Tuesday saw us getting up early, leaving my brother's house, and heading for the Valley and South Padre Island. We saw a few interesting birds along the way, but nowhere near the number of Harris's Hawks that Mary and I saw on "Raptor Highway" (the stretch of Hwy 77 between Kingsville and Raymondville, TX) a couple of years ago. Still, we saw some cool stuff.
We stopped at a Charolais (cattle) ranch just north of Raymondville when we saw a whole field of Snow Geese, blackbirds and grackles, and Sandhill Cranes:
I could've sworn I got pics with Sandhills in them, but I might've been too busy counting SNGE to pay attention to what I was snapping. My count on Snows was 1,100. I did it twice, and I felt it was accurate within about 20 birds. There were at least 100 blue morphs in the bunch as well, along with 15 Sandhill Cranes. Other birds:
American Wigeon 6
Mallard 24 (a count which required me to CONFIRM on eBird, but we counted through the scope and felt confident about it)
Turkey Vulture 6
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Crested Caracara 3
Red-winged Blackbird 500
Great-tailed Grackle 1000
Brown-headed Cowbird 25
As you can see, we saw several raptors in the area as well, including one that was perched at least a half-mile away on a tree -- we both tried to make it into an Aplomado Falcon, but it was just too far away.
We drove through Raymondville so I could look at the house I grew up in until the summer after 7th grade, when we moved to Harlingen. I knew the Valley had suffered some financial setbacks thanks to the downturn in tourist and shopping traffic caused by the drug wars down there, but WOW. My old neighborhood -- which I (of course) recall as shiny, clean, and solidly middle class - was more like a barrio now, with tiny houses, cars on blocks, dogs running around everywhere, and no one outside playing or doing anything. It was really sad; I have such fond memories of that house, though the citrus trees have long been chopped down by a past owner (can you believe?). It looked small, but (and maybe I was prejudiced, though I bet I can be excused for it) it seemed to be the cleanest one on the block. We moved on.
South Padre Island's Birding and Nature Center delivered for us in several ways; Gretchen was getting lifers left and right (like I was the first year I went; remember?), and I was hoping to get good looks and photos:
Clapper Rail! This was the best pic I got; the one time he (she?) raised his (her?) head, I was looking instead of snapping. Still, it's definitely a Clapper! I'd gotten a glance and a confirmation on my ID last year, so it wasn't a lifer, but this time we really got great looks at the bird.
And a Sora! We waited and watched these birds for about a half hour, skulking through the reeds and offering only teasing little glimpses of them. It was a real thrill; I hadn't seen a Sora since my days at the Marsh House.
We also saw the American Alligator again:
He looked very happy to see us. Look at that silly grin.
This Great Blue was kinda doing the emo thing, gazing pensively at his own reflection, pondering the meaninglessness of life, and thinking of how big the universe is and how he's so small.
Or he was fishing.
These beautiful Northern Pintails were really showing off their plumage. Ducks are probably my favorite species to ID, because the IDs are usually not as challenging as, say, warblers in fall plumage!
See? American Wigeon, complete with that little squeak-toy noise they make that sounds like "I'm a wigeon! Wigeon!"
Red. Head. Redhead. Duh.
The sneaky Sora strikes again!
Tomorrow (or when I can get back to the computer), we suffer the Curse of the Aplomado Falcon, I then refuse to acknowledge even the existence of Aplomado Falcons, and we move inland up the Rio Grande River.