Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Final Days in Texas

My final days in Texas were very enjoyable. On 12/20, Mike and I met up with my good friends from Michigan, Mark and Joanie Hubinger. They volunteer in the Valley and I was excited to spend the day birding with them.

We started looking for the Tropical Parula on the University of Texas Pan-American campus. We spent over an hour and a half searching the area where it supposedly frequented. We were losing hope. It was then that I got a call from Mike from across the campus with those three words every birder likes to hear; "I GOT IT!".

It was very flighty, never sitting in one spot for very long and always staying high in the tree canopy. Thus, this was a tough bird to photograph. I wasn't about to leave without some documentation, and I eventually got it. This was a lifer for both Mike and I!

Tropical Parula
After our success, we ventured to Estero Llano Grande State park, one of my favorite locations in the Valley. Our success continued as we found two more birds we were hoping for; Cave Swallow and Common Pauraque.

Swallows were flying high overhead and were somewhat back-lit, making it hard to get an identification. I started shooting at swallows flying over, hoping they would turn out to be Caves. The first was a tree. Second was a Cave! The strategy paid off...

Cave Swallow
The Pauraque was found in the same spot it is always found. Along one of the trails is a small pile of brush. Just beyond that brush a Common Pauraque has been roosting every day for a few years. Even though we knew it was there, it took us at least 10 minutes to find it. They blend in so easily!

Common Pauraque
We continued birding the area, looking for Long-billed Thrashers. We went into the Tropcial Zone, heading straight for the feeders. Thrashers and feeders go together in the Valley. When we got to the feeders, they were devoid of birds. But, behind the feeders, a Long-billed Thrasher was busy scratching the ground.

Long-billed Thrasher
I had two more target birds. So far, we were off to a great start. We had yet to run into any cooperative Chachalacas, so we went to Quinta Mazatlan where Plain Chachalacas are abundant. It was the heat of the day and the feeders weren't very active, but it didn't take long to find a pod of them resting together just off one of the trails. Most were too close for my lens!

Plain Chachalaca
As it was approaching the evening hours, we made our way north to the Green Parakeet roost near Dove and 10th street in McAllen. A group of Parakeets was already there as we arrived. They were noisy and mobile and often flew close by.

Green Parakeet
We ended the day with the Hubingers and a wonderful local dinner (and a few celebratory beers).

The next day (12/21), Mike and I headed east toward South Padre Island. We first looked for Aplomado Falcons along Old Port Isabel Road without success. Today was extremely windy and made birding frustratingly difficult. We then stopped at Palo Alto Battlefield where the Hubingers said we may have luck with Cassin's Sparrow. They were right! At least one Cassin's popped up from the vegetation as we walked the path.

Cassin's Sparrow
We then visited South Padre Island. Among other birds, I was hoping for a Clapper Rail at the SPI Birding boardwalk. They are surprisingly cooperative here, often foraging out in plain sight during the day. It took a while of watching, but one finally came out and, evidently, wanted to cross directly under the boardwalk! Here it is, planning its next move!

Clapper Rail
We then returned to the mainland and tried again for Aplomado Falcons. This time, we tried Boca Chica Blvd where a pair was recently reported. After much searching, we found them. While these birds aren't technically "countable" by ABA standards, most people who do Big Years count them on their list. I did get some pictures, but have a hard time counting them on my Photographic Big Year when I don't count them on my lifelist.

This trip to South Texas puts me up to 585 for the year. This is likely the number I will end the year with. If I have forgotten any, I'll add them when I catch them.

I want to thank everyone who supported this endeavor in one way or another. I will make at least one more post thanking everyone for their support and include some of the highlights from the year. If you pledged for this effort, I will send you an email shortly after the new year with instructions and gratitude.

Happy New Year everyone! I look forward to a wonderful 2014!

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