Monday, October 29, 2018

Exploring McAllen Hotspots


For this month’s Birder Patrol trip, Pat made the suggestion to visit a few McAllen eBird hotspots that were not commonly visited.  This time the group consisted of Marilyn, Sue and Billy, Norma, Laura, Betty, and myself, and after meeting outside the Garden Suites at Alamo Inn, we all rolled down a block or two to Pat’s house, where she gave us the tour of her bird-friendly yard (she had reported a Yellow-throated Vireo the day before, so that was certainly tempting J).  About the most exciting thing we had this morning was her resident Chachalaca, but with all her water features, it’s not surprising that she’s attracted such stars as Western Tanager and Crimson-collared Grosbeak in the past!  Some of us did get a brief look at a Clay-colored Thrush, and I think the Ruby-crowned Kinglet was the only one for the day.

Pat (in the pale shirt) welcomes us to her yard!
Bird list for Pat’s place:

(-1) Alamo - Cottage Bird Sanctuary, Hidalgo, Texas, US Oct 27, 2018 8:17 AM - 8:37 AM
Protocol: Stationary
14 species

Plain Chachalaca  1
White-winged Dove  6
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  1
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Great Kiskadee  3
Couch's Kingbird  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Clay-colored Thrush  1
Northern Mockingbird  2
Lesser Goldfinch  4
Great-tailed Grackle  2
House Sparrow  5

From there we attempted to head to Fireman’s Park in McAllen, only we found ourselves in the middle of a parade route on Cage Avenue in Pharr!  Detours were not well-marked, so we ended up taking an unintentional tour of the little neighborhoods therein before we found a way to the frontage road, and after we finally arrived at the park even lifelong Valley resident Billy admitted he had never driven those streets!  A small Farmer’s Market was in progress along with some kids’ games, but despite having to avoid the cyclists on the sidewalks, we managed three species of egrets side by side, a Belted Kingfisher showing off his “cone head”, and a young Red-shouldered Hawk gazing longingly at something below his pole, all the while being bombed by a Kiskadee!  We checked the Canal Trail but the grass was too high to see anything in there.  After checking out the market (and some of us getting breakfast – they had some very tasty vegan chocolate brownies and “dark chocolate pills”) we headed on.

The gang at Fireman's Park

Great Egret

Young Red-shouldered Hawk

Pat on the "Canal Trail"

Queens feeding in the dewy grass

Bird list for Fireman’s Park:

McAllen--Fireman's Park, Hidalgo, Texas, US Oct 27, 2018 9:09 AM - 10:06 AM
Protocol: Traveling
0.92 mile(s)
24 species (+1 other taxa)

Muscovy Duck (Domestic type)  7
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  21
Inca Dove  2
Mourning Dove  8
American Coot  3
Killdeer  1
Great Egret  1
Snowy Egret  2
Cattle Egret  1
Red-shouldered Hawk  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  3
Green Parakeet  1
Eastern Phoebe  1
Great Kiskadee  3
Tropical Kingbird  4
Loggerhead Shrike  2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  1
Barn Swallow  4
Northern Mockingbird  6
European Starling  3
Bronzed Cowbird  2
Great-tailed Grackle  5
Indigo Bunting  1
House Sparrow  5

What turned out to be the last official stop was Roselawn Cemetery.  We were hoping for some migrants (as South Padre Island had been nuts with migrants lately), but the most interesting thing we had was a couple of “Audubon’s” Warblers in with the expected “Myrtles”, but they were “first of season” for many of us!  We also had a “chink” warbler that we could never refind (was probably a Black-throated Green, but Black-throated Grays are also known to winter there), plus a Catbird that had lost most of his tail!  An adult Cooper’s Hawk went tearing through and landed on a tombstone, along with some folk’s FOS Eastern Phoebe.  Lesser Goldfinches showed well right before we decided to call it a morning.

Views of Roselawn Cemetery

Cooper's Hawk

Chasing warblers

Taking a break

Bird List for Roselawn Cemetery:

McAllen--Roselawn Cemetery, Hidalgo, Texas, US Oct 27, 2018 10:17 AM - 11:26 AM
Protocol: Traveling
0.611 mile(s)
14 species (+1 other taxa)

Cooper's Hawk  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  2
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Least Flycatcher  1
Eastern Phoebe  1
Great Kiskadee  6
Black-crested Titmouse  5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2
Gray Catbird  1
Northern Mockingbird  5
Lesser Goldfinch  2
Great-tailed Grackle  5
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  12
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's)  2
House Sparrow  2

While the Harlingen contingent continued on to Frontera, the Alamo contingent headed home, with 41 species for the day (if you include the domestic Muscovies…J)  But the action didn’t stop after I got home:  the butterfly garden at the Inn was nuts, with several different species of butters feeding!  Best one was a Red-bordered Pixie, and other notables included Mexican Fritillary and Purple-washed Skipper!

Three shots of a Red-bordered Pixie

Fatal Metalmark (also below)


Mexican Fritillary

Fiery Skipper

Gray Hairstreak


Gulf Fritillary

A Cloudless Sulphur, backlit above and front-lit below

Female Whirlabout

Worn Purple-washed Skipper

Tropical Checkered Skipper

Brown Longtail

Eufala Skipper

Monday, October 22, 2018

Cold Birds and Bugs


I hadn't been to Starr County in awhile, so planned on heading out there Saturday.  The cold front was supposedly on its way out, so it was in the pleasant mid-60s, but still overcast and breezy, so things were pretty quiet when I got out to Falcon State Park at dawn.  But starting the day was an adult and subadult White-tailed Hawk, a bird that, according to eBird, had never been recorded at the park before!  A male Vermilion Flycatcher was barely discernable in the gloom.

Fuzzy White-tailed Hawk in the early morning gloom

Once technically in the park, the sky seemed filled with wave after waved of Great-tailed Grackles!  They would carpet the lawns in the primitive camping area (and later in the cabin area, where even the campers seemed fascinated with their antics as they shots pictures of them), and a Roadrunner would dart out for a morsel before scrambling back into the bush, but there really wasn’t much activity.  A Caracara and an Osprey occupied different power poles at various intersections, and even the boat launch area was empty except for one truck!  I opted to hike the overflow area, as it looked pretty dicey (and was, after all the rain), and was rewarded with a couple of vocal Spotted Sandpipers; one was even singing!  There were small flocks of ducks flying by that were too far away to ID, but a pair of Mottled Ducks were close enough to rule out Mexican.  A handful of Great and Snowy Egrets were about, and eventually good numbers of Laughing Gulls and Barn Swallows flew by over the lake.  I kicked up a couple of sparrows in the grass, but they dove back down immediately, never to resurface with the wind.  Walking back up to the parking lot I saw where they had actually erected a barricade going up the incline into the overflow lot itself (which can sometimes be good for sparrows, but not today), so I’m glad I didn’t even attempt to drive down there!

Primitive camping area

Overflow area


Singing Spotted Sandpiper

Even hiking around I noticed tons of Snouts flushing from the path despite the weather, and while hiking a little of the nature trail from the “hidden” parking lot, lots more were hiding in the bushes, along with an ode that I really thought was something unusual at first (as it appeared to have some dark patches in the middle of the wing), but as I got closer with the camera it turned out to be a female Red Saddlebags with her wing at a weird angle…  But further down the trail a beautiful male Black Swallowtail flopped around on the ground and finally posed as though sunning, but I didn’t discover until looking at the pictures later that he had a spider on his back – no wonder he was acting strangely!  Bird-wise added Pyrrhuloxias at this stop.

Red Saddlebags


Black Swallowtail

Note the spider on his back!

Despite the weather, butters were flying, so I checked out the butterfly garden and kicked up quite a few things:  besides the ubiquitous Snouts there were several Queens and Elada Checkerspots, plus a few sulphurs, a Sleepy Orange, a pretty Theona Checkerspot, and a Fatal Metalmark.  Somewhere in here a pair of Southern Dogfaces were batting about, and I managed a fuzzy picture of the unique dorsal pattern!  A cute little Inca Dove posed on a post on the way out of the parking lot.

The butterfly garden at Falcon SP

Fuzzy shot of the "dog face" of the Southern Dogface (use your imagination...)

Ventral - you can still see the "dog face" showing through on the forewing


Elada Checkerspot - ventral...

...and dorsal

Lyside Sulphur

Sleepy Orange

Theona Checkerspot

Fatal Metalmark

Common Mestra

Inca Dove (token bird)
Hiking the little loop in the picnic area didn’t add anything new, so headed out after that, foregoing the Dump Road and heading straight to SalineƱo.  Upon arrival I noticed four guests who were staying at the Inn, and they had just finished the trail:  Lark Sparrow, Wood Stork, Anhinga, Roseate Spoonbill, and Audubon’s Oriole were nice (they only heard the latter), but no seedeaters or any other unique things.  While we were talking a pair of Turkey Vultures circled overhead, and I offhandedly mentioned that it’s good to check them for Zone-tailed Hawks, when that’s exactly what one of them morphed into!  That was probably the bird of the day!

Fuzzy Zone-tailed Hawk

So I headed on down, getting much more ode action than bird action:  Powdered Dancers were out the yin yang, and a female Black Setwing posed.  I thought I had something really great as I shot an “orange” damsel, but later scrutiny of the pictures revealed it to only be a female Blue-ringed Dancer (saw the male later).  A huge Cane Toad sat stoically near the grass, and at the end of the trail I found their Anhinga circling with a bunch of Black Vultures and heard an Altamira Oriole choiping and whistling from the island, but that was about it.  On the way back I had a pretty Common Sootywing in the butter department.

Powdered Dancers in tandem (above and below)


Immature (best guess)

Cane Toad

View of the Rio Grande at the end of the trail

Several views of a female Blue-ringed Dancer


Female Black Setwing (above and below)

Common Sootywing (above and below)

Had my lunch (which was the rest of last night’s steak J) back at the car, then headed on home with a modest 52 species for the day.  Bird list:

Mottled Duck  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  10
Eurasian Collared-Dove  2
Inca Dove  5
White-winged Dove  5
Mourning Dove  3
Greater Roadrunner  2
Killdeer  1
Spotted Sandpiper  2
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Laughing Gull  20
Anhinga  1
Neotropic Cormorant  1
Double-crested Cormorant  4
Great Egret  3
Snowy Egret  2
Black Vulture  4
Turkey Vulture  4
Osprey  4
Harris's Hawk  1
White-tailed Hawk  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  2
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
Crested Caracara  2
American Kestrel  4
Vermilion Flycatcher  3
Great Kiskadee  2
Couch's Kingbird  1
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher  2
Loggerhead Shrike  1
White-eyed Vireo  1
Green Jay  2
Barn Swallow  50
Black-crested Titmouse  1
Verdin  2
House Wren  3
Cactus Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  5
Long-billed Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  5
European Starling  5
Lesser Goldfinch  1
Olive Sparrow  2
Eastern Meadowlark  4
Altamira Oriole  1
Red-winged Blackbird  2
Great-tailed Grackle  800
Northern Cardinal  2
Pyrrhuloxia  2
Indigo Bunting  1
Dickcissel  2
House Sparrow  5