South Texas 2012 wrap up

Street entrance to Historic building - Alamo Inn - Alamo TX - December 2012

Street entrance to Historic building – Alamo Inn – Alamo TX – December 2012 photo by Greg Miller

I had a wonderfully relaxing stay in South Texas last month (a whole month ago already).  I didn’t run around the whole Lower Rio Grande Valley the way I almost always do.  I didn’t go West to Falcon Dam.  I didn’t go out to the coast to South Padre Island or even Laguna Atascosa NWR.  Sometimes it is a good thing just to kick back and relax, explore new sites, enjoy the people and the food, and relish the experience that is South Texas. Continue reading

South Texas December 2012 Days 7-10

Days 7 & 8 were chili for South Texas with one day’s high in the low 60s. Normally, I would have been out anyways but these two days found me indoors doing paperwork and getting caught up on stuff that people sometimes refer to as “responsibility”.  Days 9 & 10 were back to normal with leisurely visits to Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, TX and Estero Llano Grande near Weslaco, TX.

Quinta Mazatlan is a lush little urban gem set in the city of McAllen, TX not far from the airport. It is a place one can easily get some of the Texas specialty birds like Green Jay, Plain Chachalaca, and Great Kiskadee…while watching bird feeders. This is a lazy birder’s treat. I enjoy watching feeders sometimes. It’s quite relaxing.

Entrance road to Quinta Mazatlan

Entrance road to Quinta Mazatlan photo by Greg Miller

The entrance road (which you walk–no cars inside the park) is a great place to see and hear the raucous chicken-like birds, Plain Chachalacas.

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South Texas December 2012 Days 4 and 5

Day 4 I didn’t carry my camera.  It looked a little like rain and I only had a very short time to bird.  I took my birding friend, Dan Sanders back to McAllen airport so he could return home to Ohio quickly to tick the Varied Thrush that had showed up while he was in Texas.

Day 5 was a Saturday.  Those of us that remained left McAllen, TX early and headed north to Raymondville, TX to visit the Hunke Ranch (owners Phil & Karen were gracious hosts).  Our primary target was Ferruginous Pygmy-owl.  We found two of them a hundred yards away behind the ranch house in a small group of trees.

Ferruginous Pygmy-owl - Hunke Ranch  - Raymondville, TX - 2012-12-08  Photo by Greg Miller

Ferruginous Pygmy-owl – Hunke Ranch – Raymondville, TX – 2012-12-08 Photo by Greg Miller

Then we got into a couple vehicles to tour the Hunke’s Ranch.  One of the vehicles was open.  It was a converted Chevy Suburban that looked like a Safari tour vehicle.  I chose this one to ride in.

700 plus club members in ranch tour vehicle

700 plus club members in ranch tour vehicle Photo by Jeff Gordon

Here’s one of the first birds we found on our tour after enjoying great views of the tiny little Ferruginous Pygmy-owl.

White-tailed Hawk adult - Hunke Ranch near Raymondville, TX - 2012-12-08

White-tailed Hawk adult – Hunke Ranch near Raymondville, TX – 2012-12-08 Photo by Greg Miller

The White-tailed Hawk is an interesting hawk that goes through cycles.  Here is what a first year White-tailed Hawk looks like.

White-tailed Hawk 1st yr - Hunke Ranch - Raymondville TX - 2012-12-08

White-tailed Hawk 1st yr – Hunke Ranch – Raymondville TX – 2012-12-08 Photo by Greg Miller

Finally, we came across a kingbird.  The differences between Couch’s and Tropical Kingbirds can be very subtle.  Thankfully, this kingbird varified its identity by calling for us.  It is a Couch’s Kingbird.

Couch's Kingbird distant on fence - Hunke Ranch - Raymondville TX - 2012-12-08

Couch’s Kingbird distant on fence – Hunke Ranch – Raymondville TX – 2012-12-08 photo by Greg Miller

 

From left to right: Al Levantin, Phil & Karen Hunke, Greg Miller, Jeff Gordon, Sandy Komito

From left to right: Al Levantin, Phil & Karen Hunke, Greg Miller, Jeff Gordon, Sandy Komito at the Hunke Ranch near Raymondville, TX 2012-12-08     Photo by Jeff Gordon

South Texas December 2012 Day 3

Yah. Yah. Yah.  I’m waaay behind. It’s hard to keep up with Internet communication here in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas when you spend all your time outdoors in the nice weather looking at fantastic birds, butterflies and moths, dragonflies, flowers, and plants.  It is like another world here compared to my home in Ohio.

The third day of my trip was cool.  Ten of the 700+ Club birders (the few crazies who’ve traveled the North American continent and have recorded over 700 species of birds in a single year).  We all met in the morning at the World Bird Center’s Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park south of McAllen, TX.

Here’s a picture of sunrise at Bentsen.

sunrise at Bentsen Rio Grande SP - near McAllen TX - 2012-12-06

sunrise at Bentsen Rio Grande SP – near McAllen TX – 2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

Our first stop was the boat ramp overlooking the resaca (oxbow).

Resaca at Bentsen Rio Grande with 700+ club - near McAllen TX - 2012-12-06

Resaca at Bentsen Rio Grande with 700+ club – near McAllen TX – 2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

Near the restrooms we found the reported red-naped sapsucker, a great bird for the Valley.  Unfortunately, yours truly captured some photos of branches in focus and the bird out of focus.  Upon switching to manual focus, the bird flew away.  Who knew birds were afraid of manual focus?  sigh.  A distant Altamira Oriole lit in the top of a tree in morning sun.  Too bad it’s so far away.

Altamira Oriole in distant treetop - Bentsen Rio Grande SP - near McAllen TX - 2012-12-06

Altamira Oriole in distant treetop – Bentsen Rio Grande SP – near McAllen TX – 2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

Next on the agenda was to try to find the previously reported Northern Beardless Tyrannulet–a little nondescript bird whose name is longer than the actual bird!

700+ club looking at Northern Beardless Tyrannulet - Bentsen Rio Grande SP - near McAllen TX -2012-12-06

700+ club looking at Northern Beardless Tyrannulet – Bentsen Rio Grande SP – near McAllen TX -2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

This time I got a lucky moment and captured a photo of this small, not so colorful bird.

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet - Bentsen Rio Grande SP - 2012-12-06

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet – Bentsen Rio Grande SP – 2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

Green Jays had been calling all morning and were flying from tree-to-tree around us.  I finally spent a little “me” time away from the group and closer to the feeders.  Ahh.  Green Jay Therapy.  Here’s a few photos to get you through your day.

Green Jay - Bentsen Rio Grande SP - near McAllen TX - 2012-12-06

Green Jay – Bentsen Rio Grande SP – near McAllen TX – 2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

Green Jay in tree looking away - Bentsen Rio Grande SP - near McAllen TX - 2012-12-06

Green Jay in tree looking away – Bentsen Rio Grande SP – near McAllen TX – 2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

Green Jay on arch - Bentsen Rio Grande SP - near McAllen TX - 2012-12-06

Green Jay on arch – Bentsen Rio Grande SP – near McAllen TX – 2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

Green Jay on wooden feeder - Bentsen Rio Grande SP - near McAllen TX - 2012-12-06

Green Jay on wooden feeder – Bentsen Rio Grande SP – near McAllen TX – 2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

After spending a little more time in Bentsen, we walked out of the park and headed for Anzalduas County Park a little west of Bentsen.  On the way out, one of the many noisy and conspicuous Great Kiskadees lit in a treetop for a photo opportunity.  I think I got a pretty good angle on this one, don’t you think?

Great Kiskadee in treetop in morning light - Bentsen Rio Grande SP - near McAllen TX - 2012-12-06

Great Kiskadee in treetop in morning light – Bentsen Rio Grande SP – near McAllen TX – 2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

On to Anzalduas.  Here, you can look across the water and easily see Mexico.  Birds on the other side count for you Mexico list and not for your ABA Area list (American Birding Association draws a boundary at the Rio Grande River. The list applies to where the bird is, not where you are standing). So, occasionally you see good birds on the other side of the water–like this Ringed Kingfisher, for example.

Ringed Kingfisher on distant snag - Mexican side from Anzalduas County Park - near McAllen TX - 2012-12-06

Ringed Kingfisher on distant snag – Mexican side from Anzalduas County Park – near McAllen TX – 2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

This Green Kingfisher was more cooperative and flew across the water to the U.S. side.

Green Kingfisher in flight - Anzalduas County Park - near McAllen TX - 2012-12-06

Green Kingfisher in flight – Anzalduas County Park – near McAllen TX – 2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

The sun was bright and hot.  Sometimes birds pose in bright sunlight, but the photos are hard to get “right”–at least for this amateur photographer.  The bright sun can wash out color on lit areas and the shadows can be so sharp as to hide any details on the shaded portions.  But that is all technical stuff.  You’ll have to use your imagination to compensate for this photo of a Vermillion Flycatcher–a nice adult male.

Vermillion Flycatcher on treetop in sharp lighting - Anzalduas County Park - near McAllen TX - 2012-12-06

Vermillion Flycatcher on treetop in sharp lighting – Anzalduas County Park – near McAllen TX – 2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

And here’s a picture of a butterfly.  Yeah.  Even this birder is starting to pay more attention to other things.  The curiosity factor will take you many places.  I spotted this little gem on our way back to our vehicles.  Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for identifying it.  I’m still very new at this.  But I did notice that it was different.  It’s a Red-bordered Pixie, thanks to Jeff Gordon, President of the ABA (American Birding Association) for the identification on this one.

Red-bordered Pixie - Anzalduas County Park - near McAllen TX - 2012-12-06

Red-bordered Pixie – Anzalduas County Park – near McAllen TX – 2012-12-06 photo by Greg Miller

Later in the evening, we all went to see John Vanderpoel’s presentation on his Big Year and then we went out to eat.  Another fun day out.

South Texas December 2012 Day 1

Gallery

This gallery contains 10 photos.

I have been driving what seems like a long time.  I set out for South Texas from home in Ohio on December 1, 2012.  Yesterday, December 4 I finally birded my way into the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  … Continue reading

Disneyland for Birders!

Not only are the birds beautiful and exotic, but did I mention the habitat?  Oh, yeah.  Welcome to a subtropical environment!  Ok.  It is not a cloud forest.  But…it is pretty phenomenal for birding in the U.S.  What am I talking about?  Ahh.  The Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  Just look this.

Santa Ana NWR

Birders looking for South Texas gems (birds).  This group is looking at a very camouflaged and cryptic looking Pauraque sitting well hidden among the leaves in the ground cover.  Up at the bend Great Kiskadees are loudly calling.  Olive Sparrows can be heard frequently in the underbrush, but are often more difficult to see.  The low-pitched cooing of White-tipped Doves can be heard along the trail.  Green Jays can be heard making a variety of calls including a characteristic growling like noise.  And as you walk along the trails sometimes everything gets overridden by the raucous sound of a flock of Plain Chachalacas.  A Buff-bellied Hummingbird buzzes past your head.  Exotic looking butterflies adorn an assortment of wildflowers.  Spanish moss dangles from the limbs of trees.  You’re interrupted again with a pair of Golden-fronted Woodpeckers.  This is an amazing place!!  So much for your first 10 minutes!  What will the rest of the day hold?  Who knows?  In a place like this it makes you feel like you are in some wonderful aviary.

But don’t stop there.  There are going to be tons of birders from all over converging on South Texas.  The birding will be great, but the people and programs and festivities?  Ahh.  It will tantalize all your senses.  Enjoyment coming from many different sources.  This is a great place to enjoy the birds.  It’s also a great place to meet people who share your passion for birding.  Yes, I will be at the Rio Grande Birding Valley Birding Festival next week, November 9-13.  I hope to see a lot of great birds.  And I really hope I get to meet a whole bunch of you there!

Check out all the great tours, events, and programs here at www.rgvbf.org!

If you live here in northeastern Ohio you should come on out to the Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster, Ohio on Saturday, November 5.  I will also be speaking at the Holmes County Library on Monday night, November 7.  Check out the “Events” tab on my website.

It’s bedtime for me.  I think I’ll coast into a peaceful oblivion while dreaming about Green Jays, Altamira Orioles, Roseatte Spoonbills, Hook-billed Kites, Harris’s Hawks, and zzzzzzzzzz…