Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Western Wood-pewee at South Padre Island, 5/24/16

Migration is winding down in the Rio Grande Valley but there's always the possibility of some wayward waif getting lost.  So with that in mind Honey and I made another springtime run out to South Padre Island.  Sheepshead was pretty dull with just a Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow Warbler and a "Traill's" Flycatcher which sounded more like an Acadian than anything but I think it was a Willow.  

The Convention Center seemed equally dull with Yellow and Magnolia Warblers and Eastern Wood-Pewee. Ken Wilson showed up  and we found three Eastern Kingbirds and two Westerns.  At this point we split up and Ken searched behind the convention center while I looked around the water feature some more.  As I approached the gazebo I heard the faint but distinct burry plaintive "peeer" call of a Western Wood-pewee. And there it was perched on a branch and making an occasional flycatching sortie.  I got a few photos and pulled out my iPhone and recorded it as a voice memo.

I called to Ken and the bird was gone.  So we looked for it a while and split up again and I went back to the gazebo and there was the Western Wood-Pewee again.  I got betters photos this time and ran after Ken. The bird flew off seemingly behind the Convention Center and we chased pewees back there getting good looks at them but only hearing Eastern-Wood-Pewee.  Well, Ken had to go and of course the Western showed up again on the same perch one last time.

Visual identification of Eastern and Western Wood-Pewees is close to impossible but Western generally has a smaller darker bill which this bird seems to have.  There's a good ID article in a past issue of ABA's Birding magazine which addresses this problem.  I seem to recall a previous record from the SPI but eBird shows no RGV records so this was a really good bird.  My years of living in SE Arizona, where I often heard this bird during summer, really paid off.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Glossy Ibis at Estero, 5/21/17

This morning I was just getting ready to run up to Hargill to check out the ponds when I got word that Huck and Mary had found a Glossy Ibis at Estero Llano Grande State Park.  Now that's a good county year bird so I changed my plans.  Here it is right off the deck.

There was also a White-faced Ibis for comparison.  Beside the different facial patterns and eye colors, note the red knee joint on the Glossy while the entire leg is red on the White-faced.

The White-faced did not appreciate the Glossy wandering into its feeding area.

White Ibises made for a three ibis day.

Meanwhile the Black-necked Stilts had to drive off a trouble maker.

Another nest hatched a few days ago with four downy youngsters running around.

A proud parent.

Even though migration is winding down there's still plenty to see. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Empidonax identification during spring migration in the RGV, 5/17/16

The past couple of days I've had a really good opportunity to observe, listen to and photograph migrating Empidonax flycatchers here in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  For years I have been try to get an understanding of these little flycatchers as they pass through.  I will think I can identify them and then one will come along that destroys all my confidence.  It's like trying to hold smoke in your hands.  But a lots of things seemed to have coalesced in my mind over the past couple of days.  So here's my interpretation of what I have learned about spring Empids.  I'm not going to get too detailed as this kind of stuff usually makes my eyes glaze over.  I'm sure other birders may notice other characteristics.   These photos were taken at South Padre Island yesterday except as noted.

Acadian Flycatcher:  This is probably our earliest spring migrant Empidonax although they were still passing in numbers yesterday.  Dorsally they are a greenish gray, sometimes very green.  Ventrally they are the most pale below of all our empids.  They have a nice even pale yellow eye ring.  The bill is large and the lower mandible is fleshy orange.  They often appear to have a flat angled forehead.  They have a long primary extension.  Down here in migration the voice is an emphatic "speet" which is often repeated.  Unfortunately Yellow-bellied  Flycatcher can give an identical call which I heard today at Santa Ana.  The similarity of the calls is not addressed in the literature.

Least Flycatcher:  Our most common Empidonax can also be an early migrant and usually a few winter in the RGV.  I don't really notice them as being small but they do seem slender to me.  Dorsally they are brown or grayish brown with a big white eye ring.  Ventrally they have a whitish throat and and a brownish gray vest on the sides of the breast.  Usually they seem round headed.  The belly is whitish often with a yellowish wash.  Bill is short and mostly dark. Primary projections are short giving it a long tailed look.  The voice is a dry "whit" or "fwit" which can be repeated often.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher:  A fairly late spring migrant, I have only noticed them this past weekend.  They are possibly the easiest to identify of our migrant Empids as they tend to be a bright green dorsally with a bill yellowish eye ring.  The underparts are greenish on the breast with a greenish yellow throat and a fairly bright yellow belly.  The medium length broad based bill is orange below.  Usually they seem round headed. Primary extension are moderate.  I do not hear the "dweeb" call that is described in the literature but rather an emphatic "speet" which is often repeated and sounds very much like the Acadian call.

Alder Flycatcher:  Alder and Willow Flycatchers were for many years considered as one species, Traill's Flycatcher.  To me they seem more "multicolored" than the other empids with grays, greens, browns, yellow and white.  They seem like all the above empids blended together and I usually decide it's a Traill's Flycatcher by it not being any of the above.  The thin and sometimes uneven eye ring is a good field mark as is the white throat against the dark head and breast.  The medium length bill has an orangish lower mandible. Primary extension is moderate.  I'm still learning about these guys.  For Alder the somewhat musical "pep" or "perp" call is diagnostic.  I heard three of them today at Santa Ana and these photos are from there.

This one from the Convention Center yesterday did not call but later I did have possibly the same one call the diagnostic "perp".

This one called yesterday but the lighting was not good.

Willow Flycatcher:  If you have a Traill's Flycatcher that that make a "whit" call then you have a Willow Flycatcher.  I don't know how to visually separate it from Alder.  I don't know if anyone does.  This Willow Flycatcher was calling at the National Butterfly Center last week.

So this is just my view of Empidonax flycatchers in spring.  They can be very different in fall, all species being much more green and yellow.  They will be passing through again in late July and August so we can all get more practice.

Santa Ana NWR, 5/17/15

After standing around all day yesterday photographing at Sheepshead and the Convention Center at South Padre Island, I decided I needed to get out and stretch my legs today and Santa Ana NWR seemed like a good choice.  As always I have birding targets and today was no exception.  But what was exceptional was today I hit all my targets.  As I walked the tour road I soon heard a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher which I had yet to see in Hidalgo County this year.

I was wanting a Purple Gallinule for the year and saw one fly up from the first cattails on the right was you enter the Pintail Lakes complex.  No photo but still OK.  Not a lot of birds on the water but migrants in the brush included Yellow and Mourning Warblers, American Redstart, Great-crested Flycatcher and Blue-headed Vireo.  And then on the east end of the Pintail Lakes I found this guy, my first MacGillivray's Warbler for the year.  I've never had one come so close.

I also found this one which I think is a Mourning Warbler based on the short tail extension which I just read about here.  I was just about ready to call it another MacGillivray's.

And I got a calling Alder Flycatcher which was my other target bird.  The "perp" call is very different from the other empid calls.

Pretty nice day!

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (fulgens) 12
Mottled Duck (Gulf Coast) 4
Blue-winged Teal 1
Plain Chachalaca 12
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Neotropic Cormorant 2
Great Egret 2
Little Blue Heron 2
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 2
White Ibis 7
Turkey Vulture 2
Osprey 1
Harris's Hawk 1
Gray Hawk 1
Purple Gallinule 1
Common Gallinule 2
American Coot 20
Black-necked Stilt (Black-necked) 3
Inca Dove 2
Common Ground-Dove 3
White-tipped Dove 2
White-winged Dove 15
Mourning Dove 2
Yellow-billed Cuckoo 4
Greater Roadrunner 1
Groove-billed Ani 8
Buff-bellied Hummingbird 1
Ringed Kingfisher 1
Green Kingfisher 3
Golden-fronted Woodpecker 5
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 1
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet 1
Olive-sided Flycatcher 1
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 3
Alder Flycatcher 3 All heard calling "perp"
Alder/Willow Flycatcher (Traill's Flycatcher) 1
Least Flycatcher 5
Empidonax sp. 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 2
Brown-crested Flycatcher 6
Great Kiskadee 2
Tropical Kingbird 2
Couch's Kingbird 10
Eastern Kingbird 1
White-eyed Vireo 4
Blue-headed Vireo 1
Barn Swallow 6
Black-crested Titmouse 2
Carolina Wren 1
Clay-colored Thrush 2
Long-billed Thrasher 3
Northern Mockingbird 1
MacGillivray's Warbler 2
Mourning Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 6
Yellow Warbler (Northern) 8
Olive Sparrow 5
Northern Cardinal 1
Blue Grosbeak 2
Painted Bunting 1
Red-winged Blackbird 10
Great-tailed Grackle 5
Bronzed Cowbird 6
Altamira Oriole 1
Lesser Goldfinch 2
House Sparrow 5

South Padre Island, 5/16/16

With the low pressure system that's been on top of us for the past day I figured maybe it was time to check out South Padre Island for some late migrants and empidonax.  It worked out great with plenty of photogenic warblers and cooperative empids to study.  I'll save the empids for a separate post.  Here's my first Bay-breasted Warbler for the year.

Plenty of Yellow Warblers about.

A dull female Blackburnian still looks pretty nice.

Magnolia Warblers spread their tails just like a redstart when they approach the water feature.

American Redstarts  were constantly showing off.

Non-warblers were also looking good like this female Scarlet Tanager.

And this male Western Tanager.

A pretty cool pose by this Veery.

Gray-cheeked Thrushes have been more common than usual this year.

Red-eyed Vireos really do have red eyes.

A Blue-headed Vireo.

Most years I miss Black-billed Cuckoo but this is my third one this year.

A lone Cedar Waxwing was checking out the water feature at the Convention Center.

A dull but still pretty Painted Bunting.

Here's a list.

Blue-winged Teal 6
Brown Pelican 2
Great Blue Heron (Blue form) 1
Tricolored Heron 1
Reddish Egret 1
Willet 1
Ruddy Turnstone 2
Sanderling 2
Laughing Gull 25
Least Tern 10
Royal Tern 20
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 3
Eurasian Collared-Dove 10
Black-billed Cuckoo 1
Common Nighthawk 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 8
Eastern Wood-Pewee 6
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 5
Acadian Flycatcher 6
Alder Flycatcher 1 Calling "pep"
Alder/Willow Flycatcher (Traill's Flycatcher) 3
Least Flycatcher 2
Great Kiskadee 1
Eastern Kingbird 3
Blue-headed Vireo 2
Philadelphia Vireo 1
Red-eyed Vireo 2
Barn Swallow (American) 6
Veery 1
Gray-cheeked Thrush 2
Swainson's Thrush 1
Gray Catbird 4
Northern Mockingbird 1
Northern Waterthrush 1
Black-and-white Warbler 3
Tennessee Warbler 5
Common Yellowthroat 5
American Redstart 8
Magnolia Warbler 6
Bay-breasted Warbler 2
Blackburnian Warbler 2
Yellow Warbler (Northern) 8
Chestnut-sided Warbler 8
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Wilson's Warbler 2
Lincoln's Sparrow 1
Scarlet Tanager 1
Western Tanager 2 male and female
Pyrrhuloxia 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 2
Blue Grosbeak 1
Painted Bunting 1
Dickcissel 1
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Great-tailed Grackle 10
Orchard Oriole 5
House Sparrow 10