Monday, April 22, 2019

Hidalgo County Birdathon - 2019


Headed out the door with the first bird being a Purple Martin gurgling overhead in the dark!  A distant Great-tailed Grackle (2) was next, followed by the tittering of a Tropical Kingbird (3).  Once at Bentsen, I think the White-winged Dove (4) again claimed the prize to be the first songster there, along with the awakening Couch’s Kingbirds (5), but there were plenty of Pauraques (6) singing, and a lone Mockingbird (7) contributed to the pre-dawn chorus.  A Curve-billed Thrasher (8) gave his rude whistle, and walking into the park the Cardinals (9) were tuning up.  At the resting bench I was thrilled to hear a distant Chuck-will’s-widow (10), and a Dickcissel (11) gave his obnoxious flight call.  Thankfully the Screech Owls (12) came through this time, but I was shocked to actually miss the Elf Owl this year!  (It was a calm, clear, full moonlit night, and I recall someone telling me that small owls generally don’t vocalize under those conditions in order to avoid drawing attention to themselves…)  I also dipped on the Whippoorwill, but I’m thinking my friends are right – I’ve only gotten them on Big Days that I’ve done earlier in the month…

At any rate, picked up Mourning Dove (13) in short order, and a distant Great Horned Owl (14) was a good one to add.  From then on the diurnal birds were starting to wake up:  Brown-crested Flycatcher (15), Olive Sparrow (16, that actually started singing when I turned on my flashlight to jot down the flycatcher J), Black-bellied Whistling Duck (17), Sora (18), and White-tipped Dove (19) were all added before reaching the resaca.  As the sky lightened, the Yellowthroats (20) started yelling, and even the Chachalacas (21) started their chorusing a little early!  I actually heard a Green Heron (22) before seeing it, and other unseen songsters included Golden-fronted Woodpecker (23), Gray Hawk (24), Kiskadee (25), and Brown-headed Cowbird (26).  A Snowy Egret (27) flew back and forth seemingly trying to find a place to land while Green Jays (28) called in the distance.  Both a Great Blue Heron (29) and Great Egret (30) stood sentry at the other end.

Once dawn officially arrived I started back to the parking lot, adding Ladder-backed Woodpecker (31), Red-winged Blackbird (32), Altamira Oriole (33), and a burbling House Wren (34) to the list.  At the “fork” I heard a distant Tyrannulet (35, probably the one that hangs at the entrance to the Acacia Loop), plus a Black-crested Titmouse (36), and now that I was away from the Mockingbird cacophony I could pick out a Long-billed Thrasher (37) singing!  I had almost tuned out a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (38) doing its cou…cou…cou call, as at first I thought I was hearing the “you” part of the Whitewing’s “Who cooks for you?” song, until I realized it was repeating itself!  The other surprise was a singing Roadrunner (39, and I resisted the temptation to mess with ‘im J)!  The Clay-colored Thrush (40) started singing his sad song, and even a lingering Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (41) buzzed!  At the bridge lots of Cave Swallows (42) flew and chattered, and a Buff-bellied Hummingbird (43) rattled by at the visitor’s center.  On the way back to the parking lot a Bronzed Cowbird (44) sat on the sidewalk, and just before I left a Harrier (45) glided over the trees!

Headed along Old Military Highway from there, and decided to try that back road discovered during the Hook-billed Kite phenomenon, but added nothing new.  Back on the main drag I stopped at my traditional spot by the end of the Butterfly Center’s Walking Trail, and by golly the Blue Grosbeak (46) was back!  (No bluebirds this year, though… L)  Dipped on the meadowlark as well, I think, by taking that back road, as I didn’t pick them up anywhere else…  But I did add Killdeer (47) along the road, and the Black Phoebe (48) came through at the bridge (along with lots more Cave Swallows), despite all the construction going on!  Now that the levee is off limits, I went through the old, beat-up, original “Old Military Road”, which is beautiful habitat wise, but added only House Sparrow (49) and Lesser Goldfinch (50 - and had to drive around a fallen tree limb to boot).  Getting back up on the levee near Chimney Park added the Euro-trash Starlings (51) and Rock Pigeons (52), plus a Western Kingbird (53) giving his chattering song.  The first of the Turkey Vultures (54) went aloft, and I almost drove by what I thought was just another grackle at first, but that still, small voice said, “Check it out!” and it turned out to be the only Groove-billed Ani (55) of the day!  Over near La Lomitas a Caracara (56) sat on a pole, and just before the gate I spooked a Cooper’s Hawk (57) and heard Verdins (58) chirping.

Groove-billed Ani

Puffed up Crested Caracara
On to Anzalduas, where Black Vultures (59) joined the Turkeys, and in the Rio Grande itself added Neotropic Cormorant (60), the feral Muscovies (61 – I know, that’s pushing it…), a couple of Laughing Gulls (62), and a Coot (63).  In the park proper I heard the high, ringing calls of some Cedar Waxwings (64), and a Spotted Sandpiper (65) bobbed on the boat ramp.  A pair of Hooded Orioles (66) chattered and eventually chased each other out of the tree, while a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (67) jumped up from a wire as well.  Over by the dam a couple of Cattle Egrets (68) stalked breakfast in the grass, and Rough-winged Swallows (69) swooped over the water.  Picked up the requisite Cliff Swallows (70) nesting under the dam itself, and on the swing back heard a White-eyed Vireo (71) singing (dipped on the resident House Finches…).  A short-tailed, dumpy Double-crested Cormorant (72) flew over on the way out, and I settled on IDing a puzzling juvenile hawk soaring overhead as a Broad-winged (73), based on the very white underwings (almost with a thin black liner, as opposed to the somewhat darker flight feathers of a juvenile Swainson’s) and uniform brown upperparts (as a Swainie will often show a bit of a white rump band).  As I was comparing all this on the Sibley app a Mottled Duck (74) flew overhead, and rolling through Granjeño on my way to the freeway picked up Collared Dove (75).

Since Quinta Mazatlan was having a big (reeeely big) event going on, I skipped that in favor of Edinburg Wetlands, which was terrific!  Right away added Inca Dove (76) singing in the parking lot, while a pair of Anhingas (77) flew overhead!  The Purple Martin house was a big hit with a lot of the families coming in for a kids’ event!  Couldn’t kick up any migrants in the woods, but I did literally kick up a Pauraque (the “Giant Mockingbird”) that nonetheless sat on the side of the trail long enough to get a photo!  By that time it was warming up, and I was momentarily distracted by a couple of cooperative dragonflies…  The north pond had a pair of Black-necked Stilts (78), and something chased a Black-crowned Night Heron (79) out of hiding.  Walking down to the canal overlook an unseen Green Kingfisher (80) was making a fuss, and on the way out an overhead Cardinal was singing and vibrating his tail in plain sight!  The south pond was extremely productive (and was sharing it with some couples having their Easter pictures taken, probably), with Least Sandpipers (81) on the shoreline, and a Tricolored Heron (82) near the vegetation.  Lots of Blue-winged Teal (83) were both in the water and lazing on shore, and Forster’s Terns (84) batted around giving their grating calls.  A nice surprise was a young Roseate Spoonbill (85), and Gull-billed Terns (86) gave their more mellow calls.  But the real prize was a lady Ringed Kingfisher (87) that rowed in and landed on this tall platform, only to be immediately chased away by the terns!  On the way back to the car an Orange-crowned Warbler (88) allowed himself to be briefly seen, and a Lark Sparrow (89) sang in the open area.

Purple Martin


Female Blue Dasher

Female Red-tailed Pennant

Young Roseate Spoonbill

Least Sandpiper

Black-necked Stilt

Female Ringed Kingfisher

The La Sal del Rey Route was next, which for Birdathon purposes covers Brushline Road north of SR 186, and then back to Ken Baker and Rio Beef Roads.  That was also incredibly productive, picking up most of the “western” targets I hope to get up here!  I had barely turned onto the road when Pyrrhuloxias (90) started chattering, and as I’d stop, get out, and listen every mile added Common Ground Dove (91), Bewick’s Wren (92), Bobwhite (93), a nyehing Orchard Oriole (94), a skylarking Cassin’s Sparrow (95), and a Harris’ Hawk (96) on a pole, along with lots more Caracaras!  Bona fide Swainson’s Hawks (97) were moving through in good numbers, and up near the “jog” added a smacking Lincoln’s Sparrow (98) and the Black-throated Sparrow (99) that always seems to hang at the ranch there!  The honor of Bird #100 went to the Bullock’s Oriole that was giving its slow chatter, and at another stop a Cactus Wren (101) sang in the distance.  The farm pond at the end of the road was pretty sparse, but at least had a Pied-billed Grebe (102) to add.  A Common Gallinule (103) cackled from the “swampy” side, and when I walked down the road a little I flushed a pair of Mottled Ducks that got the Least Grebes (104) going!  I almost ignored another “TV” until that voice once again urged me to check it – this time it was a young White-tailed Hawk (105)!  Ken Baker had lots more Swainies, an adult Whitetail, and gobs more Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, but didn’t add anything new until almost to the end of Rio Beef Road, where a Summer Tanager (106) pik-a-chooed and shot across the road!

Greater Roadrunner

Caracara with a full crop

Harris' Hawk

Swainson's Hawk (above and below)

Next stop was the “1015 Pond” to the east of Delta Lake, and this time the surprise was a mob of Fulvous Whistling Ducks (107)!  A few Barn Swallows (108) also swooped around as I enjoyed my lunch…  After that it was Valley Acres Reservoir, which requires special permission to enter, but while last year it was outstanding, this year the water level was very high, so there really wasn’t much out there; I added a few White Ibis (109) flying across my view, and on the central island I did pick out a couple of Fulvous Whistling Ducks and a Spoonbill (in case I hadn’t gotten them elsewhere).  Dipped on the White-tailed Kite that usually hangs here, and no Least Bitterns called from the reeds…  But I was still appreciative to Javier who gave permission to come; under other conditions I’m sure it could be its old productive self again!

Great Egret hunts amongst the pretty flowers

Another Great Egret poses on a dead tree
Frontera was next, and I really had to scoot as they were closing at 4:00!  But what Valley Acres lacked in species, Frontera made up in spades!  Right in the parking lot added Chimney Swifts (110) flying over, and some activity in the woods next to the lot revealed a Black-and-white Warbler (111) creeping around on a tree, a Yellow-breasted Chat (112) talking to himself, and a curious Swainson’s Thrush (113) that popped up to pishing!  Once inside and checked in, I sat at the water feature for a while, and was visited by several Nashville Warblers (114) and a single Tennessee (115)!  (I missed a great photo op with the two of them together on the stick that could have been captioned, “Nashville, TN”…)  Once inside, a Blue-headed Vireo (116) sang its sweet song, and a Carolina Wren (117) belted it out from the woods.  A Least Flycatcher (118) gave its soft whit, and near the cemetery I spooked a Chuck-will’s-widow that “chucked” at me annoyedly!  At the pond I was very pleased to bag a stunning Yellow-crowned Night Heron (119), and near the little “kingfisher resaca” a Warbling Vireo (120) scolded and actually did a little of his song!  Another view of the big pond gave me a Solitary Sandpiper (121), and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (122) chattered softly.  Back at the water feature a Gray Catbird (123) gave its own cat-call, and a Great Crested Flycatcher (124) gave its very strong Wheep!

Nashville Warbler (showing the rarely-seen rusty cap above)

Tennessee Warbler (also below)

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Black-necked Stilt
On to Estero Llano Grande, and I had just entered the Tropical Zone when another birder pointed me in the direction of a pod of folks led by Host Huck and Ranger John, who pointed out a lovely Cerulean Warbler (125), a true rarity for Hidalgo County!  As tempted as I was to linger (especially with a new drip that they said was attractive to migrants), I headed out to the deck, where the water level there was pretty high, as well as birdless (unlike last week when we had all those shorebirds)!  Still not willing to abandon the slogan “Estero never disappoints” (and it certainly didn’t with that Cerulean), I headed out on the boardwalk to make the loop, and discovered that the shorebirds were all tucked together on a little island, away from the wind, so added Long-billed Dowitcher (126), White-faced Ibis (127, some actually getting their white faces), and Lesser Yellowlegs (128) to the list!  Back in the Tropical Zone the only additional migrant I could glean was a curious Eastern Wood Pewee (129).

The Progresso Sod Farms had zilch, zero, nada, so I continued on to the last stop of the day:  Santa Ana.  Heading over the levee I heard a Greater Yellowlegs (130) flying somewhere, along with the raspy chattering of a Bank Swallow (131).  Taking the Chachalaca Trail, I ran into another couple who had birded the Valley for over 20 years; he hadn’t seen any Cinnamon Teal, so I guess they had left (unlike the one last year that hung around clear into May).  I did add a Marsh Wren (132) singing from the reeds, and on the way out a couple of Sharp-shinned Hawks (133) flew overhead.  

Dimorphic Gray Moth on Heppy

I still had an hour to go before sunset, but I was shot, so I headed home at that point, but the day wasn’t done:  Green Parakeets screeched over in the neighborhood for a grand total of 134 species! 

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