Saturday, January 24, 2015

Gray-crowned Yellowthroat at Estero, 1/24/15

While leading the Estero Llano Grande State Park bird walk this morning Huck Hutchens found a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat near the pavilion on the south end of Ibis Pond.  Best I can figure, it's been nine years since the last was seen at Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville.  So congrats to Huck for a great find. Here's the little cutie.  I mean the yellowthroat...not Huck.

My plan today was not to go birding.  Instead I took Honey to church this morning (she's an Adventist) and when we got home I found the Gray-crowned Yellowthroat  had been discovered at Estero.  So I ran over only to find no one had seen the bird in a couple of hours.   I spend some time with Mary Gustafson and Marie Stewart looking for the bird and felt like I wasn't accomplishing much.  I know I should have been more persistent, but I had been thinking about the nearby Short-eared Owls and how I would like to get them on my year list.  Plus I had already seen a couple of Gray-crowned Yellowthroats in the past.  I made the decision to go for the owl and asked if anyone wanted to join me.  As it wasn't looking good for the yellowthroat, Marie said yes and off we went.  

As we approached Mercedes, I got word from Mary that the yellowthroat had been refound.  Ugh!  Too late to worry about it now.  Luckily, the gate on the levee in Mercedes was open and it saved us a lot of walking.  We reached the area where I've seen Short-eared Owl each of the past seven CBCs and I positioned Marie on the levee while I trudged through the thick grass.  With the season's past rains, not only is the grass taller and thicker but there's lots of large fire ant mounds hidden in the grass.  So I made my way through the grass, getting a year bird Grasshopper Sparrow, and eventually I scared up three Short-eared Owls.

We got back in the car and returned to Estero only to find happy birders exiting the park.  They said the bird was still being seen so I ran down the boardwalk, leaving poor Marie in my wake.  It took a bit of waiting but the bird popped up right in front of us.  Hidalgo County bird #384.  Three new county birds in the past three days!

Satisfied, I headed for home and as I pulled in the drive, I got a call from Mary and heard she had just seen the Long-tailed Duck found my Mary Beth's Birder Patrol earlier in the day.  So I grabbed the wife and we raced up to the pond on FM 1015 just east of Delta Lake.  It was on the back side of the pond and too far for a good photo, so here's a crappy photo.  It was only the second I've seen in the Valley.

Then I received another call from Mary.  She had just seen the Marbled Godwit found a couple of days earlier by Marie Stewart at the Hargill Playa.  I bet it's the same one I found in December a few miles to the north.  They're pretty common along the coast but I had seen the species only twice in Hidalgo County.  So we raced west on FM 490 to Hargill and there was the godwit on the same pond where I had found the Collared Plover back in August.  Another great county year bird!

So I saw much more than I deserved today.  Guess I should take the wife to church more often!  And thanks to Mary for keeping me informed about all her good finds.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

McCook is Smokin! 1/22/15

Most years, sometime during the winter, I will make a run up FM 2221, AKA "Sparrow Road", northwards from La Joya, to knock off my sparrows and try to find some desert stuff for the Hidalgo County year list.  I usually continue north up Jara China Road and by the time I get to McCook it's afternoon and I make some casual scans over the plowed fields hoping for Mountain Plovers.  Of course I don't find any and then I head for home.

Well, Corey Lange came down from Kingsville last weekend and promptly showed us RGV birders how to properly bird the McCook area.  Last weekend he saw both Mountain Plovers and Prairie Falcon, two species I have failed to see in the county in the past.  Turns out they were west of McCook in a large area of plowed fields I had never checked out before.  Thanks Corey!

So last Sunday I was among several Valley birders who made the run up and easily scored the Mountain Plovers.  Turns out Marie Stewart also found a Ferruginous Hawk on Sunday  and Rick Nirschl found a Prairie Falcon yesterday so I made the run back up there this morning before the cold front blew in.  The Ferruginous Hawk was easy, about two miles south of McCook on FM 2058.  It is a striking young bird!

Look at those feathered tarsi.  I could have used some leggings like that when we had our recent cold spell. This is the third time I've seen one in this area.  They are pretty rare in the rest of the RGV.

Back up on FM 490, 2.9 miles west of the junction in McCook, I manged to find a couple of very distant Mountain Plovers in the field west of the gas compression station and then five more flew in from the north east, right over my head, making a call that sounded a lot like Red-winged Blackbird flight notes.  But they landed way off in the distance and then a Peregrine swooped over the field and the plovers, Horned larks, Western Meadowlarks and about a thousand pigeons scattered all over.  I could not refind the Mountain Plovers so I decided to drive the dirt road south that borders the east end of the plover field.  A mile or so to the south I saw a distant good sized pale falcon flying low over the barren field and I immediately knew I had found my #1 nemesis Hidalgo County bird, a stonkin' Praire Falcon.

I then took the first right down a track between some really barren plowed fields and what should appear standing in the middle of the road but a Mountain Plover.  I saw a couple more and managed a decent photo.

Wow, what a morning!  The Prairie Falcon and Mountain Plovers moved my Hidalgo county life list up to 383.  It's getting hard to find new ones.  I think with more people coming up here to look we may someday find some longspurs in those fields.