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2012 Big Year - January

January 28 - Port Mansfield, San Benito Wetlands, Lantana Lake, & Las Palomas WMA - Ebony Unit (VNC Field Trip)

First, by taking my lunch breaks at Edinburg Scenic Wetlands this past week, I managed to bag two new year birds:  White-faced Ibis and Stilt Sandpiper (both in the south pond).

But today's excursion definitely made up for dipping on all the rarities last week!  Norma Friedrich was our designated leader for this month's Valley Nature Center (VNC) field trip originally scheduled for the Arroyo City area, but I managed to talk her into going for the Purple Sandpiper (a vagrant from the far north) that had shown up in Port Mansfield!  So after much discussion with other planned attendees, we all met at Hugh Ramsey Nature Park in Harlingen (picking up a calling Cooper's Hawk in the woods) and agreed to shoot for the sandpiper first, then hit several other wetland areas Norma wanted to show us (including a section of the Ebony Unit of the Las Palomas WMA that was hosting some Hooded Mergansers)!

Norma was very familiar with the area the sandpiper was hanging out at (in fact, she had shown us the area on a previous field trip), so we carpooled up, picking up several raptors along the road.  When we arrived at the spit, we spotted a photographer out there on his haunches (a good sign), so we hiked out to the shore, and sure enough, there was the Purple Sandpiper in great light, along with two Ruddy Turnstones!  We all got cracking looks (a life bird for many of us, including me), then four of us with cameras snuck up on the bird while the original photographer slowly got up (he admitted he couldn't feel his feet... ☺) while we got our own shots!  Other nice birds in the area included a male Bufflehead, several Redheads and Scaup flying over, a Roseate Spoonbill, Gull-billed and Caspian Terns, and several herons, pelicans, and Willets.  An Osprey flew over for good measure as well, and Pat found an American Pipit lounging on the rocks.


Purple Sandpiper, a mega-rarity from the north!


With a much larger Willet


Bufflehead (hanging with a Northern Shoveler at right)

From there Norma wanted to show us an access to the intracoastal canal where we at once found a raft of ducks, and what should be leading the pack but a first-year female Surf Scoter!  (Dan Jones had reported one near "the cleaning station", but we weren't sure where that was...)  My policy with scaup is to presume Lesser until proven otherwise, but this group showed all the classic field marks of Greater: the rounded head, large nail, "fat" head-on profile, and the females had the white smudge on the cheek.  In flight, some of them showed the classic long wing stripe, but some wing stripes looked more Lesser-like to me; doing an Internet search showed a lot of overlap, but that's assuming the photographs were correctly labeled...

Female Surf Scoter, another vagrant

These Greater Scaup appear to show all the classic field marks:  rounded head, wide "nail" on the end of the beak, and a "fatter" head-on profile than Lesser Scaup would show.  The old field guides would cite the green head sheen as a field mark, but that has been shown to be unreliable.


The length of the white wing stripe is also supposed to be diagnostic, extending into the primaries on Greater, but some of these wing stripes looked more Lesser-like to me...



Here is a no-doubt-about-it female Greater Scaup, as in addition to the long wing stripe, she also shows a white cheek smudge.

We made a quick stop at Fred Stone County Park which was rather windy and dead, so from there headed down to Lantana Lake near the Mont Meta Cemetery, where a Tropical Kingbird greeted us right outside the vehicles!  We scared up a young Red-shouldered Hawk right away, and there were tons of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on the water, but not much else.

Tropical Kingbird

The gang at Lantana Lake

From there we headed over to the San Benito Wetlands where Norma had had a Least Bittern earlier in the week; no such luck this time, but we did have a pair of Cinnamon Teal in with a group of Bluewings, and a handful of Savannah Sparrows.  We might have had a Swamp Sparrow peeping, but we couldn't draw it out, and the peep was too far away for me to tell for sure.  A big Ringed Kingfisher landed on a wire with a huge crawfish for lunch!  I think it was here where we were exiting and had a magnificent Scissor-tailed Flycatcher flop around!

Then we headed over to the Ebony Unit, where on the way down we spotted a "Krider's" Hawk on a pole.  Alas, the Hooded Mergansers seemed to be gone, but we did see several female Bufflehead among other ducks, and Cheryl showed us a road that led to the back end, along which Norma spotted a lovely Altamira Oriole!  Along the back road we picked up more ducks and both flavors of ibis.  A flock of White-fronted Geese flew over, and we may have had a Clay-colored Robin shoot through, but it disappeared into the brush.  A quick look at the resacas along Rangerville Road added both species of night herons, and some lovely spoonbills on the east side.

View of the Ebony Resaca from the south

Headed back to Ramsey where I think some of the gang continued birding while I headed home.

Bird List (new species are in CAPS):

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck          Dendrocygna autumnalis

  Greater White-fronted Goose           Anser albifrons

  Gadwall                               Anas strepera

  Mottled Duck                          Anas fulvigula

  Blue-winged Teal                      Anas discors

  Cinnamon Teal                         Anas cyanoptera

  Northern Shoveler                     Anas clypeata

  Northern Pintail                      Anas acuta

  Green-winged Teal                     Anas crecca

  Redhead                               Aythya americana

  GREATER SCAUP                           Aythya marila

  Lesser Scaup                          Aythya affinis

  SURF SCOTER                             Melanitta perspicillata

  BUFFLEHEAD                              Bucephala albeola

  Red-breasted Merganser

  Ruddy Duck                            Oxyura jamaicensis

  Least Grebe                           Tachybaptus dominicus

  Pied-billed Grebe                     Podilymbus podiceps

  Neotropic Cormorant                   Phalacrocorax brasilianus

  Double-crested Cormorant              Phalacrocorax auritus

  American White Pelican                Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

  Brown Pelican                         Pelecanus occidentalis

  Great Blue Heron                      Ardea Herodias

  Snowy Egret

  Great Egret                           Ardea alba

  Little Blue Heron                     Egretta caerulea

  Tricolored Heron                      Egretta tricolor

  Black-crowned Night-Heron             Nycticorax nycticorax

  YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON              Nyctanassa violacea

  White Ibis                            Eudocimus albus

  White-faced Ibis                      Plegadis chihi

  Roseate Spoonbill                     Platalea ajaja

  Turkey Vulture                        Cathartes aura


  Northern Harrier                      Circus cyaneus

  Cooper's Hawk                         Accipiter cooperii

  Harris's Hawk                         Parabuteo unicinctus

  Red-shouldered Hawk                   Buteo lineatus

  White-tailed Hawk                     Buteo albicaudatus

  Red-tailed Hawk

  “Krider’s” Hawk

  Crested Caracara                      Caracara cheriway

  American Kestrel                      Falco sparverius

  American Coot                         Fulica americana

  Black-bellied Plover                  Pluvialis squatarola

  Killdeer                              Charadrius vociferus

  Black-necked Stilt                    Himantopus mexicanus

  American Avocet                       Recurvirostra americana

  Greater Yellowlegs                    Tringa melanoleuca


  Lesser Yellowlegs                     Tringa flavipes

  Ruddy Turnstone                       Arenaria interpres

  Sanderling                            Calidris alba

  PURPLE SANDPIPER                        Calidris maritima

  Long-billed Dowitcher                 Limnodromus scolopaceus

  Laughing Gull                         Leucophaeus atricilla

  Ring-billed Gull                      Larus delawarensis

  Herring Gull                          Larus argentatus

  Gull-billed Tern                      Gelochelidon nilotica

  Caspian Tern                          Hydroprogne caspia

  Rock Pigeon                           Columba livia

  Eurasian Collared-Dove                Streptopelia decaocto

  Mourning Dove                         Zenaida macroura

  Ringed Kingfisher                     Megaceryle torquata

  Golden-fronted Woodpecker             Melanerpes aurifrons

  Great Kiskadee                        Pitangus sulphuratus

  TROPICAL KINGBIRD                       Tyrannus melancholicus

  SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER               Tyrannus forficatus

  Loggerhead Shrike                     Lanius ludovicianus

  Green Jay                             Cyanocorax yncas

  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                  Regulus calendula

  Northern Mockingbird                  Mimus polyglottos

  Curve-billed Thrasher                 Toxostoma curvirostre

  European Starling                     Sturnus vulgaris

  American Pipit                        Anthus rubescens

  Orange-crowned Warbler                Oreothlypis celata

  Yellow-rumped Warbler

  Common Yellowthroat                   Geothlypis trichas

  Savannah Sparrow                      Passerculus sandwichensis

  Northern Cardinal                     Cardinalis cardinalis

  Red-winged Blackbird                  Agelaius phoeniceus

  Eastern Meadowlark                    Sturnella magna

  Western Meadowlark                    Sturnella neglecta

  Great-tailed Grackle                  Quiscalus mexicanus

  Altamira Oriole                       Icterus gularis

  House Sparrow                         Passer domesticus



So far:  177 SPECIES

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