Saturday, January 24, 2015

Gray-crowned Yellowthroat at Estero, 1/24/15

While leading the Estero Llano Grande State Park bird walk this morning Huck Hutchens found a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat near the pavilion on the south end of Ibis Pond.  Best I can figure, it's been nine years since the last was seen at Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville.  So congrats to Huck for a great find. Here's the little cutie.  I mean the yellowthroat...not Huck.

My plan today was not to go birding.  Instead I took Honey to church this morning (she's an Adventist) and when we got home I found the Gray-crowned Yellowthroat  had been discovered at Estero.  So I ran over only to find no one had seen the bird in a couple of hours.   I spend some time with Mary Gustafson and Marie Stewart looking for the bird and felt like I wasn't accomplishing much.  I know I should have been more persistent, but I had been thinking about the nearby Short-eared Owls and how I would like to get them on my year list.  Plus I had already seen a couple of Gray-crowned Yellowthroats in the past.  I made the decision to go for the owl and asked if anyone wanted to join me.  As it wasn't looking good for the yellowthroat, Marie said yes and off we went.  

As we approached Mercedes, I got word from Mary that the yellowthroat had been refound.  Ugh!  Too late to worry about it now.  Luckily, the gate on the levee in Mercedes was open and it saved us a lot of walking.  We reached the area where I've seen Short-eared Owl each of the past seven CBCs and I positioned Marie on the levee while I trudged through the thick grass.  With the season's past rains, not only is the grass taller and thicker but there's lots of large fire ant mounds hidden in the grass.  So I made my way through the grass, getting a year bird Grasshopper Sparrow, and eventually I scared up three Short-eared Owls.

We got back in the car and returned to Estero only to find happy birders exiting the park.  They said the bird was still being seen so I ran down the boardwalk, leaving poor Marie in my wake.  It took a bit of waiting but the bird popped up right in front of us.  Hidalgo County bird #384.  Three new county birds in the past three days!

Satisfied, I headed for home and as I pulled in the drive, I got a call from Mary and heard she had just seen the Long-tailed Duck found my Mary Beth's Birder Patrol earlier in the day.  So I grabbed the wife and we raced up to the pond on FM 1015 just east of Delta Lake.  It was on the back side of the pond and too far for a good photo, so here's a crappy photo.  It was only the second I've seen in the Valley.

Then I received another call from Mary.  She had just seen the Marbled Godwit found a couple of days earlier by Marie Stewart at the Hargill Playa.  I bet it's the same one I found in December a few miles to the north.  They're pretty common along the coast but I had seen the species only twice in Hidalgo County.  So we raced west on FM 490 to Hargill and there was the godwit on the same pond where I had found the Collared Plover back in August.  Another great county year bird!

So I saw much more than I deserved today.  Guess I should take the wife to church more often!  And thanks to Mary for keeping me informed about all her good finds.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

McCook is Smokin! 1/22/15

Most years, sometime during the winter, I will make a run up FM 2221, AKA "Sparrow Road", northwards from La Joya, to knock off my sparrows and try to find some desert stuff for the Hidalgo County year list.  I usually continue north up Jara China Road and by the time I get to McCook it's afternoon and I make some casual scans over the plowed fields hoping for Mountain Plovers.  Of course I don't find any and then I head for home.

Well, Corey Lange came down from Kingsville last weekend and promptly showed us RGV birders how to properly bird the McCook area.  Last weekend he saw both Mountain Plovers and Prairie Falcon, two species I have failed to see in the county in the past.  Turns out they were west of McCook in a large area of plowed fields I had never checked out before.  Thanks Corey!

So last Sunday I was among several Valley birders who made the run up and easily scored the Mountain Plovers.  Turns out Marie Stewart also found a Ferruginous Hawk on Sunday  and Rick Nirschl found a Prairie Falcon yesterday so I made the run back up there this morning before the cold front blew in.  The Ferruginous Hawk was easy, about two miles south of McCook on FM 2058.  It is a striking young bird!

Look at those feathered tarsi.  I could have used some leggings like that when we had our recent cold spell. This is the third time I've seen one in this area.  They are pretty rare in the rest of the RGV.

Back up on FM 490, 2.9 miles west of the junction in McCook, I manged to find a couple of very distant Mountain Plovers in the field west of the gas compression station and then five more flew in from the north east, right over my head, making a call that sounded a lot like Red-winged Blackbird flight notes.  But they landed way off in the distance and then a Peregrine swooped over the field and the plovers, Horned larks, Western Meadowlarks and about a thousand pigeons scattered all over.  I could not refind the Mountain Plovers so I decided to drive the dirt road south that borders the east end of the plover field.  A mile or so to the south I saw a distant good sized pale falcon flying low over the barren field and I immediately knew I had found my #1 nemesis Hidalgo County bird, a stonkin' Praire Falcon.

I then took the first right down a track between some really barren plowed fields and what should appear standing in the middle of the road but a Mountain Plover.  I saw a couple more and managed a decent photo.

Wow, what a morning!  The Prairie Falcon and Mountain Plovers moved my Hidalgo county life list up to 383.  It's getting hard to find new ones.  I think with more people coming up here to look we may someday find some longspurs in those fields.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Chasing Hidalgo County Rarities, 1/21/15

The past few warm days have really been glorious after the cold wet winter we've been having and I've put them to good use getting my Hidalgo County year list off to a fine start.  I had a list of six species I wanted to find today and I wound up getting five of them so it was a good day.  Bird of the day goes to this Prairie Warbler found by J. D. Cortez yesterday at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse.  Actually it was first found about a month ago and few people have gone to look for it.  Prairie Warbler is pretty rare in winter in the RGV, occurring once every few years.

My birding day started at Edinburg Scenic Wetlands where I wanted to knockoff the Winter Wren and Brown Thrasher.  I quickly found the Winter Wren skulking around the wooded pond but I was unable to get a shot of it.  The Brown Thrasher took a lot more work but eventually it popped up and perched for me at length but in such heavy brush it was hard to get a good photo.  They are really bright orange-brown and small billed compared to our common Long-billed Thrashers.

I'm really impressed with the photos I'm getting from my new camera and lens.  The Canon 7D Mark II combined with the new Canon 100-400 mm IS II lens cost a lot of money and weighs a ton but it sure spits out some nice images.  Here's a White-eyed Vireo.  I find with a little soft pishing they are really photogenic.

The ability to get a decent photo in poor light conditions sold me on the setup.  Here's a Common Ground-Dove in the shade that has been cropped quite a bit.

And a Curve-billed Thrasher carrying some nesting material.

After I found my two target species, I drove south to Roselawn Cemetery in McAllen, hoping the Western Tanager I had found on the CBC back in December might still be around.  It took me only a couple of minutes to find it but all I could muster was a distant shot.

My next stop was Quinta Mazatlan where I couldn't get the Tropical Parula to materialize.  Then it was off to the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse where one pish brought in a little flock with the Prairie Warbler.

Then I thought of one more stop where I might pick up an easy year bird.  I was off to the Progreso grain storage area where I hoped to get a Yellow-headed Blackbird.  Well, it took some work and it wasn't a pretty one, but it still counts.

So I picked up five new year birds for Hidalgo County, including three hard to get ones.  I think I'm at 168 now but I'm not sure.  Tomorrow there's one more warm morning before the next cold front.  What do I chase next?  Or maybe I should go out and find something rare on my own.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Frontera Audubon Thicket, 1/11/15

There's been reports of a Townsend's Warbler at Frontera Audubon Thicket in Weslaco so after a couple of days of crappy weather I decided to run over and check it out.  The sun popped out a bit, temps climbed up to 50 and warblers were out so it was a great morning.  One of my first birds was this Black-throated Green Warbler.

The morning had an early spring feel to it.  Which in the RGV should be happening soon.  Blue-gray Gnatcatchers always remind me of early spring in Missouri where I grew up.

This Nashville Warbler was the most cooperative I've ever seen.  It may have been extra confiding because of the presence of a Cooper's Hawk nearby..

The nearby Orange-crowned Warbler was equally friendly.

The Cooper's Hawk was perched just outside the blind overlooking the pond in heavy brush.

Back in the palms by the boardwalk, a Yellow-throated Warbler was hunting in its favorite habitat.  They have a real preference for dead palm fronds which hold a myriad of invertebrates.

I did some pishing back by the gate by the cemetery and called in a dull Pine Wabler.

Then a bright basic plumaged Indigo Bunting put in an appearance.  It seems like there's quite a few around the RGV this winter.

I never did see the Townsend's Warbler. So I finished the morning with seven species of warblers at Frontera and picked up the eighth for the day in our back yard, a Yellow-rumped Warbler.  Here's the list for the morning.

Plain Chachalaca  12
Great Egret  1
Turkey Vulture  20
Cooper's Hawk  1
Gray Hawk  1
Inca Dove  5
White-tipped Dove  5
Ruby-throated/Black-chinned Hummingbird  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  4
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Eastern Phoebe  1
Great Kiskadee  1
Tropical Kingbird  1
Loggerhead Shrike  1
White-eyed Vireo  2
Blue-headed Vireo  1
Black-crested Titmouse  5
House Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  5
Northern Mockingbird  5
Black-and-white Warbler  1
Orange-crowned Warbler  5
Nashville Warbler  1
Pine Warbler  1
Yellow-throated Warbler  1
Black-throated Green Warbler  1
Wilson's Warbler  1
Lincoln's Sparrow  1
Indigo Bunting  1
Great-tailed Grackle  1

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Birding with the Wife at Bentsen and Anzalduas, 1/6/14

This morning I coaxed Honey out of our nice warm bed to go birding with the promise of dinner at her favorite char-broiled chicken place.  Yes I often have to order in Spanish but the food is great.  We got over to Bentsen a little late as we we're hoping it would warm up a bit.  It did.....a little bit.  At least it made it up to 60 today.  Our target was the Black-headed Grosbeak at Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park which has been present the past few days.  This western species is pretty much annual in the RGV but I usually have to put in a few days of feeder watching to get one.  But with Honey's good karma, we knocked it off in a hurry at feeder #4.

After that we worked the area between the boat launch on the resaca and the Green Jay blind hoping to find the Red-naped Sapsucker but we went sapsuckerless.  However it was a good opportunity to give my new camera a good workout at the feeding stations.  I'm impressed with my new Canon 7D Mark II.  The results are far superior to my old T4i even with the same old 300mm f4 old lens.  Low light capabilities seem particularly good.  Green Jays were especially photogenic at the Green Jay blind.

Even though it was a little bit brighter today, light was far from plentiful.  But this White-tipped Dove shot came out pretty good anyway.

Plain Chachalacas seemed extra hungry.  Maybe they know about the cold front coming tomorrow.

Our next stop was Anzalduas County Park where I hope to knockout some county year birds.  House Finch was a priority and they didn't disappoint.  The species has always been pretty rare in the RGV with the only known population way out west at Falcon Dam.  Then a few years ago a few were found at Anzalduas. Last year the largest flock I had saw had grown to forty birds.  Today the new record high grew to at least a hundred birds.  I don't know if these are all local or if they are coming in from somewhere else.

Other birds on our hit list for today were Vermillion Flycatcher and Black Phoebe which we found easily. Eastern Bluebird took more work but we eventually found three of them.  They are hard for me to photograph.

But the Eastern Screech-Owl was right up in his usual hollow surveying his kingdom.

Then I was reminded of the conversation I had earlier with Pat Heirs and the Pratts (sounds like a singing group!) that the Burrowing Owls were at their old lair in nearby Granjeno.  So we made a quick run over and easily scored the two right where I saw them last year.

A very nice day with the wife was consummated with some fine pollo asado.  (The word "consummate" can also mean "to make complete").

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Blue Bunting at Santa Ana NWR, 1/4/15

When I got up and took Honey to work this morning, the sky was clear so I was planning to run back up to Sal del Rey to get some better photos of the probable Semipalmated Sandpiper.  But clouds quickly blew in before I could leave so instead I decided to make the short drive over to Santa Ana NWR.  The sunshine and warmer weather predicted by our weather prognosticators failed to appear (once again!) and it turned out to be another cool, cloudy, windy morning.  I walked the loop around Willow Lake, picking up the Fulvous Whistling-Duck but not a lot else.  It was really slow.  By the time I got back to the tour road, I decided I had enough of the muddy trails and would walk the tour road south.  It does pass through some of the best native vegetation the refuge had to offer.  I was thinking about the amazing winter we had ten years ago and how cool it would be to find another Elegant Trogon.  Well, that might have been a bit unrealistic, but I kept pishing as I walked along and after a while I heard a repeated "tink" call.  What's that?  Then I pished a bit more and this beautiful female Blue Bunting popped up right front of me and posed for photos.

Gee, I should have recognized that call and was very fortunate the bird was curious.  On the way out I also found a couple of Gray Hawks, a youngster and an adult.

Here's today's list.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Hidalgo, US-TX
Jan 4, 2015 9:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Protocol: Traveling
2.5 mile(s)
49 species

Fulvous Whistling-Duck  1
Greater White-fronted Goose  250
Gadwall  4
Mottled Duck  3
Blue-winged Teal  6
Northern Shoveler  40
Northern Pintail  6
Green-winged Teal  40
Ruddy Duck  2
Plain Chachalaca  3
Least Grebe  1
Pied-billed Grebe  2
Great Egret  1
Turkey Vulture  1
Harris's Hawk  1
Red-shouldered Hawk  1
Gray Hawk  3
Sora  1
American Coot  20
Black-necked Stilt  17
Inca Dove  4
White-tipped Dove  3
Mourning Dove  5
Belted Kingfisher  2
Green Kingfisher  3
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  3
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  5
Eastern Phoebe  3
Great Kiskadee  20
Green Jay  3
Cave Swallow  2
Black-crested Titmouse  3
House Wren  2
Carolina Wren  1
Bewick's Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  8
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  6
Northern Mockingbird  3
European Starling  1
American Pipit  1
Orange-crowned Warbler  6
Common Yellowthroat  10
Lincoln's Sparrow  2
Swamp Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  2
Blue Bunting  1
Red-winged Blackbird  50
Altamira Oriole  3
House Sparrow  5

Strange peep at Sal del Ray, 1/3/15

Yesterday was the first time in a while that the weather was good enough to get out and look for some birds and it gave me an opportunity to try out my new Canon 7D Mark II.  So I headed up to the Sal del Rey Unit of the Lower Rio Grande NWR to get some birds for the new county year list.  As it turned out, the new camera got a good workout.  Bird of the day was a strange Calidris sandpiper that stuck out like a sore thumb among the Least Sandpipers and Snowy Plovers on the salty shoreline.  I got pretty excited as it was the size of the Least Sandpipers but was gray with black legs and a short bill.  It looked exactly like the Red-necked Stints I saw in the Philippines back in Sept.  So I got some photos and the bird fortunately cooperated a bit.  As I'm thinking it may be a major find, I decided to head for home so I could check out my pics and look at some images on line.  Talking to Mary Gustafson via phone on the way home she brought up the possibility of Little Stint which would be a first state record.  So I was really excited and downloaded my photos as soon as I got home and got them online.  Well, as it turns out, the people who know think my peep is actually a basic plumaged Semipalmated Sandpiper which should be in South America this time of year.  Other than a sick bird found in Bexar County on Dec. 2 years ago, this would be the first winter record for a Semipalmated Sandpiper in Texas.  Pretty cool.  Just not a cool as what I had hoped for.  Here are some photos.  Their poor quality is due to poor light and the photographer and not the camera

As expected Snowy Plovers made an appearance, twelve of them.

And the 185 Wilson's Phalaropes may be a new winter record.  Here's a poor digiscoped shot of a few of them.

Another good bird was this distant Ash-throated Flycatcher.  They are pretty uncommon during winter.

On the drive up to the refuge, I stopped at Delta Lake at my Yellow Warbler spot to see if any had stayed for the winter.  Sure enough, a little pishing brought up two of them.  One was a real dullard.

So it turned out to be a really interesting day.  Here's the list from Sal del Rey.

LRGV NWR--La Sal del Rey (LTC 005), Hidalgo, US-TX
Jan 3, 2015 9:35 AM - 12:10 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.5 mile(s)
39 species

American Wigeon  8
Eared Grebe  250     continuing flock, counted and estimated
Black Vulture  2
Turkey Vulture  8
Cooper's Hawk  1
Harris's Hawk  1
Red-shouldered Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Snowy Plover  12
Killdeer  1
Greater Yellowlegs  3
Lesser Yellowlegs  32
Least Sandpiper  100
Semipalmated Sandpiper  1
Western Sandpiper  4
Wilson's Phalarope  185
Laughing Gull  12
Ring-billed Gull  17
Mourning Dove  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  5
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  3
Eastern Phoebe  1
Ash-throated Flycatcher  1
Great Kiskadee  1
House Wren  2
Bewick's Wren  1
Cactus Wren  2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  3
Curve-billed Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  4
American Pipit  5
Orange-crowned Warbler  5
Yellow-rumped Warbler  6
Savannah Sparrow  10
Lincoln's Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  4
Pyrrhuloxia  2
Eastern Meadowlark  6