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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

South Texas March 2020 (1 Viewer)

Hamhed

Well-known member
This belated report is in the hopes that some miracle allows those planning to visit the LRGV (Lower Rio Grande Valley) this spring can find some value in our only western US birding trip of 2020. Our time frame was chosen before COVID was even identified. We stuck to the schedule despite increasing word about the seriousness of the situation. In retrospect, the timing was at our own limits of acceptable risk and we feel fortunate to have returned safely.
A half dozen target birds determined the timing. Early enough in the year for wintering birds yet late enough in the season to find early breeding species. We used eBird extensively to pick our locations with the highest potential. The LRGV is famous for rare wandering species but the season for that seems to be November through February. Indeed, we missed a Fork-tailed Flycatcher that disappeared a week before we arrived.

MARCH 4-5

A late arrival in McAllen, we spent the night of March 4 in a nearby motel before picking up our Budget rental and heading for a reported Tropical Parula which turned out to have also left several days previous. This was a private yard that hosted some fun western species like Great KIskadees, Black-crested Titmouse, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Hooded Oriole, Clay-colored Thrush and a few more. No Parula though and we pushed on to Anzalduas, a county park just a few miles away on the Rio Grande river. An open field used frequently by model airplane enthusiasts was also one of the best locations for wintering Sprague’s Pipit. Parking and walking through oaks and past an elbow in the river, we noticed a Vermilion Flycatcher, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The water held one Little Blue Heron, an Osprey, a few Blue-winged Teal and American Coots.
Meadowlarks sprinkled the field but as we searched through the short grass with our 50MM Opticron travel scope, we found our Pipits, stalking closer to them to get a certain i.d. and a few photos.
Driving westward on Rt. 83, we turned north through the town of Rio Grande City and 5 miles on a rough gravel road to the desert location of Rancho Lomitas, (https://rancholomitas.com). In hindsight, our two night stay here was much too short. The rooms were very nicely done, the activity at the feeders was steady and interesting and our hosts, Benito and Toni Trevino were accommodating and ever helpful. There is a planned restaurant that will make leaving even more difficult. A tour through the native plant nursery was very enjoyable. Benito was especially proud of his propagation of the endangered Zapata Bladderpod.
We based ourselves here to visit the Salineno area, a 45 minute drive further west. That afternoon and evening, we enjoyed the parade of birds coming to fruit, seed, water and marshmallows! Seven Scaled Quail marched right past our feet but were a little flighty. Other feeder visitors were Inca Doves, Green Jays, Black-throated Sparrows, Northern Cardinals (I’m always a little surprised to see them out west as if we easterners have a monopoly on them) and one Audubon’s Oriole. An Orange-crowned Warbler took turns with an Altamira Oriole and a Cactus Wren for the previously mentioned marshmallow. A short walk away from the feeders on their extensive property gave us a Greater Roadrunner, Curve-billed Thrasher, Pyrrhuloxia, Purple Martins and a Harris Hawk.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
MARCH 6

Rising early, to the hoot of a Great Horned Owl, we left in the predawn hour, arriving in Salineno nearly an hour later, school zones and a missed turn hindering our progress. Our traveled path ended in the chilly, gravel parking lot of the Salineno Preserve, with Mexico again easily visible just across the Rio Grande. A singing Audubon’s Oriole caught our ear and eyes first, then Kiskadees, a variety of Doves, eventually drowned out by a septet of Plain Chacalacas. A half day walk upriver on the trail yielded Gray Hawk, Ringed Kingfisher, Crested Caracara, Caspian Tern, Black Phoebe, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Verdin, Chihuahuan Raven, White-eyed Vireo, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Altamira Oriole, Great-tailed Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds by the dozens and others. Forty species in all, a steady stream of fun but not our target birds, which, by the way, were Morelet’s Seedeater and Red-billed Pigeon. Judging by eBird reports, this appeared to be our best location for both species though maybe a little early for the breeding season of the Pigeon. Late in the morning, I was able to get a couple of photos of a flyby raptor which, on later review, look good for the Hook-billed Kite. We weren’t sure and didn’t add it to our eBIrd list.
We took a break from trail walking by visiting the feeders at DeWind’s yard, adjacent to the parking area. Maintained by volunteers, the feeders were fairly active but we only added Long-billed Thrasher and Common Ground-Dove to our trip list, the Dove being the first one seen in the yard that year.
Feeling we had covered the trail at Salineno multiple times and exhausted what we might find, we returned to Rancho Lomitas and relaxed in the late afternoon, giving our feet a rest and watching the feeders. Northern Bobwhites joined the group of birds we had seen the day before. A dozen Scaled Quail, White-winged Doves, Northern Mockingbirds and a friendly Roadrunner added to the late afternoon gathering. Both Altamira and Audubon’s Orioles combined with a pair of Green Jays created a palette of color to offset the desert gray of the ground species. The Trevino’s yard list is an impressive 182 species.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
MARCH 7

Leaving early enough to avoid the numerous school zones on Rt. 83, we arrived at Salineno Preserve before 7, getting close looks at a perched Green Kingfisher as left the car. Thankfully missing the Chachalaca chorus, this morning again there were birds aplenty to keep our bins from sitting too long on our chest. Likely because of the nearby feeding station, numerous species of doves were found close to the parking lot. Inca, White-tipped, White-winged and Mourning Doves were all sighted there. Lesser Scaup, Blue-winged Teal, a single Gadwall were on the river. Both Neotropic Cormorant and Double-crested Cormorant flew overhead along with a calling Gray Hawk and Ringed Kingfishers. Also in the sky were Rough-winged Swallows, Black and Turkey Vultures, Osprey and a Crested Caracara. In the trees and shrubs, we saw Bewick’s Wrens, one House Wren, Olive Sparrows, both Orioles, a Common Yellowthroat, one Orange-crowned Warbler, a nest building Verdin, Green Jays and the ever present, ever vocal Great Kiskadee (they seemed to prefer the Mexican side of the river). Grackles and Blackbirds there by the hundreds once again.
At the end of the trail that follows close to the river, we took a few steep steps up a dirt bank to see what lay in the interior and possibly work our way further upriver. The single track path through grasses and scrub soon led to a dumping grounds of mostly broken furniture and construction material. A dubious location to look for target birds but at the edge of that dump, we spied three Red-billed Pigeons in the top of a mesquite. They allowed a couple of distant photos before taking flight south and over the river.
Back on the river trail, we met a pair from Oregon scouting for a tour group. Chatting while we stood and birded, Dan (I think) got on a small bird in the tall grasses between us and the water. In the 90 seconds that it was there, we all managed to get on it and snap a few shots before it was gone and not seen again. Identified easily, we all got our Morelet’s Seedeater in a flash of good luck and good timing.
Not quite noon, we spent the afternoon driving back east, seeing a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes apparently well adapted to city life at a lunch stop in Penitas.
At the western edge of the densely populated LRGV is Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Stopping for a visit in the early afternoon, we walked about a bit but could only add a Black-chinned Hummingbird at the Visitor Center feeder to the trip list.
That night, we began our six night stay at the centrally located Alamo Inn, a place familiar to us and many other birders. The owner, Keith Hackland was his usual accommodating self, generous with birding information and we enjoyed our conversations with him.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
More from Salineno.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
Salineno again.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
MARCH 8

An hour’s drive in the morning took us to Resaca de la Palma State Park, a few miles north of Brownsville. Our search here was for the Tropical Parula reported here on nearly a daily basis and the same species we missed in that private yard on our first day. A Rose-throated Becard was a hot attraction at the time and we found it several times. A fairly rare bird and desired bird, judging by the number of birders arriving to see it. We birded through the morning in the vicinity of the large parking lot where the Parula had most often been encountered. Besides the Becard, a few new birds for the trip included a pair of Wild Turkeys, one each Eastern Phoebe, Blue-headed Vireo, Curve-billed Thrasher and Couch’s Kingbird. Nashville, Black-throated Green and Black-and-white Warblers added to our passerine tally. Fair bit of activity; just not what we came for. The Visitor Center had feeders attracting Olive Sparrows, Black-crested Titmice, Woodpeckers, Cardinals and Doves. The water feature behind the Center was worth a long visit, attracting a good variety of species.
A short walk on the Ebony trail produced nothing new so we left around midday.

That evening found us in nearby McAllen following up on eBird reports of parrots and parakeets.
Eventually, near dusk, we were able to find a number of mixed species gathering in a tall tree on private property. Because of the location, we had to settle for scope views in the fading light. Red-crowned Parrots made up almost the entire flock. Sifting through them quickly, we picked out a distinctive Yellow-headed Parrot and one Red-lored, with yellow cheek patch.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
MARCH 9

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge was just minutes away from the Alamo Inn. A sprawling place of over 2000 acres, there were many trails to explore and we intended to see most of them on this trip. However, we headed directly to the 43 foot observation tower for our first try at sighting a Hook-billed Kite. Being close to this known location for the Kite, we could easily visit multiple occasions if necessary. Turns out, more than one visit was sure to be required. We had a nice 90 minutes on the tower, watching bird life wake up with White and White-faced Ibis winging by, voices of Altamira Oriole, Couch’s Kingbird, Great Kiskadee surrounding us and small, rapidly moving flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds tearing about. Maybe a little early for raptors. Okay, time for a hike then.
With no particular reason, we birded and walked to the Pintail Lakes trail, water birds dominated our list though the open grounds adjacent to the lakes had a few swallows and flycatchers. The duck list started with Gadwalls and Northern Shovelers, progressing in dwindling numbers to Green-winged, Blue-Winged and Cinnamon Teal, with a few American Wigeons sprinkled in. There were also Coots, Least and Pied-billed Grebes, Cormorants and a single Wilson’s Phalarope floating and feeding. In the shorebird category, there were Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, many Long-billed Dowitchers, Black-necked Stilts, Least Sandpipers, one Solitary Sandpiper and a Killdeer. A Roseate Spoonbill mingled with the few Egrets and Ibis. A swiftly passing Peregrine Falcon didn’t bother stopping for a meal. All in all, a fine place to pump up the day list. A nearly hidden beaver-sized nutria munched on some pond plant. The trail led down to a narrow view of the Rio Grande and we picked up a Yellow-throated Warbler in the small oaks nearby.
After an extended lunch and a warm hike through thorn forest on the Jaguarundi trail, we tried the Willow Lake area, adjacent to Pintail Lake not expecting much in the late afternoon but managed to hear a Sora calling, and add a Marsh Wren and Common Gallinule to our Santa Ana count.
On the way back to the Inn, a Northern Harrier drifted over a roughly plowed field for our final bird of the day.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
MARCH 10

Determined to find that elusive Hook-billed Kite, we started the day once again atop the tower in Santa Ana with nearly identical results as our first attempt. Gave that spot 95 minutes then left to quickly explore the Willow Lake area of that same refuge. On our way, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher gave us a distant look and in one wet area, we had a Swamp Sparrow in good view. Two Yellow-rumped Warblers in the woodlands were new but a hidden voice was telling us that if we weren’t looking in the right place, we weren’t going to find that Kite.
So, back to the tower we went, scoping the woodlands below us as an Eastern Screech Owl trilled and soon found a far off perched hawk, looking good for our bird. My Canon SX50 on a tripod, fully zoomed confirmed the Kite but new friend, Dana Borham from Houston, got us a couple of flight shots that added additional confirmation.
With raptor success at last, we drove a short distance past acres of onion fields to spend the afternoon of fun birding at Estero Llano Grande. Familiar to us from past visits, we knew there would be steady birding of waterfowl, raptors and songbirds. A fine place to break for lunch, under the high sheltering roof with a fine view of the Ibis pond. There are eight bodies of water here, numerous flat trails, hummingbird feeders and regular bird walks with Huck Hutchens, an amiable naturalist and avid birder.
Right off, we found a pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Mottled Ducks sharing the water with Northern Shovelers and an assortment of Teal. A little later, we found a few wading birds, Least Sandpipers, Yellowlegs, one Great Egret and a dowitcher. One Long-billed Curlew was a good find but surprisingly, only one Ibis, a White-faced. Three Harris Hawks hunting together plus a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Caracara comprised the raptor sightings.
The usual songbirds were sprinkled here and there. Our hearts flickered into life when we found a pair of Northern Parulas, close but no cigar, as the saying goes. More Yellow-rumps, and one each of Orange-crowned, Nashville and Yellow-throated Warblers. A few Vesper Sparrows took some coaxing to come out of a dense brush area. Near the end of our walk, we bumped into Huck and he showed us a roosting Common Pauraque.
The largest body of water in the park is viewable from a levee and typically contains a good number and diversity of species. Good numbers of Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets along with Northern Shovelers were easily seen from our vantage point but the largest numbers belonged to the over one hundred American White Pelicans. A small variety of Herons and Egrets, a pair of Caracaras and our second Harrier of the trip as well as singles of a few other common species gave us a pretty full list in just 23 minutes.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
MARCH 11

Our planned travels today were west again to the Brownsville landfill, a destination most experienced birders would understand. Conveniently, a second stop at Resaca de la Palma for another attempt to find that Tropical Parula which was still being reported regularly. Two hours of birding there produced 24 species but nothing new so we moved on to the other side of Brownsville, where we were expecting mounds of trash and maybe a Tamaulipas Crow. The Crow from Mexico had been a regular in the LRGV was absent for years, now being reported sporadically again.
The landfill office was not at all surprised at our request to enter. A quick and friendly sign in process, then a short drive to the hill above the noise and mess, we found a ideally located, marked off area specifically for birders. I wouldn’t doubt the hill we were on was the previous landfill location.
Naturally, gulls filled the air in swirling masses, timing the compacting machines perfectly. We had to estimate a bit but came up with many hundreds of Laughing Gulls with smaller numbers of Herring Gulls, Caracaras and both Vultures. Two hundred or more Starlings and Blackbirds joined the larger birds with a few Brown-headed Cowbirds mingling in. Strange to see a large number of Cattle Egrets but we counted 85. A pair of Chihuahuan Ravens did their best look like our target Crow but despite our desire to tick the Mexican vagrant, we could occasionally see the white ruff on the Raven, dashing our hopes.
Early in our 90 minute stay, a nice flock of bugling Sandhill Cranes passed overhead. Probably our best sighting was an juvenile White-tailed Hawk perching close for a photo op. That bird had us thumbing through our western Sibley’s and had us fooled as we initially reported it as the Harlan’s race of a Red-tailed Hawk.
An hour and a half of driving back to Alamo alongside rush hour, death-wish drivers was the finish to our day.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
MARCH 12

Our initial day at Estero Llano Grande was as much birding fun as hoped for. Why not go back to more fun, we asked, since our remaining target birds were proving to be so elusive. This we did, spending the entire day there, covering the entire refuge, some areas more than once. First new bird at the center was a Buff-bellied Hummingbird. I’m not sure how we ended up without a photo! Though our birding start was in more wooded settings, a couple of dozen Black-bellied Whistling Ducks drew our attention flying overhead. In mid morning, docent Linda Paulson led us to a Great Horned Owl nest. Both male and female were present with one nestling. Seen were Thrashers, Woodpeckers, Great-tailed Grackles, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Green Jays (at oranges on a feeder pole), Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Mockingbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers give a good cross section of the types of birds we encountered in 2 1/2 hours.
Still within the refuge, a half hour at Alligator Lake produced both Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night Herons, a Green Heron, Anhingas, a flyover Spoonbill and White-tailed Kite.
On top of the west end of the levee, we found the dependable Eastern Screech Owl in the nest box for a second daytime owl sighting. Across the resaca, a Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Harrier floated over the fields and two more White-tailed Kites perched much closer for a nice view.
Finally, in the “Tropical Zone”, our final new bird for the day was a Summer Tanager, dining on mulberries.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
MARCH 13

Due to leave in the afternoon, our choice for morning birding was again Santa Ana NWR, a convenient 7 miles south of the Alamo Inn. A third visit was justified also by Tropical Parulas being reported there in the past.
The parking lot gave us some expected species - raucous Great Kiskadees, of course, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Long-Billed Thrasher and multiple flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds moving to feeding grounds. The Couch’s Kingbird made it’s buzzy “beer” call, a sound we knew very well after the past week.
Following Green Jay road, and crossing the narrow levee, we continued down Wildlife Drive to the feeding stations. Three Dove species, Inca, White-winged and White-tipped Doves poked around at ground level along with the Chacalacas while Red-winged Blackbirds commandeered the freshly filled platform feeders. A last look at an sharply-dressed Olive Sparrow who contrasted with the gaudy but attention-drawing Green Jays.
Mindful of our time, we walked a mile in an hour, collecting the usual stuff, trying to stuff the last of LRGV birding in a memory sack for the long plane trip back to western North Carolina. One Green Kingfisher at the Pintail Lake area then a titteringTropical Kingbird, were nice finds to finish the birding.

Though we were not attempting to compile a massive list, we ended with 141 species for our stay, six of them being new for both of us.

Getting TO south Texas was ALL the fun; flying back turned into traveling hell as the pandemic toppled airline schedules like dominos. We were hours late leaving McAllen and literally ran to the correct gate for our connecting flight, which should have been gone but they held the gates just for us and closed the plane door behind us. I don’t remember any “oh, so it was you that held us up” glares as we boarded. I may have been breathing too heavily, hoping the virus had not made it on that particular flight!
 

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Andrew Whitehouse

Professor of Listening
Staff member
Supporter
Scotland
Enjoyed this and a nice reminder of this great area. Well done on the Becard and Kite, neither of which I've seen in the US.
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
Thanks everyone for the postive feedback and kind words. South Texas, especially the LRGV, has a never ending supply of species unlikely to be found elsewhere in the US. There are a half dozen there now that are worth chasing for our life lists, including that Tropical Parula we never found. Too bad life gets in the way!

Steve
 

dandsblair

David and Sarah
Supporter
Nice report. We found mid march a little too early for most migrants two years ago but definitely plan to return to Texas,
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
Nice report. We found mid march a little too early for most migrants two years ago but definitely plan to return to Texas,
I agree. The temperatures were downright chilly at dawn and there were really no neotropical migrants. The vireos and warblers we did find likely wintered over in the area. Our timing was partially to find that Pipit before it flew north.

Steve
 

Owen Krout

Registered User
Supporter
Great report which provided some welcome distraction from being so restricted right now! This is truly a wonderful area to bird or even just to visit. I always love the locals standard response to my Midwestern greeting of, "How ya doing" being, "Just another day in paradise".
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
It is birders' heaven no doubt, Owen. That Tropical Parula we missed will not leave my thoughts so I think we'll return another day.

Steve
 
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

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