Rio Grande Valley – Photo Diary Day 1

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The Fastest way to get to Texas was by spaceship.

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Prickly Pear were flowering and fruiting
Note to self:  Don’t just grab a ripe looking Prickly Pear fruit.
It might not look like it has tiny spines, but it does.
Also, don’t just take a bite out of it raw, because, you know, the spines
Spines in your tongue and lips leave a longer reminder than taste does.
4/5 would try slightly differently next time.

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This butterfly made me legitimately angry
Angry of how easy it was to take a photo of
How cooperative it was.
It was the first little animal I saw in the yard

Am I missing obvious beauty in Oregon
Or does Texas have something we don’t?

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Black Crested Titmouse was surprisingly loud
It came to greet us when we arrived at the Airbnb
HEY! HEY! HEY!
Look!  Look at me!
Welcome to Texas!

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The orange eye on this curved-bill Thrasher
Looks like a delicious candy
Rio Grande Birding was hard to adjust to
The birds were so loud
but the thicket was so thick
This guy was right on top of me and I couldn’t find him

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Ducks on a Log
Sounds like a tasty kid snack
I’ll get to work in my test kitchen
Hey kids?  Ready for a bird test?
Northern Shoveler, Mottled Duck, Blue Wing teal, and Green Wing teal.
Missing anything?

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Shake that booty
Lesser Yellow Legs can’t resist the urge to dance

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Cinnamon Teal and Little Blue Heron
They said we were an abomination
but our love knows no bounds
Species, size, interests, none of this matters
We love being in each others presence

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Everything was beautiful.
Even this dumb flower

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Couch’s Kingbird
He’s got a good head on his shoulders
In fact, he seems to be mostly head
They say the camera add 10 pounds
It is weirdly allocated in this situation

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Estero Llano Grande State Park did not disappoint
Bird Highway Trail
Speed Limit: 80
Birds Seen: 45

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Plain Chachalaca
Huge Bird/Dinosaur
Moves invisibly, unless out in the open
Sneaks up on you
Intermitant Screaming

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We are in tick/chigger/giant spider country
I itch every time I look at this photo
Tick found: 1
Chiggers found: Me
Still itchy

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Turtle Time:
Left to Right, Top To bottom:
Red-eared Slider
Texas River Cooter
Spiny Softshell

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Turtle names are little self contained jokes

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Least Grebe
Cutest little Grebe
Another bird in the Yellow-candy-eye-club
Or maybe I’m Just hungry

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My Bird Crew rolling deep
On the look out for some invisible birds.

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You can play along too
There is a bird here
It is called a Common Paraque
Not so common to Me
Here is a hint:
Hiding in bottom Right quadrant

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Here is a closeup.
These guys are nap-masters
But they stay up late partying
So I guess it makes sense they are so good at sleeping
Even with all of us birders watching

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Golden-Fronted Woodpecker
Fill an interesting ubiquitous bird niche
They seem to be everywhere
but only as a pair
Texas’s Song Sparrow is a Woodpecker
How lucky is that?

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Feathers Blowing in the Wind
Lores painted in Green
Great Egret is ready for date night

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Roseate Spoonbill
Providing the landscape with a splash of pink
A goofy wading bird
Goofy and beautiful
Its an endearing mix of characteristics

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I think this is an Anole
I don’t know about lizards
But I know I like them.

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Buff Bellied Hummingbird
Lounging in the Shade
The sun is hot
Time for a well deserved break
You work too hard lil guy.

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One of my dream birds
And my dreams have come true
I made the group pull over so we could bask in their coolness
Scissor-tail flycatcher

If running with scissors is dangerous
Flying with them is deadly
If you are an insect

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The first day was more than I could have hoped for
I was lucky to be able to go.
Really lucky.

Not tired of me yet?
Check out Day 2

Preliminary Texas Trip Report

TEXAS!  If you like birds and tacos, I would highly recommend it.

Photography Map

I took so many photos, I am going to have to make more blog posts by the day, or the location, in order to adequately cover everything that I saw.  This post is meant to be more of an overview of birds seen, with a few photos, while I will have some more narrative driven blog posts detailing our journey in Magical South Texas coming shortly.

Until then, the breakdown of all the birds I saw.

After a red-eye flight from PDX we arrived in Brownsville Texas on the 24th, around noon, we rushed to check in to our AIR BNB, and we were off birding by 2:00

Our first stop was the incredible Estero Llano Grande State Park/World Birding Center

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We saw 45 bird species in a little under 3 hours.  (Lifers in Bold)

1 Gadwall – Anas strepera
2 Mottled Duck – Anas fulvigula
3 Blue-winged Teal – Anas discors
4 Cinnamon Teal – Anas cyanoptera
5 Northern Shoveler – Anas clypeata
6 Green-winged Teal – Anas crecca
7 Plain Chachalaca – Ortalis vetula
8 Least Grebe – Tachybaptus dominicus
9 American White Pelican – Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
10 Great Egret – Ardea alba
11 Snowy Egret – Egretta thula
12 Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
13 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron – Nyctanassa violacea
14 White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
15 White-faced Ibis – Plegadis chihi
16 Roseate Spoonbill – Platalea ajaja
17 Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis
18 Sora – Porzana carolina
19 Common Gallinule – Gallinula galeata
20 American Coot – Fulica americana
21 Stilt Sandpiper – Calidris himantopus
22 Least Sandpiper – Calidris minutilla
23 Long-billed Dowitcher – Limnodromus scolopaceus
24 Spotted Sandpiper – Actitis macularius
25 Lesser Yellowlegs – Tringa flavipes
26 White-tipped Dove – Leptotila verreauxi
27 White-winged Dove – Zenaida asiatica
28 Common Pauraque – Nyctidromus albicollis
29 Buff-bellied Hummingbird – Amazilia yucatanensis
30 Golden-fronted Woodpecker – Melanerpes aurifrons
31 Ladder-backed Woodpecker – Picoides scalaris
32 Great Kiskadee – Pitangus sulphuratus
33 Couch’s Kingbird – Tyrannus couchii
34 Purple Martin – Progne subis
35 Tree Swallow – Tachycineta bicolor
36 Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
37 Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula
38 Curve-billed Thrasher – Toxostoma curvirostre
39 Long-billed Thrasher – Toxostoma longirostre
40 Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
41 Orange-crowned Warbler – Oreothlypis celata20170324-_T9A1626
42 Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
43 Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
44 Lesser Goldfinch – Spinus psaltria
45 House Sparrow – Passer domesticus

This is kind of a funny list, because I picked up a few Eastern US Birds with the Cardinal and the Carolina Wren.  I finally understand why everyone is obsessed with Cardinals, they are beautiful!

To finish out our abbreviated day with a bang, and an Elf Owl, we scooted over to Bentesen: Rio Grande Valley State Park, and picked up the following new birds:

46 Black-bellied Whistling-Duck – Dendrocygna autumnalis
47 Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus
48 Tricolored Heron – Egretta tricolor
49 Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
50 Broad-winged Hawk – Buteo platypterus
51 Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
52 Elf Owl – Micrathene whitneyi
53 Ringed Kingfisher – Megaceryle torquata
54 Cave Swallow – Petrochelidon fulva
55 Black-crested Titmouse – Baeolophus atricristatus
56 Great-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus mexicanus

While waiting for dusk we went to search for exciting Kingfishers.  Luckily, we found a Ringed Kingfisher, flying and calling, and walked back to try to find the Elf Owl.

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It was a pleasure to see a pair of nesting Elf Owls.  They are our smallest owl, eat insects, and are fully nocturnal.  This photo was functionally taken in the dark, with camera settings I almost never use (ISO 16,000 f/5.6 @1/60 sec if anyone is interested).

We ended our first day happy, exhausted, and excited for more!

March 25th, we woke up early and headed to South Padre Island.

On our way to the coast we made a stop down Old Port Isabel Road, home of Bobwhite, some random Horses, and APLOMADO FALCON!

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57 White-tailed Kite – Elanus leucurus
58 Northern Bobwhite – Colinus virginianus
59 Harris’s Hawk – Parabuteo unicinctus
60 White-tailed Hawk – Geranoaetus albicaudatus
61 Killdeer – Charadrius vociferus
62 Whimbrel – Numenius phaeopus
63 Long-billed Curlew – Numenius americanus
64 Willet – Tringa semipalmata
65 Laughing Gull – Leucophaeus atricilla
66 American Kestrel – Falco sparverius
67 Aplomado Falcon – Falco femoralis
68 Loggerhead Shrike – Lanius ludovicianus
69 White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus
70 Horned Lark – Eremophila alpestris
71 European Starling – Sturnus vulgaris
72 Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas
73 Olive Sparrow – Arremonops rufivirgatus
74 Lark Sparrow – Chondestes grammacus
75 Savannah Sparrow – Passerculus sandwichensis
76 Pyrrhuloxia – Cardinalis sinuatus
77 Eastern Meadowlark – Sturnella magna

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The Aplomado falcon was definitely a highlight of the trip, it was a bird we all wanted to see, and they are fairly rare in Texas.  The falcons used to be common in the Southern US until the 1950s, and were part of a reintroduction program that ended in 2002.  This photo was one of a pair that was breeding on a nesting platform.

After this exciting high-point we headed to Spring Break Island

78 Chihuahuan Raven – Corvus cryptoleucus

This bird was seen on the highway, en route to South Padre Birding and Nature Center.  We thought it was a crow at first, before we remembered Crows don’t really exist in this part of the world.

South Padre Island had two great boardwalks that let us explore some mangrove-type wetlands and go out to look at the Gulf (or whatever the interior body of water between the Island and Texas is called)

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79 Redhead – Aythya americana
80 Red-breasted Merganser – Mergus serrator
81 Common Loon – Gavia immer
82 Pied-billed Grebe – Podilymbus podiceps
83 Neotropic Cormorant – Phalacrocorax brasilianus
84 Brown Pelican – Pelecanus occidentalis
85 Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias
86 Reddish Egret – Egretta rufescens
87 Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis
88 Green Heron – Butorides virescens
89 Black-crowned Night-Heron – Nycticorax nycticorax
90 Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
91 Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii
92 Black-necked Stilt – Himantopus mexicanus
93 American Golden-Plover – Pluvialis dominica
94 Pectoral Sandpiper – Calidris melanotos
95 Solitary Sandpiper – Tringa solitaria
96 Greater Yellowlegs – Tringa melanoleuca
97 Caspian Tern – Hydroprogne caspia
98 Royal Tern – Thalasseus maximus
99 Sandwich Tern – Thalasseus sandvicensis
100 Black Skimmer – Rynchops niger
101 Rock Pigeon – Columba livia
102 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – Tyrannus forficatus
103 Barn Swallow – Hirundo rustica
104 Wilson’s Warbler – Cardellina pusilla
105 Clapper Rail – Rallus crepitans
106 Ruddy Turnstone – Arenaria interpres
107 Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon
108 Marsh Wren – Cistothorus palustris
109 Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata

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It was a real pleasure and a delight to spend so much quality time with so many lifers.  The Egrets and Herons here were incredible.  This is a very handsome Little Blue Heron.

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From South padre, we went south toward Boca Chica, and made a quick stop at / Zapata Memorial Boat Ramp to look for Gull-billed Terns and little shorebirds.  It was nice to have a lot of eyes searching for exciting birds!

110 Wilson’s Plover – Charadrius wilsonia
111 Semipalmated Plover – Charadrius semipalmatus
112 Sanderling – Calidris alba
113 Semipalmated Sandpiper – Calidris pusilla
114 Gull-billed Tern – Gelochelidon nilotica
115 Forster’s Tern – Sterna forsteri
116 Crested Caracara – Caracara cheriway

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This place was great, so many Semipalmated Plovers!  I love them so much!

From the weird boat basin, we went down to the mouth of the Rio Grande!  I saw Mexico, I picked up my last lifer of the day, and it was a very good one!

117 Parasitic Jaeger – Stercorarius parasiticus
118 Ring-billed Gull – Larus delawarensis
119 Herring Gull – Larus argentatus

We lucked into a Parasitic Jaeger, this is a pelagic bird, and should have been somewhere far out over the ocean.  It was trying to steal food from a Sandwich Tern.

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It was our rarest bird of the day, and it was exhibiting some really exciting behavior.  We were able to watch it chase and harass the tern for a couple of minutes.  Boca Chica was a great last stop of the day.

Maybe this is obvious, but we saw the majority of our new species in the first two days. Our next three were mostly spent trying to find new birds in similar habitats so things slowed down on the new state bird count.

March 26th, we went into what felt like a jungle, Sabal Palm Sanctuary, then back to South Padre Island to escape the heat of the day, and ultimately bought popsicles and beer, and birdwatched from the yard of our Air BNB.

120 Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
121 Green Jay – Cyanocorax yncas
122 Black-throated Green Warbler – Setophaga virens
123 Hooded Oriole – Icterus cucullatus
124 Least Bittern – Ixobrychus exilis
125 Black-bellied Plover – Pluvialis squatarola
126 Dunlin – Calidris alpina
127 Inca Dove – Columbina inca
128 Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Archilochus colubris
129 Altamira Oriole – Icterus gularis

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Not all birds were cooperative.  We went back to South Padre island to not only escape the heat, but to find the Least Bittern we didn’t see on our first trip.  This was one of a tiny tiny pair of bitterns, hiding among the reeds.

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Our Air BNB was excellent, we saw two species of woodpecker, two species of Oriole, Green Jays, Chachalacas, Black-crested Titmice, and more.  It was an incredible place.  It was also the only place I found where I could openly drink beer and birdwatch.

March 27th, our last full day we went back to explore Bentsen State Park more comprehensively, escaped the heat at Estero Llano Grande’s covered observation deck, and ended the night in Brownsville’s Oliveria Park to look for roosting Parrots.

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Bentsen was excellent, we had a great sunrise, we saw a Bobcat, and had wonderful looks at a roadrunner.

130 Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga
131 Northern Harrier – Circus cyaneus
132 Greater Roadrunner – Geococcyx californianus
133 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet – Camptostoma imberbe
134 Brown-headed Cowbird – Molothrus ater
135 Fulvous Whistling-Duck – Dendrocygna bicolor
136 Clay-colored Thrush – Turdus grayi
137 Lesser Nighthawk – Chordeiles acutipennis
138 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Sphyrapicus varius
139 Red-crowned Parrot – Amazona viridigenalis 

 

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The Roadrunner was one of the birds I wanted to see most on the trip, even though it isn’t really a Texas specialty, it was a very sought after bird for me.  We got to watch this one for about 10 minutes, calling from a tree.  It made me so happy.  The whole day, as they all had been, was incredible.

It was nice to be birdwatching at dawn, and then eat lunch and take a siesta before finishing the night watching roosting parrots.

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The parrots were such a spectacle.  They flew in to the park in small flocks, played on wires, were super loud, and really fun to watch.  It was a great way to end our last night in Texas.

March 28th, our last day.  We had some time pre-checkout to go birdwatching.  We stayed more local to Harlingen.  The Harlingen Thicket was incredibly dense, and a beautiful park, Harlingen Lake had a Tropical Kingbird on some weird waterworks piping, and our last stop was University of Texas, Brownsville before our flight.

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140 House Wren – Troglodytes aedon
141 Common Ground-Dove – Columbina passerina
142 Chimney Swift – Chaetura pelagica
143 Lincoln’s Sparrow – Melospiza lincolnii
144 Tropical Kingbird – Tyrannus melancholicus
145 Black Phoebe – Sayornis nigricans

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My last Lifer of the trip was the Tropical Kingbird.  We saw 50-100 Couch’s Kingbirds, which look nearly identical, but we lucked out to get a nice view of this little yellow-bellied bird.

It was an incredible trip.  I was lucky to have wonderful company, and see some great birds.  I would absolutely do it again.  I added 66 brand new species to my life list, and I got a lot of great photos.  It made the long flight and travel absolutely worthwhile!

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Next blog posts will be day by day more detailed narratives.  Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Sauvie Island in the Sunshine

I’m Back and I’m Still Taking Bird Photos

Great news everybody!
I am still taking bird photos!
I am also trying to pump as much content as I possibly can out on the internet.
So far so good.
Right?

On our third sunny day of 2017
I was fortunate enough to not have to work, and I went to Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden.
So, expect lots of duck photos.

But first, a Varied Thrush!

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This was the most cooperative of about six Varied Thrushes in a little grassy area.
He really tolerated me for longer than I thought,
But nowhere near as cooperative as a Robin might be.

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On the exact opposite end of the human toleration spectrum
This Canada Goose sat with me and watched ducks in the pond
I think he wanted chin scratches, but I didn’t want to get bit.
We just enjoyed each others company.

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This little Song Sparrow was singing from the bushes
There were three that were fighting in the same zone
but Sparrow fights are notoriously difficult to capture on camera
I will work on it.

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My original reason for going to Crystal Springs
Besides enjoying the sun
Was to try to get photos of birds in flight
This Goose is making a big jump
They were having canon ball contests.

They seemed to be having a good time either way.
Bathing geese making rainbows in the sunshine

It really is surprising how many photos of geese I take.
I am surprised, at least.
Maybe it is because of their cute little white cheeks
Or maybe I am fascinated by how vicious they can be
They are so loud.

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I though This goose was going to hit me in the head.
I saw two geese flying at me from a distance and was really excited
I started taking their photos
But it seemed like we were on a collision course.
I did not waver in this game of chicken
I did not duck, duck this goose.
He passed about a foot over my head|
And I was rewarded with some out of focus photos.

Probably the most scared I have been getting bird photos though.

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Humans aren’t the only ones that love ducks and geese.
Bald Eagles also love them
Well, they love eating them
Or doing whatever they want.
They’re Bald Eagles!

C’mon!

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Another Bird I am strangely fascinated with.
American coot.
AKA Mud Hens.
They hang out with ducks, but aren’t ducks.
Maybe that is the reason for my fascination?
It is hard to pin down.

They are a type of rail, which is cool
They have giant feet, also cool
They run on the water, yep also cool.

Things they don’t have:
Cute size or shape or coloration
Maybe it is their head:body:feet ratio.
I will do more research.

This is a Wood Duck
Wood Ducks do not have the same problems as coots
They are probably our most glamorous duck.
I used to think they were too pretty for me to take their photo
But I have grown as a bird photographer
I am no longer afraid to approach beautiful duck models

Or as decoy as can be?

Sorry.

Ducks are weird

Just walking to the market on his one day off
Got to pick up a fresh loaf of French Bread, a nice cheese, and a bottle of wine.
Tonight is going to be special.

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It feels good to be blogging again.
I plan on doing more of it soon.

I am surprised how inspiring it is to create content when people are actually paying you to do it. I am a little more than 33% of my way to my first goal of $300 a month on Patreon.com

I am sending out postcards as tokens of thanks to all patrons, regardless of how little they pledge a month.

If you would like to support me, and in turn encourage me to take and post more photos, make more blog posts, and even do videos, please go to: patreon.com/portlandbirder

Thanks, and see you soon!