Monday, June 25, 2012

Birding the Rio Grande Valley

Texas has a checklist of birds that totals over 600 (state list). This is the highest (Florida is next) of any state in the US or Canada (count by state) and therefore is justifiably a mecca for the birding American. A weekend trip to the Rio Grande Valley targeted Laguna Atascosa, Sabal Palm, Estero Llano Grande and La Feria with Texas specialties in mind.


Perhaps my favorite areas were Estero Llano (link) and Laguna Atascosa; among the more common stilt [center] and bronzed cowbird [upper right] were buff-bellied hummingbird [left], Plain Chachalaca [lower right] and black-crested titmouse [right middle].


Waterfowl seen included black-bellied [center], masked [lower right] and fulvous whistling [lower right] ducks. The masked duck was seen at Sabal Palm (link) and was a real treat as was the Least Grebe [upper right].

Texas in June is hot, humid and the mosquitoes are ravenous; however, those that can brave adversity will find it a rewarding time to go.


Long billed thrasher was fairly common [upper right] while cuckoos were well represented with both yellow-billed [lower right] and grove-billed ani [middle]. Eastern meadowlark were singing [lower right, at La Feria] while curve-billed thrasher were found in the leafy areas of Estero Llano [upper left].


An early migrant, a long-billed dowitcher appeared in alternate plumage [upper left] while a purple gallinule [center] was a surprise; both were seen at Estero Llano as was the neotropic cormorant [lower right]. La Feria was quite productive with spoonbill [lower left], fulvous whistling duck [as noted before], and least bittern. Long billed curlew was seen from afar at Laguna Atascosa.


Among raptors, crested caracara was seen reliably at Laguna Atascosa [middle] while Harris Hawk [lower left] and white-tailed hawk [right] were real treats.


Flycatchers were also well represented with scissor-tailed [upper right], great kiskadee [middle and lower right] and the rare rose-throated becard [left].


Other specialties included Green Kingfisher [left], Green Jay [middle] and among doves, both inca and white-tipped [right].


Common nighthawk were quite common and could be heard in urban Harlingen hawking insects in floodlit parking lots. Also spied were a male [lower left] and a female [middle] nighthawk perched adjacent to each other at Laguna Atascosa while common paraque [lower right] is reliable at Estero Llano. The golden fronted woodpecker [upper left] was seen at Sabal Palm.


Laguna Atascosa will be etched in my mind as the place where I saw my first [and only] wild Ocelot. It is a remarkable wildlife refuge (link) with a variety of habitat supporting shorebirds [the curlew, upper right] as well as greater roadrunner [middle]. The least tern [upper left] was seen at La Feria together with Least Bittern [lower left].


This was a trip with many lifers: olive sparrow [middle], rose-throated becard [lower right], masked duck, clay colored robin [failed to photograph], white-tailed hawk as well as familiar species such as northern bobwhite [upper right and lower left] and mottled duck. The bobwhite, while familiar, is classified as Near Threatened and becoming incresingly uncommon in parts of its former range.

The RGV area is worth a visit any time of year and will reward the birder with specialty birds that can't easily be found anywhere else in the US.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Breeding Warblers of Port Huron SGA. June 2012.

Port Huron State Game Area (SGA) is a featured venue for birding field trips by the Detroit Audubon Society. And justifiably so -- a good variety of desirable warbler species may be found here: Cerulean, Hooded, Mourning, Ovenbird, Blue-Winged, Pine, Black-and-White and more.


The Hooded is a striking warbler and prefers low vegetation habitat for feeding unlike the more canopy-minded Cerulean. At Port Huron SGA, 2 males were found jousting for dominance and alternatively gained the upper hand.


Also seen was the blue-winged warbler; a common species in these parts. Its success means the golden winged is getting scarcer. This is an attractive yellow warbler with black eye-liner and two wing-bars on its grey wings.


Some of the more common warblers were common yellowthroat [middle and right] and pine warbler [left and lower right]. The pine warbler favors canopy heights so it was a challenge to photograph unlike the common yellowthroat which stayed low.


The star of the area has to be the Mourning Warbler. A notoriously difficult bird to see during migration (at Magee Marsh, their sightings frequently cause birder jams on the boardwalk), it is reliable at Port Huron SGA. This is a stunning warbler with a grey hood and a black bib. It is the former feature which lends the image of a mourning veil. This is unlike the Mourning Dove which takes its name not from its visual characteristics but its sad call.


Another good find in the area is Ovenbird. This distinctive warbler [left and upper right] is known for its loud "teacher, teacher, teacher" call. The streaking on its breast is reminiscent of a thrush [upper right] and it has an orange streak on its crown. Unlike the other warblers, its wintering range includes the US [in Florida] and is reliably found, for example, at places like Corkscrew Swamp.

The Cerulean was seen (and photographed but poorly) so didn't make this article; it's proving to be a bit of a nemesis bird for me!