Monday, January 11, 2021

November 8, 2019 - Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival: The Big Day!

Thanks to all of you who are still reading this narrative.  You are (painfully) aware that I had been falling further and further behind in keeping up the “blog” of my 2019 Peregrination “Big Year” and am now well over one YEAR behind.  My goal is to continue documenting my birding year, catch up with my photographs and records, and so forth.  Never fear:  I will I finally “finish” 2019, and hope to reconstitute this “blog” into a more informative “natural history” type page.  Before I die or go completely senile . . .

There are several ways that people “bird watch”.  Millions of people like to see birds in their parks, their yards and gardens, and at their feeders.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service survey of outdoor recreation reports that 86 million Americans watch wildlife, many - if not most - watching, feeding, and enjoying birds.

There is, however, a distinction in the definitions.  “Bird-watching” is a way to connect with the outdoors, with our understanding of the mysteries of our fellow creatures, and the harmony of the primordial: watching nature and letting the scene unfold in front of them.

“Birding” becomes more of an obsessive version of bird-watching.  When you get right down to it, bird-watchers look at birds.  Birders look for them.

I must confess to being a “Birder”.  This year’s effort to expand my “Life List” led me to sign up for today’s birding trip with the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival:  the Big Day!

The goal for this field trip is of “Racking up an impressive day list - Rio Grande Valley specialties, visitors and residents - as many as we can see. This is not leisurely birding!”  Five vans go outbound for lots of birds and friendly competition. This is a great choice for listers, as it strives for a high species count.

So, this morning, I got into a Big Day Van with Dave Irons and Christian Hagenlocher as our guides.  I hadn’t birded with Christian since his “Big Year” in 2016 when I first met him on a Princess Lines ship during a west coast “repositioning cruise”, where we were looking for the deep-water pelagic rarities.  He’s quite the affable and serious birder.

We began the morning by heading out to Estero Llano Grande State Park, a fairly recent 230-acre addition to the Texas Parks and Wildlife properties.  The site protects one of the oldest remnants of mature Tamaulipan Thorn Forest remaining in the Rio Grande Valley, a rare remnant of this habitat in our country.

The park opened in June 2006 after wildlife agencies and conservationists restored an old farm, a dried-up lakebed, and adjacent properties and made them accessible to visitors.

Their trails are well-kept, with informative signing.  The signs do warn of alligators.

There are certainly a few alligators in the park.

One of the first 'finds' was a cryptic Pauraque, a "goatsucker" related to the nighthawks and Whip-Poor-Wills.  Not terribly rare, but they are so hard to see amidst the leaf litter of the forest floor.

Well-filled feeders and photo blinds allowed for close-up views of a number of species.

There are always opportunities to view things other than birds, even on a hard-core “Big Day”.  This little skipper was one of dozens gathering nectar from the flowers.  I believe it is the Eufala Skipper Lerodea eufala.

One of the surprising finds here was a Glossy Ibis, among the more common White-faced Ibis flocks.

Finally, after six hours of hard birding, it was time to leave the Estero and search for birds to add to our daily species list.  However, I had never before entered an eBird Checklist with more than 100 species.  This was an amazing stop!  And, there was more to come.

We stopped at the Aplomado viewing area (part of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge) on the way toward South Padre Island, to look for the falcons and got distant views of the birds .

This species has benefited from a re-introduction program started in the 1970s.  Current success comes from development of an artificial nest structure which has increased fledgling success.  These efforts have produced a recovering population of breeding Aplomados along the Gulf Coast.Sadly, the population of this species in the Chihuahuan Desert is nearing extirpation.

We continued over to South Padre Island and hoped to begin at the Convention Center, but there was a major event there, with big crowds and no parking, so spent our time at the nearby Birding and Nature Center, the mud flats.

The group finished up at the Valley Land Trust lots on Sheepshead Street.  The Big Day competition officially ended at 3:45 p.m.  Our group tallied 159 species, of which I was able to see 143 of them.

Happily, one of the species was a “Life Bird” - the Aplomado Falcon was my ABA Lifer No 659.  It was a mediocre ‘scope view, but the name of the game this year is to tally Lifers.

We headed back to Harlingen, and I went to my room to clean up a bit before going back to the Convention Center at 6:15.  I’d thought there was going to be a banquet situation with the program, but found to my dismay that the food was pre-program.  But, I listened to and enjoyed the program, albeit with a growling stomach . . .

“The American Birding Association has had a 50-year love affair with South Texas - its birds, its birders, and the countless thrilling, even life-changing experiences that we have all shared in the field here! Thus it is fitting that the ABA celebrate its Golden Anniversary with an evening of fun and games, classic stories, and hopes and dreams for the future right here at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. Expect a bunch of great guests, some laughs, and maybe even a happy tear or two as we celebrate the ABA’s 50th with a distinct South Texas accent!  The evening’s program will be recorded and featured on an upcoming episode of the American Birding Podcast. Be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to see it all happen LIVE on stage!”

After the program, I stopped at the Great Texas Roadhouse for a sirloin steak supper and a couple of Shiner Bocks.

Estero Llano Grande State Park eBird checklist is Here

Aplomado Viewing Area eBird checklist is Here

Aplomado Hacking Site Ocean Blvd, Laguna Heights eBird checklist is Here

Jaime Zapata Boat Ramp E 14th St, Brownsville eBird checklist is Here

SPI - Valley Land Fund lots eBird checklist is Here

SPI - Birding and Nature Center eBird checklist is Here


Monday, November 9, 2020

November 8, 2019 - Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival: Edinburg Wetlands and Quinta Mazatlán

Those of you who have been reading this narrative are aware that I have been falling further and further behind in keeping up the “blog” of my 2019 Peregrination “Big Year”.  Sadly, today marks a milestone:  I am now over one YEAR behind!  I will continue to document my birding year, catch up with my photographs and records, and so forth.  When I finally “finish” 2019, I have plans to turn this “blog” into a more informative page, regarding birds, bugs, fish, plants, geology, and whatever natural history topics rattle my cage.  Thanks for reading so far!

November 8, 2019:

I was able to sleep in for an extra half-hour, before loading up for the 6:30 a.m., Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival Trip to the Edinburg Wetlands and Quinta Mazatlán preserve.

Our trip leaders included Angelina Vasquez, a Valley native who is currently a supervisor at the McAllen Nature Center, and who was kind of quiet but was really good about getting birders on the birds.
Dave Irons and Shawneen Finnegan from Beaverton, Oregon are great trip leaders, and I really enjoy birding with them; Dave can be a welcome ‘taskmaster’ when he’s moving a group of 40 birders and trying to keep on a schedule.
John Brush is a local, the Urban Ecologist at Quinta Mazatlán World Birding Center, has done a lot of bird banding, and was also pretty darned good at getting his scope on birds for the group.
Jorge Montejo guides tours to El Triunfo and other Biosphere reserves in Mexico, was an excellent spotter, and had sharp ears.The Birding Festival has some really top-notch trip leaders!!

We stopped first at the wetlands first to walk around the ponds.  Edinburg Scenic Wetlands has large ponds and smaller water features, birding trails, feeding areas, butterfly gardens, observation platforms and an interpretative center set in some 40 acres of native vegetation and wetlands.

We had great views of a pair of Ringed Kingfishers, as well as hybrid Mottled X Mallard and domestic Muscovy-type ducks.  There was a nice bit of activity at their bird feeders.

At the feeders as well as at some planted flowers, we were treated to a view of a Buff-bellied Hummingbird for my ABA Life Bird No. 658.

Our next stop was at Quinta Mazatlán, a wonderfully restored historical Adobe hacienda.

The old building is surrounded by 15 acres of sub-tropical gardens and native woodlands with birding trails, feeding stations and water features in McAllen, Texas.

There, we searched for a Pauraque, and one of the women from our bus found one just about 10 feet off the sidewalk behind a hedge, and everyone got great looks at it.
This nightjar forages at night in open areas, including quiet roads, catching night-flying beetles, its main prey, by “jumping” from the ground into the air to snatch these slow-flying insects.
The Pauraque was my ABA Life Bird No. 659.

Besides the habitat features and the great birding here, the Preserve does a good job with their interpretive exhibits.

Back at the Convention Center, I had a quick lunch and strolled around the vendors’ booths, then caught a short nap.

This evening I went out with a Festival van driven by Erik Ostrander and Hannah Buschert who hail from Cannon Beach, Oregon to look for parakeets and parrots in Harlingen.  These trips are always popular, since the Rio Grande Valley is the only place in the U.S. where one can see "countable" populations of these two Parrots in Texas.

 We drove through the local neighborhoods and stopped at the corner of Sam Houston and 77 Sunshine Strip, where about two dozen Green Parakeets were flying around the area and were landing on rooftops and in some palm trees.

We continued to another neighborhood at North Third and Davis, where there were a couple hundred Red-crowned Parrots being watched by other vanloads of birders.

The birds were feeding on the fruits of a tree that one of the locals called the “Toothache Tree”, which appears to be Zanthoxylum clava-herculis, the Hercules' club,  or southern prickly ash.
Mixed into the flock were some Lilac-crowned Parrots and a few Red-lored Parrots, as well as an individual that had a lot of yellow in the head.  There was discussion whether this bird had some Yellow-headed genetics in it, or if it was a Red-crowned that had yellow, rather than red (or some other aberrant coloration) in its crown.
If you look at the list of my bird species seen this year, you’ll see that I did “number” the sightings of the Red-lored and Lilac-crowned Parrots.  These species are on my eBird list because I’d seen the Lilac-crowned Parrot and Red-lored Parrot mixed in with the Red-crowns, but they aren’t “ABA-countable” since they’re not yet considered “established exotic species.”  I’ve been pretty much following the somewhat arbitrary “rules” of the American Birding Association.  The TexasBird Records Committee has not chosen to give its “official” blessing on the status of these exotic species, which would lead to their inclusion on the ABA Checklist.  I’ll not add these to my “ABA Life List”, but it was pretty special seeing these birds and a challenge to identify them amongst the horde of parrots.
After we returned, I stayed to listen to Pete Dunne give a talk on the early days of the World Series of Birding Big Day competitions, and some of the ‘war stories’ he had were pretty darned entertaining.  "The World Series of Birding – Stories Behind the Story, Now It Can Be Told"

Edinburg Wetlands eBird checklist is Here

Quinta Mazatlán eBird checklist is Here

Green Parakeet spot eBird checklist is Here

Red-crowned Parrot spot eBird checklist is Here