Photo Gallery - 2013 Field Trips
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May 5, 2013 - Hidalgo County Romp (Santa Ana, Progresso Sod Farms, Estero Llano Grande, & Frontera Thicket)
The Lord was looking out for me: this was supposed to be the day I did the monthly back road survey at Santa Ana NWR, and it actually started out quite nicely: a beautiful cacophony of the regulars at the entrance gate, and a juvenile Gray Hawk just past that was nice as well. A short stop where the road allows a peek into the marshes added an odd-sounding Yellowthroat and a Sora to the list, but I didn't get far before the road was blocked by a medium sized tree that had fallen down and lodged itself against a telephone pole! Okay, fine; good day to chase migrants! Called Letty and left a message letting her know about the change of plans due to the tree, turned around, and headed back to the parking lot to at least hike the Chachalaca Trail while I was there, then got distracted by some migrants in the parking lot that included both Blue and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks! But as I started towards the breezeway a helicopter suddenly showed up and circled low overhead, then a white pickup went barreling down the maintenance road behind the feeders with a Border Patrol vehicle hot on his tail, lights blazing! I figured if that truck was gonna try and escape down the tour road, he wasn't gonna get far with that fallen tree, so with images of bad guys running through the trails on foot, I thought better of going back there and headed back to the parking lot. Letty called me back about that time to ask about the tree and if I had encountered any Border Patrol activity (uh, yeah, a little bit! ☺), and more tourists had shown up about that time (birders and non-birders), so we all stood around chatting about birds and smugglers and the wisdom of going back there; finally the family went ahead and braved it! (By that time there were several BP vehicles around and they had the entrance gate blocked off...) Regarding my opening statement, had that tree not been blocking my path, I might have found myself in the middle of a high-speed chase!
I had a list of places that had reported target species for the year, so I decided to head on to Estero Llano Grande SP by way of the Progresso Sod Farms. Even after pulling onto the road it was productive with a tree full of migrants across the canal that included a Redstart and a Catbird! Swallows of many types were all over, and Dickcissels were singing up a storm! But the real treat was about a half mile or so in: four Buff-breasted Sandpipers feeding away (FOY), and a little further a few more Upland Sandpipers! The fighting Horned Larks added a bit of drama... Near the big reservoir was a Chipping Sparrow sitting high in a mesquite.
Buff-breasted Sandpipers (above and below)
Once at the levee I headed east and continued to stop, adding some nice birds by doing that: White-tailed Kite, Bobwhite, and even a beenting Common Nighthawk! Both Orchard and Baltimore Orioles were along this stretch, along with a singing Painted Bunting, but I had an unpleasant surprise when I got to International Boulevard and discovered both gates were locked! So we wheeled down to the bottom and Bippy practiced her 4WD getting back up on the levee ☺, then headed back to the first road east of the one next to the sod farms, where I added Loggerhead Shrike for the day.
Common Yellowthroat singing along the canal
I pulled in to Estero Llano Grande only to discover that they were evidently having an "event", as people were parked along the entrance road as well as in the lot! However, there were several spots open and I spotted some folks with number badges making their way back to their vehicles, so I figured that whatever it was was wrapping up. There was a big kettle of Turkey Vultures over the park as I got out of my car, and approaching the entrance another kettle was circling, this one full of Mississippi Kites!
The gal who checked me in confirmed my suspicions: they had had a run that morning! The reported targets were in the Tropical Zone, but it doesn't hurt to pad the list some, so I checked out the deck and enjoyed Avocets and Wilson's Phalaropes twirling away, in addition to the regulars. A single Fulvous Whistling Duck was hanging out, and from the boardwalk several Stilt Sandpipers were visible. Scared up a Lincoln's Sparrow in the mesquite savannah along with a Least Flycatcher, and a Least Tern fished nearby. Swinging around toward the TZ a young Hooded Oriole popped up, and a Great Crested Flycatcher posed just before entering the Zone. Brown-crested Flycatchers were all over, and as I headed south a gentleman pointed out a Mexican Bluewing to me! Sitting at the drip by the Pauraque Hall added Ground and White-tipped Doves, along with a Yellow-breasted Chat and a Tennessee Warbler. Making the circle was kinda slow, but things picked up by the old campground, where a little pishing drew out a brilliant male Canada Warbler (FOY)! A Black-throated Green Warbler was also in here, and taking part of the Green Jay Trail added another Chat and another Canada, along with a Magnolia Warbler. At the trailhead I ran into the same gentleman sitting at the picnic table who said the Mourning Warbler had come by about a half hour before. So I poked around a little and ran into another couple who said they had either a MacGillivray's or a Connecticut Warbler back where the road crossed! I knew a Mac had been seen, so I thanked them and headed back to the picnic table (which was now vacated), and just sat there for a good 50 minutes, letting the birds come to me! In that span of time had Wilson's, Black-and-white, Black-throated Green, and Nashville Warblers; Orchard and Baltimore Orioles; Blue-headed Vireo; Swainson's Thrush, a Yellowthroat, a female Painted Bunting, and at long last, a nice male Mourning Warbler (FOY)! Huck called me about that time and said that Mary G. had had the Mac on the Green Jay Trail, so I took one more loop before calling it quits and heading over to Frontera.
Somewhere between the two spots a bit of sunscreen and/or Off Wipe had gotten into my left eye, and it was killing me by the time I got to Frontera! A Clay-colored Thrush, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and singing Philadelphia Vireo in the parking lot (who quit the minute I turned on the recorder, of course) were nice consolation prizes! I checked in with Chris and flushed my eye in the ladies' room, then headed out on the trail, where I enjoyed another Blue-headed Vireo and (by golly) another Mourning Warbler, this one being very vocal! I didn't get very far before I had to go rushing back to flush my eye out again (Chris very graciously turned on their hose for that purpose; felt like I was waterboarding myself...)! After once again not getting any further than the big pond before having to rush back for another flushing, I threw in the towel (quite literally, as I was soaked) and prayed I would get home without killing anyone! One of the guys I ran into at Santa Ana showed up just as I was turning on the hose for another bath, and I got him on a calling Beardless Tyrannulet while I ran back to the end of the hose to spray my eye one last time...
Mourning Warbler calling from the understory at Frontera Audubon Thicket
Obviously I made it home okay, but with a total of 97 species, it was still a very blessed and productive day!
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