Monday, November 30, 2009

Rio Grande Valley Species Seen List

The following is the list of all species I was able to identify during my 8 days in the field. 176 species were seen in total.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
American Wigeon
Mottled Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Masked Duck
Ruddy Duck
Plain Chachalaca
Wild Turkey
Least Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Neotropic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Reddish Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
White Ibis
White-faced Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Wood Stork
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Hook-billed Kite
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Gray Hawk
Harris's Hawk
White-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk,
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Aplomado Falcon
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Black-bellied Plover
Wilson’s Plover
Piping Plover
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Spotted Sandpiper
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Red Knot
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Royal Tern
Forster's Tern
Rock Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Inca Dove
Common Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Green Parakeet
Red-crowned Parrot
Greater Roadrunner
Barn Owl
Eastern Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
Common Pauraque
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Ringed Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Eastern Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
Couch's Kingbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Loggerhead Shrike
White-eyed Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Green Jay
Chihuahuan Raven
Tree Swallow
Cave Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-crested Titmouse
Cactus Wren
Carolina Wren
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Marsh Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Clay-colored Robin
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Long-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
European Starling
American Pipit
Sprague’s Pipit
Orange-crowned Warbler
Tropical Parula
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Olive Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Brown-headed Cowboy
Altamira Oriole
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Reddish Egret - White form - these birds were easily identified by their feeding behavior along Boca Chica Rd. They were chasing small fish along with other normally plumaged Reddish Egrets.

Lilac-crowned Parrot - this is not a countable species that was spotted in Weslaco. It is likely a bird from the pet trade that escaped or was released.

Altamira/Audubon Oriole Hybrid - “Smudgy” - These hybrid orioles have become quite common in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival Day 4

Today was spent on a trip to the Norias Division of the King Ranch. The King Ranch is a working ranch comprised of more than 800,000 acres in 4 units. The Norias Division is not normally open to public tours. Once again, the people at the RGVBF were able to arrange a phenomenal field trip.

There are two target species on this trip, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and Sprague’s Pipit. Not only were both species easily seen, we were able to have extended looks at the owl at one location. I was able to get the digiscoped photo below.

In addition to the pipit and owl we were treated to excellent views of a Tropical Parula. This species barely gets into the USA and is one of the RGV specialties that birders seek out. Additionally, there were excellent viewing opportunities of Crested Caracara.

Thanks to Tom, Peggy, Kim, and Justin for leading the trip. Once again, outstanding trip leaders made for a memorable event.

I’ll complete a more thorough summary in the coming days but I wanted to say I had a phenomenal time in south Texas and I want to thank and congratulate the staff and volunteers at the RGVBF. It is a first class event and look forward to coming back in a future year. If you are looking to do some traveling and birding, put this festival on your calendar.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival Day 3

Today was spent at The Nature Conservancy’s Southmost Preserve and on the road out to Boca Chica Beach including parts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR. The original trip itinerary included Sabal Palm Audubon Center but that property is currently closed due to budgetary issues. Both Sabal Palm and Southmost are being threatened by the new border fence. I won’t get into the whole politics of the fence but as you can see from the picture below, this fence will completely cut off the property. This photo was taken from inside the Southmost Preserve right at the entrance road looking out. When the wall is complete, the preserve will be completely cut off. The ironic part is that the Border Patrol agents I spoke with said the fence will do little to curb immigration. It might slow immigrants down but the really determined will still get through.

Southmost Preserve is a property that is not normally open to the public but our group was given special access and a personal tour by Dave Benn. It is another one of those places that make the RGVBF a truly great event since you can get access not normally available to others.

The highlight birds of the day include White-tailed Hawks that soared directly overhead at quite a low altitude allowing for excellent viewing opportunities. We were also able to closely observe a rather cooperative Peregrine Falcon. The best bird was something that isn’t even a south Texas specialty. While in Southmost, our bus split into two groups. Our group spooked a Barn Owl that was roosting in a palm tree. Later, as the other half the group was searching for the owl, the spooked bird flew directly over our half of the group affording us excellent views at less than 15 feet. All told, more than 100 species were seen on this trip.

A big thanks to the days field trip leaders Chris, Richard, Mike and Jay. They did a great job making 40 birders feel like a small group.

Lang Elliott gave a program on the new CD Valley Bird Songs. If you use BirdJam or own the Stokes bird CD’s, you are familiar with Lang’s work. The program was enough to get this cheapskate to fork over $17 for a CD.

The final event of the evening was the Great South Texas Birding Quiz Show hosted by Jeff Gordon. Groups of birders, both amateur and professionals competed for prizes in and glory in a Jeopardy style quiz show. Please note that any resemblance to the actual TV program was purely a coincidence. The only question that comes to mind after the show is how I managed to avoid Luby's in 10 days?

Tomorrow is sadly my last day of birding down here but I'm heading to the King Ranch.

Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival - Day 2

The morning started with a field trip to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. This was an outstanding trip with good looks of Northern-beardless Tyrannulet. This little bird is smaller than it's name.  Who would have thought that a bird with such a long name would be so drab.  A small group was also able to see Smudgie, the unusual hybrid of an Altamira and Audubon's Warbler. Smudgie looks like an Altamira with a dirty and streaky hood of sorts. The name was well chosen. Over 70 species were seen on the trip.  A big thanks to our guides Jeff, Jim, John, and Ben.

The afternoon and evening programs were all very interesting. Jeff Gordon spoke about Mexican birds and Xavier Munoz spoke about his work in Ecuador. Don Kroodsma gave a fascinating program on bird song and the dynamics of how a bird sings.

Tomorrow starts with a field trip to Southmost Preserve, an area not normally open to the public. More to come.......

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival - Day 1

The morning started very early as the busses left the auditorium for our trip to the Santa Ana NWR at 6:00. A quick nap on the bus made the trip go by quickly.

Since a group of Masked Duck had been seen at Santa Ana, our group split into two. A little more than half the group headed out for the 3.2 mile hike in an attempt to get the duck. Since I had spotted it earlier in the week, I opted for the more leisurely hike on the Chachalaca trail and spending time on the tower looking for the Hook-billed Kites.

One surprise was that Don Kroodsma, the author of The Singing Life of Birds was a participant on our walk. At one point we were discussing the local Carolina Wrens. They are a subspecies endemic to the area. Dr. Kroodsma commented that they sounded “different” than other Carolina Wrens he’s heard. He’s the expert, I’ll take his word on it.

The group managed to record more than 80 species although those taking the long walk missed out on the Masked Duck

The highlight bird was a very cooperative American Bittern which did a slow fly-by in front of the group and then landed in a rather conspicuous spot. I’ve never had such good views of a Bittern.

My afternoon trip was to Weslaco to look for parrots and parakeets. Although the areas had been staked out a few days in advance, the birds had other ideas. We did get a fly-by Red-crowned Parrot and a Lilac-crowned Parrot that perched rather cooperatively for our van. The highlight bird was a pair of Merlin in a tree in someone’s front yard. The neighbors were curious when two 15 passenger vans with dark tinted windows pulled up and suddenly people with optics and cameras of all sorts started to mill around. We were like some sort of birdy clown car.

I finished the day with a program by Bill Baker on the great Texas Birding Classic.

Big thanks to trip leaders Chris Merkord, Richard Gibbons, and Cameron Cox.

Now it’s time to get some rest as another 6:00 bus awaits.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Great day....bad WIFI

I had a great day of birding at Laguna Atascosa but the WIFI at the hotel is acting up. I'll try to post the details tomorrow.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Texas here I come!!!!!

I'm packing tonight for a 10 day tip to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. I'll be attending the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival later in the week. I also have 4 days scheduled on the ground to wander wherever I like. I'm ready for the trip but I'm dreading getting up for the 6:20 AM flight. Ouch!!!