Friday, March 30, 2012

Weekend Roadtrip Along Texas Coast Looks Promising for Rarities, Migrants

This weekend I'm hope to get my first taste of spring migration. I'll be heading out early in the morning with Marcin, Daria and Arman, a birder from Austin. We'll be seeking out some rarities in Corpus Christi and hunting for warblers, vireos and other songbirds at migrant traps on the mainland and in Port Aransas.

We could get a heaping spoonful of rarities if we can find a Surfbird and a Purple Sandpiper that have been seen the last few days at Packery Channel near the JFK Causeway on North Padre Island. The Surfbird has been easy to approach so it could make for some great photos, but I'd be content just adding this one to my life list, especially since there are only 10 documented records of this species in Texas.

On Saturday evening, we'll head to East Texas for Yellow Rail Walks that will be a lifetime experience. We'll be marching through tall reeds at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge looking for the elusive Yellow Rail. Thisis  basically the only way you can find the tiny, sparrow-sized rail that most often hides out deep in salt marshes. Should be a blast! Stay tuned...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spring's Feature Presentation: Golden-cheeked Warblers

Golden-cheeked Warblers are now showing at Friedrich Wilderness Park and other locations throughout the Texas Hill Country. The endangered species is an early migrant that travels from South America to the heart of Texas just to nest in mixed woodlands with deciduous trees and Ashe Junipers.

On Sunday, Marcin, Daria and I found at least 2 warblers on the Water Trail at Friedrich around 3 p.m. We first heard the distinct call while sitting near the windmill and eventually found a beautiful male moving about the cedars.

Now it's important to not get the Golden-cheeks confused with a similar looking species, the Black-throated Green Warbler. If you've never seen a Golden-cheeked, be sure to study the difference. Note the definite black line and bright yellow/gold in the face. Also, Black-throated Green males have green on the back. The well-defined facial pattern and green back will help you make an accurate ID.

It's always exciting when the Golden-cheeked Warblers show up because birders are reminded that spring migration is under way and soon mixed flocks of Yellow-throated, Blackburnian and Cerulean warblers will be showing up at migrant traps throughout Texas.

Late March - early May is the best time to find these highly desired birds. If you plan to be in Port Aransas or anywhere near the coast during these next few months, you definitely need to check out migrant traps like the Birding Center and Paradise Pond. I'll probably be highlighting some of them in an upcoming blog entry. These areas are especially active whenever there's a weather event that causes a lot of these migrating species to take shelter at these migrant traps. This highly sought after event is known to birders as a fallout!

If you live in San Antonio, I highly recommend Warbler Woods near Schertz, TX. I plan to be a frequent visitor over the next few months.

Bluebonnets from 2011 at Warbler Woods

Spring migration is primetime for birders because rare birds can show up just about anywhere. So keep a lookout over the next few months, especially in your own back yard. Who knows? You may soon be hosting the next biggest rare bird in Texas.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rare Flycatcher, Glaucous Gull Among Lifers Found in Valley

Last weekend, Grana and I had a great time picking up some lifers and rare birds in the valley. The main highlight for me was finding the female Rose-throated Becard at Estero Llano Grande State Park. The secretive flycatcher is easy to miss since it's quiet and sneaks around the dense brush of the park's Tropical Zone. I spoke to some birders who had been there for 3 weeks and had still not seen the becard. They admitted they hadn't been trying very hard, but I had heard other stories of birders missing this rare flycatcher. When I tried to find the flycatcher on my first trip, there was no sign of the becard even though the park staff had seen it the day before.

I searched the large Tropical Zone for about an hour and was about to give up and move on to the next birding spot. But I decided to check in with the birders who had been around for 3 weeks.On my way to the feeding station and water drip where I had left them, I passed by a large tree that overshadowed an old house. Knowing the bird was usually seen high in tree canopies, I looked toward the top of the tree and lo and behold, I saw a cinnamon-backed bird with a long tail and dark face.

Rose-throated Becard
The Rose-throated Becard moved freely about the canopy while flycatching insects. It didn't stay still for very long, so it was quite a challenge to get any decent photos. But I was content finding this needle in a hay stack with wings.

Grana and I spent a lot of time at the Brownsville Landfill. Among some of the birds we saw at the landfill included Chihuahan Raven, White-tailed hawk and thousands and thousand of gulls.

On the first day, we didn't find any rare gulls, but we did find a lone Peregrine Falcon.

The second day we found a Lesser Black-backed gull (a lifer for Grana).
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Right) Herring Gull (Left)
The gulls were loafing in an area between two retention ponds. I wanted to get closer for some better photos. The Lesser Black-backed Gull flew and I didn't get a chance at better photos. But when I looked at another group of gulls to my left, I found a snow white, Glaucous Gull (lifer)! Unfortunately, by the time I told Grana, the gulls flew away to a different part of the landfill.

Our last day in the valley, we woke up early to search for Red-crowned Parrots. I have been to the valley on two other occassions since I got back into birding three years ago, but I have never been able to find the parrots. Grana used to frequently visit the valley, but it was just one of the birds she never was able to find. 

Before our trip, I got some good tips from a rare bird alert Web site, The parrots aren't rare, but they are sometimes difficult to find if you don't know where they roost.

We searched an RV park in San Benito where the parrots were known to roost. After about 5 minutes of searching, I heard the loud spwaking of the parrots and found the group on a utility line. We watched the parrots for several minutes and saw a Black-bellied Whistling Duck join in on the action.
The parrots were fun to watch as they flew around the neighborhood and allowed close approach.

We ended our time in the valley with a trip to Boca Chica beach, a remote beach south of South Padre Island.
A Great Blue Heron rests on the jetty at Boca Chica Beach with South Padre Island in background.
Although we didn't find any other lifers, we got some good looks at more common birds like the Harris Hawk.

All together, it was another great time in the valley. Hopefully, I'll get another chance this year to visit to find some South Texas specialities I want to find. Here are some other photos from our trip.

Curve-billed Thrasher

Any of you gardeners know what this is?
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Trip to Valley a Success

Glaucous Gull - Brownsville Landfill
I'm a little late on updating, but I wanted everyone to know that the trip to the valley was another great success. I got 4 lifers, including Rose-throated Becard, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Red-crowned Parrot and a beautiful, snow white Glaucous Gull. My grandmother and I had a great time and she even added a few life birds to her list. I will post a more extensive update soon.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Another Trip to the Valley

This weekend I'm taking another trip to the Rio Grande Valley, except this time I'm taking my 84-year-old grandmother along for the ride. She's the one that got me into birding as a kid. She's taken me on lots of trips growing up. Now it's my turn. So I've planned out our route and we'll be leaving  for a 3-day weekend in the valley around 6 a.m.

I'm determined to get another crack at finding the Rose-throated Becard, which I missed on my last trip. I also want to get some other resident birds I missed last time and get better pictures of the Golden-crowned Warbler. We both hope to find a Glaucous Gull at the Brownsville Landfill. Yes, the city dump... Landfills are a great place to find rare gulls that are known to winter in Texas. This landfill is also the only site where the rare Tamaulipas Crow once spent its winters. In fact, a few years ago, it was the only place in the U.S. where birders could get the crow for their U.S. list. We don't expect to find the crow since they haven't been seen for a while, but when you're birding, you never know.

Lots of good stuff coming your way, so stay tuned...