Monday, July 15, 2013

High school reunion birding: Part 4, wrap-up

After the big dinner-dance on Saturday night, there was only one more reunion-related event to attend: the memorial walk on the beach, which featured big photographs of our classmates who've passed. It was a cool idea, well executed. Sadly, AB and I were a little late AND we went to the wrong spot so we missed most of the people who came, but we did see the photographs and some friends, and AB got to dip her toes into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time ever.

As we walked onto the beach on the Schlitterbahn boardwalk to get to the walk, however, we lucked out yet again:

A beautiful Magnificent Frigatebird! Lifer 402! It was getting crazy now; my giddiness was almost out of control. I had not expected to see one of these birds this far south; all the eBird sightings were farther north, but we got lucky AND I got photos! That silhouette (cloud cover = terrible backlit photo) is unmistakeable. So cool!

So after some farewells to the good old friends I'd been lucky enough to see again this weekend, AB and I went to the sand flats north of the Convention Center, a great staging area for lots of shorebirds back in the winters I've gone to Texas. As usual, the Valley delivered.

Here's a Caspian Tern somehow managing to gulp down a huge fish he'd just caught in the Laguna Madre -- apologies for the low-light low-quality images:

Check out my catch!

Okay, I'm ready for this... I'm so ready for this....

Oh. My. God. It's like I just swallowed a pillow. 
Please, digestion, PLEASE begin now.

Also found among the many Caspians were these two (I think?) Black Terns:
I'm guessing that's an adult molting out of breeding plumage on the left, while the one on the right seems to be hanging onto his cool outfit, per description in Kaufman.

Lots of Wilson's Plovers were being cute and giving us the stink-eye:

And the Least Terns were practically dive-bombing us and screaming at us. We were at least 25 yards away from where several of them were sitting on the sand, but I'm guessing that was still too close so we backed off.
GET LOST. Beat it. Scram. I mean it. Boys, GET 'EM.
We left!

We hit the Birding and Nature Center once again, hoping to get pics of the Least Bittern -- which I showed you last post, pathetic though they were! -- and we also saw the regulars:

Tricolored Heron in full regalia

Snowy Egret, just after snagging a tasty morsel

 a terrible but ID-quality photo of some Cattle Egrets, 
birds I grew up calling "cowbirds" because they were 
always hanging around the cows

Pied-billed Grebe, apparently not so common here in 
the summer; this was the only grebe we saw the whole trip -- 
no Least Grebes, so no temptation to scoop one up and put
it in my pocket! I was sad AB didn't get to see one of those.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck baby butts

I'm guessing this is a Mexican Ground Squirrel, a common sight in South Texas:
His (her?) markings aren't as impressive as the images online, but I can't find any other similar mammal match for the area.

And, as always happens when I go to the Island, I just HAD to try for the Aplomado Falcon. Longtime readers of this bloggy KNOW my tales of woe, my years of frustration and getting stuck in the mud and arguing with my sister (oh wait, I spared you that story)... and yet, I couldn't NOT go for it, you know?

AB and I looked. And looked. And looked at TUVUs, at seagulls. At cactus. At the non-muddy road. No Aplomado. No nothing.

Again, I assert that, like the Unicorn, the Aplomado Falcon is a mythical beast, and all sightings of him are merely the rantings of those who could use a stint in the booby-hatch.

I also engaged in my other usual Texas activity -- trying to make a common bird into something exotic, because it's TEXAS, dangit! -- . This trip's entry:

Try as I might to make these youngsters into Cassin's or even Botteri's Sparrows (which have been reported in this area, Old Port Isabel Hwy) , I'm guessing from the size, shape, and beak that they are baby House Sparrows. Any input? You can be honest. I refuse to devote any more time to it!

We had several Swainson's Hawks:
Western awesomeness.

At this point, it was Sunday evening, and I had one more potential lifer to chase: Red-crowned Parrot, seen near a Baptist church right in Harlingen. We'd tried on Thursday night but hadn't seen anything, but this time we doodled until right at sunset. I took AB to see the Iwo Jima memorial, and while we were out on the loop we saw this:
I can't begin to tell you the emotions that went through me when I saw this sign. It was just so amazing to me. See, when I was a kid, growing up in the Valley, the worst insult you could hurl at someone was "faggot." (It still IS in many places, I realize.) I didn't even know what the word meant, but I began to see a few limp-wristed guys in the movies or on TV that everyone laughed at as girly guys to be laughed at; I didn't even connect the whole "gay" thing with anything sexual; I was that naive. I was raised by pretty strict parents who took us to church every week, and I didn't know a lot about the world. I won't bore you with the details, but I didn't figure things out until I was well into my adulthood, and there was a LOT of angst during that process -- a LOT of angst and heartbreak and drama. Coming out was tough for me; the time I grew up, in the place I grew up, this kind of stuff just wasn't discussed

So... to see this sign, an official state sign, in Harlingen -- well, I gotta tell you. I almost cried when I saw it. And to have my fiancee by my side... well, it was just pretty special.

After that, only a lifer would do! So we went out and got us one:

Now remember, I told you it was around sunset -- so the lighting was bad. I tried a flash and that helped, though I doubt the parrots enjoyed it much.

They were so raucous and loud! It was so great! I was now at a ridiculous (for me) 403 lifebirds. Life was good. We could leave Texas now.


John Beetham said...

That sounds like an awesome trip! I don't think your mystery bird is a House Sparrow because the proportions aren't right. In particular, the tail seems too long and the bill looks more characteristic of emberizids or cardinalids. I don't know Texas birds well enough to say which one, though.

dguzman said...

John, thank you for the input; posted on facebook and hoping someone helps out. I'm stumped. I just keep looking at them and thinking they could be almost anything! I do believe they're hatch-year birds; any input on that?

Rabbits' Guy said...

Whew ...

Unknown said...

Amazing captures and blog here! I initially noticed your “Tern vs Fish” shot. That looks like a huge (do you know what kind?) fish staring down its captor’s throat!

So the bird was really able to win the struggle and gulp down that big fish okay?? Does the prey put up a good fight, if eaten, does the unlucky fish get swallowed wriggling/alive all the way as well?!


Unknown said...

Amazing captures and blog here! I initially noticed your “Tern vs Fish” shot. That looks like a huge (do you know what kind?) fish staring down its captor’s throat!

So the bird was really able to win the struggle and gulp down that big fish okay?? Does the prey put up a good fight, if eaten, does the unlucky fish get swallowed wriggling/alive all the way as well?!


dguzman said...

Hi Kyle! Thanks for reading my blog--apologies for not having kept it up!

I'm guessing that fish was likely a sun perch, but I honestly don't know for sure. And the bird did indeed eat that fish whole! The fish wiggled its tail some, but it was downed pretty quickly, and I'm guessing digestive juices put an end to the struggle. (cue Reveille trumpet)