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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
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)!
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!
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!
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
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
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