Headed out at oh dark hundred to get to Bentsen Rio Grande SP an hour before dawn to catch the night birds! Found the parking lot closed (saw the sign in the daylight that said they were getting ready to resurface the thing) so we parked in the alternate lot and headed on in. Almost immediately past the gate we heard the close trilling of the “McCall’s” Screech Owl, but also some Elf Owl-like barking that I recall causing confusion in years past that John Arvin ID’d as young Screeches, so I got some recordings to hopefully share with folks more in tune with owls than I (Susan’s Merlin app ID’d one call as Elf Owl and another as Sora J)! (And indeed, I heard from Michael Marsden who has them in his backyard, and he confirmed the recording as a young Screech…) But what was even more exciting was hearing the screech of a Barn Owl! We shortly heard the distinctive clicking calls (along with a Common Nighthawk beenting), and Susan spotted one flying overhead with the green eyeshine from the flashlight! That was pretty cool! She also spotted a nightjar sitting on the end of a snag right next to the road; miraculously it stayed put as we shone the light on it and poured over its ID – not a Pauraque as they don’t perch on snags, but the shape didn’t seem right for a nighthawk, either! As we got a tiny bit more light we could see that there was no white throat whatsoever, and when it did sally out a couple of times, it didn’t fly like a nighthawk at all and showed no white whatsoever, but rather had that “big brown falcon” look of a Chuck-will’s-widow, so we determined that’s what it was (and eBird liked it)! For someone who claimed to have worse eyesight than me, she was doing a pretty good job! J Oh, and we did hear a Pauraque as well…
As we approached the resaca we added the Great Horned Owl that had been calling in the distance, and the day birds started waking up, like Cardinal, Kiskadee, and Couch’s Kingbird. There was nothing but gangs of grackles at the resaca and a Barn Swallow, so when sunrise officially hit we made our way towards the Green Jay Blind, where we had a couple of Yellow Warblers, but also what looked like a Nashville, only it got flagged! It wasn’t a great look, but I wrote the details and said we’d let the reviewer agonize over it J! Coming back along the main road we spotted a couple of Peccaries (might have been a mom and the kid), then we poked down the Kiskadee Trail to the Acacia Loop and circled back that way. Heard Gray Hawk in the distance, and I had heard a Great Crested Flycatcher which Susan missed. Altamira Orioles kept whistling enticingly while Orchards flew overhead, and some anis called unseen (although one popped up on the way back). We had a flycatcher that I finally called a pewee because it wasn’t behaving like an empid (and had a long primary projection to boot) but it just looked too stocky and round-headed for a pewee to me (but I didn’t know what else to call it – shaped like an empid but colored and behaving like a pewee). We had both Inca and Common Ground Doves along the road (Susan had just been mulling about seeing a ground dove, and suddenly there he was J), and on the main road we had yet another Yellow Warbler, but with it a weirdo warbler that my first impression of was first-year Mourning, but I couldn’t rule out a female Yellowthroat. After it flew we used the comparison feature on the Sibley app (love that thing), and it was clearly a Mourning, with a nice pale lower mandible and extensive yellow underparts; Susan was thrilled as that was yet another lifer for her! J A Blue Spiny Lizard posed on the brick wall on the way out, as they always seem to be there!
After checking in at the visitor center we rolled over to the National Butterfly Center, but not before Susan spotted two Ringed Kingfishers right next to the levee! They both appeared to be females (perhaps youngsters), and the one was just rattling up a storm! Pulling in to the butter center we checked in, the nice gal opened the gate for us, and we rolled down to the feeder area where we set up shop for the next 40 minutes! Green Jays came in pretty quickly, including one dilapidated individual that had definitely seen better days! (Most everyone seemed to be in need of a good molt, and Susan reported a grackle with one stringy tail feather…) The White-winged Doves were hysterical, clamoring all over each other to get at the PB mixture, and a Chachalaca pair had their little kid with them, drinking and feeding on an orange! Finally a White-tipped Dove (another lifer) made a showing next to the Hispid Cotton Rat, and Susan’s longed-for Long-billed Thrasher suddenly appeared on the seed log, although he seemed to be in worse shape than the jays, with scruffy feathers all over and no tail at all! But she still thought his eye looked rather formidable! In the non-bird department a pretty Carmine Skimmer settled on the chain in front of us (I was having a senior moment in that I couldn’t recall the name – except that it started with a C – and she guessed it right away J)!
Two Ringed Kingfishers along Old Military Highway
A normal-looking Green Jay...
...and one who lost all his head feathers (which are growing back, as you can tell by the pinfeathers); this is not an unusual phenomena with some songbirds!
We took a quick walk around the garden just to check out the butter action (pretty slim, although the Mexican Bluewings were coming in to the bait, and a Soldier was in with the Queens), then headed over to Anzalduas. On the way a White-tailed Kite was hovering, so we pulled over so Susan could enjoy yet another lifer as he dropped like a bomb on whatever he was pursuing! We picked up a Swainson’s Hawk as we turned onto the entrance road to Anzalduas, but also were greeted with a huge sign announcing that it was “temporarily closed”! (And who knows how long that will be; someone I asked heard that it was being used as a COVID testing site for immigrants…) So when Susan mentioned that she needed Cave Swallow we turned around and headed to the “swallow bridge” on the Old Military Highway levee! So that was an easy lifer pickup, viewing these little guys swooping below us instead of against the sky!
Headed back home for siesta, then we were off to Weaver Road, where Susan’s main target was Upland Sandpiper (we had actually heard one in the pitch at Bentsen that morning flying overhead, but of course it’s better to see them)! Coming in from the north, I was stunned to see a little boggy wetland just before the ag fields that I had never noticed before, which hosted a Black-bellied Whistling Duck and two babies, a Least Grebe, and a Solitary Sandpiper! The eastern field was full of sorghum, which not unexpectedly produced a couple of Dickcissels sitting on top!
Heading down to the sod farms, almost right away we spotted a darkish, fat body out in the middle, which did indeed turn out to be an Uppy, but pretty distant and not in the best light. So we continued to the north-south portion where we could get a little closer, and was able to get satisfying views. A little further on I thought I was seeing more Uppies, but once again they proved that my judgment of size isn’t the greatest, as they turned out to be three Buff-breasted Sandpipers! They conveniently flew in front of us and into the plowed field on our left (which was in better light), which proved somewhat of a challenge picking them out amongst the clods, but at least one was a nice crisp juvenile, showing the feather edgings of the back quite nicely! As we continued south we ran into more Uppies and Buffies, which was really a treat!
From there we slowly cruised both tracts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR (one along Weaver and one along Cannon Road), where we scared up several Common Ground Dove near the ag fields, and added tons of both Couch’s and Tropical Kingbirds to the day list, with a couple of Easterns thrown in! Both a Lark Sparrow and a couple of shrikes whirred up to a power line from the plowed fields near US281, and back in the woods more Groove-billed Anis played with us, White-eyed Vireos and Black-crested Titmice sang and called unseen (refusing to come out, of course), while another Olive Sparrow uncharacteristically sat out in the open! A Yellow-billed Cuckoo posed briefly along Jimenez Road, and a Harris’ Hawk barreled over with food, solving the mystery of the squealing juvie hawk we were hearing! Knowing that we were getting up ridiculously early the next morning, I asked Susan (since we bagged her target here) if we could go straight to Tiocano Lake to look for the Fulvous Whistling Ducks and then call it a night, which she was game to do.
Well. We of course had to enjoy the Buffies again on the way out (one was out in the open on a side road) plus a pair of mating Killdeer, so that slowed us down! I had been telling Susan that, to my knowledge, this was the only accessible sod farm now that the famous La Feria Sod Farms had started growing something else (there is another sod farm along US 281 that you take your life in your hands to check out), and was planning to show her where it had been as we were gonna drive right by it, when to my utter amazement, there were fields and fields of sod!! They were back in business! J The down side was that there were definitely no public roads going north from FM 800, with little to no shoulder along that busy road, but what we saw was too good not to check out – the fields were just full of birds, including a Caracara, Long-billed Curlews, another Upland Sandpiper, Cattle Egrets, Lesser Yellowlegs, Black Terns, and what looked to be mostly more Buff-breasted Sandpipers, in the 100s (but eBird didn’t like that J)!
Caught out in the open, one of the Buffies hightails it back to the plowed field!
So that definitely slowed us down a little! J After perusing the mob as best we could, we continued to Tiocano Lake, where we were blown away: that lake was stuffed with birds, too! All sorts of peeps (mostly Least Sandpipers but also a couple of Westerns and at least one classic juvie Semipalmated) were right outside the car window, and egrets galore were further out! Several spoonbills were way back there, and even a juvie Reddish Egret showed up! Additional shorebirds included a single Pectoral Sandpiper and a couple of Semipalmated Plovers (we were looking for a Baird’s, which would have been another lifer), and we spotted an Osprey on a pole way over on the eastern side. There were some ducks there, but most looked to be Blue-winged Teal, and a couple that looked like eclipse-plumaged/female Gadwall got flagged (and of course they didn’t lift their bills during the video which would have nailed it). Most of the swallows swooping around were Barns, but we were able to pick out a Bank, as that was one Susan didn’t get to see very often. Black-necked Stilts were all over, as well as a couple of Avocets on the west side, but we just couldn’t pull out any Fulvous Whistlers (although we did see another Black-bellied family), nor did any rail vocalize. So we called it a day, with 98 species for the two outings; Susan was certainly happy with that! While editing the photos the next week, I had to increase it to 99, as I discovered a Wood Stork hiding in amongst all the distant waders!
Out of the six species in this picture, can you spot the young Wood Stork?
Young Roseate Spoonbill
Common Ground Dove
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow