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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

South Florida, 5/14-22/17

Hoping to find some of the recently reported rarities, Honey and I made a last second trip to South Florida during her two week vacation.  On our second night on the road, I saw on the ABA Facebook page that a possible  Bahama Woodstar had been reported at a little refuge south of Melbourne on the Atlantic side. The photo sure looked like a woodstar.  As we drove south from Jacksonville, I read the bird had been seen during the morning so we thought we would make a try for it.  We had a little trouble finding the Maritime Hammock Sanctuary on A1A but we finally arrived only to find out the bird had just been seen a half hour earlier.  The somewhat unfriendly group of Florida birders were busy telling their boring birding tales and not paying much attention to the big strangler fig where the bird had been seen several times.  I was the first to refind the bird but no one else saw it and I think they doubted this Texas birder knew what he was talking about.  So after a few minutes I refound it again and this time they believed.  My long time butterfly friends, Mark and Holly Salvato arrived a few minutes after I got there and I was happy to show the Bahama Woodstar to them also.  A few days later they repaid me with some excellent butterflies on Key Largo.  It had been more than 35 years since the last Florida sighting of Bahama Woodstar.  It was my 20th ABA area hummer.

After overnighting in Fort Pierce, we headed west into the center of the state to look for Florida Scrub Jay.  I had done a little research and found people were seeing them at the Archbold Biological Station.  the friendly fellow in the interpretive center pointed us in the right direction and withing a few minutes I ws looking at my first ever Florida Scrub Jays.  This species is dependent on scrubby dry vegetation that is managed with periodic prescribed burns.

From there we drove south with Limpkin and Snail Kites as out targets.  It took a while driving through the abnormally dry marshy vegetation but eventually I saw a distant pair of Limpkins and a little later I got a close up.

We checked several sites where Snail Kites had been reported on Alligator Alley to no avail.  But I was happy to see my first Peacock Bass.  This large cichlid from South America was intentionally released for the Florida sport fishing industry.  Now they've infested all of the south to the detriment of native fishes.

We spent the next couple of nights in the Art Deco district of South Beach with the beautiful people and freaks.  A run down to Key Biscayne netted me my first Gray Kingbirds.  Unfortunately I missed out on the Bahama rarities that had been reported several weeks earlier.  A half second view of a striped head was most likely a Western Spindalis but not a tickable view. 

I enjoyed the spiny-tailed iguanas at Bill Baggs State Park.

We bid farewell to Miami and headed for the Everglades.  I was a bit disappointed.  It was not the "sea of grass" I had envisioned.  Drought and too many people using water have made it a shell of its former self.  But on the road to Mahogany Hammock I managed to see three Snail Kites.

Later at Flamingo Point I found a flock of cowbirds and remembered this was a traditional site for Shiny Cowbird.  A little perusing of the 40 or so Brown-headed Cowbirds sure enough turned up a pair of Shiny Cowbirds.

And I also got poor looks at my first White-crowned Pigeons.

Now with Homestead as our base, I was scheduled to meet Mark and Holly Salvato and Linda Cooper for a day of butterfly censusing at the Key Largo State Botanical site.  A Mangrove Cuckoo seemed unconcerned with our presence.  I was happy to knock this one off so easily.

"Ver-ee-ee  ver-ee-oh"  calling nearby alerted me to a Black-whiskered Vireo.  I had seen one years ago on South Padre Island but was happy to see one on its native turf.

The star of the day was this endangered Schau's Swallowtail.

The next day we decided to make out run out to Key West.  Mark gave me excellent directions to the nesting Roseate Terns in Marathon.

Forty or more White-crowned Pigeons flew overhead as I watched the Roseate Terns.

After a nice big bowl of jambalaya at the Margaritaville Cafe in Key West we decided it was time to head for home.  It took a day to drive up the Florida Turnpike to Pensacola.  One more target in Florida.  A lost Red-billed Tropicbird had been frequenting Shoreline Park near Gulf Breeze for the past few weeks.  I have seen a few through the years but I could not pass this one by.

I got nine ABA lifers and four real lifers so it was a pretty good trip.