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2012 Big Year

February 19 - South Padre Island, Laguna Atascosa NWR, & Estero Llano Grande SP

A Barn Owl flying across the freeway pre-dawn was a great start to a gorgeous day compared to the last two Sundays (with a knockout sunrise to boot), and I started at dawn at the Convention Centre at South Padre Island in hopes of hearing some different rails.  That trick didn't work, but as always, the place afforded some wonderful photo ops in the morning light (despite the frigid wind coming off the bay), including a goofy-looking Great Blue Heron, a gorgeous Roseate Spoonbill, and the usual tons of Redheads off the overlook.  Alas, the only rails to vocalize were the resident Clapper Rails, and shorebirds (particularly the sought-after Piping Plover, Western Sandpiper, and Short-billed Dowitcher) were nowhere to be found.  A Barn Swallow swooping by, however, told me that spring migration was on its way!

Great Blue Heron looking for breakfast from the roof of one of the blinds...


Roseate Spoonbill


In the left-hand shot he's blinking with his nictitating membrane!

American Wigeon

Caspian Tern, showing his diagnostic dusky wingtip (from underneath)

Redheads (and a token wigeon pair) off the overlook

Long-billed Curlew

A multi-species shot which makes birding in the tropics so fun!  (From front to back:  Great Blue Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, White Ibis, Mottled Ducks, and American Wigeon on the left...)

Pied-billed Grebe (lacks the "pied bill" in winter plumage)

I ran into a couple of other photographers with "big guns" who were also looking for shorebirds, so I suggested a couple of places before heading to the gulf beach access.  Once on the beach I dragged the scope out and began to scan, and didn't have to wait long to bag another target bird:  a Northern Gannet!  A cruise up the beach was unfortunately fruitless so far as more year birds went, but as a couple of other Texbirders had reported from their respective coastal areas, jellyfish were out the yin yang!  I went up as far as I felt I could before the beach narrowed, and a couple of SUV's were in the process of turning around and pointing to the gulf as they passed me, so I assumed that was sign language for, "The tide is coming in!", so like everyone else I turned around and headed back.  On the way out the entrance a flock of Purple Martins flew overhead!


I had bagged Piping Plover in Port Isabel during the Christmas Count last year, so I swung by the settling basin off Port Street to check it out, but it only yielded gulls and a couple of Ruddy Turnstones.  From there I was trying to decide whether to go to Boca Chica to cruise the beach there, or Laguna Atascosa in hopes of the other two target shorebirds (and whatever else), so the latter won.  Ranger Stacy tried to show me where an Eastern Screech Owl had been hanging out in the parking lot, but he remained elusive.  Heading out on the Bayside Drive, there turned out to be lots of shorebirds, but not the kind I needed (although there were a couple of dowitchers, species undetermined)!  Several stops along the road added distant Greater White-fronted Geese, a singing Cactus Wren, and a group of Pintail.  The biggest surprise on that drive was a lack of caracaras and White-tailed Hawks, usually a staple there!  A loop around Kiskadee Trail was a bust (it was a popular place on a Sunday afternoon ☺) except for a Roadrunner that a visiting group of birders spotted, and a quick run to Osprey Overlook produced an Alligator in the middle of Laguna Atascosa sticking his nose and tail up simultaneously, exciting a young human family!  In desperation I stopped on the way out on a bridge over a canal along General Brandt Road where I had gotten King Rails in the past, and this one hit pay dirt, not with a rail but with a peeping Swamp Sparrow!

I had a little bit of time left, so decided to head to Progresso to try for the Yellow-headed Blackbird again.  Found the grain silos and scoured each flock of blackbirds along the road I came in, and was about ready to give up when I looked down a side road to the north and saw "Alfred Hitchcock", so headed up that one and finally found not one, but at least three Yellow-headed Blackbirds in with the mass of Redwings and cowbirds! 

Eurasian Collared Dove hanging out at the Progresso silos

Yellow-headed Blackbird (with a female Brown-headed Cowbird in the foreground)

Headed up to the state park after that and chatted with Huck, and while some of the rarities had been seen that morning, I couldn't refind anything (didn't really have time to linger, anyway), so I made a loop around the boardwalk in hopes of kicking up some snipe, soras, or sparrows.  Nada in any of those departments, but the Canvasback and Wood Duck were still hanging around, and a Spotted Sandpiper flew in and bobbed cooperatively!  The "Friendly Shoveler" was still in his same spot, preening away, along with some friends!

Spotted Sandpiper - look closely and you'll see that he's starting to get some of his spots!


Preening Northern Shoveler


The "Friendly Shoveler" on left; another bird on right

Their Wood Duck is hiding in a tangle!

Headed home with 96 species for the day.  Bird list (new year birds are in CAPS):

  Greater White-fronted Goose           Anser albifrons

  Wood Duck                             Aix sponsa

  Gadwall                               Anas strepera

  American Wigeon                       Anas americana

  Mottled Duck                          Anas fulvigula

  Blue-winged Teal                      Anas discors

  Northern Shoveler                     Anas clypeata

  Northern Pintail                      Anas acuta

  Green-winged Teal                     Anas crecca

  Canvasback                            Aythya valisineria

  Redhead                               Aythya americana

  Ring-necked Duck                      Aythya collaris

  Lesser Scaup                          Aythya affinis

  Red-breasted Merganser                Mergus serrator

  Ruddy Duck                            Oxyura jamaicensis

  Least Grebe                           Tachybaptus dominicus

  Pied-billed Grebe                     Podilymbus podiceps

  NORTHERN GANNET                         Morus bassanus

  Neotropic Cormorant                   Phalacrocorax brasilianus

  Double-crested Cormorant              Phalacrocorax auritus

  American White Pelican                Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

  Brown Pelican                         Pelecanus occidentalis

  Great Blue Heron                      Ardea herodias

  Great Egret                           Ardea alba

  Snowy Egret                           Egretta thula

  Little Blue Heron                     Egretta caerulea

  Tricolored Heron                      Egretta tricolor

  Reddish Egret                         Egretta rufescens

  Black-crowned Night-Heron             Nycticorax nycticorax

  White Ibis                            Eudocimus albus

  Roseate Spoonbill                     Platalea ajaja

  Turkey Vulture                        Cathartes aura

  Osprey                                Pandion haliaetus

  Northern Harrier                      Circus cyaneus

  Harris's Hawk                         Parabuteo unicinctus

  Red-shouldered Hawk                   Buteo lineatus

  Red-tailed Hawk                       Buteo jamaicensis

  American Kestrel                      Falco sparverius

  Clapper Rail                          Rallus longirostris

  Common Gallinule                      Gallinula galeata

  American Coot                         Fulica americana

  Black-bellied Plover                  Pluvialis squatarola

  Killdeer                              Charadrius vociferus

  Spotted Sandpiper                     Actitis macularius

  Willet                                Tringa semipalmata

  Long-billed Curlew                    Numenius americanus

  Ruddy Turnstone                       Arenaria interpres

  Sanderling                            Calidris alba

  Dunlin                                Calidris alpina

  Laughing Gull                         Leucophaeus atricilla

  Ring-billed Gull                      Larus delawarensis

  Herring Gull                          Larus argentatus

  Caspian Tern                          Hydroprogne caspia

  Forster's Tern                        Sterna forsteri

  Royal Tern                            Thalasseus maximus

  Black Skimmer                         Rynchops niger

  Rock Pigeon                           Columba livia

  Eurasian Collared-Dove                Streptopelia decaocto

  Mourning Dove                         Zenaida macroura

  Inca Dove                             Columbina inca

  Common Ground-Dove                    Columbina passerina

  White-tipped Dove                     Leptotila verreauxi

  Greater Roadrunner                    Geococcyx californianus

  BARN OWL                                Tyto alba

  Belted Kingfisher                     Megaceryle alcyon

  Golden-fronted Woodpecker             Melanerpes aurifrons

  Eastern Phoebe                        Sayornis phoebe

  Great Kiskadee                        Pitangus sulphuratus

  Loggerhead Shrike                     Lanius ludovicianus

  White-eyed Vireo                      Vireo griseus

  Green Jay                             Cyanocorax yncas

  PURPLE MARTIN                           Progne subis

  BARN SWALLOW                            Hirundo rustica

  Black-crested Titmouse                Baeolophus atricristatus

  Verdin                                Auriparus flaviceps

  Cactus Wren                           Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus

  Bewick's Wren                         Thryomanes bewickii

  House Wren                            Troglodytes aedon

  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                 Polioptila caerulea

  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                  Regulus calendula

  Northern Mockingbird                  Mimus polyglottos

  European Starling                     Sturnus vulgaris

  Orange-crowned Warbler                Oreothlypis celata

  Common Yellowthroat                   Geothlypis trichas

  Yellow-rumped Warbler                 Setophaga coronata

  Olive Sparrow                         Arremonops rufivirgatus

  Savannah Sparrow                      Passerculus sandwichensis

  SWAMP SPARROW                           Melospiza georgiana

  Northern Cardinal                     Cardinalis cardinalis

  Red-winged Blackbird                  Agelaius phoeniceus

  Eastern Meadowlark                    Sturnella magna

  YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD                 Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus

  Great-tailed Grackle                  Quiscalus mexicanus

  Brown-headed Cowbird                  Molothrus ater

  American Goldfinch                    Spinus tristis

  House Sparrow                         Passer domesticus



So far:  196 SPECIES

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