Wednesday, February 18, 2015

White-throated Thrush at Estero, 2/18/15

A White-throated Thrush was found about ten days ago at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslco.  I missed seeing it the first day and then left the next for NE Texas.  The thrush was seen the next day but then disappeared till I got a brief glimpse of it this past Satuday.  Meanwhile yesterday someone reported seeing an all black thrush with a yellow bill and yellow eye ring.  Could this have been the first US record of the Mexican Black Thrush?  I thought it was worth a search.  I put in four hours but nary a trace.  However I did get to see the White-throated Thrush.  This is the fifth I've seen in the RGV.

The White-throated Thrush has been feeding lately in a large fruiting Banyan (Ficus religiosa).  Several Clay-colored Thrushes were also taking advantage of the small figs.

It's not every day one can see three Turdus species in the same location.  Here's an American Robin.

Identification of soaring hawks has become more complicated this winter by the presence of Broad-winged Hawks across the Valley.  This one has been hanging out at Estero.

This Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet has been a lifer for many visitors to the park.

A Black Thrush in the RGV would be really neat.  Let's hope there is one and that someone can photograph it.  Namely me!

Friday, February 13, 2015

NE Texas, 2/8-11/15

Even though eBird shows no reports for Henslow's Sparrows in Texas this winter, Bodclau Wildlife Management Area near Shreveport, Louisiana has had a bunch of them.  So I thought I would make a run over there to see some and maybe use my experience to find some in Texas.  On the way I found a likely looking field, tall grass and sedge bordered by pines, on US 59 and FM 357 in Polk County so I gave it a try.  I couldn't find any Henslow's Sparrows but I got some great LeConte's Sparrow photos.

A bit up the road at the Alabama Creek WMA I found a trail wandering through a nice stand of pines and was rewarded with three Red-cockaded Woodpecers and a Brown-headed Nuthatch.

I spent the night in Marshall and drove over to Bodclau Dam 60 miles to the east in Louisiana where as many as 26 Henslow's Sparrows were reported over a two day census on the grassy spillway of the the dam.  I think it helped that they had prior experience and a half dozen people to chase down sparrows when they were flushed from the tall grass.  It took me three hours but I finally found one which flew from the grass to land under a shrub at the edge of the field.  I almost got some pretty good photos of the green-headed little beauty.  It had been 35 years since I had seen some on their breeding grounds in SW Missouri on the Niawatha Prairie Reserve.

That afternoon I checked out the Caddo Lake NWR where Henslow's Sparrows have been reported through the years but I could not find any good looking habitat.  It was nice seeing a few Eastern Towhees. The next morning I drove up to Olney Road where Henslows had been seen two years ago.  I couldn't find any there either and the habitat looked a bit degraded.  Henslow's Sparrows are choosy with regards to their habitat.  A field that they find suitable can quickly regenerate with shrubs and soon not be to their liking.

So I decided to just enjoy the day of birding and not be so obsessed with Henslow's Sparrows.  I soon found a wonderful little park I was unfamiliar with, Dangerfield State Park.  Old tall pine trees surrounded a peaceful lake and campground.  Here I found a cooperative Brown-headed Nuthatch and some Red-headed Woodpeckers.

After a couple of hours at the park I decided to go farther north and found myself in Red River County not far from the Oklahoma Border.  I randomly chose a county road leading north from the small town of Avery and scored a much wanted bird, Hairy Woodpecker.  I heard the call first and was fortunate to get a diagnostic photo.  My previous sightings of the species in Texas were a bit iffy so I'm glad to get this one cleaned up.  The long bill and unspotted outer rectrices rule out Downy Woodpecker.

And soon a female Purple Finch landed over my head, my first self found one for Texas.

I spent the night in Paris (it's not as great as it sounds) because Henslow's Sparows have been reported in the past at Camp Maxey.  Even though I could not enter the National Guard base, I hoped to find suitable habitat in the area.  I didn't find much at Pat Mayse WMA and was really disappointed with the Caddo National Grasslands.  It has a few nice lakes and some fine stands of pines, but not the tall prairie grasslands I had hoped for.  At least I couldn't find any.  So I had to settle for a few Harris's Sparrows.

At this point I was not that far from Dallas so I decided to just head for home.  And if I made good time, I might get south of Temple in time to make a run for the much maligned Striped Sparrow which has been present for several weeks east of Granger.  Striped Sparrow is a nonmigratory species from the arid high county of western and central Mexico with no history of wandering, even in Mexico.  So there's a high probability this bird received human assistance with its 600+ mile journey.  But it's still a beautiful bird and I've never seen one despite lots of birding in Mexico.

I arrived at the intersection of CR 428 and CR 361 east of Granger in Williamson County at 4:40 PM and parked.  After walking around the bend, I saw a flock of birds feeding on seed that had been put out by birders the past couple of weeks.  I was about a hundred feet from the flock while five other birders were about the same distance down the road on the other side of the flock.   After just a few minutes the Striped Sparrow joined the crowd.  I later heard that a couple of those birders had been waiting for ten hours!

Even though I failed in my goal of finding a Henslow's Sparrow in Texas, I still got to see one in Louisiana plus I got to see some neat Texas birds.  So it was a very successful four day birding trip.  Now I need to head out to west Texas and try to get some photos of the Henslow's Sparrow's cousin, Baird's Sparrow.