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March 28, 2015 - Birder Patrol Trip to La Feria & Points Beyond

 

We had an incredible 18 people show up for this month's Birder Patrol trip, which was billed as a Grasspiper Hunt, but we ended up kinda going by the seat of our pants!  It was definitely a joint effort, as Pat Heirs had gotten some skinny from the Stanfords about a huge mess of Golden Plovers on one of the Farm Roads north of San Benito, and Alicia knew how to get us there ☺, but we started at the La Feria Nature Park, which was new for a lot of folks (the young couple who undoubtedly thought they had the whole place to themselves were probably overwhelmed when they were suddenly surrounded by five vehicles ☺).  The resident Loggerhead Shrikes greeted us right away along with a pair of tittering Tropical Kingbirds, and an Upland Sandpiper called overhead, giving us hope for more grasspipers later!  A couple of Great Blue Herons flopped in the distance before we made our way to the overlook, where the main players were Coots and Shovelers, along with a Great Egret bullying a Snowy Egret, and lots of turtles sticking their heads up wanting a handout!  Tree Swallows were swooping low over the water along with the occasional Roughwing, and Eastern Meadowlarks sat up and eventually sang.  Someone spotted a Least Bittern shooting into the reeds, but unfortunately he stayed hidden while a male Common Yellowthroat sat up and showed off while we waited.  On the way out a Marsh Wren gurgled, and a Bronzed Cowbird sang as we piled into the cars.

 

 

The Birder Patrol hits the La Feria Nature Park bright and early...

 

   

...and is greeted right away by one of the resident Loggerhead Shrikes!

 

 

Looking for goodies at the overlook...

 

 

Northern Shoveler

 

 

Common Yellowthroat where the Least Bittern was supposed to be...

 

We had heard that the La Feria Sod Farms were no longer sod farms, but I figured that dirt road that crosses the fields might still harbor a Sprague's Pipit, so we wheeled down with our heads hanging out the window, listening for that sharp pike! call.  No such luck, but we did get several Horned Larks, however, along with oodles of Savannah Sparrows (Baceliza thought she had a Grasshopper Sparrow, but we couldn't refind that one...).

 

Rex had reported that the whole of Weaver Road was dry, so that was our next destination, and once down to the north side of the sod farms on that road, we hit pay dirt with at least three Upland Sandpipers in the field, and two more that came in close overhead later!  A pair of Long-billed Curlews showed up down the road, but that was it for the shorebirds there.  Jimenez Road proved to be productive, however, as a stop past the little bridge yielded not only the expected Cave Swallows, but a few Valley specialties such as Kiskadee, Olive Sparrow, Chachalaca, White-eyed Vireo, and a cooperative Ladder-backed Woodpecker on the pole!  But the big excitement was a liftoff of Broad-winged Hawks (just a few, but in great light)!  Down at Rangerville Resaca we padded the list with a family of Pied-billed Grebes and their stripy babies, a nice Yellow-crowned Night Heron, a fly-by Hooded Oriole, and more flights of hawks, this group including Swainson's in with the Broadies and Turkey Vultures (and a Caracara that looked kinda lost)!  But before long one of the guys spotted a big ball of birds circling in the sky that turned out to be kettling Anhingas!  That was pretty cool!  We also picked up singing Inca and White-winged Doves, a Belted Kingfisher, and a Green Heron across the street.

 

 

Looking at Upland Sandpipers along Weaver Road

 

 

Long-billed Curlew

 

 

Look past the female Great-tailed Grackle to see distant Swainson's Hawks kettling!

 

Checking out Rangerville Resaca (we joked that someone got mad at the mailbox... ☺)

 

From there we checked out the resaca that was part of the Ebony Unit of Las Palomas, picking up a hovering White-tailed Kite on the way.  At the overlook there were lots and lots of Ruddy Ducks in every conceivable plumage, but the bird of the day for me was a pair of Bufflehead, as they can be tough to get sometimes!  Least Grebes were trumpeting but remained hidden (one that I thought looked like one might have been a funny-looked Pied-billed), and in the songbird department a Carolina Wren was singing in the parking lot, and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher swooped past.  Back at the parking lot, the Smiths scooped up their little Chihuahua when an Osprey flew overhead (although they acknowledged he was probably in no danger, but that led to stories of eagles having dog for breakfast)!  We poked down the street a little to view the resaca in better light, and wound up adding a whole bunch of new ducks:  Gadwall, Ring-necked, Scaup, and even a female Redhead!  (Everyone got a better look at the Bufflehead from this angle, too...)  A Sora called from the reeds, and our only Harris' Hawk of the day made a quick dash behind some trees.

 

On either side of the female Ring-necked Duck are male Ruddy Ducks:  the one on the left is still in non-breeding plumage, while the one on the right is in full breeding plumage.

Here are two females and one non-breeding male Ruddy Duck, showing where the subfamily name "stifftails" comes from!

   

Bufflehead pair

   

This female Redhead had us going for a minute - in these photos it's obvious what she is, but in different lighting she almost looked like a Cinnamon Teal!

 

I'm always a little nervous about these "seat of your pants" Birder Patrol trips, especially when you have a bunch of people, because you're kinda under pressure to deliver (at least I feel like I am), so I just said, "Okay, Lord, I'm just trusting You to lead us to where the birds are!"  Well!  We made a stop at the Stripes right on the border of Harlingen and San Benito, and before most of the gang even made it to the potties, they had discovered a wet spot behind the parking lot that was just stuffed with stuff, including both kinds of yellowlegs, Mottled Ducks, Cattle Egrets, Caspian Terns, Laughing Gulls, and probably the best of the best - two Solitary Sandpipers and a Pectoral!  Who woulda ever thunk the back of a Stripes store would be one of the best stops of the day?!

   

One of several breeding-plumaged Cattle Egrets behind the Stripes in san Benito.

 

The area where the Stanfords had reported about 800 (I think that was the number) American Golden Plovers was along FM 510, ironically close to where I had been looking for the reported Glossy Ibis the week before.  We found plenty of flooded fields, but no shorebirds (and no place to pull off, which was problematic).  Then we headed up FM 803 to FM 106 where Pat had some Golden Plovers earlier in the month, but no go there, either.  we did, however, come across a pond that had bunches of Blue-winged Teal and White-faced Ibis, along with a couple of Black-necked Stilts; we probably provided comedy relief to the guy feeding his chickens as five cars tried to maneuver on this dirt road and spot the Black Vultures flying overhead at the same time (which I missed)!

 

We decided to call it a day after that, making another pit stop at the Stripes in Rio Hondo, where we stuffed Ann and Mike into Joyce's Bird-Mobile as they needed to go back to La Feria and the rest of the crew wanted to keep birding and head back towards Harlingen.  We took the shortcut through Combs and decided to swing by Tiocano Lake, seeing as neither Ann nor Mike had been there.  A small flock of shorebirds did wheel in that we couldn't ID, but the stars of that stop were about 20 Roseate Spoonbills all tucked away, along with some Green-winged Teal joining the rest of the ducks!

 

 

Roseate Spoonbills at Tiocano Lake

 

Headed back to La Feria and then McAllen for me, adding a Cooper's Hawk as I pulled into the ranch (and the Pauraque was heard this morning while packing the car...).  I missed some of the stuff the others saw, so my list stood at 78 species for the morning.  Bird List:

 

  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck          Dendrocygna autumnalis

  Gadwall                               Anas strepera

  Mottled Duck                          Anas fulvigula

  Blue-winged Teal                      Anas discors

  Northern Shoveler                     Anas clypeata

  Green-winged Teal                     Anas crecca

  Redhead                               Aythya americana

  Ring-necked Duck                      Aythya collaris

  Lesser Scaup                          Aythya affinis

  Bufflehead                            Bucephala albeola

  Ruddy Duck                            Oxyura jamaicensis

  Plain Chachalaca                      Ortalis vetula

  Least Grebe                           Tachybaptus dominicus

  Pied-billed Grebe                     Podilymbus podiceps

  Neotropic Cormorant                   Phalacrocorax brasilianus

  Double-crested Cormorant              Phalacrocorax auritus

  Anhinga                               Anhinga anhinga

  Great Blue Heron                      Ardea herodias

  Great Egret                           Ardea alba

  Snowy Egret                           Egretta thula

  Cattle Egret                          Bubulcus ibis

  Green Heron                           Butorides virescens

  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron            Nyctanassa violacea

  White-faced Ibis                      Plegadis chihi

  Roseate Spoonbill                     Platalea ajaja

  Turkey Vulture                        Cathartes aura

  Osprey                                Pandion haliaetus

  White-tailed Kite                     Elanus leucurus

  Cooper's Hawk                         Accipiter cooperii

  Harris's Hawk                         Parabuteo unicinctus

  Broad-winged Hawk                     Buteo platypterus

  Swainson's Hawk                       Buteo swainsoni

  Sora                                  Porzana carolina

  Common Gallinule                      Gallinula galeata

  American Coot                         Fulica americana

  Black-necked Stilt                    Himantopus mexicanus

  Killdeer                              Charadrius vociferus

  Solitary Sandpiper                    Tringa solitaria

  Greater Yellowlegs                    Tringa melanoleuca

  Lesser Yellowlegs                     Tringa flavipes

  Upland Sandpiper                      Bartramia longicauda

  Long-billed Curlew                    Numenius americanus

  Pectoral Sandpiper                    Calidris melanotos

  Laughing Gull                         Leucophaeus atricilla

  Caspian Tern                          Hydroprogne caspia

  Rock Pigeon                           Columba livia

  Eurasian Collared Dove

  White-winged Dove                     Zenaida asiatica

  Mourning Dove                         Zenaida macroura

  Inca Dove                             Columbina inca

  Common Pauraque                       Nyctidromus albicollis

  Belted Kingfisher                     Megaceryle alcyon

  Golden-fronted Woodpecker             Melanerpes aurifrons

  Ladder-backed Woodpecker              Picoides scalaris

  Crested Caracara                      Caracara cheriway

  American Kestrel                      Falco sparverius

  Great Kiskadee                        Pitangus sulphuratus

  Tropical Kingbird                     Tyrannus melancholicus

  Couch's Kingbird                      Tyrannus couchii

  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher             Tyrannus forficatus

  Loggerhead Shrike                     Lanius ludovicianus

  White-eyed Vireo                      Vireo griseus

  Horned Lark                           Eremophila alpestris

  Northern Rough-winged Swallow         Stelgidopteryx serripennis

  Tree Swallow                          Tachycineta bicolor

  Cave Swallow                          Petrochelidon fulva

  Marsh Wren                            Cistothorus palustris

  Carolina Wren                         Thryothorus ludovicianus

  Northern Mockingbird                  Mimus polyglottos

  European Starling                     Sturnus vulgaris

  Common Yellowthroat                   Geothlypis trichas

  Olive Sparrow                         Arremonops rufivirgatus

  Savannah Sparrow                      Passerculus sandwichensis

  Red-winged Blackbird                  Agelaius phoeniceus

  Eastern Meadowlark                    Sturnella magna

  Great-tailed Grackle                  Quiscalus mexicanus

  Hooded Oriole                         Icterus cucullatus

  House Sparrow                         Passer domesticus

 

78 Species

 

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