Thursday, April 24, 2014


Found and photographed by Phil Ziegler at Padre Island National Seashore at 4:33 PM Tuesday 4/22. The location is near the "Oak Tree" area.  Thanks to Phil for permission to post these photos here.  The photos are reduced in size but otherwise not manipulated.  Watch for a link to more pictures on his Flickr site shortly!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hook-billed Kites - Mission Hike and Bike Trail - January 21, 2014

The Hook-billed Kite is one of my favorite LRGV birds.

Wait, let me try that again.

The Hook-billed Kite is one of my favorite birds.

We've been in the middle of a prolonged drought in the LRGV and the kites have nearly disappeared along with their food source, the Rabdotus snail. I'm starting to see more snails around, and the odd kite has been reported, most recently by Bill Supulski and Dottie Laminolara.
But imagine my surprise to see five - FIVE - Hook-billed Kites together while I was walking on the Mission Nature Park hike and bike trail today.  (Directions - From US 83 go south on Conway to the signed Mission Nature Park; park and walk west under the high power lines that cross the trail; I had the kites in the next 1/4 mile, on the north of the hike and bike trail - I went walking up the orange signed bike trail).  Don't get me wrong, most of my views were of this sort, with the birds high and distant.  If you squint a little, you can see they are Hook-billed Kites.  OK, maybe if you squint a LOT.  
The black morph is the one I've seen the least of, it's very rare.  Bill Clark found a black morph nesting nearby in Bentsen that fledged a dark chick in 2002.  It's nice to think this could be the same bird or related to one of those birds, but we'll never know with certainty. 
 The females have a golden collar across the hind neck and rufous barring on the breast. This one jumped with a snail, I feel bad about having startled these birds, though it's debatable which of us jumped higher, and I can vouch for a vastly increased heart rate too! 
Here's the less barred male, which is similar in plumage to the male that nested in western Hidalgo County in 2010 and 2011.  Can anyone identify what's in its bill? I was surprised to see it was carrying something, and that it wasn't a snail in a shell. 
I'm very interested in additional reports of these birds. I had two females, two males, and a black morph bird.  The males were  different in appearance, and your careful attention to breast color (red in females, gray in males) and barring thickness and pattern (one male boldly barred in addition to the one above) as well as the black morph that is, well, black. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Little Gull and Glaucous Gull, Boca Chica - January 18, 2014

Following up on Dan Jones' report from yesterday of a Glaucous Gull at the mouth of the Rio Grande in Mexico, and a Little Gull in the USA, I headed to Boca Chica Beach this morning. I arrived at about 7:45 and quickly found the Little Gull sitting on the south side of the river in Tamaulipas.  My efforts to digiphone were thwarted by bad light (haze and strong sunlight) and the truly 'little' nature of this bird. Little Gulls like to sit with small gulls and terns, and this bird was at the back side of a large flock of Forster's Terns. Unfortunately, the river's edge was lined with Herring Gulls, Brown Pelicans, and other birds that easily blocked the Little Gull.  Fishermen flushed the birds several times, and I could not relocate the Little Gull. 
I drove the beach up to the SPI Inlet jetties, finding the Glaucous Gull about 1.5 miles south of the beach crossing.  Success!  Now if it would just go back to roost with the others in Mexico... I went back down to the river mouth, and didn't see the Glaucous Gull this time.

I spent some more time at the river mouth, and the Little Gull flew by me so close I didn't have time to get the camera up.  I tried to find the bird to no avail - until I looked at the Laughing Gulls next to me!  There was the Little Gull, undecided whether to hang out with the Laughing Gulls or peck at things with the Sanderling.
It was quickly flushed by shell collectors and flew back to Mexico.  I watched the Little Gull fly back to the US to join a feeding flock and quickly return to roost in Mexico.  I last saw the Little Gull sitting at the sand spit on the south side about 11:30 PM.

I drove north along the beach, and 0.3 miles south of the beach crossing I saw some fishermen cleaning their catch ... and the Glaucous Gull was mooching fish from them.  I went over to get some photos, and watch the big Glaucous Gull mostly dominating the smaller gulls.  One Herring did steal his fish carcass, but the Glaucous quickly claimed the next one.
Thanks Dan for your great find, the second Cameron County Little Gull - and also evidently the second for Mexico!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The RETURN of the BLOG - Green Jay

It's been a while since I've posted, even though there have been some nice local birds around.  I'm back from my trip to South Africa and Lesotho, and I'm hoping to start posting here and getting caught up. 

Green Jays are one of my favorite birds to live near and watch daily.  They are the class clowns of the valley.  In the winter, their many and varied calls are part of daily life.  I hear them making any of the dozens of regular vocalizations from the time I get up through my day at the office.  In the summer, they are much more reclusive.  They still come in to bathe and they are a presence darting across a road or trail at work, but they are not as confiding and bold as in the winter.