Considering the Coronavirus Crisis, I was very grateful that Kurt and Lawrence decided to come on in to the Valley anyway (they had driven from San Francisco and were in the middle of their road trip when the madness started)! They had been birding all over the world yet didn’t consider themselves “hard core” competitive birders – they just liked to see what the places had to offer (Kurt was also a “plant guy”)! So we started with my favorite all-around birding spot: Estero Llano Grande State Park (especially since some good birds had been reported there lately J)!
It was a little foggy and dreary starting out, but at least it wasn’t windy, and thankfully it was that way all day! As we headed into the Tropical Zone, I saw an odd-shaped bird in a tree across the way, and thinking it might be the reported Red-lored Parrot, I got the scope on it, only to discover it was a Harris’ Hawk in an odd position (which was still a nice bird for the guys)! A Clay-colored Thrush made a brief appearance, and unfortunately Lawrence missed that one… L A oriole landed on a wire behind the RVs that I initially thought was an Altamira, but after it flew I heard a Hooded Oriole chattering from the palms that we could never get on, so the “wire oriole” might have been that. Thankfully at the intersection we had a lovely adult Altamira give us wonderful views, along with two immatures! A Buff-bellied Hummingbird also put on a show for us, even spreading his rufous tail! A robust Wheep! made me think we had the reported Great Crested Flycatcher, but when other sounds started coming from the same direction I realized it was just a Mockingbird… White-tipped Doves were cooing all over, but unfortunately none showed… L
Video grab of the Altamira Oriole (this is how you do it when the light is too low for a regular still shot...)
Video grab of the Buff-bellied Hummingbird
But it wasn’t long before we heard the hardy, buzzy zhreeeeeee-tsup! of the reported Tropical Parula! He was indeed hanging out with the feeding flocks (which consisted mostly of gnatcatchers and titmice), and that little stinker was hard to spot; we eventually pinned him down at the end of the Flycatcher Trail, but I was the only one to get an identifiable look (we all did get a decent look at the Nashville Warbler, however). He kept moving to the south, so we followed, and he led us on a merry chase all around the Tropical Zone; every time we gave up he’d start singing in another spot! In the meantime we got looks at Couch’s Kingbirds, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and even a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher going overhead! A Sharp-shinned Hawk sailed through at one point, and that quieted things down a bit, but by the time we got to the Indigo Blind (which was closed due to virus concerns), guess who started singing again! But we also heard a more wobbly version, and sure enough, three Northern Parulas were bopping around right over our heads! Kurt caught sight of a Black-and-white Warbler, as well as a lovely male Hooded Warbler that thankfully everyone saw! Then, after much aggravation J, the Tropical Parula finally came out in the open and gave everyone great views of his black mask! Another couple showed up just in time to see him, so we left him with them, about ready to collapse after that high-tension search!
About then Ben Basham was backing out of his drive and said, “Did you see the owls?” I thought he was talking about one of the “McCall’s” Screech Owls, but he was referring to the Great Horned Owl nest! Kurt actually thought he saw something about that size fly earlier, so Ben took us over to the site, and there were the two fluffy babies! Adorable!!
Great Horned Owl babies
From there we went to the drips and ran into park hostess Laura Paulson who said they were still feeding, and indeed we saw some seed in the “picnic table feeders”, but nothing was coming out except three Chachalacas we saw crawling through the bushes. That was also the area that the Worm-eating Warbler was hanging out, but we missed him (but was seen later in the day, apparently). Birding buddy Huck Hutchins showed up about then, and offered to show me where the “Mailbox Pauraque” was so I could show the guys (I left them at the feeders). When I finally spotted him Huck went on his way and I fetched the guys (who reported no activity at all), and it was an exercise in patience before they both found this cryptic bird “just in front of the yellow leaf and to the left of the white trunk”!
We then took the back trail (stopping to check on the screech owl hole – nothing) next to Ibis Pond and logged Green- and Blue-winged Teal, Shovelers, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, a nice White-faced Ibis, and a banded Harris’ Hawk! By the time we got to the little boardwalk, I got a Rare Bird Alert on my phone about a Louisiana Waterthrush that was seen over by the park host area (which is where we had just come from)! So we schlepped back there to where two other couples were, spotting a pair of Inca Doves on the way! It was one of those “it was just here” scenarios, and it wasn’t something the guys wanted to wait 15 minutes for J, but the good news was that the Clay-colored Thrush made a return appearance, and this time Lawrence got to see him!
Banded Harris' Hawk
Forlorn lady birder looking for the Louisiana Waterthrush
I sent the guys to the deck while I shed my coat, and by the time I got there the same duck players were in Ibis Pond, along with a couple of Coots, and a nice Bronzed Cowbird was in with the redwings at the feeders, along with a Collared Peccary that came in! An Archilochus hummingbird came up to the feeder but took off before giving us a good look… We then headed straight out to Alligator Lake, stopping briefly to check Dowitcher Pond and picking up some Gadwall and the requisite Spotted Sandpiper on his log! Grebe Marsh had the Least Grebes, and a couple of night herons of both flavors were still hanging around at Alligator Pond. At the “little overlook” Lawrence pointed over my shoulder and said, “What’s that?” Turns out he was looking at a female Anhinga about six feet away from us!
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Since we had already seen the Pauraque we took the left trail to see if the screech owl was in his box (he wasn’t), then headed to the Big Overlook, where we found another Anhinga, more night herons, a pair of Green Herons, and an Alligator! Backtracking, Lawrence spotted a couple of Olive Sparrows on the ground very close, and we did take a cursory look for the “easy” Pauraque (which I couldn’t find anyway; the area looked somewhat cleared, actually). A White-tailed Kite was hovering over Dowitcher Pond, and four Black-necked Stilts flew over the trail as we headed back towards the little bridge. The guys begged off making the big loop through the mesquite savannah and were ready to hit the Stripes for a taco! But on the way back a lady Green-winged Teal showed well, and the Chachalacas were visible on the "Restroom Feeders", so that was great!
Yellow-crowned (left) and Black-crowned Night Herons
Cardinal having a Bad Hair Day
Female Green-winged Teal
Being shy behind the reeds...
Green-winged Teal (bottom left) and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks
Once procuring said tacos we headed over to Dan Jones’ house, where he already had his chair and scope set up and a Great Egret lifted from his perch in the pond-side sticks! We spent about an hour there just chilling (I told him that he lived in the perfect place to be quarantined if it came to that J), enjoying the piles of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, a couple of Black-crowned Night Herons, a pair of Mottled Ducks, at least four Green Herons, a distant Osprey, and singletons of Snowy Egret, Black Phoebe, Savannah Sparrow, and a singing Tropical Kingbird. We had good comparative looks at Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorants, and Dan’s Fulvous Whistling Duck showed up way down the Resaca! But right after I got the scope on him, the Green Kingfisher went darting across the pond (don’t know if anyone saw him), and when I looked again the duck was gone! L We did spot his Lesser Scaup slowly coming into view, however… At one point we both thought we heard a Summer Tanager pik-a-chooing, but upon closer inspection I think it was a White-eyed Vireo incorporating that into his song… His Altamira Oriole pair made an appearance, and thankfully the White-tipped Dove that was singing went blasting across the resaca giving everyone a great view! Kurt admitted he was a fan of pelicans, so we were very happy when two big White Pelicans sailed overhead! Dan spotted a couple of Swainson’s Hawks circling with the Turkey Vultures, and while he was inside getting something, a youngster soared low overhead!
Immature Swainson's Hawk over Moon Lake
Our hour was up, so we reluctantly bid Dan goodbye and headed over to Santa Ana, seeing as none of the Green Jays we were hearing at Estero deigned to let us see them… On the way out I stopped for a Krider’s Hawk that was circling in front of us (we took separate cars to honor Social Distancing), and while we were enjoying him I noticed a big kettle of vultures overhead that included a nice Broad-winged Hawk! Heading west on US 281, at one point I wheeled off onto the shoulder for a pair of Caracaras, and yet another presumed Krider’s was on the post in front of us – he was pretty skittish, but he was even more white-headed than most Krider’s I had seen, but the tarsi initially looked unfeathered, which would rule out Ferruginous. However, a closer look at the photos seemed to indicate that the tarsi may indeed be feathered, so I sent them to raptor expert Bill Clark for analysis! A Harrier flew close to the road as we continued on.
Awful pictures of the presumed Krider's Hawk; experts are analyzing the photos to determine if the tarsi are truly feathered or not, which would make it a young Ferruginous Hawk instead!
He was really patchy in flight!
The Caracaras were more cooperative...
We finally made it to Santa Ana, where the feeders were quiet, but we made our way up onto the levee where tons of Broad-winged Hawks were circling overhead, along with a couple of Cooper’s! (Dan was bemoaning the lack of raptors, and after I texted him saying that they were all at Santa Ana, he texted me back saying that about 80 Broadies and 180 Turkey Vultures showed up after we left!) It was pretty quiet by that time, and after the big rain the day before, we opted to stick to the mud-less Chachalaca Trail. Verdins were calling but being stubborn as per usual, but the lakes had quite a bit of action: a couple of Pied-billed Grebes were being very feisty, and a Common Gallinule cackled off to the side. Just before the blind I heard the Ringed Kingfisher fly by, and we barely got a glimpse as he rowed past! (I heard a Gray Hawk whistle but was so focused on the kingfisher that it went into mental storage…) A lovely Cinnamon Teal was in with the bluewings, and a Sora cried unseen. Some Black Vultures soared overhead while a Long-billed Thrasher shot across the trail. Nothing was at the deck, but we did hear a Green Jay doing its “roll call”, so we went tearing after that! Unfortunately, we just couldn’t coax the guy out… Another couple who was keeping a discreet distance behind us mentioned the Butterfly Center as an option for the jay, as (even though they were closed) they were apparently still feeding! After mulling it over (and feeling the heat) the guys voted to call it a day, and I mentioned that they could still stop there on their way back west the next morning, which sounded like a better plan.
The immediate plan was to follow me back up Alamo Road to the Inn, but as I pulled up to the exit, I saw them suddenly pull back into a parking spot, so I wheeled around to see what was up; they were both out of the car, and Kurt said, “Does the Green Jay have yellow outer tail feathers??” J Bingo! I joined them as they finally got a great look at their Green Jays!
We finally called it a wrap and headed back to the Inn with an impressive 93 species (plus 1 “sp.”) for the day! Bird list:
Black-bellied Whistling-DuckFulvous Whistling-Duck
American White Pelican
“Krider’s” Red-tailed Hawk (one for sure; second one until told otherwise)
Great Horned Owl
Northern Rough-winged Swallow