Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The First Big Migrant Show


Barbara and her sister-in-law Joyce were from the Hill Country, and this was to be Joyce’s “introductory” birding trip, so Barbara wanted to focus on lots of exciting birds!  We had to shuffle the schedule a couple of times due to the weather, but since a front was due to come through Tuesday, we decided to head to South Padre Island on Wednesday for the migrant show!  I actually headed out the day of the front as it was my day off (and we only got dripped on out there whereas they got a whopper of a storm inland), and was encouraged by the variety of migrants, so since Wednesday was to be a sunnier day with winds still out of the north to start with, we had high hopes!

On the way out there we stopped at the traditional Aplomado Falcon places along SR 100; while no falcons graced us, we did bag the nesting Chihuahuan Ravens, a couple of Caracaras, a Bobwhite on the dirt road going into the refuge area (that Joyce spotted – she was very proud of herself J), and a couple of Caracaras!  Cassin’s Sparrows were singing, so when a little guy jumped up on the fence I assumed that’s what it was, but a scope look revealed it to be a Grasshopper Sparrow!  Long-billed Curlews were in the fields, and a couple of Gull-billed Terns batted by, which was a life bird for Barbara!

Barbara and Joyce scan for falcons at the official observation area

Since this was to be a “rounded” birding experience, I suggested stopping at The Flats first for the water birds, but having passed a couple of school busses on the causeway (and remembering the school field trips that were there the day before), we made a command decision to beat the kidlets to the Convention Centre, so we went there first, and the place was jumping!  Hooded Warblers were out the yin yang, as were the Orchard Orioles, and as we spent several minutes at the water feature we enjoyed side-by-side views of a Red-eyed Vireo and a Tennessee Warblers taking baths, and a Yellow-breasted Chat walking back and forth on the railing at the other end! 

Black-and-white Warbler

Immature male Hooded Oriole

Two superficially similar migrants:  Tennessee Warbler (left) and Red-eyed Vireo (right)

Hooded Warbler

From there we went out to the back area, where we had a brief look at the Bullock’s Oriole that had been hanging around, but the Baltimores were more cooperative for pictures.  Northern Parulas paid us no mind, and a Kentucky Warbler popped up and actually stayed put for pictures!  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were all over, and Savannah and Lincoln’s Sparrows fed amongst the ducks and grackles!  We took a look off the back deck towards the Flats and had a knockout Roseate Spoonbill in with the Black-necked Stilts, and a couple of Semipalmated Plovers in with the rest of the usual shorebirds (we thought we had a Wilson’s, but he was just too far away to tell…).  Unfortunately the flocks of Franklin’s Gulls I had had the day before were nowhere to be seen but as I scanned the flats a little bird fumbled around in a bush next to the shore, which turned out to be a Blue-winged Warbler!  Alas, he took off before I could get the girls on him…

Roseate Spoonbill

Summer Tanager

Black-throated Green Warbler

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Kentucky Warbler

An alert over the RBA about a Swainson’s Warbler at the Birding and Nature Center next door drove us back to the car, but not before nailing down a pewee that was flopping around in the “circular area”!  Over at the Center we ran into my friends Baceliza and Alan, who had also gotten the alert (along with a mess of other birders)!  We logged both a Solitary Sandpiper and a Lesser Yellowlegs in the little pond in the parking lot, and after checking in we tootled down to the tiny little butterfly garden where the bird was seen; someone spotted a Kentucky Warbler, and we had a very cooperative Black-and-white say hello, but the Swainson’s was hiding.  In the meantime we scanned the flats from that vantage point and added a couple of breeding-plumaged Cattle Egrets and a Reddish sitting together, along with a bunch of Great Blues.   We sat for awhile where the bird was last seen, and Barbara thought she caught sight of a waterthrush, but after about 15 minutes we decided to hit the boardwalk, where we enjoyed the gallinules and coots and a big ol’ alligator that was roaring (and then shut up the minute I turned on the recorder L)!  Thankfully we hadn’t gotten far when Baceliza texted me and said she was looking at the Swainson’s, so we double-timed it back, and this time we saw him (albeit briefly)! 

Waiting for the Swainson's Warbler to show

Eastern Kingbird

Common Gallinule

Baceliza then asked us if we needed Blue-winged and Worm-eating Warblers (the girls certainly needed the former having missed the one at the CC), so she took us to this “dead end” boardwalk (which I admittedly had never explored as it ended at the building), which turned out to be very active; while we sat we had more Parulas and Hoodies, but the stars had left…  Since a worker had opened the gate there and was surprised by four women sitting on the concrete looking up into the shrubbery J, we continued on the boardwalk (Baceliza had long gone to find her hubby).  It was rather uneventful until we got out on the pier, where scattered Pied-billed Grebes were good for the day, but what should suddenly glide overhead but a Magnificent Frigatebird!  We were all jazzed, and since it was a “flaggable” bird in eBird (they normally don’t start showing up until May according to John Arvin’s checklist, so he was a bit early), I went ahead and sent out my own RBA alert, not sure if it would do any good as he circled around and then apparently went out to “sea” over the Laguna Madre…  We caught up with Baceliza and Alan and enjoyed lots of Pectoral Sandpipers, fighting gallinules, and another big ol’ gator, and while I was looking at him through my bins I discovered a Least Bittern standing in front of him!  That was a show stopper!  Further down the boardwalk we had a cooperative Semipalmated Sandpiper, and thankfully a Least flew in to give good comparative views!  The “east pond” was dry as a bone for the first time in my memory, so we didn’t see much else as we headed back to the parking lot.

A male Magnificent Frigatebird makes a surprise appearance!

Pectoral Sandpiper

Least Bittern

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Mom "Muddy Duck" zealously guards her ducklings!

(Mary G. coined the term "Muddy Duck" as "mom's" field marks indicate some other "duck genes" in her bloodline...)

That was a good long walk, so we headed to the Flats so we could sit for awhile! J  We saw lots of Royal Terns, Black Skimmers, and Laughing Gulls, but no Franklin’s L.  After sorting through the shorebirds (one Dunlin was in his pretty breeding plumage), we headed to Sheepshead, parked the car, and immediately had the Palm Warbler that a group had gotten on!  (I was particularly happy as I had missed it the day before…)  The Palm was hopping around (along with Butterbutts) in the grassy area just west of the “dark side” of the Valley Land Fund lots, and while scanning the area Barbara also spotted her Worm-eating Warbler!  Another Northern Waterthrush visited the water feature in the Dark Side, confirming to Barbara that that’s what she initially saw at the Birding Center, but the real action was on the newly “renovated” Sunny Side, where tireless volunteers had cleared out the non-native stuff and planted native stuff (along with a couple more water features)!  A lovely Rose-breasted Grosbeak feasted on an orange, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo flew in and upstaged the grosbeak!  The beat-up Yellow-throated Vireo that Lizee and I were pouring over the day before was still around (he was later dubbed “Scruffy” by some other birders), knocking the snot out of a caterpillar, and actually looked a little better having dried out some!  (He was so worn that he had no wing bars, and he held his tail up in a way that I had only seen Bell’s do in the past, so we were wondering…)  We had great looks at Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings together, and an early Acadian Flycatcher that Dan Jones and I had seen the day before showed up again, giving us more photo ops.  We were getting ready to leave when Barbara spotted something and had us jump out of the car for her life Warbling Vireo!

The perpetual flock of Black Skimmers, including some "dead" individuals...
Royal Tern trying to impress the ladies
Vagrant Palm Warbler

Worm-eating Warbler
"Scruffy the Vireo" has found himself a big, juicy caterpillar!
("Scruffy" is actually a very worn Yellow-throated Vireo...)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak

A lady Northern Parula checks out an orange and then indulges!

Another female Northern Parula
Early Acadian Flycatcher:  note the long primary projection and greenish cast to the upperparts.


We decided to spend the rest of the day back at the CC, and it was even crazier than that morning:  another Worm-eating Warbler came in to the water feature, and the wintering Brown Thrasher made a brief “tail-end” appearance!  We were heading out to the back when a gal came after us and announced that a Yellow-throated Vireo was eating a lizard at the foot of the water feature!  (Another guy taking photos later posted them on the RGV Birding Facebook page, and someone quipped about the vireo, “They’d eat us if they were big enough!” J)  Merle (from Salineño feeder fame) asked me to flag down his wife Lois if I saw her, as this was apparently a life bird for her, too, but as we headed on to the “back yard” where a couple was sitting on a bench facing the Laguna, we suddenly noticed a Blue-winged Warbler right over their heads!  About that time I noticed Chamois (Lois’ canine “assistant feeder filler” J) over by the other bench, and then noticed Lois sitting there, so I sent her to the vireo and we enjoyed the warbler (the couple got up and said, “The birds’ll come right to you!”), then continued wandering; a female Western Tanager popped up briefly in the thrasher’s old hideout, while there were plenty of Summer Tanagers around.  Closer to the Centre’s big concrete deck we enjoyed a Lincoln’s Sparrow doing the “Towhee Shuffle,” and a last look at the water feature on the way out produced a Bronzed Cowbird and a Yellow-headed Blackbird!

Worm-eating Warbler

Male Northern Parula (looking rather indignant below)

A Yellow-throated Vireo in better shape than Scruffy dismembers a lizard!

A Blue-winged Warbler performs acrobatics right before our eyes...

...while a friendly Hooded Warbler entertains the birders on the white rope!

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Another Blue-winged Warbler comes in to the water feature!

Little would we know the final tally would be a whopping 119 species!!  Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck         
  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Northern Bobwhite                    
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  Magnificent Frigatebird               
  Neotropic Cormorant                  
  Brown Pelican                        
  Least Bittern                        
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Great Egret                          
  Snowy Egret                           
  Little Blue Heron                    
  Tricolored Heron                     
  Reddish Egret                        
  Cattle Egret                         
  Green Heron                          
  White Ibis                           
  Roseate Spoonbill                    
  Turkey Vulture                       
  Cooper's Hawk                        
  Harris's Hawk                        
  Common Gallinule                     
  American Coot                        
  Black-necked Stilt                   
  Black-bellied Plover                 
  Semipalmated Plover                  
  Spotted Sandpiper                     
  Solitary Sandpiper                   
  Greater Yellowlegs                   
  Lesser Yellowlegs                    
  Long-billed Curlew                   
  Marbled Godwit                        
  Least Sandpiper                      
  Pectoral Sandpiper                   
  Semipalmated Sandpiper               
  Short-billed Dowitcher               
  Laughing Gull                        
  Ring-billed Gull                     
  Herring Gull                         
  Least Tern                           
  Gull-billed Tern                     
  Caspian Tern                         
  Royal Tern
  Sandwich Tern                        
  Black Skimmer                        
  Rock Pigeon                          
  Eurasian Collared-Dove               
  Mourning Dove                        
  Yellow-billed Cuckoo                 
  Ruby-throated Hummingbird            
  Belted Kingfisher                    
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Crested Caracara                     
  Eastern Wood-Pewee                   
  Acadian Flycatcher                   
  Great Crested Flycatcher             
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Eastern Kingbird                     
  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  Loggerhead Shrike                    
  White-eyed Vireo                     
  Yellow-throated Vireo                
  Warbling Vireo                       
  Red-eyed Vireo                       
  Chihuahuan Raven                     
  Purple Martin                        
  Tree Swallow                         
  Barn Swallow                         
  Cliff Swallow                         
  Cave Swallow                         
  Marsh Wren              
  Wood Thrush            
  Gray Catbird                         
  Brown Thrasher                       
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  European Starling                    
  Worm-eating Warbler                  
  Northern Waterthrush                 
  Blue-winged Warbler                  
  Black-and-white Warbler              
  Swainson's Warbler                   
  Tennessee Warbler                     
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Nashville Warbler
  Kentucky Warbler                     
  Hooded Warbler                       
  Northern Parula                      
  Palm Warbler                         
  Yellow-rumped Warbler                
  Black-throated Green Warbler         
  Wilson's Warbler                     
  Yellow-breasted Chat                 
  Cassin's Sparrow                     
  Savannah Sparrow                     
  Grasshopper Sparrow                   
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Summer Tanager                       
  Western Tanager                      
  Rose-breasted Grosbeak               
  Blue Grosbeak                        
  Indigo Bunting                        
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Eastern Meadowlark                   
  Yellow-headed Blackbird              
  Great-tailed Grackle                 
  Bronzed Cowbird                      
  Brown-headed Cowbird                 
  Orchard Oriole                       
  Bullock's Oriole                     
  Baltimore Oriole                     
  House Sparrow                        


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