Archive for 2009 January

Birding the Lower Rio Grande Valley! Texas Style

Altamira Oriole:

Altamira Oriole
Wow what a trip! Where to start? I guess at the beginning. Jeanette and I were eagerly anticipating our winter trip to the Lower Rio Grande Valley. September in South East Arizona was amazing so we were curious to see if this too would exceed expectations. We got to see some amazing birds and meet some wonderful people along the way.So, we landed in McAllen, Texas on Friday January 9th and met up with LRGV expert birder Roy Rodriquez on Saturday the 10th. Roy was going to show us the sites and boy did he deliver! We stopped at many of the Valley’s top birding spots like Estero Llano Grande State Park, and the Frontera Audubon site. That first day we had wonderful life birds like Plain Chachalaca, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, Black-crested Titmouse, Long-billed Thrasher, Bronzed Cowbird, Green Kingfisher, Altamira Oriole, and Couch’s Kingbird. We also scored some of the Valley’s harder to come by species like Red-crowned Parrot, Clay-colored Robin, male and female Blue Bunting and a beautiful Black-throated Magpie-Jay. The Magpie-Jay was most certainly a cage bird at one point but it was now living “wild” and was a stunning site. We also picked out a single Masked Duck at the Willacy County Brushline Road location to end the busy day.

Plain Chachalaca:

Plain Chachalaca
On Sunday, we started the morning early looking for one of the most famous LRGV species Muscovy Duck. The Muscovy can most often be found along the Rio Grande river and it wasn’t long before one of these large birds flew right by us and then returned later for a second fly-by. We also tallied Ringed Kingfisher and a late arriving Hook-billed Kite that morning. We got to visit some more amazing places like Chapeno, Falcon State Park, Roma Bluffs and Zapata. We saw beautiful birds in bunches with all three orioles (Hooded, Audubon’s and Altamira) Olive Sparrow, Green Jays and Orange-crowned warblers only feet away at feeders in Salineno. For lunch we headed to Zapata to attempt to find the White-collared Seedeaters that are frequently spotted there. Sure enough, a turkey sandwich later and we got great looks at a male Seedeater fluttering about in the reeds. We got to visit some historically relevant sites in Roma and got to see some wonderful Mexican architecture. The last stop of the day was at the Peñitas pipit patch for Sprague’s Pipit. It took some work but a bird popped straight up and then back down and finally allowed some brief posses for photos. Another amazing day of Texas birding!

Green Jay:

Green Jay
On our final day of birding with Roy we started off with Eared Grebe, Long-billed Curlew, and Western Meadowlark packs while looking for an Aplomado Falcon. We dipped on the falcon (one of the few birds we missed all week) but were treated to huge numbers of Black-necked Stilts, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Roseate Spoonbill and American Avocets and got to see some cool Shrimping boats as they headed out from port. Some places we visited were Laguna Atascosa, Brownsville, Port Isabel and ended the day back at Frontera Audubon in Weslaco. Frontera finally granted us wonderful views of the Crimson-collared Grosbeak after Jeanette stealthy picked her out of the potato plants stuffing her mouth with bulbs. This brought an end to our time with Roy but his kindness, sense of humor and amazing birding skills were shared and appreciated by Jeanette and I and we will surely meet again.

Crimson-collared Grosbeak:

Crimson-collared Grosbeak
The rest of the week was a little more laid back birding wise but we still found time to see an amazing Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl at San Miguelito Ranch and got to Choke Canyon State Park for the reported Pine Flycatcher. We got to Choke Canyon early Thursday morning and joined a group of eager birders and shared wonderful views of the bird. We got to hear and record his sharp calls (I will try to post the sound recording shortly) and got the low down on why the bird was now a full blown “birding controversy.” There have been multiple flycatchers wintering in the area which has led some to question the original identification of the bird. We saw a second bird later in the morning that was much more similar to the Least flycatchers we are accustomed to so the concerns are legitimate. There is talk of netting the bird with camps on both sides so we will see how this turns out.

Possible Pine Flycatcher:

Possible Pine Flycatcher
The last two days we spent in San Antonio and this gave me much time to reflect on an amazing trip. We met amazing people we now consider friends and got to see equally amazing birds in a unique natural environment. We have been asked “What do you get out of birding? You don’t get to eat your capture, stuff your trophy or even “own” any physical representation of the things you are chasing! How can that be fulfilling?” This vacation provided the simple answer. Birding for us is about the trip more than the destination. It’s the things you see along the way that make just having shared it worth more than any final possession. The Texas LRGV is a place that needs to be seen and its out there waiting to be shared with us all.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl:

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
Below are some more of our favorites of the birds we saw. More are posted at our Flickr site.

Muscovy Duck:

Muscovy Duck
Black-throated Magpie-Jay:

Black-throated Magpie-Jay
Golden-fronted Woodpecker:

Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Blue Bunting:

Blue Bunting - Weslaco, Texas
Great Kiskadee:

Great Kiskadee - Texas
Dan & Jeanette at Frog Size!:

Dan and Jeanette at Frog Size

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