Monday, January 30, 2023

January Birding in the RGV, 1/30/23

I always get enthusiatic about birding at the start of the year.  Year list totals all roll back to zero and who knows what's out there to be found.  So here's a few pretty good birds I've seen this month starting on the 17th.  I've already filed away photos from before then.

1/17  I decided to make a try for the Rose-throated Becard at the Nature Center at Bentsen State Park.  A park docent told me he had seen it once but it might be a long wait.  After a while I see my old Arizona friend and Field Guides trip leader Chris Benesh.  His group had just seen the Hook-billed Kites and were ready for the Rose-throated Becard.  Not much was happening and while his group were recooping from their morning walk, we talked about birds and Chris' scorpion life list.  While he tended to the needs of his group, I notice a chunky, big headed bird land in the top of the mezquite.  I called out "There's the becard!"  I always like finding the bird before the tour guide does.  This Mexican fruit eating flycatcher has been seen hitting the peanut butter feeders.

Chris told me where to look for the kites.  It took a while but eventually I happened upon a group with scopes trained on the bird.  The Rabdotus land snails have been doing well attracting as many as seven Hook-billed Kites.  Here's my poor photo.

The other noteworthy occurrence were the flocks of Wild Turkeys.  I saw at least thirty.  I'm guessing drought has moved them into the park.  Hitting the feeders has made them fat and sassy.

1/19  A Black-headed Grosbeak has been hanging around the Amphitheater feeding area at Quinta Mazatlan just like last winter.  I ran over and positioned myself in front of the feeders hoping to tick this western grosbeak for the year and darned if a Winter Wren didn't run across in front of me.   It was so fast I didn't get a chance to photograph it.  After a while visting birders arrived and pointed me to the grosbeak and I saw it for about a second.  Well that was underwhelming.  Local guide Tiffany Kirsten showed up with a couple of customers hoping for the Black-headed Grosbeak and darned if the Winter Wren didn't put in another appearance.

I gave up on getting a shot of the grosbeak, so I wandered over to Ruby Pond and ticked a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker for the year.

Well how about another try for the grosbeak?  Back at the amphitheater bird activity was picking up.  It was 4pm and seemed like everything was coming in for an afternoon drink or bath.  There was the Summer Tanager I had glimpsed earlier.

Then the first American Goldfinch I had seen in a while.

Had to be at least a dozen Clay-colored Thrushes.

And finally there was the Back-headed Grosbeak.  It may well be the same one as last winter.

1/21  My long time birding friend Pat Heirs was invited by her doctor to visit his ranch north of Roma in Starr County and I got to tag along.  The prolong drought has hit the area hard and birds were hard to find.  We did manage to find several Black-throated Sparrows but I was busy driving and couldn't get a photo.  We did find a surprise Wilson's Snipe on one of the ranch's ponds.  It was a new bird for my Starr County list.

On the way back I spotted a couple of gnatcatchers so I stopped and pished.  I was fortunate to get poor photos of a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  They are hard to find here on the eastern end of their range.

Best find of the day for me were some fine specimens of Agave asperrima.  I had heard they could be found out there but these were the first I've ever seen north of Mexico.

1/23  A Burrowing Owl was sighted near Willamar in Willacy County.  I dropped my wife Honey off at the gym in Harlingen and ran up there to try to add this species to my Willacy County list.  Well I found the culvert but the owl wasn't out.  So I drove over to the old Mountain Plover spot of FM 2099.  The area is now covered by giant whooshing wind mills.  Not a bird to be found, not even the usual common Horned Larks.  So how about the playa east of Lyford?  Finally some birds!  Just a few shorebirds but 17 Snowy Plovers on this salty playa were a good winter find away from the coast.

1/25  I needed some shorebirds for my new year list so I headed out to South Padre Island and found quite a few but birds were distant and photographic conditions were not great.  But the sun opped out while I was checking out the Sheepshead lot and a small flock of uncommon Cedar Waxwings were a nice treat.

1/28  I took our new Jeep out to Boca Chica beach.but the tide was high and it was windy and foggy.  Surf was too rough to make it up the the jetty so I turned around and got lucky with this first winter Lesser Black-backed Gull. 

Including my west Texas trip my 2023 total is up to 211 species.  Not fantastic but OK.


Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Finally.... Pinyon Jays in Texas! 1/4/23

Pinyon Jays staged a near historic invasion of west Texas this pastfall.  Actually, according to the Handbook of the Birds of Texas, there were regular incursions of the species in the Trans-Pecos in the 70's and 80's.  The last big occurence I can remember was not long after I moved to Texas in 1994.  At the time I wasn't particularly interested in the size of my Texas list so I didn't chase them.  Since then there have been very few seen in Texas so I still needed Pinyon Jay for my Texas list when the invasion started this fall.  My only run out there to the Guadalupe Mountains in November was unsuccessful.  But since then two large flocks, one in the Pine Springs Campground  in Guadalupe Mountains National Park and another in a residential area at Limpia Crossing near Fort Davis have proven reliable so I made another attempt to twitch the species last week.

My goal was to see them at Limpia Crossing as they were coming in to a feeder and were about 200 miles closer than the Guadalupe birds.  So after spending the night in Fort Davis I got out to Limpia Crossing at first light and it turned out a bit anticlimactic.  I mean I drove up and there were a bunch of Pinyon Jays scarfing up seeds at the feeders.  They weren't lifers as I had seen Pinyon Jays decades ago in Arizona and New Mexico, but they were a first for my Texas list and the first I had ever seen at a feeder.  Pinyon Jays normally feed on the seeds of Pinyon Pines but wander widely when seed crops fail.

Afterwards I ran down to Davis Mountains State Park to check out the feeding stations.  Not too much going on but there were several of the expected Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays.

I spent the rest of the day wandering along TX 118 looking for year birds.  It was cold and windy and slow going.  A stop at a normally productive stock tank was disappointing but did turn up a couple of Grasshopper Sparrows.

For some reason Acorn Woodpeckers were more common than usual.  This one was at the Lawrence E. Wood Picnic Area.

And just a few feet away was a sapucker which I hoped would be my Red-naped for the year.  But it proved to be much more locally uncommon Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Other than a few juncos, not a lot was happening so I returned to the State Park and scored my only Painopepla of the trip.

The next mornining I headed north toward Balmorhea with plans to check out the lake, but I couldn't resist a trip down the Boy Scout Ranch Road, RR 1832.  There were tons of sparrows, mostly White-crowns, Vespers and Brewer's.  Best was a brief look at a White-throated near the end of the road before the scout ranch.  But the best bird was a really out of place Northern Parula.  That would be rare even in summer.

Balmorhea Lake was procuctive as usual with lots of grebes and a flock with all three species of megansers.  Unfortuanately wrestling with the camera in the car caused me to inadvertently change a camera setting so my photos came out pretty poor.  But I got my Pinyon Jays so I can't complain.