Took Vicki and Susan from Washington state out today; while Vicki was a seasoned birder, her friend Susan was brand new, and this was their first time to the Valley! However, Vicki was on a mission: she was “commissioned” by her husband to get some “colorful” bird pictures for their church calendar, so that’s what we tried to focus on, no pun intended (and rarities and sparrows were also welcomed J)! Susan also had a Big Gun, so since the Hook-billed Kite was still being reported (and it was a gorgeous, sunny day to boot), we headed down to Santa Ana first.
The center wasn’t open yet (and therefore the feeders weren’t active yet), so we went straight to the Chachalaca Trail, trying to point out stubborn little jobbies. Susan was actually the only one to spot the mouse-like Olive Sparrow scrounging around in the underbrush right next to the trail, but we did manage to get both species of woodpecker in the scope for great views! I was hearing a Ringed Kingfisher in the distance, so I was hoping we’d nail him at Willow Lakes, and when we got there a kingfisher did blast out of a hidden tree, but it was the smaller Belted (that had also been calling); the Ringed was around the corner and frustratingly out of sight! We did spot several lifers for Susan, however: the resident Harris’ Hawk across the way, a couple of cutie Least Grebes right in front of us, and while I don’t think it was a lifer, the Pied-billed Grebes were already in their snazzy breeding plumage and hooting up a storm! We also added both Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal to the list here.
Susan and Vicki on the Chachalaca Trail
Checking out Willow Lake
Giving us the evil eye
Making like a submarine...
We then headed to the big blind where I heard a Green Kingfisher ticking, but he was deep in the stuff and invisible. A Sora was also calling and invisible, but we also managed to spot a Common Gallinule, several Coots, and a juvie Gray Hawk across the way! The Ringed Kingfisher actually sounded like it was coming closer, so we went running back to the first overlook, where we tried very hard to be sneaky, but that kingfisher saw us first and blasted out of the same tree the Belted had been in and headed back toward the blind! Another lady who was also in the blind had followed us over, and while I was telling her, “You should have stayed put!” (meaning the bird went back her way), Vicki announced that they both saw the bird shoot back towards its original hangout with a big fish! Sure enough, he started rat-a-tatting from the corner again; I’m just glad they saw it!
So we continued on, where at one point Vicki spotted three Chachalacas in a tree! The other lady was already at the far deck and shooting something; when she called us over she pointed out a (the?) juvie Gray Hawk fairly close, but also fairly obscured by branches! We continued on the Tower Trail where we again heard ticking, and this time we spotted the Green Kingfisher sitting out in the open over the “little lake”! Great looks! We also had a cooperative pair of White-eyed Vireos, plus a couple of fighting Verdins, and the ever present Orange-crowned Warbler.
Immature Gray Hawk deep in the trees
Unusually cooperative White-eyed Vireo
We kept running into several groups (we found out later it was Winter Texan Day at the refuge, so that explained part of it), so we tried to keep some distance between us and them! One of the groups was the regular morning bird walk with Sue and John (no kite spotted yet), so we exchanged pleasantries and continued on to Pintail Lakes. It was getting pretty warm out there, but once we got the sun to our backs we had beautiful views of Black-necked Stilts, Cinnamon Teal, and even a Vermilion Flycatcher (I said someone needed to get a picture of the three of us sitting on the bench shooting this flycatcher, Vicki and Susan on either end with their Big Guns and me in the middle with my little Powershot… J)! Sue and John’s group caught up with us and found an Avocet against the southmost lake (in terrible light; it’s no wonder we didn’t spot it), so that was a nice addition! The only raptors we had were a Harrier that kept making the rounds, a couple of Turkey Vultures, and on the way back a couple of Caracaras showed themselves.
Distant Vermilion Flycatcher
The morning bird walk
Taking advantage of the morning light
The group crouching against the wind
Long-billed Dowitcher hiding in the bunch
The girls were pretty shot after that, so we dragged ourselves to the VC where we sat at the outdoor feeders for awhile, and we were able to photograph some Green Jays, Altamira Orioles, and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers before going inside to the AC and a Diet Coke! J (I also noticed with amusement that the group in there had wiped out the store’s supply of Drumsticks… J) We waited around for the Hooded Oriole to show up and added Inca Dove to the list, but we finally gave up and decided to do some road birding!
Black-crested Titmouse checking things out
Golden-fronted Woodpecker hugs the feeder!
Check out those colors!
So we headed to Anzalduas, but not before making the requisite quick stop for the Monk Parakeets in Hidalgo (another lifer), which were very cute next to their nests (along with the House Sparrows that had commandeerd some of them)! After showing them where Old Hidalgo Pumphouse was for future reference, we headed to Granjeño and the Burrowing Owls, where we miraculously found one amongst the rocks (the wind was gale force up there)! We also added Eastern Meadowlark and Bobwhite to the day list up there (calling distantly).
The famous Hidalgo Monk Parakeets
Working on the giant stick nest
It's big enough to have additional tenants! (House Sparrows)
Burrowing Owl giving us "the look"
Then we headed to Anzalduas (I was driving their rental car by this point J) where on the way in (and despite the gale) we got great looks at the Vesper Sparrow flock in the field! Susan (a retired vet) also noticed a very pregnant, very hot Coyote making her way across the field! The Say’s Phoebe had abandoned his post, and because the girls were “all done in” they passed on the Pipit Poke (although we did give the field a thorough scan, enjoying the Western Meadowlarks scattered about). Crawling around, we found some Mottled Ducks and Gadwall in with the Coots, Vicki spotted the resident Osprey, and the Black Phoebe was at the boat ramp, so that was great! We got a brief glimpse of the Vermilion Flycatcher, and the girls passed on the Rock Wren as well (although we did add the Rough-winged Swallows for the day). To be honest, things were pretty dead by then; the middle road had a nice Eastern Phoebe posing briefly on the wire rope barrier, and on the second pass by the boat ramp we picked up a Spotted Sandpiper and a kingbird I suspected was Tropical, but he didn’t wanna talk. On the way out a nice Loggerhead Shrike posed on a wire.
Vesper Sparrow (also below)
Mottled Duck - female...
From there we headed straight to the Butterfly Center, where an American Pipit bounced across the road and landed on the dirt pile where the powers that be are building that retention pond! (Vicki was telling horror stories about retention ponds and rats…) After checking in we drove down to the Old Garden and the feeder area, found some shady benches, and just spent the next couple of hours getting some real colorful birds – knockout looks at Kiskadees, Green Jays, Altamira Orioles, Cardinals, and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers for the colors, and Black-crested Titmice, White-tipped Doves, Chachalacas, and the grackles and blackbirds for the “earth tones”! The gimpy Long-billed Thrasher made a brief appearance as did the Clay-colored Thrush, but the Olive Sparrow and Audubon’s Orioles (three reported!!) never made a showing… L I heard a Blue-headed Vireo singing a tentative song overhead, but after assuring the girls we could stay as long as it took for the Audubon’s and Olive to show, they were ready to call it quits and we headed back with a respectable 77 species for the day!
Altamira Oriole - adult...
Cardinals are out the yin yang!
The leucistic female is back!
...as is the gimpy Long-billed Thrasher!
Conehead cute titmouse
Glossy Great-tailed Grackles
Golden-fronted Woodpecker comes in for a snack!
A cocky Chachalaca waltzes in
Little Yellow (token butter)
Blue-winged TealCinnamon Teal
Great Blue Heron
Northern Rough-winged Swallow