Sunday, May 25, 2014

Kickapoo Cavern State Park or "Holy Bat Cave!", 5/16/14

Last weekend Honey and I took our new Subaru Forester camping up to Kickapoo Cavern State Park east of Del Rio.  Overall it's a beautiful, quiet park with lots of fascinating wildlife.  On the downside it was very dry as the continuing drought ravages most of Texas.  But there was still neat stuff to see.  The park was absolutely infested with Yellow-breasted Chats squawking and chirping all over the place.

After setting up camp and cooking up some fajitas over the grill, we headed up to Stuart Bat Cave to catch the evening flight.  All I can say is it was one of the most impressive nature spectacles I have ever experienced.  At about 7:30 PM the bowels of the earth started to expel Mexican Free-tailed Bats at a rate of over a hundred per second.  The air was filled with the roar of bats shooting out of the cave, bringing with them the stench of ammonia and other noxious nitrogen compounds from their guano filled daytime roosts.

The show continued for over 30 minutes.  Hundreds of thousands of bats made for a hunting opportunity that could not be resisted by this Red-tailed Hawk.  I saw him snag three of the bats.

The next morning I hiked from our campsite to the Pine Canyon trail hoping to photograph Black-capped Vireos.  I saw several  but came away without any photos.  Black-throated Sparrows were common.

This part of Texas is an amazing blend of east, west and south.  The three areas represented by Field Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Olive Sparrow.  Here's a peekaboo shot of a Rufous-crowned.

A few Montezuma Quail are said to still reside within the park but all I saw were a few Scaled Quail.

My best sighting for the trip was not a bird but this neat Hog-nosed Skunk, my first for Texas.

I got back to camp only to discover a bunch of Boy Scouts had invaded and had promptly plugged up the campground toilet.  So Honey and I decided to pack up and head for home and to enjoy sleeping in our own comfortable bed.  Saw this neat Crevice Spiny Lizard along the highway.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hudsonian Godwits at Estero Llano Grande State Park, 5/23/14

A pair of Hudsonian Godwits have been present for the past few days at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco.  So I ran over there this evening to try to get a few photos.  The light wasn't great but the birds cooperated for some pretty good pictures.  Here's the female.

The bright rusty male seemed to be agitated by the Black-necked Stilts.

He flew a few laps around Ibis Pond showing off his white rump, black tail and black underwings.

Other shorebirds included White-rumped Sandpiper.

Yellow legs and heavily marked breast say Pectoral Sandpiper.

Here's a Stilt Sandpiper in alternate plumage.

A couple of pied White Ibises in sub-adult plumage.

Wilson's Phalaropes seem to like to feed in groups.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

RGV Birds of Paradise.

Yesterday, I saw a male Yellow-crowned Night-heron displaying before a seemingly interested female friend at Frontera.  Well, I guess it was a female.  I mean it's none of my business.  Anyway his wing, crown and tail coverts display reminded me of the showy prenuptial antics of New Guinea's birds of paradise.

This guy was showing off too.  Lucky for him I backed down.

Crimson-collared Grosbeak at Frontera, 5/10/14

Well....uhm... Gee, too bad I don't have a photo.  Yesterday morning I was over at Frontera Audubon Thicket in Weslaco working on my county year list, when this dark, cardinal sized bird flew up into one the tepehuaje trees.  I picked up my binoculars figuring I should see which species of cowbird I was looking at only to see a black bird with a red chest and black head with a stubby beak.  Holy smokes!  Crimson-collared Grosbeak.  I dropped the binos and raised the camera but I was too slow.  I thought I had heard one last week so it was good to know I was right.  Today Mary and I looked for it and heard it call "seeooo"  numerous times but never got a look.  Don't know how long this probably amorous bachelor will hang around.  Hope a lady friend drops by for him.  There is sure plenty of potato trees, their favorite food, in the Thicket.

So instead of a black and red bird, here's a red and black bird, Scarlet Tanager.

Empidonax flycatchers are among the latest of our spring migrants.  Today I saw Alder and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers.  Yesterday I saw this Least Flycatcher.

Here's a Yellow-crowned Night-heron on the boardwalk.

White-tipped Doves are usually on the ground making their "blowing on a pop bottle" sound.  This one got up high for better projection.

With babies on the way, it's time for the Clay-colored Thrushes to think about housekeeping.

Here's yesterday's list.

Frontera Audubon Center, Hidalgo, US-TX
May 10, 2014 8:10 AM - 12:10 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
62 species (+2 other taxa)

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  6
Plain Chachalaca  12
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  3
Gray Hawk  1
White-winged Dove  15
Mourning Dove  1
Inca Dove  4
White-tipped Dove  10
Yellow-billed Cuckoo  4
Groove-billed Ani  1
Chimney Swift  3
Black-chinned Hummingbird  2
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  4
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  6
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Red-crowned Parrot  1
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet  1
Eastern Wood-Pewee  2
Alder/Willow Flycatcher (Traill's Flycatcher)  1
Least Flycatcher  1
Brown-crested Flycatcher  4
Great Kiskadee  2
Couch's Kingbird  1
White-eyed Vireo  1
Blue-headed Vireo  1
Warbling Vireo  3
Red-eyed Vireo  1
Green Jay  2
Purple Martin  2
Barn Swallow  2
Cliff Swallow  1
swallow sp.  10
Black-crested Titmouse  3
Carolina Wren  2
Swainson's Thrush  2
Clay-colored Thrush  1
Gray Catbird  4
Long-billed Thrasher  2
Northern Mockingbird  1
Black-and-white Warbler  1
Tennessee Warbler  2
Nashville Warbler  1
Mourning Warbler  3
Common Yellowthroat  1
American Redstart  4
Magnolia Warbler  1
Yellow Warbler  2
Chestnut-sided Warbler  1
Black-throated Green Warbler  1
Canada Warbler  2
Wilson's Warbler  2
Olive Sparrow  1
Summer Tanager  1
Scarlet Tanager  1
Crimson-collared Grosbeak  1
Northern Cardinal  4
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  2
Indigo Bunting  1
Painted Bunting  1
Great-tailed Grackle  5
Bronzed Cowbird  1
Baltimore Oriole  1
Lesser Goldfinch  3
House Sparrow  5

Monday, May 5, 2014

South Padre Island, 5/4/14

My long time buddy and teaching colleague Mike Wertz was in the Valley this weekend and it was a great opportunity for us to do a little springtime warbler watching at South Padre Island.  Though not a particularly birdy day, we saw some nice stuff.  The MacGillivray's Warbler was still hanging out at Sheepshead for a slightly better pic than last time.

A female Bay-breasted Warbler was a county year bird for me.

As was this Yellow-headed Blackbird at the Convention Center.

A nice flock of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks was hanging around a seed block.

We had eleven species of warblers and a few other passerine migrants before we headed to the Brewery for lunch.  Afterwards we braved the Cinco de Mayo weekend crowd for a drive up the beach.  The sargassum from last week was still there along with lots of the same shorebirds.  Here's a Sanderling in alternate plumage.

Ruddy Turnstones still outnumbered all the other shorebirds.

Here's a sharply dressed Dunlin.

Some birders confuse Royal and Caspian Terns in breeding plumage.  Here you see the larger size of Caspian and the different bill structure and color.

Never accept a gift fish from a stranger!  A lesson learned every year by innocent Royal Terns.  No these are not the same two birds from above.

A dainty Least Tern.

The rough driving on the beach and hundreds of Cinco de Mayo revelers precluded us getting very far but it was still a great day.

Broad-billed Hummingbird at Quinta Mazatlan, 5/2/14

A week ago a Blue-throated Hummingbird was found at Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen.  Subsequently, birders searching for the hummer discovered another southwestern humminbird, a Broad-billed Hummingbird.  For long-time birders this is known as the "Patagonia Picnic Table Effect" after birders searching for one rare bird in the early 70's discovered another.  I think they were Five-striped Sparrow and Black-capped Gnatcatcher if I remember correctly.  Anyway, I went to see the Broad-billed which I had seen once before in the county nearly twenty years ago.

Here's a Buff-bellied who would be periodically chased out of the coral bean by the Broad-billed.

Several Ruby-throats would sneak in for a sip from time to time.

Unfortunately for me, the Blue-throated Hummingbird was also still around as I found out later.  I wish I had put in some effort to look for it.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Big Day, 4/30/14

I'm not a great fan of doing big days, but when invited to participate in the Great Texas Birding Classic with John Yochum and Huck Hutchens I just couldn't say no.  So with a cold front rolling in we decided this would be the day for our one day big day on the South Coast region of the contest.  With two other teams competing against us, we were inspired us to put in a little more effort.  Photos for this post are a bit weak. Photography takes some time and effort which are hard to allocate when every minute of a big day counts.

We started predawn at Bentsen and racked up some night birds including the much wanted Elf Owl.  7AM found us at the river at Salineno listening to Audubon's Orioles.  High water made scoping the river difficult. A Gray Hawk was nice but nothing great showed up.  A drive down the dump road turned up a few sparrows and most of the desert stuff.  Then a quick run over to Starr County Park in Falcon Heights got us two Red-billed Pigeons feeding on Coma berries.

Another nice find at the park were a couple of House Finches, a hard to find species in the RGV.

We filled in a lot of holes in our list at Estero Llano Grande State Park and then checked out the turf farms. We missed Pectoral Sandpiper but got the other grasspipers.  Here's a Buff-breasted Sandpiper at the Weaver Rd. turf farm.

At this point time was becoming an issue and our species list was only in the 130's, so it was time to race out to South Padre Island.  We were hoping twenty four hours of north winds had caused a fallout.  But it turned out to be a pretty normal spring day on the Island.  Warblers were down a bit, but this MacGillivray's Warbler at Sheepshead was a nice find.  How's this for a bad documentary photo?  Where's Waldo?

We found a few more things at the Convention Center which was swamped with birders.  The late Hermit Thrush was still there.

A walk down the boardwalk found us a few more things like the expected Clapper Rail.

And finally a Least Bittern passed by as we were walking out.

By now it was 7PM and were were only at about 170.  So we raced to the south end of the Island to look for more shorebirds in the county park.  We finally got a Redhead and Red-breasted Merganser.  Our final additions to the list were Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstones feeding in the Sargassum soup by the jetty.  It was a great scene but fading light didn't allow for a photo.

Our total number of species for the day was respectable 177, quite a bit below our hoped for 200. Although a very pleasant day, it was not particularly birdy.  Our misses included expected things like Northern Parula and amazingly Brown Pelican.  In retrospect we should have  been more disciplined with our route and time. But we're just three crusty old birders who can't help but savor the good birds throughout the day. Yes, we probably should have seen a few more species but it would not have been as much fun.  Did we win?  We'll find out in a few days.