Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Yellow-footed Gull at Amarillo, 12/16/23

 A week ago an amazing first Texas record of Yellow-footed Gull at Southeast Park in Amarillo was posted on the Texbirds Facebook group.  Actually this first year bird has been present since early November and the local birders were passing it off as an immature Herring Gull.  I've seen this species on the Pacific coast of Mexico and at the Salton Sea in California where a few show up every summer but that's been a few decades ago.  This is not a species we were expecting in Texas although a young Yellow-footed Gull was seen in New Mexico just last year.  As the bird had been present for over a month, I waited a few days and found a convenient time to make the 775 mile drive to Amarillo.

I woke up early the next moring and made the short drive from my motel to Southeast Park where a host of familiar faces were waiting for the Yellow-footed Gull.  It was a beautiful but cold morning with most bundled up for the 28F early dawn.  After a few minutes Petra yelled that the bird was flying in with the Ring-billed Gulls.  I got on the bird quickly and managed some poor shots in the early morning light.  The immature Yellow-footed Gull then landed on the railing of the fishing dock where it dwarfed the Ring-bills.  I got a few more shots and then it took off and did a couple of laps and was gone.  Martin and Sheridan had spent seven hours the day before without seeing the gull so I was happy with the view though better lighting would have been nice.  Yellow-footed Gull was my 599th species for Texas according to eBird.  This includes about eight species (four parrots, Egyptian Goose, Tropical Mockingbird, Striped Sparrow and the recent Cattle Tyrant) not accepted by the TBRC but don't get me started on that.

It was only 8:30am and I was greedy.  The Nutting's Flycatcher at Big Bend would make a fantastic Texas bird #600.  So rather than enjoy the very birdy park, I took off.  Most of the other birders were off to see the Pine Grosbeak but I already had that one in the bag so I headed southwest.  I only stopped to bird a city park in Lamesa and eat at a great Mexican restaurant in Fort Stockton, arriving in Alpine in the early evening.

I was up early the next moring and made to two hour drive to the Santa Elana Canyon overlook in Big Bend National Park where the Nutting's flycatcher had proven to be very reliable.  Well for everyone except me.  I spent over five hours scanning the brushy Rio Grande riparian vegetaion below and listening and got nothing.  Actually I did see two distant Myiarchus flycatchers but the only calls I heard were from Ash-throated.  Here are some poor photos that show a Myiarchus but not much more than that.  Just a little more tail detail and I could make an ID.

I could have put in a couple more hours but I thought my time would be better spent in Terlingua eating cheese enchiladas and drinking beer.  I spent another night in Alpine and thought about giving it another try but I decided to head on home.  There were very few birds as I headed east on US 90 but a raptor on a pole gave me some Ferruginous vibes so I turned around and got some good shots of the western raptor.  It also turned out to be a new Brewster County bird for me.

A stop at the Sanderson cemetry turned up a Phainopepla where they are uncommon.

But the Phainopepla at the Judge Roy Bean visitor's center in Langtry was more unexpected.  Turns out this cooperative silky flycatcher has been entertaining visiting Val Verde County birders for a few weeks.

Well I went one for two.  I could run up to Houston and get the exotic Scaly-brested Munia for #600 but I think I will wait and see if we can turn up some good Mexican vagrant here in the Valley in the coming weeks.  I may also give the Nutting's another try if it reappears.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Gray-collared Becard at Resaca de la Palma St Pk, 12/3/23

Eight days ago visiting birders found the third US record of Gray-collared Becard at Resaca de La Palma State Park near Brownsville.  I rushed over and got to see it for about a tenth of a second.  Then I made the run up to the Panhandle to see the Pine Grosbeak.  Upon returing I once again drove over to Resaca de la Palma and spent seven hours seeing neither the Gray-collared Becard nor the Roadside Hawk.  I did get good looks at the Rose-throated Becard.  Yesterday I mowed.  We get to do that in December in the Rio Grande Valley.

This morning I got up dark and early to try again.  I knew the place would be loaded as the two previous records were single birder observations.  So everyone needs Gray-collared Becard for their life list.  But lately the big crowds have had good luck so I made the 30 mile drive once again.  I started at the overlook at the end of the Ebony Trail were early morning birders had been rewarded with great looks at the Roadside Hawk.  A small group was waiting when I arrived.  After a few minutes we got the word that the Gray-collared Becard was showing in the parking lot.  I ran most of the quarter mile and...... missed the bird.  But the several dozen birders were persistent and the unobrtrusive but not really shy bird was refound and we all got pretty good looks and this ABA mega.  Gray-collared Becard is a species I've never seen in Mexico so it was a real lifer for me.

Nearby the female Rose-throated Becard put on a show.  Two species of  Pachyramphus becards minutes apart is amazing.  I don't know why I never noticed before but the similarities of the bill structure and behavior of becards is so similar to that of the broadbills of SE Asia.  Pretty good example of parallel evolution.

Then I returned to the Roadside Hawk watch and there it was.  This is the third I've seen north of the border.

It's just early December and we haven't even reached winter yet and the Valley is already loaded with great birds from Mexico.  I have a wish list but I'm not saying what's on it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Pine Grosbeak at Palo Duro Rerservoir, 11/27/23

So far birding has been pretty fantastic in Texas this fall.  The Corpus Christi area has a Cattle Tyrant, Eastern Marbled Godwit and three American Flamingos while the Rio Grande Valley has hosted Five Limpkins, two American Flamingos, several Blue Buntings and a Rose-throated Becard.  Then the group of fantastically skilled young birders who have been monitoring the Brown Jays at the Santa Margarita Ranch found both a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron and a Mottled Owl.  And that's not to mention all the uncommon western birds that have passed through the Valley this fall.

I was taking it it easy at home this past Saturday, watching the hummers from the back porch when the damn WhatsApp dinged again.  Someone had earlier in the day found a funny looking Rose-throated Becard at Resaca de la Palma which turned out to be the first Texas record of Gray-collared Becard.  That's a bird I have never seen despite quite a bit of birding in Mexico through the years.  So I grabbed the camera and raced over on that drippy day.  As it happened I got a very poor glimpse of the bird in the late afternoon and left before it was refound and performed before the admiring crowd of birders.  I failed to see the Roadside Hawk also.  Arg!!!!!!

That evening at home I saw a Facebook post on the Texas Chase Birds group stating the Martin Reid and Sheridan Coffee had seen a Pine Grosbeak found earlier in the day in the snowy Texas Panhandle by Greg Cook and Steve Glover.  Damn I would like to see that bird but it's nearly 900 miles away.  So I went to bed with the intent of getting up early and going back to Resaca de la Palma for the Gray-collared Becard.

Well I got up early Sunday morning and decided the becard might stay a while but the Pine Grosbeak might not be there long.  So I quickly packed and made the 750 mile drive to Amarillo where I spent the night.  Another early morning and two more hours to Palo Duro Reservoir.  I wandered around Dedication Park for a few minutes but soon found the spot on the west side of the park by the pavilion.  And there in the willows was the Pine Grosbeak as advertised.  What a spanking bird!!!

Pine Grosbeak is actually a large finch and not related to the other grosbeaks which are tanagers.  They live in coniferous forests in the Rocky Mountains and across Canada.  Occasionally there are winter irruptions where Pine Grosbeaks wander southward.  There are a handful of previous winter records in Texas.

So I'm back home now.  I think tomorrow I will give the Gray-collared Becard another try though I know of no sightings today.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Roadside Hawk at Resaca de la Palma, 11/24/23

I woke up at 5am this morning and thought about getting up to give an early try for the Roadside Hawk at Resaca de la Palma State Park in Cameron County.  But I went back to sleep and didn't wake up till 7:30.  As I got up I thought people were probably looking at the Roadside Hawk right now.  At that moment the WhatsApp dinged and Mary Beth Stowe posted crippling photos of said hawk.  Well, good for her.  I took my time and didn't get over till 11 when I learned that the Roadside Hawk had posed for an hour and then disappeared.

I looked around the parking lot for a while and eventually ran into some butterfly watcher friends who had just found a nice passerine flock near the road to the maintenance area.  We looked for a possible Cassin's Vireo but could not find it.  They wandered off to look for the reported Blue Bunting and I continued working the parking area when a couple of young birders galloped out of the maintenance area with binocs and cameras focused on something I couldn't see.  They ran some more and shouted they were after the Roadside Hawk.  It landed a couple of times before I could get these poor photos.

Well that was underwhelming.  I guess I should get up early and try for better photos but for now this is the 430th bird species I've seen in Cameron County.  Later I rejoined my butterfly friends.  They had just seen a very late Brown-crested Flycatcher.  I was hoping for a Dusky-capped but the bill is too large not to mention this one has rufous in the primaries.

This is shaping up to be an interesting winter.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Limpkin near San Benito, TX 11/18/23

The Rio Grande Valley Limpkin invasion continues!  Estero Llano Grande State Park has had as many a three in the flood channel.  A first Starr County record was found a couple of days ago at Santa Margarita Ranch as birders tried to relocate the Bare-throated Tiger-Heron.  And today Michael Marsden found a Limpkin in a drainage canal south of San Benito at a spot know as Cantu Corner.  The bird was reported to have flown out of view around the corner and as the banks bordering the canal are private property, I decided to wait and see if the bird was refound.  Well it was refound by Alex Lamoreax and his tour group a little bit later.

So I drove over along with the Indiana Gang butterfly group who were visiting my yard.  We searched for a while and were not having any luck.  Then Isidro Montemayor from Brownsville drove up and almost immediately found the Limpkin.  It was really burried in the cattails but eventually wandered into the open for good photos.

This is the 429th bird species I've seen in Cameron County, TX.  And the Roadside Hawk that I've dipped on twice is still waiting at Resaca de la Palma.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Bar-tailed Godwit at Portland, TX 11/17/23

Last winter Skip Cantrell found a Bar-tailed Godwit on the soccer practice fields in Portland just north of Corpus Christi.  It was the second record for Texas.  I didn't go up to see it as I had already seen the Oso Bay bird in Corpus back in 2014.  Well he found it again for a second winter a few weeks ago and again I didn't worry about going to see it. However flight photos of the bird show the heavily marked underwing of the Siberian "bauri" subspecies.  The bird from 2014 was the European 'lapponica" subspecies.  Well with the way "alpha taxonomists" are raising subspecies to full specific status, I figured I'd better see this one in case it get's split and become a full species.  Birders are now learning to stick subspecies in the "bank" and wait for the lifer tick in the future.

So I ran up there this morning and arrived at the Chatwork Park soccer fields only to meet a couple of birders as the were leaving without having seen the godwit.  The story was they had ran into a birder who had earlier seen the bird but it had flow away to the south.  Other birders and I searched the area but couldn't find anything but a few Long-billed Curlews and a Marbled Godwit.  So I was off to Sunset Lake Park.

Sunset Lake Park is wetland area located at the mouth of Nueces Bay on the south side of Portland and is a couple of miles from the soccer fields.  The Bar-tailed Godwit hung out a lot there last winter and was seen there yesterday afternoon.  But when I arrived I had no idea where to look and the tide seemed to be high so there was little shoreline and few shore birds.  I checked a few short side trails where a narrow strip of beach was visible.  Nada.  I parked at the gate at the start of the biking trail and walked it a bit, but it looked pretty hopless.  I saw a Clapper Rail and a few other common things.  I decided it was time for lunch and to plan a new strategy.

As I was sitting on the back of the Rav 4 with the rear door up and eating lunch, a couple of birders pulled up beside me.  We talked about the godwit and the guy exclaimed "There's a godwit flying by!"  Sure enough a godwit was flying past us and though it was in the sun, it appreared to be too gray for a Marbled Godwit.  The birder was sure this was the Bar-tailed Godwit but I wasn't so sure.  The bird seemed to fly over the row of short salt cedars to the beach beyond.  So the birders ran off down the bike trail hoping for a view of the godwit.  Problem was there was no way to get across the water to the salt cedar fringed beach and no way to see over the salt cedars.  I decided to drive back north to the first little side trail to the beach and scope down the shoreline.

Looking down the beach through the scope, yup, there was a godwit way down there, maybe half a mile away.  But the tide was going down and water was flowing across the sand to the bay so I was going to have to get wet.  I waded through the shallow water and bushwacked around some salt cedars, accidentally kicking a prickly pear.  Ouch!  But soon I was on a good stretch of beach and getting closer to the godwit.  Looking through the scope, the bird was back lit and I was getting no color.  It appeared to be striped like a Bar-tailed and not barred like a Marbled.  But I eventually got close enough to see it was actually the Bar-tailed Godwit.  My photos were pretty bad with the sun behind the bird.  So I decided to hide behind a salt cedar and see if the bird might wander in my dircection.  Sure enough It started coming towards me in the company of a Dunlin.  As the lighting angle changed my photos started to get better.  Eventually it passed me and I got great light.

Here's a nearby Marbled Godwit for comparison.

Wow!  That was a fun experience!  I prefer being one-on-one with the bird at first.  I'm happy to share later.  So my "bauri" Bar-tailed Godwit is in da bank and waiting for full species status.  Don't know if they will ever be split but it was a fun bird.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

First Cattle Tyrant for USA at Corpus Christi, 11/12/23

I was sitting at the computer, editing some photos from our trip to Australia four years ago.  Woops, I guess I forgot about them.  Anyway the WhatsApp dinged.  Wow!  A Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (3rd for US I think) was found on the Santa Margarita Ranch near Roma.  I saw the one at Bentsen years ago so nice but not a big deal.  But a second bird was also reported.  Someone whose name I didn't recognize had photogrpahed a potential first US record Cattle Tyrant in downtown Corpus Christi.  Dang!  I was looking at Cattle Tyrants in Argentina just a few weeks ago.  Cattle Tyrants are a mostly terrestrial kingbird like flycatcher that usually feeds in open felds, often with cattle.  They occur in South America as far north as Venezuela and Colombia but have recently been found in Panama where they are extending their range northward.

It was just before 11am so I had plenty of time to make the three hour rainy drive.  When I arrived at the location of the initial sighting at Chaparral and Shatzell, there were a few wet birders standing around and the Cattle Tyrant had not been seen for over an hour.  We scattered and fruitlessly looked over nearby areas.  At this point it was raining pretty good and I decided to head back to the car and drive around a bit.  It seemed pretty hopeless but after maybe twenty minutes, I was driving down Chaparral again and as I slowed for the intersection with Lawrence, there standing on the curb was our Cattle Tyrant.  I fired a few shots and got the word out.  Maybe twenty or so happy birders were at the spot in a couple of minutes.

Not sure what the Texas Bird Records Committee will think of this one.  From what I can glean from the literature Cattle Tyrants are not migratory.  It may well have hopped a ship going through the Panama Canal.  It does have the yellow throat of the expected northern birds.  If I was still on the Committee, I would would vote to accept but I was always a little liberal with my votes.  Time will tell.

Anyway I love coming to a group of birders at a steakout and being the one to relocate the bird.  I've done it before.  What can I say?  "Say my name.....  Goddam right!"

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Fraser's Hill, Malaysia, Sept 9-14, 2016

After finishing the blog posts for my Argentina trip, I decided, while I'm in the mood, I should finish my report for my trip to Fraser's Hill back in 2016.  We were visiting my wife's family in the Philippines and I thought it would be a great opportunity to visit one of the most famous birding destinations in SE Asia. So here's a link to the trip report.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Argentina Sept 12-24, 2023

This past September I enjoyed two weeks of birding independently in Argentina. I spent a few days in Buenos Aires and the rest of my time in Tierra del Fuego and Santa Cruz provinces.  Here's a blog report of my adventures.

Blackie the Evil Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 11/3/23

It's been a very good fall for hummingbirds at our Progreso Lakes yard.  This dark Archilochus hummer really got my attention.  I guess it's a melanistic Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  It hung around for at least five days where it took charge over one of the feeders but I'm not seeing it today.  I've seen lots of photos of leucistic hummers but never a melanistic one.

This Ruby-throat had a little extra white on the tail.

A month ago we had a visiting male Rufous Hummingbird for just one day.  I posted photos on eBird and was surprised to get a Facebook message from a hummingbird enthusisast who regularly peruses eBird hummer photos.  He told me there was a band on the Rufous and wondered if I was a bander.  Well I'm not one but this got me looking at the photos and I was able to flesh out most or all of the number.

Eventually I came up with F06195.  I sent the number to the hummer fan but have made no efforts myself to track down the bander and location.  Something to do.  Hummers are always fun.