Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Black Noddy at the Port Aransas Jetty, 4/29/24

A Black Noddy was photographed on Friday afternoon on the Port Aransas Jetty.  I was unable to run up there over the weekend but got up dark and early on Monday and made the 200 mile drive.  When I arrived there was David Bradford from Houston with whom I have been battling for some time in the Texas eBird rankings.  We made the long walk out and eventually found it feeding with Black Terns near the tip of the jetty.  Fortunately it came back to the jetty to preen providing great photo opps.

Black Noddy is one of five noddy tern species belonging to the genus Anous.  They differ from most terns in that they lack a deeply forked tail and feed by picking from the water's surface rather than diving.  Noddies are found in tropical waters and usually breed on remote islands.  There are seven subspecies of Black Noddy found around the world.  This individual is only the fourth to be found in Texas.  Usually birders visit the Dry Tortugas off the Florida Keys to add this species to their ABA lists where they have been rare but regular in the colony of nesting Brown Noddies.

Anyway this was a lifer for me bringing my world total to 2665 species.  It was species #601 for my Texas list.  Fifteen years ago I got to see my only Brown Noddy from this same jetty.  This was before I had a good camera or scope.  Here's a very distant digiscope view.

This Black Noddy has pretty severe feather wear and is probably infested with feather mites.  It seems to be frequently coming back to the jetty to rest about feeding bouts.  I'm guessing flight is difficult with the ragged flight feathers.  I don't know if they ever get better once they are in this state.  It seems unusually tame but that is common among all the noddy species.  I hope it lasts a while as it's a pretty cool bird.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Southern Lapwing and Stuff, 4/17/24

The past few days I've seen some really nice photos of the first Texas record Southern Lapwing at the Llano Grande golf course in Mercedes.  So I ran over this morning to try for some better shots.  The bird was much closer than it was the other day, right in front of the clubhouse, but cloudy conditions made still photography tough.  Lapwings are basically large plovers belonging to the subfamily Vanellinae.  This Southern Lapwing is Vanellus chilensis of the cayennensis subspecies.

There were a few photographers present when I arrived.  One of them was making a video of the bird through a Swarovski spotting scope with the big 115 mm objective lense.  I thought he looked familiar and I said Hi and introduced myself.  Damn it was Clay Taylor who I have known for many years.  I haven't seen him in a few years and he was wearing a cap so that will be my excuse.  Anyway Clay is a mainstay at all the birding festivals as he is Swarovski Optik's North American Representative.

Clay was guiding a guy from Tucson who turned out to be Mike Terenzoni, astronomer at the University of Arizona's Flandrau Planetarium.  Mike commented that he would like to see American Golden Plover after Clay called a flyover.  I told them that I had a couple of dozen of them at the Sugar House pond a few days ago and Clay stated that in his many years of coming to the Valley he had never been to the Sugar House.  So off we went.

Normally this time of year the effluent pond at the Sugar House is full of water from the winter sugar cane refining season.  But the Sugar House has closed down so water is dropping as we continue our dry spring.  Shorebirding usually season starts in early July with adults returning after breeding in the Arctic, but this year we are early and getting migrants on their way north.

Migrant Franklin's Gulls are on their way to nest in prairie potholes uo north.  I like the Semipalmated Plover photobomb.  The gulls rounded wingtips with lots of white make them eazy to separate from our local Laughing Gulls.

Speaking of Semipalms, there were at least ten of these nomally uncommon in Hidalgo County small plovers.

The big flock of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks continued in the distant corner with a few Roseate Spoonbills.

Lots of peeps, these are mostly Least Sandpipers.

A few Hudsonian Godwits remained but were hard to photograph.  The black and white tails make these large shorebirds easy to ID in flight.

Overall things were about the same as a few days ago.  We got Mike some distant American Golden-Plovers.  Clay was complaining about having to go to Vienna to Swarovski corporate headquarters for meetings but he enjoyed his visit to the Sugar House.  Life is good.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Shorebirdomania at the Sugar House Pond, 4/14/24

After seeing the Southern Lapwing yesterday, I decided to leave the gathering crowd and head up to the Sugar House pond to look for the Hudsonian Godwits found by Ryan Rodgriquez the day before.  Though world population estimates are over 70,000 (compared to 8,000,000,000 people), not rare by shorebird standards, their narrow migratory path up the center of the United States means most birders have to go to some effort to see one.  We are fortunate here in the Rio Grande Valley to have a few pass through easch spring.  They completely bypass us in the fall.  It did not take long to find the dozen or so that stopped to feed in the receding effluent water at the Sugar House.

The forty acre pond was loaded with birds yesterday and counting or estimating numbers for eBird took some effort.  Northern Shovellers and Fulvous Whistling Ducks numbered in the hunderds as did American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts and Stilt Sandpipers.

Pretty uncommon in spring, this Dunlin has vestiges of the black belly it will sport in breeding plumage.

American Golden Plover and Buff-breasted Sandpiper are among the species birders refer to as grasspipers.  The best places to look for them in migration are pastures with short grass and turf farms.  It's a little unusual to see them in the water.

The shorebirds were frequently spooked by either raptors or the birders who joined me.  The shorebird watchers on the berm above the pond numbered about a dozen at one point.  It's good to have mutliple eyes and scopes when so many birds are involved.  The real challenge was picking through the peeps.  There are five species in this photo.

Let's break them down.  The larger ones are Baird's Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper.  Here the buffier one on the left is a Baird's while the other darker large one showing a faint orange bast to the bill is a Pectoral.  The smaller one below is a Least.

Western Sandpiperis slightly larger than Least and much more pale with a much longer, thick based bill.

Not as brown as Least with a short straight bill is Semipalmated Sandpiper.  Short-billed male Westerns and long-billed female Semipalms can be confusing.  The second bird from the left is a Semipalmated.  The others are Leasts.

Here we have Semipalmated, Western and Least (left from bottom to top) with a big Pectoral.  The others are Leasts except for that one right under the Pec.  It's either a Semipalm or a Western

Baird's, Semipalmated, Least and Pectoral, left to right.

Here's a buch of Stilt Sandpipers with three Wilson's Phalaropes.

Seventeen species of shorebirds was all I could ID.  The Sugar House is closing down and after this water evaporates it will be the end of a great Hidalgo shorebirding hot spot.  It may refill with heavy rain but it also could be turned into a cotton field.  As this is the only sugar refinery in south Texas, it also means the end of sugar cane farming in the Valley.  Probably not a bad thing as sugar cane requires a lot of water and the Valley doesn't have any.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Southern Lapwing in Mercedes, 4/14/24

After an unprecedented fall and winter birding season in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, this spring has continued with more amazing rare birds.  Last Sunday it was the Mexican Violetear on South Padre Island and two days ago it was a Flame-colored Tanager at Quinta Mazatlan.  And then yesterday, a resident at the Llano Grande Resort photographed a strange bird while playing golf.  He showed it to a local birder at the resort and eventually the ID was determined to be a Southern Lapwing.  

According to Steve Howell's "Rare Birds of North America" there are only three previous records of  Southern Lapwing in the United States,  reports from 2006 in Maryland and Florida with the other a long staying bird in the fall of 2022 in Michegan.  Southern Lapwings, a plover species, are an abundant shorebird throught much of South America and in recent years have invaded Central America with a current small population on the Pacific Coast of Chiapas.  They frequent large grassy spaces like cattle pastures and soccer pitches and are thought to be expanding northward as tropical forests are cut.  I saw my lifer on a soccer pitch in Gamboa, Panama.  Southern Lapwing is a species that was expeced to occur some day in Texas although I thought we would have seen more records from Mexico.  Northern Lapwing is a Eurasian plover that occasionally strays to the northeastern United States.  Other species of lapwings occur across Africa, southern Asia and Australia.

Anyway, I couldn't get away yesterday evening to see the bird so I showed up bright and early on the levee ourside the golf couse in Mercedes and there were already a few birders scoping the distant Southern Lapwing.  At 100+ yards these are not great photos.  I may go back for more if the bird hangs around.

This Southern Lapwing is thought to be a the northern cayennensis subspecies.  Here are much better photos of the similar chilensis subspecies I took last fall in Argentina.

Anyway this is my 416th species for Hidalgo County and more importantly my 600th species for Texas.  That includes a few species not on the official Texas list:  four parrots species, Egyptian Goose, the not accepted duo of Tropical Mockingbird and Striped Sparrow, and the probably not accepted Cattle Tyrant.  I've seen dirtier lists.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Flame-colored Tanager, Black-capped Vireo at Quinta Mazatlan, 4/12/24

The Valley's four young guns, Ryan Rodriguez, Nolan Walker, Simon Kiacz and Zach Johnson have been leaving a path of destruction in their wake in recent months.  This morning Ryan found Hidalgo County's third Flame-colored Tanager.  This Mexican montain species is still a review species in Texas but now is annual in SE Arizona where it has nested.  I was happy to refind it for the small group of birders who had assembled.  It was my 415th species for Hidalgo County.

Nolan, who found the Mexican Violetear on SPI a few days ago, had been looking for the Flame-colored Tanager when I arrived and scored a Black-capped Vireo in the process.  Once federally listed as endangered,  Black-capped Vireos have rebounded after successful cowbird predation control programs and a decline in the number of goats being raised in the Hill Country.  Goats tend to eat everything including the brushy thickets Black-capped Vireo prefer for nesting.  This is only the second I've seen in the county.  These poor phots are still better than the ones I got of the Frontera bird many years ago.

I love the serendipity of birding!

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Mexican Violetear on South Padre Island, 4/8/24

Yesterday was the much anticipated occurrence of a total eclipse of the sun across much of the United States.  Here in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas we were to get only about 90% coverage.  I could have gone a bit north near San Antonio for the complete spectacle but I saw the last total eclipse back 2017 and thousands of people were predicted to be out on the roadways and most of all it was forecast to be cloudy so I just stayed down here.  Anyway I had bigger fish to fry.

Sunday afternoon a Mexican Violetear was found on South Padre Island.  I got the report mid afternoon and decided I would take the chance it would stay overnight and try in the morning.  I've been burned before by not immediately making the run to charse a rarity.  But as I get older, I get more patient and try to keep things in perspective.  Turns out I was successful this time and got the hummer with little effort.  

This is my third Mexican Violetear for Texas.  I got my lifer back in the 90's near Austin back when occasional summer strays to the Hill Country was the only way to see this otherwise Mexican species.  But with more birders afield in recent years, more are being found though I don't know of any breeding records.  I saw my first in the Valley at Quinta Mazatland a few years ago.  This one at a vacant lot on SPI would be my first for Cameron County, species #434.  These poor photos were the best I cound muster but are better than nothing.

Well that was easy.  So I ran over to the nearby Convention Center.  I wanted that reported Townsend's Warbler.  We get a couple of these western wood warblers each year.  They normally pass through the western US on the way to their breeding gounds in the northern Rockies.  What a stunner!


Keeping with the western flavor, this breeding plumaged "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler was a nice surprise.  Normally I only see this plumage in the high country of the Davis Mountains.

Otherwise not a lot was going on.  A couple of Northern Parulas and Nashville Warblers were in a scaggily bottlebrush.

And a Summer Tanager at the water feature.

There's usually a few sparrows behind the Convention Center during migration.  Here's a sharp Lark Sparrow.

And a Clay-colored Sparrow.

Time to run over to the flats to check out shorebirds and eat lunch.  Nothing fantastic was going one.  A visiting birder reproted a Red Knot but I couldn't find it.  Did get my first Franklin's Gull of the season.  It's the little pink guy right of the Laughing Gulls.

Sorry but I don't identify Willets to subspecies.  If they split em someday then I'll worry about it.  Photo is a little dark as it was eclipse time.

Best find on the flats was this flock of a dozen migrant Fulvous Whistling-Ducks where they looked much out of place.

The Fulvous Whistling-Ducks disappeared to the south.  A couple of German birds tald me they had seen them earlier off the boardwalk where I later found a few with the regular crowd.

Still time to check out Sheepshead.  I saw this early Magnolia warbler before I even got out of the jeep.

Then my first Blue-wined Warbler for the year.  Always a treat!

A few Indigo Buntings were starting to "color up".

Finally I found this kingbird that looked mych more gray to me in life than it did on the camera.  I chased after it a couple of blockes hoping it was a rare Cassin's Kingbird but consensus is it's just a Western Kingbird with a worn tail giving it a pale tipped appearance.  The lack of white outer rectrices didn't help.

I've been doing a lot of butterfly and iNaturalist stuff lately so it was nice to make a successful bird chase.  Turns out viewing conditions were better than predicted and lots of happy people enjoyed a total eclipse in Texas.