03 May 2011

OK, TX, let's do this....

I took a trip south last week.  Where to?  Well....

No, we didn't actually go to Mexico... but pretty damn close!  The flag you see above was IN Mexico but we were not.  We were a stones throw from the banks of Mexico as we birded along the Rio Grande in Texas.  Come to think of it... I bet I couldn't throw a stone across the river.  Maybe a slingshot?  Or canon?

Before we got to Texas though, we made a pitstop in the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma.  Thanks to directions from TH who lives in Oklahoma, we searched for and found several BLACK-CAPPED VIREOS.  Seeing them and getting photos is a whole other story though:

Some other sightings from the Wichita Mountains:

Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Louisiana Waterthrush
Northern Parula
Black-and-white Warbler
Red-eyed Vireo
Peregrine Falcon
Black-crested Titmouse
Carolina Chickadee

Our next destination was Big Bend National Park.  I was eager to visit this part of the country; besides being one of the few National Parks I hadn't been to yet, it hosts the COLIMA WARBLER.  In fact, Big Bend is the ONLY place to see this species in the American Birding Association area.  It had to be done.

To get to the area where the warblers breed though, you have to hike 4-6 miles one-way.  Needless to say, we saw many other species on our way up including this MEXICAN JAY:

Another species we kept bumping into was TOWNSEND'S WARBLER.  Here is a distant record shot:

About 2 miles shy of "Colima territory", we found a small flock of birds that ended up having a COLIMA WARBLER.  We were very fortunate to see one so far downhill, it saved miles and miles of hiking.  Unfortunately for me, this whole trip was with my archaic Nikon D50.  I nearly completely failed with the warbler but I managed a couple of barely identifiable photos.  Here is one:

Big Bend hosted a couple of "second lifers", or birds that I had seen only once before in my life.  A couple examples included the above TOWNSEND'S WARBLER in addition to BLACK-CHINNED SPARROW and SCOTT'S ORIOLE.  In fact, the oriole was downright common!  We heard them singing several places too.  Here is a photo of one by a parking lot:

Do you think it was an improvement over my previous photo of SCOTT'S ORIOLE from Arizona?  See below:

It was only a matter of time before I caught up to a nemesis photo bird of mine, the MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER.  I was quick to get a photo of this guy on our hike down the mountain:

In another part of Big Bend, we were very fortunate to spot their resident COMMON BLACK-HAWK nest.  Most of the time, you couldn't see more than a couple of feathers:

However, we were very fortunate to be watching when a second COMMON BLACK-HAWK flew in, landed, and swapped incubation duties with it's mate.  Very cool to see.

Just to keep us on our toes, we had a GRAY HAWK and two ZONE-TAILED HAWKS at the same spot as well.  Here is a ZONE-TAILED:

Another bird I wasn't expecting in Big Bend was PAINTED BUNTING.  I didn't manage much of this one before it slinked back into the thicket:

Some other species at Big Bend included:

Scaled Quail
"Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler
White-throated Swift
Violet-green Swallow
Spotted Towhee
Canyon Towhee
Cactus Wren
Canyon Wren
Bewick's Wren
Bell's Vireo

We followed the Rio Grande down to Laredo and decided to bird the Las Palmas Trail.  What an odd place.  Besides assuming we were going to get mugged, it actually had some very cool habitat.  It wasn't more than 5 minutes down the trail before we entered a giant cane bed.  We heard WHITE-COLLARED SEEDEATERS singing before we even got there!  We eventually saw 4 different seedeaters including this singing male:

Considering our luck with the seedeater, we thought perhaps Salineno would provide a quick glimpse of a MUSCOVY DUCK.  It didn't.  Maybe it was the 109 degree temps???  It was hot enough that this SWAINSON'S HAWK soared in and landed on the river bank for a drink:

We later went to another riverside spot, Chapeno.  Besides snagging GREEN KINGFISHER, it was here that we had great luck with the MUSCOVY DUCKS.  It wasn't five seconds out of our car that someone pointed to a Muscovy swimming right next to shore!  Sure enough.  We stuck around and watched the pair weave in-and-out of the island:

We were checking a spot near Zapata we formerly have found Red-billed Pigeons at (which we didn't this time) when this NORTHERN BOBWHITE scuttled along the shoulder of the road:

"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer", right?  This SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER had the right idea.  It wasn't fond of the CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN one bit: 

I finally caught up to some LESSER NIGHTHAWKS near Zapata, my 607th photographed bird species in the ABA area:

Continuing down into the LRGV, we saw many of the common things like OLIVE SPARROWS; this one right after a bath:

At Estero Llano Grande State Park, we picked up many trip birds such as:

Least Tern
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Mottled Duck
Ruddy Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
American Avocet

This YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON in the Dowitcher Pond didn't seem to mind us:

While scanning the other side of Alligator Pond, we spotted this familiar lump in the cattails, a LEAST BITTERN:

We saw GROOVE-BILLED ANIS a couple of times on this trip.  Ashley picked out one at the NABA garden near Bentsen and we also had some near the entrance to Bentsen RGVSP.  That flock was particularly difficult to nail down.  Can you pick out two?

This LONG-BILLED THRASHER near Bentsen wasn't enjoying the heat either:

We were targeting FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCKS on this trip and we struck out until we found 70-80 at Tiocano Lake (crazy cool spot, btw):

For me, late-April wouldn't be complete without some LONG-BILLED CURLEW action.  I was rather surprised to find these 4 at Tiocano Lake.  The curlews in Nebraska are on eggs already and these jokers are still down in the tropics.  Pick up the pace, boys:

We saw 4 species of hummingbirds on this trip including BLACK-CHINNED, BLUE-THROATED, BUFF-BELLIED, and this RUBY-THROATED:

I always get a kick out of finding GREEN PARAKEETS in downtown McAllen.  As usual, they weren't exactly secretive.  A drive up N 10th Street around dusk is a near-guarantee.  We usually see hundreds near the intersection of N 10th Street and Dove Ave but this time they preferred Zinnia Ave:

One of my personal favorite spots in south Texas is Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary.  A Yellow-green Vireo had been reported so we decided to give it a shot.

During our wait for the vireo, this WHITE-TAILED KITE came zipping right overhead, apparently wishing to cool it's pits:

A first for me happened at Sabal Palm; four ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS in the same view.  I can't say I recall seeing that before:

It was here that we spotted our second-of-the-trip GREEN KINGFISHER:

Finally we had a break; we spotted a distant vireo that looked very yellowish!  We stalked the bird along with another gentleman for an hour.  We never got great looks but he was convinced it was the Yellow-green.  My gut told me otherwise.  He left (and probably counted it) but we continued the search.  A couple of minutes later a vireo zipped in from that area and alas, it was what I feared, a PHILADELPHIA VIREO:

Ashley spotted a spanking male BAY-BREASTED WARBLER and so I decided to let my camera totally fail me again.  So here you go, the worst photo of a beautiful breeding-plumaged BAY-BREASTED WARBLER ever:

Driving through San Antonio?  Why not stop at the Friedrich Wilderness Area?  If so, maybe you too can see a head of this endangered species; the GOLDEN-CHEEKED WARBLER: