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All photographs ©2015 by Mary Beth Stowe

 

February 21, 2015 - Estero Llano Grande SP (AM portion of the Frontera Birdathon)

 

Pat Heirs had contacted me awhile back about being on her team for this year's Frontera Birdathon, and at first I declined as I couldn't devote a seven-to-seven day to bird on a Saturday due to evening services at church, but when she suggested we concentrate our efforts for the morning shift on Estero Llano Grande, I gladly accepted!  Sue Griffin from Harlingen joined us, as did Pat's friend Larry Lane and his friend John (didn't catch his last name), and my Winter Texan friend from British Columbia, Gary Davidson, joined us for the morning as well!  The plan was to meet at Estero early enough to be on deck by 6:45, but for whatever reason I happened to roll in about 6:15 or so (and was able to grab my favorite parking spot; glad I did as by the time we were done around 11:30, people were parked along the side of the entrance road!), and while waiting for the others heard Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and a Killdeer fly overhead.  The wind was pretty bad, so I didn't have high hopes of hearing much, much less seeing much!

The team eventually trickled in, first Sue, then Pat, then Gary, but Larry and John were running late, so we headed to the deck knowing they'd catch up with us.  Cardinals and Long-billed Thrashers were tuning up already, and a couple of Chachalacas flushed from the trees as we walked the brick entrance path, but we couldn't count any of them yet seeing as it wasn't yet 7:00; the plan was to get as many ducks et al staked out so that when 7:00 did strike, we could log them and move on and not spend a lot of extra time scanning.  Without much trouble we added Shovelers, all three teals, Coots, Gadwall, Ruddy Ducks, and Common Gallinules.  A Carolina Wren sang behind us along with a rattling Buff-bellied Hummingbird, but alas, it wasn't 7:00 yet; we'd have to hope to nab them later.  The highlight (which I missed) was a Bobcat that made its way down the boardwalk and into the marsh!  Interestingly, the ducks suddenly got very vocal, but then all headed towards where the bobcat had been!  Go figure...

 Purple Martins were gurgling overhead, and after the official start time we headed to the boardwalk, adding a fly-by Mourning Dove, scolding Mockingbirds and House Wrens, and squeaking titmice along the trail.  Turkey Vultures were up already (Pat checked every single one for a possible Zone-tailed Hawk), and someone spotted a Pied-billed Grebe, which I heard later.  We were leapfrogging with Pat DeWenter's team and she (I think it was) spotted a Sora while peering into Avocet Lake!  Gary had lugged his scope along so we all got great looks as it poked along.  (The rule is that at least two people on the team have to see or hear the bird for it to count...)  Swinging around the boardwalk a Lesser Yellowlegs flew over, and we heard White-eyed Vireos and Kiskadees singing way over in the Tropical Zone. 

Grackles and blackbirds were making their morning treks across the sky as we wandered into the grasslands where the Gray-crowned Yellowthroat (hereafter GCYE) had been hanging out.  Before starting out I had played a recording of the call note so that everyone would know what to listen for, but with the wind, we never heard a peep - not even a seep from a sparrow out there!  About the only things we added as we made our way over to Dowitcher Pond were three fly-by Double-crested Cormorants and a distant Golden-fronted Woodpecker yelling!  Gary found us a tree-full of Starlings (you actually had to use the scope to see them), and two spoonbills flew over, which I was very happy to see!  We joked about getting excited about the Collared Dove that flew past ☺, and a Lesser Goldfinch wheed as it flew overhead.  Both Great and Snowy Egrets were gathering at Dowitcher Pond, which we would tackle after checking out the levee.

 

Larry describes a previous bird hunt to Pat (left) and Sue (right), while others hunt hopefully for the lost Gray-crowned Yellowthroat in the background!

 

Meanwhile, Gary keeps the list (and that's his pen cap in his mouth, not a cigarette... ☺)

We then headed up to the levee to see what was in the Llano Grande, and that was very productive with a large pod of Avocets, a Tricolored Heron, and a hovering White-tailed Kite!  A large raptor on one of the poles in the distance turned out to be a Redtail, and we tallied the post-7:00 whistling ducks up there, but other than these additions the river just held more Shovelers and egrets.  The wind was really something, so we didn't stay up there long!

 

Pat heads up to the levee to check for goodies...

Dowitcher Pond proved to be very productive:  right away Gary spotted a flock of "stints" (we teased him about spending too much time in Australia ☺) which turned out to be Least Sandpipers, and our spoonbills had landed and were vigorously feeding down at the far end!  Tree Swallows had joined the martins overhead, and Gary spotted the Little Blue Heron they had seen earlier in the week.  A Spotted Sandpiper kept calling, and we finally spotted the thing (no pun intended) on a log.  A Cooper's Hawk that burst from the trees got all the ducks excited, and a pair of Mottled shot in just ahead of the hawk!  A pair of White-faced Ibis also wheeled in, and a little pishing got a Common Yellowthroat to respond.  A handful of White Pelicans sailed by, probably on their way to the levee.  We happened to spot Huck Hutchins across the way with a friend, so I called him on the cell and asked him to give us a buzz if they should spot the GCYE!

 

One of several Least Sandpipers

Killdeer

We spot a "Huckus hutchinii" across the way! ☺ (Couldn't ID the other guy on the left...)

    

One of a handful of gorgeous Roseate Spoonbills feeding in the pond!

White-faced Ibis (they only show the white face in breeding plumage)

Snowy Egret intently looking for lunch...

We wound our way over the little bridge and towards Alligator Lake, stopping briefly at Grebe Marsh where we did indeed have a Pied-billed Grebe (got his cousin the Least Grebe at Alligator)!  An Olive Sparrow was tuning up with his bouncing-ball song, and some Butterbutts were chipping across the way, but the best bird was the juvie Broad-winged Hawk that had been hanging around:  he flew low over trees long enough for me to gauge the size and jizz, and see the nice white underwing surface with the thin dark outline so typical of Broadies!  Gary got a less than satisfying look, but between the two of us we could at least add it to the list (it disappeared behind the trees before anyone else could get on it).

   

Our two common grebes:  Pied-billed (left) and Least (right) - can you tell them apart?

We had run into Pat D. and her friend again, and she reported both flavors of night herons over at Alligator, and sure enough, there they were in all their glory!  (Pat H. admitted the Yellowcrown was her favorite heron... ☺)  There were actually several of the Yellows and only a couple of Blackies (one with his nose in his breast, snoozing away).  Heading towards the overlook, Larry found one of the snoozing Pauraques right away, and Gary found the second one, both fairly close yet hard to spot!  John spotted us a Great Blue Heron, and while at the overlook we heard a Long-billed Curlew in the distance!  Nothing new was at the overlook (although we did spot an Alligator), so we headed back towards the Visitor's Center, figuring that trying for the GCYE again in this wind would be a lost cause.  On the way out we ran into another competing team headed by Norma Friedrich! ☺

    

Both Black-crowned (left) and Yellow-crowned Night Herons were at Alligator Lake!

 

 

One of the snoozing Pauraques (who's probably keeping an eye on us through that slit)!

 

Blooming yucca

   

 

We run into another Birdathon team headed by Norma (in the green)!

 

Back at Dowitcher Pond we ran into Huck's bird walk, where they had spotted a couple of female Pintail that we could add to the list.  One lady mentioned that both Virginia Rail and American Bittern had shown up there, but were invisible at the moment (such is life...).  The House Sparrows had taken over the martin house, and we finally added an Orange-crowned Warbler in the butterfly garden.  After a happy reunion with Ranger John and his group of students (and adding some Inca Doves and post-7:00 Chachalacas to the list) we hit the restrooms and then headed out to the Tropical Zone, but not before Sue spotted a huge Soft-shelled Turtle on a log!

 

We run into Huck's birdwalk!

 

Soft-shelled Turtle

 

A few of the many Green-winged Teal

 

Wandering over to the area where the White-throated Thrush was being seen (we reviewed their call notes as well before getting there), Pat recognized the tell-tale ringing of Clay-colored Thrushes, and sure enough, there were a couple in the tree near the Sniders' RV!  May had mentioned that a flock of 15 had just vacated the area where the other thrush had been hanging out, and we walked in to find Mary Gustafson and an entourage holding vigil!  We picked up Blue-gray Gnatcatcher for the day in here, but we honestly didn't give it much time as we really needed to comb the rest of the area (as one guy put it, on a birdathon, spending 30 minutes to wait for one bird isn't a good use of time)!  Someone mentioned that one of the seasonal rarities, a young Orchard Oriole, was presently at the Sniders' feeders, so we booked over there and got great views of the fellow!  Some Green Jays moved through about the same time.

    

 

Young male Orchard Oriole spending the winter at the park; like the Broad-winged Hawk, normally they're only a migrant!

 

Heading in, we saw several yellow-breasted kingbirds flycatching, but it wasn't until one went Reeerrr! that we felt confident calling it a Couch's!  Pat spotted an Eastern Phoebe, and someone else spotted a White-tipped Dove retreating into the forest at the open feeders that were inundated by Redwings!  Sue and I were pretty beat, so we grabbed a bench by the drip until my White-tipped Dove showed up (I missed the first one) and enjoyed several Orange-crowned Warblers coming in to drink until we realized that the rest of the team had deserted us ☺, so we quickly found them and made our way past Ben Basham's place, enjoying a flyover Black Vulture on the way.  Our target was the Black-chinned Hummingbird that was coming to one of the feeders along the "middle" road, and we didn't have to wait long before he came in, along with our post 7:00 Buffbelly at the other feeder, while the post-7:00 Carolina Wren thankfully sang in the distance!  On the way back to the White-throated Thrush vigil I heard an American Goldfinch "potato chip" overhead, but no one else picked up on that one, so it didn't go on the official list.  While giving the White-throated Thrush a second chance (Mary et al hadn't moved ☺) a Tropical Kingbird tittered to the side, so we could safely count that one as well!

 

Male Black-chinned Hummingbird; even though you can't see the color on his gorget, his blob-tipped primary gives him away!  (Ruby-throated would have a more pointed primary.)

 

Since Pat's plan was to really "comb" the park, I mentioned that we hadn't been on the Camino de Aves Trail yet, which is an area I often get more "desert" type birds.  So back we went, and at the deck John finally spotted some White Ibis (we had had many false alarms during the course of the morning ☺)!  A cormorant came wheeling into Avocet Pond, but no one got a definitive look until it decided to take off again just as we were leaving, giving everyone a good look at the long tail - Neotrop for the day!  About that time Larry offered to head down to the Progresso Silos just to scout it out, to see if it would be worth a side trip after doing Estero, so he took off while the rest of us headed back over the little bridge\ and back into the "desert".  After making the initial left turn onto Camino de Aves (most of the crew confessed that they had never been back here), the "short loop" veers right, while the left fork takes you over a little bridge and to the "back trail" that runs along the property line and eventually joins up with Camino de Aves again.  Sue suggested we check the creek before heading on the short loop, and in doing so we kicked up a smacking Lincoln's Sparrow!  Right after that a Harris' Hawk came sailing at us, so we were glad to get him!

 

Continuing on the short loop, sadly the wind kept any hoped-for targets down (I was gunning for Bewick's Wren, Common Ground Dove, and Verdin at the very least; in fact, Ranger John wheeled by in the tram with his kids and asked if we had seen any Verdin).  At the levee access where the trail starts heading back to the bridge, Pat and John decided to go up and take a look while Gary, Sue, and myself opted to stay put (we'd had enough climbing for the day, thank you very much).  That turned out to be a good move, as a pair of Caracaras came tearing in, one landing on the telephone pole and rattling to his mate (Gary commented on how the bird threw his head back while rattling)!  We alerted Pat and John and thankfully they were able to get on them!

 

Alas, that was all we added for our troubles, and at Pat's rhetorical query about how many miles we had walked, John actually had his handy dandy pedometer and informed us that we had walked almost six miles!  No wonder we were shot! ☺  We girls collapsed at the bench behind Grebe Marsh while the guys continued on, and after awhile we felt guilty about hogging the benches when the guys were probably beat as well, so we went to go find them, only to find that they had collapsed on a bench and reported that they had the Virginia Rail chasing the American Bittern right out in the open (wink, wink)! ☺  Yeah, right...  We all collapsed at the hummer feeders back at the VC for a few minutes, enjoying a Buffbelly that came in, but that was about it.

 

   

 

Buff-bellied Hummingbird makes a brief stop at one of the feeders at the Visitor's Center.

 

We decided to call it quits at that point (at least for Estero; the others were going to continue the Birdathon until 7:00 or they dropped, whichever occurred first ☺), but not before picking up a Ladder-backed Woodpecker in the woods on the way out!  Someone had reported a Summer Tanager in the parking lot, so we looked fruitlessly for that, but Gary found me a Lark Sparrow for the day (Pat and another member of our team had spotted one earlier while I was at the White-throated Thrush vigil).  Personally, I wound up with 80 species for the morning (which puzzles me because I thought that Pat's count for the morning was 80 for the whole team, but they weren't counting the American Goldfinch, so I'm wondering what I missed!); am anxiously awaiting the results of the full day!

 

Bird List:

 

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck          Dendrocygna autumnalis

  Gadwall                               Anas strepera

  Mottled Duck                          Anas fulvigula

  Blue-winged Teal                      Anas discors

  Cinnamon Teal                         Anas cyanoptera

  Northern Shoveler                     Anas clypeata

  Northern Pintail                      Anas acuta

  Green-winged Teal                     Anas crecca

  Ruddy Duck                            Oxyura jamaicensis

  Plain Chachalaca                      Ortalis vetula

  Least Grebe                           Tachybaptus dominicus

  Pied-billed Grebe                     Podilymbus podiceps

  American White Pelican

  Neotropic Cormorant                   Phalacrocorax brasilianus

  Double-crested Cormorant              Phalacrocorax auritus

  Great Blue Heron                      Ardea herodias

  Great Egret                           Ardea alba

  Snowy Egret                           Egretta thula

  Little Blue Heron                     Egretta caerulea

  Tricolored Heron                      Egretta tricolor

  Black-crowned Night-Heron             Nycticorax nycticorax

  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron            Nyctanassa violacea

  White Ibis                            Eudocimus albus

  White-faced Ibis                      Plegadis chihi

  Roseate Spoonbill                     Platalea ajaja

  Black Vulture                         Coragyps atratus

  Turkey Vulture                        Cathartes aura

  White-tailed Kite                     Elanus leucurus

  Cooper's Hawk                         Accipiter cooperii

  Harris's Hawk                         Parabuteo unicinctus

  Broad-winged Hawk                     Buteo platypterus

  Red-tailed Hawk                       Buteo jamaicensis

  Sora                                  Porzana carolina

  Common Gallinule                      Gallinula galeata

  American Coot                         Fulica americana

  American Avocet                       Recurvirostra americana

  Killdeer                              Charadrius vociferus

  Spotted Sandpiper                     Actitis macularius

  Lesser Yellowlegs                     Tringa flavipes

  Long-billed Curlew                    Numenius americanus

  Least Sandpiper                       Calidris minutilla

  Eurasian Collared-Dove                Streptopelia decaocto

  Mourning Dove                         Zenaida macroura

  Inca Dove                             Columbina inca

  White-tipped Dove                     Leptotila verreauxi

  Common Pauraque                       Nyctidromus albicollis

  Black-chinned Hummingbird             Archilochus alexandri

  Buff-bellied Hummingbird              Amazilia yucatanensis

  Golden-fronted Woodpecker             Melanerpes aurifrons

  Ladder-backed Woodpecker              Picoides scalaris

  Crested Caracara                      Caracara cheriway

  Eastern Phoebe                        Sayornis phoebe

  Great Kiskadee                        Pitangus sulphuratus

  Tropical Kingbird                     Tyrannus melancholicus

  Couch's Kingbird                      Tyrannus couchii

  White-eyed Vireo                      Vireo griseus

  Green Jay                             Cyanocorax yncas

  Purple Martin                         Progne subis

  Tree Swallow                          Tachycineta bicolor

  Black-crested Titmouse                Baeolophus atricristatus

  House Wren                            Troglodytes aedon

  Carolina Wren                         Thryothorus ludovicianus

  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                 Polioptila caerulea

  Clay-colored Thrush                   Turdus grayi

  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

  Lark Sparrow                          Chondestes grammacus

  Lincoln's Sparrow                     Melospiza lincolnii

  Northern Cardinal                     Cardinalis cardinalis

  Red-winged Blackbird                  Agelaius phoeniceus

  Great-tailed Grackle                  Quiscalus mexicanus

  Orchard Oriole                        Icterus spurius

  Lesser Goldfinch                      Spinus psaltria

  American Goldfinch                    Spinus tristis

  House Sparrow                         Passer domesticus

 

80 SPECIES

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