Thursday, December 31, 2015

Weslaco CBC, 12/30/15

With all the crazy hairstreaks at the National Butterfly Center, I have not birded too much lately so I thought I write a post about yesterday's Weslaco Christmas Bird count.  As usual I was covering the flood channel between FM 88 and Mercedes.  And for the third year in a row it was muddy making access difficult.  But I fired up the old truck and slip-slided around the muddy fields and wound up doing pretty good for the day.

It looked pretty grim to start with.  The access to the flood channel from FM 1015 was locked but luckily the area between the bridge and the gate had been mowed.  So I was at least able to scope the west end of the lagoon by the highway and got some shorebirds in the rain and even a Green Heron.  However I could not get into the flood channel and it was wet anyway so the muddy tracks were probably impassable. Changing my usual route, I ran over to Mercedes to check the cemetery but it  was rainy, windy and absolutely birdless.  Well at this point I decided I would just do what I could and try to bird any open levee roads.

So I headed west on the levee out of south Mercedes, still seeing very little, but the gate I reached was open and in minutes there I was at the Short-eared Owl field.  Things were looking up!  I started wading through the thigh high wet grass, trying to avoid the two feet tall fire ant mounds, and scared up a Grasshopper Sparrow.  Pretty good bird.

And a little bit later I flushed my primary quarry, Short-eared Owl.  That makes nine years in a row I've been able to find one at this spot.  Here's a link back to the first one I found in 2007.

The gate here was also open so I finally able to get into the flood channel and got a Sprague's Pipit on the levee in the usual area.  

Then I ran into twenty White-tailed Kites perched low on the leeward side of the levee.  I usually see a couple here but never this many.  I have heard about people seeing large communal roosts.

Pishing up Lincoln's Sparrows, Orange-crowned Warblers and Common Yellowthroats from the ditch along the levee, I was happy to have this Nashville Warbler respond.

The mud on the dirt tracks around the fields and along the water south of Estero was only an inch deep so it was slippery but I didn't have to worry about getting stuck.  But it was a mucky mess with big clods flying out from my tires.  It was fun!  Even more so when I pished up this rare in winter Yellow Warbler.

With the flood channel now pretty much covered and the rain having stopped, I decided to use my last bit of light at the Los Ebanos Cemetery in Mercedes.  It was still slow but I finally got some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Northern Cardinals.  Then a flash of orange over my head.  Turned out to be a Bullock's Oriole.  Not a great photo but it will do.

I finished the day wet and tired with 89 species.  Not too bad. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

West Texas, 12/5-6/15

The Nature Conservancy had an open house at their Davis Mountains ranch on Dec. 5 so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to access this wonderful piece of habitat.  After checking in I drove up through Madera Canyon to the trailhead parking area.  This smart Rufous-crowned Sparrow posed  nicely along the way.

My goal was to see if there was any interesting wintering birds and maybe add a few west Texas birds to my year list.   I found nothing really unusual but it was still a beautiful day.  Near the parking area for the trail to Tobe Springs I saw this Northern Flicker of the red-shafted variety.

An explosion of wings signaled a flock of Montezuma Quail.  They have a bad habitat of standing invisible still till they are almost underfoot so getting a photo is really tough.  I ran into the flock of five again on the way down and this fleeing female was the best photo I could muster.

Bewick's Wren was common.

Mountain Chickadee and Steller's Jay are resident in Texas in only the higher elevations of the Davis Mountains and Guadalupe Mountains.  Luckily I saw both of them in Tobe Canyon.

Canyon Wrens can be invisible but are usually betrayed by their curiosity.

After exiting the preserve, a stop at the nearby Lawrence E. Woods picnic area turned up Western Bluebirds, White-breasted Nuthatches and a nice Acorn Woodpecker.

I spent the night in Alpine and drove back up towards Fort Davis again the next morning.  A stop along Musquiz Creek was successful.  Phainopelpla was a new year bird for me.

This Belted Kingfisher waited in the frosty air for a meal.

Ruddy Ducks are not usually worth a photo but I liked the reflection on this one.

On two trips to Big Bend this year I had missed Bushtits so I was happy to find a nice flock.

A sapsucker turned out to be a surprise Yellow-bellied.

From there I drove through Fort Davis and up toward Balmorhea.  I had seen reports on eBird of Sagebrush Sparrow at the cemetery in Balmorhea so I thought I would give it a try.  I didn't find much in the cemetery but turned up my sparrow in the creosote and sage desert habitat across the north fence.  Rather than escape by flying these drab little sparrows run between clumps of vegetation like little roadrunners.

Other desert sparrows included Black-throated and Brewer's.

The lake at Balmorhea had nothing unusual.  I got my Clark's Grebe for the year and saw a Horned Grebe with the many Eareds.  It was nice to get a decent photo of Scaled Quail.

And then it was 600 miles back home.  Pretty nice little three day trip.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

South Padre Island, 11/18/15

Honey had to do some trauma training in San Benito today so I dropped her off and spent the day at South Padre Island.  This Pine Siskin feeding alone behind the Convention Center was a nice surprise and Cameron County bird #388 for me.

On my last several trips out to the Island, I have been hoping for some sparrows but not finding any.  There were a few today including my first Field Sparrow for the year.  It's been a couple of years since we've had any down here.

This Clay-colored Sparrow spent the afternoon with a flock of Indigo Buntings.

Lincoln's Sparrow is one of our commonest.

A couple of Pyrrhuloxias are still hanging around.

It's getting late for Blue Grosbeaks and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.

There were still a few warblers around including this hungry Black-throated Green Warbler.

And this western Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler.

There was not too much going on at Sheepshead except for some Gray Catbirds and this uncooperative Philadelphia Vireo.

This boldly marked young opossum had me wondering if it might be have some tropical relatives.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Frontera Audubon Thicket, 11/15/15

It was a nice pleasant morning at the Frontera Audubon Thicket in Weslaco.  A walk around the orange grove turned up a couple of Clay-colored Thrushes feeding in an Anaqua.  Inside the Thicket I saw a bunch more.  I'm not sure if these are all local birds.  They could be from Mexico as were the two Dusky-capped Flycatchers seen last week at Anzalduas and Estero.

Nearby was a Hermit Thrush.  They are showing up everywhere this fall.

Warblers were not too exciting.  A few Orange-crowns, Black-and-whites and Wilson's was all I could muster.

I always count any bird for Frontera that I can see from Frontera.  This Vermillion Flycatcher was way over in the cemetery but it still counts.  Seems like there's a lot of them in the Valley right now.

I don't see Red-tailed Hawk very often over Frontera.

But I often see the local Gray Hawks.

I'll close with some action at the feeding stations.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 16
Plain Chachalaca  8
Great Egret  1
Snowy Egret  1
Turkey Vulture 25
Gray Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  2
Inca Dove 6
White-tipped Dove  6
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird 2
Belted Kingfisher  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  6
Eastern Phoebe 1
Vermilion Flycatcher  1
Great Kiskadee  2
Loggerhead Shrike  1
Vireo  2
Green Jay  3
Black-crested Titmouse  4
House Wren  1
Carolina Wren 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2
Hermit Thrush  2
Clay-colored Thrush  10
Catbird  2
Curve-billed Thrasher  1
Long-billed Thrasher  4
Northern Mockingbird  8
Black-and-white Warbler  2
Orange-crowned Warbler  6
Warbler  2
Summer Tanager  1
Northern Cardinal  4
Red-winged Blackbird 30
Great-tailed Grackle  15
House Sparrow  1

Friday, November 13, 2015

South Padre Island, 11/13/15

Here we are in mid-November with a cold front blowing through so I headed out to South Padre Island to see if I could find any unusual sparrows.  Well, my instincts were dead wrong and I found no sparrows at all. But there were plenty of birds including nine species of warblers.  This young male Black-throated Green Warbler will get prettier as the winter passes.

It's getting pretty late for a Magnolia Warbler.

I have a difficult time getting photos of American Redstart.  They are so hyper!

A few Northern Waterthushes winter in area wetlands, particularly in the mangroves.  This one was at Sheepshead.

This seems to be a good year for Hermit Thrushes.

A Wood Thrush has also been hanging around the Convention Center for the past week.

This Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a lttle bit late.  A few usually winter in the Valley.

I drove out on the mudflats to get a better look at the shorebirds, gulls and terns.  This gull had me going for a while.  It was just a little bigger than the Laughing Gulls and very boldly marked.  The bill seemed too large for a Mew Gull and the bird seemed too small for a California so I knew it had to be a Ring-billed Gull. Turns out to be a juvenile plumage that I've never noticed before down here.  It was a good learning experience.

Franklin's Gulls are still passing through.  I used to think it ws difficult to separate them from Laughing Gulls in winter plumage.  Seems pretty easy now.

There were lots of shorebirds on the flats but with the cloudy conditions my photos are not too great so we're going to skip them.  Back at Sheepshead I got a glimpse of a distant Tennessee Warbler.  They often have faint wing bars that can confuse even experienced birders.

List from the Convention Center

Mottled Duck  10
Blue-winged Teal  4
Northern Pintail 10
Redhead  10
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Double-crested Cormorant  3
White Pelican  50
Brown Pelican  60
Little Blue Heron  1
Tricolored Heron 1
Reddish Egret  1
Roseate Spoonbill  8
Osprey  1
Common Gallinule 1
Black-necked Stilt  6
Black-bellied Plover  10
Snowy Plover 3
Semipalmated Plover  7
Piping Plover  27
Willet (Western)  15
Godwit  9
Ruddy Turnstone  15
Sanderling  20
Dunlin  100
Least Sandpiper 3
Western Sandpiper  30
Short-billed Dowitcher  12
Laughing Gull 400
Franklin's Gull  100
Ring-billed Gull  3
Herring Gull (American)  1
Caspian Tern  20
Forster's Tern 20
Royal Tern  150
Sandwich Tern  15
Black Skimmer  6
Eurasian Collared-Dove 10
White-winged Dove  1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
Eastern Phoebe 1
White-eyed Vireo  1
Blue-headed Vireo  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2
Thrush  1
Wood Thrush  1
Gray Catbird  10
Long-billed Thrasher  1
Mockingbird  1
Orange-crowned Warbler  1
Common Yellowthroat  1
Redstart  1
Magnolia Warbler  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) 2
Black-throated Green Warbler  3
Wilson's Warbler  1
Northern Cardinal 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  1
Indigo Bunting  8
Red-winged Blackbird 20
Great-tailed Grackle  2