Photo Gallery - 2014 Field Trips
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March 1, 2015 - La Sal del Rey & Port Mansfield
Met Pat Heirs at the Flying J, then wheeled over to the Monte Cristo Country Club to pick up Gary Davidson and head to the La Sal Tracts to hopefully pick up some additional wintering species for the year, then blast over to Port Mansfield to see this new boardwalk Norma Friedrich was telling us about! The weather was cold, overcast, and misty in spots (visibility wasn't the greatest), and we bantered back and forth all the way up there about how the weatherman had forecasted an 80-degree day! Not in McAllen he didn't! ☺
Javi Gonzales had written about a "Sparrow Nook" along the stretch of Brushline Road between FM 490 and SR 186, so we poked along that road and stopped periodically, picking up Cardinals, some Lesser Goldfinches, and a very cooperative Loggerhead Shrike. A Bewick's Wren made its characteristic call, and Gary heard a pair of Great Horned Owls in the distance (to the chagrin of Pat as she couldn't hear them, and she needed them for her Hidalgo County list)! About the only sparrows we picked up along here were Savannah, Lincoln's, and Lark, but the normal Valley fare made themselves heard, including Verdins all morning (then it was Gary's turn to be dubious ☺)! A "pupping" Couch's Kingbird was nice for the day as well.
Posing Loggerhead Shrike along Brushline Road
A Red-winged Blackbird flew in during the shrike's photo shoot and wanted attention!
We encountered several wetlands, however, which was nice to see after several years of dry basins along this route; the recent rains have certainly restored these areas to a level not seen (by me, anyway) since Hurricane Dolly! One distant pond had several species of ducks, including my first Cinnamon Teal for the route! I kept hearing Gadwall but we could never spot any, so I was teased about that as I desperatly tried to find some to prove that they were really there! (We saw some later, so we were good...) What I thought was a flock of Starlings at first turned out to be Western Meadowlarks (that's actually a good ID trick taught to me by Jon Dunn: Westerns fly more like Starlings, while Easterns fly more like quail). Another nice wetland to the west had several Ring-necked Ducks as well as Shovelers, Blue-winged Teal, and other regulars, and I think it was here that a classic Vesper Sparrow jumped up and let us see all the field marks! (Somewhere along the route a Vesper and Savannah sat side by side so that you could see the size difference...) But we hit the jackpot at a little mudhole just south of SR 186 that had at least six Wilson's Snipes feeding dowitcher-like right out in the open! (We had the dowitchers, too... ☺) A single Greater Yellowlegs was feeding with them, and an American Pipit fed along the shoreline. Pat and Gary had a heckuva time trying to get me on a little peep way out there in the mud that turned out to be a Least Sandpiper.
One of several Wilson's Snipe feeding openly in a wetland.
A Greater Yellowlegs that was with them.
From there we crossed 186 and continued north on Brushline, where it didn't take long to start running into flocks of Pyrrhuloxias and sparrows! Most were Savannahs, but we ran into a terrific bunch that included singles of Chipping and White-crowned, a surprise Indigo Bunting, plus two that I needed for the year: Grasshopper and Clay-colored Sparrows! In the middle of that I got a voice mail that turned out to be from Dan Jones: he was about a half mile behind us and had a Least Flycatcher! So we wheeled around and joined him (funny that my phone never rang) and he could at least show us the proof on his camera ☺, but the bird never came back. He did however point out a Vermilion Flycatcher to us that nearly got nabbed by a Sharp-shinned Hawk as we watched!
While he debated about heading out towards McCook to chase a reported Rough-legged Hawk, we continued north in pursuit of more wintering stuff. We ran into a couple of very bedraggled-looking Harris' Hawks who posed for pictures, and down the road a lovely adult White-tailed Hawk soared in circles right in front of us! At one stop Gary spotted a Common Ground Dove feeding close by, and as we zigged and zagged up Brushline, he spotted a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker playing hide-and-seek (took awhile for me to get on that one)! That northern "desert" area gave us the requisite Cactus Wren and Curve-billed Thrasher, but I missed the two Black-throated Sparrows that Pat and Gary saw! There were several ducks in the farm pond near the end of the road, but the only new birds were a Least Grebe and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; however, we did have another Vermilion Flycatcher there (I told them that that's usually where I picked them up on this route...). On the way back down we were bemoaning the lack of Roadrunners when one suddenly popped up next to the road (but didn't stay put for pictures, naturally)!
Very wet, hang-dog Harris' Hawks (bird on the right is an immature)!
After backtracking we hung a left on Ken Baker Road (the old GI Road, and my companions made the observation, "Well, he's a Captain, so he is a GI!" ☺) and headed to Rio Beef in search of Brewer's Blackbirds while trying not to run down more sparrows and Pyrrhuloxias! All the little wetlands that were non-existent since drying up post-Dolly were back to their glory, and the blackbirds were all hanging out at this one little puddle that in years past was always great for shorebirds (especially snipe)! A really weird raptor that we thought was a harrier at first (looked like it had a white rump) turned out to be a really weird Redtail (perhaps even a Krider's). There was absolutely nothing in the "barren field", so we blasted down Rio Beef Road to the little marsh and managed to get a Sora and several Yellowthroats to respond. The icing on the cake, however, was another Least Flycatcher! We had missed Dan's altogether, so it was pleasantly ironic that we picked one up at the opposite end of the route!
A small portion of the huge Brewer's Blackbird flock (listen for their wheezes and clicks in the recording)!
From there we headed to Raymondville for lunch and raided the "Whatabirder", then headed straight for Port Mansfield without really stopping for much except some Redheads in a pond early on, a troupe of Turkeys that Pat spotted, and a beautiful male Harrier perched on a post! We wheeled onto the paved road that takes you to the beach access (along with everyone else in Port Mansfield, it seemed - they were all cruising around watching and feeding the ubiquitous deer) when Gary thought he had a Cedar Waxwing! We all piled out and got the scope on him (we had a bit of a fist-fight in that I was looking at the Mockingbird above the semi-hidden waxwing and was trying to convince him that he was not looking at a waxwing ☺), and enjoyed this winter visitor that can be hard to pin down in the Valley! Another kingbird finally decided to talk, confirming him as a Tropical, and about that time a local pulled up and told us about some Sandhill Cranes in the field just to the south, so we piled back in and headed down a few yards to enjoy these regal beauties as well! Pat noticed something black-and-white flying into a ditch that turned out to be a Willet.
Gary enjoys his Cedar Waxwing while Pat talks to the guy who pointed us to the cranes!
...and there they are, along with one of PM's ubiquitous White-tailed Deer!
One of the does looking hopeful...
From there we headed on down to the beach access, only we were shocked to see that the road down there was still in terrible shape! We could see one of the new piers, however, with several parked cars and fisher-people, so since they made it, I figured Diggory could make it (yeah, I know - another cocky "This is a Subaru - he can do anything!" moment...) Pat was dubious from the start, but if I remember correctly Gary was cheering me on ("Just don't stop!" he kept saying, while this big ol' truck was on my tail...we figured he could push us if need be... ☺), but thankfully this cocky moment didn't end up like the last cocky moment in Arizona where I was stuck for three hours, and we made it down there fine (if you can drive in snow, you can drive in this stuff)! And indeed, they've done a fantastic job of improving this place: at least two fishing piers, a play area for kids, and two wildlife-viewing overlooks at the far end! The road to the far deck did look a little dicey, so we stopped at the first one and scoped the area, picking up a nice assortment of coastal birds for the day including Caspian and Forster's Terns, a Black Skimmer, a Black-bellied Plover, an Avocet, and a raft of Lesser Scaup and Redhead out in the water. A white blob was a resting White Pelican, and his smaller cousin the Brown sailed by several times. We watched this little compact car go slipping and sliding past us and down to the end, where the occupants headed down to the shore with their poles and ended up fishing right where the larid flock we were looking at was sitting, but the birds just moved down a few yards (except for the pelican - he decided to book...)
Looking down towards the observation decks
Gary and Pat check things out...
View of the observation deck
View from the deck
This picture doesn't do justice as to how bad that road really was...
From there we made a quick visit to Fred Stone County Park, as I had to get back, but that turned out to be productive as well; the end of the road looking out onto the wetlands is always the best place for birds (the picnic area is often too crowded with revelers to have many birds), and we added several Great Blue Herons, White Ibis, a Tricolored Heron, a Reddish Egret, a first-year Herring Gull, and a Spoonbill that I passed off as just another ibis because it was a white youngster! Gary spotted some Bobwhite close in, and I heard a Horned Lark somewhere overhead. Gary also picked up a Dunlin that was too far for me to really tell, even with the scope (love that astigmatism).
We pulled into the Nature Trail parking lot only to catch up on the list and get a Coke ☺, but the deer were all over (with more people feeding them); we were hoping the Turkeys we had seen as we flew past earlier were still around, but not a feather. Heading out of town we stopped to check out a couple of ponds and added Belted Kingfisher to the day list, and blasting down 186 we picked up a hovering White-tailed Kite!
Eleven-point (!) buck at the Nature Trail!
We cut down FM 493 to get to the country club on Monte Cristo, and on the way checked out a couple of wetlands that Gary said were good. While doing so we added Black-necked Stilts and Cave Swallows to the day list. While dropping him off at his RV we heard Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, and then found them on the way out, along with a Neotropic Cormorant! And when I got home (my official list doesn't stop till I walk in the door) some Green Parakeets went screeching overhead! Ended the day with 118 species!
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis
Gadwall Anas strepera
American Wigeon Anas americana
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
Redhead Aythya americana
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Northern Bobwhite Colinus virginianus
Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo
Least Grebe Tachybaptus dominicus
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
Neotropic Cormorant Phalacrocorax brasilianus
Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus
American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Great Egret Ardea alba
Snowy Egret Egretta thula
Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor
Reddish Egret Egretta rufescens
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
White Ibis Eudocimus albus
Roseate Spoonbill Platalea ajaja
Black Vulture Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus
Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii
Harris's Hawk Parabuteo unicinctus
White-tailed Hawk Geranoaetus albicaudatus
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Sora Porzana carolina
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
Willet Tringa semipalmata
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes
Long-billed Curlew Numenius americanus
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla
Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus
Wilson's Snipe Gallinago delicata
Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia
Forster's Tern Sterna forsteri
Black Skimmer Rynchops niger
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina
Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus
Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus
Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon
Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius
Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris
Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
Green Parakeet Aratinga holochlora
Least Flycatcher Empidonax minimus
Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus
Great Kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus
Tropical Kingbird Tyrannus melancholicus
Couch's Kingbird Tyrannus couchii
Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus
White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus
Green Jay Cyanocorax yncas
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris
Purple Martin Progne subis
Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva
Black-crested Titmouse Baeolophus atricristatus
Verdin Auriparus flaviceps
House Wren Troglodytes aedon
Bewick's Wren Thryomanes bewickii
Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea
Curve-billed Thrasher Toxostoma curvirostre
Long-billed Thrasher Toxostoma longirostre
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
American Pipit Anthus rubescens
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
Orange-crowned Warbler Oreothlypis celata
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata
Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina
Clay-colored Sparrow Spizella pallida
Vesper Sparrow Pooecetes gramineus
Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus
Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis
Grasshopper Sparrow Ammodramus savannarum
Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Pyrrhuloxia Cardinalis sinuatus
Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna
Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta
Brewer's Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus
Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus
Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
Lesser Goldfinch Spinus psaltria
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
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