got interviewed by the Valley Morning Star while manning the front desk, so everyone was complimenting him on the article) and Stephanie Bilodeau, who was about ready to give a talk on the conservation of coastal birds, so we stayed and listened, but not before taking a peek out back into the wetlands and enjoying a pair of Black-bellied Whistling and Mottled Ducks in great light! J  She shared how her organization (the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program) is monitoring the nesting birds that are dependent upon coastal habitat (especially the local Snowy and Wilson’s Plovers), and it was very informative (and the baby plovers provided a cuteness overdose… J)!

Royal Terns on The Flats

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks at the Birding Center

Mottled Duck (with his "muddy duck" mate below)

From there we decided to go to the gang’s favorite lunch place, El Papa’s in Port Isabel (and witnessing the traffic coming onto SPI we realized we were leaving just in time), for their fried shrimp fix, and it was a delightful little place!  After lunch we headed down SR 48 to the famous boat ramp, picking up several Chihuahuan Ravens on the way, but alas, there were no oystercatchers about, although we did have a very cooperative Ruddy Turnstone and enjoyed several Black Skimmers sailing around!  Heading back into Port Isabel I think I was the only one to see the Harris’ Hawk on the pole…

Ruddy Turnstone

Showing the streaks on the cap

Snowy Egret

We were going to head back to Ed Carey from there, but while traveling along SR 100 I asked the gang if they knew where this Laguna Vista Nature Park was, as every time I’d try to find it I’d get lost! L  They had, but couldn’t remember how to get there, so we went on a “wild park chase”, first turning north on Mesquite from SR 100, but then realizing we were gonna hit the main drag before finding a park, we made a left on Taylor, and where it T’d with Palm, there it was in front of us (and to the left a little)!  But as we pulled in the caliche lot, Billy saw the paved parking lot across the way and said, “That’s where we parked!”  So from there we headed straight up Palm to Broadway (the road I had originally turned onto from FM 510 where I was told to “turn left after the library and before the church”), hung a left, and continued on Broadway, thinking that would swing around and take us there!  Well, I quickly realized that was the mistake I had originally made wandering around that neighborhood and not being able to find it, so we turned around, tried hanging a right on unmarked Fresno, then another right where it T’d on Palo Blanco, and there it was!  This is a spot that has gotten rave reviews that I always wanted to take our guests to, but could never find it, and I was so happy and thankful to Marilyn for being willing to take this detour!  (Then we had to plot the course going backwards:  after making the turn past the library, you take the second left – Palo Blanco – and just go to the end!)

From there we decided to explore some more and took Ted Hunt north to the newly renovated General Brandt Road; we stopped at a sorghum field to see if any Dickcissels were singing, but it was dead quiet in almost 100-degree temps!  We added Loggerhead Shrike on the way up, but we could find no hawks, and the resacas were bone dry.  So taking the detour around Rio Hondo, we made a brief stop at Lantana Lake on Sam Houston, where we added Avocet, Stilt Sandpiper, and a lovely Wilson’s Phalarope to the list.

Finally made it back to the JITB after a wonderful day of birding; even though the species list was scanty (compared to what you usually get after an outing to SPI), the fellowship was great!  Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Mottled Duck                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Brown Pelican                        
  Least Bittern                        
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                           
  Snowy Egret                          
  Reddish Egret                        
  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron           
  White Ibis                           
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Harris's Hawk                         
  Common Gallinule                     
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  American Avocet                      
  Black-bellied Plover                 
  Wilson's Plover                      
  Lesser Yellowlegs                    
  Ruddy Turnstone                      
  Stilt Sandpiper                      
  White-rumped Sandpiper               
  Short-billed Dowitcher               
  Wilson's Phalarope                   
  Laughing Gull                        
  Least Tern                           
  Caspian Tern                         
  Royal Tern                            
  Sandwich Tern                        
  Black Skimmer                        
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  Mourning Dove                        
  Common Nighthawk                      
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Crested Caracara                     
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  Chihuahuan Raven                     
  Purple Martin                        
  Barn Swallow                         
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  House Sparrow                        


Monday, May 14, 2018

Cameron County Big Day 2018


With a mild front coming through (and even the threat of a little rain), it was looking like the migrant show in Cameron County might be good!  Started the count with a singing Mockingbird (1) and flyover Killdeer (2) outside the apartment.  Drove straight to Resaca de la Palma State Park, arriving an hour before dawn, where I wound up adding Pauraque (3) even before I got to the park, as they were sitting on the road!  Once at the dirt lot just outside the gate I just set up my chair and enjoyed the dawn chorus:  like last year, the White-winged Doves (4) were dominant, but also added Couch’s Kingbird (5), and thankfully heard the Screech Owls (6) trilling!  A Yellow-billed Cuckoo (7) let loose, followed by (in order of appearance J) Brown-crested Flycatcher (8), White-tipped (9) and Mourning Doves (10), Common Nighthawk (11), Cardinal (12), Great Horned Owl (13), Altamira Oriole (14) right overhead, Green Jay (15), flyover Red-winged Blackbirds (16), Olive Sparrow (17), Carolina Wren (18, that actually sat up and showed itself J), Kiskadee (19), noisy Great-tailed Grackles (20), and Golden-fronted Woodpecker (21).  It was light enough to wander by then, so I went into the main parking area to see if I could nab this Yellow-green Vireo that was reported earlier.  Added Black-crested Titmouse (22), and an Inca Dove (23) that was singing near the buildings, along with a laughing Ladder-backed Woodpecker (24).  Was actually heading out when I heard some clipped, House Sparrow-like phrases coming from where some yellow Caution tape was stretched across some of the lot, and sure enough, there was the Yellow-green Vireo (25), singing away!  I ran into a British couple on the way back to my car and told them about it, and thankfully the thing came to us and started singing robustly!  By then the Chachalacas (26) were tuning up, and on the way north along New Carmen Road added Harris’ Hawk (27) on a pole, and a Barn Swallow (28) swooping by.  In the fields heard both Blue Grosbeak (29), Bobwhite (30), and Eastern Meadowlark (31).

The next stop was Sabal Palm Sanctuary, and by taking the “scenic route” through urban Brownsville (with the window down) was able to add House Sparrow (32), Rock Pigeon (33), Laughing Gull (34), Starling (35), and Tropical Kingbird (36)!  Once on the entrance road I heard White-eyed Vireo (37), and in the parking area a Hooded Oriole (38) wheeped, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (39) flew overhead, and a Bronzed Cowbird (40) sang his distinctive song.  After checking in picked up the Buff-bellied Hummingbird (41) in the garden, and a stroll along the Resaca Trail added Long-billed Thrasher (42), the “Brownsville” Yellowthroat (43), and by a miracle I actually spotted a Gray Hawk (44) in a tree (didn’t hang around for pictures, though…)!  A Groove-billed Ani (45) gave his squeaky calls, but the Vireo Trail had the treasures:  both male and female American Redstarts (46) came in close, along with a beautiful Magnolia Warbler (46)!  A Catbird (48) also showed up, but the star of the show was a knockout male Blackburnian Warbler (49)!  A couple of other things showed but I just couldn’t get good looks; one bird looked like it morphed from a Tennessee Warbler to an Orange-crowned Warbler to a Philadelphia Vireo, so I just let that one go…  I was surprised to hear an Acadian Flycatcher (50) give a little bit of his Whatzup! song!  The pond at the big blind was surprisingly productive, with several Pied-billed Grebes (51), a Green Kingfisher (52) claiming the dead snag that the Ringed Kingfisher had claimed on a previous trip, plenty of Blue-winged Teal (53), a Little Blue Heron (54), and a Greater Yellowlegs (55) that flew in.  A Bank Swallow (56) chattered as it shot by, and back up on the main trail a Rose-breasted Grosbeak (57) gave its pik call.  Picked up Lesser Goldfinch (58) on the way back to the parking lot, and added a flyover Tricolored Heron (59) just before jumping in the car!

Green Kingfisher

Old Port Isabel Road was next, and a short stop where the road turns to dirt added Rough-winged Swallow (60).  Stopping at the traditional falcon viewing area just past the canal added some Gull-billed Terns (61) batting around, plus a singing Lark Sparrow (62) on the wire, but I was really bummed when I looked at the nesting platform and didn’t see a falcon L.  But a little extra looking found him on a small tree nearby – Aplomado Falcon for #63!  Down the road the Willets (64) were calling and displaying, and picked up a Curve-billed Thrasher (65) flying into a bush.  In the open fields was tickled pink to hear my FOS Botteri’s Sparrows (66) along with the ever-present Cassin’s (67)!  At subsequent stops along the road added Verdin (68), Cactus Wren (69), Caracara (70), an immature White-tailed Hawk (71 – would have been really bummed had I missed this one in this county, too!), Turkey Vulture (72), flyover Dickcissels (73), and Bewick’s Wren (74).  At the canal added Cave Swallow (75) and Snowy Egret (76), plus a Horned Lark (77) closer to the north end in the ag fields.

Blue Grosbeak

Cassin's Sparrow

Now it was time for the big show at the Island! J  Got the Eurasian Collared Dove (78) out of the way on the way, but once I got near the Convention Centre, holy smokes!!  Cops were everywhere directing traffic, and there were mobs of people everywhere: people were even parking on The Flats!  That sure didn’t bode well for finding a spot at the Convention Centre L, but I went by faith and checked out the beach bums:  Great Blue Heron (79), Black-bellied Plover (80) in their fine breeding dress, and Royal Terns (81) trying to impress the ladies.  Ruddy Turnstones (82) were also gorgeous, and one Least Tern (83) even had a fish for his missus!  Added Sandwich Tern (84), Black Skimmer (85), Short-billed Dowitcher (86), and even a couple of Common Terns (87) hiding in the mob!  Franklin’s Gulls (88) were showing well, and the Dunlins (89) were just gorgeous with their red backs and black bellies!  Most of the Sanderlings (90) looked to still be in basic plumage, though…  A scruffy-looking Black Tern (91) flew by while a Caspian Tern (92) gave its retching call, and a few White-rumped Sandpipers (93) flew by, leaving no doubt as to their identity!

Black-bellied Plover

Lineup of larids

Franklin's Gulls (back) and Common Terns (front)

Snoozing Dunlin

Pseudo-snoozing Sanderling; this female is actually in her breeding plumage!

Short-billed Dowitchers

Ruddy Turnstones

With baited breath I rolled into the Convention Centre and miraculously found a spot!  I headed to the water feature first, where the reported Purple Gallinule (94) was just showing off!  (A Yellow-green Vireo had also been reported, but having already bagged that one at Resaca I didn’t look for it too hard…)  Mama Mottled Duck (95) and her babies were there as well, and a female Indigo Bunting (96) briefly showed herself.  It was beginning to look rather bleak, though, as far as the hoped-for “lots of migrants” was concerned; a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (97) buzzed overhead, while finally a Gray-cheeked Thrush (98) hopped out into the open.  I thought I heard a Cedar Waxwing, then tracked him down right overhead (99)!  In the “back yard” an Eastern Wood Pewee got the #100 honor, while a Black-and-white Warbler (101) was the only other migrant I could dig out.  Looking out over the Flats from the back of the CC added Reddish Egret (102) and a Neotropic Cormorant (103) to the list.  By then the “tame” White Ibis (104) had shown up, but I was ready to throw in the towel until I ran into Brad McKinney, who encouraged me to stick it out as he had just seen both the Prairie and Blackpoll Warblers!  About that time a group was on something and asked his opinion: it was a Philadelphia Vireo (105)!  I stuck close to Brad after that, and shortly after adding a young male Orchard Oriole (106), Brad had the Prairie Warbler (107) by the “corner bench”!  Another couple had reported a Common Loon out in the bay, so we headed for the boardwalk, adding Green Heron (108), a flyby Baltimore Oriole (109), Black-necked Stilts (110) in the “east pond”, a cackling Common Gallinule (111), and a crying Sora (112).  Sure enough, a beat-up basic-plumaged Common Loon (113) was right off the pier (funny I never saw him on previous trips)!  On the way back Brad found a Tennessee Warbler (114) deep in the mangroves!  I headed back to the Centre, where I planted myself at the water feature and Brad went to the corner area, promising to give a shout if the Blackpoll Warbler showed up!  Didn’t take long, and shortly a nice male Blackpoll became Bird #115!

Friendly Purple Gallinule

Cedar Waxwing

Young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak hiding out in the mangroves

Beat-up Common Loon that should have left a long time ago!

Interesting view of the bill...

After thanking him profusely for helping me nail some good birds, I headed over to the Birding Center, where a Golden-winged Warbler had been seen in their butterfly garden.  I heard some Oystercatchers (116) scream by, and while no warbler popped up (except for a Tennessee that another couple was ruminating over), an interesting empid allowed close views and photos, and after eliminating all other possibilities I at least narrowed it down to “Traill’s”, and made a gun-to-the-head decision to call it an Alder (117) after some discussion, due to the eye ring (I rarely see one on a Willow).  Heading out on the boardwalk added a beautiful Great Egret (118) with his plumes, the ubiquitous Coots (119), and a female Summer Tanager (120) in that “secret” area by the building Baceliza had told us about!  Continuing on, I was surprised to see what I assumed was the same loon, now hauled out on a bank inside the boardwalk trail!  Sadly, he didn’t look real good…  I was also dismayed at the lack of spoonbills, but managed to add Least (121), Pectoral (122), and Stilt Sandpipers (123) to the list.  Near the end of the boardwalk a Northern Waterthrush (124) pinked and showed himself, and a Purple Martin (125) gurgled by the water tower.

While most of my "consultants" weren't willing to go beyond "Traill's" on this one, a couple felt comfortable calling it an Alder Flycatcher!

Summer Tanager

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret decked out in his plumes

The hapless loon has made his way from the bay to the shore, which is a good indication that he's sick, as they only come to land in order to breed.

Note his foot off to the side
Pectoral Sandpipers

Headed over to Sheepshead after that, where I ran into Brad again, but it was really dead; some Chimney Swifts (126) flew over, and the same couple who had told us about the loon had cottoned me onto a Least Flycatcher (127) flopping around the “sunny side”!  I gave the place my normal 15 minutes, but then decided to head on to Weaver Road.

Gray Catbird

This was my only shot at specialty “grasspipers”, and was sweating a little when the only thing I could kick up was a Brown-headed Cowbird (128)!  A Loggerhead Shrike (129) was near the house south of the sod farms, and a pair of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers (130) frolicked along Jimenez Road.  From there went straight to the resaca at the Ebony Unit of Las Palomas WMA, where I added Least Grebe (131) and Wilson’s Phalarope (132), but on a lark decided to check “Rangerville Resaca” (which was bone dry the last time I came by with clients), and this time it had water in it!  It still had quite a bit of “shoreline”, so was able to add Semipalmated (133) and Spotted Sandpiper (134) to the list.  Heading back down Jimenez and up onto the dike at Adams Garden Reservoir, a Common Ground Dove (135) shot by on the way, and was very happy to see a Roseate Spoonbill (135) fly overhead and then land in the little canal!

Roseate Spoonbill (and chopped off Snowy Egret)

Last stop was Tiocano Lake; there wasn’t much visible (and I had actually gotten there earlier than I had last year – spent a lot more time on the Island last time, I think…), but did catch a Black-crowned Night Heron (137) fly over the marsh.  After poking around a bit and hearing a Least Bittern (138) cackle, I decided to just pull over near the one spot where you can see open water, and just sit in the car and watch and listen, seeing as I was facing east.  That was great, as eventually the King Rails (139) came through, and a beautiful Yellow-crowned Night Heron (140) flew in!  Heard the distinctive wheeze of a Fulvous Whistling Duck (141), and before long he circled around overhead where I could actually see him!  Seeing as I had gotten pretty much all I was gonna get there, I headed out, adding a singing Marsh Wren (142) on the way.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Tiocano Lake

That would turn out to be the last bird of the day, as a quick look at the wetlands at La Feria Nature Park added nothing but a good exercise walk…  Oh, and Brad enlightened me as to the hubbub on the Island:  it was Cinco de Mayo!  Duh…