Thursday, March 7, 2019

Birding with Cousin Bill


Bill (not really my cousin but it became a standing joke as we share the same last name J) and his buddy Dan really didn’t have any target birds per se, but I had managed to weasel out at least one target for Dan:  the Aplomado Falcon!  So the original plan was to hit all the “falcon spots”, but on the way he admitted that seeing a variety of habitats was preferable, so we did the standard Cameron County route which included Old Port Isabel Road (OPIR), South Padre Island, and (time permitting) Laguna Atascosa.  I had warned the guys that our last trip to OPIR dipped on the falcons, but that someone visiting the area the same day (but after us) did have them, so you just never knew!  The White-tailed Hawk pair was still there, one each claiming the tips of the two railroad crossing barriers and holding their wing out as though they were directing traffic!  (They also looked pretty scruffy, so we concluded that they were just wet from the foggy conditions overnight…)  We stopped past the canal to check the platform, and this time the falcon was home (although admittedly not the best look L)! Dan, a professional photographer, at least got a “proof shot” for his collection, but the day was young…  Somewhere along in here I heard a couple of Snow Geese, but the cloud cover was too low to spot them.

White-tailed Hawk directing traffic...

Dan getting a "proof shot" of the Aplomado Falcon

Harris' Hawk (©2019 Dan Murphy)

Further along, the Eastern Meadowlarks were still whistling and the Cassin’s Sparrows were still skylarking, both allowing photo ops for Dan!  In a heavier area of thornscrub we had a four-bird bush: the Cactus and Bewick’s Wrens that refused to show earlier were now sitting right on top, along with a Mockingbird and Savannah Sparrow!  Up at the Chicken Coop Place the Palm Warbler didn’t show, but I was thrilled with the Grasshopper Sparrow that sat right on the fence for us!  The wetlands just beyond had the same waterbirds we had a couple of days previously, and I heard a Sedge Wren in an area I had never had them before, but like the ones up at the “really dicey spot” (as opposed to the other somewhat dicey spots J), he was stubborn and didn’t want to play ball.  The Osprey was still on the same post as earlier in the week (one of the guys commented that they had never seen one perch so low to the ground) and the curlews showed well.  A couple of Horned Larks chased each other, and a Bobwhite called very close to the road but didn’t seem interested in coming out for a view.  But as we crept along and got into the adventuresome part of the road, what should be sitting on a power line ahead of us but another Aplomado Falcon!  Dan was jazzed – as we crawled and snapped (pictures), he got some marvelous in-flight shots as the bird found a bug and returned to his wire, munching down!

The guys stroll along the decent part of Old Port Isabel Road...

Cassin's Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow (showing central crown stripe below)

Savannah Sparrow (©2019 Dan Murphy)
We spot a close Aplomado!

He then takes off to grab a snack in mid-air!

Dan's shot (©2019 Dan Murphy)
Continuing on, we refound Mom, Dad, and Junior White-tailed Hawk, only they were further back in the scrub.  Suddenly Bill noticed a blob in a bush ahead of us right next to the road – yet another Aplomado, this time a juvenile!  He allowed ridiculously close approach (you could even read his band numbers!) and terrific photo ops!  He moved on to a post further down the road, allowing Dan to get more stunning flight shots!  The caracaras and harriers were almost anticlimactic!

Dan shoots the White-tailed Hawk family

Yet another Aplomado perches right next to us!

He moves to a nearby post

"What're you lookin' at?!"

Dan catches him in flight!  (©2019 Dan Murphy)

Female Northern Harrier (©2019 Dan Murphy)

Everything was gravy after that, but the Chihuahuan Ravens on the way to South Padre was a nice addition.  We went straight to the Birding Center where the Muscovy was still there but the Whistling Ducks had moved…  Out on the boardwalk the usual suspects were out (and since it was overcast it was much easier to pick out the plovers and Willets in the mudflats), but I was pleased to finally hear a Clapper Rail after a seemingly long hiatus!  Dan was in his element getting multiple photo ops (including a cooperative Yellow-rumped Warbler dancing on the mud), and one thing that showed up this time that didn’t last time was our pied-bald Reddish Egret!  Unfortunately the Sora didn’t show this time (would have been a lifer for Bill), but the White Ibis, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Roseate Spoonbills, and the single Stilt Sandpiper were all still there, along with both flavors of yellowlegs.  The Redhead appeared to be doing much better today and was quite spunky interacting with the whistlers!  An Osprey had the blue water tower staked out, apparently displacing the Peregrine that usually hung out there.

Resident Osprey with lunch

Common Gallinule (©2019 Dan Murphy)

Great Southern White (©2019 Dan Murphy)

Red-winged Blackbird

"Myrtle" Warbler
Fluffy Tricolored Heron

Black-necked Stilts wheeling off the pier (©2019 Dan Murphy)

The guys check out the wetlands...

White Ibis (©2019 Dan Murphy)

Another colorful Tricolored Heron

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (©2019 Dan Murphy)

The Redhead seems to be doing much better!

Mottled Duck (©2019 Dan Murphy)

Greater Yellowlegs

Fighting Lesser Yellowlegs (©2019 Dan Murphy)

Blue-winged Teal (left) with Greater Yellowlegs (top) and Stilt Sandpiper (bottom)

Stilt Sandpiper

Dan caught this brilliant shot of one of the Roseate Spoonbills making haste! (©2019 Dan Murphy)
There was some huge event going on at the Convention Centre (I think Bill saw a sign that said something about a car and tattoo show…), and despite the overflow parking on the Flats, the place was stuffed with birds!  The usual suspects provided more great photo ops (the resting skimmers had the guys fooled into thinking they really were dead J), and even some of the Brown Pelicans were coming into breeding colors!  I was happy to add Ruddy Turnstone and Western Sandpiper for the year! J

Laughing Gulls

Black Skimmers (with a few "dead" ones)

Close up of two of the skimmers - note the hiding turnstone! (©2019 Dan Murphy)

Ruddy Turnstone (©2019 Dan Murphy)

Ring-billed Gull

Brown Pelican coming into breeding colors
We actually had enough time to hit Laguna Atascosa, where the female Blue Bunting had made a return appearance and the Tropical Parula was still showing.  After checking in we went straight to the photo blind, where lots of Chachalacas were talking softly to each other and fanning their tails!  A shy White-tipped Dove walked across the floor back in the undergrowth (I may have been the only one to see him), but a brilliant male Cardinal competed with the Red-winged Blackbirds at the seed feeder, along with the Green Jays.

Chachalacas monopolize the photo blind...

...and even start a little displaying!  (©2019 Dan Murphy)

A Green Jay tends the feeder... (©2019 Dan Murphy)
...while a Cardinal waits patiently for his turn!

Red-winged Blackbird scuffle (©2019 Dan Murphy)

After about 15 minutes we gave up on the bunting and hit the Kiskadee Trail, where I heard a Beardless Tyrannulet (rare for Cameron County) that we couldn’t find L, but on the path heading to the headquarters building the female Rose-breasted Grosbeak showed up!  We made the loop, and while looking at something else one of the guys noticed an Ani right in front of us!  He flew back towards the overlook calling, so we headed back looking for him to no avail.  Then suddenly Bill declared, “He’s right here!”  Dan and I noticed rustling in the grass about a foot in front of us, and before long he snuck out onto the sidewalk, paused long enough to give us the looking over, then snuck into the brush on the opposite side – just precious!  A Wilson’s Warbler shooting through was anticlimactic!  

Portion of the Kiskadee Trail that hid the female Rose-breasted Grosbeak (below)!

(©2019 Dan Murphy)

This cute Groove-billed Ani was playing hide-and-seek!

We made a quick loop around the gazebo trail where we had more Green Jays at the feeders, then I made a final visit to the restroom and again fell off the wagon (this time for a Diet Coke J)!  When I came out the guys were stalking something in the parking lot and Dan had his camera pointed up into the trees – they had found the Tropical Parula!  Woo hoo!  

The guys enjoying some Green Jays (below) at the gazebo

Check out those eyebrows!

The guys find the Tropical Parula (below) in the parking lot!

(©2019 Dan Murphy)

We made a very quick stop at the Prairie Trail marsh where we added a peeping Swamp Sparrow (the look was so brief it hardly counted as a look), then headed home with 100 species for the day!  Bird List: 

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 
Snow Goose 
Muscovy Duck (Domestic type) 
Blue-winged Teal 
Northern Shoveler 
American Wigeon 
Mottled Duck 
Ruddy Duck 
Plain Chachalaca 
Northern Bobwhite 
Least Grebe 
Pied-billed Grebe 
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 
Eurasian Collared-Dove 
White-tipped Dove 
Mourning Dove 
Groove-billed Ani 
Clapper Rail 
Common Gallinule 
American Coot 
Black-necked Stilt 
Black-bellied Plover 
Long-billed Curlew 
Ruddy Turnstone 
Stilt Sandpiper 
Western Sandpiper 
Short-billed Dowitcher 
Greater Yellowlegs 
Lesser Yellowlegs 
Laughing Gull 
Ring-billed Gull 
Herring Gull 
Caspian Tern 
Royal Tern 
Black Skimmer 
Neotropic Cormorant 
Brown Pelican 
Great Blue Heron 
Great Egret 
Snowy Egret 
Little Blue Heron 
Tricolored Heron 
Reddish Egret 
Green Heron 
White Ibis 
Roseate Spoonbill 
Turkey Vulture 
Northern Harrier 
Harris's Hawk 
White-tailed Hawk 
Red-tailed Hawk 
Belted Kingfisher 
Golden-fronted Woodpecker 
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 
Crested Caracara 
American Kestrel 
Aplomado Falcon 
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet 
Eastern Phoebe 
Great Kiskadee 
Loggerhead Shrike 
White-eyed Vireo 
Green Jay 
Chihuahuan Raven 
Horned Lark 
Barn Swallow 
Black-crested Titmouse 
House Wren 
Sedge Wren 
Marsh Wren 
Bewick's Wren 
Cactus Wren 
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 
Curve-billed Thrasher 
Northern Mockingbird 
European Starling 
Cassin's Sparrow 
Grasshopper Sparrow 
Olive Sparrow 
Savannah Sparrow 
Swamp Sparrow 
Eastern Meadowlark 
Red-winged Blackbird 
Great-tailed Grackle 
Orange-crowned Warbler 
Common Yellowthroat 
Tropical Parula 
Yellow-rumped Warbler 
Wilson's Warbler 
Northern Cardinal 
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 
House Sparrow 

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