Tuesday, July 09, 2013

High school reunion birding Part 2

There's nothing like the prospect of having to pack the whole house to motivate me to do OTHER things. Things like blogging, sleeping, getting a root canal... anything to avoid the packing!

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:
He was gettin' some air on his parts, I think.

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:
Texas Ribbon Snake, maybe? He was probably two feet long, kinda fat (at least an inch across his girth, so over an inch in diameter). So I don't know.

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!

I haven't even had time to ID them. The second one looks like a very pale version of a Hackberry Emperor, but I wouldn't even know where to start on the IDs.

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)
She's got great eyes, even when she's knirding. She also spotted the Northern Beardless-Tyranulet that morning. I love birding with her because she'll just be walking along and then she'll see some tiny molecule or something and it will turn out to be a great bird!

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:

Not a very good snap, but a snap nonetheless! It was a bit overcast and those pesky twigs pulled the autofocus right onto them. So annoying.

One of the coolest things we saw was this courting display from a male Bronzed Cowbird to a rather disinterested female:
This dance was elaborate: He fluffed and vibrated his wings and walked back and forth in front of herr. He then pulled out all the stops and flew up about a foot-and-a-half off the ground and hovered there for at least six or seven seconds! I was so amazed that I didn't even get a photo; I wish I'd gotten video. He came back down, did another little pirouette or two, and then the lady LEFT. AB offered that she might be beckoning him to follow her to someplace more private, given the gawking humans standing there (at a respectful distance, mind you!), but she flew one way and he flew off in another direction.

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!

Yellow-billed Cuckoo! LIFER! He posed so courteously for me, though I didn't get to hear his keeyo! call at all. Still -- LIFER! What a beautiful bird. Look at those huge soulful eyes!

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.


Rabbits' Guy said...

400 ... birds ... different ... all. Unbelievable.

dguzman said...

I know, it's mind-blowing. And the fun never ends: still so many more birds to see!