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All photographs ©2014 by Mary Beth Stowe


October 12, 2014 - Cameron County Big Day

Picked up Pat Heirs and Michael Marsden pre-dawn as planned, then headed down to Sabal Palm Grove, trying to follow the Google directions as I wanted to avoid that construction detour on 511.  Got pretty turned around, but with the windows down added Couch's Kingbird, Cardinal, Mockingbird, Great-tailed Grackle, House Sparrow, and Tropical Kingbird before even reaching the preserve!  We added Olive Sparrow and Mourning Dove driving in, and as we swung into the parking lot, the first question out of someone's mouth was, "Is that the owl or a fake one?"  Turns out the resident Great Horned Owl was really sitting on top of the steeple, but he sure could have passed for one of those plastic ones had he not swiveled his head! ☺  Michael spotted a Ringed Kingfisher rowing way up high overhead, and after checking in with Seth we added Kiskadee, both woodpeckers, Carolina and House Wrens, a buzzing Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Green Jays.  (Michael had the Hooded Oriole, but I didn't pick that up until we left...)  Walking the road towards the feeder area a Wilson's Warbler chepped, and Pat kicked up a Clay-colored Thrush that gave fleeting views.  Heading into the trails (Seth warned us that the mosquitoes were "very friendly", and he wasn't kidding) we added the resident Starlings trying to fool us, cooing White-tipped and Common Ground Doves, a young White-eyed Vireo, battling Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, and a distant Bobwhite.  (I thought as we went along that it could have been one of the Starlings doing that, but thankfully we got the real deal later...)  A flock of Red-winged Blackbirds flew over, and Chachalacas flopped through the trees at the turnoff to the resaca, which was dry as a bone, but still yielded a Yellowthroat.  Some Great Egrets flew over, and a Catbird mewed from the brush.  A Blue Grosbeak called next to the boardwalk but wouldn't come out, and a nice surprise was a Chihuahuan Raven powering overhead (my first for Sabal Palm)!  A Long-billed Thrasher smacked, titmice scolded, Cattle Egrets flew over, and a Red-shouldered Hawk called in the distance and then actually showed up!  Pat and Michael got on an Orange-crowned Warbler, but I just couldn't see it well enough for my own list.


We looped around the back along the Vireo Trail, picking up distant Killdeer and flyover Rock Pigeons, along with a single Scissor-tailed Flycatcher way up there.  At the blind we spooked an Anhinga, and were happy to get a Gray Hawk belting past!  Least Grebes trumpeted and chased each other, and both an adult and immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron showed nicely.



We flush a Black Witch at Sabal Palm Grove!


Picked up the aforementioned oriole back at headquarters, then Pat and Michael got a good look at a Ruby-throated Hummer, but mine would have to wait for South Padre.  Michael and I debated a cowbird along the road on the way out and finally settled on Brown-headed, and added a shrike, a Lark Sparrow, a few Lesser Goldfinches, and a Collared Dove to the list before hitting 511.  A largish falcon batted across the highway at that point, but I couldn't pull over fast enough for anyone to get a definitive look before it was gone; I strongly suspect it was an Aplomado, but just wasn't sure (and that would end up being the one that got away).  Somewhere along here a huge flock of White Ibis floated over the car, and taking the construction detour bagged Black-bellied Whistling Duck in a resaca we crossed over (I missed those, too...).


Headed up SR 48, along which we spotted Harris' Hawk and Osprey before hitting the boat ramp.  The highlights were three American Oystercatchers (all unbanded), plus the usual suspects in order of appearance:  Laughing Gull, Least Sandpiper, Black-necked Stilt, Willet, Spoonbill, Snowy Egret, Black Skimmer, Tricolored Heron (a nice rusty youngster), Great Blue Heron, Forster's Tern, a Semipalmated Plover hiding next to a pole, Brown Pelican, a white morph Reddish Egret, some Sanderlings, a single peek-a-boo Black-bellied Plover, a ratty Caspian Tern, a calling Greater Yellowlegs, and some Royal Terns.  In addition, Michael had a Lesser Yellowlegs that I never got on, and I pled the 5th on some dowitchers out there...


From there we headed north into what looked like a major storm (picking up a couple of Chimney Swifts on the way), and sure enough, we got dumped on going over the causeway!  (We felt sorry for the Breast Cancer Walk/Run participants that were getting soaked...)  It was still coming down when we got to the Bay Access, but we went in anyway to take a peek (we had one little dry spot just past the entrance posts--the rest was total water) and added Western Sandpipers, a cute Snowy Plover, Marbled Godwits, White Pelicans, and Sandwich Terns to the list before my passengers started melting from the rain... ☺  I got enough of a look at a plover I felt comfortable calling Wilson's, but it ducked behind some vegetation before Pat and Michael could get a good look.


We decided to hit the "Whatabirder" for lunch and to wait out the rain, but it actually cleared on the way there, so we ate and enjoyed hearing about Pat's exploits in Portugal!  Headed back to the Convention Centre, and that was by far the best place of the day:  Pat caught sight of a pewee as we drove in, and right at the start of the sidewalk a lady Yellow-headed Blackbird was feeding at our feet!  The migrants came down in onesies and twosies, and before long we added Black-and-white, Redstart, and Northern Waterthrush to the warbler list, but then Michael caught sight of a Golden-winged Warbler!!  I was jazzed, as I figured I had missed that one for the year seeing as they're really a springtime migrant!  Michael just as quickly spotted a Prairie Warbler, but I missed that one totally, and as we scoured the back trees for more goodies a pair of Clapper Rails sounded off from the marsh, followed closely by the "jungle song" of a Common Gallinule!  A little pishing brought in a brilliant Yellow-throated Warbler (which my companions missed) and a couple of Audubon's Butterbutts.  As we made our way back to the bench area next to the marsh we added Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, a strutting Ovenbird, Nashville Warbler, and Black-throated Green (I caught sight of a "Baypoll" type warbler, but we never could refind it).  While sitting on the bench Michael spotted a Summer Tanager over by the gazebo, so we moseyed over there and also managed to kick up a Magnolia and Tennessee Warbler.  A female Indigo Bunting popped up before I had to make a run to the restroom, during which I missed both a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a Scarlet Tanager!



Female Yellow-headed Blackbird at the Convention Centre at South Padre Island


"Documentation shot" of a Golden-winged Warbler, considered scarce in fall.


Pat went back to the car to get her scope so we could check out the backside mudflats, but on the way I caught sight of something soaring over the building and yelled, "Frigatebird!"  It was an immature and soared right overhead; we were all so jazzed!  Out back we were actually able to add a few things, primary of which were several Piping Plovers, which I was happy about because I thought for sure I had heard some when we were out on the access road in the rain, but we couldn't spot them.  Michael found a Common Tern in with the Forster's, and we added Ruddy Turnstone and Short-billed Dowitcher to the shorebird lineup.



This immature Magnificent Frigatebird almost upstaged the warbler!


We headed out onto the boardwalk after that, and were surprised to see the little south-side pond dry as a bone!  It was warming up pretty good, but we dragged ourselves out to the end in hopes of some early mergansers or Redheads, but managed to add Little Blue Heron (we had a nice assortment of herons there), Belted Kingfisher on the sign, several Coots, and a few Pied-billed Grebes that we all did mistake for mergansers at first... ☺  A single Cave Swallow zipped overhead before we headed back to the car.


View from the boardwalk


Michael and Pat head back to the relative cool of the centre!


A quick stop at Sheepshead added a few things, most notably a singing Inca Dove on the north side and a stunning Hooded Warbler on the south side (along with a male Redstart and some other expected warblers that came in to pishing).  From there Michael wanted to show us a settling pond at the country club in Port Isabel that sat just to the south of the big reservoir (his comment was that when the reservoir is full, all the shorebirds move over to this lake), and while not stuffed with stuff, the stars of the show were several Wood Storks that came sailing in!  We also picked up a few Barn Swallows, a young Double-crested Cormorant, and a Turkey Vulture here before swinging over to the main reservoir (even though it looked full), and to our surprise it was quite productive:  right away we spooked a good-sized flock of ducks consisting mainly of Shovelers and Blue-winged Teal, and upon closer scrutiny Michael found a Green-winged in amongst them!  That little stretch of shoreline next to the chain-link fence gave us Stilt and Spotted Sandpipers in addition to the Leasts and Turnstone that was already there, plus a Long-billed Curlew in the distance and a calling Marsh Wren and Sora from the reeds (had to clap to get the latter to sound off).



A flock of Wood Storks sail in to a settling pond at the Port Isabel Country Club (with token spoonbill above)!



The youngster has the yellowish bill...


From there we headed out SR 100, advising my passengers to tell me to slam on the brakes if they saw anything suspicious!  I ended up slamming several times for White-tailed Hawk and Black Vulture mainly (Kestrels were back as well), but an Aplomado-hopeful actually turned out to be a Peregrine!  At Los Fresnos we cut down to SR 511 to hit the south end of Old Port Isabel Road (I assumed that with all the rain we'd never get past the gun club at the north end), and that turned out to be more productive than I think my dubious companions expected! ☺ Right away we added Eastern Meadowlark to the list, and the aforementioned Bobwhite family showed up at the railroad tracks.  At one stop a Cooper's Hawk batted by, and at another spot I turned off the motor at a suspicious sound, and sure enough, Pat spotted the family of Groove-billed Anis I was hearing!  Another spot finally produced a Cactus Wren, and a very cooperative Cassin's Sparrow jumped up on the fence and gave great views (which was very rewarding after trying to pish up dozens of suspects in the wind)!  A Caracara finally flew in and perched on a distance post before we ran into an impassable spot and had to turn around, where on the way out several Scissor-tailed Flycatchers lined the wires!


I really had my heart set on Weaver Road and environs, but Pat and Michael convinced me that if we were gonna make it to Olivera Park by dusk, we wouldn't be able to make it all the way over to Cannon Road and back, so after discovering that Palo Alto was closed already, Michael took us to a pond next to a flea market off the Old Alice Road exit in Brownsville where we added Ruddy Duck for the day.  Pulling out of the massive parking area we added a Bronzed Cowbird feeding with the grackles, then checked out the Fisheries, which Pat had never been to before but was a familiar stomping ground for Michael and an area I used to survey back in the day, but to our shock produced nothing new for us this time (but an Anhinga and Yellow-crowned Night Heron were actually new for my Fisheries list).  By that time it was 6:15 and time to head to the park; driving with an open window as we sailed down the frontage road bagged us a big flock of Green Parakeets going over!


The timing couldn't have been more perfect, as the little White-fronted Parrots were already gathering on the wire as we pulled in!  (Comedy relief was supplied when I stepped away from my companions in order to get a recording of the Whitefronts, only to have the local ice cream truck roll by with his speakers on maximum... ☺)  Shortly some Red-lored joined them, which threw me a little as they showed a lot of yellow on the face, but a little research found that the nominate autumnalis does show quite a bit of yellow, while the South American salvini shows none.  A few Red-crowned started showing up, but the real show was when hundreds of them literally filled the sky overhead and swooped into the trees; the cacophony was deafening!!  We thought that was their roost, but before long they all heaved ho and went somewhere else, allowing us to be able to talk in a normal voice again!


We end the day at Olivera Park in Brownsville to catch the Parrot Party!  (Red-lored at left, and White-fronted at right--notice the size difference!)



Red-lored Parrot on the left, and Red-crowned on the right.



White-fronted Parrots


Called it a day after that; my personal list was 142 (oh, I added the feral Muscovies on the way out...), but I think adding the ones Pat and Michael managed to see, the total list was around 147!


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