Thanks to a last-minute cancellation, I was able to do some last-minute guiding for Chris from Alpine! She made it easy by declaring that she had no target list and wanted to go wherever I wanted to go J, so I came up the idea of targeting some year birds for me at places that would also have some new birds for her!
Because of the heat we left bright and early and arrived at Bentsen State Park about a half hour before dawn. The goal was to make it to the hawk tower (an almost two-mile hike one-way) in hopes of picking up the Hook-billed Kite and maybe hearing the lost Morelet’s Seedeater. Lots of things were calling, of course, but in the gloom we really couldn’t see anything, although a Cooper’s Hawk flying over the Nature Center doing its floppy display flight was fun! We also managed to see a pair of Green Jays along with silhouetted White-winged Doves. For most of the walk I pointed out different vocalizations, and except for the Olive Sparrow, White-tipped Dove, and Long-billed Thrasher, I think eventually we ended up getting looks at everything at least on the way back!
Once we got to the tower, we didn’t even make it to the top before a Groove-billed Ani called and perched on a dead twig in the open! There was actually a little water in the resaca, and we ended up spooking a few herons before we realized they were there, but they all eventually came back: adult and immature Little Blue Herons, several Tricolored Herons, a couple of White-faced Ibis, and a few shorebirds including Least Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, and Long-billed Dowitcher. Up at the top we spotted a raptor sitting on a dead tree that got our juices going, but it turned out to be a Swainson’s Hawk… Some Coots were in the other part of the resaca, and before long, sure enough, the sweet swee-swee-swee-teu-teu song of the seedeater wafted over the airwaves (although distant; sadly, I don’t think Chris ever could pick it up…)! More “gettable” was a Brown-crested Flycatcher sharing another dead tree with a pair of Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and a pair of brilliant Baltimore Orioles! After a half hour we were ready to head on to the feeders at the National Butterfly Center, so we told the Hook-billed Kite that we were leaving J and headed out.
On the way back the Chachalacas started chorusing, and we eventually saw one hunkered in a tree! But the biggest treat for Chris was seeing a glorious Altamira Oriole on a dead twig, right in the sun! Another one (may have been a female) actually attacked the hummingbird feeder back at the Nature Center, while another Chachalaca strutted out, thinking we had the food, probably! A female Orchard Oriole finally let us get a belly view, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds chattered from the Mexican Olive trees, which Chris really fell in love with (the trees, not the hummers J)! Another fun sighting was all the Blue Spiny Lizards along the brick wall, including a mating pair! Near the restrooms several Inca Doves were calling, and a Golden-fronted Woodpecker contorted trying to get nectar out the hummingbird feeder!
Another one (probably a female) raids the hummer feeder!
Next was the National Butterfly Center, where Luciano reported that an Audubon’s Oriole was coming into their Big Sit feeding area! I was hearing a Blue Grosbeak singing from the mesquites along the road to the old gardens, but with the wind we just couldn’t pick him out. A pair of Hooded Orioles flew over us as we parked, and 15 minutes of waiting at the feeders brought in close Chachalacas and courting Green Jays (in addition to the grackles and blackbirds), but Chris missed the brief appearance of the White-tipped Dove. A perky male Cardinal added some more color, but no orioles came in (although we did hear the Altamira and saw where she was building her nest in Spike’s enclosure), and we were treated to a male Bronzed Cowbird performing The Helicopter (where he hovers motionless about a foot or two over the female), but she was duly unimpressed…
The Back 70 was closed, so from there we stopped for a Stripes Taco (you can’t visit South Texas without trying a Stripes Taco J) before heading up to Hargill. A Lark Sparrow was sitting on a fence wire at the intersection of 1st Street and Lincoln, followed shortly by a Savannah Sparrow! The resident Snowy Plovers were being reported (which I hadn’t logged during Saturday’s Birdathon), but because it was overcast, viewing conditions were 1000% better! Highlights included both Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets, a few American Golden Plovers still around, lots of Wilson’s Phalaropes, a single Semipalmated Plover, and the continuing Reddish Egret, along with more little shorebirds I just couldn’t ID (except for a Western next to a Least where you could see the size difference). My heart skipped a beat when I spotted a Sanderling along the shoreline, however, as that’s a rare bird inland, but started snapping pictures after only a quick look, and the only things the camera captured were more peeps (that were not Sanderlings) and the Snowy Plover!! I had hastily reported the Sanderling on the local RBA and had to renege, but to this moment I still have a Sanderling picture in my brain, so who knows… (What the camera also captured that I didn’t notice at the time was a Spotted Sandpiper, so had to add that one to the list after the fact, and I also found out later that someone had gone there the next day and had seen a Sanderling, so maybe I wasn’t losing my mind! J) A couple of local ladies bounced by in their truck (all a little rough around the edges – one of them offered us a beer out of the blue J) and chatted with us, and they actually remembered all the birders flocking to this spot when the Collared Plover showed up years ago! They were curious about the scope so I set it up on a Snowy Egret, which produced the expected ooohs and ahs! While we were talking a small flock of Franklin’s Gulls sailed by behind them!
From there we continued on 1st Street heading east and checked out the two wetlands, only adding a Least Grebe to the day list but got a great look at a White-faced Ibis. So from there we headed up to CR-20, where a handful of White-tailed Hawks circled around at the intersection with SR 186! There actually was some water left; lots of Gull-billed Terns were here in addition to more Franklin’s Gulls, and a Lesser Yellowlegs conveniently called to help us ID it! I tried hard to turn some distant shorebirds into Hudsonian Godwits, but it didn’t work… J Several Dickcissels sat on dead sprigs, and Chris spotted a pair of Caracaras, which was very fun! Several Swainson’s Hawks sailed over the fields (heading the wrong direction J)!
From there we just headed north into the Teniente Tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR, hoping to see some songbirds from the car, but the wind was just too much; several Painted Buntings sang from the mesquites, as did Bewick’s Wrens, but didn’t wanna come out, whereas the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were more cooperative! I heard a Bullock’s Oriole, so we jumped out to try and find him, which Chris did, hunkered next to a small trunk in the shade! La Sal Viejas was totally dry (at least the portion that the road crosses), so we made the turn into Ken Baker, where a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher did a little song while we were still in the thornscrub. Out in the fields we spotted several Common Ground Doves (one on a wire next to some Mourning Doves for good comparison), another White-tailed Hawk, and heard a chattering Pyrrhuloxia on the fly. But we never made it to the pond at the north end of Brushline as we had to head home (and while not as hot as Saturday, it was still pretty warm). With the wind the way it was, we didn’t do too badly with 80 species for the day! Bird list:
Common Ground Dove
Little Blue Heron
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow