Thursday, May 16, 2024

Driving the Beach at SPI, 5/15/24

Yesterday afternoon Justin LeClaire found an Arctic Tern on the beach at South Padre Island while doing shorebird surveys.  Arctic Terns pass through Texas in late May on their 10,000 plus mile migration route from their Antarctic wintering range to their Arctic breeding range.  They are rarely seen in Texas.  I was photographing odes at Bentsen so there was no way I could make it out there and put in much of a search.  

So I got up early and was at the beach at 9AM.  I surmised getting out there earlier might not help as the birds would all be out feeding.  I spent the next seven hours driving the 25 miles of beach up tp to the Port Mansfield channel and then 25 miles back.  Lots of migrant shorebirds were seen but no Arctic Tern.  Justin wanted people to keep an eye open for banded Red Knots and I found a couple with band numbers 8ME and 380.  I will do a little research and see what I can find.

The closest thing I could find to Arctic Terns were three Common Terns by the jetty.  I rarely see Common Terns in their gray breeding plumage.

I kept a running total of species seen for my eBird report and came up 1190 Sanderlings.  Most were in some form of their highly variable breeding plumage.

Plenty of Ruddy Turnstones too.

There were a handfull of Dunlins.  Usually they are out on the flats.

I think this is the western subspecies of Willet.

I find it very difficult to get good photos of breeding plumaged Black-bellied Plovers.  This is about the best I've ever done and it's not that great.

Lots of Sandwich Terns were feeding at the Port Mansfield jetty.

I don't know if the Snowy Plovers were migrants or local breeders.

So no Arctic Tern but it was a beautiful day at the beach.

PS:  I posted these photos on the Rio Grande Valley Birding Facebook group and Justin was pretty quick to reply.  "Need to look up 8ME to be sure but it is one of the earliest knots that David banded with the Coastal Bird Program, probably banded here in texas around 2010 as a third year bird. That bird is still on the beach today. 380 is probably from around 2017/2018."

Wow!  That first Red Knot is about 15 years old!

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Another Mexican Violetear at South Padre Island, 5-10-24

Well a cool front with a shift of winds was forecast for today so I headed out to South Padre Island for some late spring migration action.  Turns out the front didn't quite make it so the winds never shifted to northerly and an easterly breeze was the best we could get.  The result was a somewhat mediocre day... except for my last stop.

My first stop of the morning was at the Valley Land Fund's Sheepshead lot.  Not much was going one except I did glimpse a large dark hummer streaking through the Turk's-cap.  I mused that maybe it was last week's Mexican Violetear from Retama Street but I could never refind it.  Then after an OK but not spectacular day I made a final stop to check out Sheepshead again.  It seemed like a few migrants were dropping in.  I birded a bit with a visiting couple and almost immediately after they left here comes the large dark hummer.  And this time it perched and I was able to fire off a number of shots.  The hummer was in the shade and I had to bump the ISO to 3200 but there was no doubt.  It was a Mexican Violetear!

This was definitely not the adult male that hung out a month ago on Cora Lee and was photographed by many.  And unless it sprouted a bunch of new feathers over the past week, it's not the immature Mexican Violetear found by Ryan Rodriguez and photographed by Caley Thomas.  So after never having a Mexican Violetear, South Padre Island has now hosted three of them during the past month.  It's definitely the best hummer I've ever found in the US and among the best birds I've ever found.

Other late afternoon birds at Sheepshead included this what I am assuming is a Common Nighthawk.

And a distant pop up Veery.

The Convention Center at lunch time was a little slow.  Here's a Red-eyed Vireo.

A Northern Waterthrush.

Here's my first Yellow-bellied Flycather for the year.  The primary extensions seem long but not long enough for Acadian and the yellowish throat rules out Acadian also.

Best was this Mangrove Warbler.  I don't know if it's a female or a young male.  Mangrove Warbler is a mangrove dwelling subspecies of Yellow Warbler.  The maroon headed adult males are quite distinct but AOS has yet to split them.  They have invaded the mangroves at South Padre Island in recent years  and are now fairly common.

Some good migrants had been reported from the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center so I ran over there and spent the afternoon on the deck above Songbird Alley with local birders Mary, Agnieska and Horatio.  It was warm and humid with an occasional pleasant breeze blowing over from the sewage treatment plant.  But we stuck it out and eventually a few birds came in for a drink or an afternoon bath.  Here's an Orchard Oriole.

There have already been a number of reports of MacGillivray's Warbler which is consistant with the large number of western migrants seen this spring.  This is my first for the year.

Magnolia Warblers were at all sites today.

Canada Warbler is one of the later migrants.

This male Bay-breasted Warbler wa a real knockout.

One more Western Tanager was out in front.  They have been common this spring.

Along with my only Black-troated Green Warbler for the day.

My first self found Mexican Violetear made for a dang fine day!

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Yturria Brush, 5/7/24

Yesterday I made a butterfly run out to the Yturria Brush tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR.  The high temperature for tomorrow is forecast to be 108F so I wanted to check it out before everything gets fried.  Turns out I was too late.  Vegetation was already crispy and there were few butterflies so I switched to birds who were singing their heads off.

As I approached the brushy monte about a half mile north of the new parking area on Vanderpool Road I heard the squeaky call of a Groove-billed Ani.  I whistled an imitation of its call and one promply flew in to check me out.

Then it was joined by a second who tried to offer the first a small grasshoppper and then they proceeded to copulate.  My oh my!

Well that was unexpected.  Other passerines were calling so I responded with my best imitation of a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl.  I was hoping for Varied bunting but all I got were the common Painted Buntings.  Here's a strangly colored young male.

Adult and young White-eyed Vireos came in to investigate.

As did a migrant American Redstart.

The major find for the day were several Plain Chachalacas.  It was a first for me on the refuge and only the second eBird record, the first being from 1999.

After tomorrow's excruciating heat it supposted to cool off a bit and maybe even rain.  Might be a good time to head to SPI for late migrants.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Third ABA record Mottled Owl at Santa Margarita Ranch, 5/4/24

On February 23, 1983 a dead Mottled Owl was found along the road near Bentsen State Park.  This was the first record of this tropical owl species for the United States though they are resident in Mexico less than a hundred miles from the US border.  A second was reported from Frontera Audubon in Weslaco in July of 2006 though never photographed.  I vaguely remember looking unsuccessfully for that bird.

Finally on Nov 18 last year Zach Johnson and Simon Kiazc recorded the voice of a Mottled Owl at the Santa Margarita Ranch in Starr County, Texas just north of Roma.  The ranch had recently been opened to guided birding following the rediscovery of Brown Jays and the owners allowed Zach and Simon to take birders in to find this third ABA Area record.  Since then this owl has been seen by hundreds of birders and photographed many times.

I got my lifer Mottled Owl at San Blas, Nayarit in Mexico sometime in the late 80's.  A group of us took the train down from Nogales and had a blast.  There we bumped into Wings guide Jeff Kingery who was happy to show us a Mottled Owl outside his hotel.  Since then I've seen them a couple of times at Palenque in Chiapas and maybe elsewhere.  As I'm not a serious ABA lister I figured I would take my time and eventually get out to see this third record bird.  If I missed it, well I would probably survive.

Then a few days ago I was on South Padre Island enjoying the Mangrove Cuckoo when I ran into Zach Johnson.  Zach, a TxDOT biologist in his daytime job, told me he had noticed that I had not been out to see the Mottled Owl and that he had a small group going out Saturday night.  The time seem right so I jumped at the chance.

So last night we met at the Santa Margarita Ranch.  I've been there a few times through the years so I was a little familiar with it.  Most memorably Oscar Carmona and I found a male Blue Bunting there back sometime in the 90's.  Anyway Zach led us nearly a mile and half through the breezy humid darkness to the spot he had last seen the Mottled Owl.  He let out a few blasts of the recorded barking call of the owl and shortly we had great looks at this fantastic bird.  Flash photography was not allowed so I had to bump up the ISO on my camera to 3200 and 6400 to capture this bird in Zach's spotlight.  The photos came out surprisingly well.

High fives all around!  On the walk out Zach found us Eastern Schreech Owls but we dipped on Elf and Great Howned Owls.  Common Parauques called but we could not get a Poorwill to call.  Tawny-collared Nightjar is another species that occurs not too far away in Mexico but has never been recorded in the US.  Zach says he plays the call for that species every time he takes a group out on the Ranch.  So far no luck.

Mottled Owl is Stryx virgata and is superfically similar to its larger congener Barred Owl which is common in much of the US and is my 603rd Texas species on eBird placing me in a three way tie for fifth place with David Bradford and Randy Pinkston.  And I have a pretty easy ace in the hole for number 604.  I've been putting it off but I may have to go to Houston and get the exotic but recently accepted by TBRC Speckled Munia and break that tie.