Sunday, November 9, 2014

Texas, Days 4 and 5: Beyond the Wall

I apologize to my two faithful readers for not posting a report yesterday.  After two days of nearly constant rain, I was exhausted and demoralized, but the sunrise today was greeted with hurrahs on the bus as we headed toward a preserve just beyond the (in)famous border fence.

But first, a recap of yesterday's trips.  The morning trip to Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park is generally one of the highlights of the festival, as this destination is perhaps the most storied of the birding hotspots in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  A big park with a system of roads, it is sprinkled with small parks with feeding stations, plentiful bathrooms, bird blinds, and the famous two story hawk platform, from which you can see well into Mexico.

The fabulous hawk platform at Bentsen-Rio Grande, from which I saw my lifer White-Tailed Kite
We were greeting at Bentsen by Javier, the terrific Park Ranger, with this doubly memorable line: "bathrooms are on the left, Black Phoebe is on the right of the drain pipe."  As it was pouring, we walked around the covered walkways looking at a few hummingbirds, then ventured out into the drizzle for a short walk, during which it actually stopped raining for much of rest of our time there.

Highlights were the White-Tailed Kite, a Black-Chinned hummer, a White Eyed Vireo, and four lovely Altamira Orioles.  The slight improvement in the weather put up some raptors, and we had some Crested Cara-Caras and a White-Tailed Hawk.  Not a good day by which to judge this great park.

On our return, I headed to the small Frontera Audubon property in nearby Weslaco to chase a reported Tropical Parula.  Over two hours of chasing a mixed migrant flock did not turn up the Parula.  Did I mention it was raining again?  In any case, Frontera Audubon is a gem; not as glamorous as Quinta Mazatlan, which I visited today, but deserving its reputation as a hotspot for good birds.

Yesterday was saved by a bird I decided to try for in my remaining time.  Frontera Audubon is very near Estero Llano Grande (where I am going with a group on Sunday), and Common Pauraque were apparently staked out.  So, after a muddy slog, I found all the photographers, and three of these:

No, not Jabba the Hutt but a Common Pauraque

Today (the 8th of November) dawned ... almost dry!  The goal was the Nature Conservancy's Southmost Preserve, which as its name suggests, is literally the south-most  point in Texas.  The Preserve contains a small stand of the nearly eradicated Sabal Palm, but features a grapefruit grove and a large marsh, hedge-rows, and riparian habitat.  After two solid days of rain, and the tromping of the group the day before, the trails were sodden and goopy, and we got very muddy.  But it was birdy indeed, with a Franklin's Gull seen from the bus, a fly-over Wood Stork, Vermilion Flycatchers, a rare Blue Grosbeak, a juvvie Gray Hawk, my life Loggerhead Shrike, and a Groove-Billed Ani seen only by the other half of the group.  You see, the leaders typically split the group into two and follow separate routes, and the leaders were not in communication, so our group found out about the Ani only when we all met back at the bus.  Now, many of us spent a great deal of money to see rare birds like the Ani, so the "sorry" we got on the bus rankled a bit.  There is nice little feature on smart phones called texting, folks:  use it, and give participants the option to chase a bird or stick with the main group.

Our trip continued down the famous Boca Chica road, lined with excellent raptor habitat and power lines.  Many Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers, Kestrels, shrikes, meadowlarks.  Boca Chica Beach itself was a little underwhelming, with a few Forster's Terns and a Royal Tern, Sanderlings, and one Ruddy Turnstone looking a little out of place.  The surprise (for me at least) was a long string of Surf Scoters which only I and one of the leaders saw.

This afternoon I chased another Tropical Parula report, along with many other people, and also came up empty.  As I mentioned earlier, I went to the lovely Quinta Mazatlan property in McAllen, surrounded by stately palms and manicured carefully for events like the wedding photos being staged in one photogenic area.  Suffice to say, no Parula seen, but a couple of really nice photo opportunities with which I will leave you (including the Curve-Billed Thrasher I have put on the masthead today).

Plain Chachalaca reaching up for berries.  Just after this shot it leapt for some high berries and fell off its perch. Wierd, but oddly amusing birds.

Great Kiskadee.  Loud and flamboyant.

White-winged Dove.


Unknown said...

The Altamira orioles a wonderful sighting! Not seen them. Piraque, black chin, vireo, crested cara cara, blue grosbeak all good; too bad the others didn't text the Ani-never seen it either. The wet weather a drag; there's been hurricane remnants off Baja,across AZ, NM recently. I think the vermillion flycatcher is good as it gets! Don't forget the resacas are cottonmouth and gator habitat. Good luck, be safe.

David Swain said...

Chris, thanks for your comments. Honored to have Ludlow's grandson reading! Texas was great, and your advice to stick to just a few places was ultimately correct--chasing birds like Tropical Parula just chewed up good time. However, if I had seen one, I wouldn't be saying that!