Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Crazy Day of Birding in Texas

Posted by Kirk
I spent last week at the Rio Grande Valley Birding festival and had a great time. Saturday in particular was an exciting day. We got up before the sun and headed about two hours west in hopes to be in Salineno by daybreak. A few wrong turns and some construction meant we got there a hair later than we had hoped. We failed to see any Red-billed Pigeons or Muscovy ducks flying on the river and so we were starting the day of with two misses. We did see a flock of Pyrrhuloxia on the road down to the river so at least that seemed like a good start. 

Things got even better. There is a little nature preserve there right on the river where volunteers keep feeders well stocked. We chatted with them as they put out seed, peanut butter and oranges. They told us the best place to wait so I sat down and didn't move. In just a few minutes a Hooded Oriole showed up. What a beautiful bird. It was the first time I had ever seen one. 

One of the volunteers pointed out that she could hear a single note from an Audubon's Oriole as well so we patiently waited. Soon I could hear it too as it got closer and closer. Before too long a male announced his arrival at the fence just 10 feet in front of me and started to chow down on peanut butter. This is an incredible bird. Gorgeous!

While waiting for these two to show up, my first Plain Chachalaca's showed up as well. Three lifers in a matter of minutes! We then went back to the river and soon got wonderful full scope views of a Ringed Kingfisher, also a lifer.

We had plans to head to Falcon State Park as well for other species so we decided to head out. I'd turned off my mobile phone when we got to Salineno because we were so close to Mexico that I could not get a US carrier, only a Mexican one,  and didn't want to incur any roaming fees. 

When we got back up to the highway I turned my phone back on and sudden received a flurry of text messages from pretty much everyone I had met at the festival.  "CODE 5 Rarity Amazon Kingfisher near Harlingen!"

Doh! Here we were 2+ hours west of Harlingen tracking down western species and one of the rarest birds possible shows up back where we had left from. We still had species to pick up out west and it was only lunch time. Given the intel we had on the bird we hedged our bets and went to Falcon State Park for an hour. We were gambling the kingfisher would still be there in the afternoon. At the park we saw Roadrunner and Couch's Kingbirds, both lifers for me. We didn't see any Scaled quail or Ash-throated flycatcher and decided we needed to leave. 

Armed with directions to the spot with the kingfisher we tore back east and made it there by 4:30. There was still a large crowd though not as many as earlier in the day. Still, the police were out directing traffic to make sure no one got killed as they ran around on the side of the road. 

As soon as I got out of the car people eagerly had us look through their scopes. The bird was very far away and at that distance you kind of had to take their word that you were looking at the right bird. Here's what the view looked like zoomed as far as possible though my 400mm camera lens. 

Can you see the bird? 

If I crop it in you can make it out...kind of.

It wasn't that great a look. We waited, and luckily the bird eventually flew closer and I got the shot below. If it had hung around longer I could have played with the camera setting to get a better shot but, wow, what a cool bird. Look at that honkin huge beak!

It was out last day of birding in Texas and I was happy to have added 8 lifers. For the week I saw a total of 155 species of birds, 48 of them were new ones I had never seen before. It was a fabulous trip. 


Neits said...

I really enjoyed this post. It's crazy fun chasing after a rare or life bird. You captured the spirit of it in your writing.