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.