I Have To Go Back to Texas

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Although I managed 14 life birds and 74 state birds at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival this past week, I still missed a lot and there’s more in other parts of the state I haven’t visited. Species I still need from Texas include:

  • White-collared Seedeater (Upper Rio Grande Valley)
  • Golden-cheeked Warbler
  • Black-capped Vireo
  • Hook-billed Kite
  • Masked Duck (rare)
  • Swallow-tailed Kite (rare; easier in Florida)
  • Short-tailed Hawk
  • Harlan’s Hawk
  • Ferruginous Hawk
  • Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (King Ranch)
  • Prairie Falcon
  • Lesser Prairie Chicken
  • Scaled Quail
  • Yellow Rail
  • Black Rail
  • Mountain Plover
  • Red-billed Pigeon
  • Elf Owl
  • Cordilleran Flycacther
  • Gray Vireo
  • Black-whiskered Vireo (easier in Florida)
  • Yellow-green Vireo (rare)
  • Brown Jay
  • Tamaulipas Crow
  • Brown-headed Nuthatch (also in Louisiana and Florida)
  • Rock Wren
  • Canyon Wren
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • Sprague’s Pipit
  • Swainson’s Warbler
  • Golden-cheeked Warbler
  • Crimson-collared Grosbeak (rare Mexican vagrant)
  • Varied Bunting
  • Canyon Towhee
  • Green-tailed Towhee (missed repeatedly this past trip)
  • White-collared Seedeater
  • Lark Bunting
  • Bachman’s Sparrow (easier in Florida)
  • Cassin’s Sparrow
  • Brewer’s Sparrow
  • Baird’s Sparrow
  • Pink-sided Junco
  • Smith’s Longspur
  • Mccown’s Longspur
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur


#797 and #798 at Estero Llano Grande State Park

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Sunday I was signed up for the Chase vans that were going to track down various rarities and hard-to-locate birds that had turned up throughout the week. There were three target birds–Rose-throated Becard, Hook-billed Kite, and Black-vented Oriole; each with a different van. Hook-billed Kite is local but tough to find. The Black-vented Oriole had not been seen since before the Festival started, and I’d already been to Bentsen where it was believed to be hanging out if it was still around at all. However the Rose-throated Becard is a Mexican rarity, and was at Estero Llano Grande State Park. Since I’d only been able to spend about 45 minutes here on the Big Day at the beginning of the festival, and since it also offered a shot at Common Pauraque and Green-tailed Towhee, I picked that van.

The Becard hadn’t been reported for a couple of days, so we were worried. We started in the “Tropical Area” where it had last been seen, following behind a bus group that was also visiting Estero Llano Grande. We found some good butterflies, Altamira Orioles, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and then next to a driveway of all places, two Common Pauraques, #797:

Common Parauque in leaf litter

You can see how this bird might be a little hard to find. These nocturnal birds sit motionless and noiseless in the leaf litter all day, relying on their incredibly cryptic coloration to camouflage them.

#796 Chihuahuan Raven

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

Saturday, I took another leisurely (only six hours) trip south to the border. The attraction this time was access to the Nature Conservancy’s Southmost Preserve, a site not normally open to the public. This is next door to Sabal Palms and shares a lot of the fauna with that site. However we did get several new species for the trip, mostly as flyovers including Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose (which I initially mistook as a life bird–I don’t know why I never remember that I’ve seen this one before. I’ve tallied it as a lifer multiple times in multiple states. Somehow it’s just really forgettable.) and #796 Chihuahuan Raven.

I wad the 50mm lens on my camera when the flock flew over (I was practicing digiscoping) so no pictures. Basically it looks like a crow, or a raven; but there are no other crows or ravens around here so a flock of 24 large black birds bigger than Grackles pretty much has to be Chihuahuan Raven, though if one were side-by-side with a Common Raven I’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart.

#793-#795 at Bentsen State Park

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Friday I signed up for a relatively leisurely (six hours, one location) trip to the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, once again along the border. At the first feeders, we spent about 45 minutes watching Plain Chachalcas, Green Jays, Orange-crowned Warblers, Red-winged Blackbirds, a Long-billed Thrasher or two, and several Altamira Orioles, #793, a bird I had missed a few times on Wednesday:

Altamira Oriole at feeder

#792 Painted Bunting

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Today I signed up for a special trip with Jon Dunn. Jon’s a great birder and a fun guy (and also co-author of the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds) but we did visit a strict subset of the sites I had visited the day before with Greg Miller on the Big Day so I didn’t find too many new birds; and only one was a life bird, #792 Painted Bunting. It was a female, and I only saw it for about a second and a half, so no photo.

It was extremely windy today, even more so than yesterday. yesterday the wind only tried to steal my hat. Today it succeeded:

Tilley Hat in swamp

I was going to leave the hat there, but a fellow birder was braver than me and climbed off the boardwalk, into the swamp, ignoring the “Beware of Alligator” signs, to retrieve it. It wasn’t just me either. Jon lost his hat once too.

I also managed to miss, once again, Green-tailed Towhee. Jon and some other group members found it, but I did not. It’s turning into this trip’s nemesis bird.

#785-#791: Big Day in Texas

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Today started the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. I signed up for the Big Day vans to chase as many species as possible. As big days go this wasn’t the largest–we didn’t start till a little after 6:00 AM and finished around 4:15 PM; but we did rack up about 125 species including nine life birds. I squeezed into a van with Greg Miller of Big Year fame and Matt Denton from BirdQuest.

We left Harlingen around 6:05 AM and headed down Highway 100 to South Padre Island, adding a few hawks along the way. However, the real counting didn’t begin until we got to the South Padre Island Convention Center, where we tallied more than 60 species including my first life bird of the day, #785, Franklin’s Gull. This was a good one. I’d missed it by a few hours in Port Aransas earlier in the year, and I don’t think it was seen at all later in the week.

Next stop was a small patch of protected land in the middle of a residential and hotel area on Sheepshead Road. (LTC 036 on eBird). 16 species here including a rare Pine Siskin. However I missed potential life bird Green-tailed Towhee that Greg Miller spotted. This would become a common theme throughout the week as I repeatedly missed the Green-tailed Towhee at multiple sites.

We left the island around 9:30 and drove back up Highway 100 looking for raptors. We found several including #786, Harris’s Hawk. I didn’t bring my camera with me on the trip, since it slows us down, but here’s a Harris’s Hawk I shot on the last day of the festival:

Harris's Hawk perched in tree

We also found a not-really-countable Aplomado Falcon. (The species has been reintroduced in Texas after being extirpated around 1951.) However I’d seen that in Panama a few weeks before at El Chirru, so it wasn’t as big a deal for me as for some other participants.