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.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Flame-colored Tanager at South Padre Island, 5/3/21

 I spent the morning yesterday birding in the yard and not seeing much new.  The Purple Gallinule was down in the corner by the water intake but it didn't cooperate for photos.  So after a while I was done and ready to take Honey to the gym in McAllen.  I was planning to go donate blood and maybe buy a few plants for the yard.  And then the WhatsApp dinged.  Peggy Rudman had just posted a beautiful photo pf a female Flame-colored Tanager at the South Padre Island Convention Center.  I've seen only two of these in Texas, both at Big Bend, so it would be a new RVG bird for me.  So plans changed and I was off to SPI.  When I arrived I saw a small group looking at something in the big loop in front of the Convention Center.  In a few minutes I was looking at my first Flame-colored Tanager for Cameron County, bird #418.  This is thought to be a female of the east Mexican subspecies.  I think it's the fifth record for the Valley and the third for South Padre Island.

Otherwise there were a few warblers and other migrants around.  I was photographing this nightjar which later flew and proved to be a Lesser Nighthawk.  At one point a Great-tailed Grackle got too close and the Lesser Nighthawk didn't like it.

I got a poor photo on a Virginia Rail from the boardwalk.  That is a species I've heard on the Island but never seen.

A Yellow-green Vireo was also photographed on the island but I could never find it.  It might hang around for a while.  So anyway it was nice to finally be successful on a chase after so many recent failures (Garganey, Black-capped Vireo, Long-tailed Duck, Morelet's Seedeater, etc.)

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Green Parakeets at Progreso Lakes, 5/1/21

 A cold front and a little cut off low pressure system in Mexico gave us a couple of cool days and even a little rain.  So my plan was to go somewhere and see some migrants today.  But then I saw a Yellow Warbler while I was eating breakfast and then there was this wild looking Muscovy on the irrigation standpipe out in the cotton field.  Maybe it's a little bit too pot bellied for a wild bird but otherwise it looks pretty good.

So I decided to spend some time in our yard at Progreso Lakes.  It didn't take long to pick out the Purple Gallinule across the water.  I assume it's the same one that has been present for the past ten days or so.

There were four Eastern Kingbirds, a Philadelphia Vireo and an American Redstart but otherwise not much in way of migrant passerines.

I was sitting on the back porch watching the bird bath and brush patch when I saw a small flock of what I thought were shorebirds flying high over the opposite shore with shallow wingbeats.  I ran back to the water and thought I had missed them but then refound them very distantly heading over to the other lake.  I switched to manual focus and luckily got a couple of shots.  Hmmm..... why are these shorebirds green?  And come to think of it, why were they making a shreeking call?  Were they Green Parakeets?

Well I returned to the porch, pondering my green shorebirds, when I head the same shreeking but this time much closer.  And I recognized the call as Green Parakeets which I used to hear frequently when we lived in Weslaco.  After a little bit I found four of them in the neighbor's anacua across the fence.  Not totally unexpected, Green Parakeet is species #239 for our yard.

Well, that was good.  I returned to the porch and a trio of small doves landed in the dead frozen Ficus not far away.  I was expecting the usual Incas but they turned out to be Common Ground Doves.

A tight flock of about twenty smallish slim birds streaked by before I could get a photo.  I couldn't think of anything they could be other than Cedar Waxwings.  A bit later one landed for me.

Sitting on the porch was being productive.  Then I heard the squeeky call note of a Groove-billed Ani.  I was waiting for the call to morph into some other mockingbird mimicry but then a black floppy tailed bird with a fat beak landed in a distant tree.  Our first Groove-billed Ani of the year and bird #178 for our 2021 yard list.

Jones yard, Progreso Lakes, Hidalgo, Texas, US
May 1, 2021 7:30 AM - 4:30 PM
Protocol: Stationary
65 species (+2 other taxa)

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (fulgens)  200
Fulvous Whistling-Duck  13
Muscovy Duck (Domestic type)  7    Six domestic in the resaca and this wild looking one on the standpipe in the cotton field.
Plain Chachalaca  6
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  4
Eurasian Collared-Dove  2
Inca Dove  2
Common Ground Dove  3
White-tipped Dove  1
White-winged Dove  50
Mourning Dove  12
Groove-billed Ani  1
Yellow-billed Cuckoo  1
Common Nighthawk  1
Chimney Swift  1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  5
Buff-bellied Hummingbird (Northern)  2
Common Gallinule (American)  1
American Coot (Red-shielded)  2
Purple Gallinule  1    continuing bird
Black-necked Stilt (Black-necked)  2
Killdeer  1
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Anhinga  1
Neotropic Cormorant  4
Great Egret (American)  1
Snowy Egret  2
Green Heron  4
Black-crowned Night-Heron  6
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  3
White-tailed Kite  1
Mississippi Kite  20
Ringed Kingfisher  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker (Northern)  4
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Crested Caracara  2
Green Parakeet (Green)  4
Black Phoebe  1
Brown-crested Flycatcher  1
Great Kiskadee  5
Tropical Kingbird  2
Couch's Kingbird  2
Eastern Kingbird  4
Philadelphia Vireo  1
Black-crested Titmouse  1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  2
Barn Swallow (American)  10
swallow sp.  30
European Starling  6
Long-billed Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  4
Clay-colored Thrush  1
Cedar Waxwing  20
House Sparrow  2
Hooded Oriole (cucullatus/sennetti)  2
Red-winged Blackbird  3
Bronzed Cowbird (Bronzed)  2
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
Great-tailed Grackle (Great-tailed)  12
Common Yellowthroat  1
American Redstart  1
Yellow Warbler (Northern)  1
Northern Cardinal (Common)  1
Indigo Bunting  3
Painted Bunting  1
Dickcissel  2