Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A Falcon Blitz, a Migrant Semi-Bust


Susan and Terry had been to South Texas previously on tour, but there were a few “dream birds” that were missed that trip that she was hoping they could nab this time around, namely the Aplomado Falcon and White-collared Seedeater!  Seeing as both of those are on opposite sides of the Valley, they agreed to book two separate days, and today’s adventure was to be a Falcon Hunt.

We actually left Alamo at 6:00 am in order to get to Boca Chica Boulevard by sunrise, and we made good time getting there.  We almost ran down some Bobwhites just past the checkpoint, and lots of stuff was singing (primarily Eastern Meadowlarks), but once we stopped at Yolanda Road (and tried not to get run over by all the big trucks turning down said road), Susan spotted a suspicious bird right away, and it was the falcon!  Unfortunately he clandestinely escaped while I was getting the scope, but thankfully we found him again on his nesting platform!  I was very glad to get that target nailed down right away!  But on the way out we were chatting with the Border Patrol guys when I heard a Sedge Wren singing across the road!  So we pulled over in their little parking area and crossed the street; unfortunately we couldn’t pull him out (and Susan couldn’t hear him – the traffic noise didn’t help), so I was hopeful we might be able to get one along Old Port Isabel (OPIR).

An Aplomado Falcon preens on his nesting platform

Happy campers Terry and Susan

Susan couldn’t recall if she had seen Tamaulipas Crow in the US or not (their tour included El Cielo in Mexico, where they saw them on the way down), so since The Dump was right there, we wheeled in and gave it a shot.  She wasn’t keen on spending a lot of time looking for it, but like last time, we certainly ended up spending more time there than we had originally planned, and truth be told, Susan’s favorite experience there was the hordes of Laughing Gulls in beautiful breeding plumage (and “laughing”, of course)!  We did have a handful of Franklin’s Gulls fly over, and there were all ages of both Ring-billed and Herring Gulls there, but I couldn’t pick out anything unusual in a quick scan.  On the way out we did see several corvids that got our hearts racing, but they turned out to be Chihuahuan Ravens, which were still fun.  Two other birders saw me get my camera out and came over, but were rather crestfallen that they weren’t the coveted crows!

A Chihuahuan Raven picks through the garbage at the Brownsville Dump

Since there was always the chance of a closer falcon along OPIR, we headed that way, and indeed there was another Aplomado on that nesting platform, but also territorial Willets displaying, a Lesser Yellowlegs that came wheeling in, and a distant Long-billed Curlew!  Before we got out into the open area Susan spotted an Indigo Bunting, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo went tearing through as well!  Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were very cooperative for photos, and Lark Sparrows were less so…  We picked up both woodpeckers on that leg, along with a whupping Brown-crested Flycatcher.  Out in the flatlands a young White-tailed Hawk sailed around while a second bird landed on a yucca for scope views!  We also had a couple of Caracaras sit and fly for us, and again, lots of meadowlarks were around, along with distant Cassin’s Sparrows (one sang pretty close to the road, but we could never find him; the wind was whipping up pretty good by that point).  Unfortunately, the “Sedge Wren Spot” produced no Sedge Wrens, so we continued on, checking the canal and padding the list with some egrets and cormorants.  Near the end of the road several Cattle Egrets in fine breeding plumage were attending several cows, so that was fun!

Eastern Meadowlark

OPIR's Aplomado is also on his platform!

Detail of the falcon

Pretty Lark Sparrow

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Breeding-plumaged Cattle Egrets

We got to talking about Indigo Buntings, which led to Susan mentioning that she wouldn’t mind seeing some migrants, so since we had gotten her main target, we headed on in to South Padre, even though I was pretty sure the “show” was over, now that the winds were whipping out the south and most probably blowing migrants right over.  But there were a few things at the Convention Centre:  Hooded Warblers continued to delight, and Susan was particularly charmed by this one female that had a bit of a black lining around her face!  I ran into a bunch of friends there (Tamie was particularly nonplussed when I said, “You shoulda been here yesterday…” J), and it was probably akin to the old adage that there were more birders than birds, but we still enjoyed Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Tennessee, Black-and-white, and Yellow Warblers, Northern Parulas, Warbling and White-eyed Vireos, Summer Tanagers, Catbirds, and yes, Indigo Buntings! J  We had a single Black-throated Green Warbler come in, and a Yellow-headed Blackbird was drawing a lot of attention out back where the whistling ducks, pigeons, and grackles were feeding!  The White Ibis was still hanging around, as were both the Lincoln’s and Savannah Sparrows (the former giving a good performance of the “Towhee Shuffle”).  Terry (a butterfly enthusiast) was a little disheartened that one of the Hoodies was gobbling down a Red Admiral!  We went out back just to pad the list with water birds (Terry admitted he drew the line at shorebirds J), and had another cuckoo whiz by!

Yellow Warbler

Enchanted by a female Hooded Warbler (below)!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

White Ibis that always seems to be there...

In a little more artistic pose!

Lincoln's Sparrow

Doing the "Towhee Shuffle" (need a video to appreciate it...)

Young male Hooded Oriole
After that we decided to check out Sheepshead (it gave us time to eat our sandwiches on the way J), and the moment we arrived a local family was waving us over where a Painted Bunting was bathing in one of the water features!  But it took work to find other birds:  Ruby-throated Hummers were buzzing around, and one group of birders was on an Eastern Wood Pewee, but many of yesterday’s “show stoppers” had apparently left.  There was a bit more action on the “dark” (south) side where the Northern Waterthrush came back to the back water feature, along with another Hoodie and a couple of Indigos.  The Parulas were again hanging out right overhead, but after awhile we decided to head back to the Convention Centre with what little time we had.

Warbling Vireo

Common Yellowthroat

By now there were far fewer people, so we were able to sit on various benches for five just to see what would come in.   We stood watch at the water feature and added the Wilson’s Warbler, then wandered a bit (this one male Hooded Warbler was along the back and seemed to be putting on a show on the white rope just for the tourists J) and eventually settled on the “double-backed” bench in the southwest corner.  That’s where we hit pay dirt when Susan thought she had a Worm-eating Warbler!  It flew over towards the water feature, so we followed it over there, spotting a lost Sora behind the wall (!) on the way, and sure enough, eventually the Wormeater came out and took a bath, just putting on a great show!  That was definitely the icing on the cake!

Hooded Warblers incessantly flash their white tail patches, as this male is doing!

"The Performer" is at it again on the white rope!

Tennessee Warbler

Warbling Vireo

While we didn’t come close to yesterday’s whopping total, we had a respectable 82 species for the day.  Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Mottled Duck                         
  Northern Bobwhite                    
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                          
  Cattle Egret                         
  White Ibis                           
  Turkey Vulture                       
  White-tailed Hawk                    
  Red-tailed Hawk                      
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  Black-bellied Plover                 
  Lesser Yellowlegs                     
  Long-billed Curlew                   
  Marbled Godwit                       
  Short-billed Dowitcher               
  Laughing Gull                        
  Franklin's Gull                       
  Ring-billed Gull                     
  Herring Gull                         
  Least Tern                           
  Caspian Tern                         
  Royal Tern                           
  Black Skimmer                        
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  Mourning Dove                        
  Yellow-billed Cuckoo                 
  Ruby-throated Hummingbird            
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Crested Caracara                     
  Aplomado Falcon                      
  Eastern Wood-Pewee                   
  Brown-crested Flycatcher             
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Couch's Kingbird                      
  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher            
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Warbling Vireo                       
  Chihuahuan Raven                     
  Northern Rough-winged Swallow        
  Purple Martin                         
  Barn Swallow                         
  Sedge Wren                           
  Bewick's Wren                        
  Gray Catbird                         
  Northern Mockingbird                  
  European Starling                    
  Worm-eating Warbler                  
  Northern Waterthrush                 
  Black-and-white Warbler              
  Tennessee Warbler                    
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Hooded Warbler                       
  Northern Parula                      
  Yellow Warbler                       
  Black-throated Green Warbler         
  Wilson's Warbler                     
  Olive Sparrow                        
  Cassin's Sparrow                     
  Lark Sparrow                         
  Savannah Sparrow                     
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Summer Tanager                       
  Indigo Bunting                       
  Painted Bunting                       
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Yellow-headed Blackbird              
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Brown-headed Cowbird                 
  Orchard Oriole                        
  Baltimore Oriole                     
  House Sparrow                        


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