I was working in the yard yesterday, covered with dirt and sweat, when word came of a Black-whiskered Vireo at the Convention Center on South Padre Island. This Caribbean species is common along the coast of south Florida during the summer and we occasionally get a lost bird in Texas, usually on the north east Gulf coast. Had I not seen one previously on the Island, I would have gone running. But I decided to put if off till this morning and luckily the bird was still there. I almost got there too early and had a little trouble getting the bird in good light.
This Western Tanager was a nice bonus.
I ran out onto the flats north of the Convention Center and got lucky again with this Magnificent Frigatebird.
I was thinking about going somewhere this morning but I saw a little flock of orioles in the yard so I decided to stay home and check out the yard. Lots of action in the anacua tree throughout the day. Clay-colored Thrushes love the berries.
As do Northern Mockingbirds.
Maybe a little surprising but Golden-fronted Woodpeckers enjoy the sweet fruit.
As do kingbirds. I've seen Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Eastern Kingbirds eat the berries and here's a Tropical Kingbird.
I never saw this Brown-crested Flycatcher take any fruit but it was seen in the tree several times.
Of course Plain Chachalacas will eat anything.
European Starling also eat anything.
A first for the year for our yard was this White-eyed Vireo.
A Swainson's Hawk taking dinner home to the kids.
This newly fledged Black Phoebe had to feed itself. Rolly pollies are easier to catch than flying insects when you're just a kid.
I retired in the afternoon with a list of 55 species.
Jones yard, Progreso Lakes, Hidalgo, Texas, US May 9, 2018 7:50 AM - 2:20 PM Protocol: Stationary 55 species (+2 other taxa)
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (fulgens) 10 Muscovy Duck (Domestic type) 2 Mottled Duck (Gulf Coast) 6 Plain Chachalaca 2 Neotropic Cormorant 5 Snowy Egret 1 Tricolored Heron 1 Green Heron 6 Turkey Vulture 2 Osprey (carolinensis) 1 Broad-winged Hawk 2 Swainson's Hawk 2 Spotted Sandpiper 1 Eurasian Collared-Dove 2 White-tipped Dove 1 White-winged Dove 308 Groups of five to twenty flying south, either going to feed or returning from feeding. I'm not sure. Mourning Dove 10 Yellow-billed Cuckoo 1 Common Nighthawk 1 Chimney Swift 1 Buff-bellied Hummingbird (Northern) 2 Green Kingfisher 1 Golden-fronted Woodpecker (Northern) 5 Eastern Wood-Pewee 3 Black Phoebe 2 Brown-crested Flycatcher 2 Great Kiskadee 2 Tropical Kingbird 2 Couch's Kingbird 1 Tropical/Couch's Kingbird 1 Western Kingbird 1 Eastern Kingbird 3 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 1 Loggerhead Shrike 1 White-eyed Vireo 1 Warbling Vireo 1 Northern Rough-winged Swallow 2 Purple Martin 3 Barn Swallow 1 Cliff Swallow (pyrrhonota Group) 1 Black-crested Titmouse 2 Clay-colored Thrush 2 Northern Mockingbird 5 European Starling 6 Common Yellowthroat 2 American Redstart 1 Yellow Warbler (Northern) 1 Lark Sparrow 1 Painted Bunting 1 Dickcissel 4 Orchard Oriole 5 Hooded Oriole 2 Altamira Oriole 2 Baltimore Oriole 1 Red-winged Blackbird 10 Great-tailed Grackle 12 House Sparrow 2
My buddy Mike Wertz from Houston was in the Valley for a couple of days doing some consulting work and after finishing yesterday, we decided to run out to South Padre Island to check out the birds. After some good food and a pitcher of beer at the Brewery, we were cleaning up at the Convention Center with Purple Gallinule, Prairie and Blackpoll Warblers and Philadelphia and Yellow-green Vireo. Then my phone dinged with a WhatsApp RGV birding alert. "Aztec Thrush in San Perlita". Holy smokes! So to hell with SPI. I've only seen two Aztec Thrushes in my life, one in Cave Creek Canyon, AZ and one in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. And both were decades ago. So we hopped in the car and raced the nearly 70 miles to Willacy County and the small town of San Perlita.
The location was a rural residence near the town and a number of my local birding friends were already assembled. Poop was the bird was first seen two days earlier by the observant owner and verified by Father Tom earlier in the day. There was a water feature, a couple of water containers for animals and a line of fruiting spiny hackberries (granjeno). Birders volunteered to keep an eye on different spots and we had the yard pretty well covered. And the wait began. Lots of birds to watch with four species of orioles, mockers and Curve-billed Thrashers all squabbling over granjeno berries.
After an hour, attention spans had given up the ghost and people were just sitting around talking. I was getting tired of scoping the granjenos and was starting to just look at birds. We moved under a shady mesquite and I showed Mike a Western Kingbird in the scope and a sharp Lark Sparrow. And then I looked over into the goat pen and noticed a robin sized bird with a black head and white belly perched on the rim of an old ice chest and taking a drink. I whispered to Mike "There's our bird." I started shooting photos and Mike got everyone's attention on the bird. We were only about 15 yards away so I got some pretty good shots. I can't take credit for finding this bird. It found us!
Aztec Thrush is native to the mountains of Mexico and normally found in pine and oaks. It occurs every couple of years in SE Arizona in the fall and winter. According to the TOS Handbook of Texas Birds, there are six previous Texas records, with three being in the expected habitat at Big Bend, one at Bentsen State Park and two up by Corpus Christi. Other montane Mexican species that have occurred on the south Texas coastal plain have included Orange-billed and Black-headed Nightingale-Thrushes, Slate-throated Redstart and Flame-colored Tanager. So this birds occurrence is not unprecedented or unexpected. But it's still exciting!
Here's the Yellow-green Vireo from earlier in the day at the Convention Center on South Padre Island. I wonder if these will invade the Valley and become regular breeders like Clay-colored Thrushes and Tropical Kingbirds.
Prairie Warbler is a tough bird to find in the Valley. We get only one or two per year. This one has been at the Convention Center for several days.
Likewise the lovable Purple Gallinule has moved into the water feature and is pleasing many onlookers, including nonbirders. Better keep that water flowing.
It's been a longtime since we've had a killing freeze here in the Rio Grande Valley and consequently the black mangroves at South Padre Island have really grown and increased in numbers. Some are 15 to 20 feet tall. Starting about a week ago, birders visiting the Island started to find more than a few warblers in the mangroves out on the boardwalks from the Convention Center and from the SPI Birding Center. This Black-throated Blue Warbler along the Convention Center boardwalk on 4/23 was a favorite for many.
The same day I got this Black-throated Green Warbler.
And this Northern Parula.
And this Black-and-white Warbler. I also saw Wilson's and Yellow-rumped Warblers and Common Yellowthroat. But I missed the Cerulean, Worm-eating and Canada Warblers.
Yesterday morning, 4/30, a Yellow-green Vireo was seen in the mangroves along the SPI Birding Center boardwalk and I spent a few hours looking for it. No luck but a bunch more "mangrove" warblers made it worthwhile. Here's a Bay-breasted Warbler on one of the black mangrove aerial roots.
My first Prothonotary Warbler for the year was a surprise.
Normally Golden-winged Warbler is a tough bird to find in the Valley but I saw four of them in the mangroves.
And there was it's cousin the Blue-winged Warbler. This female has some of the same sticky red substance on her forehead that we frequently see on spring Prothontary Warblers.
And a nice female Blackburnian Warbler.
And a poor shot of a Magnolia Warbler.
Northern Waterthrushes patrolled the mud under the mangroves.
American Redstarts are always had to photograph.
Not photographed were common Yellow, Tennessee and Hooded Warblers. I think other birders may have seen Nashville and Chestnut-sided Warblers but I'm not sure. This makes a total of 21 to 23 species seen in a habitat where in previous years four or five would have been a good total. Warblers were observed feeding on aphids in the mangroves and this might explain their presence. Or maybe we have a new habitat in Texas in which to search for spring warblers. The coming years will be interesting.
Update: After posting this blog entry on our local Facebook birding group, the following species have also been seen in the mangroves during the past couple of weeks: Chestnut-sided, Nashville, Townsend's, Blackpoll, Yellow-throated, Kentucky and Cape May Warblers and Ovenbird. That makes an amazing total of 29 species of warblers utilizing the mangrove habitat this spring.
Update: We are extending the time period to include birds seen back to March so Orange-crowned Warbler, Tropical Parula and Louisiana Waterthrush make a total of 32 warblers species utilizing the mangrove habitat this spring.