Photo Gallery - 2013 Field Trips

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All photographs ©2013 by Mary Beth Stowe except where noted


February 23, 2013 - VNC Rarity Chase (plus the "real trip" to Riviera and the extension to Goose


Yes, the small print in the schedule does say that itineraries may be changed in the event of a rare bird showing up, so this time the unofficial coordinators (meaning Pat Heirs, Norma Friedrich, and myself) decided to let me lead an additional trip for anyone who may be interested in chasing the Crimson-collared Grosbeak at Sabal Palm Grove!   In addition, Norma offered an extension to Goose Island (!!!) to try for the Whooping Cranes!  Rex Stanford very graciously wrote up the trip report for the Riviera portion (which I'll insert after this one), and Norma included a brief synopsis of their trip with a couple of pictures!


So after picking up Mary Jane we headed to the Stripes at 511 and 77, as there were rumors we might be joined by another visiting couple.  They didn't materialize, so the two of us headed down and joined another couple who had already set up watch at the feeders!  It was pretty dim in the feeder area at first due to overcast conditions (and you didn't dare use a flash when the birds were skittish to begin with), but we had great looks at the normal South Texas crowd-pleasers such as Green Jays, White-tipped Doves, Olive Sparrows, and Long-billed Thrashers!  A Lincoln's Sparrow came in to the water feature a couple of times, and eagle-eyed MJ spotted an Ovenbird strutting back among the sticks (and it eventually also came to the feature)!  I wish I had brought my standard lens, as we were perched there quietly forever, it seemed like, and when I turned around, our little watch of four had turned into about 30 people! ☺  At one point I actually thought I heard the thing (a very high whistled wheeoo), and then finally one of the guys spotted the grosbeak high up in one of the trees, but most of us didn't get a decent look until she came down into the thick, open branches to the left of the feeders, and then presumably left for good!  After high fives all around we took that opportunity to use the facilities and grab a donut, when she suddenly came back to the water feature!  Then everyone got to have a great look!



Olive Sparrow chowing down at the Sabal Palm Grove feeders


A little fuzzy, but I found it intriguing that this Black-crested Titmouse was sporting a buffy nose, which in some parts of the state is indicative of a hybrid!


With a crowd awaiting the coveted Crimson-collared Grosbeak, you didn't dare use a flash, but even in the dull light you can see the sheen on this White-tipped Dove!


Yet another "documentation shot" of the female Crimson-collared Grosbeak (they're gradually getting better... ☺)


Having gotten that rarity under our belts, we decided to head to South Padre for the continuing Black-legged Kittiwake at Isla Blanca County Park.  The wind was howling and frigid at the jetty (there was a Red Flag Warning out), but we braved it and clumped out onto the beach, where a thorough search could uncover no kittiwake, but we had lots of Sanderlings scurrying around, along with singleton Black-bellied Plovers and Willets.  A larid patch included Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls and three kinds of terns.  Jellyfish were all over, and we enjoyed a huge tanker floating out into the Gulf that dwarfed the fishermen on the jetty!  On the way back to the car MJ (being a "fisherperson" herself) was distracted by this one guy who obviously had something big on the end of his line, and shortly he had attracted a crowd of other folks as his friend netted this huge Black Drum!  Later Ranger Jose at Estero was telling me that they call them that because they actually do make a very deep noise (somehow)!


One of many colorful jellyfish washed up on shore at Isla Blanca County Park



A Panamanian tanker glides by the fishermen lined up along the shore!


No kittiwake, but we enjoy the other larids lounging around...


Sandwich Tern


Royal Tern coming into breeding plumage, with another Sandwich behind him


More Sandwich Terns


Forster's Tern - the one in back is in an "in between" plumage which may cause confusion with the similar Common Tern


Someone catches a huge Black Drum!


The next couple of rarities on the list were the Prairie Falcon and Wood Duck at Estero Llano Grande State Park, so over we went, and we couldn't believe it:  the sun came out, the wind quit, and it didn't take long to hit 85 degrees (where it was 65 at SPI)!  The butterflies were going nuts (MJ particularly liked the Giant Swallowtail in the parking lot), and coming up the brick walkway we had a curious White-eyed Vireo.  Lots of folks were enjoying lunch on the deck (we figured it must have been a group), but try as we might, we couldn't pick out a Woodie from all the ducks on Ibis Pond (although there were certainly some pretty ones)!  One of the volunteers told us that the falcon can basically show up anywhere (usually as a fly-by), and it wasn't too long after that when Dan Jones and his Birdathon partner showed up, also bemoaning the lack of a falcon and Woodie!  MJ wanted to watch the feeders for a bit, and about that time Ranger John showed up, so we had a good time playing catch-up.  We shortly had a minor reunion on our hands when John Brush and Gary Davidson (my old birding buddy from Canada) showed up, who were also doing the Birdathon, so we followed them out to Dowitcher Pond in hopes that the Woodie had gone over there.  It hadn't, but as the guys continued to Alligator Lake, MJ and I just made a "pond loop", picking up a Cinnamon Teal and what may have been one of their "Northern" Mallards (something with a green head and curly tail feathers was hiding behind a snoozing Mottled Duck).  On the way back we enjoyed point-blank looks at Green-winged Teal along the boardwalk! 


Giant Swallowtail in the Estero Llano Grande parking lot



White-eyed Vireo along the entrance walk


The Spoonbill Trail with blooming Huisaches


Snoozing Shovelers; normally their heads are green but they look blue in this light!



Knockout male Green-winged Teal in Ibis Pond


The next stop was for the Yellow-headed Blackbirds at the Progresso Granaries, and John B. confirmed that there were tons of 'em down there!  The wind was picking up again, but we went down the road I had one on last year, and again MJ spotted them all lined up along the beams, right along with the redwings and grackles!  That was about all we had time for before I had to head back, but it was a great finale for the day!


Part of the mass of Yellow-headed Blackbirds at the Progresso granaries


Here's Rex Stanford's narrative of the "official" trip to Riviera: 

The February 23, 2013 birding field trip to southeastern Kleberg County on behalf of the Valley Nature Center (Weslaco, TX) may be regarded as quite successful. It certainly was a success relative to interest in the birds of the target area, for 16 individuals, occupying five vehicles (some from out of state, ranging as far as Maine), elected to make the substantial trip from the 7:00 AM staging area at Raymondville to some of the productive birding sites in southeast Kleberg County, southeast of Kingsville and due east of Riviera, near Baffin Bay and its southwestern finger known as Laguna Salada. The trip was very ably led by Patricia Heirs, who, as the driver of the lead vehicle, managed, with a bit of electronic help and assistance from the participants, to coordinate the travel such that no vehicle was lost from the group or left behind, no small task, given that differing birds sometimes initially were found from the various vehicles. The participants were dependably helpful, friendly, and cooperative, managing to find many interesting species and to get the good news spread around very expeditiously! The trip was a real success, too, in terms of the variety of birds seen despite the serious drought that has plagued the area for far too long. With lots of good birders understanding the event as a group endeavor, its success was in good hands all around. I shall try to report the highlights here, knowing that I surely have failed to include some of them.

The major and most successful birding of the trip was along CR-2430 (also called Mesquite Road), a high-quality caliche east-west road on the far-south side of Riviera. The entire time we birded CR-2430—from its western entrance along the northbound access road for US-77 to its eastern “T” juncture with FM-2510--we had virtually no other traffic! We therefore could stop, look, locate, pass-on-the-word, study, and take pictures at leisure. Pat had selected this road as a major focus of the trip thanks to a tip she had received from a local friend. Her advance scouting was right on target for birding that day!

Very early on CR-2430 a small residual pond north of the road provided the first SPOTTED SANDPIPER of the trip, conspicuous as it teetered its way along the western end. We had not gone much farther along CR-2430 when we stopped to study some WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS south of the road. One of our participants, Rick Nirschl, scouting the north side, spotted a puzzling raptor that, viewed subsequently from different perspectives, became even more interesting and that subsequently, viewed via spotting scope, was decisively identified as a FERRUGINOUS HAWK, a rare winter visitant and very exciting find for that area and for anywhere from whence we had come in the Lower Rio Grande Valley! It ultimately gave supremely exciting views via direct overflight, as it circled right over our heads! Cameras clicked and folks exulted at the beauty and grace of this large, long-winged, and attractively marked raptor, USA’s largest buteo. What a find! Thanks, Rick for what proved, not surprisingly, to be the “Bird of the Day” and that spread cheer amongst everyone!

Ferruginous Hawk on CR-2430 at 10:47 AM (Photo © Rex Stanford)


Additional shots by Bill Case.

Along CR-2430 we found additional raptors: NORTHERN HARRIER (mature male or “Gray Ghost”), CRESTED CARACARA, AMERICAN KESTREL, MERLIN, and RED-TAILED HAWK. Flying overhead several times were groups of SANDHILL CRANES. Additional sparrows that elicited interest were strikingly marked LARK SPARROWS (several) and VESPER SPARROW (several). Also eliciting special interest from one or more of us were BEWICK’S WREN, GREEN JAY, PYRRHULOXIA, plus COMMON GROUND DOVE, and INCA DOVE—these doves somewhat “diluted” among MOURNING and EURASIAN COLLARED DOVES, the former often in mobs, the latter, often singly, but widely distributed.

When we reached the east-end “T” terminus of CR-2430, we turned south onto FM-2510 and then, shortly, onto the bumpy, dirt CR-1120 to reach the sandspit at Laguna Salada. There we enjoyed WHITE PELICAN (several), ANHINGA (1), REDHEAD (ca. 20), OSPREY (1), and a single, lonely WILLET foraging west of the spit. The Anhinga was perhaps the most exciting bird here, as it soared high overhead, like a flying “T” with a spike on one end!

Winding our way, thence, northeastward to the Hubert-Kaufer Memorial Park, our best birding there was in the RV park (entered with permission from the office) where at the large pond we found: MOTTLED DUCK (several), AMERICAN WIGEON (a few), NORTHERN SHOVELER (10-12, at least), REDHEAD (1), LESSER SCAUP (est. 12-15), BUFFLEHEAD (2 or 3 males, several females), and RUDDY DUCK (1, at least). The pond edges and shoreline were decorated by lanky, neatly dressed BLACK-NECKED STILT (several), SPOTTED SANDPIPER (1), and LEAST SANDPIPER (1).

At this point, the tour in southeast Kleberg County disbanded. Some of the participants, though, continued northward in search of Whooping Cranes at Goose Island State Park.

The Valley Nature Center field trips are run by volunteers, and the very reasonable field trip fees are to be used to help provide bus transportation for schoolchildren to the Valley Nature Center (Weslaco). The fees make possible what surely must be some of the best possible education for youngsters in regard to nature—face-to-face contact with the wonderful world of nature, an increasingly uncommon experience for children in this day and age. Childhood contact with nature nonetheless may be an experience essential for the development of adults who will genuinely appreciate, through personal experience, the natural world and may therefore be more ready to help preserve and protect it. Those who participate in trips such like this therefore can take pride in more than simply finding birds. They can know that they are helping youngsters to see and appreciate what they must come to love if they are to be the future guardians of the natural world.

And now, here's Norma's narrative:


I would have been happy for the day after the Ferruginous Hawk but our extended trip was just as great. Anne shared her lunch fixin's with the three of us and we added our snacks and drinks. We headed out about 1:30 pm and arrived at The Big Tree around 3:00 pm. If you do not know the location, you pass The Big Tree and where the road ends into the bay it turns right. That pasture has several homes at the back in front of oaks and I think a trailer park behind. The Cranes were not in the pasture but on a point to the north of that corner, we scoped out six. Within a few minutes of our arrival three of them flew directly overhead and landed in the pasture. We got good looks and then continued down the road south. That lower water front road also has a pond and wetlands that usually have many ducks, none that day but turning west just past the pond we came across the other three cranes that had also flown over us.


The Whooping Cranes near the Big Tree in Lamar (photo © 2013 by Norma Friedrich)


Close-up of the Whoopers (ditto photo credit)


We went on to Goose Island State Park where we got good looks at the Common Goldeneye. Also visited the feeder station by the Warbler Way restroom where we added a few more birds. We took the water front drive all the way from Fulton thru Rockport to add more ducks and got great looks at a Common Loon near the harbor. 82 birds was the count for Sue, Cheryle and I. Left home at 6:10 am and arrived home at 9:00 pm. What a day!


Norma's Gang at Goose Island State Park

(photo © 2013 by Norma Friedrich)


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