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


  1. Looks like you had a great trip and finally saw some special birds there. The parrots are funny, I'm not used to seeing them out in the open like that.

    Your plant is most likely a Heartleaf mallow.

  2. Those are some amazing birds you got to see. Love the parrots. Wonderful that you got to share the experience with your Grandmother.