Thursday, April 21, 2022

Kelp Gull at Brownsville Landfill, 4/20/22

Well after yesterday's Painted Redstart chase I really needed to stay home and get some stuff done.  Then the darn Whatsapp dinged again.  It's been dinging a lot lately with spring migration going on and lots of birders in the Rio Grande Valley finding some pretty good stuff.  But this ding was different.  This was a mega!  Alex Lamoreaux leading a tour had just found a Kelp Gull at the Brownsville landfill.  Kelp Gull is a common coastal species of the Southern Hemisphere.  I have seen them on the coast of Ecuador and I saw the first Texas record at Galveston in 1996.  There are five previosly accepted Texas records, thought to be of only two individuals, and the last was in 2008.  So I loaded up the car and headed out one more time.

When I arrived at the top of the garbage hill, there was Brad McKinney, Father Tom and the St. Pierres waiting at the spot where Alex had gotten killer photos of the Kelp Gull.  Thousands of Laughing Gulls swirled and screamed with lesser numbers of Franklin's, Herring and Ring-billed Gulls as an endless stream of noisy garbage trucks passed by to dump their morning haul.  Then Mary Beth Stowe and company arrived and we all watched common gulls for a while and hoped for a big one with a black mantle.

After a while Mary Beth and her group left but they stopped just a bit down the hill and darned if they didn't find the Kelp Gull far down below on a retention pond.  Some of us scrambled down to the botton of the big dirt and garbage hill where we got a little bit better views.  After congratulations everyone but me left and I was rewarded with the Kelp Gull flying back to the top of the hill where I got much better photos.  This Kelp Gull is my 424th species for Cameron County.

After I got home two male Painted Buntings popped up in our yard.  What a great day!

Well it's been a pretty weird spring.  There's not a lot of migrants but some really good birds have been found.  During the past few weeks I've added three new rare birds to my Cameron county list (Black-capped Vireo, Painted Redstart and Kelp Gull) and four new birds to our Progreso Lakes yard list (Louisiana Waterthrush, Tropical Parula, Kentucky Warbler and Hook-billed Kite).  And we still have another four weeks of migration ahead of us!

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Painted Redstart at South Padre Island, 4/19/22

Yesterday I dropped Honey off at the gym in Brownsville and then I proceded to South Padre Island and saw some pretty good birds.  After I left the Island and took said wife out to eat, word came on Whatsapp that Javi Gonzalez had just found a Painted Redstart on South Padre Island.  Ugh!  That's one I need for Cameron County and it was too late to do anything about it.

Well this morning my plans had been to get the car inspected and then go grocery shopping.  To hell with the Painted Redstart.  And despite the Whatsapp broadcasting the the Painted Redstart was still present I decided to stick to my plans.  But I did have time to watch the bird bath a bit.  And my responsible nature was rewarded with this striking Rose-breasted Groasbeak, our first for the year.  It was a male just like this that piqued my interest in birds back in 1976.  Every spring we would get several on the pussy willows back behind our rural home near Fair Grove, Missouri where I grew up.

Then there was this lovely female Painted Bunting.

Yesterday there was an Indigo Bunting in our spiny snake eyes bush.

And while I was watching the Painted Bunting, a Gray Catbird popped in, our first of the year.

We have a pair of  Northern Cardinals hanging around.

Our brush patch has grown enough to frequently host White-tipped Doves.

After I got my chores done and had lunch, Whatsapp informed me the Painted Redsart was still on SPI.  So I dropped Honey at the gym in Harlingen (where despite weighing only 110 pounds, she tied here personal best with a 205 pound dead lift!) and I raced out to South Padre Island where I quickly found the Painted Redstart, my 423rd species for Cameron County.

Painted Redstarts nest in west Texas in the higher elevations of Big Bend and the Davis Mountains.  Most birders tick there's in southeastern Arizona.  But they are common in the mountains of Mexico less than a hundred miles southwest of the Rio Grande Valley.  I think that's probably where the few that visit the Valley originate.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Normal spring day at Progreso Lakes, 4/8/22

If you took away the three new yard warblers and the Hook-billed Kite it's been a pretty dull start to the spring at Progreso Lakes.  But today we finally got our first Painted Bunting for the year.  I'm not sure what's up with the red splotches on the back.  Maybe it's a first year bird.

We still haven't had an Orchard Oriole or a Baltimore Oriole but four Hooded Orioles today were a high number.  These males seemed to be having a territorial battle.

It was a terrible winter for sparrows with only Lincoln's and Savannah.  But we did pick up a Lark Sparrow and a singing Olive Sparrow this past week.

A few months ago I picked up some of the fallen Spanish moss at Anzalduas County Park and brought it home in an attempt to get some of this native bromeliad growing in our yard.  I've done that in the past and it always seems to disappear after a while.  Today I saw why.  Great Kiskadees were stealing it to use in their nest construction.

Still a couple of Lincoln's Sparrows hanging around.

We harvested a big clump of plantains a couple of weeks ago and we've been eating them and feeding them to the birds.  Golden-fronted Woodpeckers and Northern Cardinals really liked them.  This red bird is finishing up the last of them.

So even though we've added four new birds to our yard list this year, our Progreso Lakes yard year list stands at only a paltry 129.  The nest few weeks are prime spring migration so I'm looking forward to what comes next.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Hook-billed Kite at Progreso Lakes, 4/4/22

Yesterday evening I noticed a few vultures and hawks coming in so I thought I would pay attention this morning when they started to rise.  I still need Swallow-tailed Kite and Mississippi Kite for the year list here at Progreso Lakes.  Turned out to be a pretty good flight with several hundred Turkey Vultures and Broad-winged Hawks.  I felt it was going to be the day we got our annual Swallow-tailed Kite.  A little after 10am I noticed a funny shaped raptor approaching with the migrating TVs.  With its very broad wings I felt it was going to be one of our local Harris's Hawks.  But as it got closer I saw the tail was too long and wings were too broad and paddle shaped.  I could not believe it.  A Hook-billed Kite was flying over our house!  

Hook-billed Kites are occasionally seen in small numbers at either Santa Ana NWR or around Bentsen State Park.  Both sites have populations of the land snail on which they feed.  Usually no Hook-billed Kites are present anywhere in the Valley and they are one of the species most wanted by visiting birders.  Whether this bird wandered over from Santa Ana or came up from Mexico with the migrating raptors is unknown.  Either way this rare Hook-billed Kite is the 246th species to be seen from our yard.  The bird was distant against a very bright cloudy sky so I had to do some work with the photo editor to coax a little color out of these images.

As I think about birds yet to be seen from our yard, I could name several dozen species more likely to occur than Hook-billed Kite.  I thought our chances of adding the species to our Progreso Lakes yard list was pretty close to zero.

Jones yard, Progreso Lakes, Hidalgo, Texas, US
Apr 3, 2022 7:35 AM - 2:05 PM
Protocol: Traveling
0.037 mile(s)
Checklist Comments:    All birds seen or heard fromour one acre yard
55 species (+3 other taxa)

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (fulgens)  1800
Muscovy Duck (Domestic type)  2
Muscovy Duck x Mallard (hybrid)  2
Mottled Duck (Gulf Coast)  5
Lesser Scaup  1
Plain Chachalaca  6
Inca Dove  2
White-tipped Dove  1
Mourning Dove  17
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  5
Buff-bellied Hummingbird (Northern)  1
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Neotropic Cormorant  5
Great Egret (American)  1
Snowy Egret  1
Tricolored Heron  1
Green Heron  5
Black-crowned Night-Heron  7
Turkey Vulture  400
Osprey (carolinensis)  1
Hook-billed Kite  1    Came from south with northbound Turkey Vultures and Broad-winged Hawks.  Continued northward.
Cooper's Hawk  2
Broad-winged Hawk  300
Swainson's Hawk  5
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Ringed Kingfisher  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker (Northern)  4
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Black Phoebe  2
Great Kiskadee  2
Couch's Kingbird  2
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher  2
Black-crested Titmouse  2
Purple Martin  2
Tree Swallow  1
Barn Swallow (American)  1
Cliff Swallow (pyrrhonota Group)  3
swallow sp.  20
Carolina Wren (Northeast Mexico/South Texas)  1
Long-billed Thrasher  2
Northern Mockingbird  2
Clay-colored Thrush  1
House Sparrow  4
Lesser Goldfinch  5
Lincoln's Sparrow  2
Eastern Meadowlark  1
Hooded Oriole (cucullatus/sennetti)  2
Red-winged Blackbird (Red-winged)  40
Bronzed Cowbird (Bronzed)  20
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
Great-tailed Grackle (Great-tailed)  5
Orange-crowned Warbler  1
Nashville Warbler  1
Kentucky Warbler  1    continuing
Northern Parula  2
Yellow Warbler (Northern)  1
Yellow-throated Warbler  1
Northern Cardinal (Common)  2

Friday, April 1, 2022

Black-capped Vireo at South Padre Island, 4/1/22

Yesterday afternoon I was on the elliptical trainer getting a good workout when the Whatsapp on my phone dinged.  Javi Gonzalez had just found a Black-capped Vireo at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.  Black-capped Vireos are pretty easy to find in proper habitat across the Hill Country of central Texas.  And even though their migration route to and from Mexico takes them across the Rio Grande Valley, they are pretty rare down here.  I really wanted this one for my Cameron County list but it was nearly 5pm and I decided too late to make a run to the Island and I was too tired and sweaty.  So I hoped it would stay the night and I would try in the morning.

Well I made the run out there and Javi sent out word that he had relocated the Black-capped Vireo as I approached.  It didn't take long before I was looking at my 422nd bird species for Cameron County.

Black-capped Vireo had previously been listed as an endagered species.  Livestock, particularly goats, and large populations of deer had seriously damaged the understory in the oak and juniper habitat this taxon prefers.  But with better stewardship of the land, they have recovered somewhat and have been delisted.  This individual has hanging out with a congener Bell's Vireo Which is also very uncommon in the RGV.

I made a quick run over to the nearby SPI Convention Center and photographed yet another Vireo, this one a Yellow-throated.

Then I got word that a Virginia Rail was showing along the boardwalk.  It always helps to have a few other birders around.

Otherwise it was pretty slow but it's still early in the season.  Meanwhile back at Progreso Lakes our Kentucky Warbler is still around and gave up a few better photos.

Now that I've got my Black-capped Vireo it's time to get the other Hill Country rarity, Golden-cheeked Warbler.  They've been seen a few times in the Valley so it's not impossible.