Monday, September 24, 2018

Birthday Bop


When I asked my friend Pat if I could take her out to lunch for her birthday, she suggested going birding instead, looking for birds she still needed for her Hidalgo County list, so I thought that would be fun!  Problem was, almost every bird she had listed were vagrants at worst, or extremely difficult at best, but since I had logged both Scaled Quail and Chihuahuan Raven along the Sparrow Road Route (granted, on very rare occasion), I decided that would be the best place to bird.

I was a little concerned about the condition of the caliche roads after all the rain we had had, but thankfully the roads were fine (even quite dusty when traffic went by in the opposite direction), and since I figured the chances of actually seeing the quail were better along dirt 7 Mile Road (I had heard them along paved FM 2221, but had never seen them, and the traffic along that stretch had gotten worse over the years), we headed there straight away.  We arrived a little before dawn, and it was actually quite pleasant; it was mainly overcast at that time, with Bobwhite calling in the distance, but no Scaled Quail called.  As we crawled down the road with the sun to our back, we ended up getting great looks at common thornscrub “ranchland” birds such as Curve-billed Thrashers, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, and even Cassin’s Sparrows on the wires!  Olive Sparrows sang unseen, along with a couple of calling Long-billed Thrashers.  A beautiful Bullock’s Oriole showed off in a mesquite, and a big covey of Bobwhite gave extended views down a side road behind a fence.  A Roadrunner hopped down out of his mesquite after I started messin’ with him J!  Mourning Doves were all over the place, but one small bird on the wire turned out to be a nice male Blue Grosbeak!  Our only warbler of the day, a Yellow, appeared in a small bush, and an empid gave us a brief view that we best-guessed as Alder, based on the rather broad tail and thin eyering.  A couple of Great Crested Flycatchers gave their strong Wheep! call as well.  A couple of black blobs on top of a bush turned out to be Groove-billed Anis, and we narrowed an Archilochus hummer down to a Black-chinned based on the long bill and wing/tail length ratio.

Scene along Seven Mile Road

Blue Grosbeak

Bullock's Oriole

Two shots of a Curve-billed Thrasher

Male and female Bobwhite

The covey

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers

The female has a shorter tail

A Roadrunner in a tree hops down to investigate when I start cooing at him!

(Looks a little nonplussed...)

Cassin's Sparrow shots

7 Mile crosses into Starr County, so since this was an Hidalgo County-only chase, we turned around at the best guess of the county line, picking up a Harris’ Hawk on the way back to the four-way stop.  From there we headed north on Jara Chinas, where one sorghum field was alive with Blue Grosbeaks and Dickcissels!  Barn Swallows swooped overhead, and several Brown-headed Cowbird flocks crossed the road.  Three Purple Martins perched on the wire while two Barnies tried unsuccessfully to join them!  Lark Sparrows started showing up as well, and near the intersection with 14 mile a scruffy-looking Swainson’s Hawk sat on a pole.  After we made the left turn on 14 Mile, what we assumed was his mate was sitting across the field, being bombed by Mockingbirds.  A little further down we had a handsome Eastern Kingbird, as well as Caracaras in the fields.  A beautiful Black-throated Sparrow came out with a little coaxing, while similar-sounding Bewick’s Wrens sang unseen.  These purple bushes that Pat identified as Cenizo (also called Texas Purple Sage) were all over, having bloomed due to all the rains!  One of the more interesting sights along the roads were all these little termite towers rising like little sticks!

Pat checks out the field of Dickcissels and grosbeaks!

Swainson's Hawk

Lark Sparrow

Crested Caracara

Blooming Texas Purple Sage

Weird "sticks" made by termites

After turning around at the county line, we returned to Jara Chinas, enjoying some cute Pyrrhuloxias and happy to pick up our first Kestrels of the season on the way!  We headed north, intending to call it a day, but an immature White-tailed Hawk caused us to slam on the brakes (and we would see a beautiful adult later on)!  Otherwise it was pretty barren up this way (as per usual), but the whole route was quite green after all the rains; heading back on FM 490 there were a lot of “wetlands” in the fields, but the only one with any birds was at the intersection with Wallace Road, so we swung in to enjoy Snowy Egrets and a single Black-necked Stilt.  The road itself looked impassable a little ways down, so I’m glad I didn’t do it (as that was my original planned route for this day)!

Headed home with a modest 51 species for the day.  Bird list:

Northern Bobwhite  24
Eurasian Collared-Dove  51
Inca Dove  3
Common Ground-Dove  5
White-winged Dove  180
Mourning Dove  70
Groove-billed Ani  4
Greater Roadrunner  3
Black-chinned Hummingbird  1
Snowy Egret 4
Killdeer  1
Black-necked Stilt 1
Turkey Vulture  4
Harris's Hawk  1
White-tailed Hawk  1
Swainson's Hawk  3
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  6
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  4
Crested Caracara  12
American Kestrel  2
Alder Flycatcher  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  2
Great Kiskadee  8
Couch's Kingbird  1
Eastern Kingbird  2
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher  40
Loggerhead Shrike  12
White-eyed Vireo  6
Green Jay  4
Purple Martin  3
Barn Swallow  40
Verdin  8
Bewick's Wren  6
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  3
Curve-billed Thrasher  10
Long-billed Thrasher  3
Northern Mockingbird  50
European Starling  14
Cassin's Sparrow  13
Olive Sparrow  12
Black-throated Sparrow  4
Lark Sparrow  16
Bullock's Oriole  2
Brown-headed Cowbird  25
Great-tailed Grackle  322
Yellow Warbler  2
Northern Cardinal  8
Pyrrhuloxia  12
Blue Grosbeak  9
Dickcissel  75
House Sparrow  33

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Birder Patrol Invades Frontera


A nice little group showed up for this month’s Birder Patrol led by Pat Heirs, and since migration was well under way, Norma (president of Arroyo Colorado Audubon, aka ACAS) had chosen Frontera Audubon Thicket in Weslaco, a jewel of a place within suburbia that is often a great migrant trap, to say nothing of being a superb rarity trap!  No rarities today, but right away in the parking lot we had constant flyovers of Chimney Swifts, both Barn and Bank Swallows (with at least one Cliff), and a dozen Red-crowned Parrots!  We headed in to give Chris our entrance fee, then hit the trails, keeping an ear and eye out for stuff.  There was a bit of activity near the “Green Kingfisher Resaca” (some dragonfly folks call it the “Mexican Wedgetail Resaca”, and we did indeed see an amberwing of some kind there); the main show was a Great Crested Flycatcher or two, plus a beat-up Clay-colored Thrush.  The main pond had a Snowy Egret and Spotted Sandpiper, and while we never spotted them (no pun intended), both Ringed and Green Kingfishers called unseen.  Dragonflies were all over, but the only ones to settle down were Roseate Skimmers.  Someone thought they heard an Eastern Phoebe, but I pointed out that it was actually a Lesser Goldfinch incorporating that into his song; surprisingly they do a fair bit of mimicry!  I also heard a pik-a-chooing Summer Tanager that Ken eventually saw.

Julie, Baceliza, Pat, and Alan look for a Great Crested Flycatcher while Kathy enjoys a rest on the bench!

The great rains of late June had caused much flooding, and in one of the new “wetlands” we found a group of Yellow-crowned Night Herons.  We checked out the pond beyond the chain link fence (owned by Mr. Payne we found out, in addition to the manicured pond behind his house where a feral Muscovy was hanging out) and picked up a Great Blue Heron, but no kingfishers.  Anis were calling throughout, and someone (I think it was Baceliza) finally spotted one!  I thought I heard a waterthrush, but couldn’t get him to come out.  We were discussing the difference between Sabal and Washingtonian Palms (the former is our only native one), and while the shape of the leaves could be subtle, George pointed out that the Washingtonian has thorns on the “branches” whereas Sabals don’t – that’s a lot easier to see!

Yellow-crowned Night Heron
We took a quick look at the boardwalk area, and sharp-eyed Ken spotted a Guava Skipper on some milkweed (I think that’s what he said it was)!  Back in the woods on the “Dead End Trail” a shy Julia Heliconian fluttered around; earlier we had had a similar Gulf Fritillary.  Rounding the corner Pat was pointing out all the spots where the Blue Bunting had shown up (they have multiple drips along the trails), when a Beardless Tyrannulet started calling fairly close!  He never showed, of course, but a migrating Eastern Wood Pewee was much more cooperative!  A tree-full of Couch’s Kingbirds were joined by Easterns, and a quick sit at the feeders gave us looks at Chachalacas and both White-tipped and White-winged Doves, along with a Buff-bellied Hummingbird.  

Guava Skipper (also below)

The Birder Patrol on the Boardwalk

Shy Julia Heliconian

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Most of us were pretty much ready to call it a morning after that (although Ken spotted some Yellow Warblers in a Tepeguaje).  Altogether we had 48 species (if you include the feral Muscovy Duck J) for the morning!  Bird List:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  6
Muscovy Duck (Domestic type)  1
Plain Chachalaca  3
Inca Dove  4
White-tipped Dove  3
White-winged Dove  30
Groove-billed Ani  3
Chimney Swift  12
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  3
Killdeer  1
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Great Blue Heron  1
Snowy Egret  1
Green Heron  1
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  5
Ringed Kingfisher  1
Green Kingfisher  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  3
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
Red-crowned Parrot  12
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet  1
Eastern Wood-Pewee  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  2
Great Kiskadee  4
Couch's Kingbird  5
Eastern Kingbird  12
White-eyed Vireo  5
Green Jay  5
Bank Swallow  8
Barn Swallow  8
Cliff Swallow  1
Black-crested Titmouse  4
Carolina Wren  4
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  3
Clay-colored Thrush  4
Northern Mockingbird  3
Lesser Goldfinch  3
Olive Sparrow  1
Hooded Oriole  1
Red-winged Blackbird  2
Great-tailed Grackle  1
Mourning Warbler  1
Yellow Warbler  1
Summer Tanager  1
Northern Cardinal  2
Dickcissel  3
House Sparrow  2

Monday, September 3, 2018

Exploring the Rice Tract


The Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR has many disjunct tracts throughout the Valley, and the Rice Tract is one of them – fairly unknown, and generally hard to get to!  Rice Tract Road, despite what the map says, is impassable around its middle section, so unless you have a major off-road vehicle and a sense of adventure to match, you pretty much have to stop when your driving discomfort meter goes off and take a walk!  The birdiest place along the route is the “Rice Tract Oasis”, a resaca right where the off ramp from I-69E and SR 100 connect; at the intersection you turn right over the railroad tracks, and you’re now on Rice Tract Road with the resaca on your left.  I got here a few minutes before dawn, and already the place was stuffed with Roseate Spoonbills and Cattle Egrets!  Black-necked Stilts had their almost-grown babies feeding about, and at least three Green Herons were stalking breakfast in the middle of the water.  A Ruddy Turnstone and some Least Sandpipers were the only other shorebirds I could pick out, but just before I left I heard some Least Terns calling.  
Roseate Spoonbills

With Cattle Egrets

Once the sun came up I continued on Rice Tract Road, stopping periodically, and along one nice little patch of thornscrub had several migrant flycatchers:  Eastern Wood Pewee, Least Flycatcher, and a robust-sounding Great Crested Flycatcher!  It’s not long after that where you reach the dicey part, but there was a nice area to pull over, and I took a ten-minute walk down the rutted road and into the woods.  I felt a little creepy back there, so maybe going with a buddy would be prudent, but decided that on future trips maybe just staying within eyesight of the car would be okay; in that area alone I had White-tipped Doves, an Olive Sparrow getting something from some discarded horse hay and “road apples”, a surprising “McCall’s” Screech Owl trilling, a pair of Chachalacas that flew across the road, and a young Altamira Oriole that came out to pishing!  I didn’t even notice the nest until I was walking back, nor had I noticed the little fresh water marsh by the side of the road, although no bird life was to be heard or seen (I did hear a Pied-billed Grebe while I was back there, so there’s water somewhere back there)!

A couple views of the dicey westbound part of Rice Tract Road

Young Altamira Oriole (also below)

Altamira Oriole nest

Hidden marsh near the "trailhead"

Heading back out I checked the oasis again, where Black, Forster’s, and Caspian Terns had joined the lineup!  More herons had arrived as well, including a pretty immature Tricolored and all white Little Blue, but the star was a handsome Green Kingfisher that posed on a stick!  I turned south on FM 1421 and stopped where the resaca crosses the road, scaring up a Spotted Sandpiper in addition to what I had already logged (I suspected there were some yellowlegs on the east side but with the glare you couldn’t tell).  

"Rice Tract Oasis"

Roseate Spoonbill

Immature Tricolored Heron

Green Kingfisher

The plan was to check out some of these other resacas, and while the next one next to Serenity Road was dry, the road itself looked interesting, so I poked along that, spotting several Groove-billed Anis in addition to the usual suspects.  This road dumped back out on Rice Tract, so I looped around once again, down to FM 1732, over to US 281, then north on FM 1577, hoping to access the west end of Rice Tract and also explore some other roads that were near resacas (according to the map).  I did stop at a couple of the resaca crossings, but they were pretty sparse bird-wise, and the residential streets contained everything from gorgeous mansions to pit bull-guarded shacks, but no access to the resacas.

I found the west end of Rice Tract Road, and there you have a view of a beautiful resaca that had tons of Neotropic Cormorants and a lone White Ibis!  Continuing past the residential area, there was a section of decent dirt road that went by some agricultural areas (thinking that they might be productive in winter), but before long I came to an area that, while not as dicey as the other end, it was rutted enough that I wasn’t prepared to take my car down it, so I parked and walked down another ten minutes.  Even though it was getting warm, there were some nice birds on this end:  Eastern Kingbirds joined the mobs of Barn Swallows flying overhead, and kicked up a couple of Common Ground Doves amongst all the Mournings.  A Cooper’s Hawk fled his perch, and a Black Vulture joined the Turkeys.  A Great Pondhawk was the only ode to settle down, and I tried my best to identify some of the plants along the way, but I’m afraid that Mesquite and Retama were the only ones I recognized… L

Neotropic Cormorant starting to show his breeding plumes!

Resaca on the west end of Rice Tract Road

The drivable portion of the dirt part

Eastern Kingbird

Northern Mockingbird

Dry wetland at my turnaround point

Two views of the "trail"

Great Pondhawk

From there I wanted to find Lago Road, and once I found it, there was a good-sized little lake there with Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and a sleepy Yellow-crowned Night Heron!  The rest of the road went into a field, I think, and the main road actually went north and turned into PFC Juan Garza Road, which took me back to the frontage road; a couple of stops along here ironically gave me a few whiz-by Ruby-throated Hummingbirds!  An attempt to find the east end of Lago Road failed, so I called it a day.  Even with what seemed like endless wandering, ended up with 70 species for the morning!  

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (mate is hiding)

Bird list (generated from eBird):

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  3
Plain Chachalaca  4
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  4
Common Ground-Dove  2
White-tipped Dove  5
White-winged Dove  23
Mourning Dove  58
Groove-billed Ani  7
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  3
Black-necked Stilt  8
Killdeer  2
Ruddy Turnstone  1
Least Sandpiper  9
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Laughing Gull  3
Least Tern  1
Caspian Tern  1
Black Tern  3
Forster's Tern  1
Neotropic Cormorant  23
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  4
Snowy Egret  1
Little Blue Heron  2
Tricolored Heron  1
Cattle Egret  30
Green Heron  4
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  2
White Ibis  1
Roseate Spoonbill  7
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  4
Cooper's Hawk  1
Eastern Screech-Owl  1
Green Kingfisher  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  14
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  7
Eastern Wood-Pewee  3
Least Flycatcher  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  1
Brown-crested Flycatcher  4
Great Kiskadee  14
Tropical Kingbird  4
Couch's Kingbird  10
Eastern Kingbird  3
Loggerhead Shrike  2
White-eyed Vireo  6
Green Jay  11
Bank Swallow  1
Barn Swallow  81
Cave Swallow  3
Black-crested Titmouse  2
Verdin  2
Carolina Wren  14
Bewick's Wren  1
Curve-billed Thrasher  4
Long-billed Thrasher  4
Northern Mockingbird  19
Olive Sparrow  6
Orchard Oriole  3
Altamira Oriole  2
Red-winged Blackbird  3
Brown-headed Cowbird  2
Great-tailed Grackle  14
Yellow Warbler  1
Northern Cardinal  6
Dickcissel  4
House Sparrow  15