Thursday, 31 March 2016

Texas 16 - Early reflections

Just arrived home. Unfortunately I don't "do sleep" on planes which doesn't help on a 10 hour overnight flight. Throw in an early morning trip to Sabine Woods and a change at Heathrow, that meant 24 hours plus without sleep.
As I sit here in my chair wondering what time/day it is, I thought I'd share a few initial thoughts and pics of my trip with you.
Mixed results as always with my target birds. The star bird was seen which was a BIG relief. I like to think I earned it with a 7 hour search in 90+ temps...
A typical patch of the thicket at Frontera Audubon

The Common Crane and Northern Jacana weren't to be as already reported. to give you an idea of the distances involved, these two birds were 625 miles apart! We'd travelled initially to Brownfield for the Crane from Houston which was a distance of 583 miles. It rained for 4 solid hours (like being at home). this was after failing to reach my target Greater Pewee in Bear Creek Park due to the park being underwater...
GPS co-ordinates not much use here!
I knew the Crane might be difficult but eBird gave hope with repeated sightings at the same location the week prior to my visit. Alas it was not to be and it wasn't reported again subsequently. A sample of what I was up against...
Let me know if you spot it in there somewhere!
The thing that became almost farcical was that when I was scoping large numbers on the deck I could see just as many flying past in the background!!
A fantastic spectacle to behold and appreciate however.
Trying to catch wintering stragglers is always fraught with risk but it makes things interesting. My success with the Blue one was slightly tempered by the departure of the Jacanas. Only slightly though.
The celebrity Calliope Hummingbird near Austin was a great experience, if another Texas tick dip! Lorna was quite a character and we had a great evening chatting to her and her friends. Alas, Clyde had already got the urge and left earlier than last year!
The elusive Flame-coloured Tanager at Refugio was a very frustrating TT dip. I made two attempts at different stages of the trip. The bird was seen on both occasions briefly...but not by me. I did connect with the Greater Pewee however.
Countless sites were tried for the Golden-crowned Kinglet (another disappearing winterer) to no avail. Bucket loads of Ruby-crowns were seen. Maybe one day/trip?
I guess that's the meat of it for now. I'll post some more on the trip when I've recovered.
Three images picked at random that you might enjoy...
White-crowned Sparrow, Brownfield
American Kestrel, Galveston Island
Roadrunner, Bentson
Stay tuned...

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Texas 16 - Sites but no pics!

I spent the first three hours at St Louis Pass which is at the western end of Galveston Island. Wonderful!

After picking Louise up we headed for the Ferry to Bolivar. I Birded Rollover Pass and Bolivar Flats. Incredible!!

The report will have to wait till I return I'm afraid. Off to bed now then back to Bolivar for Anahuac and High Island. Bring it on!

Stay tuned...

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Texas 16 - Birding Galveston Island

70F today with blue skies and light winds.

I decided to follow the Galveston loop of the Upper Texas coast trail today...well nearly. I did give Kempner Park a miss due to the slim chance of a migrant fall. We also dried up before St Luis pass as we wanted to enjoy the Brown Pelican show along Sea Front Boulevard.

Again I have limited time for this post due to the participation factor! I intend to produce a full (but hopefully not long-winded) account of my trip on return.

Galveston Island IMHO is right up there with the Bolivar peninsular (doing that on Sunday) as one of the nations best Birding areas. Maybe not as renowned but superb none-the-less. After a series of mixed fortunes regarding target birds it was great to just do a days Birding.

My best day.

Issues with the Motel internet prevent me from posting pics unfortunately. I'll try again tomorrow.

Trip total 147.

Stay tuned...

Friday, 25 March 2016

Texas 16 - a quiet day!

Time to slow things down now. After a lie in we decided to check out of the Red Roof Inn and try somewhere else/better.

After checking in at the Inn on the Waterpark (much nicer) I dropped Louise off in historic Galveston around 2pm. I the drove down to Laffite's Cove. This reserve on the Island can rival High Island on a good day. I'm obviously too early for the big falls but I had a pleasant 3 hours just watching. No luck again with Golden-crowned Kinglet (had several Rubys) but I was treated to several Yellow-rumped and Black and White Warblers.

No pics as were off out for a meal now. I intend to bird the whole Island tomorrow. Lets see what I can see? Weather still great (70F) so Louise is more than happy!

130 species so far.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Texas 16 - Whooping it up

A late rise this morning. A much needed lie in after a late arrival at Refugio from McAllen. Today I was hoping to see one of the rarest and definitely the biggest bird in the ABA area. I’d seen them before but my views were far from satisfying. I’d caught the back end of their time in Texas as I’d always visited in April previously. There were always a few stragglers but they were always distant over the saltmarsh and the heat haze was horrendous. Basically a large white blob!

We left Refugio around 10 and arrived at Lamar an hour later. Goose Island S.P. is a great spot. A grid of roads with a mixture of dwellings right on the coast. It was a tad windy to but it mildly but the trees helped lessen the problem.

I’d used the indispensable eBird to target a few locations in the immediate area were the target bird/s had been seen most recently. Louise drove me to each while I navigated. The first couple didn’t produce anything and viewing was oddly limited. Maybe fly-over sightings?

The third site... I hit the jackpot!

I give you the magnificent Whooping Cranes of Texas...

4 adults and a juvenile. Brilliant. Over 50 inches in height! I spent an hour watching them at c200 yards. Just as I was about to leave this happened...

I was hoping I might get a flight view. I did...

Another "right up there" moment in my Birding.

We had another long drive to Galveston coming up so we spent the last couple of hours back at Refugio in Loins/Shelley Park. I saw the Greater Pewee again, almost immediately! Thought I might get lucky with the FLAME-COLOURED TANAGER. although it hadn't been reported since the 17th.
I tried the small loop over the ox-bow which led to the Mission River...

I was hoping for Green Kingfisher. After 20 mins I got a torpedo-like fly-past! Far to quick for me to capture. That's that I though as it or another shot past in the opposite direction!! Great just to SEE.

On returning to meet Louise in the car park I heard a high pitched seeping sound. Waxwings of the Cedar variety...

I estimated c200 high in the tree tops.

I'm sure you can appreciate I haven't got the time to go through all my pics but I hope I'm giving you a flavour of my Texas trip.

I've just checked the rarities and found out that the FCT was seen at 6.45pm last night at Lions-Shelley Park, Refugio...just as I was leaving!!!

That's Birding/Twitching/Chasing. No, I won't be going back! Time for some Warblers now.

Just one more...for now...

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Texas 16 - Raptor road

Tuesday 22nd

Ok. Things getting a bit muddled due to Birding targets, distances and stamina levels. They’re definitely NOT what they used to be.

So, Monday morning had me back at Anzalduas C.P. under the magnificent Live Oaks looking again in vain for the BTGW for my Texas list. They winter annually in the RGV and it is a common species in the West. I can’t find one though! I gave up at 11.

The neighbouring Bentson was also tried for 90 mins but no sign. I found out today (Tuesday) via eBird that both birds had been seen Monday (told you it was getting confusing!) Great resource but can kick you were it hurts sometimes. I also visited both sites this morning….in vain. That’s it on that one. Luckily for me the weather remains beautiful so Louise can sit out and read her novel/s.

Back to yesterday. After leaving Bentson we had a trip over to Laguna Atacosta NWR. Yet another superb site in the RGV.Our arrival was delayed due to a long diversion (nothing small here) but we eventually arrived around 3. Wood Stork was my target bird. A couple of unseasonal birds had been seen here recently. I tried both spots reported on eBird but no joy.

We parked by the visitor centre and paid our dues. Green Jays were in evidence…

 I decided to try for the Star bird, namely Crimson-collared Grosbeak. There had been a female present since January. I’d seen the Male at Frontera in 2005 as already stated but it would have been nice to see in the Potato trees…I didn’t in 90 mins. I did see this though…

Always special. It just appeared on the path in front of me, totally unconcerned. Great stuff.

Next an Oriole on steroids in a tall dead tree...


On the way back to the car I noticed a rather non-descript Dove picking up grit from the trail…

 This species is only found in the RGV.

Time to leave after sitting by the Laguna for a while. Romantic touch!

The road South out of LA is rough, very rough as it’s not State maintained. It’s traditionally great for Raptors however. We hadn’t gone half a mile when I noticed something interesting on a wire…

White-tailed Kite
A beautiful species

Next a big lump on a wire…

Louise got the toilet shot through the bins! I mentioned to her that I’d seen one of my favourite birds and possibly my favourite raptor on this road on previous visits. I know this sounds smart but another mile or so down the road there it was!!

Harris's Hawk
What CAN I say? Fabulous bird!!!

A wonderful end to another great day in Texas.

After searching fruitlessly for the BTGW until early afternoon we spent the rest of the day firstly at Frontera were I tried to get a T shirt of the 2005 Big 3. Unfortunately they only had small left. The final destination was Estero Grande SP. It’s a reserve I’d never visited. Very impressive, especially the Cinnamon Teal…

As I write this Louise is driving us North to Refugio as we start to head for Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsular. Another world class Birding area.

Stay tuned…

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Texas 16 - Back for more

21st March

Yesterday morning was spent at the Hawk Watch at Bentson. I arrived at the car park at 7.45. The visitor centre opens at 8 so I stuck 5 dollars in the envelope like a good lad and started to walk over the levee. The first bird I saw on the pipe over the channel was this…

Muscovy Duck - not the prettiest!
Unfortunately it’s not a true wild bird as feral birds and all sorts in between occur. The wild birds are further west up the river.

I bumped into a member of staff as I sorted my envelope out. I asked how far it was to the Hawk Tower. “About a mile!” she informed me. I’d already done half a mile so I had a decision to make, especially as I was carrying my scope. I’d come a long way to try for Hook-billed Kite photos…so onward! Thankfully the temperature was in the low 60’s. I arrived at the tower around 8.40. I was alone.

It’s an amazing structure (like most things in the States). They don’t do things by halves! 

scope in the distance!
Turkey Vultures were already starting to lift from their roost...

I took up my position trying to look like I knew what I was doing...

Around 9 I was joined by the resident expert John Kaye. Nice bloke. He had a couple with him and their three children. The older lad was keen and knowledgeable but the two young girls weren’t. Thankfully they amused each other further down the ramp.

Birds started to appear…

No Hook-billed Kite unfortunately but 2.5 hours of quality raptor watching.

c4000 Turkey Vultures!
c40 Black Vultures
10 Swainson's Hawks
3 Gray Hawks including an immature in a dead tree...

Broad-winged Hawk
3 Crested Caracaras
2 Ospreys

No luck with the HBK. There had been a sighting last Tuesday morning. Glad I had a go though. The walk back to the car was a killer but I eventually made it. The pain was eased by this Great Kiskadee near the feeding station...

After lunch we returned to the visitor centre and I tried once again for Black-throated Gray Warbler. I gave it a couple of hours but no luck. The Plain Chachalacas were sunning them selves on the path Thankfully they quieten down after their morning chorus!

I also found a Black Pheobe on "the pipe" over the channel...

This was the view down Bentson Palm Drive as we left...

Pretty good!

As you can see the weather was wonderful. Low 70's and a cloudless big blue Texas sky. I decided to re-visit the Yellow-headed Blackbird site. It's just one of those species for me.

We couldn't find any for 30 minutes among the countless Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles. I then noticed some Yellow in a lone tree behind the factory fence...

They were buried in the tree in deep shade. Frustrating because the sun was still strong at 6pm. Louise read her novel and I waited. Eventually I got lucky...

Does it for me.

Birders rightly use the word context. This bird is a common Prairie species but a scarce winter bird in Texas. I don't see many in Holmpton!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Texas 16 - Tree study!

I spent the morning looking for a Black-throated Gray Warbler at Anzalduas Park west of McAllen on the Mexican border. I gave it all morning but no luck. Plenty of trees to look through...but no BTGW

The live oaks are spectacular...

We had lunch in Starbucks before heading North to Delta Lake Park to  try for another Texas tick in the form of Golden-crowned Kinglet. No luck again despite eBird reporting sightings yesterday. We had a relaxing afternoon by the lake though and some smart birds were observed. This was the habitat I was working. I now definitely know what an Ebony Tree looks like...

Green Heron...

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks...

Love those long legs!

Not all smart though!

Black Vulture...

This specimen landed on the telegraph pole right above our car and stayed there for 20 minutes totally unconcerned.

It was now 5pm and I wanted to try one more spot before dusk. The site was the Progresso Grain Silos south of Weslaco. I'd spared Louise the less salubrious locations until know but she drove me down there without a problem.

We arrived at 6 but the light was poor now as the clouds had rolled in. 30F cooler than yesterday! 

The target?

No tick involved here...just a better view desired of an unusual species. One I've always wanted a better look at. There were thousands of Grackles and red-winged Blackbirds feeding on the spilt grain. The bird I was after should stand out even in the half light. Louise beat me to it when she exclaimed..."there's one"

A fabulous male Yellow-headed Blackbird! Much bigger than the RWB at 11 inches. Something special about this species for me. I'll try to return before we leave the area to photograph it/them in better light.

I'm off to the world famous Bentson reserve tomorrow morning. One of many fabulous reserves in the RGV.

Couldn't resist one more front on...

Stay tuned...

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Texas 16 - Hunt for the Blue 1

I had 3 ABA targets. The Common Crane had bit the dust. As already stated the other two are in "the Valley" were we are now. My main target had to be the Blue 1. So it was off to Frontera Audubon for 8. It's a cracking little reserve which has had some excellent rarities over the years. In 2005 and saw a male Crimson-collared Grosbeak, White-throated Thrush and Elegant Trogon there!!! So it was great to be able to re-visit eleven years later.

The lad in charge was just opening up as I arrived and there was one female birder present. She informed me she'd spent the whole day looking for the Blue 1 yesterday to no avail!! Not the start I needed. I decided to stake out the area were the bird had been reported on eBird by birders who DID see it yesterday. Namely the NE corner of the inner thicket.

No luck in 90 minutes before I returned for breakfast at our Best Western in McAllen. This motel just happens to be next to a mega Mall which Louise spent the next 7 hours in while I returned to Frontera to continue my vigil. The good old weather forecast had predicted heavy cloud and thunderstorms, the main reason why she had chosen today for (well deserved) retail therapy. More on how things turned out weather wise later.

Back to the NE corner then after passing the lady birder who'd seen the bird briefly by the orchard at 8.15! I was genuinely pleased for her after her efforts yesterday.

Now for my effort.

I slowly patrolled the area checking low (were I briefly saw an Ovenbird) as well as the bushes as it feeds on the ground. Nothing by noon as the temperature soared into the 90's as the sky cleared. I was cooking. Thankfully there was a bench in the shade. I did see some great birds however.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird...

White-eyed Vireo...

This bid was singing it's head off but was extremely mobile and hard to pin down in the heavy vegetation. So I was amazed when I looked at these images. The little Pany strikes again!

A beautiful bird...

I must admit I was flagging in the high temperature as there was little shade and I hadn't connected by 2pm. A few other birders had arrived but none had connected. Time for some much needed refreshment in the visitor centre.

Great Kiskadee is a flagship species in the RGV and they are present on this reserve...

I even found a nest. An amazing structure...full of natural and man-made items...

Still no Blue 1.

I don't give up easily though. 2.30 came and went. Still no sign. Still more wonderful species were seen though to keep me occupied.

Long-billed Thrasher...

Love Thrashers. This bird has a wonderful thrush-like song which it belts out for long periods. Woodpeckers were present also. I give you the fabulous Golden-fronted...


My umpteenth small circuit. Should I try another spot. Always a dilemma. No, I'll stick it out.

Something Blue?

Surely not...


There it was. It silently hopped through the thick cover about 5 yards away. One of my best moments. A fabulous deep blue bird and an ABA MEGA to boot. Could/would I get better views. Birders had posted that it didn't hang around. Almost always disappearing as quickly as it appeared.

A ghostly image...

I just couldn't get a clear shot. Then...I did...

BLUE BUNTING. ABA 670, Texas 448.

Oh Happy Day!

Stay tuned...