Category Archives: Texas birds

A Photo Excursion to the Martin Refuge at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, Part I

Those of you who have followed this blog know that one of my favorite bird festivals is the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Harlingen, Texas. The birds are spectacular, the people are wonderful, and the festival is truly a marvel of organization and excellence.

This year, I decided to treat myself to a photography excursion to the Martin Refuge in Edinburgh, Texas. I had seen wonderful photos from this private refuge, and I was anxious to take some of my own. Our group was taken out to the ranch by the wonderful Ruth Hoyt, who is a fantastic photographer and a lovely human being. She spent the day helping us to improve our photography skills, and I was truly impressed by her considerable knowledge, kindness and patience.

We arrived at the ranch very early on a cool, windy morning. We went to a photo blind and began to set up to take photos. We did not have to wait very long until the Crested Caracaras began to arrive.

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

The birds sat in the trees, waiting.

Watching from the branches.

Watching from the branches.

It was fascinating to watch the birds as they flew close to the blind …

Crested Caracara fly by.

Crested Caracara fly by.

Another fly by.

Another fly by.

… and as they came in for a landing.

Incoming.

Incoming.

Another bird flies in.

Another bird flies in.

Another arrival.

Another arrival.

There were spectacular mid-air encounters.

A mid-air encounter.

A mid-air encounter.

There were some disagreements when more than one bird wanted to occupy the same perch.

It's getting crowed around here.

It’s getting crowded around here.

The Crested Caracaras were not the only raptors on the refuge. There were beautiful Harris Hawks as well, and the caracaras were intimidated by them.

Crested Caracara and Harris Hawk.

Crested Caracara and Harris Hawk.

The Harris Hawks were clearly in charge.

The Harris Hawks were in charge.

The Harris Hawks were in charge.

And what brought all these birds so conveniently close to the blind? A lovely ball of leftovers from a local taxidermy shop. It seemed pretty unappealing to me, but it was a caracara and hawk magnet!

Yum!

Yum!

Birds would grab pieces from the lure and take them up into the trees to eat.

A tasty bit.

A tasty bit.

A close look at a feeding bird.

A close look at a feeding bird.

Although the Harris Hawks kept a close watch over the caracaras’ activities, I did not actually observe them eating any of the food.

The Watcher

The Watcher

As we were finishing up our morning photo session, I saw a bird that immediately made me think of my home in Corrales, New Mexico.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

The birds finished their feast, and we retired for our picnic lunch under the palapa. We could not wait to see what the afternoon’s photo session would bring. In Part II of this post you will see what we did in the afternoon.

Green Jay

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Little Blue Heron

I liked the light in these photos, taken at Laguna Madre Bay near Port Isabel, Texas on a cloudy day.

Laguna Madre Bay, Texas

Laguna Madre Bay, Port Isabel, Texas,

Laguna Madre Bay, Port Isabel, Texas,

Little Blue Heron, Laguna Madre Bay, Port Isabel, Texas,

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A Birding Expedition on Laguna Madre Bay

A highlight of my trip to South Texas for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival was a pontoon boat trip on Laguna Madre Bay with Scarlet Colley of the The South Padre Island Dolphin Research and Nature Center. We arrived at the dock in Port Isabel just at sunrise on a cloudy morning.

Laguna Madre Bay

Sunrise at Port Isabel

Six of us boarded the pontoon boat with Scarlet and Dan Jones, an excellent local birding guide.

As we cruised slowly around the harbor, Brown Pelicans seemed to be everywhere.

Laguna Madre Bay

Brown Pelican

Black-necked Stilts waded in the shallows.

Laguna Madre Bay, Port Isabel, Texas.

Black-necked Stilt

A Great Blue Heron was fishing in the harbor…

Laguna Madre Bay

Great Blue Heron

… and a Common Tern hunted overhead.

Laguna Madre Bay

Common Tern

Black Skimmers were resting on the sand bars, occasionally making forays out over the bay.

Laguna Madre Bay

Black Skimmer

Once we were out on the bay, we saw many wading birds:

Laguna Madre Bay

Little Blue Heron

Laguna Madre Bay

Whimbrel

Laguna Madre Bay

Marbled Godwit

Laguna Madre Bay

American Oystercatcher

I am always excited to see Roseate Spoonbills with their lovely pink color and prehistoric faces.

Laguna Madre Bay

Roseate Spoonbills

Laguna Madre Bay

Roseate Spoonbills fly overhead

There were groups of Red Knots feeding on the sand bars in the bay.

Laguna Madre Bay

Red Knots

As we headed farther out into the bay Rozzi, Scarlet’s dog, began to bark excitedly.

Laguna Madre Bay

Rozzi

We soon saw the cause of her excitement …

Laguna Madre Bay

Bottlenose Dolphin

… but I will save that for another post.

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Songbirds of South Padre Island

In preparation for my trip to the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival I had signed up for a couple of birding trips. While I am not a fan of large bus birding I was excited about attending Better Birding with Jon Dunn, especially when I learned that the trip would be in a small van along with local knowledgeable birder Dan Jones.

We loaded into the vans early in the morning. I was amazed at how quickly Jon and Dan spotted birds, and how accurately they were able to accurately identify birds that to me looked like little more than distant dots.

Our first stop was the Valley Land Fund Migratory Bird Sanctuary, which is a very small area of six wooded lots in a residential area. South Padre Island is a crucial first landfall for birds making the arduous cross-Gulf migration from Southern Mexico and northern Central America. Especially after a spring storm, wooded lots on the island can produce a surprising number of warblers, tanagers, orioles and thrushes. We saw quite a few birds in this tiny area.

Northern Mockingbird, Valley Land Fund Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Northern Mockingbird

Wood Thrush, Valley Land Fund Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Wood Thrush

Hermit Thrush, Valley Land Fund Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Hermit Thrush

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Valley Land Fund Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Yellow-rumped Warbler

When we arrived at the South Padre Island Convention Center, everyone was excited about the recent sighting of a Fox Sparrow, which was very unusual for the area. In fact, I believe that it was a record sighting for the island. I wondered if I should just give up and go back to the van. I have a very difficult time distinguishing various types of sparrows. They tend to all look like small brown birds to me. Jon and Dan were very happy and enthusiastic about the outing, and catching their enthusiasm I adjusted my attitude and happily accompanied them to see if I could recognize anything.

Jon Dunn points out a bird to interested birders, SPI Convention Center.

Jon Dunn points out a bird to interested birders.

I had no problem recognizing a number of birds:

Wilson's Warbler, SPI Convention Center

Wilson's Warbler

Eastern Phoebe, SPI Convention Center

Eastern Phoebe

Gray Catbird hiding in the understory, SPI Convention Center.

Gray Catbird hiding in the understory.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, SPI Convention Center

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, another view, SPI Convention Center

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, another view

I saw birds that were new to me as well.

And yes, there were sparrows. I consulted my notes, my books and my ebooks, and I still have a great deal of difficulty differentiating sparrows. Jon Dunn and Dan Jones were very patient in pointing out the differences among sparrows. Perhaps I am hopeless. I make the following identifications with great trepidation. Please feel free to offer corrections.

Savannah Sparrow, SPI Convention Center

Savannah Sparrow

Fox Sparrow, SPI Convention Center

The Fox Sparrow about which everyone was so excited.

Clay-colored Sparrow, SPI Convention Center

Clay-colored Sparrow

After a fun day of birding, I paused at the SPI Convention Center to admire a beautiful Monarch Butterfly.

Monarch Butterfly, SPI Convention Center

Monarch Butterfly

It was a lovely day, and it was a treat to go out with such knowledgeable and informative birders. I believe that I learned a little something about sparrow identification. The next day, however, would bring new challenges. I would go in search of shorebirds.

Those of you who know me know that I am not a “lister.” Because I was riding shotgun in the birding van, I was assigned to keep a list for the day, which you will see below. You will note that my post contains nothing about the shorebirds that we saw that day. Watch this space…

Birds seen November 11, 2011:

Amercan Kestrel
Neotropic Cormorant
Roseate Spoonbill
Great-tailed Grackle
Laughing Gull
Harris Hawk
Mourning Dove
Eastern Meadowlark
Loggerhead Shrike
Starling
Northern Mockingbird
Long-billed Thrasher
Red-tailed Hawk
White-tailed Hawk
Aplomado Falcon
Long-billed Curlew
Peregrine Falcon
Osprey
Crested Caracara
Northern Mockingbird
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
White Ibis
White-winged Dove
Swamp Sparrow
Gray Catbird
House Sparrow
Dickcissel
Red-winged Blackbird
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eurasian Collared Dove
Anna’s Hummingbird
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Orange-crowned Warbler
Lincoln’s Sparrow
Eastern Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
House Wren
Northern Flicker
Bewick’s Wren
Great Kiskadee
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Painted Bunting
Pyrrhuloxia
Eastern Phoebe
Blue-headed Vireo
Wilson’s Warbler
Fox Sparrow
Orange-crowned Warbler
Savannah Sparrow
Magnolia Warbler
Bewick’s Wren
Least Sandpiper
Dunlin
Gull-billed Tern
Forster’s Term
American White Pelican
Sanderling
Northern Harrier
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Royal Tern
Caspian Tern
Snowy Egret
White Ibis
Black-bellied Plover
Piping Plover
Semi-palmated Plover
Herring Gull
Rough-winged Swallow
Northern Pintail
Sandwich Tern
Little Blue Heron
Tri-colored Heron
American Oystercatcher
Willet
Ruddy Turnstone
Lesser Scaup
Redhead
Sedge Wren
Grasshopper Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Nashville Warbler
Western Meadowlark
Snowy Plover
Winter Wren
Green Kingfisher
Northern Flicker
Field Sparrow
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Plain Chachalaca
Black-crested Titmouse
Green Jay
Least Grebe
American Coot
Ring-necked Duck
Gadwall
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Ruddy Duck
Common Gallinule
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
American Wigeon
Anhinga
Turkey Vulture
Marbled Godwit
White-eyed Vireo
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
Rock Pigeon
White-tailed Kite

115 species

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Wordless Wednesday-Wings on Wednesday

Roseate Spoonbill, Laguna Madre Bay, South Padre Island, Texas.

Roseate Spoonbill, Laguna Madre Bay, South Padre Island, Texas.

Roseate Spoonbills Laguna Madre Bay, South Padre Island, Texas.

Roseate Spoonbills, Laguna Madre Bay, South Padre Island, Texas.

Roseate Spoonbills, Laguna Madre Bay, South Padre Island, Texas.

Roseate Spoonbills, Laguna Madre Bay, South Padre Island, Texas.

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Exploring Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

After my first day at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival I could hardly wait to get up the next morning and do more birding. The morning was cloudy and windy as a front was moving through the area. Nevertheless I was excited to set off for Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

On the way to the refuge I saw two Aplomado Falcons, but both of them had flown by the time that I was able to stop my rental car. I certainly wish I had taken this photo. They are truly lovely birds!

Aplomado Falcon photo taken from cummah.blogspot.com

When I arrived at the Visitor’s Center I was delighted to see many residents at the feeding stations and the water feature. These are birds seen only in South Texas.

Green Jay, Laguna Atascosa NWR

Green Jay

Plain Chachalaca, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

Plain Chachalaca

White-tipped Dove, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

White-tipped Dove

These are birds that you will not see unless you travel to South Texas. If you would like to see them without traveling to Texas, Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary has a very nice webcam so that people can see these beautiful birds.

I am including this next bird because although it is a common bird for people in the Eastern half of the U.S., New Mexicans and most Westerners do not see this beautiful bird.

Northern Cardinal, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

Northern Cardinal


The birds suddenly fled, and I looked for the cause of their disturbance. I finally spotted a small coyote in the underbrush, as wary of me as the birds had been of it. The coyote was quite small compared to the ones that I am accustomed to seeing in New Mexico.

Coyote, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

Coyote

I drove the fifteen mile Bayside Drive loop, which runs for a significant distance along Laguna Madre, the bay between the mainland and South Padre Island. The scenery was interesting as desert scrub-type vegetation grows right to the water’s edge.

Laguna Madre Bay and desert scrub vegetation.

Laguna Madre Bay and desert scrub vegetation.

As I looked out over the bay, a Caspian Tern hunted overhead.

Caspian Tern, Laguna Madre Bay, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

Caspian Tern hunting above Laguna Madre Bay.

A Great Blue Heron fished in the shallow water near the shore.

Great Blue Heron Laguna Madre Bay, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

Great Blue Heron fishing in the shallows of Laguna Madre Bay.

I looked up and saw an Osprey with a fish, flying overhead. It was almost beyond the range of my lens …

Osprey, Laguna Madre Bay, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

Osprey with fish, flying over Laguna Madre Bay.

… but I was able to get a much better look when it landed on the shore.

Osprey, Laguna Madre Bay, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

Osprey on the shore with fish.

Several Semipalmated Sandpipers watched from a distance, hopeful of fish scraps.

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Laguna Madre Bay, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

Semipalmated Sandpiper

I continued along Bayside Drive and watched Egrets fishing in the shallow water of Laguna Madre Bay.

Reddish Egret, Laguna Madre Bay, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret (white morph), Laguna Madre Bay, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

Reddish Egret (white morph)

Great Egret, Laguna Madre Bay, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

Great Egret

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Here is a short video of shorebirds feeding along the edge of Laguna Madre Bay:

When I came to the end of Bayside Drive I saw a gorgeous Harris Hawk sitting on a post. It was kind enough to post for several photos.

Harris Hawk, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

Harris Hawk

Harris Hawk, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

Harris Hawk, another view.

As I left Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, I saw a Crested Caracara flying toward me. I was quicker than I had been with the Aplomado Falcon, and I was able to get a photograph.

Crested Caracara, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas.

Crested Caracara

I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Laguna Atascosa. The next day would bring new challenges involving shorebird and sparrow identification, two of my weaknesses.

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Wordless Wednesday-Wings on Wednesday

Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Frontera Audubon Center.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Frontera Audubon Center, Welaco, Texas.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Frontera Audubon Center, Welaco, Texas.

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Birding at Estero Llano Grande State Park

When I arrived in Harlingen, Texas for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, I was overwhelmed with the many possibilities for birding in South Texas. I was delighted when a Twitter and Facebook friend, Marsha Kraus Fulton, contacted me and offered to take me birding at Estero Llano Grande State Park the next morning. Estero Llano Grande is located in Weslaco, Texas and is part of the World Birding Center network, which consists of nine locations in the Rio Grande Valley.

I was only a little late to meet Marsha in the parking lot. Fortunately, Marsha was familiar with the area, and she led the way through the birding center. As we walked across a stream into a wooded area, a Great Kiskadee greeted us with a series of loud calls.

Great Kiskadee, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco, Texas.

Great Kiskadee

I heard the call of the Great Kiskadee very frequently throughout my visit to the Rio Grande Valley. You can hear it here.

Next we walked to an area where Common Pauraques had been seen, and we were fortunate enough to see two of them. I would never have found them on my own, but Marsha knew where they had been seen. They blend so well with their surroundings that it is very difficult to see them, even when you know you are looking right at them.

Common Pauraque, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco, Texas.

Common Pauraque

After quietly oohing and aahing over the beautiful plumage of the Common Pauraque we walked over to the alligator pond. Although we did not see any alligators, we did see a White Ibis standing sentry over the pond.

White Ibis, Estero Llano Grande State Park.

White Ibis

We continued up onto the levee and stopped to watch American White Pelicans circling overhead. Their flight patterns reminded me of the Sandhill Cranes that we see in New Mexico.

American White Pelicans, Estero Llano Grande State Park.

American White Pelicans

A White-tailed Kite hunted along the levee …

White-tailed Kite, Estero Llano Grande State Park.

White-tailed Kite

… and a Turkey Vulture flew overhead.

Turkey Vulture, Estero Llano Grande State Park.

Turkey Vulture

We continued into another wooded area where feeders had been set up. I loved the large Bougainvillea that were growing in this area.

Bougainvillea, Estero Llano Grande State Park.

Bougainvillea

In the feeder area we saw a beautiful Golden-fronted Woodpecker feeding on citrus.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Estero Llano Grande State Park.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Plain Chachalaca announced themselves noisily.

Common Chachalaca, Estero Llano Grande State Park.

Plain Chachalaca

You can hear the raucous call of these noisy birds here.

I saw a flash of color in the trees, and I saw my first Green Jay, one of the birds that I had really hoped to see during my visit.

Green Jay, Estero Llano Grande State Park.

Green Jay

On the way to the hummingbird area, we paused to look at a few butterflies. We saw this lovely Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes).

Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes ) Estero Llano Grande State Park.

Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes )

Perhaps the highlight of our day was seeing the very rare Blomfild’s Beauty (Smyrna blomfildia), a lovely and rare butterfly, who was sitting on a feeder along with a very worn and tattered Mexican Bluewing female.

Blomfild's Beauty (Smyrna blomfildia), Weslaco, Texas.

Blomfild's Beauty (Smyrna blomfildia) and tattered Mexican Bluewing female.

After looking at the butterflies, we went over to the hummingbird area where we saw this pretty female Black-chinned Hummingbird …

Female Black-chinned Hummingbird, Estero Llano Grande State Park.

Female Black-chinned Hummingbird

… and this lovely Buff-bellied Hummingbird.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Estero Llano Grande State Park.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Marsha was a wonderful guide, and I am very grateful for her kindness in showing me a beautiful birding area.

At the end of the day I began to dream of more lovely birds to see in the following days.

Moonrise at Estero Llano Grande

Moonrise at Estero Llano Grande

If you enlarge the photo, you will see that the black dot above and to the right of the rising moon is a Great Blue Heron flying overhead.

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Wordless Wednesday-Wings on Wednesday

Least Grebe, Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary, Texas.

Least Grebe, Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary, Texas.

Least Grebe, Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary, Texas.

Least Grebe, Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary, Texas.

Least Grebe, Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary, Texas.

Least Grebe, Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary, Texas.

Least Grebe, Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary, Texas.

Least Grebe, Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary, Texas.

Least Grebe, Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary, Texas.


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Green Jays at Laguna Atascosa NWR

One of the birds I especially wanted to see at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival was the Green Jay. It is not unusual to see these beautiful birds in South Texas, but they are not found elsewhere in the US.

I drove to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge to look at shorebirds, and I was surprised and delighted to see many Green Jays there.

Laguna Atascosa NWR is a region of Texas which some call the last great habitat. Here, thorn forest intermingles with freshwater wetlands, coastal prairies, mudflats and beaches.

Here are some photos of the Green Jays:

Green Jay, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Green Jay, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Green Jay, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

These Green Jays were drinking and bathing at a water feature.

Green Jays, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Green Jay, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

They are truly beautiful birds.

Green Jay, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Here is a short video of a flock of Green Jays feeding:

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