Saturday, November 9, 2013

Amazon Kingfisher in Cameron Co., TX, 11/9/13

The past few days I've been leading tours for the Texas Butterfly Festival and the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.  Today I was co-leading with some heavy hitters from the birding world.  There was Jon Dunn, author of many birding field guides including the National Geographic Birds of North America, Sophie Webb who illustrated the Mexico field guide and George Armistead who is events coordinator for the ABA.  We had a busload of 34 birders who was anxious to see some lifers at our first desrination, Anzalduas County Park south of Mission.  We were doing pretty good with Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Gray and Zone-tailed Hawks, Black Phoebe and Green Kingfisher when we got a call that an Amazon Kingfisher, second record ever for the US, had been found on a resaca on TX 100 just east of US 77.  Though the temptation was strong to take the whole bus load over to see it, we continued our tour to the UTPA campus where we found the wintering Painted Redstart and a bonus Black-throated Gray Warbler.  Both were lifers for many of the tour participants.

With our duties complete, we drove back to the Convention Center in Harlingen and the leaders were complementing the driver for a job well done as we arrived.  As if to show us one last example of his driving expertise, the driver made a big looping U-turn with the bus to the unloading area and in the process almost wiped out Kenn Kaufman and his wife.  Woops.  Upon  arrival many were quick to sprint to their car and race over for the kingfisher.  When I arrived at the site, I discovered the bird had not been seen for over an hour.  After another fruitless hour, the Amazon Kingfisher was finally sighted and I had the good fortune to have found a lookout near a snag it chose to land on.  Through the willows I got this poor shot.

After a couple of quick photos, the bird took off again to another part of the resaca where is was quite distant but visible through scopes.  Overall, several hundred people were excited to add Amazon Kingfisher to their ABA lifelists.  As far as I was concerned it was just a new bird for my Cameron County list as I had the good fortune to see the Laredo bird several years ago.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Good Birds in the RGV, 10/20/13

The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival ( ) is less than three weeks away and some good stuff is showing up in the Valley just in time.  This Golden-crowned Warbler has been present for the last week at Frontera Audubon Thicket in Weslaco.  It's been a little hard to find and really hard to photograph.

Also a week ago Tim Brush found this Painted Redstart at the UTPA campus in Edinburg.  I think everyone managed a better photo than the one I got.

And just a few days ago Marie Stewart and Rex and Birgit Stanford found some Red-necked Phalaropes at the Port Isabel Reservoir near Laguna Vista.  I managed to find them despite yesterday's howling winds.  With some effort I got some poor photos.

Add to this a couple of Zone-tailed Hawks at Frontera, Tropical Parulas at UTPA and Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and a Rufous-backed Robin (not yet refound) at Hidalgo Pumphouse and things are shaping up for a great festival.

Friday, October 4, 2013

South Padre Island, 10/3/13

Yesterday I ran out to South Padre Island to see if I could find the Prairie Warbler at the convention center and to check out the beach.  I ran into Bill and Dottie and Bill quickly spotted the Prairie Warbler.  Turns out I had seen one in the spring so it wasn't even a year bird.

There was also the most photogenic Olive-sided Flycatcher I've ever seen.  Usually they are way up on a dead snag.  This one was at eye level over the water feather.

There were a few other warblers and empids but nothing great so I headed out to the beach to look for Red Knots.  I saw a few scattered ones and a flock of 22 so it was a good knot day.  This one was shot from the car and is sporting somebody's tag.

Driving along the beach often provides for good photo ops, like this American Oystercatcher.

And this Piping Plover who looks like he's worried about someone putting another band on his leg.  Gee, there must be a better way.

I'm trying to be artistic with this Snowy Plover photo.  Not sure if I succeeded but I like it.

I drove all the way up to the Port Mansfield cut, about 25 miles of beach.  Birds were way down in numbers compared to my last visit but the driving was much easier.  As I approached the cut bird numbers started to increase and there were thousands of terns and about a hundred shorebirds at the base of the jetty by the cut channel.  I got down on hands and knees (which doesn't work too great when you're covered with sunscreen) to sneek up on the shorebirds and got some pretty good photos like these Red Knots.

And this first year Sanderling.

His cousins are on the move!

Shorebird soup.

I tried not to flush the terns but they seemed to flush every few minutes where I was near them or not.  The large feeding flock consisted of Sandwich, Common and Black Terns with just a few Forster's.

Common Tern is usually not very common on SPI but there were hundreds of them feeding offshore.  They will probably move south with the next coldfront.

So where are the cows?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tropical Parula at Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, 10/2/13

This morning I ran up to the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands to look for John Brush's Tropical Parula.  It only took me a few minutes and the bird wa very cooperative.  This is my first Tropical Parula for the Valley this year and my best photos ever.

From there I decided to go down to McAllen and visit Quinta Mazatlan to look for two more of John's birds, American Robin and Blue Jay.  These common eastern birds are very uncommon, especially the jay, in the Valley.  Well. I spent three hours and couldn't find either one.  But there were other things to photograph like this Philadelphia Vireo.

When I first saw this vireo, I saw yellow undertail coverts and thought about Yellow-green Vireo, but the sides aren't yellow enough and the bill is too small and too dark.  So it's just a Red-eyed Vireo.

This Summer Tanager was enjoying the sprinkler.

And this Great Kiskadee was sporting a fancy hairdo.

This has been the summer for Ruddy Daggerwings.  These two were in a flowering Coma along with a Red-bordered Pixie.

The little pond at Quinta Mazatlan holds what may be the easiest to observe population of Caribbean Yellowfaces anywhere in the country.

So it was a nice morning getting to visit two city parks, that I don't get to often enough.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Frontera Audubon Thicket, 9/30/13

I checked out Frontera audubon Thicket in Weslaco this morning.  I had not been in since the most recent rains and the thicket was looking great.  I found a couple of Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets.

Green Kingfishers were on the long narrow pond.

Overhead migrant Broad-winged Hawks rose up on thermals and then headed south.

Among the eight species of warblers was this basic plumaged Magnolia Warbler.

The Thicket is full of blooming Turk's cap which is a favorite of the Buff-bellied Hummingbird.

Plain Chachalaca  10
Great Egret  1
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  3
Turkey Vulture  2
Broad-winged Hawk  75
Gray Hawk  1
White-winged Dove  25
Inca Dove  6
White-tipped Dove  4
Yellow-billed Cuckoo  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  10
Green Kingfisher  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  2
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet  1
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  1
Couch's Kingbird  1
White-eyed Vireo  7
Warbling Vireo  2
Green Jay  1
Black-crested Titmouse  2
Carolina Wren  2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Clay-colored Thrush  1
Long-billed Thrasher  2
Northern Mockingbird  2
Ovenbird  2
Black-and-white Warbler  3
Nashville Warbler  2
Mourning Warbler  1
Magnolia Warbler  2
Yellow Warbler  1
Black-throated Green Warbler  1
Wilson's Warbler  3
Great-tailed Grackle  1
Lesser Goldfinch  10

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Big Bend National Park, 9/26/13

Late Tuesday afternoon a researcher from Mexico identified a Crescent-chested Warbler on the Pinnacles Trail at Big Bend National Park.  There is only one previous unphotographed report of this species for the state.  I had the good fortune to find the third ABA record back in 1992 in Patagonia Arizona which is my second best all time find.  Well I didn't get word about it till 1:30 PM on Wed. and I was on the road an hour later.  Spent the night in Sanderson (only $25.95!) and was at the trail head by 8:40 Thursday morning.  The bird had been sighted near the shady area with a few maple trees below the Pinnacles and Matt and Heidi from Marathon were already there when I arrived.  Well, we couldn't find the bird, but is was still a very nice day on the mountain.  Best bird for me was this Lucifer Hummingbird which I think may be a young male..

A couple of Hutton's Vireos came in close while I was pishing.  They superficially look like a Ruby-crowned Kinglet but are a little chunkier with a heavier bill.

The Crescent-chested Warbler had been seen in association with a few Townsend's Warblers.  But the few Townsend'ses I saw were not accompanied by their southern cousin.  This one was wrestling a big caterpillar.

I saw several Empidonax flycatchers.  Based on bill size and primary extension, this is a Hammond's Flycatcher.

It was so nice to get out of the heat and humidity of the Valley and enjoy some fall weather.  The few maples were really putting on a show.

There's a little grove of aspen which are the southernmost in the USA.  They were just starting to change.

I was really expecting some interesting butterflies as the summer monsoon has been pretty good this year, producing lots of wildflowers.  But other than lots of beautiful California Sisters, there wasn't too much around.

This big hairy tarantula crossed my path on the way down.

On the hike up I was lucky to see this Texas Alligator Lizard but I was unable to get a decent photo.

After the good eight mile hike, I decided I was done with Big Bend for this time and headed up to spend the night in Alpine.  The next morning I checked out Lake Balmorhea where I found a couple of Common Terns which are very uncommon in west Texas.  Unfortunately they were too far for a photo so here's one of a Western Grebe.

I have not heard of anyone else making the trip to look for the Crescent-chested Warbler.  I bet it's still up there. Should I try again?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

16 Warbler Species at Frontera Audubon Thicket, 9/18/13

This morning was warm, humid, drippy, muddy and very warblery at Fronera Audubon Thicket in Weslaco.  The day started very slowly but by noon I had sixteen warbler species, a pretty good total for fall migration.  However the best birds were a couple of Yellow-throated Vireos.

I've been chasing butterflies a lot lately so my warbler photography was a bit off today.  They are so much more difficult to capture than butterflies.  Here's a few not so great pics.  As always the more common species like Wilson's Warbler always prove the most photogenic.

While the skulkers tend to be real teasers like this Kentucky Warbler.

And this Worm-eating Warbler.

I enjoy the plumage of fall Chestnut-sided Warblers.  I don't see too many.  I was a bit late on the draw with this pic.

This Blue-winged Warbler photo is a bit off too.

Here's today's list.

Frontera Audubon Center, Hidalgo, US-TX
Sep 18, 2013 8:30 AM - 12:20 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
55 species (+1 other taxa)

Plain Chachalaca  12
Green Heron  5
Turkey Vulture  1
Gray Hawk  1
Rock Pigeon  4
White-winged Dove  50
Mourning Dove  2
Inca Dove  5
White-tipped Dove  6
Common Pauraque  1
Chimney Swift  3
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  5
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  12
Green Kingfisher  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  8
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Green Parakeet  6
Eastern Wood-Pewee  1
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher  2
Alder Flycatcher  1
Empidonax sp.  1
Great Kiskadee  2
Couch's Kingbird  4
White-eyed Vireo  3
Yellow-throated Vireo  2
Red-eyed Vireo  2
Green Jay  1
Black-crested Titmouse  2
Carolina Wren  3
Clay-colored Thrush  1
Curve-billed Thrasher  1
Long-billed Thrasher  3
Northern Mockingbird  6
Worm-eating Warbler  2
Northern Waterthrush  2
Blue-winged Warbler  1
Black-and-white Warbler  6
Tennessee Warbler  2
Kentucky Warbler  6
Hooded Warbler  3
American Redstart  3
Northern Parula  1
Yellow Warbler  8
Chestnut-sided Warbler  1
Yellow-throated Warbler  2
Black-throated Green Warbler  1
Canada Warbler  3
Wilson's Warbler  2
Yellow-breasted Chat  6
Olive Sparrow  2
Summer Tanager  3
Northern Cardinal  3
Great-tailed Grackle  2
Baltimore Oriole  2
Lesser Goldfinch  4
House Sparrow  4