Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sal del Rey, Delta Lake, 11/18/14

This recent cool weather has got me out looking for birds and I'm really enjoying it.  I started this morning at the Sal del Rey unit of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR.  We have water in the salt lake for the first time in several winters.  Good stuff today included twenty Snowy Plovers.

I counted 75 Wilson' Phalaropes bouncing in the rough water.  A count of the individuals in this flight shot reveals there were actually 85 of them.  Hope they stay for the winter.

I also had fifty Western Sandpipers which is a bit high.  Here are a couple to compare with Least Sandpipers.  Notice the grayer color and the white face of the Westerns.  Unfortunately the cloudy weather messed up some good photos.

On the way out this White-eyed Vireo was not pleased with my pygmy owl imitations.

Birds were also plentiful at Delta Lake County Park north of Monte Alto.  The water is down on the west side of FM 88 creating some great mudflats with lots of shorebirds.  I counted and estimated about 500 or them.

Best was this distant Dunlin, my first for Hidalgo County this year.

My new scope is really good and I'm enjoying it but my digiscoping still sucks.  This shot with Laughing, Franklin's and Ring-billed Gulls was shot with way too high of an ISO.

Inside the picnic area there were a few passerines but this Vermillion Flycatcher stole the show.  It posed while I was inside the car so I got some good shots.

Here are the lists for today.

LRGV NWR--La Sal del Rey (LTC 005), Hidalgo, US-TX
Nov 18, 2014 8:50 AM - 11:10 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Walked in from Brushline Road.
41 species

Greater White-fronted Goose  22
Northern Shoveler  1
Lesser Scaup  2
Eared Grebe  75
Turkey Vulture  2
Harris's Hawk  1
Red-shouldered Hawk  1
American Coot  3
Sandhill Crane  11
Black-necked Stilt  30
American Avocet  15
Snowy Plover  20
Greater Yellowlegs  2
Lesser Yellowlegs  7
Least Sandpiper  130
Western Sandpiper  50
Wilson's Phalarope  85
Laughing Gull  80
Common Ground-Dove  1
Mourning Dove  1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  3
Crested Caracara  3
Eastern Phoebe  2
Great Kiskadee  1
White-eyed Vireo  1
Green Jay  1
Black-crested Titmouse  2
Verdin  1
House Wren  7
Bewick's Wren  2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Northern Mockingbird  1
American Pipit  4
Orange-crowned Warbler  2
Nashville Warbler  2
Olive Sparrow  1
Lark Sparrow  3
Savannah Sparrow  5
Lincoln's Sparrow  7

Delta Lake (LTC 008), Hidalgo, US-TX
Nov 18, 2014 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.5 mile(s)
39 species

Mottled Duck  1
Northern Pintail  1
Neotropic Cormorant  100
Double-crested Cormorant  50
American White Pelican  270
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  2
Snowy Egret  3
Turkey Vulture  25
American Avocet  3
Killdeer  54
Greater Yellowlegs  5
Lesser Yellowlegs  2
Stilt Sandpiper  100
Dunlin  1
Least Sandpiper  200
Western Sandpiper  1
Long-billed Dowitcher  100
Laughing Gull  12
Franklin's Gull  6
Ring-billed Gull  6
Caspian Tern  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  1
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
American Kestrel  2
Eastern Phoebe  2
Vermilion Flycatcher  2
Loggerhead Shrike  1
Tree Swallow  50
Barn Swallow  20
Marsh Wren  2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
European Starling  4
Orange-crowned Warbler  2
Nashville Warbler  1
Common Yellowthroat  2
Great-tailed Grackle  5

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cassin's Finch at Resaca de la Palma, 11/17/14

Yesterday Honey and I decided to run over to the National Butterfly Center south of Mission to look for butterflies before the cold front blew in.  About noon I got a call from Mary Beth Stowe that she had just found a Purple Finch at Resaca de la Palma State Park north of Brownsville.  I asked her about the possibility of it being a Cassin's Finch as this winter they seem to be arriving in larger than usual numbers in the state.  With Resaca being an hour away I made the decision to stay at the butterfly park and it turned out to be a good one as we saw some good stuff.  Well last night it turned out the Purple Finch was actually a Cassin's Finch as I had suspected and a species I needed for my state list.

I got up early this cold windy morning after the front had blown in to take Honey to work and decided either the bird was gone or it would be hanging out at the feeding station where it was seen yesterday and someone would report it.  Either way I was going back to bed.  And sure enough after I got up I found the Cassin's Finch had been sighted again so I raced over to Resaca de la Palma and after a brief wait spent chatting with Robin Zurovec and John Yochum, the bird made it's appearance.  Saves me a long trip to the Panhandle or West Texas to look for one.

Separating this species from female Purple Finch is not an easy task but the comments by the big brains on ID Frontiers all said Cassin's Finch mostly based on the white underparts with sharp streaking and the long straight culman.  Cassin's Finch is a bird of the Rocky Mountain high country that periodically invades Texas when winter food crops are in short supply.  This is the second record for the RGV with one occurring on South Padre Island during November 2000.  As this appears to be a good montane invasion year, I'll still probably head up to the Panhandle or West Texas but I don't need to worry about finding a Cassin's Finch now. 

A little post script:  Here's a photo of the male Purple Finch from the SPI Convention Center on 4/4/13.

And a House Finch from the University of Texas at Brownsville campus.

So now I've seen all three of the normally occurring US Carpodacus (now Haemorhous) finches in Cameron county.  Pretty cool.