So here we go on Part 2 of our reunion/birding trip to the Rio Grande Valley. We stayed at a hotel in Harlingen so we'd be centrally located between the farthest west point, Bentsen RGV State Park, and South Padre Island. This turned out to be a good tactic, though I bet staying on the Island probably rocked really effing hard. Still, after spending a hot morning at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, and then having breakfast at a place where I had to stumble through ordering food in probably the worst Spanish that waitress had heard since the snowbirds were around last winter, we decided to brave the heat and hit my favorite winter birding place, Estero Llano Grande State Park.
The heat was already stifling, but a good application of Deep Woods Off kept the bugs to a minimum. There were very few birds, probably due to the fact that all the ponds had been drained for summer maintenance. Still, we saw a few Black-necked Stilts, a yellowlegs of some sort (felt like Greater), a zillion Purple Martins, and this lizard:
After not seeing much, other than Great-tailed Grackles, we headed back out of the park. As we drew up to the sidewalk behind the visitor center, a short snake wriggled off the sidewalk and into the bushes. I was able to get this shot of his patterning:
Three lifers, and it wasn't even lunchtime! Throughout the trip, we saw so many butterflies that it got a little ridiculous. Here are a couple of highlights; click to embiggen!
AB was really the eyes of this trip, spotting the morning's Groove-billed Ani in characteristic fashion: "What's that big black bird out there? It's probably nothing." Previous AB chestnuts include,
- "Is that just a plastic bag out there in that tree?" (Bald Eagle)
- "See that white thing out there? Probably just a plastic bag." (Snowy Egret)
The next day, we headed out early for Bentsen RGV State Park in Mission, hometown of Tom Landry.
Bentsen is one of those birding hotspots that I've only visited once before; it's so far west (about an hour an a half from Harlingen) and so huge that I have a tough time appreciating it as much as I should. That morning, we braved the 100-degree temps and high humidity to chase after the Yellow-billed Cuckoo that had been seen there recently, as well as any other treats we might find.
First thing off, we saw another Groove-billed Ani and this time I was able to get a snap:
One of the coolest things we saw was this courting display from a male Bronzed Cowbird to a rather disinterested female:
Love is so hard. Sigh. Thank goodness I didn't have to perform such a difficult dance to get AB. I did, however, bring her a gift of a worm or two. (Kidding!)
After getting lost on the trails and walking about a mile more than we had to, observing almost NO BIRDS most of that way, we finally figured out our way back. We saw a bird blind along the way and though none of the feeders were filled, we entered for a few moments of precious shade.
Lo and behold! As if by magic, the object of our search appeared!
We were now so close to 400 I could almost taste it! I needed just two more birds!
And speaking of those two more birds: Although we saw no Gray Hawk or Lesser Nighthawks, both of which had been seen regularly at the park, we did get a lifer and photos out of Bentsen. It was just too hot to explore the whole park, especially after our missed left turn at Albuquerque, so we headed home for a swim in a sun-heated, bathtub-temperature pool at the hotel.
Stay tuned for Part 3, in which I hit 400 birds and AB dips her toes in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time.