Texas: Salineño to The End

The last couple of days in Texas began with finding as many birds as possible at the Harlingen Thicket.

This meant hanging with Harris’s Hawks.

Watching Great Kiskadees collect nesting material.

And finally getting a good look at a Tropical Kingbird (best distinguished by Couch’s by voice).

One bird I was thrilled to get even a b-rated photo of was the White-eyed Vireo. I had too many missed photo-ops with this one.

There were few target birds we hadn’t seen by now. The nemeses of the trip, if you will, would have to be a small kingfisher, the Green Kingfisher, and Verdin, a bird that looks like a Bushtit with a yellow head. Several near misses, but we didn’t find either of these at the thicket either.

But we did see Texas Spiny Lizards humping.

And giant spiders.

It was late afternoon at this point and time for Sarah, Max, and Eric to catch their flight back to Portland. We bid them farewell and figured out our next plan. Jen and I had one more day to explore and we aimed to make the most of it. We drove two hours west to Salineño, a tiny town of Texas along the Rio Grande with a population of only 201 people.

We didn’t see any people (not even border patrol), but we did see plenty of birds, including three specialties, the Red-billed Pigeon, White-collared Seedeater, and Audubon’s Oriole. We thought the pigeons would be difficult, but they were actually quite easy.

Pretty perched pigeons.

We saw another intriguing bird perched farther in the distance, a Gray Hawk!

Worth crossing the scrubby desert full of ticks for a closer look.

Along the way we saw the White-collared Seedeater, a species that had a sharp population decline in the mid-70s, but has recently made a slight rebound.

Glad we got a look at this hard working bird.

Hiking farther along the dunes we passed Olive Sparrows.

And the “Texas form” Lesser Goldfinch that has way more black than other varieties.

I also heard a slow whistled song that perked me right up (I recognized it from the movie!), the Audubon’s Oriole! The only one we saw of the entire trip.

We also got a quick fly-by from a Green Kingfisher and I got terribly blurry photos of a Verdin. Not satisfactory sightings, but they happened. Another thing that happened was the Gray Hawk flew right by us next to the river.

This was a special place. And more like the birding trips I’m used to, wandering around bumping into all sorts of great new birds. We had such a fun time exploring, but at some point we knew it was time to make the long drive back to San Antonio to catch our plane home. Of course we stopped along the way.

For my last Scissor-tailed flycatcher of the trip. And the best views of a Pyrrhuloxia.

A stop for nesting Cave Swallows.

And for all the dead things (including a bobcat *cries*).

The best stop was for Jen to save this turtle from crossing the big, mean highway.

Texas was incredible. I saw an 72 lifers! And had the best time with a bunch of birders gone wild.

There’s no better way to party.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Texas: Party Parrots

After tacos we continued birding at Estero Llano Grande State Park. Our second trip to this destination. Or third? I’ve lost count. Every park in Texas is worth at least one revisit. This time it was for a Roseate Spoonbill knocking teals off a log.

The one with the biggest spoon wins the perch.

A pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks swam by.

And a White-faced Ibis blended into the grass.

Then we located the real reason we revisited this park. A Fulvous Whistling-Duck!

This warm-colored lifer cooperated just long enough before paddling farther and farther away, disappearing forever behind the grasses.

Going, going, gone.

The fulvous show was over. We returned to the main park area to head out while distracted by spiders and lizards along the way.

Six-lined Racerunner

But Sarah was distracted by a persistent bug harassing her down the trail, and as she flailed her arms somehow it worked to bring out a Clay-colored Thrush!

Thanks Sarah! Formerly known as the Clay-colored Robin, this secretive, shy thrush is the national bird of Costa Rica. Even after 6 days lifers were still showing up. We then left to head back to the airbnb before the night’s activities.

The Airbnb was one of the highlights of the trip. We stayed at a 2-acre farmhouse that had some of the best bird sightings.

There was a feeder table setup that had regular Green Jay, chachalaca, and cardinal visitors. We had Common Pauraque calling every morning and evening. And a repeat visiting Harris’s Hawk.

The hummingbird feeder attracted Buff-bellied and one Ruby-throated hummer. One morning we spooked an owl in the yard (possibly Barn). There was a pair of Great Kiskadees, Couch’s Kingbirds, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. And Hooded and Altamira Oriole.There was lizards digging holes, prickly cactus to eat, butterflies to chase, it was hard to leave sometimes. 

But we had to leave later that evening to go to Oliveira Park in Brownsville. In celebration of Max’s birthday, we threw him a parrot party.

On some nights, hundreds of parrots throughout the city flock to this unlikely, inner-city park to roost in the evening. We weren’t sure what to expect when we arrived, but as the sun set it was like watching fireworks at the 4th of July. “Ooohs” and “aaaahs” as loud, raucous colorful personalities flew over our heads.

Party parrots! The majority are Red-crowned. We also saw Red-lored Parrots.

And Yellow-headed Parrots. The latter two species are escapees. It warms my heart that these social birds escaped and found one another.

We bumped into a couple of other birders at the park, including a grad-student from Texas A&M collecting parrot population data. Red-crowned Parrots in Texas and California are of interest to scientists because these unique city populations may some day save the species from extinction. According to Sibley the “naturalized population of Red-crowned Parrots is thought to exceed the native population in Mexico.”

A couple of other birds showed up to the party too. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

And *two* Lesser Nighthawks!

The skies darkened, the parrots quieted for sleep, and we headed back to the airbnb for the best tres leches! Happy birthday Max!

Yum.

Birders gone wild,

Audrey

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