Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Best Laid Plans

I was supposed to be chasing Colima Warbler in Big Bend,  but the Crown Mountain Fire Sunday closed all of the trails to Boot Canyon and the Basin itself was closed. Stay flexible and make lemonade out of lemons. I headed for the Rio Grande Valley instead.

I still needed Botteri's Sparrow and that couldn't wait for the fall season in the RGV.  My original plan was to head for Old Port Isabel Road and look for it, but on a whim at the last minute decided to try the Palo Alto Battlefield NHP. I had been told by several this was a good site for Botteri's but had never been there.

Botteri's Sparrow
Palo Alto Battlefield NHP
I got out of the car at the overlook parking area and immediately heard a Botteri's singing somewhere. I loaded up with camera, binoculars, and a microphone and headed off to see if I could get closer.

Not far away I say a small bird teed up on a stick. Getting glass on the bird it was indeed a Botteri's Sparrow calling for Year Bird 454. It posed for pictures and I recorded some good audio of it calling, See my eBird checklist here for the recording.

I headed over to South Padre Island hoping for at least one of the three eastern migrant birds I still needed. The South Padre Island Convention Center was hopping when I got there. Literally hopping. It was Thrush-a-polooza and there were Swainson's Thrushes and Wood Thrushes all over the lawn. Warblers were active too, I tallied eight species of warblers. Lots of flycatchers and after staring down several empids my Jedi mind tricks worked and the force was strong in me and one started softly calling peet, peet, peet. letting me finally count Alder Flycatcher as Year Bird 455.

Mourning Warbler
I wasn't seeing any new birds after about an hour here so I headed over to the Valley Land Fund Lots on Sheepshead to see what I could find there. At first not much but grackles. At least a dozen male grackles were enjoying the water and chasing most any other passerine there. For the longest time an Eastern Wood-Pewee, a couple of empids, and a Red-eyed Vireo were it. Finally the grackles moved on and things got more active. I chatted with a couple of other birders that had arrived and we started to tally few more things. I started to get the impression that  birds were arriving too. One of my fellow birds said "What's this little bird" off in the corner of the sanctuary. I got on it and immediately thanked her for Mourning Warbler my Year Bird 456.

I made it back to the mainland and checked in at the Alamo Inn. I've stayed a couple of time now at the always comfortable and welcoming Alamo Inn. I highly recommend this Birder-centric Inn for a birding trip to the RGV.

Green Parakeets
No time to relax yet I still needed to connect with some Green Parakeets. I had missed them on previous trips to the RGV and it bugged me. I wasn't really sweating getting them, but I wanted to get them off the need list. I headed over to 10th and Dove in McAllen the traditional site for them in McAllen. When I arrived at my favorite spot, the fountains outside of the Lowes on 10th, there were at least fifty Green Parakeets squawking for Year Bird 457. Not a bad day, four new Year Birds

Tuesday morning I went looking for Hook-billed Kite. I started at Chihuahua Woods Preserve not far from Bentsen State Park. I'd never been to this site before but Hook-billed Kite nested here in the past and there aren't a lot of visits in eBird so it looked worth checking out. There was a far amount of snail shells on the ground but I didn't see any evidence of live snails, something a bird that eats snails would need. I spent about an hour there and while I had 29 species including Gray Hawk and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, no kites.

Plain Chachalaca
Santa Ana NWR
Before it got too late in the day I headed over to Santa Ana NWR and spent an hour on the tower there. It was windy and cloudy. I had Harris Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, and Mississippi Kite. An immature Broad-winged Hawk with its banded tail like a Hook-billed Kite got me going for a minute, but none of my target kites made an appearance.

I realized why I don't bird Santa Ana much anymore. It makes me sad to see it. I first visited Santa Ana 23 years ago. I'm sure the decline that makes me sad was well underway by them, but in the last 23 years most of the ebony and cedar-elm trees that made Santa Ana a lush place are gone and nothing but their skeletons remains. Those trees need annual flooding that doesn't happen anymore. I actually looked walking the Tower Trail back to the visitor center and saw none of either species. Sad, go see it before its all gone.


  1. Most of the Ebonies at Santa Ana were killed in 2010 when flood waters inundated the place from August to October. I'm sure a lot of them were on their way out before then.

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