Thursday, December 30, 2010

Short-eared Owls at Llano Grande, 12/29/10

Yesterday Honey and I covered our usual section for the Weslaco CBC. We basically have the flood channel from FM 88 to Mercedes. Despite a warm very windy day we did OK with 94 species. I'm still digging the sand out of my ears! Our best birds for the third year in a row were the Short-eared Owls right in their usual location by the Llano Grande golf course. I hadn't heard of any reports this year but thought I should still walk their field. High thick grass made if difficult and the few sparrows were hard to see in the stiff wind. But the owls popped up right on schedule and I got five of them in a few hundred yards.

Another good bird was this Pine Warbler. I'm not sure how many birders properly identify these dull ones.

A really cool find was this colony of Blue Spiny Lizards on a pile of broken concrete. The only others I have seen were at Falcon Dam and the entrance to Bentsen State Park. I'll go back for better photos of these guys.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Teniente Tract, 12/27/10

Getting up late this morning I decided to head up to Willacy County and
work on my county list. I saw little going up FM 1425. There was nothing
at the Sugar House Pond. No raptors at all on 1425 and west on FM 490. So
I decided to circle the Teniente Tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR.
From TX 186 I went north on CR 30. Around the pond north of the nice ranch
house were quite a few Brewer's Blackbirds with the other blackbirds. Just
north of here the Teniente Tract starts. Here I stopped and started
pishing and tooting. Much to my surprise two Audubon's Orioles pop up.
I'm sure they nest up here in the brush country but I've never heard of
anyone seeing one.

Then I walked down the road a bit and heard a repeated "fwit" call. I
tooted and in comes a Least Flycatcher.

Then I walked a bit more, to the FWS parking area and had a calling Couch's
Kingbird. I noticed a little activity down the trail so I entered and
pished and tooted and this yellowish warbler jumps up wagging its tail.
Palm Warbler!

There was quite a bit of activity here with kinglets and gnatcatchers.
More pishing brought in one of my targets for the day... a bright Pine

I continued up CR 30 and then west on G.I. Rd and back south on CR 10.
Nothing else noteworthy. I also stopped at the CR 20 pond. There were
lots of birds but nothing unusual.

Four new county birds pushes my Willacy County list to 245 and just three away from first place. Of course I'm about the only one that birds up there so it probably doesn't matter too much.

Greater White-fronted Goose 50
Gadwall X
Northern Shoveler X
Northern Pintail 2
Ruddy Duck X
Least Grebe 10
Pied-billed Grebe X
Neotropic Cormorant 1
Turkey Vulture 3
Northern Harrier 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Crested Caracara 3
Peregrine Falcon 1
Sora 1
Common Moorhen 2
American Coot X
Sandhill Crane X
Killdeer X
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Wilson's Snipe 1
Ring-billed Gull 4
Mourning Dove X
Common Ground-Dove 6
Golden-fronted Woodpecker X
Ladder-backed Woodpecker X
Least Flycatcher 1
Eastern Phoebe X
Great Kiskadee 1
Couch's Kingbird 1
White-eyed Vireo 2
Green Jay 10
Black-crested Titmouse 5
Verdin 1
Cactus Wren 1
Bewick's Wren 3
House Wren 10
Marsh Wren 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 7
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 25
Northern Mockingbird 7
Long-billed Thrasher 4
Orange-crowned Warbler 25
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 8
Pine Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat X
Olive Sparrow 3
Cassin's Sparrow 2
Lincoln's Sparrow 12
Swamp Sparrow 1
Northern Cardinal 6
Pyrrhuloxia 8
Red-winged Blackbird X
Western Meadowlark 2
Brewer's Blackbird 20
Great-tailed Grackle X
Brown-headed Cowbird X
Audubon's Oriole 2

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Yturria Brush, 12/26/10

This cold frosty morning I headed over too the Yturria Brush tract of the Lower Rio Grande NWR to see if I could add a few birds to my Hidalgo County year list. Yturria Brush is Tamaulipan thorn scrub on the extreme SW border of Hidalgo County and allows access to habitat that can produce western desert species. Instead of taking the left fork to the west as I usually do, I continued straight to the north. As the trail veered away from the east boundary and its busy dirt road, I started seeing more stuff. Here's a Vesper Sparrow.

I have a really difficult time photographing Verdins. This is the best I could do.

Yturria Brush is one of the best places in the county for Black-throated Sparrow.

White-crowned Sparrow is sometimes a tough one to get on the county list. I saw two this morning.

Finally I got a good one. I heard a musical "mewp" call that could only be Green-tailed Towhee. But I just barely got a glimpse of it. But a little later a second popped up in a bush. And a bit down the trail I got a third. Pretty good for a bird I had only seen once in the county.

When I got home I figured out how to use Google Maps to calculate how far I had walked. Turned out I had walked 5.4 miles. No wonder my feet are so tired!

Northern Bobwhite (Eastern) 6
Turkey Vulture 3
Northern Harrier 3
Cooper's Hawk 1
White-tailed Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Crested Caracara 3
Mourning Dove 20
Greater Roadrunner 3
Golden-fronted Woodpecker 2
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 1
Eastern Phoebe 1
Great Kiskadee 1
White-eyed Vireo 4
Verdin 7
Bewick's Wren 2
House Wren 10
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 30
Hermit Thrush 1
Northern Mockingbird 35
Long-billed Thrasher 4
Curve-billed Thrasher 1
European Starling 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 30
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 6
Olive Sparrow 5
Green-tailed Towhee 3
Vesper Sparrow 6
Lark Sparrow 1
Black-throated Sparrow 7
Savannah Sparrow 3
Lincoln's Sparrow 2
White-crowned Sparrow 2
Northern Cardinal 5
Pyrrhuloxia 1
Red-winged Blackbird 100
Eastern Meadowlark 2
Brown-headed Cowbird 1

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Heck of a day! 12/3/10

I slept in a little late this morning so I made a last second decision to go to Edinburg to look for the resident Blue Jays. After a while I had one calling loudly from near Tim Brush's house by the irrigation canal. I didn't see it but it's still good for a new county bird by my rules. Also got a Summer Tanager, Least Flycatcher and Wilson's Warbler so I may go back there again sometime.

Next I went over to the Roselawn Cemetery to get better pics of the Greater Pewee. This time I was too close for a good pic.

Then I went over to the NABA Butterfly Park to look for some of the good leps from Mexico they've had thre lately. I was looking at a Tropical Greenstreak when I got word that a Dusky-capped Flycatcher had been found earlier in the day by Jeffrey Glassberg and Martin Reid. This is only the second record for the county and is the bright eastern Mexican "lawrencei" subspcies. Sorry for the poor pic.

Then I got to see a couple of great butterflies. I've seen lots of Gray Crackers in Mexico but very few in Texas.

Then someone found an Angled Leafwing which was a new one for me.

Meanwhile as I was looking at leps, Martin had been over at Benstsen looking for the Claw-tipped Bluet found the day before. When we got word he had refound it, there was a mad dash over by the "oders" to see this third record for the Valley. The strongly bifurcate terminalia are distinctive. (I love talking like that!)

Pretty good day.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Greater Pewee in Mcallen, 11/27/10

The interesting Fall continues with a Greater Pewee found in McAllen yesterday by visiting top notch birder Cin-Ty Lee. I'm ashamed to say that this morning was my first visit to the cemetary but I'll be going back. Except for the headstones, wandering under the large trees with lots of warblers around is reminiscent of Anzalduas. Greater Pewee is native to the mountains of Mexico extending up into SE Arizona and have nested in the Davis Mountains of west Texas. I've seen Greater Pewee in Texas a couple of times previously but it's still a great year bird.

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Lots of warblers around, mostly Yellow-rumps but there were a few Pines and a Yellow-throated.

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This Summer Tanager may stay for the winter.

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Turkey Vulture 1
Inca Dove 8
Golden-fronted Woodpecker 6
Greater Pewee 1
Eastern Phoebe 2
Great Kiskadee 10
Tropical Kingbird 1
Loggerhead Shrike 1
Blue-headed Vireo 1
Black-crested Titmouse 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 8
Northern Mockingbird 6
Orange-crowned Warbler 6
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 25
Yellow-throated Warbler 1
Pine Warbler 3
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Chipping Sparrow 3
Summer Tanager 1
Lesser Goldfinch 3

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rufous-backed Robin at Laguna Atascosa NWR, 11/22/10

Sunday afternoon a Rufous-backed Robin was found in the water feature at the visitors center at Laguna Atascosa NWR at 3:45 PM. So I got up the next morning and arrived at 8 AM figuring I could twich the robin and be about my business. Well it wasn't that easy and I waited around all day, wandering around, checking out juicy spots where I thought it might be hiding out. After almost deciding to give up and go home on several occasions, I thought I might as well wait till the designated time. And at 3:48 PM he pops out into the water feature and takes a bath. I couldn't believe it. Cameron County bird #352. I've been on a roll lately.

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This is the the sixth Rufous-backed Robin for the country this year. There's been two in the RGV, three in Arizona and one in New Mexico. This species is native to the west coast of Mexico and the Rio Balsas watershed. No matter where these birds are coming from they're travelling more than 500 miles. I wonder what's going on down there and if it will cause other species to wander up this way.

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While waiting for the robin this late Wood Thrush put in an appearance.

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Most visiting birders to the RGV are blown away by the beauty of Green Jays. We local residents sometimes fail to appreciated them. This ones got his crest fluffed up a bit.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Field Sparrow at SPI, 11/18/10

After watching the Spurs whip the Bulls last night in San Antonio we raced home so Honey could go to school today. I was pretty groggy but it didn't keep me from an afternoon trip to South Padre Island to look for Scarlet's Blue-throated Hummingbird. I got brief looks at it in the same vacant lot where I saw the Anna'a Hummingbird a few days ago. The seep calls were familiar from my years in Arizona and trips to Boot Springs. Unfortunately I didn't get any pics. Then out at the convention center I was unable to find the Winter Wren. In fact most birds there seemed to have moved on with the cold front. But this cute little Field Sparrow gave me a brief look. Two more new Cameron County birds!

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Here's a Rain-pool Spreadwing by the convention center.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Red-breasted Nuthatch at Quinta Mazatlan, 11/16/10

This morning I went over to Quinta Mazatlan to search for the Red-breasted Nuthatch that was originally found last week during the RGV Bird Festival. I didn't have much hope of of finding it as it had not been seen since the original sighting. Well I got lucky and found my first nuthatch for the Valley and Hidalgo County bird #354. I really enjoyed watching this bird doing his nuthach thing!

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Aftewards I ran over to Bentsen to look for the Unanius moth and the Blue-eyed Darner. No luck but here's a nice gulf Fritilary.

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Yesterday I stepped out of the house and this Merlin was just a few yards away over the neighbor's house. Yard bird #158.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ruddy Ground-Dove at Estero Llano Grande

Today I finally nailed one of my long time nemesis birds for Texas, the Ruddy Ground-Dove. I failed to find the one at Big Bend a couple of years ago. There was one at Estero Llano Grande State Park several years ago that I tried for 13 times but had no luck. Many are reported here in the Valley by over enthusiastic birders who don't understand how maroon a male Common Grond-Dove can be. I've chased after those too. So here's the story of today's bird.

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The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival is taking place this weekend in Harlingen and I get to co-lead a couple of field trips with the renown ornithologist, author and bird guide, Jon Dunn. We did a warbler field trip together last year and thought it was worthwhile to do one again. Also while in the Valley, Jon graciously agreed to speak in Weslaco for a fund raiser for Frontera Audubon Society and I happily offered to drive him over from Harlingen. Well Honey and I thought we might as well invite Jon for dinner before the program and we got to spend a brief bit of time with this geneorous and entertaining man. Here's Honey and Jon.

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Today Jon was leading a van of people as part of the bird festival's Big Day competition. I was over at Frontera scouting for our warbler trip. After I got home I called Mary Gustafson to finalize a few things for the festival and got word that Jon's group had just found a Ruddy Ground-Dove at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco. So I raced right over and got bird #530 for my Texas list. I have seen Ruddy Grond-Doves many times in Arizona and even had a flock of five of them at my apartment while I lived in Patagonia. But today's bird is the east Mexican rufipennis subspecies which is a much richer rufous, almost maroon. Thanks Jon!

While scouting for warblers at Frontera Audubon Thicket I found this nice Black-throated Green in the water feature.

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Yellow-throated warblers like riparian vegetation during the breeding season. They love palms when they winter in the Valley.

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Here's a really sharp Blue-faced Darner. Not sure how much longer they'll be around as winter approaches.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Great birding this weekend!

Yesterday I spent the day birding in Willacy County hoping to find a Golden-crowned Kinglet for my county list. Well, I didn't find one but I checked out the Mountain Plover spot east of Sebastian and with a bit of effort found eight of the little tan-colored ghosts. They are so hard to see as they run, popping up and down, between the furrows in the very large plowed fields. Here's a poor pic.

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Meanwhile I had left my phone at home and didn't know Mary Gustafson was looking at a Winter Wren at South Padre Island and didn't find out till I got home. So I got Honey out of bed (on a morning when we should have been using our extra daylight savings hour) and we ran out to the Island. Honey with her good karma found the Winter Wren first but it took me a while. Its voice indicates it's the newly split eastern species called the... uhm... Winter Wren. The western one is called the Pacific Wren. Anyway it's a new one for my Cameron County list.

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There was also a Northern Flicker which is very hard to find in the Valley. It was my second for the county.

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The cute little Golden-crowned Kinglet was still there.

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After good luck at the Convention Center, Honey and I ran over to the late Barbara Kennet's house to look for the possible Anna's Hummingbird found by Scarlet Colley. Well, it looks like a good female to me. Two new county birds in the sme day!

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Here's the SPI Convention Center list.

Pied-billed Grebe 2
Brown Pelican X
Great Blue Heron 3
Great Egret 1
Little Blue Heron 1
Tricolored Heron 1
Reddish Egret 1
Clapper Rail 1
Common Moorhen 2
Black-bellied Plover 5
Semipalmated Plover 8
Piping Plover 5
Killdeer 2
Black-necked Stilt 1
Greater Yellowlegs X
Willet X
Lesser Yellowlegs X
Sanderling X
Least Sandpiper X
Dunlin X
Laughing Gull X
Herring Gull 1
Forster's Tern 1
Royal Tern X
White-winged Dove 2
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 1
Eastern Phoebe 1
Couch's Kingbird 1
Blue-headed Vireo 1
House Wren 3
Winter Wren 1
Sedge Wren 1
Marsh Wren 5
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3
Hermit Thrush 2
American Robin 1
Gray Catbird 3
Northern Mockingbird X
Long-billed Thrasher 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 2
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Wilson's Warbler 1
Red-winged Blackbird X
Great-tailed Grackle X

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Phalarope Trifecta at Sal del Rey, 10/31/10

Yesterday I went up to the Sal del Rey unit of the Lower Rio Grande NWR to see what the cold front had delivered. I was hoping for a Dunlin for my county yearlist and maybe some Wilson's Phalaropes. Sometimes they winter here and we get them on the Sal Vieja CBC. Well I hit the jackpot! When I got to the lake I scoped it over and could see lots of phalaropes off to the west. So I hoofed it through the mud along the south shore and periodically stopped and counted. I got 155 of them. Then I got a bit closer to them and scoped some more to see if I had missed anything. There with the Wilson's Phalaropes was a gray phalarope with a white forehead and short black eyeline. The bill was shorter than the Wilson's and thicker. Holy smokes! A Red Phalarope! My first for the county and only my second for the state.

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Here it is next to some Wilson's Phalaropes. This was taken through my 300mm lens at more than 100 yards.

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Scoping some more I picked out a smaller darker phalarope with gleaming white forehead and a black eyeline. It also had paler streaks runing down the dark grey back. Red-necked Phalarope! All three phalaropes in one day! Unfortunately it was too far away for a photo. Then I found a third non-Wilson's that was pale and looked like another Red but it was just too far away to do anything with and my eyes were hurting after a couple of hours of squinting through the scope at high power at small birds a couple of hundred yards away bobbing up and down in a stiffening wind. So I gave it up for the day.

This morning I gave it another go. This time the phalaropes were way out again but the wind had died down so I studied them a couple more hours. I refound the Red and three Red-necks. I was about ready to leave when Mary Gustafson showed up. As we watched them they swam to the west where the lake is a bit more narrow and we were able to get a bit closer. Through the scope we were able to note the differences and it was soon easy to distinguish the individual birds. One of them was a paler bird that was looked like a Red but was smaller. The Red-necks also have a smaller head. Here's a Red and a Red-necked.

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Here's a pale and a darker Red-necked Phalarope.

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In flight the Red-necked is much smaller than the Wilson's.

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I'll try for better pics later this week sometime. As we were getting ready to leave Mary picked out a distant Dunlin. County year bird! Here's my list from yesterday.

Greater White-fronted Goose 50
Snow Goose 19
Ross's Goose 1
Gadwall 6
American Wigeon 1
Northern Shoveler 15
Green-winged Teal 3
Ruddy Duck 20
Wild Turkey 3
Eared Grebe 70
Turkey Vulture 3
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Crested Caracara 1
American Coot 12
Killdeer 5
American Avocet 40
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Lesser Yellowlegs 20
Least Sandpiper 175
Stilt Sandpiper 1
Wilson's Phalarope 155
Red-necked Phalarope 1
Red Phalarope 2
Laughing Gull 20
Common Ground-Dove 12
Golden-fronted Woodpecker 4
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 2
Eastern Phoebe 5
Great Kiskadee 2
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 1
White-eyed Vireo 1
Barn Swallow 100
Cactus Wren 1
Bewick's Wren 1
House Wren 10
Marsh Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Northern Mockingbird 3
Long-billed Thrasher 1
American Pipit 6
Orange-crowned Warbler 7
Nashville Warbler 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 1
Common Yellowthroat 1
Lincoln's Sparrow 10
Northern Cardinal 1
Pyrrhuloxia 3
Red-winged Blackbird 250
Great-tailed Grackle 25