Friday, January 28, 2011

Birding by Ear

In addition to the great field trips we get to participate in, the refuge also brings in well-known birders in the area to teach classes for the volunteers and staff. Mark was sick today so he stayed home but I went to an all day Birding by Ear class taught by Mary Gustafson.

The class focused on common, winter birds of the Rio Grande Valley. We learned the difference between songs and calls (Songs: longer, musical, male advertising, territorial; Calls: short, communicate with others - predator warning, flocking, mobbing, etc.).

The birds were grouped together (Doves; Kingfishers; Meadowlark, Dowitcher, etc.) which was very helpful.

We also studied some of the target birds (Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet), and the foolers (Starling-imitate almost anything; Great Kiskadee-lots of loud noises).

An interesting bit of information Mary told us was that the names of all Robins who don’t have red breast were changed to Thrushs.

After lunch we split up into three groups and went out to listen to birds. My group had two really great leaders, Martin Hagne and John Yochum. We walked all over the refuge for about 3 hours.

I learned a lot. I really had to remember to listen and not just look. It will be fun to go out and use all the new information I learned!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

January 25 - 27, 2011

Tuesday: We had 7 people on our 8:30 walk this morning. With a total of 48 species. It started out cloudy, and pretty cold but ended up really sunny and nice. Birds of note: Winter Wren and Pine Warbler.

Since the weather was so nice we led another bird walk after lunch. We started out with 17 participants. They were mostly inexperienced birders and some folks without binoculars, they were just out and saw that we were giving a walk so they came along. It was very enjoyable to take out folks that weren’t as experienced. They were excited to see Green Jays and Kiskadees! I think everyone enjoyed the walk. We had 28 species.

Wednesday and Thursday: We worked in the gardens. Lots of weeding and watering.

White-Angled Sulphur

White-Angled Sulphur (closed)

White-Patched Skipper

Tailed Orange

Monday, January 24, 2011

Roma Bluffs, Salineno, Falcon Dam

The destination for our weekly field trip today was the Roma Bluffs World Birding Center and Salineno. We left Santa Ana at 8:00 with six of us participating. It was a good size group and the other two couples are volunteers we have visited with many times and really enjoy being around. Plus, we all got a window seat! Our first stop was the Roma Bluffs World Birding Center. We got to meet a couple of the volunteers working in the visitor center. We saw a few birds including a Black Phoebe. Also: Green Jay, Yellow Rumped Warbler, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, House Sparrow, Eurasian Collard Dove, Osprey, Great Egret, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Neotropic Cormorant, Great Kiskadee, Belted Kingfisher, Great-tailed Grackle, Rock Pigeon.

Across the Rio Grande River is Mexico

We were told that Marlon Brando rode his horse out on the balcony of this building in the movie Viva Zapata.

Then it was on to Salineno. We saw a Common Loon on the river. Also Great Blue Heron, American White Pelican, American Pipit, Northern Cardinal, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Gadwall, Altamira Oriole, Spotted Sandpiper, Double-crested Cormorant, Red Shoulder Hawk.

Common Loon a long way off!

At the feeding station we saw Audubon’s Oriole, Hooded Oriole, White-tipped Dove, Inca Dove, Orange Crowned Warbler, Long-billed Thrasher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brown-headed Cowbird. At one time I was looking at 5 Altamira Orioles through my binoculars!

American Pipit


Hooded Oriole

Audubon's Oriole

Altamira Oriole, Green Jay

We then drove to Falcon Dam where we drove up to the Texas/Mexico line. There we saw Mockingbird, Vermillion Flycatcher, Pied-billed Grebe, Little Blue Heron, Ring-billed Gull and American Coot.

I had to keep one foot in the US because I didn't have my passport with me!

Then on to Falcon Lake State Park where the Roma volunteers stay. There were a couple of state park volunteers there that had a bird feeding station that we sat at for a little while. We saw lots of Pyrrhuloxia, a Road Runner and Common Ground-Dove.

We had lunch in Roma at a very small Mexican food restaurant called El Taco Rico. It was pretty good. We got back to Santa Ana a little after 4:00. It wasn't a great birding day but we did manage to see 44 species.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

El Viaje (The Journey)

Sunrise off our front deck.

About 4 days before we headed down to Santa Ana we bought a little place in Medina in the El Viaje RV Retirement Retreat (El Viaje means The Journey). We only had time to spend one night there before we needed to head to the Valley. We’ve been hauling around a car load of stuff to take to the new place and finally got a few free days to go back. It takes about 7 hours to get there from Santa Ana so it won’t be a trip we will make often from here.

We had a couple of cold, clear nights. It is so dark we were able to see the Milky Way! The view from our front deck is amazing.

Mark relaxing

Lots of horses

Medina is recognized as the capital of the Texas apple industry.

Concrete Apple in Medina

Hunting for a Bunting

We spent the morning working in the garden by the fee booth. The butterfly garden by the visitor center is in very good shape and doesn’t take much of our time. The garden by the fee booth is a mess! It doesn’t look like anyone has worked in it in a long time. After lunch we walked down the Jaguarundi Trail with the other bird walk leaders to hunt for the Blue Bunting that has supposedly been spotted in the area (three miles round trip). On the way there we saw a Bobcat in a tree. There was a lot of growling and eerie noises coming from the area and someone said that another Bobcat was at the base of the tree. We weren’t in a position to see the base of the tree so we are not for certain if it was another Bobcat.

There were several people looking for the Blue Bunting. We never did see it but we did see a Groove-billed Ani. We waited a while to see if the Blue Bunting would show up then left everyone and walked on down to the Bobcat Trail and back to the Visitor Center. On the way back we saw lots of birds including Green Kingfisher, Red-tailed Hawk, and lots of Turkey Vultures.

We ran into Dixie and Bobbye at the visitor center. We sat by the bird feeders and watched a Buff-bellied Hummingbird come and go. We were only able to visit with them a few minutes before we had to head home.

Turkey Vulture

Red-tailed Hawk

Green Kingfisher

After dinner we met Sharon and Rick at Quinta Mazatlan to hear Dr. Frederick Zaidan talk about snakes of Texas. He was a very good speaker and was entertaining. He brought along snakes in plastic containers for everyone to look at. The program lasted an hour and we enjoyed it very much.

Black Striped Snake

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday Birdwalks

We went out three times today! We ended up with a total of 53 species for the day.

Our first official bird walk started at 8:30. We had 5 folks on the walk, including my sister-in-law and her friend (Dixie and Bobbye), and saw 40 species of birds. It was so foggy we couldn’t see all the way across Pintail Lake! After seeing hundreds of Great Egrets and Neo-tropic Cormorants on Willow Lake last week, we didn’t see any today. The rain last week left both Pintail Lake and Willow Lake very muddy. We did get far-off looks at Black-crowned Night-Heron and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, as well as Ringed Kingfisher, Vermillion Flycatcher, Tree Swallows, Common Yellowthroat, lots of Orange-crowned and Yellow Rumped Warblers.

Walking through the fog

Altamira Oriole

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

After lunch Mark and I went out again for 2 1/2 hours. We saw a few different birds including lots of soaring American White Pelicans with a large flock of Anhinga’s, a Peregrine Falcon with several Turkey Vultures, Belted Kingfisher and Couch’s Kingbird.

American White Pelicans with Anhinga's

Couch's Kingbird

Long-billed Thrasher

Northern Cardinal

The visitor center closes at 4:00 but the park is open till dusk. Dixie and Bobbye came back at 4:00 and we went to the Hawk tower. We saw a few more birds including Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Clay-colored Thrush, and hundreds of Turkey Vultures. On the way back to our cars we saw several javalina.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

After the fog burned off and the sun came out, we saw several butterflies.

Reakirt's Blue

Little Yellow

Gray Cracker

Friday, January 14, 2011

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge was our destination for the volunteer field trip today. It was another cloudy, drizzly day but not nearly as cold.

We drove Bayside Drive (15 miles) with a total of 75 species for the day.

Birds of note: Bufflehead, Northern Bobwhite, White-tailed Kite, Harris’s Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Long-billed Curlew, Greater Roadrunner.

We went to Dirty Al’s on the Island for lunch. It was really good!

Roseate Spoonbill

Reddish Egret with Snowy Egret in flight

Reddish Egrets

Harris's Hawk

Great Egret - with fish

Forster's Tern

Crested Caracara

Black-crowned Night-Heron, Juvenile

Thursday, January 13, 2011

January 11 - 13, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Brrrrrrr! It only got up to 48 today. It was pretty windy and very cloudy. Not at all like we have been having. Today was Mark’s first bird walk. We got to the refuge early so we could put out peanut butter, birdseed, and oranges. We had 8 people on our walk. We saw 45 species. I think everyone was pretty cold by the time we got finished.

After lunch we decided to walk the trails again. We were out about 2 1/2 hours. Saw a few birds. It’s suppose to be even colder tomorrow.

Some birds of interest were Ringed Kingfisher, Olive Sparrow, Long-billed thrasher, Altamira Oriole, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Black and White Warbler, Pine Warbler, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, and hundreds of Great Egrets and Neo-tropic Cormorants!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

We worked in the butterfly garden all day. Mostly watering, pulling weeds and picking up trash. It was very cold and windy!

We had our first volunteer get-together this evening. We have a very nice woman here who has taken on the project of being our social planner. She really seems to enjoy it and is very good at finding interesting things for us to do and getting everyone together. Almost all the volunteers showed up and most everyone brought a snack to share. Every couple said a little about themselves and where they had volunteered or were going to volunteer next. It was pretty enjoyable. They want to try to get together every Wednesday. Next week we already decided on a restaurant in McAllen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Another cold, cloudy, misty/rainy day. We worked in the butterfly garden again today. Since all the watering has to be done by hand because of the powdery mildew problem, it takes two days for us to get all the watering done. We spent a little time walking around with our notes trying to learn the different trees and shrubs.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Black-vented Oriole (lifer)

We wanted to take the tram ride this morning and Mark wanted to walk on the trails a little bit. They have been opening up more trails this week that have finally dried out. We didn’t get very far before time ran out and we had to get back for the tram ride. There is a movie that we watched first then we got on the tram. Jane and Lynn were the tram drivers today. There is a lot of information that Jane talked about while we were riding. When we got to the cemetery Lynn took over and walked us to the cemetery. He talked about the people buried there and pointed out some of the different trees and shrubs. Back on the tram we turned around and went back the way we had come. With the flooding, some of the roads are still closed so the tram can’t make a loop. It’s an out and back trip.

Old Cemetery

About 3:45 we drove to Benson to see if we could find the Black-vented Oriole. It has been seen at Benson Palm Village RV Resort. We parked at the Birding Center and walked down. We first stopped at the office to let them know we were there to see the bird. They gave us a map and were very nice. As we left the office we walked by a gentleman in a golf cart. He told us we had about 15 minutes and that the gate is locked at 5:00. We walked as fast as we could to the place the bird was being seen. There were several people there. We had heard that it was seen at 10:30 this morning. One woman said she had been there since noon and hadn’t seen it yet. About 4:45 the gentleman in the golf cart came by and told everyone they had to leave. We turned around and took about 5 steps when someone yelled ‘there he is’! We were able to watch him for about 10 minutes before we started walking back to the car. The gentleman in the golf cart was very nice about letting everyone see the bird. We walked out about 4:59!

Black-vented Oriole