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.