Tuesday, March 25, 2014

South Padre Island, 3/25/14

After reading Michael Marsdens post on Texbirds last night I decided I needed to get out to the Island.  The wind was still blowing from the north and it was a very good day for March with eleven species of warblers.  My favorite was this super sharp Blue-winged Warbler that I saw saw quite a few times but it took a couple of hours to finally get a photo.

r Blue-winged Warbler SPI 3-25-14 IMG_2548

Most of the birds were far more cooperative like this Louisiana Waterthrush.

r Louisiana Waterthrush SPI 3-25-14 IMG_2434

The Hooded Warblers were so abundant and fearless I was afraid I would step on them.

r Hooded Warbler SPI 3-25-14 IMG_2460

There were plenty of Northern Parulas also.  Most of the birds today were males headed north to stake out their territories before the females get there.

r Northern Parula SPI 3-25-14 IMG_2258

My first Kentucky Warbler of the year was feeding along the fuchsia colored wall where I saw one last year.

r Kentucky Warbler SPI 3-25-14 IMG_2110

This Worm-eating Warbler is the first I've ever seen in March.  I usually have a tough time getting a photo of one so I'll take any pose I can get.

r Worm-eating Warbler SPI 3-25-14 IMG_2047

This migrant Orange-crowned Warbler is much duller than most of the ones that winter here.  You can just barely make out some orange on the ....uhm.....crown.

r Orange-crowned Warbler SPI 3-25-14 IMG_2379

I saw quite a few Yellow-throated Warblers during the winter but I still can't resist taking their pictures.

r Yellow-throated Warbler SPI 3-25-14 IMG_2077

Yellow-throated Vireos pass through here pretty early and I often miss them.  Glad to see three of them today.  This one has a lump on it's neck and was missing a few feathers on the nape.

Yellow-throated Vireo SPI 3-25-14 IMG_2489

Here's our common vireo.  White-eyed Vireos on South Padre Island are migrants but some will stay and breed inland.  Their song is a common summer sound in the south Texas brush.

r White-eyed Vireo SPI 3-25-14 IMG_2200

Other firsts for the season for me were Baird's Sandpiper, Chimney Swift and Eastern Kingbird.  I'm sure I missed quite a few birds as I spend most of my time trying to get some good photos.  But we still have two more months of migration so I have time to get caught up.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

South Padre Island, 3/20/14

With a mild cold front and some north wind passing through, I thought it might be good to check out the migrants on South Padre Island.  Nothing too great.  Just typical early spring migrants.  My first stop on the bay near Sheepshead netted these two colorful migrant flycatchers.

The amazing Sheepshead lot had my fist Indigo Buntings for the year.  Now I can announce "Spring is here!"

The Louisiana Waterthrush was still hanging around as were a couple of Northern Parulas.

I checked out lots on Campeche and Atoll but not much was going on, so it was off to the Convention Center where the only warblers around were a few yellow-rumps, a parula and two Black-and-White Warblers.  This one is pretty excited about the tasty ant he just grabbed.

I was hoping for some unusual sparrows today but all I got were a few Lincoln's Sparrows.

A walk on the boardwalk turned up a Sora.  It was so close it was hard to photograph.

And some colorful Roseate Spoonbills.

By now it was noon and time to drive the beach.  The cloudy morning turned into a brilliant sun drenched afternoon.  I was happy to find my first Least Terns for the spring.  Saw over a hundred of them.  Not sure what he's yapping about.  He's probably telling those big Royal Terns to "Back off!"

And speaking of Royal Terns, I saw over a thousand of them today.  They're mostly colored up and ready for the breeding islands.

All afternoon waves of Brown Pelicans passed by.  I saw over 700 of them.  When I first visited the Valley in 1978, Brown Pelicans were quite rare.  But the ban on DDT really helped them out so now they're pretty common.

The beach was good for driving and I made it to the Port Mansfield jetty with no problems.  The only uncommon bird was this Common Tern.  It's showing all the field marks; black hind crown, dark carpal bar and dark outer rectrices.

So nothing too great today, but the migrants are on their way so I'll be back soon.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Willacy County, 3/15/14

I ran over to Willacy County this morning to see if I could find something new for the county.  The day started foggy but the predicted wind wasn't as bad as forecast so it was a nice birding day.  I started on FM 1018 north of Harlingen where one of my first birds was this newly arrived Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.  I saw seven of them scattered around the county.

I scoured the ag fields hoping for grasspipers but none were seen.  I did get lucky with a couple of Sprague's Pipits that flushed along the highway and landed nearby.  Usually they fly very high and you have to run some distance to chase them down.

I spent quite a bit of time around the Willamar area looking for early migrant warblers.  I saw a couple of Northern Parulas and a Black-and-White but not the hoped for Louisiana Waterthrush.  Birds always respond well to pishing and pygmy owl calls in Willacy County.  I think there's just enough Ferruginous Pygmy Owls in the county that they get to hear one once in a while.  Here's an excited White-eyed Vireo.

And a Black-crested Titmouse.

I worked the area over pretty good and after noon I decided it was time to start heading back.  I returned west on FM 498 and failed to find too much interesting.  Just north of FM 498 on CR 315 is a large playa that had filled with water after the recent rains.  I detoured to check it out and got a couple of surprises.  First were three Snowy Plovers.  Two were together.  They could conceivably stay and nest on this salty playa.  Unfortunately my camera's mode had gotten bumped and I was shooting in T mode so my shots are a bit fuzzy.

Then a couple of larger, darker big nosed plovers turned out to be Wilson's Plovers.  This species usually nests on dry tidal flats along the coast however a few nest some distance inland in south Texas on salty playas.

So sometime this week I need to get up to Hargill and see if our Hidalgo County Wilson's Plovers are back to breed.  Here's my Willamar eBird list.

Gadwall  14
Blue-winged Teal  20
Cinnamon Teal  1
Northern Shoveler  20
Green-winged Teal  1
Ruddy Duck  2
Northern Bobwhite  1
Pied-billed Grebe  2
Great Blue Heron  2
Cattle Egret  5
White-faced Ibis  8
Black Vulture  8
Turkey Vulture  7
Northern Harrier  1
Harris's Hawk  2
White-tailed Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
American Coot  10
Killdeer  6
Greater Yellowlegs  6
Lesser Yellowlegs  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  30
Mourning Dove  60
White-tipped Dove  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  8
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  5
Crested Caracara  2
American Kestrel  2
Vermilion Flycatcher  2
Great Kiskadee  1
Couch's Kingbird  3
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher  2
Loggerhead Shrike  6
White-eyed Vireo  7
Blue-headed Vireo  1
Green Jay  2
Horned Lark  2
Black-crested Titmouse  3
Verdin  1
House Wren  2
Bewick's Wren  12
Cactus Wren  3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  4
Curve-billed Thrasher  1
Long-billed Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  10
European Starling  15
Sprague's Pipit  2
Black-and-white Warbler  1
Orange-crowned Warbler  8
Common Yellowthroat  11
Northern Parula  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  4
Olive Sparrow  2
Lark Sparrow  1
Savannah Sparrow  7
Lincoln's Sparrow  13
Swamp Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  6
Red-winged Blackbird  60
House Sparrow  14

Sunday, March 9, 2014

2013-14, The winter of gulls.

It's another cold, drizzly day outside so I'll make a blog post.  Perhaps it's because of the frigid weather across the continent, but the winter of 2013-14 has been great for gulls in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas.  To me the number of Laughing Gulls is down but Ring-bills and Herring Gulls seem up.  And then there are the more unusual gulls.  A first winter Glaucous Gull was found at Boca Chica beach in December.  It was not reported for a while but then I refound it on the Mexico side of the mouth of the Rio Grande on 1/17, one of very few records for this species in Mexico.   Another or the same has been hanging out at the Brownsville city landfill.

While I was trying to photograph the distant Glaucous Gull in across the river, a flock of Bonaparte's Gull was feeding in the surf.  A heavily marked 1st year bird flew by a bit more closely than the others so I casually shot a few photos.  When I downloaded my photos at home I was shocked to find it was actually a first winter Little Gull, only the second ever for the RGV.  The next day Mary Gustafson saw it on the Mexico side of the river for the first record for Tamaulipas and the second ever for Mexico.  Scarlet later found it in the ship channel during one of her tours.

So 1/17 prove d to be a great gull day for me with five species.  However I manged to top this two weeks later on 1/31 when I made a drive up South Padre Island, 25 miles to the Port Mansfield Channel.  Of course the usual triumvirate of Laughing, Herring and Ring-billed Gulls were common.  My first good gull of the day was this 1st winter Black-legged Kittiwake about 10 miles north of beach access #6.  Another or the same was later found at the SPI jetty.

Just another mile north I found a hoped-for but not real rare species, a 1st winter Lesser Black-backed Gull.

A few miles farther north, I crossed the line from Cameron County to Willacy County and found a nice surprise, the first ever Glaucous Gull for Willacy county.  It was an alabaster beauty!

So with a six gull day under my belt I remembered one more I should be able to see.  Number seven, two Bonaparte's Gulls were feeding in the surf at the end of the Port Mansfield Jetty, right where I expected to find them.

Then during the Laredo Birding Festival, a strange dark-backed gull went misidentified as a Lesser Black-backed Gull on 2/7.  When photos surfaced in the internet, it was discovered to be a rare Slaty-backed Gull.  I raced up there on 2/10 and managed to get some distant but diagnostic photos.

So that makes nine species of gulls for the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  But then an adult California Gull was found by Martin Reid and Willie Sekula at the Brownsville city land fill for #10 and a 1st winter Thayer's Gull has been recently seen near the south end of South Padre Island for #11.  I've manged to strike out twice on that bird.  And in a few days our first Franklin's Gulls will be passing through.  So there will have been twelve species of gulls seen in the Valley this amazing "winter of the gulls".

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

South Padre Island, 3/5/14

Recently there's been a couple of reports of a Thayer's Gull hanging around the south end ot South Padre Island.  So I loaded up the truck and headed out there this morning hoping to find what would be a new state bird for me.  This was my second try for this bird.  Well, I checked out around Pier 19 and behind the boat barn and behind the campground with no luck.  I did flush a couple of Whimbrels which were new for my year list.  So I headed into the county park and checked the shoreline but still no Thayer's Gull.  But I did find a nice surprise along the shoreline across the fence bordering the Coast Guard station.  It was a slightly misplaced American Golden-Plover.

Then I saw a spot of red and realized he had an equally misplaced buddy.....a Vermillion Flycatcher.  It's not everyday you can get both in the same, albeit poor, photo. And on the seashore under a mangrove!

There was a trickle of Tree and Barn Swallows passing through.

Giving up on the Thayer's Gull, I headed up to the Valley Land Fund's Sheepshead lot and found my first Louisiana Waterthrush for the year.  There was also a Gray Catbird and a smart Northern Parula.  Males are on their way north to stake out territories.

I saw another Northern Parula on Campeche and two more at the Convention Center.  But there wasn't much else interesting going on.  I did see four Common Loons and a large flock of Red-breasted Mergansers on the Laguna Madre along with the expected Redheads and American Wigeons.  Walking the boardwalk finally turned up my first Clapper Rail for the year.

It was now noon and time to drive the beach.  The strong north wind of the past few days was really churning up the surf and driving conditions were poor on the beach so I didn't make it all the way to the Port Mansfield Jetty.  There were no interesting gulls along the way but I did find my first Wilson's Plover for the year.

Then I found another American Golden-Plover.  Here's a diagnostic rump and axilar shot.

American Golden-Plover and Black-bellied Plover can confuse birders but structurally they're quite different.  Look at the difference in the bills.  American golden-Plover is more petite with a more upright posture.

The only other thing of note were a couple of large flocks of migrating White Ibises, at least 200 of 'em.

Driving the beach was getting difficult and it was time to head for home.  One more time I go home without a Thayer's Gull.  But it was still a fun day.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Finally nailed that darn Evening Grosbeak! 3/1/14

Well, I was reading David Bakewell's really good blog about birding in Malaysia and it inspired me to try to get my own blog going again.  So here goes....

Evening Grosbeak is a pretty hard bird to see in Texas.  Several were seen in Dog Canyon in the Guadalupes last spring but I couldn't make it up there.  I chased after one this fall in the Guadalupes at Pine Springs Campground but missed it.  Another appeared in Lubbock at Clapp Park in November and I went after it but came up empty again.  Well that bird was seen several times during the winter and after not being seen for a while was found again last Wednesday 2/26 by Lubbock birder Peter Keyel.  I told Honey I wanted to make one more try and she kindly consented so I drove the 650 miles to Lubbock again.

I got to the park at 8 AM the following morning only to be greeted by a howling dirt filled wind.  I spent a couple of hours, holding on to my hat, and hoping to get lucky searching the junipers where the bird was know to hang out .  I did get a brief look at the wintering Townsend's Solitaire but not much else was going on.  The ponds that were filled with ducks and geese back in November were completely dry.  Well, this was getting me nowhere so I ran out to Levelland to look for the Tundra Swan seen a few weeks ago.  Not too much there either but I did see some "Canada" type geese.  After discussion on the Texbirds Facebook page it was decided that the photo below shows a Lesser Canada Goose flanked by two Clacking Geese.  In this case head and bill shape is more important than overall size.

Then I ran over to Muleshoe NWR, a place I had always wanted to visit.  The wind wasn't quite as bad so I had hopes of seeing something, maybe even the Long-eared Owl reported this winter.  Well my first bird in the picnic area was an owl but not the right one.  It was the common Great Horned Owl.

I worked the area over and found Northern Juncos, White-crowned Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, a Spotted Towhee and Curve-billed Thrasher.  Checking the lakes on the refuge, I found them all to be dry.  A small flock of Sandhill Cranes drifted overhead, a far cry from the flocks of thousands that Muleshoe is famous for.  

I drove back to Lubbock for another attempt at the Evening Grosbeak and the first person I run into at Clapp Park was"Fat Tony" Anthony Hewetson, the king of Texas county listing.  And though I was happy to finally meet him, I was even happier that he had just seen the Evening Grosbeak a few minutes earlier.  The wind was almost gone and my hopes were high, but the bird was not seen again that afternoon.  So I spent another night in Lubbock.

The following beautiful morning I was back at the park and checking the junipers again.  At least there were birds around and the wind was gone.  Got to see my first Blue Jay for the year.  After an hour I ran into Peter Keyel who had found the bird a couple of days earlier.  We wandered around a bit and finally saw the Townsend's Solitaire atop a nearby juniper.  The bird seemed to be ranging widely around the park and we discussed the possibility that there may be more than one of them.  Then I see a similar sized bird with wing patches chase the solitaire off its perch and I said "There's a second solitaire."  And Peter replied "No.  That's the grosbeak."

We watched for a few minutes as it looked around and chirped.  She was definitely looking for something.  Then she took off and flew several hundred yards to the southwest.  I wonder if she heard another grosbeak.  Anyway, after three attempts in the last five months and over 4000 miles driven, I finally can tick Evening Grosbeak on my Texas list.