Sunday, July 18, 2010

South Padre Island Pelagic, July 17, 2010

The Osprey headed out from South Padre Island on July 17 with a full load of birders and leaders. The forecast was for calm winds and calm seas and for once it was correct. We finally worked up to nearly two feet waves, but I've seen bigger waves at a family reunion from a cannonball off the diving board.

We looked through a lot of Royal and Sandwich Terns near the shrimp boats on the way out. There really wasn't much going on there, and with the calm waters we were anxious to get to deep water.

Bird of the trip on Eric Carpenter's South Padre Island Pelagic was this Greater Shearwater, one of fewer than 20 records for Texas (once reviewed by the TBRC). This spiffy looking bird was sitting on the water near a young Masked Booby and stayed with the boat and a school of tuna for more than half an hour - at times within 10 feet of the boat!

Here's the Greater Shearwater taking off from next to the boat.
We were also treated to several views of the Shearwater coming in and landing on the water, giving us great views of the smudgy belly found on the species.
We were frustrated with several very distant or very brief views of Masked Boobies in the morning, but this cooperative youngster was extremely accomodating first sitting on the water, and then flying down the length of the boat. Later, we saw this adult Masked Booby, quite a contrast to the first bird and recognizable a long way out.

And now for a fish story. With the Greater Sheatwater and the tuna feeding frenzy we spotted a whale shark about 20 feet long as it swam slowly slowly under the boat - lengthwise. While whale sharks are the largest fish in the world (being truly a shark though the size of a whale) this is a "little" whale shark. Next we saw the tail of one out of the water with dark shadows indicating where the body was for at least two whale sharks.

And then a third was spotted! It's easiest to see fish in the water with polarizing sun glasses, but one whale shark did a tail stand and poked its nose out of the water with its mouth agape. The spots were spectacular in the midday sun! And then it slowly slid underwater. Wow. This was the best look I've ever had at a whale shark! I spent a lot more time watching these huge fish instead of taking pictures.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Rio Grande Flood - Llano Grande Floodway; photos from July 16, 2010

Here's a series of pictures showing the floodway that runs from Anzalduas Dam to the Gulf of Mexico. These photos are in Mercedes or Weslaco, Texas. All the pictures are from the levee that runs east/west at the south end of Estero Llano Grande State Park. This view is from the west end of the federal and state tracts, looking east on the floodway to the Llano Grande RV Park.
This next picture is looking west from the same point. The area is usually a channel bordered with cattails and marsh and a pond in the center. This photo is looking south where 1015 crosses the floodway. The sign just left of center is on 1015, as is the big tangle of phragmites and sticks behind it.
Here's a view across 1015 to the pumphouse on the west side of 1015. Here's another view from the levee looking south across the floodway. A local told me these are the highest floodwaters in the Llano Grande floodway since 1967. The land in the distance under the second electric tower is all agricultural fields.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hook-billed Kites - the "backstory" July 5, 2010

So by now you know there are multiple Hook-billed Kites at Chihuahua Woods Preserve of The Nature Conservancy. I have added earlier posts in date order about the birds and their activities and our efforts to find the nest. I would like to thank Sonia Najera, Paul Bryant, and all the staff at TNC for permission to go off the trails. Thanks also to Mark Conway and Bill Clark for their efforts to locate the actual nest. Most of all, thanks to those who knew about the nest but enjoyed the birds without disturbing them. They are still visible at the Preserve but are seemingly ranging farther away or feeding in different areas. Good luck if you go to look for them. Please do report the kites with information on the plumage of the birds so we can keep track of the chick and the pair. You can report your sightings to or the RBA, or in eBird add a remark on the age or color of the birds you see in your comments. The last known successful nest was in 2002.

Page down for earlier posts just added about the Hook-billed Kites at Chihuahua Woods.

Mary Gustafson

Friday, July 2, 2010

July 2, 2010 - Hook-billed Kite - Chihuahua Woods Preserve TNC - Palmview, Texas

Today I had the rare treat of watching a female Hook-billed Kite catching snails in the cow pasture adjacent to the Chihuahua Woods Preserve of The Nature Conservancy. The kite flew into a low perch - a stump or fence post - and then flew off to land on the ground. From the ground she then jumped and grabbed the sapling with her feet and then snatched a snail with her bill. It was an amazing show for about 30 minutes! I didn't see her before or after this extraordinary show!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hook-billed Kites - post-Hurricane Alex - July 1, 2010

I went out to check on the Hook-billed Kites today. I found the female feeding quite close to the access road.

She flew in repeatedly and landed in a small snag. From the snag she peered around and then dropped to the ground, often quite close to the perch. She quickly reappeared and I could see her eating snails. She seemed to be taking a long time to process each snail, until I realized that the snails were in clumps - presumably mating - and she was grabbing a clump each time she went to the ground.

She then ate all but one snail in the clump, and took that last snail to the feeding perch by the nest.

Although their diet is almost entirely Rhabdotus snails, the Hook-billed Kites are attacked by resident nesting birds including Northern Mockingbird, Western Kingbird, and Red-winged Blackbird.

The nest is so flimsy I had to check on the chick after the arrival and departure of Tropical Storm Alex. Here is the check, standing up and feisty, waiting for the next snail delivery.

Time to get out and leave things be.