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.