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January 11, 2015 - Laguna Atascosa NWR & South Padre Island


Marsh along General Brant Road


A couple of rarities had been reported from Laguna Atascosa (Western Tanager and Tropical Parula - I think...), so I decided to do a survey and then head down to SPI to try for the sporadic Purple Gallinule.  With the Bayside Loop closed, I decided to start the route just past the residential area on General Brant Road (which in reality only added a couple of miles), and that had some of the best stuff of the day!  About a mile in the fields were flooded and just stuffed with ducks, and getting out to listen, I saw and heard hundreds of geese and Sandhill Cranes in the distance!  But the best birds were in with the multitude of Pintail:  a pair of "Northern" Mallards, which (believe it or not) are considered vagrants this far south!



"Northern" Mallards - they were pretty far away, so I was surprised that the pictures came out at all!

Great Egret starting to get a little "breeding green" in his lores!

Greater Yellowlegs hiding in a puddle at the intersection with Buena Vista Road

Didn't have anything out of the ordinary along the length of General Brant (except more herons and shorebirds than usual because of all the water); the canal at the little bridge had lots of Common Gallinules yelling and grebes making funny noises, and both night herons made an appearance.  Whenever I would pish at a stop with lots of brush, the smacking of the Lincoln's Sparrows sounded like popcorn!  However, making the left turn onto Buena Vista and heading north to the Visitor's Center, what almost upstaged the mallards were two very cold Groove-billed Anis sitting by the side of the road (even a truck barreling past didn't move them)!  You can only imagine that they must have been regretting not heading south with the rest of their kin!

Smacking Lincoln's Sparrows


"Okay, whose bright idea was it to skip heading south for the winter???"


Groove-billed Ani, side view (where you can see the grooves).

Once at the visitor's center, I checked in and asked about the rarities, which understandably hadn't been seen since the cold front went through (and it was nasty the day before)!  So I just poked around and enjoyed the antics of the Green Jays at the photo blind, then checked out Kiskadee Trail, where the most interesting birds were a Nashville Warbler that had me going for a minute, and a Wilson's Warbler.  I then moseyed around the Gazebo Garden which turned out to be quite productive:  they have another feeding area there that was hosting a Gray Catbird along with the usual grackles, Cardinals, and whatnot. 


Green Jays at the photo blind


Sharing a meal at the table!


Bored Couch's Kingbird in the gazebo area


A lady Cardinal at the Gazebo feeding area

Catbirds are a treat to see in the winter!

After scouring the VC area without success, decided to continue the "alternate" route which includes the Lakeside Drive.  The wind off Laguna Atascosa was a killer, so I didn't stay at the overlook long--just long enough to see that there were gobs of Lesser Scaup out there, along with a few Ringnecks and Redheads.  Checked out the rest of Buena Vista to the dead end, then headed back out where a very rusty-looking thrasher got my attention!  It turned out just to be a Long-billed (amazing how that color can turn shades depending on the light), but it reminded me that you have to be careful about calling out a Brown Thrasher based on color alone!


Yes, this is the same Long-billed Thrasher:  one moment he's as rusty-looking as a Brown, and the next he's a more normal shade of brown for his kind!  (Can't remember if the sun peeked out and caused the difference...)


More shots of the thrasher...

The "alternate route" continues down Buena Vista Road to the Cameron County airport, and this was one of the birdiest stretches of the route!  Lots of yellowlegs of both flavors were feeding in the ditches, and a Caracara and Loggerhead Shrike were both very cooperative for pictures!  Alas, no Aplomados along this stretch, but many people do get them here; the habitat is perfect, and the "home stretch" of the Bayside Loop (where Aplomados more frequently show up) is directly to the east.


Lesser Yellowlegs   



Cooperative Crested Caracara


That stray black feather above the eye makes this Loggerhead Shrike look meaner than he is!

Headed down to South Padre after that, hitting the Gulf access first to see if I could bag any Gannets for the year.  The surf was really rough, so there wasn't much out there (and nothing much on the beach, either, besides Sanderlings and Laughing Gulls), so headed over to the Convention Centre to make the rounds.  The mudflat birds were way out there, but had a good selection of shorebirds, but I couldn't believe that I couldn't pick out a Royal or Sandwich Tern!  (Lots of skimmers, though...)  No Sedge Wrens called from the grass, so I headed over to the boardwalk where at least the Clapper Rail was cooperative in sounding off, but no Purple Gallinule (ran into another couple that had seen him the day before, but not today).  On the other hand, Common Gallinules were showing off well, and a Belted Kingfisher was hovering over several spots before finally landing on the boardwalk railing!  Out in the bay I was able to bag a Red-breasted Merganser, and at the overlook, a funny ronk ronk was coming from the mangroves, and finally the perpetrator (a Reddish Egret) showed himself and started dancing a little!


Preening Common Gallinule showing off his feathers

Ragamuffin Belted Kingfisher (after several dives)

Listen hard for the Reddish Egret talking to himself against the wind!

Since I had paid to get on the beach, I went ahead and checked out the cove at Isla Blanca CP, which had more tourists than birds, then swung slowly along the Gulf side, checking the gulls to make sure that kittiwake hadn't resurfaced this year!  No such luck, so called it a day and headed home.

Bird List: 

  Snow Goose                            Chen caerulescens 

  Gadwall                               Anas strepera

  American Wigeon                       Anas americana

  Mallard                               Anas platyrhynchos

  Mottled Duck                          Anas fulvigula

  Blue-winged Teal                      Anas discors

  Northern Shoveler                     Anas clypeata

  Northern Pintail                      Anas acuta

  Redhead                               Aythya americana

  Ring-necked Duck                      Aythya collaris

  Lesser Scaup                          Aythya affinis

  Red-breasted Merganser                Mergus serrator

  Ruddy Duck                            Oxyura jamaicensis

  Plain Chachalaca                      Ortalis vetula

  Northern Bobwhite                     Colinus virginianus

  Least Grebe                           Tachybaptus dominicus

  Pied-billed Grebe                     Podilymbus podiceps

  Neotropic Cormorant                   Phalacrocorax brasilianus

  Double-crested Cormorant              Phalacrocorax auritus

  Anhinga                               Anhinga anhinga

  American White Pelican                Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

  Brown Pelican                         Pelecanus occidentalis

  Great Blue Heron                      Ardea herodias

  Great Egret                           Ardea alba

  Snowy Egret                           Egretta thula

  Little Blue Heron                     Egretta caerulea

  Tricolored Heron                      Egretta tricolor

  Reddish Egret                         Egretta rufescens

  Cattle Egret                          Bubulcus ibis

  Black-crowned Night-Heron             Nycticorax nycticorax

  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron            Nyctanassa violacea

  White Ibis                            Eudocimus albus

  White-faced Ibis                      Plegadis chihi

  Black Vulture                         Coragyps atratus

  Turkey Vulture                        Cathartes aura

  Osprey                                Pandion haliaetus

  Northern Harrier                      Circus cyaneus

  Harris's Hawk                         Parabuteo unicinctus

  Red-tailed Hawk                       Buteo jamaicensis

  Clapper Rail                          Rallus longirostris

  Sora                                  Porzana carolina

  Common Gallinule                      Gallinula galeata

  American Coot                         Fulica americana

  Sandhill Crane                        Grus canadensis

  Black-necked Stilt                    Himantopus mexicanus

  American Avocet                       Recurvirostra americana

  Black-bellied Plover                  Pluvialis squatarola

  Killdeer                              Charadrius vociferus

  Greater Yellowlegs                    Tringa melanoleuca

  Lesser Yellowlegs                     Tringa flavipes

  Long-billed Curlew                    Numenius americanus

  Sanderling                            Calidris alba

  Dunlin                                Calidris alpina

  Least Sandpiper                       Calidris minutilla

  Western Sandpiper                     Calidris mauri

  Laughing Gull                         Leucophaeus atricilla

  Ring-billed Gull                      Larus delawarensis

  Herring Gull                          Larus argentatus

  Forster's Tern                        Sterna forsteri

  Black Skimmer                         Rynchops niger

  Rock Pigeon                           Columba livia

  White-winged Dove                     Zenaida asiatica

  Mourning Dove                         Zenaida macroura

  White-tipped Dove                     Leptotila verreauxi

  Greater Roadrunner                    Geococcyx californianus

  Groove-billed Ani                     Crotophaga sulcirostris

  Belted Kingfisher                     Megaceryle alcyon

  Golden-fronted Woodpecker             Melanerpes aurifrons

  Ladder-backed Woodpecker              Picoides scalaris

  Crested Caracara                      Caracara cheriway

  American Kestrel                      Falco sparverius

  Eastern Phoebe                        Sayornis phoebe

  Great Kiskadee                        Pitangus sulphuratus

  Couch's Kingbird                      Tyrannus couchii

  Loggerhead Shrike                     Lanius ludovicianus

  White-eyed Vireo                      Vireo griseus

  Green Jay                             Cyanocorax yncas

  Horned Lark                           Eremophila alpestris

  Black-crested Titmouse                Baeolophus atricristatus

  Verdin                                Auriparus flaviceps

  House Wren                            Troglodytes aedon

  Marsh Wren                            Cistothorus palustris

  Carolina Wren                         Thryothorus ludovicianus

  Ruby-crowned Kinglet                  Regulus calendula

  Gray Catbird                          Dumetella carolinensis

  Long-billed Thrasher                  Toxostoma longirostre

  Northern Mockingbird                  Mimus polyglottos

  European Starling                     Sturnus vulgaris

  American Pipit                        Anthus rubescens

  Orange-crowned Warbler                Oreothlypis celata

  Nashville Warbler                     Oreothlypis ruficapilla

  Common Yellowthroat                   Geothlypis trichas

  Yellow-rumped Warbler                 Setophaga coronata

  Wilson's Warbler                      Cardellina pusilla

  Olive Sparrow                         Arremonops rufivirgatus

  Savannah Sparrow                      Passerculus sandwichensis

  Lincoln's Sparrow                     Melospiza lincolnii

  Northern Cardinal                     Cardinalis cardinalis

  Red-winged Blackbird                  Agelaius phoeniceus

  Eastern Meadowlark                    Sturnella magna

  Western Meadowlark                    Sturnella neglecta

  Great-tailed Grackle                  Quiscalus mexicanus



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