Friday, December 6, 2019

New Birds for New Birders


Rajiv and Sudha, retired physicians from Michigan (and originally from India), were making a last-minute trip to South Texas to see some new birds:  they were beginners (Rajiv admitted that Sudha was really the birder J), so since their time was limited she was trying to consolidate the best bang for their buck in terms of species!  (She confessed that it was a trip to Costa Rica that really got her hooked on birding!)  We started at Santa Ana, where Green Jays were all over the parking lot, and Rajiv (who also went by Sitar) spotted a White-winged Dove in great light!  I finally herded them into the Visitor’s Center where the volunteer had just put the feed out in back, and we had a great time:  Chachalacas were crowding the seed on the ground, Green Jays were again all over (including one with a funky tail), White-tipped Doves paraded back and forth, a Black-crested Titmouse would zip in, grab a seed, and zip out (as is their habit), and a male Golden-fronted Woodpecker showed off in all his glory!

White-winged Dove

Chachalaca feeding frenzy

Shy Green Jay

With funky tail

Golden-fronted Woodpecker
After using the restrooms we headed out to the trails, and we had barely gotten past the levee when not only a House Wren actually showed itself, but an Olive Sparrow as well!  On the Chachalaca Trail we had a very cooperative Blue-headed Vireo, and we could hear lots of stilts and ducks even before we reached the overlook!  But the very first duck we saw once we got there was the coveted Wood Duck!!  (He had been reported all week – while considered somewhat of a vagrant, usually one or two show up every winter…)  The resident Harris’ Hawk was sitting across the way in his tree, and the ducks and shorebirds had certainly discovered the newly-filled lakes:  Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall, Mottled Duck, and Shoveler were all represented, and both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs fed on the other side along with lots of Black-necked Stilts.  A couple of fluffy-butt Least Grebes floated along, and several Kiskadees showed off in great light, but the stars (besides the Wood Duck J) were the Green Kingfishers as they ticked and splatted and flew back and forth!  I heard a Sora from the blind along with lots of Yellowthroats chacking, but nothing new besides the calling Beardless Tyrannulet that of course didn’t wanna show…  

Blue-headed Vireo (also below)

Willow Lake

Wood Duck, a rarity in the Valley!

Least Grebe
Sitar wanted to rest a spell, so we sat him down at the bench where the Pintail Lake Cutoff Trail empties out, but even then Sudha and I didn’t get far as three Altamira Orioles made an appearance in this lone scraggly tree out in the middle of noplace, along with a couple of Eastern Phoebes! We finally got going (as I was hearing the Ringed Kingfisher in the distance), but it was special bird after special bird on the way out there:  first off, an incredibly cooperative male Kestrel sat still as we walked past him and positioned ourselves for photographs, and he was so laid back that Sudha was even able to digiscope him!  A brilliant male Vermillion Flycatcher showed off, and the main lake had several White Ibis of all ages, Snowy Egrets, and a pod of Long-billed Dowitchers trying to snooze.  Even more ducks were out in the deeper stuff; in addition to what we had already seen we added a female Bufflehead, some Ruddy Ducks, a single female American Wigeon, and Sudha spotted the lake’s namesake, a pair of Northern Pintail! J  We flushed several Snipe as we headed for the end pond, and paused for a look at a Tropical Kingbird on the way.  We finally made it to the back pond, where the Ringed Kingfisher was performing well, albeit not in the best lighting conditions, but she caught a fish for us a couple of times and flew to various perches and showed off at all angles!  After enjoying the kingfisher we studied a couple of Plegadis ibis that were “right there” in with the Whites, close enough to see that their faces were pink and not gray, nailing them as the expected White-faced Ibis.  

Sudha and Sitar check out the Altamira Orioles (below)

Friendly (!) American Kestrel (also below)

White Ibis and Long-billed Dowitchers

Tropical Kingbird

The same Kestrel (probably) follows us to the far lake!
On the way back we had a tailless Black Phoebe, and as I scanned the lake I noticed that Sitar was standing under a tree right next to the lake!  So we headed that way, passing three university students who asked a lot of questions about why the dowitchers were sleeping instead of eating J, and then headed back to the bench to pick up our jackets we had left with him and then head back to the visitor’s center.  On the way I pointed out the whistling of the (unseen) Gray Hawks, although Sitar said he saw a “speckled” hawk at the bench, which could have very easily been a juvenile.  We had gotten all the way back to the car when I realized I didn’t have my camera L, so the guy on duty very graciously let me use an electric scooter to zip back to Pintail Lakes to retrieve it (given it was still there)!  That was a fun adventure, never having driven one of those puppies before (except for the electric grocery cart when I broke my ankle L), and negotiating a bumpy trail was particularly adventurous, but thankfully (and obviously) the camera was still there!  Comedy relief was supplied when I was putzing my way back (those things don’t go very fast) and went to check something on my phone only to have it say, “You will not receive notifications while driving!” J

Pintail Lake (look hard for Sitar under the tree!)

The next planned stop was Anzalduas, but Sudha had a lot of questions about several nearby places, so since it was on the way, we decided to stop at Old Hidalgo Pumphouse and bag the Monk Parakeets on 5th and Gardenia!  Unlike the last time I went there during “inclement weather”, the birds were out and about and showing well!  We headed on quickly in order not to cause the neighborhood pit bull too much stress, and checked out the pumphouse; no birds to speak of, but I did point out the early version of The Wall and the tract of LRGV NWR land behind it.

Monk Parakeet

Gardens at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse

Sudha and Sitar on the overlook

Still shooting for Anzalduas, we made the obligatory stop for Burrowing Owls in GranjeƱo, and I was ready to give up when I finally spotted one staring at me, and before I could get the scope on him he actually jumped up and flew to a rock where he stood in the open – what a view!  Then we finally made it to Anzalduas, where Sudha was up for the Pipit Poke; the pack of Western Meadowlarks was out there, of course, and she was just as fascinated by them!  We eventually did flush a Sprague’s Pipit and even managed to get him in the scope, and as is often the case, as we were heading back and amiably chatting, a second bird exploded from our feet!

Burrowing Owl (also below)

Sudha enjoying her life Sprague's Pipit!

As usual, my charges enjoyed the fact that Mexico was also right there (there was certainly more party action on that side than our side J), but the birdlife was in bits and pieces:  the Osprey had a big fish for lunch, and Coots (plus a single Common Gallinule) and the resident feral Muscovy were in the Rio Grande.  I believe we had another Vermilion Flycatcher or two, but the real star was an immature Zone-tailed Hawk sailing high overhead!  Cutting through the midsection I heard one of the resident House Finches (my charges always get a kick out of the fact that they’re actually rare down here), and some American Pipits were foraging in one of the lawn areas on the way out.  But just before we reached the entrance shack I heard a metallic call note and saw three dark birds wheel in and land in the field; Sudha and I jumped out to confirm that we had three Brewer’s Blackbirds – a male and two females!  That was a hoot, seeing as about the only reliable place in the Valley to get these things is up at the Rio Beef Feedyard (and one of the HEB parking lots, I think…)!

Brewer's Blackbirds - common as dirt out west but hard to find in the Valley!
It was time for lunch after that, and Sitar had noticed a Subway on the way, so we swung back, only to find that that whole strip was closed tight!  So we ended up at the Stripes (I tell everyone that you can’t come to South Texas without stopping at a Stripes J), and since we really didn’t have time to do Wallace Road by then, we decided to quickly check out Edinburg Wetlands.  Only when we got there, I had totally forgotten that the place was closed on Sundays! L  No worries:  the South Pond is always open, so we parked and headed over there, where a lady was already enjoying a friendly Tricolored Heron!  Across the way were the expected Neotropic Cormorants and Snowy Egrets (with a few Cattle thrown in), but a female Anhinga was a hit as well!  A Green Heron called and fled, and several White Pelicans floated further out in the water, along with a Pied-billed Grebe being followed by a Least Grebe!  Sudha was distracted by the Yellow-rumped Warbler that flew in, and on the way out we had wonderful sunlit views of a Curve-billed Thrasher and Orange-crowned Warbler feeding on the cactus tunas!  Some scaly Inca Doves were somewhat anticlimactic, and Sudha spotted a Cardinal on the way out feeding under a bush.  

Enjoying the Tricolored Heron (below)

Curve-billed Thrasher (also below)

Orange-crowned Warbler (also below)

My internal clock was urging me to give the Parakeet Show on 10th a try (an hour before sunset is the ideal time to start looking), so we headed down to Trenton and then to 10th, and by the time we arrived at the traditional hotspot at 10th and Dove (specifically, the Lowe’s parking lot), there they were!  Many were bathing in the fountain at the entrance, and the sunlight on them was just gorgeous!  We parked and enjoyed the spectacle as more and more wheeled in and lined the wires; there must have been at least 200 birds there!  What a show!

Green Parakeets enjoying the fountain in the Lowe's parking lot!

Pondering whether to take the plunge...

Headed home after that with 91 species for the day!  Bird list:

Muscovy Duck (Domestic type)
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
American Wigeon
Mottled Duck
Northern Pintail
Ruddy Duck
Plain Chachalaca
Least Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Rock Pigeon
Inca Dove
White-tipped Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Common Gallinule
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
Least Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Neotropic Cormorant
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
White Ibis
White-faced Ibis
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Harris's Hawk
Gray Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Burrowing Owl
Ringed Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Monk Parakeet
Green Parakeet
Black Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Loggerhead Shrike
Green Jay
Black-crested Titmouse
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
House Wren
Marsh Wren
Carolina Wren
Curve-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
House Sparrow
American Pipit
Sprague's Pipit
House Finch
Olive Sparrow
Western Meadowlark
Eastern Meadowlark
Altamira Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal

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