Saturday, November 29, 2014

Red-legged Honeycreeper at Estero Llano Grande State Park, 11/28/14

Wow!  It finally happened.  Park naturalist Ruben Rangel at Estero Llano Grande State Park found and photographed a funny looking little green bird with a decurved bill that no one could identify.  At least not until Mary Gustafson had a look.  She instantly recognized it as a basic plumaged Red-legged Honeycreeper. Wannabe experts from across the country are immediately declaring it to be an escaped pet as Red-legged Honeycreeper is known to exist in the pet trade.  They are ignoring the fact that the species occurs regularly as close as 300 mile south of the RGV and is migratory in the northern part of its range.  It is a fact that migrants occasionally go in the opposite direction which would fit perfectly for this little bird.  I've been expecting we would see one some day although I was expecting a spring overshoot rather than a fall wrong way migrant.

Anyway after a few tries I finally got to see it yesterday with a happy group of birders.  Hope it stays a while so I can get some better pics.

The Texas Bird Record Committee will have some work a head of them as this Red-legged Honeycreeper along with the Common Crane, Gray-crowned Rosy-finch and Pacific Wren are all waiting to have their possible acceptance to the Texas state list judged.  I think its a good bird.  No one can be sure, but it seems to me more likely than an escaped pet. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Yturria Brush, 11/26/14

It was an absolutely perfect morning at the Yturria Brush unit of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR.  My goal was to try to pick up some Hidalgo County year birds and I was successful with five Green-tailed Towhees among the ten species of sparrows.  The first was just north of where the gas well road turns to the left.  The other four were beyond the solar powered well.  Unfortunately they were not very photogenic.

On the other hand, Black-throated Sparrows are always available for photo opps.

Another bird I have difficulty trying to photograph is Verdin.  They are hard to get close to.

This Northern Cardinal flew right up in my face.  My camera always has trouble with the bright red on cardinals and Vermillion Flycatchers.

The white breast patch on a black body is the best field mark for a young White-tailed Hawk.

After walking 2.5 miles in, birding all the way, the return trip was spend looking for butterflies.  Here's a knockout Great Purple Hairstreak.

Greater White-fronted Goose  15
Black Vulture  2
Turkey Vulture  2
Northern Harrier  1
White-tailed Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Common Ground-Dove  3
Mourning Dove  8
Greater Roadrunner  3
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  1
American Kestrel  2
Eastern Phoebe  2
Loggerhead Shrike  2
White-eyed Vireo  5
Verdin  10
House Wren  12
Bewick's Wren  2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  5
Curve-billed Thrasher  2
Long-billed Thrasher  2
Northern Mockingbird  45
Orange-crowned Warbler  25
Olive Sparrow  2
Green-tailed Towhee  5
Cassin's Sparrow  2
Clay-colored Sparrow  1
Lark Sparrow  5
Black-throated Sparrow  9
Savannah Sparrow  1
Grasshopper Sparrow  1
Lincoln's Sparrow  20
White-crowned Sparrow  5
Northern Cardinal  7
Pyrrhuloxia  3
Great-tailed Grackle  1

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Common Crane at Muleshoe NWR, 11/20/14

Tuesday evening I saw on Facebook that Justin Bosler had found a Common Crane at Muleshoe NWR NW of Lubbock.  Those Bosler boys are always finding something good!  With Honey's blessings, I was off the next morning for the 700+ mile drive.  Spent the night in Lubbock and was out at the refuge by sun up. Problem was refuge management decided they didn't want a bunch of unruly bird watchers wandering around unsupervised on the refuge so they closed of access to Goose Lake where the Common Crane had been found.  So what to do?

I had a feeling the thousands of Sandhill Cranes roosting on the refuge lakes would be off early in the morning to feed in area fields.  So I positioned myself on the highway on the east side of Goose Lake and sure enough cranes were headed east.  But they were moving too fast and it was still too dark to get much on them.  I tried Paul's Lake where visibility is good but couldn't find my bird.  So I needed a new strategy.  I decided to head east and see if I could find flocks of feeding cranes.  And four miles to the east on CR 3397 I found a flock of several thousand.

But they were very wary and soon flushed only to resettle on the same fields.

After they settled I kept scoping the flock, hoping for a miracle.  And  miracle happened.  I couldn't believe it. There was the Common Crane feeding about 500 yards away with the Sandhills.  At this distance I was just hoping to get any recognizable photo.  Kyle O'Haver then showed up and we studied and photographed the distant Common Crane for about twenty minutes until the flock lifted and we were unable to refind the bird.  These are the best shots I could get through the scope.

As the next few days passed dozens of birders have gotten to see the Common Crane in at least four different locations.  Was there more than one?  Sharp-eyed Martin Reid proved there are two of these lost Siberian rarities.  Pretty weird.  Not only is this a first record for Texas, it's the first multiple occurrence of Common Crane ever in the country. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sal del Rey, Delta Lake, 11/18/14

This recent cool weather has got me out looking for birds and I'm really enjoying it.  I started this morning at the Sal del Rey unit of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR.  We have water in the salt lake for the first time in several winters.  Good stuff today included twenty Snowy Plovers.

I counted 75 Wilson' Phalaropes bouncing in the rough water.  A count of the individuals in this flight shot reveals there were actually 85 of them.  Hope they stay for the winter.

I also had fifty Western Sandpipers which is a bit high.  Here are a couple to compare with Least Sandpipers.  Notice the grayer color and the white face of the Westerns.  Unfortunately the cloudy weather messed up some good photos.

On the way out this White-eyed Vireo was not pleased with my pygmy owl imitations.

Birds were also plentiful at Delta Lake County Park north of Monte Alto.  The water is down on the west side of FM 88 creating some great mudflats with lots of shorebirds.  I counted and estimated about 500 or them.

Best was this distant Dunlin, my first for Hidalgo County this year.

My new scope is really good and I'm enjoying it but my digiscoping still sucks.  This shot with Laughing, Franklin's and Ring-billed Gulls was shot with way too high of an ISO.

Inside the picnic area there were a few passerines but this Vermillion Flycatcher stole the show.  It posed while I was inside the car so I got some good shots.

Here are the lists for today.

LRGV NWR--La Sal del Rey (LTC 005), Hidalgo, US-TX
Nov 18, 2014 8:50 AM - 11:10 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Walked in from Brushline Road.
41 species

Greater White-fronted Goose  22
Northern Shoveler  1
Lesser Scaup  2
Eared Grebe  75
Turkey Vulture  2
Harris's Hawk  1
Red-shouldered Hawk  1
American Coot  3
Sandhill Crane  11
Black-necked Stilt  30
American Avocet  15
Snowy Plover  20
Greater Yellowlegs  2
Lesser Yellowlegs  7
Least Sandpiper  130
Western Sandpiper  50
Wilson's Phalarope  85
Laughing Gull  80
Common Ground-Dove  1
Mourning Dove  1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  3
Crested Caracara  3
Eastern Phoebe  2
Great Kiskadee  1
White-eyed Vireo  1
Green Jay  1
Black-crested Titmouse  2
Verdin  1
House Wren  7
Bewick's Wren  2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Northern Mockingbird  1
American Pipit  4
Orange-crowned Warbler  2
Nashville Warbler  2
Olive Sparrow  1
Lark Sparrow  3
Savannah Sparrow  5
Lincoln's Sparrow  7

Delta Lake (LTC 008), Hidalgo, US-TX
Nov 18, 2014 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.5 mile(s)
39 species

Mottled Duck  1
Northern Pintail  1
Neotropic Cormorant  100
Double-crested Cormorant  50
American White Pelican  270
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  2
Snowy Egret  3
Turkey Vulture  25
American Avocet  3
Killdeer  54
Greater Yellowlegs  5
Lesser Yellowlegs  2
Stilt Sandpiper  100
Dunlin  1
Least Sandpiper  200
Western Sandpiper  1
Long-billed Dowitcher  100
Laughing Gull  12
Franklin's Gull  6
Ring-billed Gull  6
Caspian Tern  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  1
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
American Kestrel  2
Eastern Phoebe  2
Vermilion Flycatcher  2
Loggerhead Shrike  1
Tree Swallow  50
Barn Swallow  20
Marsh Wren  2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
European Starling  4
Orange-crowned Warbler  2
Nashville Warbler  1
Common Yellowthroat  2
Great-tailed Grackle  5

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cassin's Finch at Resaca de la Palma, 11/17/14

Yesterday Honey and I decided to run over to the National Butterfly Center south of Mission to look for butterflies before the cold front blew in.  About noon I got a call from Mary Beth Stowe that she had just found a Purple Finch at Resaca de la Palma State Park north of Brownsville.  I asked her about the possibility of it being a Cassin's Finch as this winter they seem to be arriving in larger than usual numbers in the state.  With Resaca being an hour away I made the decision to stay at the butterfly park and it turned out to be a good one as we saw some good stuff.  Well last night it turned out the Purple Finch was actually a Cassin's Finch as I had suspected and a species I needed for my state list.

I got up early this cold windy morning after the front had blown in to take Honey to work and decided either the bird was gone or it would be hanging out at the feeding station where it was seen yesterday and someone would report it.  Either way I was going back to bed.  And sure enough after I got up I found the Cassin's Finch had been sighted again so I raced over to Resaca de la Palma and after a brief wait spent chatting with Robin Zurovec and John Yochum, the bird made it's appearance.  Saves me a long trip to the Panhandle or West Texas to look for one.

Separating this species from female Purple Finch is not an easy task but the comments by the big brains on ID Frontiers all said Cassin's Finch mostly based on the white underparts with sharp streaking and the long straight culman.  Cassin's Finch is a bird of the Rocky Mountain high country that periodically invades Texas when winter food crops are in short supply.  This is the second record for the RGV with one occurring on South Padre Island during November 2000.  As this appears to be a good montane invasion year, I'll still probably head up to the Panhandle or West Texas but I don't need to worry about finding a Cassin's Finch now. 

A little post script:  Here's a photo of the male Purple Finch from the SPI Convention Center on 4/4/13.

And a House Finch from the University of Texas at Brownsville campus.

So now I've seen all three of the normally occurring US Carpodacus (now Haemorhous) finches in Cameron county.  Pretty cool.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cold day at South Padre Isalnd, 11/14/14

We had a very strong cold front blow into the RGV over the past few days and I was hoping it might bring in some interesting birds.  So Honey and I drove out to South Padre Island  to see what was about.  In particular I was hoping from sparrows.  However it was not to be as I saw not a single one.  But I was happy to see the Winder Wren that had been found during the recent RGV Bird Festival.  I managed only a single decent shot as it ran around like a mouse through the vegetation at the convention center.

Otherwise it was cold, windy and almost birdless.  An Orange-crowned Warbler hunted over the water feather and there were a couple of feuding Gray Catbirds.

At the Valley Land Fund's Sheepshead lot there was a cold Northern Parula and a couple of Ruby-crowns.

Afterwards we checked out the headquarters at Laguna Atascosa NWR and didn't find much.  Driving back along FM 106 I saw a three distant ducks on the resaca that looked like possible female Hooded Mergansers.  My expensive new Swarovski scope proved me right.  Here's a shot taken with Honey's phone.

Well, that wasn't so great.  I took it from Honey's Facebook page and that didn't work too well.  I will get better at this.