Wednesday, October 25, 2023

American Flamingos at Laguna Atascosa NWR, 10/23/23

Sunday afternoon I had just finished exercising and was eating dinner and watching football when the WhatsApp dinged.  Evan Farese had just found a Downy Woodpecker at the Convention Center on South Padre Island.  Wow!  That's a bird I've been wanting to see in the Valley for a long time.  But gee I didn't want to drive out the SPI so late in the afternoon and after a long treeless journey down the coast I was sure that Downy would be there come the next morning.  Then "ding" again.  Evan had just found two juvenile American Flamingos at Laguna Atascosa.  How did he get over there so fast?

Well Monday morning I got up early and ran out to the Convention Center on the Island and there was Brad McKinney looking for the Downy Woodpecker.  His logic was the same as mine and he had not gone over to the see it the evening before though he lives close by.  Well we looked and looked and couldn't find the Downy.  I went over to the Birding Center and gave it a go but nothing.  Arg!!!!  Meanwhile the American Flamingos were being observed at Laguna Atascosa.

I had seen a juvenile American Flamingo many years ago out on the flats off TX 48 not far from Port Isabel.  But I didn't have any photos so I thought I would give up on the woodpecker and go for the flamingos.  When I got there the WhatsApp dinged and Mary Volz reported she was at the spot near the Alligator Pond and no flamingos.  Arg!!!  Well they got to be somewhere so I set up my scope at Osprey Overlook and bingo!  Two scruffy young American Flamingos were feeding with the thousands of ducks, waders and shorebirds in the shallow receding waters of the Laguna Atascosa.

Early in September Hurricane Idalia passed over the breeding grounds of the American Flamingos on the northern coast of the Yucatan and apparently a large number of them were caught up in the hurricane.  First larger than usual numbers were reported in south Florida where they are very uncommon.  Then little groups of two to a half dozen were were found in locations scattered across the eastern United States.  Eventually a couple were found near Galveston, and then at Port Aransas and now at Laguna Atascosa.  The habitat at Laguna Atascosa is quite similar to the shallow lakes in southern Argentina where I recently observed many Chilean Flamingos.  So I think these youngsters will be able to find plenty of small crustaceans to eat and maybe they will hang around a while.  I'm not sure what will happen to the birds up north as the powerful cold front approaches.  American Flamings are not normally migratory so the question is "Will they know to go south when it gets cold?"  Anyway lots of birders have found their lifer American Flamingos this fall and I'm sure the story isn't over.

Meanwhile I bet that Downy Woodpecker is still on South Padre Island and hopefully it will be refound.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Limpkins at Estero Llano Grande State Park, 10/5/23

Last month I got to spend a couple of weeks in Argentina.  I'm currently working a blog trip report which I will link in a few days.  Anyway while I was down south looking a dotterels and Magellanic stuff a Limpkin was discovered at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco.  This was not completely unexpected as there has been a literal invasion of Limpkin across the eastern United States.  There are now many records for Texas and we were just waiting our turn for one to be found down here.  In fact I posted an account of finding a deceased Limpkin on South Padre Island in Willacy County  on this blog last February.  Well the Estero Limpkin hung around for only an afternoon and was long gone by the time I returned to the USA.

Fast forward to this morning.  I was out in the yard hoping for a return of the Red-billed Pigeon when the WhatsApp dinged.  Abran over at Estero had either refound or found another Limpkin in the flood channel at the same spot where the previous one had been observed.  In birding sometimes you get a reprieve but not often.  So I got myself ready to make the short drive to Estero when the WhatsApp dinged again.  This time Javier DeLeon, the park superintendent, was reporting there were actually two Limpkins.  Dang!  Well I raced over and made the long hot walk to the levee above Alligator Pond and there was Javi looking at the Limpkins.  They had relocated from the mudflats to a distant shady tree where I managed these poor photos. 

It used to be the only place to see Limpkins in the United States was south Florida where they feed on the large apple snails.  But with the help of the tropical fish industry, apple snails have spread across the southern US and Limpkins are spreading with them.  Now Limpkins are being seen feeding on freshwater clams and mussels so no telling how far they will spread.  These Estero birds may have wandered down from east Texas but to me they may have just as likely wandered up from Mexico.  Anyway I get another new species for my Hidalgo County list, #413.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Red-billed Pigeon at Progreso Lakes, 10/4/23

This warm muggy morning I was sitting on the porch here at Progreso Lakes, watching the hummingbird feeders and thinking about how it's been a long time since I've seen anything rare in the yard.  Our last new addition to the yard list was a Scarlet Tanager this past spring, which is not that rare.  Then I started thinking about rare birds and probability distributions.  There are always rare birds out there to be found.  But "rare" implies there aren't very many of them.  But they are out there.  And just like with lottery tickets, though your chances of winning are low, the more you play the better your chances are to win.  So the best plan for finding rare birds is to be ready.  Being aware of what species are possible really helps so that when you get a glimpse of something you are ready to jump on it.  Of course this means there are lots of false alarms and plenty of disappointment when that possible rare bird turns out to be something common.

Anyway after watching the feeders with only a dozen Ruby-throates and otherwise only a Nashville Warbler and a Baltimore Oriole as migrants, I decided it was time to go in and have some breakfast.  As I opened the back door, I notice a seemingly large dove or pigeon perched on a small tree about sixty or seventy yards away.  Immediately I thought "that looks suspicious".  I raised the camera and fired a shot and got a bit closed firing more shots till it flushed at maybe forty yards.  As I zoomed in on the images on the back of the camera, one species kept coming to mind.... Red-billed Pigeon.

I ran into the house and stuck the SD card into the computer and edited images and still kept coming up with the same ID.  A large bulky, large winged, dark columbid with a pale tipped bill and no visible white or banding on the tail.  Everything else seemed to be ruled out.  Best I can guess is this is an immature Red-billed Pigeon.  Red-billed Pigeons are abundant fruit eaters thoughout much of the New World tropics.  In the United States small numbers occur along the Rio Grande in Starr and Zapata Counties.  They are rarely reported from Hidalgo and Cameron County.

Most years there are reports by visiting birders of Red-billed Pigeons at area birding hotspots like Santa Ana NWR or Estero Llano Grande State Park.  But they are never documented with photos and most or all are fly over White-winged Doves IMO.  After living in the Valley for 31 years, this is my first for Hidalgo County, species #412.  It was the 249th species to be seen from our Progreso Lakes yard.