Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Black-billed Cuckoo at Progreso Lakes, 4/30/19

I got up late this morning and shelved plans to go to South Padre Island so I watched the yard.  I figured if it was too boring I could get some work done.  But dog gone it, birding is never boring.  There's always something to see.  My target today was to get my first of year Eastern Kingbird for the yard.  It took about an hour but one finally fluttered by, skimmed the resaca (that's how kingbirds bathe) and flew into the neighbor's yard.  I got up and walked over to the fence and pointed my camera at the first white-breasted bird I saw.  Woops.  It was a cuckoo.  And best I could tell through the camera there was no yellow on the bill.  Black-billed Cuckoo!  It may have been in the neighbor's yard but I saw it from my yard so it counts as a yard bird.  I had a poor view of an iffy one last year that I probably should not have counted.  Glad to get this one photographed.

I returned to my chair by the water and the Eastern Kingbird made another loop over the resaca.  It's missing a few rectrices but still good for yard year bird #149.

Otherwise it was kind of dull.  The Bronzed Cowbirds were hanging around a pair of Tropical Kingbirds.  I don't know if the females will use their nests or not.

Here's one of the Tropical Kingbirds.

Mourning Doves are pretty sharp in the right light.

Yesterday I spent some time with the hummingbirds.  It's been a while since I've seen a Black-chinned.

Still plenty of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds passing through.

I'm not sure which one this female is.  They like the coral bean.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird.

This female Hooded Oriole doesn't understand why this feeder is so popular.

Still have a few weeks of migration left.  Would sure like to get some warblers in the yard.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Varied Bunting at Progreso Lakes, 4/8/19

I slept in a little after getting home late from my Lubbock trip.  But decided I needed to accomplish something so I cleaned out my bird bath and pulled it out of the vegetation some.  It was getting hard to see the birds.

Then a little lunch and a nap.  After a while I got got up and looked out the window to check my  newly configured bird bath.  There was this little plum colored sparrow sized bird feeding in the flowers.  Holy smokes!  A plum colored bunting with a red yamaka........Varied Bunting!!!!!

I ran out of the bedroom, grabbed my camera, stealthily crossed the porch despite still being in my underwear and managed a few shots of this unexpected rarity.

I then got word out of the Group Me app Rare Bird Alert and about a dozen birders got to see this little guy.  It was a lifer for some.  Varied Buntings are pretty common at Big Bend and easy to see in SE Arizona, but we normally get very few in the mid and lower Valley.  They are a low density nester in extreme western Hidalgo County and also in Starr and Zapata Counties.  Yard bird #204 was not one I was expecting.  Now I'm ready for a Lazuli!

Parulas on the Devil's River, Val Verde County, 4/7/19

After viewing the Lesser Prairie Chickens west of Lubbock, I decided to bird my way back to the Valley.  I wasted my time seeing only common birds in obscure counties like Lynn, Sterling, Irion and Sutton.  Val Verde County was also proving to be pretty boring till I reached the Devil's River north of Comstock.  I had driven TX 163 a couple of times in my life, the first being a family vacation to Del Rio back in 1967 but never spent anytime birding.  I finally reached the lush riparian  corridor along Devil's River at 1:30 in the afternoon and wasn't expecting a lot.   But a Zone-tailed Hawk drifted overhead to lift my spirits.

Both sides of the highway are posted as property of the Hudspeth River Ranch.  Fortunately there are a few places to pull off and walk along the road under the large pecans growing along the river which flows from just north of here to the Pecos River.  Looks like perfect habitat for Common Black Hawk but I don't think I've ever heard of them being seen here.  I did some pishing and pygmy owl tooting and called in a flock which held this Yellow-throated Vireo along with more common things.

Summer Tanagers are common here in uhm.....summer.  Here's a female.

I heard a familiar warbler song overhead and thought it might be Yellow-throated Warbler.  It was.  This is pretty much the extreme southwest limit of this species' range.

I drove a bit down the road and found another good looking spot to pull off.  The river was on the right and a heavily wooded draw was on the left.  I didn't see anything but heard a Ringed Kingfisher on the river.  Global warming has brought more of these guys to the Hill Country in recent years.  So I did some more pishing and tooting and called in a super bright breeding plumaged male Tropical Parula that fussed over my head.  I have never seen one this bright.

Then another mile down the road I heard a singing parula.  At this point I didn't know whether to expect a Tropical or a Northern.  I gave it a blast of Northern Parula song from my phone and this guy zoomed in.  Well, I guess he's kind of both.  In the Valley we often get female Tropical Parulas with week eye arcs that supposedly knowledgeable people say are Tropical X Northern Parula hybrids.  This male has the extensive yellow breast with orange throat and black face of a Tropical with the bold eye arcs of of a male Northern.  Looks like a real honest to goodness hybrid.

Well, now I guess I'm a believer.  I wonder why we never see any of these male hybrids in the Valley.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Lesser Prairie Chickens west of Lubbock, 4/6/19

A couple of years ago I had made a reservation to see  Lesser Prairie Chickens display on a lek north of Canadian in the eastern Panhandle.  I had seen them once back in 1983 near Milnesand, New Mexico but never in Texas.  Unfortunately just before my trip, historically severe fires ravaged SW Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle and part of the eastern Texas Panhandle.  Homesteads over a hundred years old burned to the ground and the Lesser Prairie Chicken leking grounds were destroyed.  Maybe a few birds are left but no leks have been found since the fire.

However there is also a small population of Lesser Prairie Chickens in the shinnery grasslands west of Lubbock.  Drew Harvey, a biologist doing survey work in the area has searched the counties west of Lubbock and has managed to find a few leks on private land.  But due to drought and habitat fragmentation, numbers are dropping.  He told me that his largest lek of 19 birds two years ago had dropped to only four.  Fortunately, Drew has made arrangements with land owners and is guiding birders to see these last few chickens.  I made plans to see them before they are gone.

An early start and drive in the dark took our small group somewhere west of Lubbock.  The temperature was in the low fifties with a stiff breeze.  Clouds from last nights severe storms lingered and spit out a few rain drops.  I was hoping for a little sun.

We climbed into the back of Drew's pickup and waited behind a blind for the birds.  It was still dark but I could hear a few cackles and squawks.  One birder softly stated he could see a chicken but I couldn't.  But the sun can't be stopped so eventually it got light enough to see the small group of four Lesser Prairie Chickens.  The sun even popped out and illuminated these last dancers of the Texas prairie.  It was beautiful and sad as these two remnant males displayed to attract one of the two females.  The birds were about fifty yards away so the photos aren't great.

While these four birds displayed on the desert grassland stage in front of us, a more sobering view was present behind us.  A plowed field in front with giant windmills turning on the horizon.  Unfortunately the Lesser Prairie Chickens are not as adaptable as the Pronghorns who still roam these dying prairies.

At least the New Mexico population is hanging on.  Much of the land is under BLM control and healthy flocks of Lesser Prairie Chickens can still be found.