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Christmas 2006

Part 3:  Santa Ana NWR & Weslaco Thicket

Headed out to Santa Ana NWR the next morning, and since the wildlife drive was closed to vehicles (some sources say it's open Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and others say it's only open on the weekends; the latest source I read said it wasn’t open to private vehicles at all from November to May or thereabouts…), did my normal loop trail, which consisted of starting out on the B Trail, then taking the C Trail when you came to it.  They've changed all the trail names; the B Trail is called the Willow Lakes Trail now, the A Trail is now the Chachalaca Trail, and the C Trail is the Pintail Lakes Trail. 

  The morning started off well with a new trip bird in the parking lot: a Black-and-white Warbler!  A Gray Hawk called somewhere close; interestingly when I ran into a volunteer later he said someone had seen a Roadside Hawk there the day before, but they sound very different.

  Heading out on the trails the usual LRGV common stuff was around as well as the common wintering stuff (Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were particularly curious).  With all the Spanish Moss draped all over everything, the Carolina Wrens sounded right at home!  A flatulent-like brrt got my heart racing, thinking "Masked Tityra", but it just turned out to be a Rough-winged Swallow going overhead...  The first little wetland had a pair of Black-necked Stilts as well as a small group of Long-billed Dowitchers and some Mottled Ducks against the shore.

     

Spanish Moss on the Willow Lakes Trail gives the place a jungle-like feel!

            

Northern Cardinal near one of many fresh-water marshes

Decided to check the photo blind when I came to it, even though I never see anything there, but this time a little Ruby-crowned Kinglet entertained me by repeatedly coming down to the little pool for a bath!  An Olive Sparrow peeked out as well, but as usual, it was pretty quiet.  On the way back to the main trail, however, a dull brown bird popped up long enough to ID as yet another Clay-colored Robin!

       

Bathing Ruby-crowned Kinglet at the photo blind

You hook up with the Pintail Lakes Trail about here, so headed on as the trail paralleled the Rio Grande.  A wedge of White-fronted Geese flew overhead, and yet another (probable) Least Flycatcher whipped incessantly, interspersing a che-bek every once in awhile!  At least (no pun intended) I'm assuming it was a Least based on what that other lady shared with me; actually, this vocalization reminded me of the Yellow-bellied Flycatchers I had in Belize that would peep ad nauseum and once in awhile let loose with their own che-bek!  But the bird never actually showed, unfortunately... Many of those side trails to the river were closed, so I couldn't get much of a view of potential Green Kingfisher perches.

  The sun actually came out as I headed for Pintail Lakes, so of course the butterflies started moving: most abundant (and variable) seemed to be the Sickle-winged Skippers that would constantly fly up from the trail and land again further down, sometimes on the mold-covered scat littered liberally along the trail.  There were also several Tropical Checkered Skippers and a few Mestras.

          

Pintail Lakes Trail (the old "C Trail"); Sickle-winged Skippers seemed to be the most common butterfly there; males are dark while females are browner and quite variable.

               

                                

L-R:  Sicklewing feeding on mold-covered scat; American Snout, and Tropical Checkered Skipper

Added a bunch of new stuff at the ponds: White-faced Ibis were calling, and among the many ducks, both Pintail and a single Cinnamon Teal were new for the trip.  A Belted Kingfisher rattled away, and I wondered if a Ringed would let his presence known with his deeper, almost chachalaca-like rattle.  (Actually, I thought I had a Yellow-crowned Night Heron at one point, but upon closer inspection it turned out to be a face-on male Belted Kingfisher sitting on a gray, streaky dead stump...)  I was headed on my way when sure enough, there was that deeper rattle from the ponds to the right of the "T", so back I went, and there he was, up in a tree across the way right above a Kiskadee!  (I actually saw the kiskadee first...)  Was glad I checked those ponds on general principles, as there was a small group of Neotropic Cormorants making those obscene grunting noises at each other, sounding just like the recordings John Moore made of them in Ecuador!

         

Pintail Lakes had a Tawny Emperor that had a narrow escape, and a Ringed Kingfisher

                         

L-R:  Leaf-footed Bug, Cloudless Sulphur, and Laviana White Skippers

Finally tore myself away from there and continued the loop, adding Northern Beardless Tyrannulet along the way.  Once back at the trailhead I started on the A Trail and ran into the volunteer who told me about the Roadside Hawk and confirmed that Least is the most likely Empid there this time of year, although rare in and of itself.  Nothing really new along the trail, but a beautiful Zebra Heliconian showed up while I was chatting with the volunteer, as well as yet another Mexican Bluewing! (I’m beginning to wonder if they’re as rare as people say they are…)  He also told me about their own butterfly garden and the tower, so I headed over there, but it was pretty quiet; best bug was a Tropical Leafwing showing both sides!  I periodically ran into this threesome from Germany or someplace who were also shooting butterflies, and he pointed out a Large Orange Sulphur to me!  Took the main road back to the parking lot, and along the dike was a little blooming bush down by the canal that was just loaded with stuff; mainly skippers, but also Snouts and Lyside Sulphurs and Mallow Scrub Hairstreaks. Just went to show that it isn’t always the planted gardens that have the most action!

      

Easy Chachalaca Trail (the old "A Trail") and one of the Willow Lakes

       

Another marsh along the main road had Large Orange Sulphur and territorial Zebra Heliconians (note the guy caught in a downstroke in the upper left!)

     

The Tropical Leafwing becomes invisible when he closes his wings (right)!

   

American Snout and female Fiery Skipper

   

Male (left) and female (right) Tropical Checkered Skippers

               

Clouded Skippers (playing peek-a-boo far right)

                            

Lyside Sulphurs and Mallow Scrub Hairstreaks

                                         

L-R:  Texan Crescent, Gemmed Satyr, possible Violet-patched Skipper, and Milkweed Bug

                            

Green Anole and Laredo Striped Whiptail

After wrapping that up, the plan was to head up to a couple of places in Weslaco that had good butterfly potential, so I headed to Weslaco Thicket first, which is run by the Frontera Audubon Society.  As I pulled in the drive I could tell I hit the jackpot, as the flowering bushes in front of the visitor's center was just loaded with butterflies!  So I parked and hitailed it back over there (the gal running the center was out to lunch) and just had a ball!  One of the best treasures was my first "green hairstreak", and when the gal did show up, she confirmed that it was the Silver-banded, one of the local specialties!  The other two exciting "life butterflies" were the big Brown Longtails and a colorful Bordered Patch.

         

Weslaco Thicket had bushes that were just loaded with butterflies, like Clouded Skipper, Lyside Sulphur, and Large Orange Sulphur

                           

Silver-banded Hairstreaks and Texan Crescent

           

Mallow Scrub Hairstreaks

                         

Brown Longtails and Eufala Skippers

            

Fiery Skippers (male left, females center and right)

           

Bordered Patch

              

Phaon Crescents

After signing in the gal told me where the best butterfly areas in the reserve were, so I headed out there to poke around, fussing over these silly skippers.  After awhile a jolly white-bearded fellow (no, it wasn't Santa Claus) came around and said that the gal in the center sent him after me to help me with the butterflies!  That was great, and as we poked around, he pointed out several new ones, including a stunning White-patched Skipper and a beat-up Red Admiral (he couldn't believe I was trying to shoot it...)!  As we got to chatting about birding turned butterflying he mentioned that he had over 800 ABA birds, so naturally I asked him his name: turned out to be Benton Basham!  What a hoot to run into this birding legend!  After he had to leave I continued on and added Wilson's Warbler to the bird list and some colorful bugs for our Bug Club to enjoy.  I sat at their feeders for awhile, and a calling Buff-bellied Hummingbird was close at hand but never came in.

       

Trail through the citrus groves had a Snout making like a leaf, and a Red Admiral

Dead Lyside Sulphur; a nearly identical photo in a butterfly guide stated it had been captured by a spider   

                             

L-R:  Tropical Checkered Skipper, Little Yellow, Fatal Metalmark, Vesta Crescent, Mexican Fritillary, and White-patched Skipper

        

Bugs that my San Diego bug friends ID’d as Milkweed Bug nymphs (i.e., babies, without their wings)

Headed into town to find a motel after that, and wound up at a very posh Best Western that had a great restaurant right there in the building, that served a scrumptious filet steak and garlic mashed potatoes!

Click here to continue to Sabal Palm Preserve, here to return to Bentsen Rio Grande SP

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