Monday, September 25, 2017

Falcon State Park Butterfly Garden, 9/24/17

Yesterday I was going to go birding out on South Padre Island.  But as I left our road to Progreso Lakes and turned east on the Military Highway I decided I did not want to go east with the sun in my eyes.  So I headed west with the idea of checking out butterflies at Yturria Brush west of La Joya.  But it was extremely dry and fried after a very hot summer.  So I got back in the car and kept going west to Falcon State Park.  It was really dry out there too but the butterfly garden was being watered and full of blooms and butterflies.  And this brought in birds.

I saw this greenish thing fly low into a bush and I figured it would be an Mourning warbler.  Boy was I wrong!  It was a friendly Yellow-bellied Flycatcher who was hunting caterpillars.  I'm not sure how common they are this far west.

Also allowing close approach was this White-eyed Vireo who had it's own battle with a leaf-footed bug.

My last visit to Falcon was back in June and at the time the butterfly garden looked like it had not been watered in months.  I mentioned this at their office at the time and yesterday was glad to see the problem had been fixed.  They also had a couple of hummingbird feeders up that were getting a lot of business.  Though I've visited Starr County dozens of times this was my first county Black-chinned Hummingbird.

This Black-throated Green Warbler was also a county first for me.  During migration I tend to stay in Cameron and Hidalgo County.

A skulking Yellow-breasted Chat refused a good photo per usual.

A couple of quail zipped around the corner and gave me hope for a Scaled Quail.  But they proved to be the more expected Northern Bobwhite.

Inca and Common Ground-Doves flushed thoughout the morning.

Resident Northern Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia are regular year around in the butterfly garden.

As are Olive Sparrows.

But butterflies were my focus.  Nothing too rare but there was plenty with my favorite being the big Brazilian Skippers with their super long proboscis.

The weather forecasters are waffling about a cold front coming down later in the week.  It's time for a major onslaught of birds!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sugar House Pond, 9/5/17

After Ron Weeks turned up Short-billed Dowitcher and Ruddy Turnstones at the Sugar House pond last weekend, I figured I had better get over to check things out.  I arrived to find broad mudflats all around the 40 acre impoundment and thousands of shorebirds.  Bird of the day goes to this Red-necked Phalarope.  At first I was not sure that it wasn't a Red Phalarope so eventually I hiked around to the backside where I got a better view.  I've seen Red-necks here several times in the past but it's always a good bird the the RGV.

In the SE corner was a flock of six Ruddy Turnstones, a species that I had only seen twice before in Hidalgo County.

In the same corner were five Short-billed Dowitchers.  They are much more common along the Laguna Madre.  The gold edges on the scapulars and tertials make the ID easy on the juveniles.

Semipalmated Plover is also hard to find in the county.

I found a total of sixteen species which is pretty good for this inland site.  Here are Western Sandpipers in basic and juvenile plumage.

Here's a Western with a Least.

I did not photograph any Semipalmated Sandpipers today although there were plenly around so here's one from my visit two weeks ago.

And here's a Willet shot from two weeks ago.  I only saw one distant one today.

I estimated the total number of Stilt Sandpipers to be 2000 based on my count of 500 Wilson's Phalaropes.  I like the dark edgings on the rectrices on the juvenile bird.

Just a fraction of today's birds.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Magnificent Frigatebird at Delta Lake, 8/26/17

As Hurricane Harvey pushed up the Gulf just off shore from the Rio Grande Valley this past Friday, more than a hundred Magnificent Frigatebirds were blown in to South Padre Island where they delighted numerous birders.  Another hundred were also reported from the arroyo at Rio Hondo. Sensing that this might be my best shot at getting one in Hidalgo County I headed up to Delta Lake the following morning to try my luck.  It only took a few minutes.  Off to the west I saw a large black bird with long arced wings.  I grabbed my scope and sure enough, it was a Mangnificent Fringatebird!  It looped around the west side of the lake a few times giving excellent views.  I was even able to get some of my fellow Hidalgo County listers a new twitch.

The same day dozens were sighted inland from San Antonio to Austin along with Royal Terns a Sooty Tern and a Sabine's Gull.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Elegant Tern at Padre Island National Seashore, 7/19/17

Day before yesterday, my wife Honey and I were out at South Padre Island enjoying a few drinks and the beach with visiting friends when I received a call from birder extraordinaire Martin Reid.  He and fellow Texas birding legend Greg Lasley had just found two Elegant Terns on Padre Island at the National Seashore.  Dang!  There are only six previously accepted records for this western tern species in Texas and it's been many years since I had seen them in California and Mexico.  So yesterday morning I bid adieu to my guests and made the three hour drive up there.

My old 2003 Tacoma 4x4 is slow and uncomfortable but it's good on the beach and I did not know what I would be up against.  I arrived just before noon at the Bob Hall fishing pier on Padre Island armed only with the knowledge that the bird had been found at 4PM about six miles south of there.  Being that Kleberg County starts just a half mile to the south I figured I might get some good Kleberg County birds even if I failed to find the Elegant Terns.  Well I drove eight miles of beach and walked a mile a a half more on the Padre Island National Seashore without finding anything but common migrant terns and shorebirds.  Most of the beach was drivable in a regular car but I was happy I had my truck when two cars got stuck in the only deep sand.

I decided to give myself as much time as I needed as I saw no reason for the terns to leave and they could easily be out fishing when I was failing to find them.  After 3PM I was starting to wonder if I had failed to recognize them among the many similar Royal Terns.  I was closely scrutinizing each for a slender orange-red bill.  Finally at 4PM I found an Elegant Tern near the spot where Martin and Greg had found the two the previous day.  The smaller size, almost as small as a Sandwich Tern, and narrow almost forceps-like red bill made it easy to pick out the Elegant from among the orange-billed Royal Terns.

Other interesting birds included my first Magnificent Frigatebird in Kleberg County.

And lots of newly arrived shorebirds like this banded Piping Plover.  I will report the flag code and ring colors for this individual to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

I was surprised to see this Short-billed Dowitcher flying along the beach with a flock of Willets.

Long-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit.

Some of the Sanderlings were still wearing worn breeding plumage.

I finished the day with an all time personal high of nine species of terns: Elegant, Royal, Sandwich, Caspian, Gull-billed, Forster's, Common, Black and Least and five new Kleberg County birds.  It was a good day!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

South Padre Island, 7/10/17

The weather forecast said it would be pretty calm out at the beach so I thought it might be a good time to make a summer run up to the Port Mansfield Channel to look for boobies and rare terns.  This past spring my attempts were thwarted by high tides and rough surf.  Turned out to be a beautiful day although there were no rare birds.  But there were lots of common birds, especially terns with this summer's offspring. Here's a diminutive Least Tern and it's very differently plumaged youngster.

Young terns keep their juvenile plumage for just a short time so you have to get out there fairly early in the summer if you want to see it.  Here's a begging Royal Tern.

And begging Sandwich Terns.

This Black Tern seems upset with somebody.

I usually see one or two Gull-billed Terns at the most on the SPI beach but this time I saw seventeen of them.  Are these post breeding migrants?

Of all the common terns, the Common Tern is often one of the least common terns at SPI.  This one in basic plumage shows the dark carpal bar and dark outer rectrices.

Another bird that soon loses its juvenile plumage is the Laughing Gull.  The scaly backed youngsters are only visible for a short time before moulting to the duller winter plumage.

There were hundreds of Sanderlings.  These still have a few feathers from their summer alternate plumage.

It's hard to get close enough to a Snowy Plover for a good photo.

This ragged Willet is warning his cousins that I'm taking photos.

Nothing exciting but still a nice day.