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2012 Big Year

May 26 - VNC Field Trip to Laguna Seca Road

Today was the monthly Valley Nature Center Field trip, this month's destination being "Leader's Choice", so since Norma Friedrich was the leader, she chose Laguna Seca Road, a lightly traveled loop in northern Hidalgo County (and which leads, of course, to Laguna Seca Ranch, although a visit there was not on the itinerary).  The rest of the crew included Linda Butcher, Cheryle Beck, Mary Jane Syvertsen and myself.

 I had never been on this road, but it has fabulous potential and (as Norma and others have insisted) would be great for sparrows in winter!  The habitat varied from thick mesquite thornscrub to more open grassland/scrubby areas (much like the habitat around La Sal del Rey), and as is expected along the La Sal loop, we saw plenty of Painted Buntings (several singing from the wires), a handful of Blue Grosbeaks (a lifer for Mary Jane), and the expected raptors (both vultures, Caracara, and White-tailed Hawk).  What wasn't expected was an adult Red-tailed Hawk that Mary Jane spotted!  Both Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias abounded, and we heard Cassin's Sparrows singing in the distance.  At one stop a Black-throated Sparrow allowed brief views (I heard it singing), and a Summer Tanager sang close to the road, frustrating all of us as it was another life bird for MJ, but it finally flew into a dead tree that allowed identifiable, if distant, looks!  There were also plenty of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers about; at the tanager spot I thought one flew by when Cheryle said, "Oh, I thought it was a cuckoo!"  Sure enough, said cuckoo then started calling from the bushes...  ☺ Bobwhites were all over, and MJ spotted one sitting on top of a bush!  We also passed what looked like a couple of ponds in the making on private property (complete with observation deck); earlier a Green Heron had flown overhead, so we speculated that he came from here!  Linda was a Master Naturalist and pointed out a lot of the native plants to us (I learned the difference between a Mexican Blanket and a Mexican Hat)!


Blue Grosbeaks (left) and Painted Buntings (center and right) sang from the wires!

Typical habitat along the route


Three members of the "Birder Patrol" check things out near the Laguna Seca historical marker (L-R:  Norma, MJ, and Linda; Cheryle was hiding... ☺)

  Pyrrhuloxia chatter

At one point along the road a Myiarchus flycatcher popped up that made me take a second look; unfortunately it didn't say anything, but the bird seemed pale overall and seemed to have a smallish bill, making me think Ash-throated.  It did check out a hole on a post that apparently was already claimed by a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, as the latter did not tolerate the flycatcher at all and chased him clear down the fence!


We spotted this Myiarchus flycatcher that made me think Ash-throated because of the smallish bill, but unfortunately it was silent; ideas?


This Ladder-backed Woodpecker was not at all pleased with the flycatcher invading his turf, and chased him down the fenceline!



White-tailed Hawk near the entrance to the ranch

Friendly scarecrow

The road in bloom!

We still had some time so decided to wheel down Wallace Road and see if anything was in the ponds, so down we went, and were surprised to see how low the big pond was!  But, once again (as seems to be the case all over the Valley this spring), there was a preponderance of White-rumped Sandpipers feeding along the shore!  The light wasn't the best, but we were also able to pick out a few Stilt Sandpipers and a couple of Pectorals close by.  Because of the wind the peeps were flipping their wings a lot, and we had one bird that we called a Baird's by process of elimination:  it was with an obvious Whiterump, about the same size, and not showing a white rump when it would periodically lift off!  Distance and lighting kept me from really picking out any other field marks.  On the other side (where the light was better) we had coots, cormorants, and a pair of nesting Least Grebes!


White-rumped Sandpipers along Wallace Road

The heat had finally gotten to all of us, so we called it a day after that.  We did manage to add Gull-billed Tern and several singing Dickcissels to the list as we made our way south to Monte Cristo.  No new year birds (unless our Myiarchus does indeed turn out to be an Ash-throated, but I'm not holding my breath on that one...), so I still stand at 300, but it was a wonderful morning of exploration with friends!  Bird List:

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck          Dendrocygna autumnalis

  Northern Bobwhite                     Colinus virginianus

  Least Grebe                           Tachybaptus dominicus

  Neotropic Cormorant                   Phalacrocorax brasilianus

  Green Heron                           Butorides virescens

  Black Vulture                         Coragyps atratus

  Turkey Vulture                        Cathartes aura

  White-tailed Hawk                     Buteo albicaudatus

  Red-tailed Hawk                       Buteo jamaicensis

  Crested Caracara                      Caracara cheriway

  American Coot                         Fulica americana

  Killdeer                              Charadrius vociferus

  Black-necked Stilt                    Himantopus mexicanus

  White-rumped Sandpiper                Calidris fuscicollis

  Baird's Sandpiper                     Calidris bairdii

  Pectoral Sandpiper                    Calidris melanotos

  Stilt Sandpiper                       Calidris himantopus

  Gull-billed Tern

  Rock Pigeon                           Columba livia

  Eurasian Collared-Dove                Streptopelia decaocto

  White-winged Dove                     Zenaida asiatica

  Mourning Dove

  Inca Dove                             Columbina inca

  Common Ground-Dove                    Columbina passerina

  Yellow-billed Cuckoo                  Coccyzus americanus

  Greater Roadrunner                    Geococcyx californianus

  Golden-fronted Woodpecker             Melanerpes aurifrons

  Ladder-backed Woodpecker              Picoides scalaris

  Brown-crested Flycatcher              Myiarchus tyrannulus

  Great Kiskadee                        Pitangus sulphuratus

  Western Kingbird

  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher             Tyrannus forficatus

  White-eyed Vireo

  Black-crested Titmouse                Baeolophus atricristatus

  Verdin                                Auriparus flaviceps

  Bewick's Wren                         Thryomanes bewickii

  Northern Mockingbird                  Mimus polyglottos

  Long-billed Thrasher                  Toxostoma longirostre

  Curve-billed Thrasher                 Toxostoma curvirostre

  European Starling                     Sturnus vulgaris

  Olive Sparrow                         Arremonops rufivirgatus

  Cassin's Sparrow                      Peucaea cassinii

  Lark Sparrow                          Chondestes grammacus

  Black-throated Sparrow                Amphispiza bilineata

  Summer Tanager                        Piranga rubra

  Northern Cardinal                     Cardinalis cardinalis

  Pyrrhuloxia                           Cardinalis sinuatus

  Blue Grosbeak                         Passerina caerulea

  Painted Bunting                       Passerina ciris


  Red-winged Blackbird                  Agelaius phoeniceus

  Eastern Meadowlark                    Sturnella magna

  Great-tailed Grackle                  Quiscalus mexicanus

  Bronzed Cowbird                       Molothrus aeneus

  Brown-headed Cowbird                  Molothrus ater

  House Sparrow                         Passer domesticus



So far: 300 SPECIES

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