Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Weekend Trip to LRGV Nets Rarities, South Texas Specialties

Altamira Oriole: Not a rare bird,
but a good South Texas Specialty.

This past weekend I went down to the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) in search of some rarities. A Golden-crowned Warbler had been reported almost daily since mid-December in Weslaco at Frontera Audubon Thicket. A Black-legged Kittiwake was hanging around a jetty at South Padre Island. And several other Mexican vagrants were hiding out in state parks and sancturies.

I set out to find as many as I could in the process of getting bird #400 for my life list. I had 5 birds to go and wanted to see #400 before my 30th birthday on Jan. 29.

On the way to Harligen, I stopped off on a county road that goes through Atascosa County. Marcin gave me a tip a few weeks ago about a Short-eared owl that had been hanging around a field. It took me until dusk to find it swooping low over the field. It looked graceful and mysterious gliding through the twilight as it searched for a meal. One life bird down, four to go.

I stayed overnight in Harligen and started the next day at Frontera Audubon Thicket. It was cloudy, but my hopes were high that I would find the rare warbler. It took me only about 15 minutes to find him, but it took me nearly 2 hours to get photos of the little bugger.

Golden-crowned Warbler hides in the thicket
The Golden-crowned Warbler easily eluded me and a host of birders. At first, his yellow belly was easy to spot in the underbrush, but when he turned his greenish-gray back to us, he disappeared. He camouflaged himself from the camera shutters as he darted around for bugs and worms, only standing still to eat his catch or take a quick look around. 

Apparently, there have been less than 10 accepted records of the warbler in Texas. Most sightings have been in the RGV. This was a first sighting for me, so I had 3 lifers to go.
While I was at the Thicket, I met Blake and Holly Wright, two birders who are doing a photographic Big Year. They not only have to see the bird, but take a picture of it as well. The warbler had eluded them on their first trip to the Valley at the start of the year, so they were relieved to get it on this trip. I ran into them later that morning at Quinta Mazatlan where they had been looking for the Tropical Parula. I was after this bird as well since it would be lifer #398.
They were leaving when I arrived and said they hadn't seen the parula. I wasn't sure if I would be able to find it either, but I decided to give it a try. I searched the gardens and the feeding stations for about an hour. After getting a little more information from the front desk, I checked out a feeding station on the North Trail. After about 10 minutes, a small multi-colored warbler with an olive patch on his back flew down onto a feeder to feast on a sliced orange. The Tropical Parula didn't stay long, but it was there long enought to get satisfying looks and a few mediocre photos.

Tropical Parula
I called Blake and Holly, but they were halfway to Brownsville. Later that afternoon, I bumped into them again when I went to South Padre Island for the Black-legged Kittiwake. This was the easiest rare bird I've chased. It didn't seemed bothered by the dozens of fishermen and kids playing nearby. Glad the kittiwake didn't mind the trio of birders staring at it and snapping photos. 
Black-legged Kittiwake: Life Bird # 399.
I ended the day with my new friends at the SPI Birding Center. We perused the board walk and snapped photos of herons, egrets, spoonbills and a variety of other shorebirds and ducks. A great way to end the day. Only 1 lifer to go and I'd reach #400.
South Padre Island Birding Center

Roseate Spoonbill
Little Blue Heron

Pied-billed Grebe


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