Sunday, May 6, 2018

Aztec Thrush in San Perlita, Willacy County, 5/5/18

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.

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