Thursday, December 20, 2018

Black Scoter at Boca Chica Part II, 12/19/18

A couple of days after my brief sighting of the male Black Scoter at Boca Chica, Justin LeClaire found a male in the ship channel between the jetties.  I had a feeling that would be the place to find one.  And after he saw it again a few days later I figured I should try for a better photo.  So I drove over today and found the Black Scoter with little effort.  It was actively feeding not far out from the riprap that lines the ship channel a few hundred yards inland from the Boca Chica jetty.  I would not be surprised if it's the same bird I found ten days earlier.

Black Scoters are being found in good numbers along northern half of the Texas Coast this fall, but the sightings at Boca Chica are the only one reported south of Aransas County so far.

Well that was easy so why not drive over to South Padre Island and look for the Black-headed Grosbeak at the Birding Center.  I have seen several in Hidalgo County and one in Cameron County but they have all been in juvenile plumage.  This one was a nice adult feeding on fiddlewood berries in front of the South Padre Island Birding Center.

It's been a great fall and I haven't even been over for the Roadside Hawk or Golden-crowned Warblers yet.  Hope they hang around.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher at LosFresnos, 12/14/18

Back in October a Fork-tailed Flycatcher was seen by many as it spent a few days east of Rio Hondo.  I had visiting in-laws at the time and had already seen the Southmost Preserve bird years ago so I didn't make the effort to go over and see it.  Well another (or possibly the same one) was found by Bobz World just east of Los Fresnos so I figured I had better see this one before it was gone.  I took a half dozen passes along Share 27 Rd and saw calling Tropical and Couch's Kingbirds but not their tropical cousin.  But I thought it was probably hang out with kingbirds so I kept trying and eventually found the Fork-tailed Flycatcher low in a mesquite.

It is thought that most of the fall Fork-tailed Flycatchers found across North America are of of the nominate South American subpecies savana and are reverse austral migrants.  Meaning that instead of flying south to their breeding areas after the austral winter (our summer), they have gone north instead.  But this bird has pale edges to the wing coverts indicating a fresh molt and a pale mantle.  According to Steve Howell's "Rare Birds of North America" this would then be the Mexican subspecies monachus which is found south of the Isthmus into Central America.  Most ornithologist say the two subspecies can only be truly separated by examining the primary emarginations.  Maybe they will figure it out someday.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Black Scoter at Boca Chica Beach, 12/9/18

This fall several dozen Black Scoters have been seen hanging out around the seawall in Galveston.  while many have been reported in Florida also.  So when Justin LeClaire found one at Boca Chica Beach yesterday, I was not surprised although there are no previous Cameron County records on eBird.  Well if Justin can find one, why not me?  So this morning I took off in the old Tacoma 4x4 to drive the beach at Boca Chica.

As my truck gets older, each trip I wonder if it will come home safely.  This morning after a brief stop on TX 4 just a few miles from the beach, I put my foot down on the brake pedal while I put it in drive and the brake made this funny "sploosh" sound and my the pedal went down to the floor.  Woops.  Well something broke and I had just lost most of my brake fluid and had precious little braking ability left.  Should I turn around and try to make it home?  Hmmm.....I wouldn't hurt to drive slowly to the beach and look around for scoters.  So I did.  I drove up to the jetties and saw precious little and every stop was an adventure.  I learned I could put it in neutral and it would slow fairly quickly in the sand.

Nothing at the jetties.  So I headed back down the beach and decided I should head for home while the truck still had a few stops left in it.  And just before I left the beach, this little flock of four American Wigeons passed by over the surf.  A fifth duck was following and it was coal black.  Just like a Black Scoter!  So I stopped the truck as best I could and jumped out and fired away with the camera.  The feeble cropped shots sure seem to show a black duck with yellow/orange on the bill and gray undersides to the primaries.  I would have to call it a male Black Scoter.

Well, pretty cool but not very satisfying.  I may have to go back out and find a good place to watch the duck pass by and try for another.  BTW, I drove back home on the freeway but had to stop a few time at lights before I got there.  I learned I could put the truck into 2nd and then into 1st to stop at lights.  Really fun.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Good Hidalgo County Birds, 11/27/18

A sunny, cool, calm day was in the forecast so I needed to bird somewhere.  It was a toss up between driving the beach or checking Sal del Rey and the area.  I chose the latter since I didn't want to do so much driving and I wanted to see if the Red-necked Phalaropes were still around.  I got up there pretty early and made the walk in from Brushline Road.  Turned out there were eleven Wilson's Phalaropes which are pretty late for this time of year, four Snowy Plovers on the beach and plenty of Laughing Gulls but no Red-necks.  Walking back there were plenty of passerines along the way and one low in a bush got my attention.  Danged if it wasn't a Sage Thrasher.  I had been thinking about them and was hoping to find one though the probability was low.  Maybe this signals a good year for them.

And just a bit down the trail I found some kinglets and got another surprise.  They were Golden-crowned Kinglets.  Mary Gustafson had heard some in this area a few days ago and we had one on South Padre Island so maybe it's a good year for them too.

A couple of Cactus Wrens were more expected.

I enjoy Common Ground-Doves.

Here's a poor shot of the distant Wilson's Phalaropes.

Back on Brushline Road I headed north and made stops at appropriate looking spots for sparrows.  Not many to be found.  My pishing and pygmy owl tooting pulled in a few migrants like these Black-and-white and Black-throated Green Warblers.

And then at a grassy spot north of the Tres Presas gate, I had called in a House Wren and noticed something else skulking in the grass.  It didn't call but I just had this feeling it would be a Sedge Wren.  I was right!  We don't get too many of them up there.

I still wasn't finding any sparrows on Brushline though the grass looked pretty good after the fall rains.  So I back-tracked and turned east on GI Road.  Still not much happening.  But the shallow pond in front of the Rio Beef Yard had some water and a small flock of Sandhill Cranes.

Then a quarter mile or so down the road I found a flock of American Goldfinches feeding on sunflower seeds.  And this is the stretch of road that marks the boundary between Hidalgo and Willacy Counties.  There were on the Hidalgo side which is not big deal.  But one flew across the road and landed on the fence in Willacy side where it was a new county bird for me, #281.

After seeing nothing but Lincoln's Sparrows, I finally found a flock with a couple of Lark and Clay-colored Sparrows.  I need the Clay-colored for my Hidalgo County year list but these were on the Teniente Tract in Willacy County.

Time to head for home.  I stopped by Delta Lake where the mudflats were loaded with birds.

Including an amazing 335 Long-billed Curlews.

Three White-fronted Geese circled overhead and told me to go home so I did.

Not many sparrows but a heck of a day.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Wild Muscovy Duck at Progreso Lakes, 11/18/18

I was checking out the resaca behind out yard at Progreso Lakes today when I noticed a small, all black Muscovy Duck.  I know the fat black and white domestic Muscovies that hang out in our resaca and this bird looked so small.  Observing it through the scope, I noticed the bill was striped and the face was all black except for two red warts above the bill.  I shot a few photos and lost sight of the bird.  Then I started to walk over to a visiting butterfly watcher when the small black Muscovey shot past me.  I've never seen any of the local ducks do that.  Their flight always seems so labored.  At this point I feel I have to call it a wild Muscovy Duck.  They occur in small numbers about fifty miles up river so a wild bird down here is not inconceivable.

For the time being, unless someone gives me a good reason to call it domestic, this will be yard bird #202 and Hidalgo County bird #401.  Yikes!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

"Gray-headed" Junco at Quinta Mazatlan,11/17/18

This morning it was calm so I thought I would check out the ponds in eastern Hidalgo County in an attempt to find my 400th bird for the county.  I knew the chances were slim but it doesn't hurt to get out and look and see what's around.  I found some Buffleheads at the Sugar House Pond and a Dunlin at Delta Lake so I was doing pretty good for the morning.  My next stop was to be Sal del Rey in an attempt to refind the Red-necked Phalaropes from last week.  Then my darn WhatsApp dinged again.  "Dark-eyed Junco at Quinta Mazatlan."  Well, that would sure be new for my county list.  Every once in a while someone will find one on area Chrismast Bird Counts but they are never seen again.  I just got my first for Cameron County last winter.

So I turned the car around and headed south.  I arrived at the spot in the new southern extension of Quinta Mazatlan and found a group of birders waiting by a brush pile where the junco had been seen earlier in the morning.  It took a while but eventually the junco popped up.  It was the "Gray-headed" subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco.  These are pretty common in the southwestern US but I think it may be the first for the lower RGV.  The few juncos we get are of the eastern "Slate-colored" subspecies.  And it was my 400th species for Hidalgo County and fifth new county bird in the last ten days.  I went the entire year of 2016 with out getting any new Hidalgo County birds, so this has been quite a streak.

I started the morning with six Buffleheads at the Sugar House Pond.  That was a new one for the county year list.

It's always tough to find Dunlins inland.  This one was at Delta Lake.

Two weeks ago I thought it might take a few years to get the county list up to 400.  I guess I was wrong.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Two More Hidalgo County Lifers, 11/15/18

This morning I was eating breakfast when my WhatsApp dinged again.  Huck was reporting a Tamaulipas Crow on FM 1015 just south of Estero.  Dang!  Well, that's just a few miles away so I hopped into the car with my camera and binocs before even brushing my teeth.  It took me just a few minutes to get there and I could see the moment I saw the bird that Huck had made a mistake.  The bill was too large and it lacked the glossy blue plumage of a Tamaulipas Crow.  But not to worry.  It was a Chihuahuan Raven and my #1 nemesis bird for Hidalgo County. They are easy to see in Cameron and Starr Counties but in 26 years of RGV living I had somehow missed seeing one in the Hidalgo County.  So this was species # 398 in the county for me.  The bird was in a plowed field with nothing to compare its size to so I can see how Huck made the mistake.

Meanwhile, I had another bird to chase after today.  A week ago Ron Weeks found a Plumbeous Vireo at the Rose Lawn Cemetery in McAllen after the birding festival.  Well, that's another one I've never seen in Hidalgo County.  I ran out shortly after Ron had found the bird last week but failed to find it.  Then Bert Wessling found it again yesterday and I failed to do the same despite a couple of hours of searching.  We had thought it may have left following the strong cold front that passed through the Valley.  So I made one more try for the Plumbeous Vireo this morning and found it with little trouble.  This Rocky Mountain species was split from Solitary Vireo years ago and was my 399th species for Hidalgo County.  It may well spend the winter as they have a couple of times in Corpus Christi.

So over the past two months I have added three species to my Cameron County list to bring my total to 404 and over the past two weeks I have added four species to my Hidalgo County list to up it to 399.  It's been a great fall!  I'm not sure if anyone has ever seen 400 species in two Texas Counties.  There are California birders that have over 400 in as many as four counties!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, 11/11/18

I have a love/hate relationship with the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.  I love the fact that the best birding guides in the country descend on the Valley for a period in early November to lead tours for the Festival.  The birding trips and associated scouting turn up a lot of unusual birds.  But I hate the fact that while I'm leading trips, my WhatsApp is dinging with their finds and I'm stuck with a group.  Don't get me wrong.  My birders are always nice people and we have a great time.  But it sure messes with my serendipitous drop-what-I'm-doing-and-chase-the-bird nature.

Saturday while I was co-leading a group around the Hidalgo County back country with well known ornithologist Jon Dunn, my phone was dinging like crazy.  "Roadside Hawk" at the National Butterfly Center", "Cackling Geese at the Jaime Zapata boat ramp", Brown Creeper at the SPI Convention Center", Whip-poor-will at Sheepshead"  Argggg!!!!  And nothing I can do about it.  So Sunday I was finished with my Festival duties and it was time for some chasing.  South Padre Island seemed like the best bet.  I needed the Brown Creeper and Whip-poor-will for my Cameron County list.  Although I knew the Whip was probably gone, I might have a chance at the Brown Creeper.  I had missed one once before.

The Brown Creeper at the Convention Center was a pretty easy find.  Cameron County bird #404.

Meanwhile two more pretty rare for the Valley birds were being reported from the Valley Land Fund's Sheepshead lot;  Red-breasted Nuthatch and Golden-crowned Kinglet.  Got em both!

The other noteworthy ornithological occurrence was the large number of very late passerine migrants for mid-November.  Here's a Swainson's Thrush and a Wood Thrush.

A late Scarlet Tanager.

I think before this fall, I had only seen one or two fall Bay-breasted Warblers.  We get a few in spring.  But during the fall,they go south through Florida.  But for some reason, we are getting a bunch of them this fall.  So the three or four I saw were both rare and late.

Here's a late Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

A late Red-eyed Vireo.

A late Painted Bunting.

And at the Convention Center were an amazing eight late Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in various plumages.

Normally this uncommon White-crowned Sparrow would have been"bird of the day."

I said I don't like to be missing good birds because I'm leading trips.  But sometimes I find good birds because I'm leading trips.  Such was the case with this Common Loon at Sal del Rey.  Were it not for having to lead the trip, I would have missed this very rare for Hidalgo County bird.  As we approached the salt lake, I saw the Common Loon circling and eventually it landed.  Hidalgo County bird #397.

My co-leader, Eric Martinez from Oaxaca, Mexico then found a group of five rare Red-necked Phalaropes.  They were too distant for photos so here's the very late Wilson's Phalaropes that were also on Sal del Rey.

And some late migrating Franklin's Gulls.

Well, the Festival is over and I was too tired to go chase the Roadside Hawk that kept dinging on my WhatsApp today.  Maybe tomorrow.