Sunday, January 31, 2010

Small selection of Day 1 RGV birds

Day 1 and we're exhausted. Here's just a hint of all we saw today:
Great Egret with a too-big fish that he would end up dropping

White Ibis

Reddish Egret

Little Blue Heron

Roseate Spoonbill

And that was just a hint, and just day 1--more soon! Today we did the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center and then the Estero Llano World Birding Center.
25 lifers
73 species
My lifers-in-one-day total might be beaten! My first trip to Cape May, I got 31 lifers in two days; I'm going to say that this day was my biggest day ever!

Tomorrow, it's the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and the Arroyo Colorado Birding Center. It'll probably be Monday or Tuesday before I get up all the pics and the full list, so stick with me, and wish me luck tomorrow. Still hoping to see Green Jay, Green Kingfisher, Altamira Oriole, and more.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Oh my gosh, we're down here on South Padre Island, and it's FREEZING! And WINDY! But we've made one birding stop so far: the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, a beautiful facility with a long boardwalk with viewing platforms and both fresh and saltwater marshy areas and mudflats.

We saw 34 species, thanks to our intrepid guide Tim Bradshaw.
Mallard--including a hybrid who was HUGE--Tim said he'd probably been parented by a Mallard and a domestic duck.

Blue-winged Teal
Northern Pintail
Redhead (in rafts of like 150 birds!)
Pied-billed Grebe
Brown Pelican
White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tri-colored Heron--LIFER!
Reddish Egret--LIFER!
White Ibis--LIFER!
Roseate Spoonbill--LIFER!
Northern Harrier
Common Moorhen--LIFER!
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover--LIFER!
Spotted Sandpiper--LIFER!
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Western Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher--LIFER!
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Caspian Tern--LIFER!
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Red-winged Blackbird
some kind of pale-colored sparrow--didn't get a good look!

WHEW! Sitting in a coffee shop now, getting ready to leave the Island to go inland where it's warmer and less windy. The sun is out, the beach is beautiful, and my lifelist is growing faster than a little fledgling in the spring!

Pictures coming up tonight!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Geeked up!

I'm so geeked up and ready to go to the Valley that I can hardly stand it. I feel like Peter Petrelli from season one of Heroes, glowing and about to explode -- the excitement of a roadtrip, new birds, going to my old hometown of Harlingen and my old favorite hangout of South Padre Island, and spending some quality time with ol' Mary, my little sister-pal! It's just almost too much! Almost!

I was just on Mel's Peruvian wonderblog and marvelling at all the amazing southern hemisphere birds she's seeing lately, and I was surprised to find some of the RGV "specialty birds" on her list -- I guess the tip of Texas is the northernmost part of their range. That just got me even more excited to get down there and start looking for birds.

Here's a list of some of the birds I'm hoping to see down there, all of which would be lifers and some of which are only on the USA birdlists because of their presence in the southernmost tip of Texas:

Altamira Oriole, Bolsero Campero, I. gularis

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Pijije, Dendrocyna autumnalis

Black-throated Sparrow, Chiero Gorjinegro, Amphispiza bilineata

Bronzed Cowbird, Tordo Ojirrojo, Molothrus aeneus

Brown-crested Flycatcher, Copetòn Tiranillo, M. tyrannulus

Clapper Rail, Rascòn Picudo, Rallus longirostris

Common Ground-Dove, Tortolita Comùn, C. passerine

Common Moorhen, Gallareta Comùn, Gallinula chloropus

Common Pauraque, Pachacua Pucuya, Nyctidromus albicollis

Couch's Kingbird, Tirano Mexicano, T. couchii

Dunlin, Playerito Lomo Rojo, C. alpine

Great Kiskadee, Luis Bienteveo, Pitangus sulphuratus

Green Jay, Chara Verde, Cyanocorax yncas

Groove-billed Ani, Garrapatero Pijuy, Crotophaga sulcirostris

Harris's Hawk, Aguililla Cinchada, Parabuteo unicinctus

Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Carpinterillo Mexicano, Picoides scalaris

Lark Sparrow, Garriòn Arlequìn, Chondestes grammacus

Lesser Scaup, Pato Bola, A. affinis

Lesser Yellowlegs, Tinguìs Menor, T. flavipes

Lincoln's Sparrow, Gorriòn de Lincoln, M. lincolnii

Marbled Godwit, Agachona Real, L. fedoa

Mottled Duck, Pato Tejano, A. fulvigula

Nashville Warbler, Chipe Gorrigrìs, V. ruficapilla

Olive Sparrow, Gorriòn Olivàceo, Arremonops rufivirgatus

Red Knot, Playero Conuto, Calidris canutus

Reddish Egret, Garza Melenuda, E. rufescens

Ruddy Turnstone, Chorlete Comùn, Arenaria interpres

Sandwich Tern, Charràn de Sandwich, S. sandvicensis

Tennessee Warbler, Chipe Peregrino, V. peregrine

Tricolored Heron, Garza Flaca, E. tricolor

White-tipped Dove, Paloma Perdiz, Leptotila verreauxi

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Cuclillo Piquiamarillo, C. americanus
It's a pretty amazing list, and these are only the birds that are supposed to be abundant or common down there; I didn't even include anything that was supposed to be uncommon or rare or accidental! You'll note that the list has the common English name, the Spanish name, and then the usual Latin genus and species. This has been a real advantage when Birding Mommy starts talking to me about birds she loved as a child--she only knows the Spanish names, which aren't exactly easy to match up with the English names I know.

Still, there are some bird names she's used that I haven't been able to find the English translation for. Does anyone know what a "calandria" is? (spelling is my approximation based on her pronunciation) I was so happy to find out, for instance, that a gorrion is mostly like a sparrow and a galandrina is probably a swallow, though that isn't always true on that list.

One Spanish name that I really like is that of the Western Wood-Pewee: Tengofrìo Occidental, which, loosely translated, means "I'm cold in the West!" Hee hee!

Anyway, the birds above are probables for the trip, which means my lifelist could grow by at least 32 birds! There are other South Texas specialties I might see; it just will be a little harder to find them at this time of the year. I was really hoping to see a Verdin, a Roseate Spoonbill, a Vermillion Flycatcher, a Pyrrhuloxia, an Aplomado Falcon, and an Anhinga -- but they're all "uncommon" according to this list I found online. They also list Sandhill Cranes as uncommon, which is a real disappointment. I really want to see one!

We were going to camp out when we were down there, but we've ended up booking rooms at (where else?) Motel 6. I almost always stay at Motel 6 wherever I go, because you always know what you're going to get--a clean room, nothing fancy, cheap rates--no matter where you are. So we're staying on the Island Friday and Saturday nights, and we'll come back sometime Sunday afternoon or evening.

It's been ten years since I was in the Valley; I wonder if it's changed at all. It never used to seem to change when I would go down there from college or when I lived in Austin and Fort Worth. Should be interesting!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Finally, I go birding!

Great-tailed Grackles are EVERYWHERE here.

The weather finally cooperated with Birding Mommy and me today, and thanks to having the day off for Dr. King, we were able to go birding in Macallister Park. I've seen some good birds there before; it's where I saw my first Lesser Goldfinch, so in a pinch (for time) we went there before running some other errands.

There was still some leftover mist and drizzle blowing around, but it stopped soon after we arrived. We've had major flooding here in the last few days, and the evidence is clear in these low-lying water collection areas:At the bases of many trees, we saw these little fort-like collections of debris, wood, and trash (in this case a Coke bottle and a car tire). We had between 1.5 and 5.5 inches of rain the other da, and all that water just rushed over the little creek beds that lay dry and dormant for most of the year. One observation: That would be a perfect little wall to crouch behind, were there snow on the ground, for snowball fights!

Little danger of snow here, however. We wandered around the place for a little while, and we saw a lot of great little birds--though we were there kinda late (9:30ish). Here are a few photos of a beautiful Golden-fronted Woodpecker, a Texas specialty:

Backlighting was rough and she was rather fidgety, but I was thrilled to finally get a good long look through the binocs at this beautiful little lady (I'm guessing it's a lady because the males have a red cap, but it might well be a male still wearing fall color). When I saw my life one back in February, it was just a very quick glimpse--just enough for the ID. We watched this girl for a little while. She made a loud checking sound that I thought at first was a squirrel barking, but it turned out to be this bird--a nice surprise!

We also saw this flycatcher, which I think is an Eastern Phoebe--but then I'm terrible with flycatchers--who wouldn't cooperate and come closer OR turn around:

Once I got home with the field guides, I kept trying to make it into something cool like a Texas rarity (Ash-throated Flycatcher, etc.) but I think it's just a fall-yellow-splash-bellied Eastern Phoebe. He was very quiet, so there was no tell-tale song. Note the possessed-laser-beam-o'-death eye in the second pic. Eek.

Next, we headed into a more heavily wooded area. At first I was ready to give it up as a bad job, as we heard very few bird sounds. Then, I heard a little Carolina Wren tea-kettling, so we stopped and I began to pish in earnest: That was when the inundation began! We had a pair of Northern Cardinals, several Carolina Wrens, a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and a pair of these personal favorites: A nice little White-throated Sparrow, something I hadn't seen since leaving Pennsylvania.

And this teeny tiny little wren, which I think is a either a House Wren or a Winter Wren, based on the coloring, the eye stripe, and the tiny tiny size:
When you zoom in on his little face, you can definitely see a whitish stripe over his eye and some barring on his flanks (Winter Wren) but Peterson distinctly states that the Winter Wren is darker than the House Wren, and this little guy was rather light brown. Carolina Wrens are easy to ID with their rusty coloring and white eye-stripe; Bewick's Wrens are very pugnacious and their tails bob up and down more than the other wrens--not to mention the rather distinct songs of each wren. But this little guy... he was just so tiny, like a Ruby-crowned Kinglet; House Wrens are bigger. But now that I listen to the calls one after the other here at home (can you believe I forgot my phone with the BirdJam? groan...!), I'm thinking it was a plain old House Wren. Do you agree? Winter Wrens can be found down in these parts, but other than that eye-stripe, I just don't see it. Dangit.

Let me tell you, wrens go car-ay-zee when you pish them! I just started pishing, and very quickly I had Bewick's Wrens bobbing their tails at me, Carolina Wrens tea-kettling at me, and these sweet little House/Winter? Wrens very interested in who or what was making that noise, and Birding Mommy and I were just surrounded by spastic little birds all a-twitter with excitement. It made my day, my week, my month!

We saw a few other cool sights:

A dash of color on a drab day:

Some neat little moss or lichen:
Also an opportunity to read my palm.

I like this little buck's facial expression:
I'm getting so geeked up about the RGV birding trip at the end of the month. Mary's on a cruise with her husband right now, so there's no one to spend hours on the phone with, psychotically anal-retentive planning and discussing and re-discussing every second of the trip, dangit! But she'll be home soon, and before I know it it'll be time to go. I'm studying my RGV specialty bird list every night before bed, but what I'd really love is to just see some Sandhill Cranes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Breeding plumage already!?

Saw a Northern Cardinal today, resplendent in his beautiful red breeding suit! No dull winter garb for this boy. At the same time he was chipping and posing and dancing among the branches of a little oak near the door at work, another male was singing his "purdy purdy purdy" song not a hundred yards away. Is it that time again already?

Oh please let it be spring migration time! pleeeeeeeeeeease!