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2012 Big Year - January
January 8 - Sabal Palm Grove, Boca Chica Beach, Port Isabel, South Padre Island
Pat Heirs joined me for a wonderful day out on the coast, where in addition to chasing several rarities that had been reported over the week, I picked up a bundle of coastal year birds!
We started at Sabal Palm Grove in Brownsville, picking up White-tailed Kite on the way in, and as we walked up to the visitor's center, a birder from California pointed out the singing Anna's Hummingbird to us! The guy on duty told us the Crimson-collared Grosbeak and Dusky-capped Flycatcher often hung around the immediate area, but since I had been told by the last person who saw the grosbeak that they had seen it on the Forest Trail, we hit that first, with a side trip to the big overlook where we enjoyed point-blank looks at puffy little Least Grebes and Ruddy Ducks, with Pintail, Gadwall, and Black-crowned Night Herons further out. Back on the trail we added Carolina Wren and heard Snow Geese in the distance, but it was pretty quiet. We looped around the back side on the Vireo Trail and added a wintering Least Flycatcher who conveniently whitted for us, and witnessed a Golden-fronted/Ladder-backed Woodpecker scuffle. A Hermit Thrush thooked unseen, and a White-eyed Vireo gave us what for! We ran into the Californian back there who said he had the Duskycap along the Native Trail, so we hightailed it back there (picking up a pair of Solitary Sandpipers in the resaca on the way), and while Pat stood guard in the butterfly garden, I headed back along the trail where, lo and behold, at the intersection with the wide dirt road, there he was, giving his sad whistle and flopping around catching insects! I went tearing back to find Pat and he evidently followed me, because by the time I got back to the garden, you could still hear him whistling, so Pat was able to get it for the year, too!
Anna's Hummingbird, a vagrant from the west, sings its scratchy song!
Female Ruddy Duck (left) and Least Grebe (right) from the Big Blind
Solitary Sandpiper at the resaca
Dusky-capped Flycatcher, a mega-rarity from Mexico! Its sad whistle is diagnostic.
From there we headed down to Boca Chica Beach via SR 4 (and Pat showed me the back way to get there, where we had a nice White-tailed Hawk in with some TVs) where we just cruised and stopped as necessary; dipped on the Aplomado Falcon, but we did get battling Peregrines closer to the coast! A nice family of Harris' Hawks posed along the way, and picked up an Eastern Meadowlark not far past the checkpoint. The big treat, though, was an apparent family group of Chihuahuan Ravens along the wires, showing off their white necks very nicely (and even handing off nesting material)! There was a mob of Reddish Egrets on the playas, but we were surprised by the lack of plovers there and on the beach!
Chihuahuan Ravens; the bird on the right shows why they used to be called White-necked Ravens!
Male trying to impress??
Young Harris' Hawk
Osprey giving us the looking-over...
...then decides to take off!
But the beach itself was fabulous, and for the first time since moving here I felt comfortable enough to drive all the way down to the river mouth, where a California and Lesser Black-backed Gull had been reported. Before we got there Pat spotted some sparrows on the dunes, and since I had mentioned that others had found Seaside Sparrows there, we stopped and scoped them, but they turned out to be mostly Savannahs with a token Lincoln's. At the river mouth we were delighted to find several Bonaparte's Gulls along with the usual larids and Sanderlings (plus a token turnstone), and a huge flock of Avocets was a nice treat! But as we drove back, we found a suspicious-looking first-year gull that looked good for California to me (we had no idea what age the reported gull was). Thankfully this bird was in with both Ringbills and Herrings, going after a dead fish, and it looked smaller than the Herrings, with that nice slender pink, black-tipped bill and black bedroom eyes! But looking at the pictures later, there are some field marks that also look good for a second-year Herring, so I'm putting out the feelers for feedback! In the surf we enjoyed a pod of Eared Grebes, and interestingly both White and Brown Pelicans, only one young Brown had a fishing line stuck in his pouch, and unfortunately we never ran into a ranger to whom we could report it (Pat had horror stories about untrained friends who had tried to rescue a pelican and regretted it...) We also drove north as far as we could, but it got rather dusty with no vehicles (and no birds that we could pick out), so we turned around and headed back to SR 511, then up SR 48.
Bonaparte's Gulls in the surf; the bird in flight is a first-year bird.
A group of American Avocets with a token Bonie...
Three ages of Herring Gull: adult (left), a very smudgy 3rd-year (center) and a 2nd-year (right). The two-year-old is just starting to get his yellow eye.
We found a gull that superficially looked good for California: sharply bicolored bill (Herring should be mostly black at this age), dark eye, and the lack of a strong "primary flash" lean towards California, but the overall bulkier shape, lack of a strong secondary bar, and shorter wing projection all made me wonder. Click here for more pictures of this bird.
What made me wonder even more about the veracity of our ID was this second very similar bird that, while not noticeable in this photo, definitely had a paler eye.
Pod of Eared Grebes in the surf.
We made a quick stop at the boat ramp along 48, but the light was too bad to see things clearly (except the Laughing Gulls that came in to something questionable next to the car), so we headed on up to Port Isabel, where a Red Knot had been reported near the swing bridge. Couldn't find that, but we did find two American Oystercatchers, a Black-bellied Plover, and a line of White Ibis, as well as an Osprey that had us fooled into thinking it was a black-backed gull at first... ☺ There were also some Red-breasted Mergansers there.
Young Laughing Gull bossing the older ones around...
Headed on over to South Padre and the beach access north of the Convention Center, where all the birds had been driven south by beach activity, so we headed back to the Convention Center where we dipped on all the reported rarities, but found some nice birds along the boardwalk (when don't you ever find nice birds along the boardwalk?! ☺): Black Skimmers, Redheads, a single Marbled Godwit, Little Blue Heron, and Black-necked Stilt, and a distant Dunlin were all new. Not new but still nice to see were Roseate Spoonbills and a complaining Tricolored Heron. A Reddish Egret did his dancing thing a point-blank range, his floppy neck feathers blowing every which way! Pat also ran into some friends of hers from Vermont, so that was a nice surprise while a pair of Mottled Ducks flew overhead!
Snoozing Black-necked Stilt
Reddish Egret demonstrating how it doesn't take much to go from "perfectly manicured" to a "bad hair day"!
Performing its famous dance...
Flyover Mottled Duck
We had to head home after that, but Pat knew where there was a Burrowing Owl in Heidelberg, so we stopped there on the way back, on a dirt road off FM 1425. We checked the fields and were ready to give up and turn around, when he flew up and landed in a furrow! Cute little guy! We made a big deal of picking up the Eurasian Collared Doves on the way back to the freeway... ☺
Burrowing Owl near Heidelberg
Dropped Pat off after that, ending the day with 95 species, and bringing the year total up to 150!
Bird List (new birds are in CAPS):
Snow Goose Chen caerulescens
Gadwall Anas strepera
American Wigeon Anas americana
MOTTLED DUCK Anas fulvigula
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
REDHEAD Aythya americana
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER Mergus serrator
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Plain Chachalaca Ortalis vetula
Least Grebe Tachybaptus dominicus
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
EARED GREBE Podiceps nigricollis
Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus
American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
BROWN PELICAN Pelecanus occidentalis
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Great Egret Ardea alba
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
WHITE-TAILED KITE Elanus leucurus
Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus
Harris's Hawk Parabuteo unicinctus
Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus
WHITE-TAILED HAWK Buteo albicaudatus
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
PEREGRINE FALCON Falco peregrinus
Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata
American Coot Fulica americana
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER Pluvialis squatarola
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER Haematopus palliatus
BLACK-NECKED STILT Himantopus mexicanus
AMERICAN AVOCET Recurvirostra americana
SOLITARY SANDPIPER Tringa solitaria
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca
WILLET Tringa semipalmata
MARBLED GODWIT Limosa fedoa
RUDDY TURNSTONE Arenaria interpres
SANDERLING Calidris alba
DUNLIN Calidris alpina
BONAPARTE’S GULL Chroicocephalus philadelphia
LAUGHING GULL Leucophaeus atricilla
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
CALIFORNIA GULL Larus californicus
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
White-tipped Dove Leptotila verreauxi
BURROWING OWL Athene cunicularia
ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD Calypte anna
Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon
Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons
Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris
LEAST FLYCATCHER Empidonax minimus
Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER Myiarchus tuberculifer
Great Kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus
Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus
WHITE-EYED VIREO Vireo griseus
Green Jay Cyanocorax yncas
CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN Corvus cryptoleucus
Black-crested Titmouse Baeolophus atricristatus
CAROLINA WREN Thryothorus ludovicianus
House Wren Troglodytes aedon
MARSH WREN Cistothorus palustris
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
HERMIT THRUSH Catharus guttatus
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
Orange-crowned Warbler Oreothlypis celata
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata
Wilson's Warbler Cardellina pusilla
Olive Sparrow Arremonops rufivirgatus
SAVANNAH SPARROW Passerculus sandwichensis
Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
EASTERN MEADOWLARK Sturnella magna
Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus
SO FAR: 150 SPECIES
SO FAR: 150 SPECIES
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