Sunday, March 29, 2015

CyFair Campus

Now that spring has arrived, the bird situation is changing on the CyFair campus on Barker-Cypress Road.

Our year-round residents are still here, of course, and every morning echoes with the songs of Northern Mockingbird (below), Red-winged Blackbirds and Northern Cardinals (below).

Although many of our winter visitors have moved on, our flock of Cedar Waxwings has grown to well over 1,000 birds. 

The flock has stayed mainly in the less accessible parts of the campus this year and I've only been able to get photos of a few individuals. I'm hoping I will get some closer looks before the flock leaves next month.

Quite a few Purple Martins (below) have now settled in. They are the first of our summer breeding birds to arrive and they should soon be followed by several pairs of Western Kingbirds.

I have also seen a couple of signs that spring migration is happening. On Monday I saw a Gray Catbird, on Tuesday I had a brief glimpse of a Brown Thrasher (below) and on Friday a White-eyed Vireo turned up.

I'm hoping that this spring migration will produce more warblers, Orioles, Tanagers, Buntings etc. than the handful that turned up here last year. However, whether we are lucky will depend almost entirely on the weather patterns over the next six weeks.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Rio Grande Valley: The End

After we reluctantly tore ourselves away from Salineno, we made the short drive to Falcon State Park. It was much less birdy than we had hoped and probably than it had been earlier in the day. However, we did get to see some nice birds.

First up were several Pyrrhuloxias, a species that's always worth seeing.

Some people with an RV had put up feeders and these were attracting several birds: Orange-crowned Warbler, Green Jays, Great Kiskadee and Red-winged Blackbird. Then they drew in another bird that we were specifically looking for: Black-throated Sparrow.

The species we most wanted to see was Greater Roadrunner. We actually got a brief glimpse of one as were were leaving Salineno village but we soon saw three more at Falcon SP.

As I was photographing the Roadrunner, I notice a couple of other birds a few feet away: a pair of Northern Bobwhites.

We walked one of the trails and drove around the park a little but saw few other birds, except for hundreds of Cormorants streaming overhead and heading towards the lake.

Our time almost up, we headed back along the Valley towards McAllen, making a shortish stop at Salineno on the way. We stopped at the World Birding Center in Roma. It was closed but we took the opportunity to admire some fine, old colonial buildings nearby.

Other Bits & Pieces

On our drive down to the Valley from Houston, we stopped at the Falfurrias rest-stop to look for the Painted Redstart that was spending its third winter there. I missed it last year but this time it was easy to spot. It was a beautiful bird. Pity the lighting was bad!

On our last evening in McAllen, Dee was standing on the balcony outside our motel room when she noticed an odd blackbird. It didn't take long to ID it is as a Bronzed Cowbird.

The morning we were leaving, I was complaining that one species we hadn't seen was Harris's Hawk. I drove 30 yards to a gas station, got out of the car and saw what looked like a Harris's on a utility pole 100 yards away. I raced back to the room to grab a camera and then ran out to see if the bird was still there. It was! 

The Harris's Hawk wasn't our last new year bird. As we were driving to the freeway and past the entrance road to Quinta Mazatla, a Long-billed Curlew fly into a field by the roadside. We didn't stop to get a picture but it was a nice final sighting.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Rio Grande Valley Trip: Salineno

Thursday was a clear, sunny day and we took advantage of it to drive west along the Rio Grande Valley. Our first stop was at Salineno. We scanned the river but saw only a Spotted Sandpiper and an Osprey.

Our main reason for visiting Salineno was to check out the feeder station that is maintained there by volunteers and that attracts lots of birds, including many Orioles.

The whole area was busy with Red-winged Blackbirds, while Orange-crowned Warblers (below) and other common birds flew in and out to the feeders.

The oranges were popular with Green Jays.

Black-crested Titmice came in for the scratch that was smeared on branches.

Great Kiskadees liked the scratch too.

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers seemed to prefer the oranges.

However, they were also willing to sample the scratch.

The most common birds at the feeders, though, were Altamira Orioles. At times five or six of these beautiful birds were in view at once.

As we watched, we were hoping that two other Oriole species would show up: Audubon's and Hooded. Sure enough, after a while a female Hooded Oriole came in for a drink.

Then a male made an appearance.

We could have stayed at Salineno for much longer but we really wanted to visit Falcon State Park, partly in hopes of seeing Greater Roadrunners and other desert species. So we left the Orioles behind and got back into the car.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rio Grande Valley: 2

After having a great visit to Quinta Mazatlan on Tuesday morning, we spent the overcast, damp afternoon at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, most of the trails were too muddy for the shoes we were wearing and so we were restricted to birding the Chachalaca Loop.

The trees along the trail held a nice selection of common species: Black-crested Titmice, Orange-crowned Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Great Kiskadees etc. Two Common Pauraques were hunkered down among the leaves by the path.

The most productive area, though, was the pond in front of the central observation deck and this is where we spent most of our time.

Duck numbers were surprisingly low but we saw a few Gadwall, Northern Shovelers and American Coots as well as a Ruddy Duck, a Pied-billed Grebe and a Common Gallinule.

Wading birds were almost totally absent except for a Green Heron fishing among the reeds.

I was too slow to get photos of 3-4 Common Yellowthroats that kept working through the reeds near the deck.

One bird that I was hoping for at Santa Ana was Green Kingfisher and so we were delighted when a female landed on a branch far out over the water.

She soon disappeared but was immediately replaced on the branch by her mate.

By the time we left Santa Ana, we had also seen a few more interesting birds, including a Sora and a Least Grebe.

Wednesday was supposed to bring the highlight of our trip, the weekly birdwalk at Estero Llano State Park, but it didn't work out that way. We arrived at the site on a gray, drizzly morning to find that the trails were very muddy indeed. The pond in front of the Visitor Center was too deep to attract waders but it did have a few Killdeer, a Wilson's Snipe and a Spotted Sandpiper. It also had a good number of ducks. Blue-winged Teal and Green-winged Teal (below) were the most numerous.

Much more exciting was the presence of half-a-dozen Cinnamon Teal, one of my favorite ducks.

We spent quite a lot of time watching Plain Chachalacas, Red-winged Blackbirds, Black-crested Titmice, Orange-crowned Warblers, Green Jays (below) and a Buff-bellied Hummingbird working the feeders near the Visitor Center.

After this we walked up to the main feeding station in the tropical area of the park, where we saw many of the same birds that we had just been watching. We had some new species as well, though. Inca and White-tipped Doves were busy on the ground while other birds included a Lincoln's Sparrow and a couple of Golden-fronted Woodpeckers. It was here that we saw our first Long-billed Thrasher of the trip. 

We had seen two Curve-billed Thrashers the previous day at Quinta Mazatlan  but I hadn't managed to get a reasonable photo of either of them. So I was pleased when another one strolled into the open here.

After several hours at Estero Llano we headed back to the motel. I then drove over to Bentsen-Rio in hopes of seeing some more local specialty birds. My visit started well when I was treated to a display of hovering and fishing by a Ringed Kingfisher. However, the rest of my visit produced very few birds indeed, except for the usual Chachalacas, Great Kiskadees, Green Jays and White-tipped Doves (below) at feeders.

A feeder in front of the Visitor Center had my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the trip and of the year.

I was feeling very disappointed as I got back into the car in the parking lot. Then I noticed an odd-looking Northern Cardinal a few yards away. Of course, it wasn't a Cardinal but rather a Pyrrhuloxia, one of my target birds for the trip.

Getting to watch a Pyrrhuloxia and a Ringed Kingfisher made my visit to Bentsen-Rio worthwhile. However, I had much higher hopes for the sites we planned to visit on Thursday: Salineno and Falcon State Park. All being well, the former would produce some good looks at Orioles and the latter some at birds that prefer a more arid landscape than the other sites we were visiting.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Rio Grande Valley Trip: Quinta Mazatlan

The base for our 4-night trip was a motel near McAllen Airport. The reason for choosing it was that it was just a short walk from Quinta Mazatlan, a birding site consisting of a beautiful adobe mansion surrounded by well-maintained gardens.

Scattered throughout the grounds are staues depicting local wildlife.

Rabbits and Plain Chachalacas roam the gardens and are largely unconcerned by the presence of visitors.

Tuesday morning I went up to the site just as the rain that had greeted us the previous night was ending. On my way in, a local guide showed me where a Common Pauraque was sleeping by the entrance path.

As I walked the trails, I could hear an Olive Sparrow and a Great Kiskadee calling. One trail took me to a dead palm tree which was home to an Eastern Screech Owl.

Nearby, several feeders were being mobbed by large numbers of birds of different species: Red-winged Blackbirds, Inca Doves (below), White-winged Doves, Great Kiskadees (below), House Sparrows, Green Jays and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers. Unfortunately, the light was poor for photography. 

I hurried back to the motel to bring Dee to see the action. Although the activity had died down significantly by the time we reached Qunita Mazatlan, there were still enough birds to make our visit very worthwhile.

Green Jays and Great Kiskadees are always beautiful birds to see.

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a Curve-billed Thrasher and several Black-crested Titmice were too elusive for me to photograph. Orange-crowned Warblers were more obliging.

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers were everywhere.

Plain Chachalacas seemed to be everywhere, too.

I was delighted to get really good looks at a Clay-colored Thrush, a Valley specialty bird.

The banks of a ditch behind one of the ornamental ponds were crowded with 100+ Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and a few American Coots.

 My final sighting was a brief glimpse of a female Rufous Hummingbird.

Well satisfied with our time at Quinta Mazatlan, we decided to move on and to spend the afternoon at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. One of the most popular sites in the Valley, we had visited it only once before, and that was several years earlier.