Wednesday, November 16, 2022

First Cold Front of the Fall, Progreso Lakes, 11/16/22

Last Wednesday I was leading a butterfly trip for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and the temperature was pushing 90F.  The participants were sweating and we saw 55 species of butterflies.  But by Sunday the high droped to the mid 60's and were were lucky to get twenty species.  And last night a real blast of cold air came in.  It's 49F and the butterflies are gone.  But warm blooded birds can handle the cold so I threw out some seed, put out a couple of oranges and filled the hummingbird feeders.  This young male Selasphorus has some orange flecking on the back so I'm calling it a Rufous Hummingbird.  I could not get any good tail shots.  Hope it hangs around and proves me wrong and molts into an Allen's.

Buff-bellied Hummingbirds are easy to ID.

This bright green-backed green-crowned hummer with a dark mask seems good for a female Ruby-throated.

I think this poor tailess one is also Ruby-throated.

I think this one with a dusky throat and dull crown is a Black-chinned but I'm not sure.

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers like the oranges.

Got our first American Robin for the year.  I saw it through the window but it failed to cooperate for the camera.  We get very few of them.

Two days ago a flock of four White-crowned Sparrows was a nice surprise.

A late Yellow Warbler is still hanging around.

We're supposed to stay below 60 for most of the coming week.  Hope the cool weather brings some more migrants.  Golden-crowned Kinglets and Red-breasted Nuthatches are being reported in the Valley so our yard is ready for 'em.

Friday, November 11, 2022

First Texas Record Smooth-billed Ani at SPI, 11/11/22

I've been in a birding slump lately.  There's been an incursion of Pinyon Jays in west Texas and after a flock of thirty were seen on the entrance road to McKittrick Canyon at Guadalupe Mountains Naional Park, I made the nearly 800 mile drive out there.  But I got nothing.  And meanwhile the Nature Conservancy's Davis Mountains Preserve was open so I ran over there hoping to get lucky in the Pinyon Pines but it was not to be.  Upon returning home I discovered a transmission leak in our Forester.  Then I had to lead trips for the the Texas Butterfly Festival while a Parasitic Jaeger, which I need for my Texas list, was showing on a lake near DFW airport.  Then there was the Townsend's Solitaire at Falcon State Park which I was not able to chase.

Between the butterfly and bird festivals, I decided to get my transmission leak fixed.  But our local Subaru dearler refused to give me an estimate for the cost over the phone.  She said they needed to look at it.  I told her the CVT was leaking where their service department had replaced the valve block in the transmission three years earlier.  She still refused to give me an estimate.  So with the help of Mr. Subaru on You Tube, I repaced the leaking gasket myself and saved probably well over $500.

So now my car is running well and I'm leading butterfly trips for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival when word gets out of a possible Smooth-billed Ani at South Padre Island.  Seemed pretty impossible to me that this Caribbean and South American species would show up in south Texas.  They are even hard to find in south Florida where they were once common.  But good photos surfaced and it proved to be a good ID.  So after finishing my trip I raced out to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center and got to see this first record for Texas.  Amazingly it was hanging out with a Grooved-billed Ani and the two were even seen preening each other.

I have seen Smooth-billed Anis several times in South America but it was a first for my ABA list.  South Padre Island has now hosted four of the south Florida specialties:  Black-whiskered Vireo, Gray Kingbird, White-crowned Pegeon and Smooth-billed Ani.  Who knows what will be next?

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Good day at South Padre Island, 10/19/22

Yesterday I decided I needed to get out of the yard and over to South Padre Island for some fall migration.  We had our first real cold front of the fall so I was hoping something good may be around.  When I arrived at the Sheepshead lot there was Mary Volz and Agnieska looking at a Palm Warbler.  Well I missed the ones they had this spring so it was a year bird for me.  Later I got some pretty good pictures and even a second Palm Warbler.

Agnieska later said she saw five Palm warblers which is unheard of down here.  I watched the area for a while and got the two in the bath but the other brown warblers I saw on the ground associating with the Palm Warblers were young Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Later Mary and I were watching the small water feature on the east end of the north side.  A young Yellow-rumped was bathing when a wren popped in at the edge of the water.  Expecting a House Wren I was pretty surprised to see the rusty coloration, pale supercilium and short coked up tail.  Holy smokes it was a Winter Wren!

Later I was looking around under the Australian pines and something scurried out from under my feet.  It was the Winter Wren again.  I pished and it flew up on on a fence and I got some better shots.  Winter Wren s spend the winter in the Valley in small numbers.  It's always a treat to see one.

There were a few other migrants around like this Magnolia Warbler who had just grabbed a moth.

Up at the Convention Center there was a fall plumaged Tennessee Warbler.

An Ovenbird searched for food along the water feature.

And there was a late Red-eyed Vireo.

The mystery bird of the day was this strange hummingbird at Sheepshead..  The pale eye brow and dark center to the throat made me want to call it an Anna's Hummingbird.  One wintered here last winter.  But it's not short tailed enough.  It's just a freaky looking Ruby-throated Humming bird in some weird molt.  It looks like the new feathers are emerging before the old ones have been shed.

A few days ago a Plumbeous Vireo was photographed at Sheepshead.  We all looked for it unsuccessfully.  This time of year anything can show up.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Broad-tailed Hummingbird at Progreso Lakes, 10/16/22

It's been a long time since I've posted anything.  I've been enjoying fall migration though it hasn't been a spectaular season.  Hawk migration has been really slow and I guess I've seen only about a dozen species of warblers in our Progreso Lakes yard this fall along with the regular fall migrants.  But nothing has moved me to make a post.  I guess I'm a little jaded after 45 years of birding.

This morning I was sitting on the back porch watching the bird bath and hummingbird feeders.  Our little brush patch is coming alive with fall flowers and I was also watching butterflies.  Well a hummer shows up with buffy/rufous underparts and I'm thinking this is either a young Rufous or Allen's Hummingbird.  About the only way to separate them is to get good photos of the spread tail and sometimes even that is inconclusive.  We don't get very many of these so I got up and got closer to the feeder all the time firing shots at the unidentified Selasphorus.  I got some pretty good shots but no spread tail shots.  I entered the bird on eBird as Rufous/Allen's Hummingbird.

But later as I edited photos, I noticed something I had not seen in the field.  The hummingbird looked like a normal Selasphorus with buffy sides and darker more rufous feathers on the lower belly and undertail coverts, but there were several green feathers on the sides of the breast.  Neither Rufous nor Allen's Hummingbird ever has any green on the breast in any plumage.  But a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird has green sides.  There was also very little rufous on the rectrices which is consistent with Broad-tailed.  The few visible gorget feathers seemed to be rosy rather than the orange/red of Rufous and Allen's Hummingbirds though this can be difficult to determine.  Research on line found photos of immature Broad-tailed Hummingbirds that looked just like mine.

Broad-tailed Hummingbirds summer across the Rocky Mountains.  I often see them in the Davis Mountains or at Big Bend.  They winter in Mexico and migration takes most of them west of the Rio Grande Valley.  But we do get one every few years.  Seems like they are always the difficult to ID females.  This young male Broad-tailed Hummingbird is the 247th species seen in or from our yard.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird is the fifth hummingbird species to be seen in our yard.  It definitely was not one I was expecting.  We don't even have an Anna's yet.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Snail Kite at Lake Somerville, 7-27-22

This past Saturday the fifth Texas record of Snail Kite was found at Flag Lake in Lake Somerville State Park in Lee County.  Most ABA birders know them from the Florida population know as Everglade Kites.  But Snail Kites also occur from central Veracruz in Mexico ranging far south into South America.  I've seen many in Mexico but have always wanted to get one for Texas.  I didn't hear about it till Sunday morning so I loaded up the car and got off about 10:30.  After geting as far as Odem, about 150 miles, I saw post on Facebook that the Snail Kite had soared up the with vultures and had disappeared at about 9 am.  Why the experienced birders on site waited so late to post this is beyond me and it really pissed me off.  That combined with the fact that past couple of Snail Kites have been one day wonders moved me to turn around and go home rather than continue the hot 350 mile journey.

I felt a little better on Monday as the Snail Kite was not seen.  I had saved myself a lot of driving and money!  But Houston birders, David Sarkozi and John Berner, didn't give up so easily and refound the bird on Tuesday.  So I got up dark and early Wednesday and was off by 3 am.  I arrived at the site at a little after 9 as hot but happy birders arrived back at the parking area with Snail Kite added to their life lists.  I made the hot one mile walk accompanied by a fellow retired high school AP teacher.  He taught AP Biology whereas I taught AP Calculus but we still shared a lot of positive thoughts on the College Board AP program.  When we arrived at the northern side of Flag Lake, a few birders wer still present and put us on the distant Snail Kite.  It was great to finally see one in Texas but the distant views were underwhelming.

As the small group started leaving to beat the worst of the heat, a pair of late birders showed up and I stayed to help them find the bird.  My good deed was rewarded with much better views.  The birders were happy and left.  I stayed by myself a bit longer to chase dragon flies and was the recipient of the best view of all.

Also present at the site was a family group of Mississippi Kites, adult above and youngster below.

Keeping with the kite theme, this morning I was checking out the birds in our Progreso Lakes yard and guess what I found.  This very distant south bound Swallow-tailed Kite was our first ever for July and seventh record overall.

It may be hot and nasty but there are birds out there to be found.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Teniente Tract, Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR, 7-23-22

Last Saturday I headed up north to check the local bodies of water in eastern Hidalgo County.  There was some good mudflat conditions at the Sugar House Pond and Delta Lake with lots of birds but nothing unusual.  By noon I had made it up to the Teniente Tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR north of TX 186 to check out the butterflies.  It was pretty dry with few flowers and few butterflies but the birding was surprisingly good.  My whistled immitation of Northern Pygmy-Owl was really drawing in the birds, especially the youngsters.  Bird of the day was this surprise Bell's Vireo, a Willacy County first for me.  We start getting a few migrant passerines in July but we're right on the edge of the range of Bell's Vireo so this may well be a summering bird.

Some birds were obviously migrants like this Black-and-white Warbler.  The temperatures in the 90s was really giving the autofocus on my old lens some problems.  So this is all I could get.

Orchard Oriole is also a migrant.

I saw four Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and thought they might be migrants till I heard one singing.  They are pretty uncommon summer residents in the lower RGV.

Summer Tanager is another species at the southern end of its breeding range.  This scruffy youngster is pretty good evidence of local breeding.  An adult male was not too far away.

Least Flycatchers were obvioulsy migrants.  I found three of them.

This newly fledged Common Ground-Dove was in a plumage I've never seen before.

Young Brown-crested Flycatchers were looking pretty ratty.  They responded really well to the pygmy-owl calls.  So much so that I suspect they hear them regularly up there.

Here's a young Pyrrhuloxia feeding on prickly pear tunas.

At this point it was getting really hot so it was time to head home.