Got a knock on my door from our night manager John late Sunday afternoon announcing that the arrival that just checked in wanted guiding the next day, so after a few quick e-mails and a target list, Sandra and I were ready to hit Brushline Road the next morning! Originally from Brazil and now living in the Hudson Valley with her Irish husband, she had birded many places around the world, but never Texas, so she drove down, hitting the Island and Estero Llano Grande before coming to Alamo, so she had already gotten most of the Valley specialties under her belt. By this point her “wish list” primarily consisted of back country/western birds, hence the choice of destination this day!
It was a little foggy heading up, but it quickly burned off, and as we slowly cruised up South Brushline (the section south of SR 186) the main players seemed to be Mockingbirds (which would cause a little consternation as the morning wore on J), but a Catbird mewed unseen, and finally a nice pair of Curve-billed Thrashers posed on a dead mesquite! Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were starting to gather, and amongst them was a lovely female Vermilion Flycatcher! Lark Sparrows were in good numbers, and looking carefully added a single Clay-colored! Pyrrhuloxia was high on the list, and Sandra finally spotted a pair next to the road! By a miracle a Verdin actually came out and perched briefly right on top of a bush at eye level, and my FOS Orange-crowned Warbler popped up as well! A distant hawk on a pole proved to be her life White-tailed Hawk, and at the “spooky swamp” a young Harris’ Hawk squealed and looked as though he was getting ready to pounce on something! We heard Horned Larks in the barren fields, and miraculously a single Cassin’s Sparrow jumped up on a stalk! A couple of handsome Caracaras stood sentry in an open field, and at one stop a pair of Dickcissels flew over, giving their brat call; Sandra could just make out their little pale bodies, but that was good enough to tick! We were enjoying a pair of Harriers just before we got to 186 when a beautiful dark morph Red-tailed Hawk circled over! Then, almost at the intersection, Sandra’s life Roadrunner popped into view! They were almost upstaged by the flock of Pyrrhuloxias feeding on the road next to the berm!
Curve-billed Thrashers (also below)
Female Vermilion Flycatcher (also below)
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (also below)
Distant Cassin's Sparrow
I decided to cut over to Rio Beef Road and then head directly west on Ken Baker so we’d have the sun to our backs, and am I glad we did: we stopped to coax a Bewick’s Wren into view when suddenly there was another Roadrunner right next to us (unfortunately behind a lot of branches, making it hard for Sandra to get a shot L)! We flushed another raptor, and as we got out to look at something else, I heard a Cooper’s Hawk “kekking”, so we figured that’s what it was. Somewhere in here we had a fussing Long-billed Thrasher sitting out in the open, but at another stop we got out to check some kettling raptors, and in with two Turkey Vultures was this larger, flat-winged brown behemoth with white patchy feathers on his underwing coverts – a young Bald Eagle!! I couldn’t believe it, as they’re very rare in the Valley (but not unheard of), and this was my first for the area! (Sandra concurred on the ID, however, as they get Baldies where they are…) We got distracted by my FOS Sandhill Cranes coming in overhead, but we never could get on the other kettling raptors as they were way up and out by now!
Sandra on Rio Beef Road
Newly arrived Sandhill Cranes (also below)
We headed down Ken Baker, which was actually pretty quiet (no blackbirds at all), but we did come across another Roadrunner pair by one of the gates! More Pyrrs were in the brush, and a little further down were some little bodies by the side of the road, and we soon had a covey of Bobwhite literally leaping across the road one by one! Another target in the bag! A Cassin’s Sparrow (probably a youngster) was trying out a very half-hearted song, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk batted over at one point. By the time we got to north Brushline things were quieting down a bit, although Common Ground Doves shot across the road periodically, and a nice Harris’ Hawk sat on a pole. On the way to the ranch pond we came across a couple of exotic undulates (I thought they were female Blackbuck, but one was obviously a male…), and the pond itself was quite productive: we picked up both Black-necked Stilts and Avocets, plus a couple of Greater Yellowlegs, a Least Sandpiper, a mob of Killdeer, both Blue-winged Teal and Mottled Ducks, and a few herons, including a Green that Sandra spotted. A Belted Kingfisher was posing over a Pied-billed Grebe, but the big highlight was another target bird that I wasn’t sure we’d see at all: about 13 Long-billed Curlews in the field! That was a real treat! J But what put the icing on Sandra’s cake was getting out of the car and seeing several Bobwhite right there next to her! That was hoot!
Sandra shooting the curlews
We picked up the pace on the way back, hearing Least Flycatchers in stereo, and stopping for a very cooperative and vocal White-tailed Hawk (until I got the video rolling of course L) and made a decision to stop at Edinburg Scenic Wetlands for a shot at the Ringed Kingfisher. Just past the entrance we sat and rested so Sandra could eat her sandwich, and enjoyed the Chachalacas eating their own lunch at the feeders, plus a Nashville Warbler right overhead! A White-eyed Vireo serenaded us on the way to the Visitor’s Center, and just before we entered Sandra spotted the “doily” web of a Silver Argiope Orb Weaver! After the gal in the shop told us that the kingfishers were usually seen only in the morning, I wasn’t holding out much hope, especially since they’re so iffy to begin with, but I set up the scope at the deck, and started scanning from right to left as per usual, and guess what – the first thing I laid eyes on was a big fat female Ringed Kingfisher! (That warranted a shorted version of the Hallelujah Chorus… J) I jokingly said we could go now (as that was Sandra’s only target there J), but we lingered long enough to enjoy both cormorants species, several species of herons (including four Black-crowned Nighties powering across the lake), a few Anhingas, and even an Osprey! A Green Kingfisher came shooting at us (it had been sitting near the Ringed), and an Altamira Oriole called from somewhere unseen. A Buff-bellied Hummingbird buzzed around the Turks Caps enticingly as Sandra tried to get a photo, and a Clay-colored Thrush gave its “ringing” call somewhere in the wooded area, but we never could find it.
White-tailed Hawk (with some down on its nose)
Silver Argiope (commonly called "Doily Spider")
Female Ringed Kingfisher hiding in the shade
It was getting pretty warm by then, but not willing to call it quits quite yet, I suggested we make a run down to Santa Ana to at least try for the Beardless Tyrannulet, which was big on her want list (although she was planning on doing the “big loop” there the next morning), so down we went! It was really hot by the time we got there, but we dragged ourselves around the Chachalaca Loop; I thought I heard the thing a couple of times, but it never called again. At the big blind another target, a Sora, called in response to my clapping (that was good enough for the time being, she said), but as we continued on and ran into a feeding flock, I couldn’t believe it: another target that I really had no hope of seeing was right in front of us – a Yellow-breasted Chat!! Thankfully Sandra got wonderful looks – in a way that was even better than the tyrannulet! We also had nice looks at several Texas Spotted Whiptails, a Giant Swallowtail, and the tree snails that the Hook-billed Kites are so fond of. On the way back to the car we heard a Gray Hawk whistling in the distance.
We called it quits after that with a respectable 84 species for the day! Bird list:
Blue-winged TealMottled Duck
Common Ground Dove
Great Blue Heron