Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sapsuckers at Rancho las Damas Chihuahua

I spent parts of two days at Rancho Las Damas in the Valle Centrales of Chihuahua, November 15-16.  Two Sapsuckers were present at the ranch headquarters, a female Red-naped and a female Williamson's.  Both were confiding and allowed close study. The soapberry trees were well decorated with sap wells and the birds had their favorite trees, well separated given the limited number of trees near the ranch headquarters.  The Williamson's Sapsucker was a lifer for several people presenting at the workshop, and I said I'd share some photos. 

 Here's the Red-naped.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mike Rickard's Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Mike Rickard found a Fork-tailed Flycatcher on Boca Chica Blvd. in Cameron County, TX today.  To reach the site take Boca Chica east of Brownsville to the smiley face painted on a buoy at the intersection with Massey Way.  The bird was originally on Boca Chica and was later relocated on Massey Way near the top of the hill. 

Thanks to Mike for permission to share his photo!  Copyright stays with Mike.   Nice find! 

Santa Margarita Bluffs - November 3, 2013

I went scouting the Santa Margarita Bluffs birding access today for a trip for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.  Wow, some days I love the volunteer tasks I assign myself!  

I had forgotten how stunning the vista is at the Santa Margarita bluffs.   This access is separate from the old river access and is a short if potentially steep hike from a caliche road (the steep bit can be skirted through some cenizo and thorny brush with caution).  I was last in this area in the early 80's (!).  This is a private ranch with an admission fee and requires pre-arrangement for a visit; contact me for information until I get an email address to share.  The view is spectacular; I'm not sure this iPhone panorama does it justice.
Looking upstream - north - the spillway at Falcon Dam is in the distance, and Salineno and Chapeno are in between. The riparian corridor is intact on both sides of the river, and easily birded with a good scope. 
 The view downstream is still in good light even early in the morning; the river runs nearly north/south at this point. Lots of birds were following the river, including Sandhill Crane, White-fronted Goose, Double-crested Cormorant, and more.  Waterbirds are still arriving in the area. 
I was pleased to see two flyby Yellow-headed Blackbirds - new for my Tamaulipas list - and the stunning find, an adult Bald Eagle that perched out of view in Tamaulipas.  Twice it chased the Osprey upstream from Salineno (I think) and tried to steal a fish from it; there were at least nine Osprey in the area along with many Gray Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, and a few Red-tailed Hawks.  One Zone-tailed Hawk got up with the vultures. 

I didn't see any Red-billed Pigeon, but this vista is perfect for watching for them - and seeing the White-winged Doves that sometimes fool unwary birders that only see them from below.  Muscovy Duck fly low to the water, so you'd have to concentrate on the river to catch a view of them before they are past you. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dory Owen's Rufous-backed Robin in Hidalgo, TX

Here are Dory Owen's photos of the Rufous-backed Robin at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse in Hidalgo, Texas on Sunday, October 13, 2013.  All copyrights are with Dory Owen and not me, and the photos are posted here with permission.

Thanks much to Dory for notifying us, and stay tuned for updates on sightings.  The bird was not seen this morning, but several hard working city staff were using leaf blowers and the like, so the bird could easily have avoided the area today.

Monday, July 22, 2013

More photos from Mazatlan - Chara Pinta / Tufted Jay Preserve

Just this week I got some great photos from Antonio Ruiz from my 2011 trip to the Chara Pinta reserve in Sinaloa.  These images are all (c) Antonio Ruiz, and are shared with his permission.  You can read more about the Chara Pinta / Tufted Jay preserve in my blog post here.

Antonio is sharing a fantastic photo of the charismatic and endangered Tufted Jay.  You may think the bird can't possibly be this stunning, but it's even better than this fantastic photo!

Here we are at the cabin in the preserve.  The birding was excellent!  I still fondly recall the excellent meals that we enjoyed and the flocks of wintering warblers arriving and breeding species still present.  I can't wait to return! 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Long-eared Owls nesting at the Davis Mountains Preserve, Texas

Hi all, I was holding this news pending an announcement by TNC.  Well, they've spilled the beans on their Facebook page (why not go like it?), so here you go!  
On May 25, 2013 a group of people conducting point counts on the Davis Mountains Preserve, Jeff Davis County went owling on the preserve.  We found a cooperative Common Poorwill on the road (and had to stop short to avoid it), and while watching this diminutive nightjar we saw a medium-sized owl in flight.  The owl landed behind some trees up ahead, but not visible (at least from where the lead car stopped).  We pulled up to see the owl, and it flew directly over the lead vehicle.  It was Rich Kostecke who first identified it as a Long-eared Owl!  A great find for May in the Davis Mountains - and a source of much discussion, as the late date made me suspect it could be nesting.

The next day, I was conducting point counts in the area where we had seen the Long-eared Owl, and my attention was drawn to a suspicious looking feather in a vast stick nest.  It looked suspiciously like the ear of a Long-eared Owl... but it was not possible to see into the nest from the point.  I finished my points, and found a place where I could see into the nest on the way back.  I was extremely pleased to see a Long-eared Owl looking at me, and I could see the head of a chick in the nest too!  Sorry, the chick isn't visible in the photo below - a digi pic, but still, you can see how obvious the bird on the nest is...
We collected the team up again, and observed the nest from a distance on the way back down for lunch.  We stayed far enough away that the female did not look at us directly.  The two fuzzy chicks were stretching their necks and featherless wings.  We returned in the afternoon in better light and better scopes for digiscoping and took some photos of the nest   The female sheltered the young under her spread wings much of the time, panting in the heat.  With the beetle damage to the ponderosa pines, the nest was fully exposed to the sun and it was quite warm.

Several folks left, with the work done, and Rich, Sam and I went up high to check out the birds at another spring. As Rich got out to unlock a gate, I got out to close it behind us - and stopped without a thought to look at another stick nest.  I "threw a wobbly" and could only tell Rich to get back to the car - there was ANOTHER Long-eared Owl on a second stick nest!  This nest was much smaller than the first, and lower.  We couldn't see in to see if there were chicks in this nest.  Mark Lockwood photographed chicks in this nest a week later!  Here's his pic on the TNC Texas Facebook page. 

You can see the second nest in the middle of the picture above, against the clouds.  So one nest was an oddity, a source of much discussion, but still explainable as an anomaly.  A second nest led to many more questions with few answers.

  • Were the owls always nesting here, but not detected?  Hard to believe since the area is covered by owling efforts by researchers and on open weekends. The nests were much easier to see with the dead trees from the pine beetles and fires, but they were easily accessed compared to much of the preserve.  

  • Did the owls move in after the fires opened up the forest?  If so, from where?  Did they nest in the riparian corridors along Limpia Creek?  Did they stay after wintering in the area, finding lots of prey and good conditions?  
Stay tuned, I'm headed out to look for more nests!  The preserve is open on selected days.  Remaining open dates for 2013 are
  • July 12-14 - Open Weekend
  • August 16-18 - Open Weekend
  • October 19 - Open Day
  • December 7 & 14 - Open Day 
I can just about guarantee you WON'T find a Long-eared Owl, but who knows what you WILL find in this beautiful place!  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Birding The Nature Conservancy's Rancho El Uno Reserve, Chihuahua

I had the privilege to visit the Nature Conservancy's Rancho El Uno Reserve in northern Chihuahua, March 11-14, 2013.  While the main purpose of the visit was for work, as usual it's hard to separate the birding from the work for me!
This region of the Chihuahuan Desert has been in drought conditions for over a decade.  This winter, poor grass conditions even on well-managed El Uno reflect the exceptional drought of last summer.  Range conditions are better on the ranch than the surrounding grasslands, and the birds are concentrated on the ranch as a result.  Predators are also concentrated on the ranch.  One of the research projects we participated in, a Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory radio tracking project looking at winter movements and survival in Baird's Sparrow, had some birds lost to predation by raptors including Loggerhead Shrike and Short-eared Owl.
Jesús tries out the scratching post for the bison

TNC has restored bison to the ranch, with 36 bison roaming one (huge) pasture.  Our first morning we were entertained with the bison herd just outside the building compound, playing, rolling, and shaking the ground.  Discussions are underway about restoring other native grazers including pronghorn.
We met with members of a local ejido who are grazing their cows on Rancho El Uno while the ejido pasture is restored.  Some members of this ejido are quite progressive in their outlook, willing to help with the work of rotational grazing their cows on Rancho El Uno.  The ejido is also receiving ecosystem services payments from the Mexican government while they reduce grazing pressure on a different tract of ejido land.  These funds are from the forestry department!
Rancho El Uno is a great place for Baird's Sparrow, but it's not a great place to study Baird's Sparrow - except in flight!  They certainly don't sit up and pose for you, but they are present in some numbers along with Grasshopper Sparrow, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Sprague's Pipit, and other grassland birds.  Brush-loving birds are found in the surrounding area in numbers, including Vesper Sparrow, Lark Bunting, Brewer's Sparrow, and other birds.  
The last morning as we were heading out to El Paso we were treated by Jose Luis of TNC to a trip to Casas Grandes to see the Laguna Fierro and Laguna Redondo.  These reservoirs hold numbers of Snow and Ross's Geese and other waterfowl, particularly in spring migration.  Flocks of Chestnut-collared Longspurs were coming in to drink, and Western Grebes were present on the water.  My favorite birds were the stately Common Mergansers since I don't see them where I live in south Texas.
The diverse arid grasslands of Rancho El Uno
It was a whirlwind trip, and I can't wait to go back and spend more time at Rancho El Uno!  
Chihuahuan Ravens on the entrance gate to the reserve.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Golden-crowned Sparrow - SPI Convention Center - May 17, 2013

Birgit and Rex Stanford and Erik Breden found this Golden-crowned Sparrow at the South Padre Island Convention Center today.  This is a TBRC Review Species, and it will likely be the first accepted from the LRGV.  Documentations and photos are highly desired! 

Thanks to this trio for the excellent find and prompt reporting! 

Prairie Warbler - Roselawn Cemetery - McAllen, Texas

Jon McIntyre found this Prairie Warbler at Roselawn Cemetery in McAllen, Texas on May 11, 2013.  This is a scarce migrant in the LRGV with most records near the coast.  I was able to relocate it later the same day.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Melanistic Golden-fronted Woodpecker at Anzalduas - Rick Nirschl photos

On February 21, Rick Nirschl found and photographed this melanistic Golden-fronted Woodpecker at Anzalduas County Park, Hidalgo County. These photos are from February 22. The bird has been resighted through end of the month. It's a stunning bird! Thanks Rick for sharing your excellent pics.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Birding the Rio Grande in Laredo - CBC 2012

Here I am on the Rio Grande in Laredo - on the USA side.  Photo (c) Raul Delgado.
 I've wanted to help out with the Laredo Christmas Bird Count for the last few years, and I finally made the trip the winter of 2012. I was lucky enough to be assigned to join Raul Delgado and his party in downtown Laredo. We birded downtown Laredo at dawn, and watched the Green Parakeets leaving the eaves of historic buildings at about 7:30 AM. We made a quick stop at an overlook on the east side of Zacate Creek known as the Slaughter Property, where we had typical south Texas birds including Plain Chachalaca and Green Jay. Then we started on a five mile hike from the mouth of Zacate Creek upstream to the Laredo Community College, where we'd left a car. Zacate Creek is famous among birders for hosting the first confirmed Amazon Kingfisher for the USA, and while we saw Ringed, Belted, and Green Kingfisher we didn't see an Amazon - this year. 
I was impressed with the pockets of forest with native trees and shrubs, and the minimal amount of invasive species (salt cedar, Arundo, and other plants).  Warblers abounded in the forested pockets, and we searched for White-collared Seedeaters, the poster child for the Laredo Birding Festival. (More on the Laredo Birding Festival here.)
We walked up past the two international bridges and stopped to rest at a little-used park on the river for a break to watch birds flying along the river. A gorgeous male Vermilion Flycatcher watched us as we watched him. Raptors were about the only bird on this stretch of the river, as the river was running high and fast. 

Vermilion Flycatcher supervising our break.  Photo (c) Raul Delgado.
The floods of 2010 had innundated the area, and it was easy to see damage from the flood waters, which nearly reached the bottom of the bridges.
Once we crossed under the international railroad bridge we started seeing White-collared Seedeater. The White-collared Seedeater is a widespread species with many subspecies, and the subspecies in south Texas is rarely depicted correctly in field guides. This subspecies is nearly lacking the black collar, and is typically very buffy in color. Sibley seems to have some better illustrations of what the bird really looks like. We had at least ten birds from the railroad bridge to the community college.
White-collared Seedeaters on the CBC - Photo (c) Raul Delgado.
We ended our walk at the system of trails maintained by the Laredo Community College and the second vehicle, hungry for lunch and anxious to check out the ducks on the quarry ponds.