Sunday, November 9, 2014

Texas, Day 6: Chasing Cinnamon Teal (and Zone-Tailed Hawk)

The sun is still a novelty.  Today's field trip was to Estero Llano Grando State Park, which I visited a few evenings ago (in the rain) to see the Common Pauraque (and much else).  Estero features some stunning wetland impoundments which are controlled for shorebird or fall/winter duck migration.  Additionally (as our guide explained to us) they cut back the reeds in sections to promote new growth and provide birders with an opportunity to see rails dart across these openings.  Now, why don't we do that that Great Meadows NWR?

The group on the bus today was tired, and perhaps because this trip was labeled as appropriate for beginners, there were many birders who had not seen the basic species.  So, the going was a little slow, but our guide knew what was where, and we saw some juvenile Least Grebe, a single Cinammon Teal (which took some time to find and show everyone), Yellow Crowned Night Heron, White-Faced Ibis, and many, many ducks (including some Ring-Necks!).  Once we got the the "Tropical Zone" in the former trailer park, the passerine birding was a little slow.  Nonetheless, this is one of my favorite destinations this week.  Now, birds get all the attention here, but the valley is a pre-emiment butterly destination, and a major Code 5 butterly was being seen in the parking lot.  Two of our guides were in fact primarily butterfliers, and there was some excitement about getting back to the parking lot to see this very rare creature.  Tropical Duskywing has apparently only been recorded in the US about 5 times (remind you of ABA Rare reports?).

Tropical Duskywing (aka Common Blue-vent)
 With a total of nearly 80 species, Estero was much as I had imagined most of the Valley locations in terms of species variety, but what makes this park extraordinary are the wetlands, and this should be your main reason to go there.

After the rain-soaked debacle that was Wednesdays trip to Anzalduas Park, I vowed to return, so I dedicated the afternoon to driving there and trying for its specialties, Northern-Beardless Tyrannulet and Zone-Tailed Hawk.  Now bear in mind that there is a certain psychology to looking for specific species; that is, if you desire them, you will tend to find them, despite evidence to the contrary.  Which is why my two readers will be skeptical when they hear that in fact I succeeded.  After chasing groups of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets and Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and Orange-Crowned Warblers, I suddenly heard a very distinctive, high-pitched, plaintive "teeee ..... teeee."  I chased this bird for 30 minutes between four ebony trees before it stopped calling, but although I was never able to spot it, I will have to call it my "life" Tyrannulet.  The whole thing about life sightings/hearings is that you have to get them right the second time; that is the deal you make to list it the first time.

As for hawks, I picked through numerous kettles of mixed Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Red-Shoulder (two of them), and Grey Hawk (one, looking very out of place kettling with big black birds).  After an hour and a half of searching I gave up and went to the back of the park to look at warblers (some Black-Throated Greys had been reported in this area).  Suddently, a dark raptor cruised over the park from the south, alone, and I looked up and saw this.

Zone-Tailed Hawk, Anzalduas Park, Mission, TX
Zone-Tailed typically uses the cover of flying with Turkey Vultures, as it shares the distinctive contrast of light light flight feathers and dark coverts.  Except for a distinct white band on its tail and more pointed wings.

Now that sighting was nice, but you know what was nicest?  When searching for warblers I spotted two birds foraging side-by-side.  One was obviously a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, but the larger bird by it was largely yellow with a black back and hood.  Lesser Goldfinch, a bird I had despaired of ever seeing and having to assume I had "seen" in fly-over flocks of finches.

 I left Anzalduas in time to get back to Harlingen in time for a presumably reliable roost of Red-Crowned Parrots.  Except that this evening they did not roost on the lines by Calvary Baptist Church of Harlingen, and a drive through all the surrounding blocks did not turn them up.  Ah, well.

Tomorrow I leave Harlingen on a 2:30 flight, which means I have a full morning, so I am going to return to South Padre Island to try again at the Convention center for the rare birds showing there, among them some Groove-Billed Ani.

For those counting, my trip to Texas has netted 48 new birds and 162 species encountered.  Let's see what tomorrow brings!

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