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February 14, 2015 - Boca Chica
I hemmed and hawed all week about where to go today with all the rarities about, but Bob Becker's Bonaparte's Gulls finally lured me to bird the Boca Chica Route, which starts just past the Border Patrol checkpoint on SR 4 and goes all the way down to the river mouth (beach conditions allowing). It was another gorgeous day with sunny skies and no wind, but the lack of a shoulder really precludes a strict half-mile-stop routine, so you just have to park where you can! The first stop past the checkpoint hit pay dirt, with an Aplomado Falcon hanging out on the hacking station, the morning's only Northern Harrier, and a Sedge Wren calling excitedly, almost sounding like it ready to burst into song! Eastern Meadowlarks were out the yin yang; at one stop I actually spotted eight birds while scanning (with more singing behind me), and almost every stop was like that! Where there was thicker thornscrub along the road there were also plenty of Long-billed Thrashers singing, and I was really surprised to hear several pairs of Chachalacas in what looked like very short scrub! There was a lot of water in the open space (at least west of the tidal areas), with both Pied-billed Grebes and Coots calling. Yellowthroats were all over as well, and at one stop I spooked a Belted Kingfisher, my first for that route! One big surprise since I was here last: the powers that be have erected a nice big "Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR" sign on the south side of the road!
A hidden wetland along the road
Looking west along Highway 4
One of several Eastern Meadowlarks along the route
Eastern Meadowlark cacophony (listen carefully for the wail of a Long-billed Curlew near the end)
After awhile there's a good dirt road to the south (Palmito Hill Road according to Google Maps), and I hadn't gone very far before I noticed another surprise: a new overlook deck and interpretive signs! You have a nice view of the flats, with lots of cactus (and Cactus Wrens to go with it), along with Loggerhead Shrikes and at least two pairs of Harris' Hawks. Heard a Roadrunner "singing" in here as well, along with a whistling Curve-billed Thrasher and a Caracara against the sun. A Chihuahuan Raven flew by, which I was very glad to bag! The road makes a hard left and takes you into some more thick trees (back into Long-billed Thrasher country), plus tons of Verdins, Bewick's Wrens, a few Olive Sparrows, and even a Carolina Wren (the only one of the day). A flyover Osprey was nice, and on the way out I happened to notice a pair of Mottled Ducks that came in to a pond in the meantime!
New overlook along Palmito Hill Road
View of the open space habitat
The back road
The further east you go, the more flatlands you drive through, which can be great for shorebirds, but pickin's were rather slim this time. One stop did have a massive flock of Pintail in the distance, and several yellowlegs of some kind were at another spot. Scanning at another stop added a Long-billed Curlew that was right in front of me (and hadn't seen)! In between stops I was pleasantly surprised to hear an Altamira Oriole singing in one of the trees near a residence. Both Dunlin and Least Sandpiper were heard-only, and at one stop (near one of the buildings with palm trees, of course), a grackle was trying to pass himself off as a Dickcissel (vocally, that is)! Another funny scene was along the main road where a Harris' Hawk landed on a pole, and a Golden-fronted Woodpecker landed on the wire a few feet away, clearly annoyed as he bobbed his head at the hawk! Then I saw the nest hole in the pole the hawk was sitting on...
Can you tell why the woodpecker just might be annoyed with the hawk?? ☺
More views of the open space heading east.
Approaching the tidal areas
This Great-tailed Grackle sounds like he had a Dickcissel as a tutor! (Looped twice)
This Greater Yellowlegs flew over after the grackle was done with his concert...
There's another little road (we call it "Dan Jones' Road" but I think it's actually called Quicksilver according to Google maps...) that goes by a home and a couple of trailers, then overlooks the Rio Grande, and while I've never seen tons of birds here, there's always something interesting. Today there were four Forster's Terns batting back and forth in the company of a Ring-billed Gull, and a line of five or six White Pelicans sailed downriver, then after a few minutes, up they came again! The really funny thing was that a Brown Pelican was leading them going both directions, with his pouch full of lunch (at least I hope it was lunch and not something inedible...)!
White Pelicans gliding down the Rio Grande, with a Brown Pelican leading them on!
Continuing on, the landscape gets pretty barren if there's no water in the flats, and it was certainly the case today; not even any plovers poked around! I also passed a little official-looking building that was new since I was down here last: it was fenced off with barbed wire all around, and I was wondering it it might have something to do with the Space-X thing. The day's only Mourning Dove liked the fence, though... One of the historical markers made for a great pulloff, and I didn't even notice the two white morph Reddish Egrets standing just a few feet away until I got out of the car! They could have cared less: the one in the water put on a nice stretching show while the one on the post looked downright bored at times... They were definitely coming into breeding plumage, though, as their bill bases were neon pink!
Tidal flats, devoid of water at the moment...
View of South Padre in the distance.
A white morph Reddish Egret stretches luxuriously and then stares down the photographer...
His friend kept watch from a nearby post...
Bob had reported that the beach was in good shape, and for the most part it was, even though I wouldn't recommend driving it without a 4WD vehicle, as there were some pretty soft sandy spots (reminiscent of driving in the snow in Michigan...)! There were lots of folks parked with their poles and chairs and just enjoying the day, but I was surprised to see no one down at the mouth (except on the other side), and to be honest, the whole place was pretty devoid of birds: there were pockets of Herring and Ring-billed Gulls on the beach with a few Laughers, plus a Willet here and a Ruddy Turnstone there (not even any Sanderlings!!!), and even the patch of larids at the mouth was too far away to ID anything given the lighting and heat shimmer, so no Bonies for me... While scanning for Gannets I thought I had a Common Loon in with a couple of cormorants, but alas, it also turned out to be a young cormorant with a very loon-like color pattern. Heading north towards the jetty, it was apparent that the tide was coming in (I could only tell because going south I squeezed between a van and the water, and coming back up that option was no longer available...), and indeed, access to the jetty was cut off by the incoming waves; in fact, it looked as though some poor guy was trying to come south, and discovered to his chagrin that he was trapped! So I just slipped and slid through the sand back to the access road, only picking up a Caspian Tern for my troubles...
Fishermen (both human and avian) enjoy the beach!
Great Blue Heron hoping for a snack...
Three ages of Herring Gull: 2nd year (upper left), 1st year (upper right), and adults (foreground).
Close-up of one of the Herring Gulls; this may be a female based on the smaller bill.
Willet (I confess I'm not up on separating Eastern from Western...)
The mouth of the mighty Rio Grande, with Mexico on the other side.
Called it a day after that, but the excitement didn't stop: four Black Vultures were kettling on the way out, and in a tree near where some hunters (I presume) were parked, there was a pair of Chihuahuan Ravens, also apparently ambivalent about my presence as I swung around to take photos!
Finally headed home with 65 species for the morning. Bird List:
Mottled Duck Anas fulvigula
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Plain Chachalaca Ortalis vetula
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus
American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Great Egret Ardea alba
Reddish Egret Egretta rufescens
Black Vulture Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus
Harris's Hawk Parabuteo unicinctus
American Coot Fulica americana
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca
Willet Tringa semipalmata
Long-billed Curlew Numenius americanus
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Dunlin Calidris alpina
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla
Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia
Forster's Tern Sterna forsteri
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina
Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus
Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon
Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons
Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris
Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
Aplomado Falcon Falco femoralis
Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
Great Kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus
Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus
White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus
Chihuahuan Raven Corvus cryptoleucus
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris
Verdin Auriparus flaviceps
House Wren Troglodytes aedon
Sedge Wren Cistothorus platensis
Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus
Bewick's Wren Thryomanes bewickii
Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
Curve-billed Thrasher Toxostoma curvirostre
Long-billed Thrasher Toxostoma longirostre
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Orange-crowned Warbler Oreothlypis celata
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata
Olive Sparrow Arremonops rufivirgatus
Cassin's Sparrow Peucaea cassinii
Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna
Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus
Altamira Oriole Icterus gularis
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