There are many excellent photos of the Variegated Flycatcher at the South Padre Island Bird and Nature Center, but I'll add mine here. I had great views of this austral migrant this morning and hope the bird sticks so more people can enjoy it!
The Variegated Flycatcher is a fairly small flycatcher, larger than an Empidonax or a Pewee, but smaller than a Kingbird. The heavily patterned face, back, and wings are typical for a Variegated Flycatcher. Note the red edges to the tail feathers. The bill is much smaller than a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher.
Someone asked me what the worst thing was about doing a Big January (see http://marybirds.blogspot.com/2016/02/big-hidalgo-county-january-2016.html). "A dull February" was my flippant response. How untrue that statement was! I saw 16 17!**new species in February, and eBirded two exotics (added to my eBird total whether I like it or not). 223 total species (-2) = 221 countable birds so far, and a whopping 203 species (plus those two exotics) in February in Hidalgo Co.
**How could I FORGET the FIELD SPARROW? It only took a gazillion trips to find it at Estero Llano Grande State Park! Same day as the Grasshopper and Cassin's Sparrows.
American Robin - Turdus migratorius - Frontera
Blue Bunting - Cyanocompsa parellina - Frontera
Wood Thrush - Hylocichla mustelina - Frontera (took me a while!)
I had a great day today birding Salineno and other Starr/Zapata (barely) locations with Rick N.
We started the day with Red-billed Pigeons sitting on the island upriver from the Salineno boat ramp at 735 AM. Two birds posed on a treetop before vanishing. We walked down the dirt two track along the river, and three birds appeared in the tree tops on the same island. I got some digipics before they flew past us and to the Mexican side on their way downriver. Rick saw the Seedeaters as we were coming back down.
The female Black-headed Grosbeak is coming to the feeders at Salineno along with the usual suspects (Audubon's and Altamira Orioles, Bewick's Wrens, Olive and Lincoln's Sparrows, White-tipped and White-winged Doves, Orange-crowned Warblers, Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia, Long-billed Thrasher, etc. etc. etc.
We headed up to Falcon State Park and discovered a female Painted Bunting coming to feeders in the RV camping area. We missed the Green-tailed Towhee that had been in the AM. Gambel's White-crowned Sparrows were in the same area, along with Pyrrhuloxias and more.
We cruised around some side roads and found Clay-colored and Brewer's Sparrows at the north end of Chele Rd. east of Falcon State Park. Lark Buntings were in the area as well. Field Sparrows were about halfway down the road towards 2098. Taking the long way home on Alvaros Rd got more sparrows (lots of Black-throated and Vesper) and a pair of Chihuahuan Ravens.
Friday we went to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and started out with a White-crowned Sparrow, Hooded Oriole, Pyrrhuloxia, Curve-billed Thrasher, Black Phoebe, Cave Swallow, and a domestic feral Muscovy Duck near the HQ. We finally walked in to the nature center feeders and the spectacle of feeding time kept us entertained with Altamira Orioles, Clay-colored Thrush, more Plain Chachalacas, Green Jays, Great Kiskadees, Northern Cardinals, and other great birds. We jumped on the first tram to save time and went to the Kiskadee Blind, where we saw more Clay-colored Thrush, a Verdin, Olive Sparrows, a Hermit Thrush, and yet no White-throated Thrush. Off to feeder #10, where we arrived at the same time as the volunteers. We had about a ten minute wait for the Audubon's Oriole, an immature decked out in yellow and black. It was already hot, sunny, and windy. Back to the Kiskadee Blind, where we again met the volunteers and waited in vain for the White-throated Thrush.
We headed to Anzalduas County Park where it was hot and windy. Still. Joe immediately found a Black-throated Gray Warbler, and we wandered around and had great looks at a Northern-Beardless Tyrannulet. Then it was off to the floodway and a forced march for the Sprague's Pipit. It didn't take long to find one, and we walked up to the area where it landed to find it marching around on the dead grass in plain view! Another joined it, and we were stunned to see these birds at close range walking around in the short grass. Wow! Where's my camera? Three White-tailed Hawk immatures were fighting over a snake, grabbing it away from each other and fighting over it in flight. Off to Taco Express in Mission for ... more tacos!
After lunch, we decided to take John McClung up on his generous invitation and we headed to Casa Santa Ana B&B. We joined the multitudes that had been waiting since 730 AM for the White-throated Thrush. We hadn't been there ten minutes when Joe and Tim were both on the bird! The rest of us missed it. Another ten minutes later, and the other Tim was on it! Within twenty minutes we'd all had great looks at this super stealthy bird. Wait, what next? I'd planned to spend the whole afternoon as it's a nice place to sit in the shade and enjoy the breeze.
We'd had some folks miss or nearly so the Cactus Wren on OPIR on day one, so we went back to Mission Nature Park. As soon as we walked ten feet we spotted one on a prickly pear in the open. These pretty birds have intricate markings and are such clowns, I'm glad it was putting on a show. Try as I might, I couldn't find a Bewick's Wren. The vote was back to the hotel, so away we went with a quick stop at Walmart for one and a look around for blackbirds including Bronzed Cowbirds for the rest of us.
A couple hours at Frontera again on Saturday morning before the airport yielded a Painted Bunting and a near miss on the Blue (again). We spent about 3 days birding (given their late arrival), saw 172 species, drove 520 miles, and had some of the best tacos in the LRGV at Nanas and Taco Express. We walked 5-7 miles a day, and everyone had a WOW bird or three - including me.
It must have been a month or six weeks ago I got a call from a friend who doesn't drive asking "How's the public transportation in the LRGV?". I can't remember if I was able to choke down a laugh or not, because the reality is it's easier to get a bus to Monterrey, Mexico than it is to get a bus from Brownsville to McAllen, much less any sort of birding area bus. Some areas have excellent public transport, like South Padre Island, but it would generally be difficult for birders to get to birding sites using only public transport.
Thursday the guys seemed more awake (having had an hour and a half's sleep at best on Tuesday's drive in from Laredo in the wee hours). We headed to Santa Ana, where we spent some time watching the feeders and the Plain Chachalaca's antics as the volunteers filled the feeders at 8 AM. We walked out to the Willow Lakes, and after watching the Cinnamon Teal (that's an oxymoron) and Least Grebe, and hearing a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, we kept going on out to Pintail Lake. At Pintail, we joined the masses watching one or the other of the Northern Jacana juvenals, admiring the stately American Bittern, tawny brightness of the Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Eared Grebe, Bufflehead, and the masses and masses of roosting shorebirds on the southeastern-most lake. Did I mention these guys liked to walk?
We wandered back to the HQ, made the obligatory stop in the gift shop, and headed to Estero. Unfortunately my digiscoping phone smashed into a million smithereens in the parking lot at Santa Ana, so I have few photos.
It wouldn't be a visit to the LRGV without a stop at Estero Llano Grande State Park. We started with a little sit at the hummer feeders, where we quickly had all three hummers (Buff-bellied, Black-chinned, and Ruby-throated). We headed out to the 17 Yellow-crowned Night-Herons and the Common Pauraque, which was a hit all around. We wandered back to the deck and decided to go for tacos at Nanas.
After tacos it was time for Frontera. I know, I know, Frontera is not at its best in the heat of a hot and windy day. But how else to squeeze everything in? We mostly missed the rarities, but there were still new birds coming in to the feeders. I was the only one to see the Zone-tailed when it flew over, so we stayed on the deck after closing and waited for the vultures to come in. We didn't have to wait long before the immature came in and sailed by a few times, yellow cere and legs shining in the evening sun and the barred flight feathers and tail obvious. Later, an adult with a more boldly banded tail appeared, and then it was an immature again. Tim was able to find a high-flying Purple Martin (year tick!) and get me on it.
Since it was already late, we drove around between Texas/88, Border, 12th street, and Business 83 until we found 4 Red-crowned Parrots. These loud raucous birds perched in a tree top and we watched them preen, until another group with a Yellow-headed Parrot joined them. They quickly flew off, and we followed one group and another until we found a citrus tree loaded with fruit - and parrots. The birds were lined up on the wires holding fruit and more were in the trees. They spooked again (cover your ears!) and they were off to a Chinaberry tree, where we were able to set up a scope and find some Lilac-crowned Parrots with the Red-crowneds and Yellow-headed. That was a long day, and a good one.
Friends from the Holmes County Ohio area were supposed to arrive in Brownsville last night, and I'd arranged to meet them this morning and go birding for the day. I was almost in Brownsville when they called and said their flight had been diverted to Laredo and they were coming in by van having had no sleep. Seems it was too foggy to land in Brownsville, and the other airports were closed already. Would have been nice if the mobile app for American had had that info instead of telling me the plane made it in OK...
So after they had a chance to shower and get some breakfast - seems the Comfort Suites would give them a refund when they called from Laredo - we went birding.
We hit Sabal Palm, Old Port Isabel Road, the boat ramp on US 48, SPI Convention Center, and the south end of Buena Vista Rd. Aplomados were distant on OPIR at the nest platform, but another bird was close and flying low over the highway at the south end of Buena Vista. A single Cassin's Sparrow perched up for us on OPIR in the heat of the day. One of the more memorable moments for me was when a pair of American Oystercatchers flew across Rte 48 and kept calling at high volume until they landed - about 50 feet away. So many birds we take for granted, it was a pleasure to share them with such an appreciative audience.
It was a great day talking Ohio birds and birding while looking at Texas birds. Let's do it again tomorrow! LOL - and we will.
I went out relatively late today with the early morning fog. I decided to go up to Brushline road to look for Wild Turkeys. You know Turkeys - bigger than a breadbox, not exactly an identification challenge - and a relatively common bird here. The catch is, I still haven't seen one for my 2016 Hidalgo Co. list. So I headed up to the ranch country in the fog.
I puttered around Brushline Rd south of 186 for a couple miles, not seeing much and not expecting Turkeys, but letting the fog burn off some (ha!) and looking for sparrows. I didn't see many (except a Swamp Sparrow just to annoy Huck) and the ducks are declining in numbers, but there were a nice assortment of shorebirds to look through.
As the fog started to clear I went north of 186 on Brushline and listened to the nonstop musical Bewick's Wrens singing in the brush. I got to the Sal del Rey access and decided to walk in. I'm not sure why. I just decided forget the turkeys, time to go for a walk.
It was still so overcast I was a half mile down the road before I realized I'd forgotten a hat. I put three in the car this morning, but no, there I am walking in the fog and no hat. And the fog started burning off just as I got to the lake.
The fun started with three Snowy Plover on the near beach that flew off before I could point the scope at them and attach the phone. There was a mass of shorebirds about as far south as I could see, and they seemed so very very white and active I thought they had to be Wilson's Phalarope, but hey, it's February! That's crazy talk! So I decided to leave them unidentified and I scanned across the lake.
Counting Eared Grebes in small clusters across the lake to the west took me a while. These birds were so spread out and so numerous that I went through them a couple times scanning with the scope. The third time through I saw ... a small white thing bobbing between groups of grebes. I stared at it until my eyes blurred. It looked like a Phalarope. It looked a lot like... a Red-necked Phalarope. It took me a good ten minutes to get to where I could get the bird where I could see it on the phones screen after I attached the phoneskope. That's a record, and not a good one. The pictures don't show much but they show a white blur. Squint really hard and maybe you'll see a bird in the picture.
About this time a flock of shorebirds is flying through the scope, and I followed them. They looked a lot like Phalarope. They looked a lot like Wilson's Phalarope. About 120 of them. Flying in evasive patterns with nothing pursuing them. They ended up joining the Eared Grebe flocks.
At this time it's heating up, the heat haze is making the birds look like Salvador Dali painted them, and the sun is beating on my bare head. I also forgot water. Duh. I've only lived in south Texas for ten and a half years, still haven't learned.
So I hot-footed it out of there. Sorry for not sending alerts, but the birds were so far off in the heat haze there isn't much sense going today. Try early in the morning, take a good scope, and don't forget your hat.
I had a nice flock of 16 Mountain Plover southwest of McCook, Hidalgo County, today. See rgvbirds.blogspot.com for directions. This area of open agricultural lands is hopping with falcons (4 species), Horned Lark, Western Meadowlark, Vesper and Savannah Sparrows, and not much else. I did see a single Sprague's Pipit in the same field as the Mountain Plover. It's an interesting area to explore for raptors, and I was lucky to see these Mountain Plover flying by and even luckier to have them land near the road.
I was birding with a couple from Michigan today and we spent some time at the Kiskadee Blind at Bentsen. As a friend says, I'd rather be lucky than good... anyway, the White-throated Thrush originally eBirded on 2/6 came into the water allowing some photos! We saw the White-throated Thrush before we saw our first Clay-colored Thrush, making for an interesting day. Yowza! A parade of birds came to the water including a Nashville Warbler and a Hermit Thrush.
The immature Gray Hawks were in evidence near the Resaca, and the adult was screaming while we were at the Kiskadee Blind.
Anhingas were at the Resaca perched in trees, and two small migrating flocks went by as we walked in the park. We had a flock of Lincoln's Sparrows on the entrance road with about 6 birds, a larger flock of all Lincoln's than I've seen in the park in recent years.
As an eBird reviewer, I flag exotic species that aren't widely established so they aren't visible on eBird outputs. As a birder, I sometime regret this. Here's an example, a lovely Red-lored Parrot that we first identified in flight as a Red-crowned Parrot, but a closer look revealed the yellow cheek and the blue crown. This bird was in Laredo at Slaughter Park, and others had more Red-lored and even some Yellow-headed Parrots at this very birdy site. Thanks to Teresa K for the photo!
So what do you do when you find yourself out of work in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in January? The answer is obvious at least to me, you go birding! I got about half way through January doing my usual checking off all the local rarities for our annual Hidalgo County year list friendly competition and realized I had seen a lot of birds. So I started getting serious about a big January. I'm not ready to commit to a big year, as the year may see me spending time somewhere other than the LRGV, but I did start admitting to people that I was doing a big January about mid-month. I ended up with 204 species for January in Hidalgo County, only spending about 2.5 days in other counties. More birds were certainly possible in the county but I ran out of time to look for them. Why do a big January? I still haven't decided that, but I have to say February is shaping up as an interesting month with a lot of rare birds in the LRGV!