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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.

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