Tag Archives: Texas bird photography

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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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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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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