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2012 Big Year

July 22 - Yturrias Tract and Wallace Road

Update:  the "mystery gull" from last week did indeed turn out to be a Lesser Black-backed Gull!

Now on to today:  With reports of a reasonably accessible Varied Bunting (or two) along the Yturrias Tract of the Lower Rio Grande NWR (just west of La Joya), two carloads of ladies headed out there, consisting of Norma Friedrich, Cheryle Beck, and Linda Butcher in one vehicle (the Harlingen Branch of the Birder Patrol), and Pat Heirs, Joyce Davidson, and myself (Hidalgo County Branch) in another.  Mary Gustafson had seen the bird from the telephone wires along the dirt road just east of the tract, which was fine by me as I always prefer road-birding to hiking, so we had high hopes as we made the turn.

I was making good time towards the third power pole when Norma frantically called us on the W/T: the bird had darted out in front of their car just a few feet in front of them, banked to show off all its colors, and then shot back into the brush!  Unfortunately Linda was reaching for her bins and missed it (a life bird for her), so we just hung around there for awhile, hoping it would show up again.  Before long I heard the bird singing, but way back in the bush, so I talked them all into heading over to the parking lot and walking the trail.  We actually saw more odes than birds, but the bunting actually was giving a pretty good concert from various perches--he just wouldn't allow a look!

   (Varied Bunting (turn up the volume)--the loud chink in the middle of some of the songs is a Verdin, and a Pyrrhuloxia sounds off near the end...)

Joyce managed an identifiable shot (with a little tweaking; the "crest" is an artifact of the wind...)

We had some other nice "desert" birds in there:  a Black-throated Sparrow gave his tinkly song and showed himself, and Verdins and Pyrrhuloxias were all over the place.  A family of White-eyed Vireos was very entertaining, and a hidden Long-billed Thrasher finally gave his duit call so I could confidently call him a Long-billed!  Orchard Orioles were moving through by the dozens, it seemed, and three House Finches bounced over as well!  Pat spotted a Roadrunner down the path, and a Lark Sparrow poured forth as I was trying to record the bunting!  Emperor-type butters were out the yin yang, and the ones that stayed put I initially thought were Tawny Emperors, as I could see no "pupils" in the eyes of the forewings, but the pictures revealed that they (at least the ones we shot) were actually Empress Lelias, as they did have the "pupils".

Checkered Setwing

Best guess is a female Band-winged Dragonlet

Empress Lelia

Cheryle suggested we go back to the road and wait quietly for a few minutes to see if the bunting would reappear, so that's exactly what we did.  Norma and her crew parked close to where they saw the bird initially, while our car went down to the third pole.  After about ten minutes I decided step outside to hear better, and shortly thereafter a dark bird came bouncing in and landed on a bare branch maybe 40 feet away--it was the bunting!  Joyce was able to snap a quick shot (photo forthcoming) and Pat frantically tried to get the other car on it when the bird flew their direction; Joyce was able to see the color when it flew against the vegetation, but all the other girls saw was a shooting body.

Pat consoled Linda with the promise that they would try again next week on the VNC trip, so from there we continued north on the road only because I wanted to see where it went (it dead-ended at some commercial outfit...).  We managed to add Cactus Wren, Blue Grosbeak, and Collared Dove to the list with our little detour.

I wanted to check out Wallace Road (as I've had Wood Storks there in the past), so after a potty break at Whataburger we headed up Sparrow Road and then zigzagged to Monte Cristo.  We spotted a wetland near Conway and gave it a quick look, where we added three egret species and a huge flock of Gull-billed Terns!  On to Wallace, where we added a young White-tailed Hawk to the list as well as a Caracara and some Laughing Gulls in the farmland, and a Western Kingbird downed a huge dragonfly as we watched! 

While the south ponds were all dry and overgrown, the north pond on the west side had quite a substantial wetland with several Anhingas, a few Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, both grebes, a Common Gallinule, and a flyover Solitary Sandpiper!  The east side had water but was pretty dismal compared to past years, but we still logged at least 20 White-faced Ibis (along with a token White), upset Black-necked Stilts and Killdeer, lots of Least Sandpipers, and both yellowlegs.  (There were probably other shorebird species out there but the light was terrible and it was approaching 100 by that time...)  A young Green Heron gave us great looks as well, and both Tropical and Couch's Kingbirds gave concerts.  The odophiles would have gone nuts, as the place was hopping with odes, but very few would light for a picture.

One of several Anhingas at the Wallace Road Ponds

Best guess is a female Pin-tailed Pondhawk


Blue Dasher

Norma et al were going to head to Raymondville from there to try for the Wood Stork that her husband saw from the freeway but she missed ☺, and I was actually planning on heading over to Bluetown to look for a Wood Stork that was reported in some wetlands in that area, but Pat and Joyce were ready to call it a day, and by the time we reached the mall at the foot of Ware (where they had met me), I was rapidly considering trading the Wood Stork for a Ben and Jerry's ☺, so that's what we ended up doing!  (I think that picture is forthcoming, too...)  All in all it was a delightful morning, and I was thrilled to add another year bird to the list (and a very good one at that)! 

Celebratory ice cream at Ben & Jerry's (Joyce, me, and Pat)

Bird List (new bird--only one--in CAPS):

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck          Dendrocygna autumnalis

  Mottled Duck                          Anas fulvigula

  Northern Bobwhite                     Colinus virginianus

  Least Grebe                           Tachybaptus dominicus

  Pied-billed Grebe                     Podilymbus podiceps

  Anhinga                               Anhinga anhinga

  Great Egret                           Ardea alba

  Snowy Egret                           Egretta thula

  Cattle Egret                          Bubulcus ibis

  Green Heron                           Butorides virescens

  White Ibis                            Eudocimus albus

  White-faced Ibis                      Plegadis chihi

  Turkey Vulture                        Cathartes aura

  White-tailed Hawk                     Buteo albicaudatus

  Crested Caracara                      Caracara cheriway

  Common Gallinule                      Gallinula galeata

  Killdeer                              Charadrius vociferus

  Black-necked Stilt                    Himantopus mexicanus

  Solitary Sandpiper                    Tringa solitaria

  Greater Yellowlegs                    Tringa melanoleuca

  Lesser Yellowlegs                     Tringa flavipes

  Least Sandpiper                       Calidris minutilla

  Laughing Gull                         Leucophaeus atricilla

  Gull-billed Tern                      Gelochelidon nilotica

  Rock Pigeon                           Columba livia

  Eurasian Collared-Dove                Streptopelia decaocto

  White-winged Dove                     Zenaida asiatica

  Mourning Dove                         Zenaida macroura

  Common Ground-Dove                    Columbina passerina

  White-tipped Dove                     Leptotila verreauxi

  Greater Roadrunner                    Geococcyx californianus

  Common Nighthawk

  Golden-fronted Woodpecker             Melanerpes aurifrons

  Ladder-backed Woodpecker              Picoides scalaris

  Brown-crested Flycatcher              Myiarchus tyrannulus

  Great Kiskadee                        Pitangus sulphuratus

  Tropical Kingbird                     Tyrannus melancholicus

  Couch's Kingbird                      Tyrannus couchii

  Western Kingbird                      Tyrannus verticalis

  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher             Tyrannus forficatus

  White-eyed Vireo                      Vireo griseus

  Horned Lark                           Eremophila alpestris

  Cave Swallow

  Verdin                                Auriparus flaviceps

  Cactus Wren                           Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus

  Bewick's Wren                         Thryomanes bewickii

  Northern Mockingbird                  Mimus polyglottos

  Long-billed Thrasher                  Toxostoma longirostre

  Olive Sparrow                         Arremonops rufivirgatus

  Lark Sparrow                          Chondestes grammacus

  Black-throated Sparrow                Amphispiza bilineata

  Northern Cardinal                     Cardinalis cardinalis

  Pyrrhuloxia                           Cardinalis sinuatus

  Blue Grosbeak                         Passerina caerulea

  VARIED BUNTING                          Passerina versicolor

  Dickcissel                            Spiza americana

  Red-winged Blackbird                  Agelaius phoeniceus

  Eastern Meadowlark                    Sturnella magna

  Great-tailed Grackle                  Quiscalus mexicanus

  Bronzed Cowbird                       Molothrus aeneus

  Orchard Oriole                        Icterus spurius

  House Finch                           Carpodacus mexicanus

  Lesser Goldfinch                      Spinus psaltria

  House Sparrow                         Passer domesticus



So Far:  308 SPECIES

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