Surely, the method of breaking that curse would involve driving to Texas! I mean, the list of potential lifers down there was pretty high for us. Rarities were being seen like Golden-crowned Warbler and Flame-colored Tanager which would both be new ABA birds for us. Additionally, Tropical Parula has been reliable and that would be new for Ashley. Then there are the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls that I've yet to catch up with and other rarities like Blue Bunting and Masked Duck that could show up anytime.
So we did just that. After hanging out in Missouri for a few days recouping from our Minnesotan letdown meltdown, we blasted south (picking up new counties as we fled). So here we go... best "Brace yourself"
Our first (and main) destination was Lions / Shelley Park in the town of Refugio:
We had high hopes, both the warbler and tanager had been seen recently. So we got out and started the hunt alongside the hoard of rarity-chasers one might expect. The only problem with this whole scenario, of course, is that we were doomed. Somehow, someway, we missed both targets!
Not to panic, though, we had lots of time. No, actually, you CAN panic now because after trying for these targets for parts of 3 days, we STILL came up empty.
If there was any consolation prize, it's that we were able to surround ourselves with fun species we weren't going to see in New York or Missouri. One such example, and actually a really rare bird for Texas, was the long-staying GREATER PEWEE that hangs out by the parking lot:
Another great bird for Texas in the winter was this LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, a long-staying bird that we found foraging along the riverbanks of the Mission River. In fact, this is the first time I've ever seen this species in a winter month in the ABA area:
But no, we didn't.
Remember, the parula? We thought we'd head down to Frontera Audubon where a couple of goodies have been reliable. Frontera Audubon Sanctuary, an oasis of habitat located in an urban Weslaco neighborhood, has long been a magnet for oddities in the LRGV:
As it turns out, I first visited this spot 12 years ago on my first trip to southern Texas. It was on that trip that most of the Texas specialties were brand new and eye-opening to me. On this visit, well, they're still pretty freaking cool!
Here's a GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKER, a close relative of the Red-bellied Woodpecker, just hanging out back by the feeders:
See the red cap on the head? That plumage mark indicates it's a male (females lack that):
From the back, the golden nape is as vivid as ever. I was interested to find that the upper part of this yellow patch had orangish/reddish overtones:
While we're discussing skulkers at Frontera, I might mention this PAINTED BUNTING that has been seen there this winter. Although they're rare in Texas in the winter, this particular one has been right at home in the tangles and thick veg near the back feeding station:
Unlike the above skulkers, south Texas is home to a truly raucous species of flycatcher, the bold and widespread GREAT KISKADEE. In fact, you'll probably hear one before you seen one. They sound like this:
Their black-and-white head, yellow belly, and rufous back/tail all in one package makes for an attractive bird!
Frontera Audubon is a great place to catch up to another Texas specialty, the BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD. We saw many but photographed only this one:
Not only warblers tend to stick around somewhere like that, it also hosted a couple of species of vireos including this BLUE-HEADED VIREO that came to us in some early-morning shade:
Once upon a time, seeing a CLAY-COLORED THRUSH in south Texas was a big deal. In recent years, however, this relative of our robin has done well and is now fairly common throughout. In a given day at Frontera, we would see at least 3-4. Although they're not as bold out in the open like the American Robin, you can still catch up to them in the thick undergrowth:
By now you've probably figured out that I'm drawing this out. Did we catch up to anything rare at Frontera? Well, MOST of the birders swarming the maze of trails were after an elusive and secretive bird endemic to Mexico, the Code 4 CRIMSON-COLLARED GROSBEAK. And, after birding the park for a couple of days, we eventually caught up to it too:
Although Ashley and I didn't actually need this as a life bird, they're rare enough that seeing another one is always a treat. My lifer CCGR came at this exact park 12 years ago (on my first trip to southern TX, no less!).
As for the parula, you ask? You mean the one bird that Ashley actually needed? Of course, it was a no-show. In now-normal fashion, we somehow managed to miss the birds we wanted the most. Sadly, this no longer came as a surprise.
Our main reason for this side trip was to see the continuing Code 4 NORTHERN JACANA that has been around there for ages. After the short hike in, we were relieved to actually find our target for once. Of course, it was WAY in the distance and we didn't bother bringing a scope... so a horrible photo ensued. Note the "Nessy" posture only one of my famously-bad photos is capable of showing:
Here's a first. I was driving through Weslaco when Ashley said "Turn around, there was a Gray Hawk on the power lines back there". Sure enough. Hmm, kinda cool!
End of story? Ehhh... not quite.
It was getting late in the day as we drove north out of the LRGV. We decided to take a quick detour out to the flat agricultural fields in hopes for SPRAGUE'S PIPIT, a somewhat secretive species we don't get to see too often. I drove through the area back in 2013 and had half a dozen on one stretch of road... so we went there. And missed them there. Oh great, not again! As we were heading back to the interstate, Ashley caught a glimpse of... plovers in a field? We weren't sure so we turned around and took another look. They were LONG-BILLED CURLEWS hunched down distantly in a field with only their heads sticking up. As we sat there.... squeet squeet!... a pipit flushed nearby giving the easily-recognizable call notes. Ha! Victory.
Even though we were heading home without adding any lifers, we looked back and were glad we took the trip. If nothing else, the great expanse of Texas reminded us that there will always be more reasons to return.