Monday, November 30, 2009

Out Of Site Birding

Cattle Egret

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

We’ve certainly enjoyed the ease of birding from our RV site. Simply glance out a window or step outside. We have Golden-fronted Woodpeckers coming to our feeders daily. The past few days we’ve had Cattle Egret walk within feet of the RV as they hunted for insects. In a tree next to the RV we’ve had Great Kiskadee and across the road, we’ve had flocks of Lark Sparrows. Most afternoons we toast the White-tailed Kites as they fly over, headed to their night roost. From time to time these same kites have been found hunting in the field behind our RV, along with Northern Harriers and Crested Caracaras. The Buff-bellied Hummingbirds we had coming to our feeder at our old site, have yet to re-find us since we’ve moved. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have managed to track our movement. Common Pauraque call from the field behind and will routinely fly through our site in the evening. We’re still patiently waiting for a Barn Owl to make an appearance. We figure it’s just a matter of time.

White-tailed Kite
However, most of our birding thus far has taken place outside the park. We try to get to Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park two or three times a week, only a five-minute hike to the park’s entrance. There has been a regularly heard (but rarely seen) Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and a Gray Hawk is commonly heard AND seen. White-tailed Hawk sightings are not uncommon. An Allen’s Hummingbird has shown up again, his third year. Allen’s are typically found on the west coast along the coast from Oregon to California.
A thirty-minute drive will get us to Estero Llano Grande State Park. This is where we caught up with a Rose-throated Becard and a number of duck species including Cinnamon Teal. Huck Hutchinson, the affable local naturalist keeps a daily log of birds seen from the deck at the park headquarters, posted on a whiteboard for all to see. It’s not unusual to have the list exceed 70 species on any given day. Estero Llano is a guaranteed location to find cleverly camouflaged Common Pauraque that roost on the ground for those who patiently search.

Cinnamon Teal
Not far away from Estero Llano is the Santa Ana NWR. Extensive walking trails through mixed habitat have produced Hook-billed Kites, hundreds of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, both Black and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons and a rather late migrating Wood Stork. Santa Ana is where we caught up with Masked Ducks, another south Texas specialty…and an ABA tick on our lists.
Further afield is Laguna Antacosta NWR, a vast wetland. The main objective here is to drive the 17-mile auto tour, which skirts large lakes, and snakes through wetlands and grasslands. The prize at Laguna is the Aplomado Falcon, which we caught up with perched on a fence post along the road (another ABA tick). Huge numbers of Willets, Long-billed Curlew and several shorebird species were readily found. ID’s are tough this time of year as most are in their winter plumages. It’s a great place to observe bird behavior. Like numerous Ruddy Turnstones acting like Cattle Egrets as they dogged Osprey eating fish on the ground for bits of discarded scraps – sometimes not waiting for items to be discarded.
On to South Padre Island and one of the World Birding Center satellite centers. Here, a large network of recently repaired elevated boardwalks provided access to Piping Plover, Clapper Rails, Reddish Egrets and Roseate Spoonbill. And of course a stop at Dirty Al’s, the best – and we mean THE BEST – shrimp dinners. We recommend the grilled shrimp plate with a salad (instead of fries) – wow!
Closer to home again (just 4 miles away) is Anzalduas County Park. Here we found wintering Sprague Pipits (life bird). An occasional Tropical Parula appear and recently at least one Zone-tailed Hawk has been reportedly flying with the Turkey Vultures. We have yet to see either but we’ll keep looking. Best time to visit the park is on a weekday when the entrance fee is waived and the park isn’t crowded with picnickers.
We’ve been following TEXBIRDS, the Texas equivalent to WISBIRDN. Here we track birds we’re interested in seeing as well as the best times and locations to find them. Red-crowned Parrots (life bird for both of us) would be nice. We just have to be where the parrots gather to roost – usually at dusk. Reports of other birds at parks and preserves we’ve yet to visit will no doubt draw us out. It's nice to have the time to do so without feeling rushed as we have in the past when we’ve been on vacation.
So how does birding in TX compare to WI?  Besides not being in WI for winter migrants? We've tallied the amount of time spent birding in Texas, including three previous trips (twice in 1999 and once this past March) as well as our recent stint. Over a total accumulation of about two months of birding, we’ve seen 321 species. As for Tom's WI list, which began in way back 1970? It stands at 326 species. Our Texas state life lists could easily exceed our WI state life lists by the end of this year.

Carol's sister, Marge, is flying down on Friday for a ten day visit. No doubt we'll be able to help her flesh out her Texas list, too...and of course make sure she get's to Dirty Al's.

Post-Script: While preparing for our upcoming Ecuador trip, much to our horror we discovered that we had unintentionally left our birds of Ecuador field guide in WI. The box containing the guide had been stored at Marge's. A frantic email to Marge and within 24-hours she found the guide. She'll bring it with her on Friday. She will definitely be rewarded with a Margarita. Or two.

Lacey's Scrub-Hairstreak (rare to Texas)


  1. Hello Sykes. I hail from Wisconsin, Fort Atkinson. Made our first trip to Rio Grande Valley late March to visit my parents who are also winter Texans at Bentsen Grove RV park. We got our Red Crowned Parrots at Estero in the old RV park. I guess they also had a barn owl back in there last winter. I'm enjoying your posts. You should get Elf Owl too on the Acacia Loop in Bentsen. Cheers. Look forward to your next post!

  2. Hello D&L. Red-crowned Parrots are seen almost daily flying over Estero on their way to the nearby Llano Grande RV Resort. The Barn Owl at Estero has been seen but its roost site has yet to be rediscovered. Red and Louise, regular birders at Bentsen have reported a Barn Owl has been seen near the area of the entrance to NABA. They also mentioned the Elf Owl when we met them last March but they haven't re-found it as of late. Good to hear from a fellow WI birder - are you coming to Texas again to visit your parents?