#797 and #798 at Estero Llano Grande State Park

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.

Not long after, the other group found the Rose-throated Becard and I managed to get over to it and get on it for about half a second before it took off. It was not cooperating. more people didn’t see it than did, I think. It kept popping at different points around that area of the the park border for just a few seconds at a time for the next several hours at least, never seen by more than three or four people before it took off again into the foliage. But I saw it long enough to count it, #798!

We also spent some time looking for a Green-tailed Towhee that had been reported in the area, but no luck there. It remains a nemesis bird. So I finished out the festival with a respectable 173 species. Of these seven were life birds, 21 were ABA birds, and 74 were Texas state birds. My Texas list now stands at 186, putting it ahead of New Jersey, but still 100 or so birds behind New York and California. My ABA area total is in the vicinity of 489 according to eBird, though that’s likely missing a few species from before I started entering data into eBird and includes some non-countable species such as Budgerigar and Cockatiel. The two systematic errors should roughly cancel each other out.

I need two more species to hit 800 in 2011. I only have one more trip planned, Louisiana in December, but Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Groove-billed Ani were the last likely life birds to chase there at this time of year, and I saw both in Texas this past week. A chaseable Northern Shrike could show up somewhere around New York City; and then after that I guess I’m hoping for an extreme southern rarity like last year’s Fork-tailed Flycatcher.

But if I don’t cross 800 this year, I should easily make it next year with just one trip to Florida, Texas, or points south. Heck, I could probably get it just by waiting for rarities to show up in Prospect Park. (Swainson’s Warbler, maybe?) Indeed if I manage one trip to Latin America and one trip to Europe next year, I could hit the 1000 mark in 2012. A concentrated effort in Florida or Texas could well push me over 500 for the ABA area.

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