Photo Gallery - 2013 Field Trips
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December 25, 2013 - Christmas Big Day
The threatened 60% chance of rain became 50% by noon on Tuesday, then down to 30% by Christmas Eve, so the decision was made to do a pre-dawn to dusk Hidalgo County Big Day on Christmas! As always, Bentsen Rio Grande SP was the first stop, picking up the roosting Great-tailed Grackles (1) on the way. Heard a Killdeer (2) calling as I started the hike, and around the halfway mark to the resaca a Great Horned Owl (3) hooted. Spooked a couple of ghostly bodies from the road which were undoubtedly Pauraques (4) , and as it got lighter, a Belted Kingfisher (5) rattled, several House Wrens (6) started scolding, and a Gray Hawk (7) whistled. A Cardinal (8) sang in the distance, and once at the resaca (where they had placed a bench at the foot of the old boat ramp so you could easily view the water--wonderful!) the Yellowthroats (9) started tuning up, but what really surprised me was what sounded like a female Wood Duck (10) doing her rising call! Sure enough, in the gloom I could just make out a pair of ducks in the direction of the sound, and thankfully they flew closer in order to get a decent look; these birds are pretty scarce in the Valley, so it was a special Christmas present this morning!
Mega-enhanced Wood Duck pair before dawn at Bentsen Rio Grande SP.
While this was going on a Spotted Sandpiper (11) was yelling and a Great Blue Heron (12) sounded off in the distance, along with awakening Green Jays (13). The Kiskadees (14) were next to awake the dawn, and an Osprey (15) made several passes looking for breakfast. While waiting for the "official sunrise" managed to log Mourning Dove (16), American Goldfinch (17), a yelling Red-shouldered Hawk (18), a peeping Eastern Phoebe (19), American Pipits (20) overhead, and a small flock of fly-by Snowy Egrets (21). On the way out added Golden-fronted (22) and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers (23), Orange-crowned Warbler (24), smacking Lincoln's Sparrows (25), "Myrtle" Warblers (26), and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (27) to the list. A flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds (28) flew overhead giving their squealy calls while Red-winged Blackbirds (29) congregated in the trees. A Northern Harrier (30) and Roseate Spoonbill (31) flew overhead, and managed to pick up a "choiping" Altamira Oriole (32) at the last minute! A Long-billed Curlew (33) called in the distance while a White-eyed Vireo (34) started tuning up near the Gatehouse, and a Long-billed Thrasher (35) fussed and smacked near the brick wall.
A Long-billed Thrasher "smacks" on the way out; listen carefully for the "roll call" of a Green Jay in the background near the end of the recording.
Although there was no feeder food out, the Chachalacas (36) and White-tipped Doves (37) were still hopeful! A flock of Rock Pigeons (38) breezed overhead, and easily picked up the Black Phoebe (39) at the canal. Spooked a flock of Inca Doves (40) heading to the restroom, and a nice Curve-billed Thrasher (41) preened on the way back to the car.
Heading down Old Military Highway added a Mockingbird (42) flopping across the road, and near the hayfields a few Savannah Sparrows (43) popped up on the fence. A stop at the terminus of the NABA Walking Trail yielded a Ruby-crowned Kinglet (44), and Eastern Meadowlarks (45) sang in the distance. Continuing down the road several White Pelicans (46) sailed along the canal, and while stopped at the bridge what I thought were three Black-bellied Whistling Ducks at first morphed into three Muscovy Ducks (47) heading upriver! (They were probably feral, but they're still going on the list...) Several Red-tailed Hawks (48) showed up along this route, and a stop at the Riverside Club (where I've gotten House Finches in the past but not this time) yielded Starlings (49), a Kestrel (50), and a Peregrine (51) on a power tower on the Mexican side. Continuing on I spooked a Greater Yellowlegs (52) and some Least Sandpipers (53) from the only water in the ditch, and the Turkey Vultures (54) started their exodus from Anzalduas Park (I spent a 15 minute vigil at the overlook but could bag no Zone-tailed Hawk...). It was really too bad that the park was closed, as several birders had gotten some nice songbirds the day before, but as it was I added Great Egret (55), House Sparrow (56--yip yip yahoo), a machine-gunning Ringed Kingfisher (57), a Gull-billed Tern (58) swirling and dipping over the river, a nice flock of Neotropic Cormorants (59) wheeling past, a well-fed Cooper's Hawk (60), and a Loggerhead Shrike (61) to the list.
Since I was going right past Hidalgo, decided to swing by 5th Street and bag the Monk Parakeets (62), and didn't have to go far before running into a group in a parking lot! Making the circle through the neighborhood I got caught in a big shindig the Fire Department was putting on, but at least picked up a tittering Tropical Kingbird (63) in the process!
A Monk Parakeet gathers nesting material along 5th Street in Hidalgo.
Another bird skips sprightly along the pavement while yet another checks things out from the fence!
On to Santa Ana NWR, and I couldn't help but think of poor Bob having to endure the lousy weather two weeks ago, as today it was absolutely gorgeous there! The offices were closed, of course, so the feeders didn't get filled, but the Chachalacas evidently thought I was the one with the food as they practically ran up my leg in greeting! Hiking up over the levee a beautiful Gray Hawk sat in the sun, and added a singing Carolina Wren (64) to the list as I headed onto the Chachalaca Trail.
Chachalacas expecting to be fed at Santa Ana NWR
Cooperative Gray Hawk seen from the levee.
Willow Lakes were rather shallow, but they did host a small group of Green-winged Teal (65), and at the blind a couple of Greater Yellowlegs were just yelling up a storm! In the same area were several Lesser Yellowlegs (66) and a couple of Long-billed Dowitchers (67), along with some Blue-winged Teal (68) and Black-necked Stilts (69). In the songbird department added Black-crested Titmouse (70), Olive Sparrow (71), Lesser Goldfinch (72), and a chirping Verdin (73) on the way back. A flyover raptor had my heart going for a minute, but the culprit turned out to be "just" another Peregrine...
Some Greater Yellowlegs complain at Willow Lakes; a few Lesser Yellowlegs take off near the end of the recording (their calls are more evenly spaced and less strident).
A Verdin gives its bell-like call and then starts chirping incessantly along Chachalaca Trail.
Headed east on US 281 where a gorgeous Krider's Hawk made me do a U-ie (had to make sure it wasn't a Ferruginous), then decided to check out the Progresso Silos for Collared Dove (74), Bronzed Cowbird (75), and Yellow-headed Blackbird. Bagged the first two but not the latter (and I wasn't about to backtrack all the way to the fields north of Santa Ana where I had the Yellowheads during the CBC), so I headed on up to Estero Llano Grande SP, where a Tree Swallow (76) flew overhead in the parking lot. May Snider greeted me with a Merry Christmas, and also news of a Wood Thrush, Winter Wren, and Nashville Warbler in the park! But when you're doing a Big Day you can't afford to spend too much time waiting for one bird to show up (she said the wren took patience, and another gentleman had just seen the thing when I arrived), so I gave it about ten minutes at the water feature where the only things to come in were a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Orange-crowned Warbler, plus a Buff-bellied Hummingbird (77) making a brief appearance, then decided to hit the trail.
A mess of stuff was added right from the deck, of course, including Coot (78), a Least Grebe (79) having fits, Common Gallinules (80), and several ducks including Ring-necked (81), Ruddy (82), Shovelers (83), Pintail (84), and Gadwall (85). A Cave Swallow (86) made its funny sound overhead, and a clap along the boardwalk got a Sora (87) and Marsh Wren (88) to respond. Further along added Mottled Ducks (89) and a female Lesser Scaup (90), and in the mesquite forest added a "pupping" Couch's Kingbird (91). Curlew Pond had a Pied-billed Grebe (92) and Solitary Sandpiper (93), and Dowitcher Pond had more of the same along with a handful of handsome Cinnamon Teal (94). Was pleased as punch to flush a Snipe (95) from the side of the pond, and heading back to Alligator Lake managed to bag the target night herons (both species, 96 and 97), plus White Ibis (98), Tricolored Heron (99), and a "ticking" Green Kingfisher (100). Another couple with a "Hound-about" (a nifty little carriage for their doggie) found the resident Pauraque, and at the overlook added Avocets (101) calling from the estero and the requisite Anhinga (102), along with three basking Alligators (and as an aside, turtles were all over the place...)! Apparently the Screech Owl had abandoned its box, so I dipped on that one...
Ring-necked Ducks at Estero Llano Grande SP; the left hand bird shows that funny oblong shape to the head so typical of ducks!
Male Northern Pintails on Ibis Pond.
The ladies were hanging out on Dowitcher Pond...
Three-teal log with four Blue-winged snoozing on the left, a pair of Green-winged in the middle, and a male Cinnamon on the right.
Cinnamon is the rarest teal in the Valley; when these males are fully out of eclipse plumage, they'll be a rich rusty color all over!
Here are the same two birds with a Northern Shoveler.
This female Lesser Scaup sports a white face.
The resident Pauraque snoozes near Alligator Lake.
The soft "ticks" of a Green Kingfisher, who briefly gets excited around the middle of the recording...
One of the park's signature Alligators.
From there it was time to head to the northlands, so taking FM 1425 north managed to add a flyover Double-crested Cormorant (103) at a canal on the way to Sugarhouse Pond. The pond itself was virtually empty (save for a few Shovelers on the far side), but I won't complain about the Sprague's Pipit (104) that called while I was there!
Was surprised to find that Delta Lake Park was accessible (technically closed, but the gate was open), so I swung in and slowly drove the roads listening for odd songbirds. Shortly added a female Vermilion Flycatcher (105) zipping back and forth from a tree top, but the best show was put on by a Merlin (106) who decided to go after a (slightly bigger) grackle! Butterbutts were all over, and I recalled the recent discussion on Texbirds about first-winter Myrtles sometimes being mistaken for Audubon's because of their creamy throats, as there were plenty of them there! The male Vermilion also showed up, and a nice Harris' Hawk (107) posed in a tree. On the way out a Caracara (108) powered by, and while there was nothing new at the lake itself except a single fly-by Laughing Gull (109), managed to add Black Vulture (110), Cattle Egret (111), and White-tailed Kite (112) on the way to La Sal del Rey.
At Delta Lake Park, a Merlin goes after a grackle (needed a video to appreciate it...)
Actually cheated a bit by going up Rio Beef Road (I wanted to keep the Big Day within the confines of Hidalgo County, but you have to invade Willacy County to get to La Sal), picking up the only Common Ground Doves (113) of the day along here. But once at GI Road, what an experience! Over 100 Sandhill Cranes (114) were lifting off, settling, and lifting off again in the fields, and at one point a group flew right overhead, calling all the while! Some White-fronted Geese (115) also wheeled in, adding their cackles to the cacophony.
A few of the Sandhill Cranes hanging out at the Rio Beef Feedyard (listen carefully for the higher cackle of some White-fronted Geese passing by)
Heading east on GI Road, most of the blackbirds were way off the road, but managed to add a single female Brewer's Blackbird (116) by the skin of my teeth! Among the hundreds of Mourning Doves exploding every which way, a single White-winged Dove (117) flew into the thornscrub, and several Lark Sparrows (118) flitted around the wires. Heading down Brushline I heard a distant Bewick's Wren (119), but it was starting to be slim pickin's by then (couldn't believe I dipped on Roadrunner and White-tailed Hawk)! Continued south on Brushline past SR 186 hoping for Horned Lark at least, and instead got a couple of family groups of Sandhill Cranes in a little wetland right next to the road!
A family group near Brushline Road calls from the ground.
Was still missing some "important" open country birds, so decided to check Wallace Road, where while not new, a flock of Lesser Goldfinches (including a stunning black-backed adult male) were fun to watch. Nothing was at the miniscule wetland, but a distant flock of geese did have some Snows (120) in it, but couldn't tell from that distance if there were any Ross'. Wound all the way around to Bryan and finally picked up a Horned Lark (121) in the ag fields on that side, but still no Western Meadowlarks or needed raptors. The original plan was to include "Sparrow Road" (which is actually Jara Chinas Road) for things like Lark Bunting and Black-throated Sparrow (plus any other "desert" type things I might have missed), but it was only 25 minutes to sundown, so decided to wander around the Laguna Seca area in hopes of picking up a few things. That did indeed prove fruitful with a Pyrrhuloxia (122) in the bushes, but after the sun officially set, I forlornly finished the loop and was heading east on Miller Road towards the freeway when a huge hawk on a pole in the fading light did indeed turn out to be a White-tailed (123)! Of all things, I'm so glad I didn't miss that one!
I initially reported that I had a total of 122 species, but I had forgotten to enter Snowy Egret into BirdBase, so the additional bird was nice! ☺
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