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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.
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.
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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