Thursday, March 27, 2014

Rio Grande Valley Day Five: A Cold Day

Posted by Kirk
This is part five of a series of posts on the 2013 Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival

One of the great things about going down to Texas in November is that you get a much welcome change in temperature. Just as Minnesota is metaphorically opening the bathrobe and letting in the cold arctic air (not sure I'm comfortable with that metaphor) the good folks down in Texas are still wrapped up in the warm embrace of a tropical floral bathrobe (yes, now I'm sure the metaphor is terrible.)

It's such a nice change in November to step off the plane and into the humid (albeit musty smelling) Harlingen airport. As my friend Birdchick likes to say, "Smells like birds."

With this in mind, I awoke Thursday and dressed according to my expectations.

This is, of course, a horrible idea. One should never dress for their expectations, they should dress according to the weather report.

Apparently I was the only person to listen to the weather report as I nearly froze in my t-shirt and shorts. We met up first thing in the morning with Paula, Annette and Robert at Estero to try for a Black Rail. This was a nearly pointless exercise as by the time we got there it was already light out and our only hope was to be there before dawn. This was not turning out to be the kind of trip where anything was accomplished before dawn. We fruitlessly looked for the rail and failed. It was probably frozen anyhow. Most of the other birders were dressed like they were going birding in the boreal forest. I was doing a very convincing impression of someone in danger of getting gradual hypothermia.

Curt found this tarantula hanging out on the cattails where we were hoping we would find the rail.

On the bright side, I added an early morning lifer at Estero. Back by the alligator pond I stumbled upon a Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

Packing things up at Estero we divided up into a couple of cars and headed for Anzalduas to look for hawks. They wouldn't be up until the day warmed a bit so we weren't in a huge hurry to get there (spoiler alert, it never warmed up.)

In a happy turn of events, once we reached Anzalduas I realized Erik had left his Black Swamp Bird Observatory hoodie in our car. Thanks Erik! Hypothermia averted.

At Anzalduas we met up with artist Catherine Hamilton and her friend Luke Tiller. I hadn't birded with Catherine in years. It was good to hang out but the birds were few and far between.

At this point in the trip we had two goals, one was to see new birds and the second was to photograph birds. To see new birds we had to be strategic about where we went. Anzulduas was our spot to see Gray Hawk. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any.

As we stood in the driving cold wind we did add a green kingfisher to our list as well as Vermillion Flycatcher and House finches. We all got a good chuckle when eBird flagged our sighting of house finches as unusual. Uh, okay.

At this point we needed food. We used our phones to find a well rated Mexican restaurant that Curt said was only five miles away. Perfect!

Erik headed back to the festival with Paul, Robert and Annette to man his booth and we head to lunch with our Texan birding buddy Kelly.

Did Curt's new phone say it was only five miles away? It suddenly said eight, then ten, then fifteen. I was pretty sure he was reading the miles to next turn instead of miles total but we eventually arrived there. It weirdly ended up being the same restaurant that Erik and Paula and Annette ate at earlier in the week.

The food was okay but we'd had to wait and lost out on birding time. Kelly let us in on a little secret. We should have gotten tacos at the gas station.

This seemed like an odd bit of local intel. I'm not used to thinking of the gas station as the go-to place for quality food. If you've seen the quality of the shriveled up hotdogs and taquito rolls on the roller grill at a SuperAmerica, QuikTrip or Holiday Station then you know what I'm talking about. We made a mental note to either thank or berate Kelly later for this advice.

In the late afternoon we spent the last bit of birding back at Estero. Kelly's car was there so we headed back and why not do a little birding since we're there? We wandered around for two hours and tallied a quick 22 species almost all of which we had already seen. I took the opportunity to get some better photos.

This Long-billed thrasher showed up at the feeders.

This Green Jay was also cooperative.

We could have seen more but we were specifically looking for new birds like olive sparrows. No olive sparrows showed up but we did add Hermit Thrush to our Texas list.

We also had a very cool encounter with a new species though not one we could enter into eBird. While walking from the newly acquired RV section of the park to the visitor's center we happened upon two young bobcats!

It had been a slow cold day compared to the rest of the week so we felt the need to cap off the day with a near guaranteed bird. We headed out to look for Green Parakeets. Our inside information told us they would be hanging out in the Holiday Inn parking lot in Harlingen. As the sun set we pulled into the parking lot and sure enough, the whole flock was there.

We only added six new birds to our list all day and it was cold. Still, how could it not be a great day? We saw old friends, we were birding. We were now at 137 for the trip.