Texas: Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP

Our first visit to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park was so much fun in the dark with Elf Owls we knew it would be great in the daylight too. We were right. This park has a lot going on with 760-acres of riparian woodlands in the floodplains of the Rio Grande.  Accessible by bike, walking, or by catching a tram shuttle. The park is awesome. But we showed up a little early and it wasn’t officially open yet.

Common Pauraque calls lured us closer (and we caught a brief glance of the Elf Owls again too before they disappeared). So we went in. Then found and figured out the Honor Box system so we could continue further into the park without fear of the Border Patrol.

First ones in the park get to see the Bobcat!

Woah! Jen spotted this one prowling near the boatramp at Kingfisher Overlook. First time I’ve gotten such a good look at one. It seemed pretty spooked by us and quickly disappeared into the forest. So amazing.

If a bobcat could be around this corner what could be around the next? We continued walking as a flock of 30+ Anhinga flew over our heads.

Then Max heard an intriguing “tee-tee-tee-tee-tee” that turned out to be one of the coolest named birds ever, the Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet (Ty-rann-u-let). Sounds like a dinosaur, right? It’s actually a small flycactcher lacking bristles at the base of its bill. Not that my photo makes it very clear.

We also saw a lovely Green Jay.

A Great Kiskadee.

And a Couch’s Kingbird saving us from stingy-bitey things.

Then we turned around another corner and heard the saddest dove ever. Eric said, “That dove is beyond mourning.” Then Sarah looked up and said, “That is an odd-shaped hawk.” We were all wrong because it was a Greater Roadrunner!

Way up in the tree it bent over and called the saddest call ever. Here is a short clip. I hope his sad song helped him find a mate to cheer him up.

I was tickled by this sighting. On my wish-list of bird sightings was a roadrunner and this experience blew anything I could have imagined away. Amazing stuff.

Eventually we made our way to the Hawk Observation Tower.

It was slow at first, we saw sunlit hawk-specs in the distance. But eventually a few flew in closer. A helpful volunteer park staff explained how to distinguish Broad-winged Hawk from Gray Hawk.

Broad-winged are slightly darker underneath with a dark edge along the end of the primaries. Finally one Broad-winged Hawk came close enough to demonstrate.

Unfortunately, no Gray Hawks came by for comparison (at least that I saw). There was a kettle of hawks in the distance but most were Broad-winged. Still a pretty cool sight.

After hawk-watching we made our way back to the main feeders. Passing The Great Wall of Chubby Lizards along the way.

So chubby.

At this point, in the heat of the day, we plopped down on swinging chairs to rest and watch birds at the bird-feeders (short video). It was mainly a Plain Chachalaca parade.

Is it just me or do chachalacas always look displeased?

Why so angry? Giving the stink-eye.

Actually they remind me more of Beaker from The Muppet Show.

Amiright? Totally related.

Haha. Too far? I’m sorry chachalacas, I apologize. You’re so regal.

We had one more surprise at the feeders. A bright orange surprise.

Winner for best orange cheeks goes to the Altamira Oriole!

What a beauty! Bentsen State Park did not disappoint. Great surprises around every corner.

After this it was time for post-birding tacos before more birding!

Birders gone wild,

Audrey

Florida: Weedon Preserve, Sawgrass Park, and Seminole Lake

One of the highlights of my trip to Florida was birding with my dad.

My dad

He lives in Largo and his birding enthusiasm is a close match to mine. In the past year since I started birding, we’ve have a blast quizzing each other by emailing pictures of birds we can’t see in our respective areas.

He sends me pictures of Limpkins (baby Limpkins!), Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, and Brown Thrashers harassing snakes. If there were any reason to visit Florida, these would be it. A handful of his pics:

Limpkin Limpkin Red-bellied WoodpeckerYellow-crowned Night Heron Brown Thrasher Brown Thrasher

He had a few spots picked out for us to see during my trip, including Weedon Island Preserve, a 3,700 acre preserve complete with a cultural and natural history center, trails, boardwalks (AKA Raccoon Highway), mangroves, wetlands, uplands, crabs (!) (Mangrove Tree Crab).

Crab

Weedon Island Preserve Paul Getting Memorial Trail Weedon Sunrise

And birds! A whole lot of them.

Wading birds

Wading birds

Of course it wasn’t that easy. They made us work for it. We showed up promptly at sunrise for low tide and there were no birds in sight. It wasn’t until the day warmed up that they came out to feed. Once they did, we saw Great Egrets, White Ibis, Snowy Egrets, and many more wading birds in the distance. And a Wood Stork flew overhead. It was a good time.

Wood Stork

The best part of Weedon Island though, was a moment that’ll go down in my book of birding history. After striking out on birds first thing in the morning, my dad and I rounded the corner to another overlook and found an unbelievable sight. A Roseate Spoonbill closely followed by a Tricolored Heron buddy. The wait was worth it.

Spoonbill and Tricolor

My dad describes Tricolored Herons as Little Blue Herons that’ve had too much coffee. Little blues stand still and intensely stalk prey (much like the Great Blue Heron), while Tricolors dart quickly back and forth in the water gathering up fish and bits of food. It’s a useful behavioral clue to identify them. We watched this one pick up bits the spoonbill stirred up. They made quite the pair.

Spoonbill and Tricolor

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron Tricolored Heron Tricolored Heron

Shortly after, the spoonbill posed nicely for us and my day was made.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Gorgeous wrinkly spoon face!

We went to Sawgrass Lake Park next. Surrounded by “the most densely populated county in Florida” (Pinellas County), the 400 acre park is a haven for wildlife. Especially alligators. We saw three of them. Florida wildlife sighting Level-Up.

Alligator

Alligator Alligator Alligator

And the obligatory “no molesting” the gators sign. So many feels. So many jokes. It’s too easy.

No Molest!

This park had a few gems besides gators and funny gator signs. Including adorable Little Blue Herons. So intense. So cute.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron Little Blue Heron Little Blue Heron

And the most fun bird to say, Anhinga (an-HIN-ga)! With many nicknames: it’s called the Water-Turkey thanks to its tail and swimming habits, and also Snake-Bird because it often swims with just its head sticking out of the water. We saw several of them, usually sunning themselves since this species lacks oils that make feathers waterproof. Anhinga anhinga is named from Tupi Indian (Brazil) language. AnHINga!

Anhinga

Anhinga Anhinga Anhinga

We also saw Common Gallinule (gal-li-NOO-l) and heard it’s cackling and yelping calls. The species was split from Common Moorhen (Old World) in 2011 by the AOU.

Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule   Common Gallinule  Common Gallinule

Upon leaving this park, we saw a neat grouping of three species together, Tricolored Heron in the far back, a Little Blue Heron front left, and three White Ibises!

All the water birds

And a softshell turtle.

Softshell turtle

Our final destination was Seminole Lake Park. The best trails in this park wind through pine flatwoods where we saw several species of birds. Some familiar, some new.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Osprey

Osprey

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker (see the red belly!)

Gray Catbird

More Gray Catbird! Can’t get enough of this one. 

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal (female)

And a whole bunch more.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Pileated Woodpecker Osprey Northern Cardinal Mourning Dove Little Blue HeronGray Catbird Great Egret Boat-tailed Grackle

Funny thing about this park, we actually visited several mornings in search of what turned out to be my “nemesis bird” of the trip, the Limpkin! My dad sees them here frequently, but I missed out this time. Good to have a reason to return. Next time!

We ended the search on a high note with a good look at this remarkable creature, the Wood Stork.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork Wood Stork Wood Stork

If I keep writing about Florida will that make it sunny in Portland?!

Too bad this post pretty much sums up my awesome trip. Thanks for following along!

Happy Turtles

Happy turtles,

Audrey