Thursday, February 04, 2010

Rio Grande Valley, Birding Day 2--finally!--Report 1

Our second day of birding looked like it might get off to a rocky start after we had to leave our motel on the Island on Saturday night after a total SNAFU occurred. Seems the clerk who checked us in on Friday night "forgot" to inform us that because we checked in after 11pm, we were considered "high risk" and our reservation for the two nights was no longer valid. We left Saturday morning and didn't get back to the hotel until about 7:30, at which point our door card no longer worked! The "manager" (a young girl of maybe 19? 20? WTF?) told us she was about to put all our belongings into Lost and Found and just write us off as a no-show! They'd only billed us for Friday night (Mary didn't notice; it was late and we were tired), and they were basically gonna kick us out and take our stuff if we hadn't gotten back when we did! We got so upset that we just left and drove inland, staying at a much nicer hotel near the Santa Ana NWR. So really, it all worked out--but it made for some tense moments. Still--Mary, now we know: Motel 6 on the island is OUT!

Oh, I'm sorry--was that indiscreet? Oh well. Let that be a warning to you.

Moving on. So Day 2 started out sunny and cold, and we drove the short distance to SANWR. We were just parking when I saw and heard Green Jays! Once again, a lifer as the first bird in the place! Of course, I had also spilled my coffee all over Mary's lap when I made the turn onto the road, so she missed the Green Jays while she changed in the car... oops.

Still, right when you get to the main entrance, there's a feeder. That day, there were Green Jays and Red-winged Blackbirds going nutty on suet and birdseed:



There's no difficulty IDing a Green Jay, that's for sure! Lifer #1 for the day!

We then took the Pintail Lake trail to the left. I heard very little birdsong, so I tried pishing to see if I could get some response. Here's what responded:Um yeah, that's an Altamira Oriole, Lifer #2 for the day! He stayed way high in the trees, though. But again--there's no mistaking this guy for any other bird!

We heard so many other birds, man--pishing is AWESOME. I'm amazed at how many different birds respond to it. I am thinking of getting that Pete Dunne book/CD on pishing to improve my technique!

We moved on toward the lake and saw Lifer #3 for the day, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks! And not just one, like with the Fulvous; oh no:These guys were in a big group, hanging out, each standing on one long pink leg. Once again, however, Northern Shovelers were also hanging out (they are everywhere down here, like Mallards up north), along with some Green-winged Teals. What a place this is!

We worked the grassy areas around the lake, and Mary thought she saw a greenish-olive flash going into the grass/reeds, but we couldn't pish him out. Olive Sparrow? Perhaps. But we headed on, and we saw the woodpecker I'd wanted to see!

This bird posed for me, showing his back and his sides so I could make sure he was a Ladder-backed WP, Lifer #4 of the morning--and we'd been out there maybe an hour, tops! I tell ya: bird someplace crazy-new and filled with different birds than you're used to. There's nothing like it for testing your ID skills and adding so much more to the excitement of building a lifelist!

We heard a bubbly call near the Ladder-backed, and I saw what I ID'd as a House Wren. Just then, a guide walked by with a small group; he asked if we'd seen the Sedge Wren. I freaked for a minute but said, "no, I think it's a House Wren." Sure enough--House Wren. We never saw another wren that day, but some others did. That would've been a prize!

He told us to head for a spot back behind the lake to find Ringed and Green Kingfishers, so we headed that way. Along the path, look who showed up:This Vermillion Flycatcher was farther along in getting his brilliant red plumage for the spring than that one we'd seen at Estero Llano. He's beautiful! I wish my pics did him justice.

So we were in the general area that we were supposed to see to get the kingfishers, and we did keep hearing them, but we never saw any. I'd seen one on the road, perched on a wire near Laguna Vista, but Mary'd missed it. We never saw any here though. That's when we heard it: the high-pitched cry of a raptor. I expressed some surprise to Mary because I've never actually heard a raptor cry while flying, and I ran to a clearing to look up, just in time to see a buteo shape and a red breast and then lighter red on the belly. He called probably 7-8 times, thrilling us to the bone, with his high-pitched singular cry that kinda faded down a little at the end. He then disappeared, flying off toward Mexico. I probably saw him for a total of two seconds. So I pulled out my BirdJam (thanks, Jay!) and listened to each hawk sound:
Hawk, Broad-winged: nope, too shrill and it doesn't go down at the end.
Hawk, Cooper's: definitely not. These guys sound like a weird duck!
Hawk, Ferruginous: close, but not it. Not long enough, too shrill.
Hawk, Red-shouldered: this was a singular scream, with several seconds between each.
Hawk, Red-tailed: nope. Too shrill at the beginning, and just not IT.
Hawk, Sharp-shinned: like a raptor-chicken. Nope.
Hawk, Swainson's: HOLY CRAP. This was it. Mary and I simultaneously knew. We'd heard, and I'd seen, a Swainson's Hawk. There was no mistaking the cry; this was it. Besides, I'd seen it on every checklist for the Lower Rio Grande Valley, so I figured, "gotcha!"

Later on, though, Mary met up with that guide in the gift shop and mentioned the Swainson's. He wigged and started asking questions. I came over and answered as honestly as I could about my level of experience, my BirdJam, my quick sighting, everything. He told us that it would've been a rare sight at that time to see a Swainson's; they migrate over, but it wasn't the right time, and no one else had reported seeing one. He apparently enters the eBird reports for the place, so I kinda messed with his idea of what was possible that day. I understood his reasoning about not putting it on any of the reports; I mean, I'm one birder, and I'm no raptor expert (Susan, if only you'd been there!), but Mary and I both knew we'd heard the Swainson's. And that's all I could tell him, was that we were both 100% sure we'd heard it, and I was about 90% sure of the sighting when I looked at his field guide. I know what I saw; I just wish I'd moved fast enough for a photo. Still--I feel extremely strong about the Swainson's. He must've been migrating early or something. It was weird, feeling like I had to justify the sighting, talking to someone about my "experience level" and what I saw and exactly where I was and all that. It was kinda pressure-y! I just wish I'd had a photo for the guy to see. Oh well. I just feel like I know what I saw and heard!

After that, we didn't see many lifers; it turned colder and wetter, and we got hungry. A quick montage:
The Rio Grande! (which is actually not so grande; it's like Penns Creek!)

I didn't know Spanish moss grew here!

a cool rope bridge between observation towers. There were two shorter ones and a really tall one. I only climbed a shorter one and then crossed the bridge to the other one. The problem? Look at this:Scary! I felt like I was gonna fall off with every step!

the view from the top

the plains of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

a crazy Plain Chachalaca--like a rowdy noisy Bluejay's rowdy noisy big fat uncle



You know, I could've sworn I got a picture of the next lifer, a Long-billed Thrasher that we'd heard was in a particular spot, but I can't find the pic. Dangit! His bill was really long, but he kinda looked like a Brown Thrasher only not, somehow. Some birder I am!

Near the exit from the park, drizzle falling and gray cloud cover making shutter speed too slow, we saw him:
An Olive Sparrow! It's hard to see the olive-green here, but check the tail--it's pretty easy to see there. What a crazy little bird; he was almost at our feet, flitting around on the ground. Then he was gone.

By this time, it was getting late in the afternoon and the sun was completely obscured by a thick cloud cover. We headed for home, full of birds and photos and videos, and feeling like we'd been through a great if hard trip together, me and Young Mary.

Next post: raptor road!

28 comments:

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Great bird shots.

John said...

Nice photo of the Green Jay. One of these days I'll have to get to southeast Texas.

Andrew said...

Looks like a lot of fun! Thanks so much for reporting!

Felicia said...

Bummer about that hotel snafu--but the rest of your day certainly made up for it!

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

I need to get myself down there!

Beth said...

WOW - I am green with envy. You go, Delia.

Rabbits' Guy said...

Wow - all those new birds and some great photos!

Kind of interesting how the locals see all of those colorful birds and probably think - oh, just another day at the preserve!

dguzman said...

Rabbits' Guy--When I was a kid, I didn't know anything about range or Eastern or Western; I just figured all the birds I saw were all over the U.S. The only different birds were in Africa or whatever, like I saw on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom!

mary said...

I had to keep reading because i was actually not finished with the previous entry. How odd - you did take a picture of the thrasher - I know you did. I on the other hand was 'ol' molasses in winter' hands. just had to tell you though about the thrasher. I remember us coming to the conclusion that it wasn't what we first thought, but rather another type. I mean it was brown but there was something about it - more gray, uh uh oh I can't remember. so did you actually get the shot of the green jay while I was changing? my green jay photo is not too hot. mgs

mary said...

EEEK!!! I look like the Hindenburg. Please remove that shot immediately. signed your sister the fatty. there was stuff in my jacket but oh my gosh!
mgs

Matty Boy said...

Beautiful pictures, dg. Good work.

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Earl Cootie said...

Green Jay! I could just die right here!

Oh, and, yeah, it always freaks me a little when the ebird list watchers contact me to question sightings.

Susan Gets Native said...

My sweet sugarplum, don't ever question your sightings when an "expert" is dubious. Sure, when you hear galloping, it's probably a horse, but it could be a ZEBRA. Just report what you saw and heard, and you can't go wrong.
I would have loved to have been there, because I would have wet my pants over a Swainson's. And a Harris. And just about every bird you saw.
:)

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