Friday, November 26, 2010

Greater Pewee - McAllen's Roselawn Cemetary, November 26, 2010

Found by Cin-ty Lee today - and very vocal in the evening. Roselawn Cemetary is on Main Street in McAllen just north of US 83 on the east side of the road. The Greater Pewee was in the SE corner of the cemetary.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Santa Ana NWR Post-flood pictures - November 7, 2010

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge flooded in the summer of 2010 for the first time in over 50 years. Like so many areas in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, the riparian corridor and floodplain forests have been in need of floodwaters to deliver nutrients. With the regular flooding of the Rio Grande curtailed or diminished by dams including Falcon and Amistad dams and other dams in Mexico, the thorn forest has been replaced by thorn scrub as the tall trees die off. This summer's flood may be the first step in a rejuvenation of the thorn forest and riparian corridor on the Lower Rio Grande. The flood also sent huge mats of Arundo or giant cane and water hyacinth - invasive exotic plants - into the Gulf of Mexico. The Refuge is reopening for guided walks, be sure to see the revitalization of the forests for yourself!
This area below on the tour loop was not flooded as deep, but you can still see the impact on the guinea grass.
The view at Cattail Lakes was of one large pond . The levees subdividing the pond into various units were covered with water.
A branch of the river crossed the tour loop road here and cut into the gravel and soil on the right (east) side of the road. The drop off was 2-3 feet deep on the right side of the picture. Cattail Lakes again.
The forest is recovering quickly. The invasive exotic guinea grass was killed and the roots rotted after several weeks under water. Unfortunately, the grass is regenerating from the seed bank, but the refuge staff are making great efforts to control the guinea grass while it is more sensitive to grass-specific herbicides.
The tour road is still underwater from near the Resaca Trailhead to the Mesquite trail. The water was going down but there was still a lot of it.

Chuck Lorenz's Blue-throated Hummingbird Photo - South Padre Island

Here's a photo from Chuck Lorenz of the Blue-throated Hummingbird on South Padre Island. It was seen from the empty lot just west of 117 E. Ling Street. If you visit, please be very careful walking in the lot as the owners and neighbors are removing exotic vegetation and replanting with natives for the migrants. You would not want to step on any young plants! Thanks to Chuck for sharing the photo with me and permission to post it. This is a female and was quite vocal - I could hear it through Scarlet's phone call seeping and whining.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Not-So-Winter Wren

Well, it was a frigid 44F leaving home this morning in the dark but it was a bit warmer at the coast and eventually got to a crisp 78F this afternoon on the drive home. All the exciting birds today at South Padre Island were winter birds from the north. I was pleased to see Golden-crowned Kinglets as soon as I arrived, since they don't always reach the LRGV. A local, Mike, showed me this Northern (Yellow-shafted) Flicker that was hanging around. I think that is my first in the LRGV since I moved here 5 years ago! White-throated Sparrow is another northern bird that I don't see in the LRGV every year.
And maybe you have to be a local to appreciate that Northern Cardinal is not always at the convention center. You can see why this subspecies had "Gray-backed Cardinal" as one common name, back when they gave common names to subspecies.
Star of the show was this Winter Wren that was hopping around in the open off and on, here on the concrete walk next to the convention center!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Tale of Three Phalaropes - Sal del Rey, October 31, 2010

Dan Jones found all three species of Phalarope at Sal del Rey, a tract of the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge, on October 30. I went up October 31 to see what I could find. When I got to the refuge and walked in, Dan called me over and showed me the birds. Here's the Red Phalarope on the left, with a Wildon's on the right. Note the white crown on the Red, and the very small cheek patch on the red. The Red is on the left.
Here's the Red again. It's a long way to the birds and a scope is required to get any kind of a look at them. These pictures are digiscoped with a Swarovski and a 50 mm lens - not ideal conditions. Morning is best for low wind and good light. Today, the birds came closer with time.

Red Phalarope on the left, Red-necked Phalarope on the right. The distinctive streaks on the mantle are evident on the smaller and smaller-headed Red-necked Phalarope. Here they've switched sites, the Red on the right with its shorter, thicker bill and whiter forehead.
From the rear the Red Phalarope has a very dark crown with a narrow nape stripe,with the color of the stripe becoming paler closer to the bird's back.

Red left, Wilson's right

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Nesting Birds - Lesser Goldfinch and Ruddy Duck

October 2, 2010 - a brood of Ruddy Ducks on County Rd 20 Pond just north of 186 in Willacy Co. Texas. The four birds on the left are the chicks, the hen is on the right in this digiscoped view. This is a rare nesting bird in the LRGV. The chicks had obvious downy juvenal plumage, especially obvious on the back.
October 1, 2010 - Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco, Hidalgo County. This female Lesser Goldfinch was collecting nest material. I first saw her as here collecting spider webs. Then I noticed her flying to an old nest and ripping large pieces out of the nest and flying off with them, presumably to construct the new nest.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park - Bio Blitz - Park Still Closed

I had the opportunity to go into Bentsen September 9 as part of a bio-blitz. Special permission was required to participate in the event, and permission was only for the one day. Bentsen is still CLOSED due to flooding, but the Headquarters including the coffee shop and store are open.

Here's some pictures of the park after the flood. I am hoping that the flood will rejuvenate the riparian forest, which has been starved for nutrients since Hurricane Beulah, shortly after the construction of Falcon Dam.

The park was extremely birdy with lots of migrants, water birds, and resident species. My group saw tracks of Collared Peccary and Raccoon. Herons and egrets were flying over much of the day.

Here's the entrance road looking south near the maintenance yard.
And the drainage canal on the entrance road, full of water.
The Resaca Vieja Trailhead - the trail is still nearly blocked by a downed tree.
You can see the water level on the vegetation here, looking south to the Ebony Grove.
One of the feeding stations on the entrance road.
Kingfisher overlook.
The picnic pavilion - again, note the water line on the building.
Kiskadee Trail
Trailer loop - Acacia Loop
North end of the Acacia Loop
Roadrunner Crossing at the north end - still a lot of water over the road!
A lot of the brush was flooded, and the invasive guinea grass was dead. Northern Waterthrushes were enjoying the wet spots!
Northern Beardless Tyrannulet nest with young - note that the adult has food for the chicks in the ballmoss nest.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Doug Weidemann's pictures - Yellow-green Vireo - Sept. 6, 2010

Here are Doug Weidemann's photos of the Yellow-green Vireo from September 6, 2010. The Yellow-green Vireo was first found at Cannon Road (AKA Old Cannon Road Pond) on August 4, 2010 by Dan Jones Reports for the past week have been negative, and Red-eyed Vireos are migrating through now - just to complicate things!

Yellow-green Vireos are nearly impossible to locate after they quit singing (especially as the use of playback is not allowed here). Doug and Don Weidemann relocated the bird by checking each tree carefully according to their post to TEXBIRDS - and at some point the bird did start singing. Note especially the blurry face pattern in the first picture - and the full tail. When I saw this bird on August 22 the bird was in molt and the tail was but a stub - or I had a different bird; early reports were of two birds. The song is somewhat similar to a Red-eyed Vireo but more clipped and - dare I say it - House Sparrow-like. Listen a song on Xeno-canto here:

The use of playback is not allowed at this site as it is USFWS Lower Rio Grande NWR land. The use of playback is not allowed at most LRGV sites.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bird Behavior - Plain Chachalaca

I was intrigued to watch this family group of Plain Chachalacas outside my new office at the Camp Thicket of Estero Llano Grande State Park and World Birding Center. This is the entire flock.

The two birds on the left picked up food and fed the small chick in front of them by picking up food (banana, milo, whatever) and holding it in the tip of their bill in front of the chick until ithe chick pecked at the food. The medium size bird on the right seems to be a juvenile - it has a narrow dull tail band and is much smaller in body size. It was also fed by the two larger birds.

In reading the Birds of North America [BNA] account for Plain Chachalaca online, they are not supposed to have more than one brood in a season - so according to that document, the two large birds here shouldn't be the parents of both the older juvenile and the young chick. The BNA states that Plain Chachalaca parents regurgitate food for their chicks, a behavior I have yet to see. Everyone can contribute to our knowledge of bird behavior in the LRGV by carefully observing birds and documenting what you see with photographs - even photos through a dirty window, (like these) help document your written observation. I'm going to try to chronicle some of my observations of bird behavior in the Lower Rio Grande Valley here.

The BNA is a wonderful series covering the breeding birds of the USA and is available online by subscription or in hard copy. The best thing about the online version is that the accounts are frequently updated. See for more information. Some LRGV specialties are not covered (e.g. Hook-billed Kite). Here in Texas, Texas Ornithological Society members can obtain access to the BNA accounts for a discounted price. American Ornithologists Union members have free access with their membership.

Wordless Wednesday - Pharr Purple Martin Roost

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ageing Inca Doves

The following is all tentative and is based on a very small number of known-age birds.

Here is the HY/SY pattern of S1 in Inca Doves. Note the extremely broad dusky edge on S1 and the limited rufous center.
Note the discrete rufous center to S1 on this known ASY in March below.
All photos are from March 14, 2010, and were banded by Mark Conway of Harlingen, Texas. Thanks to Mark for allowing me to observe and assist at his site.