Monday, August 24, 2015

Frontera Audubon Thicket, 8/24/15

I spent the morning at Frontera Audubon Thicket hoping to find something for my Hidalgo County year list. It was warm, humid and muddy after heavy rain a few days ago but a few migrants made things interesting. I had to get past the sentinel Buff-bellied Hummingbirds before I could enter the park.

This bright Painted Bunting was behind the Skaggs House.

I followed a flock of Clay-colored Thrushes along the fence west of the entrance gate and eventually settled on a count of six.

First warbler  was the common Yellow Warbler but a bit later I ran into a male Mourning Warbler.  Birders often tell me they rarely see Mournings but I find them to be pretty common this time of year.  I saw a juvenal later.  

Past the pond as I ran into a calling Alder Flycatcher making its "perp" call.  The similar Willow Flycatcher makes a "whit" call.

A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and five Black-bellied Whistling Ducks had commandeered the boardwalk.

Following the south fence to the flooded SE corner and then along the east ditch I found  a Louisiana Waterthrush and then got photos of a Northern Waterthrush.

Olive-sided Flycatchers always seem to be found on a bare snag.

I sat a spell at the water feature but the only takes were a pair of Lesser Goldfinches.

One last look at the Buff-bellies and I was done for the morning.  I finished with 40 species.

Frontera Audubon Center, Hidalgo, Texas, US
Aug 24, 2015 8:00 AM - 11:45 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
40 species

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 6
Plain Chachalaca  6
Great Egret  1
Green Heron  1
Night-Heron  1
Gray Hawk  1
Solitary Sandpiper  1
Common Ground-Dove 5
White-tipped Dove  5
White-winged Dove  100
Yellow-billed Cuckoo 1
Chimney Swift  2
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  8
Green Kingfisher 1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  6
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
Flycatcher  1
Alder Flycatcher  3
Great Kiskadee  6
Couch's Kingbird 6
Eastern Kingbird  1
White-eyed Vireo  5
Green Jay  2
Titmouse  6
Carolina Wren  5
Clay-colored Thrush  6
Curve-billed Thrasher 1
Long-billed Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  2
Louisiana Waterthrush 1
Northern Waterthrush  1
Mourning Warbler  2
Yellow Warbler 1
Yellow-breasted Chat  2
Olive Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  4
Painted Bunting  1
Great-tailed Grackle  4
Lesser Goldfinch  2
House Sparrow 6

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hargill area shorebirds, 8/19/15

This morning I ran up to Hargill to check on the Collared Plover and searched unsuccessfully with another birder from Arkansas for more than two hours.  Could it be gone?  My last sighting was on Aug. 16 which coincides exactly with the last day it was seen last year.  There's plenty of water so hopefully it's still around. Afterwards I ran over to the newest shorebird hotspot, a shallow flooded field on the SE corner of the dogleg FM 490 makes where it is crossed by Brushline road.  Saturday Mary Gustafson found a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher there which I got to see, but I wanted to try for some better photos.  Short-billed Dowitchers are easy to see on South Padre Island where they prefer the salty mudflats.  But they are hard to see in inland Hidalgo County and are only easy to identify when in the juvenile plumage with the golden marked tertials.  I think the rusty crown with bold supercilium may be field marks also.

I would have liked to have have photographed some juvie Long-billed Dowitchers for comparison but they don't seem to be down yet.  Adult shorebirds migrate south before the youngsters and juvenals are just starting to show up.  The Adult Long-billed Dowitchers were in various states of alternate (breeding) plumage moulting into basic (winter) plumage.

Rex and Birgit Stanford dropped by so Rex and I got into some vigorous shorebird identification discussion. A Least Sandpiper in its scaly rusty juvenile plumage was my first for the fall.  Compare it to the worn adult. Notice the narrow bill that tapers to a droopy tip.  Actually I'm starting to think the adult is in fresh winter plumage.

A small group of juvie Semipalmated Sandpipers had me scratching my head for a few minutes.  Don't go looking for webbed toes in this mud.  The brownish gray scaly plumage and short thick bill are field marks. Rex was looking for leg color which is black for Semipalms and yellow for Least but legs were muddy today.

A couple of juvenile Western Sandpipers were only slightly larger but the longer drooping bills really stand out.  Plumage often has some rusy feathers on the scapulars and the faint streaking on the sides of the breast is a good field mark.

By now it should be evident that juvenile shorebirds exhibit pale feather edgings that give them a scaly appearance.  Even this Spotted Sandpiper shows some pale feather edgings in the wings.

A young Black-necked Stilt with pale feather edges.

Here's an adult Solitary Sandpiper with a moulting adult Lesser Yellowlegs.  The dark center to the barred tail makes IDing a Solitary in flight pretty easy.  Some of the speckles are still present on the old breeding plumage on this adult Solitary.

Congrats if you made it this far!  Here's a couple of lists for the day.

Hwy 490 and Brushline, Hidalgo, Texas, US
Aug 19, 2015 10:45 AM - 1:20
Protocol: Stationary
18 species

Cattle Egret  2
Green Heron 2
White-faced Ibis  8
Common Gallinule  2
Black-necked Stilt  10
Killdeer 3
Spotted Sandpiper  2
Solitary Sandpiper  2
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Yellowlegs  8
Stilt Sandpiper  270
Least Sandpiper  15
Semipalmated Sandpiper5
Western Sandpiper  2
Short-billed Dowitcher  3
Long-billed Dowitcher 63
Wilson's Phalarope  2
Gull-billed Tern  1

Hargill Playa, Hidalgo, Texas, US
Aug 19, 2015 8:20 AM - 10:40 AM
33 species

Fulvous Whistling-Duck  1
Northern Pintail  1    
continuing female
Neotropic Cormorant  4
Great Egret  2
Snowy Egret 12
Tricolored Heron  1
Cattle Egret  1
Roseate Spoonbill  2
Turkey Vulture 1
Black-necked Stilt  20
American Avocet  15
Snowy Plover  4
Wilson's Plover 1
Killdeer  2
Spotted Sandpiper  2
Greater Yellowlegs  8
Sandpiper  20
Western Sandpiper  5
Long-billed Dowitcher  1
Phalarope  8
Laughing Gull  12
Least Tern  1
Gull-billed Tern  25    
carefully counted
Caspian Tern  1
Black Tern  7
Forster's Tern  1
Skimmer  4
Mourning Dove  1
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher  3
Horned Lark 1
Northern Mockingbird  1
Cassin's Sparrow  1
Dickcissel  1

Sunday, August 9, 2015

South Padre Island pelagic trip, 8/8/15

A few weeks ago Texas Pelagics ran a very successful pelagic birding trip out of South Padre Island on the newly revamped Osprey.  That combined with the fact I had not done a pelagic birding trip since 2002 spurred me on to sign up for yesterday's excursion.  But after a poor night's sleep I was not ready for the violent rocking of the boat as we made our way out between the jetties.  It did not help that pelagic veterans Mary Gustafson and Brad McKinney said this was pretty normal.  Gee, I had forgotten this part of pelagic birding.  Twelve hours of this?

After a while it got light enough to start looking for birds so I staggered out of the air conditioned cabin and made my way up to the top deck.  With fogged up optics and holding on for my dear life I started thinking I was too old for this stuff.  But the day got brighter and I found my sea legs and I got my lenses dried off and I was ready to do some birding.  As we bounded our way out over three to five foot waves, the captain would cozy up to the shrimp boats we encountered where we mostly saw common Royal Terns mixed with a few Sandwich Terns and Laughing Gulls.

A bit later we were pulling up to the Princess Rosita when a dark gull sized bird streaked by her bow.  "Pomarine Jaeger!" was the call.

As it zoomed around for several minutes harassing the terns, I was shooting with my new 1.4 extender attached, which though sharp, was slowing down my auto focus.  So I missed some good opportunities. Here's the best of what I got of this beautiful dark jaeger.

Making our way out against a strong south wind through some pretty rough seas to the edge of the continental shelf took about four hours. But when we arrived a flock of storm-petrels materialized right on cue over the deep water.  Getting photos of these of these little song-bird sized pelagics was difficult as they wheeled through the troughs and skimmed the crests while I fumbled with the camera and wedged my feet between the wheel house and the railing to keep balanced on the rocking Osprey.  We found two more flocks over the deep water and the process was repeated.  My photos aren't great but they show both the expected Band-rumped Storm-Petrel and the locally rare Leach's Storm Petrel.  Band-rumped has the more narrow rump band that extends over the sides of the rump onto the undertail coverts.

While the Leach's Storm-Petrel has a wider band that is usually broken with the white not extending as far on the undertail coverts.  Experts on board like Dwight Peake and Brad and Mary commented on a different flight pattern but I couldn't see it.  We saw at least half a dozen of them which is apparently a record for Texas waters.

Dwight informed us a "cold core eddy" had formed over edge of the continental shelf and that might have influenced the numbers of Leach's while depressing the numbers of other expected tubenoses  like Cory's and Audubon's Shearwaters.  So we weren't seeing a lot, but this Masked Booby got everyone excited.

Eric Carpenter expertly created a chum oil slick to attract birds.  It extended for a couple hundred meters but there were no takers.  After a few hours over the deep water it was time to make the long trip back the SPI. Fortunately the seas had eased a bit and the return journey was not so rough.  Another Masked Booby passed by but was less cooperative.  There were plenty of people out deepsea fishing and we sighted this lucky girl reeling in a nice King Mackerel.

Our last bit of excitement came at the next shrimp boat where we found another Pomarine Jaeger chasing a Royal Tern.  It was joined by a second and then a third who hoped to force the unfortunate tern to divulge its meal.

Fortunately they landed together to allow for some great shots.

Well, it was a pretty rough trip with not too many birds as the case with Texas pelagic trips but it was fun with some nice comradery.  And who doesn't like jaeger shots?  Here I am pooped at the end of a long day.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Boca Chica, 8/5/15

I ran out to Boca Chica this morning to try out my new 1.4 extender and to check out the jetties.  Not a lot going on today except for some interesting juvenile plumages.  There were several scaly young Laughing Gulls.

This one has a few gray first winter feathers sprouting.

Here's an adult losing its summer plumage.

There were also some interesting young Royal Terns.

Not sure what to make of this plumage.

A young Least Tern.

My last visit to the jetty witnessed lots of feeding terns.  But there wasn't much action today.  Here's a Black Tern.

And a fly by Common Tern.  The dark outer rectrices along with the head pattern are the best field marks. 

Several Ruddy Turnstones still had their breeding plumage.  Adults always return from their breeding grounds before the young of the year.

Anyone lose a Piping Plover?  I guess we learn things by banding them but it looks uncomfortable to me.

Not much happening when I have to resort to photographing crustaceans.  I forget what these are called but they're supposed to make good bait.  But how would you catch them?  They're really fast.