Thursday, April 29, 2021

Bottlebrush Bonanza


Daryl, a retired computer programmer from Sequin, had won a certificate for a half day’s worth of guiding, but extended it to a full day so that we could hit the Island and photograph migrants!  He was a serious nature photographer, with published photos in Texas Parks & Wildlife publications as well as Texas Highways, and had actually visited the Valley before and gotten some knockout shots of some of our specialties, but the challenge of photographing some of our migrants sounded great to him!  His MO was to camp out at an “attractant” as he called it, and just let the birds come to him, so initially I thought going to a friend’s house where she had a wonderful setup would be fun!  Only she reported that things had actually been pretty slow at her place all week, L  so with reports of good migrants “happening” at the Island, we decided to go there.

Daryl had never been out on The Flats, so I told him we’d take a look, and if I could get him close to the birds without having to get in the water, we’d do that!  (My service advisor at the dealership had chastised me more than once for that, as my whole undercarriage was already rusted out… L)  The tide was pretty high, but there were a handful of things within photo range, such as Skimmers, Royal, Caspian, and Least Terns, and a couple of Sanderlings as well as the ubiquitous Laughing Gulls.  Daryl tried for a couple of skimming shots without success (the gulls got in the way J), so we quickly headed over to the Convention Centre next door, which was a new place for him.

Daryl readies his own version of The Monster


Mottled Duck

Curious Least Tern

Black Skimmers

After parking and getting our gear out (during which the Sedge Wren was still singing in the grass), we headed back towards the building where I showed him the lay of the land, and gave him the option of setting up where he saw fit.  A group of birders were zeroed in on this one Bottlebrush tree, where the continuing Cape May Warbler had also set up shop, so we camped out between the gazebo and the low bench and just focused on the Bottlebrush for the next five hours!  I put out some oranges I had brought along in the hopes of attracting some orioles or tanagers, and while a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak seemed to show an interest, they mainly attracted grackles (although I have to admit – they put on quite the show for us with their displays)!

Vagrant Cape May Warbler that had the bottlebrush staked out!

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak looking for an "in"

While not dripping with migrants, the Bottlebrush definitely seemed to be the center of action there at the Convention Centre!  Ironically, the Cape May (which is actually a rarity here, even though it’s pretty much annual) was the only warbler for the longest time, and he kept chasing everyone else out of “his” tree!  (San Diego Jack was pretty sure there were actually two of them…)  Orchard Orioles had a decent presence there, and eventually a female Baltimore snuck in!  A Catbird stayed in the back and would pop out every once in a while, while a White-eyed Vireo bounced around closer to the southwest bench.  Tennessee Warblers started trickling in, and while he tried his best, the Cape May just couldn’t keep them all away! J  A dull female Nashville also showed up, but even better for some than the Cape May was the lovely male Blue-winged Warbler that made a brief appearance!  A stunning male Black-throated Green Warbler sat in the open, but before Daryl could get on him the Cape May chased him away… L  (That guy was a bully!!)  Many folks were trying to track down the Western Tanager, which finally made a few showings.  Three different Indigo Buntings hid in the interior of the tree, while both Ruby-throated and Buff-bellied Hummers made visits to the feeders.  A couple of Dickcissels sang their name and then landed in a nearby tree!

Daryl (with his Monster) and several others stake out the bottlebrush tree!


Buff-bellied Hummingbird, less common on the Island than the migrant Ruby-throated

The Cape May prepares to fend off an intruder...

A more normal pose...

Male Orchard Oriole with pollen on his forehead!


Western Tanager still in non-breeding plumage

Female Baltimore Orioles can have varying degrees of black on the head


Daryl was a trooper, but my body wouldn’t let me sit on that little stool that long (too bad I didn’t even think of pulling out “Howard’s” fold-up lounge chair until it was too late L), so I had to get up periodically and walk “around the block”; Jack cottoned me onto a Veery that was hanging out at the water feature, along with the female grosbeak that was taking a bath, and my friend Ann alerted me to both male and female Yellow-headed Blackbirds that were hanging out with the big icterid flock and the whistling ducks on the lawn closer to the overlook (picked up some Neotropic Cormorants for the day while back there)!  An orange behind us attracted a male Northern Parula, and when I offered to go back to the car to get our lunches around 11:30, on the way back I was distracted by three Swainson’s Thrushes and a Hooded Warbler in the Circular Area! J

Veery at the water feature

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak thinking about a bath... 

The "Back Yard"

Male Yellow-headed Blackbird

Female (with Brown-headed Cowbird in the foreground)

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Northern Parula (below also)

Swainson's Thrush

Looking curious...

Tennessee Warbler

My friend Betty was the greeter over at the Birding and Nature Center next door, and all morning she was sending out alerts (that Ann and I were getting on our phones) that that the Black-billed Cuckoo was showing up over there, along with a Kentucky Warbler!  I promised Daryl I wasn’t gonna abandon him for that cuckoo J, but since a bunch of us were planning on coming back the next day, I was sure hoping he’d stick around!  Betty eventually rode her bike over and joined us, along with several locals buddies and even MB, a previous guidee!


Great Kiskadee comes in for a visit

I couldn’t believe how fast the day went, as before long it was time to start heading back, so we packed up and dragged ourselves to the car and headed back to Alamo, very happy with the experience!  We ended up with a modest but high quality 42 species for the day.  Bird list:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Mottled Duck

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Common Gallinule



Laughing Gull

Least Tern

Caspian Tern

Royal Tern

Black Skimmer

Neotropic Cormorant

Great Blue Heron

Green Heron

Great Kiskadee

Tropical Kingbird

White-eyed Vireo

Purple Martin

Barn Swallow

Sedge Wren

Gray Catbird


Swainson's Thrush

Lincoln's Sparrow

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Orchard Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Red-winged Blackbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

Great-tailed Grackle

Blue-winged Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Northern Parula

Black-throated Green Warbler

Western Tanager

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Indigo Bunting


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Cleaning Up the Valley Birds


Frank and Amy were a couple of fairly new birders who managed to escape the work place long enough for a quick vacation to a new birding area!  They picked me up this morning so Frank could do the driving (he’s driven all over the world so I figured I could rest easy, control freak that I am… J) and told me they had already logged over 140 birds with Roy Rodriguez on the coast, and Huck Hutchins at Estero Llano Grande!  I warned them ahead of time not to expect a big list for Starr County, but they said that was fine – their “short list” included targets that could only be gotten upriver, so upriver we went!

Went to Salineno first thing and were greeted right away by a subadult Yellow-crowned Night Heron at the boat ramp!  I had intended to check the river first, but the sad, plaintive whistles of two Audubon’s Orioles practically over our heads sent us to the trail!  Even though they sounded “exposed”, the birds were pretty well hidden, but eventually both Frank and Amy were able to spot them!  While still in the parking area last week’s Ringed Kingfisher made a repeat performance by announcing her presence unseen with a loud Crack! flight call, then appearing over the trees for a great look!  Truthfully, we didn’t see much along the trail except a Common Ground Dove (which was nonetheless a life bird for them), but at the cul-de-sac had a Bullock’s Oriole where the Gray Hawk was sitting last week, a Coot in the river, a flyover Osprey, and a Rough-winged Swallow zipping by (also a lifer), but only heard the seedeater, way too far away to even hope for a glimpse. L  A flying duck got us excited as we were leaving, but it turned out to be a female scaup…  Rolling through the little town some Purple Martins on a shelter were fun! 

Subadult Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Frank checking out the Rio Grande from the Salineno parking area

Amy and Frank at the end of the Seedeater Trail


We stopped at the foot of the Dump Road Route to do the eBird list, but got distracted by some little birds jumping around in the bushes that turned out to be Lark Sparrows!  But while we were enjoying them a couple of Painted Buntings came in and stirred things up!  Amy had seen something larger, but whatever it was fled the coop before any of us could get a look…  Once on Old School Road (which connects Salineno Road with the Dump Road) a brilliant Pyrrhuloxia landed on a power pole just before the turnoff – Frank was thrilled as he was able to get a wonderful photo! 

Lark Sparrow


Once on Dump Road (Frank and Amy were aghast at how well it lived up to its name L) we heard lots of stuff but not much wanted to show: the Cactus Wrens were stubborn, but we at least got a distant look at a Bewick’s Wren.  Even the Roadrunners were unresponsive to my messin’ with ‘em and only gave us brief looks!  At one point I ordered (nicely J) Frank to stop – there was a nighthawk perched on a limb!  (With all my talk of having lousy eyesight he was amazed that I spotted the thing… J)  Because of the way it was sitting, a definitive ID was difficult, but Frank saw it fly as he approached the side of the road and said the band was definitely closer to the tip of the wing, so we called it a Lesser.  In the same tree was a female Brown-headed Cowbird and a gnatcatcher I tried real hard to turn into a Black-tailed, but it was definitely a Blue-gray…  The Verdins were also frustrating, and although one did come in to some coaxing, we just couldn’t get a good look, while two Nashville Warblers were more than cooperative!  While all this was going on the Harris’ Hawk pair circled around near “their” windmill!  A Kestrel on the wire got everyone excited, and unlike the other songbirds, a singing Black-throated Sparrow came right in!

Lesser Nighthawk

Black-throated Sparrow 

From there we headed straight to Falcon (Starr) County Park (I didn’t really expect the pigeons but I thought we’d try), where the shrike pair greeted us right away!  The Vermilion Flycatchers were definitely a hit, along with both Ash-throated and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.  The staff at Falcon State Park was out to lunch, so I filled out an envelope while a Hooded Oriole sang behind us.  A pair of Caracaras gave great photo ops, and in the primitive camping area had a flock of Chipping Sparrows (tried hard to turn one into a Clay-colored), and the Cactus Wren finally came out.  Couch’s Kingbirds called unseen, while a female Summer Tanager hid in the bushes.  One Ash-throated Flycatcher was particularly cooperative for videos and vocalizations! 

Lunch time!

Pyrrhuloxia takes advantage of a leaky faucet

Vermilion Flycatcher

Marital spat...

Frank at Falcon County Park

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Crested Caracaras (the one in front is a younger bird)

Frank checks his flycatcher photo in the primitive camping area

Ash-throated Flycatcher fanning his tail

Normal appearance... 

Frank was okay with “off-roading” so we bounced down to the lake edge while a weird-sounding meadowlark sang across from the boat ramp.  We had the usual water birds:  the spit had over 100 Neotropic Cormorants that were grunting, plus three Black Skimmers (that didn’t get flagged by eBird, so I guess they’re somewhat expected)!  After our romp we braved using the pit toilet and were rewarded with a Brown-crested Flycatcher!  We then rolled into the picnic area and took a little hike which kicked up nothing, but on the way out ran into park host Mike Ebersol who directed us to his camping spot for feeder birds!  Hit the jackpot there:  when we pulled up a Peccary was grazing, along with a Pyrrhuloxia on the seed tray!  They of course split when we came around to sit at the bench, but after a while stuff returned, starting with two Long-billed Thrashers along with a Curve-billed, Cardinals, Inca Doves, a Green Jay, Lincoln’s Sparrow, both cowbirds, and a handful of Bobwhite!  I think that was Frank and Amy’s favorite, as she was pretty sure that’s what she saw that we could never get on at the foot of Dump Road! J

Snowy Egret

Neotropic Cormorants with Mexico in the background

Falcon Dam

Cardinal at Mike's feeders

"What're YOU lookin' at?!"

Long-billed Thrasher

Lincoln's Sparrow

Inca Dove

We had to head home after that, but ended up with a respectable 72 species for the day, which is pretty good for Starr County!  Bird list:

Lesser Scaup

Northern Bobwhite

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Inca Dove

Common Ground Dove

White-tipped Dove

White-winged Dove

Mourning Dove

Greater Roadrunner

Lesser Nighthawk

American Coot


Spotted Sandpiper

Greater Yellowlegs

Laughing Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Black Skimmer

Neotropic Cormorant

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

Snowy Egret

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Turkey Vulture


Harris's Hawk

Ringed Kingfisher

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Crested Caracara

American Kestrel

Vermilion Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Brown-crested Flycatcher

Great Kiskadee

Couch's Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

White-eyed Vireo

Loggerhead Shrike

Green Jay

Black-crested Titmouse


Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Purple Martin

Cave Swallow

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Bewick's Wren

Cactus Wren

European Starling

Curve-billed Thrasher

Long-billed Thrasher

Northern Mockingbird

House Sparrow

Olive Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Eastern Meadowlark

Hooded Oriole

Bullock's Oriole

Audubon's Oriole

Red-winged Blackbird

Bronzed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

Great-tailed Grackle

Nashville Warbler

Summer Tanager

Northern Cardinal


Painted Bunting

Morelet's Seedeater