Rio Grande Valley Kick Off

Travis’s introduction to the Rio Grande Valley came at the hands of Cameron Cox, co author of the brand new Peterson Reference Guide  to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight (with Ken Behrens). Cameron guides for Tropical Birding and wanders all over the US and beyond through his job and we’d last run into him a week earlier in Cape May, NJ for the NJ Audubon Autumn Weekend and had given him Travis so he could pick up a few birds in the interim.

Cameron Cox

Cameron Cox with Travis

In the week between Cameron was able to chase down a couple new birds including a late Hudsonian Godwit, a bird I’d assumed would be missed at this point. This was the 560th bird tallied for the Traveling Trinovid’s big year. Upon landing in Texas, we met Cameron at a staked out rare bird, the Painted Redstart at the University of Texas Pan-American campus in Edinburg.

Painted Redstart

Painted Redstart – UTPA digiscoped through Leica APO Televid spotting scope

We spotted the bird, exchanged a bit of small talk and then retrieved Travis and headed toward our next destination to track down some of the Rio Grande Valley speciality birds. The funny thing about rarities is typically a rare bird in one spot is common in another. Painted Redstarts are commonly seen in SE Arizona, so while this was a new bird for the Texas list, it was not new for the big year.

Great Kiskadee

Great Kiskadee – UTPA campus

The first NEW bird for Travis’ big year here was the Great Kiskadee, the first bird added on this South Texas adventure!

Travis would next visit Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco, Texas. This “gem of the valley” offers great bird diversity in an easily accessible and comparatively small area, so it’s a great choice for seeing many bird species and a wise choice for an introduction to the Rio Grande Valley specialty birds.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Buff-bellied Hummingbird – digiscoped through Leica APO Televid – Nov 2013

More Kiskadees called as we made our way to the Visitor’s Center and Buff-bellied Hummingbirds “tick-tick”ed from the brush near the feeding stations. Life bird #2 for Travis.

Least Grebe chick

Least Grebe chick

From the observation deck we saw many waterfowl species including Cinnamon Teal, Black-bellied & Fulvous Whistling-Ducks. After a bit of searching though we finally found the 3rd new bird for Travis’ list. Three tiny Least Grebes including 2 adults & a stripe-headed chick, fed on the far side of the pool mostly hidden in grasses.

Common Parauque, Estero Llano Grande State Park

Common Parauque, Estero Llano Grande State Park

We made our way to the Alligator Lake trail next for the very reliable Common Parauques that invariably use the same roosting area year after year. After a bit of searching, the reliable birds were located right where we expected them to be. However as always it takes some work to spot them with their great natural camouflage. 4 new birds and counting.

"McCall's" Eastern Screech-Owl - Leica V-lux 4 camera

“McCall’s” Eastern Screech-Owl – Leica V-lux 4 camera

Right around the corner the resident “McCall’s” Eastern Screech-Owl roosted in the mouth of a nest box. We enjoyed views of this beauty and then made a quick scan of the edge of Alligator Lake proper. In short order we’d found a large Alligator, and a tiny Kingfisher.

female Green Kingfisher

female Green Kingfisher

first there was a female Green Kingfisher…

male Green Kingfisher

male Green Kingfisher

… and then we spotted a male! (#5)

Along the dike we spotted many shorebirds & wading birds in the resaca here. Many White Pelicans were amassed with more dropping in by the moment. Roseate Spoonbills fed alongside Egrets and large American Avocets & Black-necked Stilts fed alongside Long-billed Dowitchers & Least Sandpipers. Solitary & Spotted Sandpipers made a great comparison, but no new birds seen here.

American White Pelicans, Estero Llano Grande SP

American White Pelicans, Estero Llano Grande SP

We wound our way back past the visitor’s center and then to the dense vegetation in the old campground to the west. We immediately saw numerous different specialty species. Black-crested Titmouse joined flocks of Orange-crowned Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the Oak trees here. We spotted Golden-fronted Woodpeckers (#6) first.

Couch's Kingbird, Estero Llano Grande SP

Couch’s Kingbird, Estero Llano Grande SP

Couch’s Kingbirds (#7) watched from snags above, as the gorgeous Green Jays (#8) dropped into feeding stations here.

colorful Green Jays are a Rio Grande Valley favorite

colorful Green Jays are a Rio Grande Valley favorite

Other birds hid under nearby shadowed brush including Olive Sparrows & Long-billed Thrashers that called but were never seen.

White-tipped Dove digiscoped through Leica APO Televid Spotting scope

White-tipped Dove digiscoped through Leica APO Televid Spotting scope

White-tipped Doves (#9) wandered around through the brush here generally staying hidden, but occasionally they would break from cover to steal seeds from under the feeders here.

Plain Chachalaca roosts in shrubs.

Plain Chachalaca roosts in shrubs.

Next we spotted uncharacteristically silent Plain Chachalacas (#10) perched in the shade here and as we watched we noted a Clay-colored Thrush (#11) in the bushes below.

Clay-colored Thrush RGV, digiscoped November 2013

Clay-colored Thrush RGV, digiscoped November 2013

and so it had begun the first half day in the valley and the Year list jumped by 11 new species with 2 others heard which would definitely be seen as the week progressed. The year list had grown to 571 and counting!