As an active naturalist living out in the country I get to see some pretty cool stuff. This afternoon I was making an afternoon check of butterflies in our Progreso Lakes yard when I noticed a commotion in our big ash tree. A Golden-fronted Woodpecker had just flushed an Eastern Screech-Owl into view. I quickly raised my camera as all of my screech-owl shots in our yard are of partially obscurred roosting birds and was surprised to see it with prey. Closer inspection revealed the prey item to be an adult Four-lined Skink.
Wow. I have never seen anything like this before. I moved around the tree to get shots aft different angles.
Not wanting to pressure the owl, I moved to our back porch about fifteen yards away. After a few minute the Eastern Screech-Owl began to call with the distinct purring trill that is characteristic of our Rio Grande Valley subspecies, mccallii. Then it flew with the skink across the tree to a leafy area where I lost sight of it. Then I spotted a second owl.
I left the porch to get a better view and fortunately found both owls together. Reading the "All About Birds" account I see they eat about anything they can get in their mouth. I'm guessing this is a pair rather than an adult with a youngster.
So a dull day with not much going on turned out pretty exciting.
After a couple of hard days of birding, I felt it was time to do some yard work. So I weeded our little garden of Ichiban eggplants, bitter melons, hot peppers and Moringa. After that I moved across the yard and start digging grass along our little native brush patch. During this time I kept hearing "chip" notes from the brush. I was wondering if it could be a Mourning Warbler. After lunch I looked out the window and saw a yellow bird butt duck into the red Salvia. Hmmm...... And then later after getting the mail I heard the call notes again. So I sat on the back porch and watched the bird bath. Nothing. Time to get serious. I pulled up the Mourning Warbler song from the Ibird app on my phone and gave it a blast. Immediately I see a small shape come up behind the bird bath. Yellow with a black chest. Mourning Warbler! Yard bird #208 had been expected for some time.
So over the past week we have gained four new yard birds and hosted ten species of warblers.
We had a very late cool front come in over the weekend and the north winds really brought down the migrants. So after spending yesterday with warblers at South Padre Island, I decided today I would bird our Progreso Lakes yard. Turned out we had quite a few warblers also. In fact the eight species seen today was a new one day high total. During breakfast I spied the first ones through the window in our front yard; Yellow Warbler and American Redstart.
That seemed to be a pretty good omen. After breakfast I got serious and found Chestnut-sided and Blackburnian Warblers in the neighbor's big hackberry next to our fence. Could not get any good shots of the Blackburnian.
And then a Tennessee Warbler in our Orchid Tree.
I failed to get shots of the Magnolia Warbler and Common Yellowthroat. But I did manage a distant shot of a Black-throated Green Warbler.
A couple of days earlier I added bird #205 to our yard list, Bay-breasted Warbler.
We had other birds yesterday besides warblers. A real surprise was a fly over Amazon parrot. It had a rather weak call that I was unfamiliar with and I guessed it could be a White-fronted Parrot. After downloading the photo and looking it up in Steve Howell's "Birds of Mexico", I found I was right. There is a small population of a few dozen White-fronted Parrots in Brownsville about 35 miles to the east. This one seemed to be flying over from Mexico. They are native in Mexico to the central Pacific coast and south of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. I guess that makes yard bird #207.
Common yard birds included Clay-colored Thrush.
And a young male Hooded Oriole.
Then I was walking along our west fence and I heard a "mew" call. I thought to myself "That darn stray cat is back." And then I though "hmmmm...Catbirds can go mew." And there was our first Gray Catbird sitting in a small tepehuaje. I later saw it at the bird bath. #207!
Pretty darn good day!
Jones yard, Progreso Lakes, Hidalgo, Texas, US
May 12, 2019 8:00 AM - 3:30 PM
Comments: Unusually late cool front with north wind
An unusually late cold front came down this past weekend and though it didn't get very cold, there was a stiff northerly breeze. So I figured it would be a good opportunity to check out South Padre Island for migrants. We're getting a little late in the season making it a good time to look for rare stuff. The best bird was one of my first of the day. I was chatting with Bill Beatty at the Valley Land Fund's Sheepshead lot. Bill is to be commended for having done much of the recent rehab work on the lot. So while we were talking this beautiful Purple Gallinule struts by in front of us. While not a super rare bird, it was the fist I've ever seen at Sheepshead and we were both pleasantly surprised.
I guess the only other noteworthy thing was the number of bright male warblers. Usually by this late in May, males are already up north on territory and the duller females are passing through. Here are bright Blackburnian and Chestnut-sided Warblers.
I enjoyed some one on one time with this cute ovenbird.
Four or five Philadelphia Vireos must be the most I've ever seen in a day.
First time I've ever seen a Swainson's Thrush feeding on lantana berries.
I usually think of Acadian Flycatchers as being the first of the Empidonax to migrate through the Valley. Seems awful late for them to be passing through but I didn't see any other Empids. I guess there are still a lot more to come.
I missed the Western Tanager at the Convention Center but I found my own on Oleander.
There's a pair of Mottled Ducks at the Convention Center and the drake is causing some controversy. It has the white borders of the speculum like a Mexican Duck. (The diazi subspecies of Mallard was recently raised to full specific status by the AOS as Mexican Duck.) But bigger brains than mine think it a hybrid of a Mottled x domestic Mallard. I don't know what to think.
Anyway, it was a great day to be out looking at birds.
I got up late this morning and shelved plans to go to South Padre Island so I watched the yard. I figured if it was too boring I could get some work done. But dog gone it, birding is never boring. There's always something to see. My target today was to get my first of year Eastern Kingbird for the yard. It took about an hour but one finally fluttered by, skimmed the resaca (that's how kingbirds bathe) and flew into the neighbor's yard. I got up and walked over to the fence and pointed my camera at the first white-breasted bird I saw. Woops. It was a cuckoo. And best I could tell through the camera there was no yellow on the bill. Black-billed Cuckoo! It may have been in the neighbor's yard but I saw it from my yard so it counts as a yard bird. I had a poor view of an iffy one last year that I probably should not have counted. Glad to get this one photographed.
I returned to my chair by the water and the Eastern Kingbird made another loop over the resaca. It's missing a few rectrices but still good for yard year bird #149.
Otherwise it was kind of dull. The Bronzed Cowbirds were hanging around a pair of Tropical Kingbirds. I don't know if the females will use their nests or not.
Here's one of the Tropical Kingbirds.
Mourning Doves are pretty sharp in the right light.
Yesterday I spent some time with the hummingbirds. It's been a while since I've seen a Black-chinned.
Still plenty of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds passing through.
I'm not sure which one this female is. They like the coral bean.
This female Hooded Oriole doesn't understand why this feeder is so popular.
Still have a few weeks of migration left. Would sure like to get some warblers in the yard.
I slept in a little after getting home late from my Lubbock trip. But decided I needed to accomplish something so I cleaned out my bird bath and pulled it out of the vegetation some. It was getting hard to see the birds.
Then a little lunch and a nap. After a while I got got up and looked out the window to check my newly configured bird bath. There was this little plum colored sparrow sized bird feeding in the flowers. Holy smokes! A plum colored bunting with a red yamaka........Varied Bunting!!!!!
I ran out of the bedroom, grabbed my camera, stealthily crossed the porch despite still being in my underwear and managed a few shots of this unexpected rarity.
I then got word out of the Group Me app Rare Bird Alert and about a dozen birders got to see this little guy. It was a lifer for some. Varied Buntings are pretty common at Big Bend and easy to see in SE Arizona, but we normally get very few in the mid and lower Valley. They are a low density nester in extreme western Hidalgo County and also in Starr and Zapata Counties. Yard bird #204 was not one I was expecting. Now I'm ready for a Lazuli!
After viewing the Lesser Prairie Chickens west of Lubbock, I decided to bird my way back to the Valley. I wasted my time seeing only common birds in obscure counties like Lynn, Sterling, Irion and Sutton. Val Verde County was also proving to be pretty boring till I reached the Devil's River north of Comstock. I had driven TX 163 a couple of times in my life, the first being a family vacation to Del Rio back in 1967 but never spent anytime birding. I finally reached the lush riparian corridor along Devil's River at 1:30 in the afternoon and wasn't expecting a lot. But a Zone-tailed Hawk drifted overhead to lift my spirits.
Both sides of the highway are posted as property of the Hudspeth River Ranch. Fortunately there are a few places to pull off and walk along the road under the large pecans growing along the river which flows from just north of here to the Pecos River. Looks like perfect habitat for Common Black Hawk but I don't think I've ever heard of them being seen here. I did some pishing and pygmy owl tooting and called in a flock which held this Yellow-throated Vireo along with more common things.
Summer Tanagers are common here in uhm.....summer. Here's a female.
I heard a familiar warbler song overhead and thought it might be Yellow-throated Warbler. It was. This is pretty much the extreme southwest limit of this species' range.
I drove a bit down the road and found another good looking spot to pull off. The river was on the right and a heavily wooded draw was on the left. I didn't see anything but heard a Ringed Kingfisher on the river. Global warming has brought more of these guys to the Hill Country in recent years. So I did some more pishing and tooting and called in a super bright breeding plumaged male Tropical Parula that fussed over my head. I have never seen one this bright.
Then another mile down the road I heard a singing parula. At this point I didn't know whether to expect a Tropical or a Northern. I gave it a blast of Northern Parula song from my phone and this guy zoomed in. Well, I guess he's kind of both. In the Valley we often get female Tropical Parulas with week eye arcs that supposedly knowledgeable people say are Tropical X Northern Parula hybrids. This male has the extensive yellow breast with orange throat and black face of a Tropical with the bold eye arcs of of a male Northern. Looks like a real honest to goodness hybrid.
Well, now I guess I'm a believer. I wonder why we never see any of these male hybrids in the Valley.
A couple of years ago I had made a reservation to see Lesser Prairie Chickens display on a lek north of Canadian in the eastern Panhandle. I had seen them once back in 1983 near Milnesand, New Mexico but never in Texas. Unfortunately just before my trip, historically severe fires ravaged SW Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle and part of the eastern Texas Panhandle. Homesteads over a hundred years old burned to the ground and the Lesser Prairie Chicken leking grounds were destroyed. Maybe a few birds are left but no leks have been found since the fire.
However there is also a small population of Lesser Prairie Chickens in the shinnery grasslands west of Lubbock. Drew Harvey, a biologist doing survey work in the area has searched the counties west of Lubbock and has managed to find a few leks on private land. But due to drought and habitat fragmentation, numbers are dropping. He told me that his largest lek of 19 birds two years ago had dropped to only four. Fortunately, Drew has made arrangements with land owners and is guiding birders to see these last few chickens. I made plans to see them before they are gone.
An early start and drive in the dark took our small group somewhere west of Lubbock. The temperature was in the low fifties with a stiff breeze. Clouds from last nights severe storms lingered and spit out a few rain drops. I was hoping for a little sun.
We climbed into the back of Drew's pickup and waited behind a blind for the birds. It was still dark but I could hear a few cackles and squawks. One birder softly stated he could a chicken but I couldn't. But the sun can't be stopped so eventually it got light enough to see the small group of four Lesser Prairie Chickens. The sun even popped out and illuminated these last dancers of the Texas prairie. It was beautiful and sad as these two remnant males displayed to attract one of the two females. The birds were about fifty yards away so the photos aren't great.
While these four birds displayed on the desert grassland stage in front of us, a more sobering view was present behind us. A plowed field in front with giant windmills turning on the horizon. Unfortunately the Lesser Prairie Chickens are not as adaptable as the Pronghorns who still roam these dying prairies.
At least the New Mexico population is hanging on. Much of the land is under BLM control and healthy flocks of Lesser Prairie Chickens can still be found.
A weak cool front was forecast for today so I thought after the warm breezy weather we might see a few spring migrants at our Progreso Lakes yard. It didn't take long before the first good one showed up. This is only our second Zone-tailed Hawk.
Later in the morning as the front hit, a migrating flock of 90 White Pelican were slowed by the north winds.
As I photographed the flock, I observed a raptor high above. I was shocked to see it was a Swallow-tailed Kite. It's only our second. There's been quite a few reports over the past week.
The water in the resaca has been high this spring so I've seen few shorebirds. Here's a Black-necked Stilt.
Cattle Egrets cruising by.
We have only one Common Gallinule but I see it every day.
I've seen four different Hooded Orioles the past two days. This is a young male.
The Eastern Screech-Owl was purring up in the ash.
The bird bath was busy with the usual Orange-crowned Warblers and Lincoln's Sparrow.
I was surprised to come up with a total of 64 species for the day.
After some strong southerly winds followed by a spring norther, I figured it was time to check out the early spring migrants at South Padre Island. A couple of Protonotary Warblers had been reported and I don't see them every year. It took a while but eventually I got some shots of one and saw three on the day. Two were at Sheepshead and another at the vacant lot on Oleander.
Another early spring migrant is the Louisiana Waterthrush. This one was at the Convention Center.
Black-and-white Warblers winter in the Valley, start heading north in March and continue till late May. And the first ones head south in early July. So we basically have at least a few in the RGV every month except June.
Hooded Warbler was a new one for my year list.
Nashville and Orange-crowned Warblers along with Northern Parulas enjoyed the blooming bottlebrush.
Yellow-throated Warblers winter locally and pass through early.
Most of these early spring migrants nest in the southern United States. Yellow-throated Vireos along with the above Yellow-throated Warbler nest along streams in the Hill Country just 200 miles to the north.
So twelve species of warbler is about the most I've seen in a day so early in the spring. Spring is off to a good start.