Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Creation Refreshment, Part 1


Selimah was celebrating her graduating from veterinary school with flying colors, so she and her mom Elizabeth decided to come to the Valley for some special birds!  (Selimah was the birder, while “mom” was along for the ride providing good company! J)  They met me at the Inn, where from there we worked our way west to Old Military Highway (OMH) to “kill time” until Anzalduas opened, as many of her target birds could be found there.

We went by way of Business 83 hoping for Green Parakeets at the intersection with Breyfogle (nada), then came down Bentsen Palm Drive to crawl along OMH, pointing out Bensten State Park for them to explore on their own later.  I heard an Orange-crowned Warbler out the window, and when Selimah mentioned that was a life bird, we swung into the parking lot and enjoyed a wonderful little feeding flock:  in addition to the Orangecrown, three titmice came in close, and a brilliant male Black-throated Green Warbler came down to say hello!

Black-crested Titmouse

(Can you say "Conehead Cute"??)
After finally tearing ourselves away we resumed our crawling, and I took us down the dirt road abutting the NWR tract and the canal (where the famous Roadside Hawk hung out last winter); the girls got a great look at a Ladder-backed Woodpecker in the woodland, and four fluffy-butt Least Grebes were in the canal!  

Elizabeth and Selimah enjoying a Ladder-backed Woodpecker in the NWR tract

Least Grebes

By that time Anzalduas was actually open, so we booked over there, first checking out the large field north of the park.  A handful of White-tailed Hawks and Caracaras still had the place staked out (along with a couple of Redtails), but it didn’t match the spectacle from last week!  A Great Blue Heron was also hunting for breakfast right alongside the laid-back hawks.

Immature White-tailed Hawk

Preening adult, showing off that white tail

Great Blue Heron

According to Selimah’s small but specified target list, the main goals here were both species of pipits, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Zone-tailed Hawk (the latter a long shot, I warned them), but it turned out that the lingering rarities were also potential lifers, so as we came down the entrance “ramp”, we looked out over the field, and sure enough, the Say’s Phoebe was still out there on his skinny post!  Crossing the spillway, even the group of Killdeer were a hit!  We pulled into the little parking area across from the Pipit Field, and while Elizabeth chose to chill in the car (quite literally, as it was rather nippy to start), Selimah and I started the hike, being startled by Savannah Sparrows here and there, and enjoying the big flock of Western Meadowlarks flying overhead.  We were trying hard to spot the pipit before flushing it, but to no avail; we’d be practically on top of the thing when it would suddenly Pike! and be up, up, and away!  Selimah did manage to get a “missile picture” (i.e., one that looks like a little wingless missile in flight), but the little bugger never did land where we could see ‘im…

But as uncooperative as the pipit was, the Vermilion Flycatchers made up for it in spades!  Several brilliant males showed off in all their glory, and Selimah just had a ball photographing them!  At the river we also had an Altamira Oriole in the reeds (!) and a Gray Hawk perched across the way where the Osprey usually hung out!  The river was full of the usual coots and ducks, but not the Eared Grebe Huck and I found the day before…  Over by the boat ramp the Black Phoebe allowed Selimah a quick picture before taking off!

Selimah stalking the Vermilion Flycatcher (below)

Gray Hawk

Altamira Oriole performing contortions trying to get something from the reeds...

The wandering Rock Wren would also have been a lifer, so after a quick stop at the restrooms we headed over to the dam, picking up the posing Tropical Kingbirds on the way.  After parking and picking our way over to the rocks, Selimah spotted a couple of Savannah Sparrows right away that she noticed were much darker than those she sees in Massachusetts!  She also spotted a wren dive into the rocks, but since I had previously also seen a House Wren hanging around there (and heard one later), I wanted to be sure, but he never did reappear.  After carefully checking out the rip rap all the way down to the “Do Not Enter” sign, she was ready to move on, so we wrapped that up and headed out, but not before adding some Chipping Sparrows and a group of House Finches to the list (they were duly surprised at the fact that, except for a few known areas, the finches are actually rare down here).  A Green Jay and Golden-fronted Woodpecker hopping on the ground next to a BBQ pit added some color to the scene, and a mob of Cardinals fed on the grass as well!

Tropical Kingbird (above and below)

House Finches
On the way out I pulled over next to the “hawk field” to check the soaring vultures for a possible Zonetail, but then heard Selimah’s target Verdin calling (a weird place for one, in a solitary tree in a disturbed ag field)!  So we got the sun behind us and were actually able to get a good look, along with a flock of Vesper Sparrows, which also turned out to be a life bird!  Orangecrowns were all over, quickly becoming a junk bird! J  A shrike posed on the wire, and the Kestrel was as pretty as always.

Great Blue Heron

Close up of the head

Loggerhead Shrike

Checking out Selimah's shot of the Verdin (that was in the tree in the background)

Since planning the original itinerary last November, when I had warned her that another major target, the Hook-billed Kite, was nowhere to be seen (reliably), now the Santa Ana birds were being somewhat reliable, so it was decision time:  blast up to Valley Acres Reservoir for the Fork-tailed Flycatcher (not a lifer, as she had gotten it in Belize, but still neat to see), or try for the kites (I had spent two hours on the tower the day before without success, but the bird showed later that afternoon, apparently).  She opted for the kites, so over we went.  Again, Elizabeth opted to hang around the visitor’s center while Selimah and I trudged to the tower by way of the main tour road.  By doing that, we got marvelous looks at another lifer, the Harris’ Hawk pair, sitting and watching us right along the road, along with that ultimate skulker, the Olive Sparrow!

Harris' Hawk checking us out

There was only one guy up on the tower when we got there (I was hoping that wasn’t a bad omen, i.e., everyone else had seen the bird earlier and then left L), so up we went, scope and all, miraculously!  I suggested we give it at least an hour (visibility was much better than the day before, when everything was socked in), and we were able to see many of the same birds we indeed had the day before:  the Harris’ Hawk family, both White and White-faced Ibis (the latter another target bird), a showy Altamira Oriole, raucous Green Jays, a single cry from a Sora, and a least a good “listen” of the Ringed Kingfisher!  Overhead we had Cave Swallows doing their funny chortling, plus the wintering Bank Swallows doing their rapid-fire raspy chatters.  We had one raptor fly by at a distance that got our juices going as it was the right shape (long-tailed and broad-winged), but it looked too rusty overall, and was probably a Red-shouldered Hawk.  Before long Selimah spotted her mom making her way to the tower, and she climbed up and joined us for a while!  (Elizabeth and I turned out to be the same age, but she’s in much better shape than I am, as proved by the fact that I was halfway down the tower when I realized I had left my water up there, and she ran up and retrieved it without even breaking sweat!)

Juvie and adult Harris' Hawks

View of the walkway and the tram from the tower

Selimah shooting the Harris' Hawk family

Elizabeth comes to join us!

From there we did the Pintail Lake Trail, as the kites had also been seen in that area in the afternoons on occasion.  The light was perfect, and with the scope we were able to give Elizabeth in-your-face looks at the pretty ducks (Shoveler, Pintail, Green-winged Teal, and Gadwall) and the cute little Least Grebes!  Another Vermilion Flycatcher was hamming it up, joined by an Eastern Phoebe, and the Black-necked Stilts were appropriately appreciated!  We also got beautiful sunlit views of the White-faced Ibis, now all showing the distinctive red eyes, and at the far end the Cinnamon Teal allowed glimpses through the grass.  A Belted Kingfisher rattled and flew past (one of the few vocalizations Selimah admitted to being familiar with J), and the Neotropic Cormorant Club had a big log staked out along with both white egrets.  Another long-tailed hawk appeared that initially got us excited, but as it got closer it was evident that it was a classic Sharp-shinned Hawk as it circled several times overhead!  I looked and looked, but couldn’t find the reported Mallard nor the Mallard/Pintail hybrid… L

White-faced Ibis (also below)

Great Kiskadee
Vermilion Flycatcher

We were all pretty beat by then, so decided to call it a day, looking forward to a new suite of birds the next day!  We wrapped up with a respectable 79 species!  Bird list:

Muscovy Duck (Domestic type)
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
American Wigeon
Mottled Duck
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Lesser Scaup
Ruddy Duck
Least Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
Greater Yellowlegs
Neotropic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
White Ibis
White-faced Ibis
Turkey Vulture
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Harris's Hawk
White-tailed Hawk
Gray Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ringed Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Black Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Loggerhead Shrike
Green Jay
Black-crested Titmouse
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow
Cave Swallow
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
House Wren
Carolina Wren
European Starling
Long-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
House Sparrow
Sprague's Pipit
House Finch
Olive Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Western Meadowlark
Eastern Meadowlark
Altamira Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Northern Cardinal

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