Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Can one ever see too many Green Jays?

Both Green Jay photos taken at Salineno
Over five days birding in Texas, I found out that the answer to this question is no. These [unfortunately overexposed muting the full effect of their bright colors] Green Jay (Cyanocoras yncas) photos were taken at the Salineno feeding station. On Wednesday, January 28th, 2009, I left my house at 4:00 am to catch a 6:00 am flight to Corpus Christi, Texas.
When I left Detroit my world looked like this.
American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhyncho)
When I arrived in Texas, it looked like this. I was met at the airport by our trip leader, Karl Overman, and the other fortunate trip participant, Walter Everett. Birding began immediately. My first photo was of this charming Inca Dove (Columbina inca.)
Inca Dove
We saw and heard these little guys in most places on the trip. Their plaintive "no hope" call is very appealing. While not a particularly "special" bird, I include it here because this is one of my better trip photos.
Long-billed Curlew
My first life bird was this spectacular Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanua.)
Mountain Plover
After leaving the water, we drove inland to huge plowed ranch fields, and after diligent searching finally found nine Mountain Plovers (Charadrius montanus.) Around these same fields we also found White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus) and White-tailed Hawk (Buteo albicaudatus.) All three were life birds for me.
Baby Jack Rabbit
I also found this jack rabbit bunny perfectly camouflaged in the plowed rows. He had to have perfect camouflage to remain hidden from the numerous hawks hunting the fields.
Great Kiskadee
The Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) was one of my new ABA birds. With their lemon breasts and bellies, rufous backs and big black and white striped heads, these gregarious and vociferous birds were very common and we saw them first at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco.
Rose-throated Becard
The best bird seen in Estero Llano Grande State Park was this Rose-throated Becard (Pachyramphus aglaiae.) I know this is not a good photograph, but I am so pleased to have any photograph at all of this little bird flitting in the leafy canopy. In the photo above, the bird can be identified by structure, bill size and shape and the small amount of rufous that is visible in the uppertail coverts. The bird was a young male and the rose throat patch was well seen.
After seeing my blog, my friend, Steve Sanford from Baltimore County, worked with my photo so that the bird was brighter and so his eye and rose throat could also be seen.
Common Pauraque
Another ABA bird for me was the Common Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis) photographed during its daytime sleep. Other good birds at Estero Llano were Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana), Least Grebes (Tachybaptus dominicus) and Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum.) If you're looking for Lincoln Sparrows (Melospiza lincolnii) in winter, this is a good place to find them.
Another very successful birding spot in Weslaco was Frontera Audubon Nature Sanctuary. Here we looked three times, unsuccessfully, for a very sedentary female Crimson-collared Grosbeak (Rhodothraupis celaeno) there. But, we were rewarded with another terrific bird. The photograph below is terrible - obviously - but I include it here because the fine chocolate-brown color of this bird is really beautiful.
Blue Bunting
My photograph of this female Blue Bunting (Cyanocompsa parellina) suggests that we had only fleeting glimpses. But we saw this bird well as we chased it around the orchard area of Frontera. It has a distinctive and clear bell-like chip note. The rich chocolate color of the bird is uncommon for North American birds, but Karl pointed out that this is a color found in many Central and South American birds.
Clay-colored Thrush
There were at least two and probably more Clay-colored Thrushes (Turdus grayi, formerly Clay-colored Robin) at Frontera. We saw many other birds here including Buff-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia yucatanensis), Plain Chacalacas (Ortalis vetula), Gray Hawk (Asturina nitida) and Altamira Oriole (Icterus gularis.) We also found other birds here that are very good for this part of Texas; Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) and Pine Sisken (Carduelis pinus.) There were also a number of butterflies at Frontera. I was able to get good photos of some. Below are three of my best.
Band-celled Sister (Adelpha fessonia)
Dusky-blue Hairstreak (Calycopis isobeon)
Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithania)
While at Frontera we met Mary Gustafson, coordinator of the Texas RBA. She told us of a bird that we thought we had arrived too late to see secondary to it no longer being reported at Estero Llano Grande. She printed the directions from the RBA report for us and we set off. An hour later we arrived at our destination. After driving 3.2 miles down a bumpy, dirt two-track, CR30, and another 0.4 miles down an even bumpier two-track we arrived at a remote and wooded pond surrounded by large, plowed ranch fields.
In amongst the American Coots (Fulica americana) is our coup bird in Willacy County, Texas.
This Masked Duck (Nomonyx dominicus) was cropped from the above photo.  (Accepted TBRC 2009-13. Texas photo file number:  TPRF 2705.)
There to see it with me were, from left, Karl Overman, our trip leader, Walter Everett and Rich Trissel, our new birding friend who we met at Frontera (and who did see the Crimson-collared Grosbeak.) While putzing around and enjoying the Masked Duck, Rich also identified a Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus) soaring over the plowed fields; another bird we did not expect to see. At Salineno, Rich also saw a Zone-tailed Hawk, which did not make an appearance for us during our time there.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker
At Salineno we added Audubon's Oriole (to my dismay, all of my photos were too severely out of focus to show here) to our trip list and to my life list. We saw many Golden-fronted Woodpeckers (Melanerpes uropygialis) throughout the trip, but this photo was taken at Salineno. Aside, from this beautiful male's striking head plumage, it's not much different from the more widespread Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus.) We found a beautiful and active Ringed Kingfisher (Ceryle torquata) along the river. In the evening, three Red-billed Pigeons (Columba flavirostris) flew over the river from east to west. As it grew rapidly dusk, other waterfowl flocks flew over, but the Muscovy Ducks (Cairina moshcata) did not make an appearance for us. While we stood on the river bank waiting for the Muscovys to fly over and getting bit by mosquitos, we heard a distant Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) hooting.

There were so many great places, great birds and other wildlife seen in the just over five day south Texas trip. We saw all but three of our target birds - Piping Plovers at South Padre Island flew off before we were able to get the scope on them, the Crimson-collared Grosbeak already mentioned and the White-collared Seedeater which we searched for on our final day, Monday, February 2nd.
Here's Walter chatting with a border patrol agent. In San Ygnacio much of the White-colored Seedeater habitat was flooded (no doubt at least one of the reasons why we did not find them here.) The flooded area, however, appeared to make it easier for a boat to sneak through with an illegal immigrant or two. While we were walking the trail, a boat amongst the flooded trees attracted the attention of the border agents. However, they must be accustomed to seeing birders here because the only attention we received from them were polite nods and a greeting of "good morning."


In all we saw 175 species of birds. I saw 22 life birds and five new ABA birds. Karl has been here many times and it was amazing how he could drive around this large area of Texas while only occasionally consulting a map. Thanks, Karl, for such a great trip. I'm already looking forward to the next.

Postscript: As you may know from reading my prior posts, neither my camera nor I are particularly well-suited to taking great photos. When I got home I downloaded 352 photos and immediately went through each and deleted 198 of them. As always, my trip review is written around presentable photos. As mentioned above, none of my Audubon Oriole photos were in focus. If even one had turned out, it would be included here. In future blog posts I will stop apologizing for my photos.

1 comment:

Jerry Jourdan said...

Terrific post, Cathy! Congratulations on a great trip and your 22 lifers!
Jerry