Saturday, December 18, 2021

First US Record of Bat Falcon at Santa Ana NWR, 12/18/21

About a week ago, a visiting birder posted on Facebook a poor image she had taken at Santa Ana NWR a couple of days earlier (12/8/21) of what appeared to be a Bat Falcon.  This would be the first record for the United States of this neotropical species that occurs from central Tamaulipas to northern Argentina.  It has long been expected.  Birders spent the following day not finding anything while I stayed home and tended to other things.  Plus the trail was cold and I didn't feel like putting in the effort.

Over the past week I've been doing a lot of yard work and chasing butterflies and goldeneyes (see below) and there's been no further sightings of the Bat Falcon.......untill this morning.  Troy and Marla Hibbets from Bracketville are often in the Valley looking for dragonflies but they have recently become hard core birders.  And today they came down to take a stab at the Bat Balcon and darned if they didn't find it while scoping from the hawk tower.  I got over there a bit later and joined the group on the crowded tower where I got some poor scope views of the distant first US record.  Well that was good but not great.  The Bat Falcon was perched on very distant dead snags somewhere in the direction of Cattail Lakes.  So I decided I had nothing to do but take a walk in that direction and soon came a report that the bird was being seen close up on the tour road near Cattail Lakes.  I got over there and there was Troy and Marla and several others and a Bat Falcon.

I've seen lots of Bat Falcons in Mexico so it wsn't a lifer but it was new for my ABA list which is around 685 and more importatly it was Hidalgo County species # 411.

Here's a shot from my original viewpoint on the tower.  By Google Earth I estimated the distance to be .97 miles.  The Bat Falcon is the black speck in the center.  I finished the morning walking nearly four miles in total.

A couple of days ago a Common Goldenye was found at South Padre Island during the Christmas Bird Count.  I ran over the next day and was happy to find this deep water duck that rarely makes it this far south.  It was my 421st species for Cameron County.

That's a pretty good pair of birds!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

4th US Record Social Flycatcher at UTRGV Brownsville, 11/18/21

The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival always brings down top notch guides to lead the field trips and consequently the influx of talent into the RGV always turns up some good birds.  Wednesday last week I was leading a butterfly trip for the Festival when word came that Nathan Pieplow guiding a group in Brownsville had found the fourth US record of Social Flycather at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Campus.  The bird was not photographed but the distinctive downward slurred call was recorded and several people got to see the bird.  Unfortunately the Solical Flycatcher was not seen again despite intensive searching.  This was OK with me as I could not get over there anyway and I had seen the third record at Bensten back in the amazing winter of 2004-5.

Fast forward to today.  I got up a little slow at 8am and heard the Whatsapp ding.  Mary was spreading the word that yesterday a visiting birder had seen two Social Flycatchers at the same location and had managed a poor photo of one of them.  Well, I didn't need it for a lifer but it would be a good Cameron County bird so I drove over to take a look.  Upon arrival at the wooden footbridge over the resaca behand the Biology building, I thought I head the call of a Social Flycatcher.  Then I thought I glimpsed it on the north side of the resaca and ran over to the spot but could find northing.  A bird flew to the west but I didn't get a good look.  A few minutes later Brownsville birder Isidro Montemayor got out word that he had just seen the Social Flycatcher on the south west side of the resaca.  I raced over and there was the bird sitting in the top of a Chinese Tallow tree.  Other birders soon arrived and most people got good looks over the next hour or so.

Social Flycatchers are common in the lowlands of Mexico not too far south of the RGV, often in suburban settings.  They are basically a common trash bird down there.  I've always thought we should see more of them up here but they are nonmigratory and don't tend to wander much.  Anway it's a good Cameron County bird and my 420th species for the county.

And with other birders present you tend to see more good birds like this Zone-tailed Hawk.

And a flock of migrating Snow Geese.

Chinese Tallow trees were raised in parts of the world as a souce of several usable oils.  Now in Texas they are a noxious invasive that covers much of the moist southeastern part of the state.  Birds like to eat the fruit and that's popbably what the Social Flycatcher was feeding on though I didn't see it take any berries.  But other birds feeding on the berries included Summer Tanager, Long-billed Thrasher and House Finch.

The resaca has hosted a wintering Common Black Hawk the past three winters but it has been seen yet this fall.  But it's always a good spot for an Anhinga.

So it's been a good day.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Williamson's Sapsucker at Estero Llano Grande, 11/4/21

Yesterday a visiting birder found a Williamson's Sapsucker at Estero Lano Grande State Park.  Word didn't get out till late afternoon and a half dozen of us looked for the bird as darkness fell.  I've seen Williamson's Sapsuckers a few times in pines in west Texas and many times in Arizona pine forests, but I got my lifer along the Rio Cuchujaqui in southern Sonora.  These birds can wander down from the Rockies and occasionally be seen in lowland locals.  But this was the first ever seen in the Lower Rio Gande Valley.  My thought was this bird was passing through and would never be seen again.

Wrong!  This morning Bert Wessling returned to the seen of the crime and there was the Williamson's Sapsucker in an ebony near the palm where it was sighted yeasterday.  I arrived about twenty minutes later only to find birders milling around or sitting at the sighting location waiting for the magical re-apparition.  I was told the bird had flown off to the east and birders were scattered looing for it.  I headed in that direction and in just a few seconds a bird landed not far away from me in a small hackberry.  I was expecting a mocking bird but as it almost immediately flew into a nearby live oak I glimsed a black back, white mustache and yellow underparts.  A few seconds later I was photographing a striking (British would say "stonking") male Williamsons Sapsucker.  Everyone came running and the all got to eventually see it.

Completely unexpected, this was my 410th species for Hidalgo County.  Wow!  Maybe we're in for another good winter.

Monday, September 13, 2021

More Fall Warblers at Progreso Lakes, 9/13/21

Tropical storm Nicholas has been churning along the south Texas coast today, bringing us some rain and northerly wind.  The upshot is more fall warblers are being seen here in our Progreso Lakes yard.  This morning I was pleased to find this Blackburnian Warbler which is very uncommon in the Valley during fall migration.  I missed seeing one in the spring so it was 2021 yard bird #197.

Yesterday I got poor shots of an equally uncommon Chestnut-sided Warbler.  It popped in again this morning in response to my whistled pygmy owl call and was much more cooperative.

And the day before that I managed to call an American Redstart out of the neighbor's yard.

Last week another Yellow-throated Warbler stopped by.

And we also had a Canada Warbler which is pretty regular in fall.

As is Nashville Warbler.

We have Yellow Warbler daily in fall.

In my last post I mentioned our Mourning Warbler so that brings our  total for September to eight species or warblers with lots of migration still to come.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

New Bird at Progreso Lakes, 9/4/21

There are about a dozen species of birds that are resident or regular migrants in Hidalgo County that I have yet to see in our yard at Progreso Lakes.  The one I thought most likely to drop by was Yellow-throated Vireo.  Well a couple of days ago I looked out the bedroom window at our brush patch that was being sprayed by our irrigation system, when I noticed a passerine ejoying the afternoon shower.  I got got my binoculars on it and saw a bight green back outlined by dark gray wings with white wing bars.  First thing I thought was Blue-winged Warbler.  Then it turned around and I saw big yellow spectacles abound a dark eye and a lemon yellow throat.  Our first Yellow-throated Vireo.  I ran out with the camera but got a terrible shot.  Two days later it appeared again and I got more bad photos.  Finally today I was able to get some OK pictures.  Yellow-throated Vireo is yard bird #241.

Later I was sitting on the back porch watching our bird bath when I heard a repeated "chek" call.  I was hoping it wasn't the Red-winged Blackbird that had just left the feeder.  The call was a little "sweet" for a Redwing.  My guess was Mourning Warbler.  Anyway I pished and did my vireo scold call and the bird kept calling but wouldn't come our.  Finally I went around behind the brush patch and tried to sneak up on the bird.  There was something on the back side of the Tenaza.... a wet bird preening.  It was a young Mourning Warbler.  I got a tough photo.  Had I stayed on the porch I probably could have gotten it in the bird bath.

Eastern Kingbirds have been passing through.

And we've had a couple of Olive-sided Flycatchers.

This afternoon the dove hunters are out and blasting away.  Hopefully they will stir things up and there will be new stuff in the yard tomorrow.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Stuff at Progreso Lakes, 8/26/21

Well it's been a pleasant mostly uneventful summer at Progreso Lakes.  We haven't hit 100 degrees yet and we've had some rain.  The yard is looking good after the terrible freeze last winter and a few migrants are starting to trickle in.  Here's our first Yellow-throated Warbler of the fall.

We've had several Yellow Warblers.

Yesterday I heard a Groove-billed Ani calling from the neighbor's yard.  I whistled an imitation of the three syllable call and counted a total of eighteen as they passed through our yard.

In our four previous summers at Progreso Lakes the farmer who owns the field in front of our house has planted sorghum once and cotton three times.  This year he planted half the field in cotton but did not plant directly in front of our house so we've had a weedy field out there.  But the state's bole weevil control program makes him periodically plow it up.  This event along with the high water in Moon Lake has created a mudflat in the field and suitable shorebird habitat.  And in particular the dry field has been attracting migrant grasspipers.  

What are grasspipers you say?  Grasspipers are sandpipers that are attracted to dry short grass areas.  Birders think of the group typically including American Golden-Plovers and Upland and Buff-breasted Sandpipers.  So  I've been doing a lot of scoping from our yard in an attempt to add some of these hard to come by shorebirds to our yard list.  I discovered I can put the spotting scope in the back of my pickup and get pretty good visibility.  The big news is I was able to see our first Buff-breasted Sandpipers.  They were too far away for photos but I later drove into the field and got some OK images.  Buff-breasted Sandpiper is bird species #240 for our yard.

I also had a flock of American Golden-Plovers which I was unable to photograph and at least a half dozen Upland Sandpipers.  Yard bird #192 for the year.

Otherwise it was just the usual summer stuff.  Our Northern Cardinals raised a baby.  Here's Dad teaching his son about sunflower seeds,

Fall will be bringing us more migrants by the day.  Can't wait to see what shows up next.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Gray Kingbird at South Padre Island, 5/20/21

The day before yesterday a Cassin's Kingbird was photographed on South Padre Island.  This southwestern species is one I've wanted to see in the Valley for a long time.  Unfortunately I got word late in the day and had to make my attempt yesterday morning ahead of an approaching rain storm.  I got out there a little after eight but could not find the Cassin's Kingbird.  There were a couple of Eastern Kingbirds but not much else.  I was not too surprised as kingbirds to not tend to hang around long during migration but I had to make the attempt.  Checking the weather app on my phone I saw the storm was quickly approaching.   After checking the power lines and palms to the north I decided to give up and make a run to Sheephead before the rain came. (Futher examination of the photos proved the kingbird to be a very dark Western Kingbird.)

There were not many migrants at Sheepshead either.  The sky was getting dark and spitting a few drops while the wind picked up.  Then I spotted a couple of kingbirds clutching the tall powerline along Laguna Boulevard.  I raised my binocs and saw the expected Eastern Kingbird along with one that looked a little different.  It was paler and seemed to lack the characteristic white tip of the tail.  Then and icy gust of wind blew them off the line and it got dark, wet and cold.  I tried to search for the strange kingbird but I could barely see.  So I gave up and thought to myself "I'm going to be pissed if someone finds a Gray Kingbird tomorrow."

Well..... Molly Smith, a volunteer at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, found a strange kingbird today and after studying the field guide, told naturalist Javi Gonzalez that she thought she had seen a Gray Kingbird.  Javi photographed it and got the word out and an hour and a half later I was looking at one of my most wanted birds for Texas, a Gray Kingbird!  Gray Kingbirds occur in southern Florida and thoughout the Caribbean.  They occasionally wander to Texas.  I've unsuccessfully chased two of them.  Kingbirds rarely stay.  This was the second for South Padre Island.  For me it was bird #589 for Texas and #419 for Cameron County.

I'm not saying this was the bird I saw yesterday but stranger things have happened.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

First Limpkin for Texas at Brazos Bend, 5/11/21

Limpkin is a large wading bird related to rails and cranes and somewhat resembling an ibis.  They are fairly common in Florida and the Caribbean and occur in Mexico in Atlantic lowlands from Veracruz south where they feed on apple snails (Pomacea) among other things.  In recent years they have been found to be nesting in SW Louisiana and have even strayed to Oklahoma.  So this begged the question "When will a Limpkin be found in Texas?"  Well, an observant birder photographed the state's first Limpkin at Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston last Thursday.  It was refound on Friday on private property just outside the park.  I don't know all the details but John Berner from Houston was able to gain limited access for small groups of birders under the watchful eye of the property owner.  Having known John for quite a while, he signed me up for today's trip as the leader for the day.

Our group of about fifteen soon heard the peacock-like screams of a Limpkin after parking our cars near the private wetland.  We got distant looks and then the Limpkin flew by relatively close and then off to the west.

So we worked our way west, following the Limpkin calls, along a berm that paralled the park's southern boundary.  Every few minutes we would get a glimpse and then the bird would fly farther west.  After an extended Limpkinless period, we were about to give up hope, when the bird called again.  We continued westward and eventually found the bird screaming from a distant tree in the wetland.  Then it flew and was joined by a second bird.  They were distant but we followed them though scopes, binoculars and camera lenses.  They were interacting as though they were a pair.

Wow!  That was pretty cool.  They look like a mated pair and there's plenty of apple snails to feed on as evidenced by egg masses everywhere.

So Limkpins may well be on their way to becoming established in Texas.  I was hoping to find the first one someday as a stray wandering up to the Valley from Mexico.  But they invaded SE Texas first.