Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Saturday: Best Day Ever: Part 3

After Salineno, I drove about 40 minutes out to Zapata, a small town along the Rio Grande. It's pretty far west from where I live, but it's famous for a single species of bird called the White Collared Seedeater that's been seen a lot lately in the city park. So, I went down to the city park. As soon as I got out of my car, I saw a older couple with binoculars. I asked them if they'd seen the seedeater and they said no, and that they were giving up. Undeterred, I started taking a look around the park. I saw plenty of familiar favorites including this ladder-backed woodpecker.
There were tons of ruby-crowned kinglets (no good photos, though) that kept popping up and making me think they were the seedeaters. Then, I got a flash of a little brown bird that was too stocky and too slow to be a kinglet. I ran back to my car to check the bird guide. Sure enough, seedeater. I went back out to the reeds to get a good photo. Alas, this one's the best I have:

A couple of other birders and I stalked these little guys (gals, actually) for awhile, but I never got a great picture. I was looking through the reeds at a bird and noticed that there were some ducks on the pond I'd been neglecting. I knew right away they were Scaups, but there are two types: Greater and Lesser. I snapped a ton of photos in hopes of getting someone to help me ID them later.

Turns out, they're Lesser Scaups. Thank you, WhatBird e-community!

There were a few other ducks as well, so I grabbed some more photos, including this one. This is a female ring-necked duck. They're everywhere at Estero Llano Grande (the park near my house), but it turned out to be a nice photo all the same.
I knew I had a long drive back to Weslaco, so I decided to get back in the car and get on my way. As I was walking toward the lot, I spotted this Vermillion Flycatcher on a tree. He was undeniably beautiful so I took a whole bunch of pictures of him. He stayed absolutely still for way, way longer than I felt like he should have. I owe this little guy part of the photo credit.

I decided to stop on my way home for hawks on telephone poles. The west valley is great for hawk-watching, and today was no exception. By Falcon Dam, I saw this Osprey having dinner on an electrical pole. If you look closely, you can see whatever nasty thing he's eating in his left talon:
I also managed to snap a slightly-out-of-focus but largely clear picture of a gray hawk, which is a valley specialty. This guy was posing:

So, after 8 hours, I'd managed to pick up 4 new birds for my life list as well as a whole batch of new photos. I was exhausted from the driving, but it was a day solidly spent :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Saturday: Best Day Ever: Part 2

After I left Quinta Mazatlan, I drove out to Salineno. Salineno outside of Roma in Starr County. Once you get to the middle of nowhere, you take a left and there's a road that leads down to the river. It took me an hour and a half to get there from McAllen and it's mostly highway driving with a few stop lights in little towns on the way.

Salineno isn't run by Texas Parks and Wildlife or anything. It's staffed by a few dedicated, wonderful folks (one of whom looks astoundingly like Santa) who come down to the RGV for the winter and "feed the birds." There's also a great river-overlook that's a good place to see herons, ducks, etc. I wasn't there for those, though. I went for the Brown Jay.

It was actually my third trip out there to see the only Brown Jay in the United States that had been documented in years. The first time we went out, it was pouring rain and below 50 (which is cold here). No jay. The second time, it was hot and late in the afternoon. No jay. And finally, Saturday was just right! The other thing that made this trip superior to the first two attempts was that this time, I had a camera. I killed my time waiting around by chatting with other visitors and snapping some photos of the other birds who came to the feeders:

This is a male American Goldfinch (above). They're around north this time of year, too. If you set out feeders anywhere in the northeast, these guys will show up. This one happens to be eating off of a hubcap, so clearly, they're not fussy.

This is a black-crested titmouse. He's related to another northeastern feeder bird, the tufted titmouse. These guys are just about everywhere, but since this one posed, I snapped a picture. Remember, I'm killing time here.
This is one of my top 5 favorite birds EVER. It's called a Pyrrhuloxia. You probably noticed that they look a lot like a Northern Cardinal. You're right: they're related. The great thing about these little guys is that when they take off, all those red under-feathers shine and they look like they burst into flames. Beautiful. Added bonus: they mostly live where it's dry, so there's not a lot of opportunity to see them in the more "tropical" eastern RGV where I live. I was delighted to see this guy.

I also got this picture of a female Hooded Oriole at one of the feeders. The male is way more impressive (sorry). The males are usually around Salineno, but today, it was just her. Still worth a photo.

After sitting around and snapping photos, I saw it. The brown jay flew in. At first, people didn't see it...I got really excited and started taking pictures of it like it was some kind of celebrity, which, of course, it is. I have about 20 pictures of this bird, but this is one of the best. Enjoy!

The jay hung out for about 5 minutes and then took off into the trees. I was elated, but also ready to roll. I shook Santa's hand, got in my car and headed out to Zapata...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Saturday: Best Day Ever: Part 1

I started my Saturday birding at Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen. It's right by the airport, so its a first stop for a lot of out-of-town birders. I'd actually never been there; they're rarely on the RBA and it's one of the only local places I don't have a membership to. Anyway, they were on for a Tropical Parula, which, of course, I didn't see. I did catch an Eastern Towhee for a lifer (yay!) and got some great pictures of some other birds that were around.

This little guy's a Lesser Goldfinch, which was a first for me in Texas and Hidalgo County. While I don't keep county and state lists, it was exciting. The last time I saw a Lesser Goldfinch was in Utah as I was pulling into my campsite outside Zion National Park. It was actually one of the first birds I IDed independently, and so it was exciting to get to see an old, small, very adorable friend.

I poked around the feeding area at Quinta for awhile. At first glance, it was just loaded with House Sparrows, but after waiting, other birds joined them. All the familiar friends were there and were feeling pretty photogenic.

This first one's a Great Kiskadee, a classic RGV bird. It's not often that you catch them with their crown showing, so I counted myself lucky to get this shot with the patch of yellow on the top.

Also working the feeders on the other end was another Valley classic: the
Golden Fronted Woodpecker. I see them all the time in the neighborhood (they're actually super-annoyingly loud), but this one was looking pretty cute (and quiet).

I started walking the grounds a bit, but wasn't having much luck on the target bird of the day. I wanted to drive the 90 minutes out to Salineno (see Part 2 tomorrow!). So, after an hour of not finding the Parula, I was about to give up, so I headed back toward the entrance. On my way out, I stopped to take a couple of quick photos.

First, I got a quick shot of this Curve-Billed Thrasher (below)

It's another desert-y type bird. I think this may be a first for Hidalgo for me. I'm used to seeing his cousin, the long-billed around in this area. There were TONS of Long-Billeds, but I still don't have a picture with which I'm satisfied. Anyway, I was happy to see the Curve-Billed, as well as this fellow below:

This is a Clay-Colored Thrush (left), formerly known as the Clay-Colored Robin. They used to be really rare around here; I remember once on a bird walk, people crowding to see it. They've made somewhat of a comeback or something because now I see them almost every time I go out. They come to feeders, but this one was just hanging out in the brush by the park entrance.

So, I got in my car to head out to Salineno. Just to be clear, at this point in the day, my life list was at 258, having just added the Eastern Towhee.
See you tomorrow!

Monday, January 16, 2012


I had a great day birding in the West Valley: Roma, Salineno, and Zapata, Texas. I saw a few new birds (brown jay, white collared seedeaters) and some familiar favorites (vermillion flycatcher, hooded oriole). I'll probably post those pictures later. What I'm currently interested in is these guys--they're Scaups for sure, but there are two types (Greater and Lesser) and the differences are slim. When I saw these guys, I knew right away they would be tough to ID so I took a ton of pictures. These are just a few, cropped and zoomed. This first one is a female for sure and I think it's a Lesser:

The rest are below. I've been leaning toward Lesser for the lot, but if you know, comment and weigh in.

And another:
And yet another:
And one more:
I'll let you know if someone helps me with the ID on Whatbird.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Posing Birds!

Now that I have a camera that can take pictures worth showing people, it only makes sense that I create a blog for my sightings. Today's bird is a Wilson's Warbler from Frontera Audubon in Weslaco, Texas.