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All photographs ©2014 by Mary Beth Stowe

 

July 20, 2014 - Progresso Farm Route

 

The short stretch of dirt road along the Progresso Sod Farms that shoots north from US 281 is commonly visited by birders, mainly during shorebird migration, as it can be a hotbed for "grasspiper" activity!  But the route that I like to do includes the levee heading west (eastbound, the gate is locked where it dumps out on FM 1015), crossing FM 88 and continuing to FM 493, where I turn right and then criss-cross the Las Palomas WMA.  The variety is great, as you pass several little fresh-water ponds and canals, and I rarely run into anyone along this route. 

 

Starting pre-dawn on the sod farm road was magical, surrounded by beenting Common Nighthawks, and even a pair of Lessers batting around and doing their little whinnying call!  The normal country birds would go over the top in due process, but it was nice to pick up Loggerhead Shrike and White-tailed Kite right away.  Even the Collared Dove on the wire was the only one for the route!

The Common Nighthawk is loud and clear, but after the third "beent" (accompanied by the "boom" of the wings), listen very carefully for the goat-like whinny of the Lesser Nighthawk (in competition with a Mourning Dove and scolding Mockingbird...)!

 

The sod farms did have some distant shorebirds, but they were in the sun and unidentifiable from my angle; what I could pick out included lots of Black-necked Stilts, some Cattle Egrets, and a couple of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.  A couple of young Groove-billed Anis flopped around in the canal along with a young Green Heron!  Orchard Orioles sounded off at several stops along the route, and at the big resaca just before the levee several Yellow-crowned Night Herons took off, along with four Fulvous Whistling Ducks.

 

Heading west on the levee was very productive, with a single Caracara powering overhead, and more "field birds" such as Horned Larks, Dickcissels, Bobwhites, Eastern Meadowlarks, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, and Lark Sparrows.  On the other side of 88 a couple of Swainson's Hawks showed themselves, one of them landing in the plowed field and blending in quite nicely!  At least one Bank Swallow jabbered overhead, and stumbled upon a little resaca that was pretty well hidden but allowed enough of a peek to record both Great and Snowy Egrets, and Stilt and Least Sandpipers (either a Spotted or a Solitary called back in there as well...).  At one stop I had gotten back in the car when I noticed something big in the side view mirror, and it was a Black-crowned Night Heron coming by!  I'm sorry to say that the best photo op was a male Bronzed Cowbird right next to the road, but probably the best bird of the day was a Least Flycatcher that showed itself briefly in the vegetation on the south side of the levee!

 

   

Cryptic Swainson's Hawk in a field

 

       

Bronzed Cowbird

 

Once on 493 I headed up to Mile 3 (I think it was), which takes you into the WMA.  Here I added more thornscrub-type things such as Olive Sparrow and Green Jay.  I don't think I've ever had more people worried about me being out there by myself as I did on this trip (had more to do with all the illegal activity going on of late, I think), but I was afraid I was about to get attacked by a Jackrabbit along this stretch, because he came tearing down the road at me and didn't slow down until he was almost on top of me!  (I think he was looking into the sun and didn't see me...) 

 

Jackrabbit that made an abrupt about-face (I wasn't fast enough to catch him coming at me...)

 

 The road eventually takes you up on the north levee, and this was a great stretch with a nice riparian area near the golf course that had a family of White-tailed Kites!  There were several hidden canals that had plenty more whistling ducks, and also several Lesser Nighthawks resting along the road.  Picked up Blue Grosbeak, White-eyed Vireo, and Couch's and Tropical Kingbirds along here as well.

 

Kinda fuzzy, but this shows the rusty on the breast indicative of a young White-tailed Kite.

 

       

Another youngster with not quite as much rust on the chest.

 

Lesser Nighthawk on the levee

 

This levee is blocked before you get to 88, so Diggory (Bippy's replacement) did a little 4-wheeling to turn around and head back!  There's some kind of big pump building along here where two roads head north into the WMA along the canal, and I vaguely remember the area from when I did the Weslaco CBC years ago, so headed down there.  Took the west road, and while it went into some very nice WMA habitat, I wouldn't recommend it without a high-clearance vehicle with those big fat impenetrable tires, as the road was basically a grass track (and I rolled over scads of used gunshot casings while back there...).  That particular road was a dead end to a locked gate (picked up titmouse and Painted Bunting for the day), so backtracked and took the road on the other side of the canal, which the map implied joined another road.  That was a dead end, too (got Cave Swallows and a Harris' Hawk), so came back and spotted another dirt road that went into some thick stuff.  That turned out to be the road I wanted (Calla Chaparral according to Google Maps, but it's unmarked), and added thicker woodsy birds such as Carolina Wren and White-tipped Dove in here.  Now that I knew where I was according to my map, I continued the BBS protocol and added Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Bewick's Wren, and a fly-by Yellow-billed Cuckoo where the high wires were!  After zig-zagging all over the WMA I wound up on Calla Chaparral again to head out to 493, and as I mentioned, I was impressed (and surprised) that I ran into absolutely no one (either on foot or by car) on the route!  That is until after enjoying some Western and Couch's Kingbirds interacting I noticed a set of headlights coming my way on the dirt road, so I zipped on up to 493 where a Curve-billed Thrasher bolted out of someone's yard!

 

Wound up with 64 species for the morning.

 

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