I had guided Vicki, Janie, Linda, and Kayden last March just before COVID hit, and they were back for more (minus grandson Kayden)! Initially they wanted to visit South Padre and the Laguna Vista Nature Trail, but when I gave them an alternate itinerary that included all the cool rarities that were around, they said, “Forget South Padre!” J So we headed first to UTRGV in Brownsville where the 4th US record of Social Flycatcher had shown up again (the initial sighting was a one-day wonder during the Festival) and parked in the free lot in Lincoln Park. There we ran into fellow guide Ron Weeks (when the flycatcher showed initially during the Festival, he famously said over the guides’ chat, “Is it still being seen? I may have a mutiny on my hands!” J), and then all headed over to the “dike”, a pathway between two resacas where the bird had shown pretty faithfully for the last couple of days. Unfortunately Linda’s back was the one to mutiny, so she relaxed on a bench while we continued on. It was easy to find the mob, and shortly Ron heard the flycatcher (giving a sharp tia very unlike a Kiskadee). For the longest time he remained within the shrubbery; I started the video just to get a sample of his vocalization, but then suddenly, there he was right out in the open! He sat for the longest time, giving everyone wonderful looks in perfect light! The two spoonbills that flew overhead were virtually ignored!
We find the mob that has the bird in their sights...
We picked up Linda (not being a “lister” she wasn’t too disappointed over missing the flycatcher), stopped at a Stripes to get some meds for her back, then headed on to San Benito Wetlands where my friends Pat and Norma and I were able to bag the Fork-tailed Flycatcher for their 2021 Rarity Game earlier in the week. We came in from the southeast this time, passing my friend Peggy who hadn’t seen the Forktail, but we cruised slowly down Mayfield Drive anyway; Eastern Meadowlarks were singing while a flock of Westerns rose and fell in a ditch to our right. Waay off on one of those big power poles sat a dark raptor that oddly looked like a Red-tailed Hawk with a rufous chest, and doing a little digging afterwards we concluded it had to be the dark morph calurus that had been reported earlier. Closer yet was the Fuertes’ Redtail (which we had seen the other day), and further down the White-tailed Kite pair, one which came close and gave us a great show, harassing one of the Redtails and then hovering right next to us! A Harrier also swooped through, and closer to the water treatment plant we found one Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and several Vermilions, plus a Curve-billed Thrasher and Loggerhead Shrike. At road’s end a Belted Kingfisher posed briefly before being typically skittish and taking off, but alas no Forktail (we figured that maybe he went south with the front, along with the mob of Scissortails that had been there previously).
Next on the docket was the playa up in Willacy County where the female Black Scoter was hanging out. Thankfully the roads were in good shape after the heavy rains the front brought, and there were still plenty of ducks in the playa: a string of Green-winged Teal, Ruddies, Lesser Scaup (someone had reported a Greater, but at that distance I’d be hard-pressed to pick one out), a handful of Pied-billed Grebes, a Greater Yellowlegs, and a couple of Black-necked Stilts allowed themselves to be found, but we just couldn’t find the scoter. Useless to the girls but good for the list was a heard-only Sprague’s Pipit, and we unsuccessfully tried to call out a House Wren, but from that other angle we spotted a nearby Long-billed Curlew close to the road!
I had heard Sandhill Cranes calling while we were out of the car, so instead of backtracking we decided to continue on CR 1900 and see what we could see. We were rewarded with a soaring White-tailed Hawk, plus several Caracaras in a nearby field! Nearly invisible against the plowed soil were several Long-billed Curlews very close to the road! Three Lark Sparrows popped up in a scrubby bush next to the road, but the cranes remained elusive. I had stopped long enough to get a Diet Coke out of the back when a barking farm dog came over to investigate; thankfully he stayed on property amongst a chorus of “Go home!”s from the girls while I got back in the car…
Just as we got back on FM 498 to head to Tiocano Lake, an alert came over the RBA Chat that Father Tom had just found the Fork-tailed Flycatcher!! The vote was to continue on to Tiocano (Vicki said that if they were truly “hard core” they’d go back, but they weren’t… J), so we continued on, Siri taking us the back way through Santa Rosa (still got lost as I missed Kansas City Road…). I didn’t really expect the Cackling Goose from last week to still be around, but Tiocano always has something interesting, and this time it was a repeat of Inspiration Road Pond as tons of White Pelicans filled the lakes on both sides (along with some Neotropic Cormorants)! In addition we added Great and Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, a big group of Long-billed Dowitchers, more Black-necked Stilts, a couple of Spotted Sandpipers chasing each other, a handful of Mottled Ducks, and two female Shovelers. In the songbird department Common Yellowthroats were calling and Marsh Wrens were singing; we managed to call out a female Yellowthroat for Vicki, but the wren was unsurprisingly obstinate. Unfortunately the King Rail never sounded off, but that’s life…
Recent reports of the Golden-crowned Warbler at Valley Nature Center sounded a little more promising, so we headed there next, picking up a handful of Inca Doves outside the building. The gal behind the desk knew we wanted the warbler before we even asked, so she whipped out a map and marked the spot! We headed to the little bridge, and the girls got a kick out of the mob of Soft-shelled Turtles and Red-eared Sliders all descending upon our position wanting a handout! J We headed down the Butterfly Trail, being waylaid by a Chachalaca and a Long-billed Thrasher at a tray feeder, but at the intersection thankfully ran into a handful of people who were waiting for the warbler to show! One gal was hearing its “tic-tic” call, and occasionally you’d get glimpses of movement back in the stuff, but at one point the bird miraculously came out in the open: Janie got a great look, I got off a shot that actually came out, but Vicki and Linda only got glimpses. I offered to hang around as long as necessary, but they were okay with the glimpse (they were trying to recall if they actually had seen it in Costa Rica), so we just wandered, picking up Green Jays, a Clay-colored Thrush, and at least heard the wing whistles of the White-tipped Doves. The girls were ready to call it a day after that (it was close to closing time anyway), so we headed out, picking up a wheeping Hooded Oriole in a palm by the bridge, a fly-by White-winged Dove in the parking lot, and a rattling Buff-bellied Hummingbird in the front garden.
All in all we had 73 species for the day, which was a decent total for a rarity chase! Bird list:
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron