Wednesday, January 14
Today started with the weekly bird walk at Estero Llano Grande. I joined the walk as it heads into restricted areas of the park, which is where all the rarities have been seen. We ended up missing all of those, but it was well worth it anyway.
The deck by the visitor’s center had a fabulous view of the water and I picked up the first lifer of the day from there with a Green Kingfisher perched in the open (finally). The walk started a bit late and as we milled around, someone called out that the Buff-bellied Hummingbird was near the feeders. I rushed over and got a nice look as it spread itself out to warm up in the morning sun.
Eventually the walk began. With over 40 people, we split into two groups and I went with Dave and Mary Elder to tour the park while the other group went right into the restricted area. We started by admiring the kingfisher, Least Grebes, a Vermilion Flycatcher, and many Kiskadees over the water and then checked the feeders. The feeders had a bunch of doves, chachalacas, and a couple Hispid Cotton Rats. The Buff-bellied was still around and two other hummingbirds joined it. One was identified as a Black-chinned, but the other got away.
We then headed down the trail and admired the large flock of American White Pelicans and other birds in the water. Someone picked out a Sora and we would later hear a couple more. Further down the trail, Dave stopped and pointed “Pauraque!” After a moment of shock, we realized that they were staked out birds that roost in the same spot every day. Even though he knew they were there, we could only find two of the three birds (and when I came back later I couldn’t even find the second). Amazing camouflage.
We continued on to the Alligator Lake. A few people did see a gator, but I never found it. However, another Green Kingfisher put on a good show, as did several species of herons, an Anhinga, and a Tropical Kingbird (very nice to be able to see and hear both on the trip).
We then moved on to the levee. There were a lot of birds in the water, but they were all a bit distant. We were able to pick out numerous American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts and the locals were all excited by a flock of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks (apparently much less common than Black-bellied here).
Dropping back down to the grassy area, we kicked up a bunch of sparrows that proved to be a mix of Lincoln’s and Savannah (causing some confusion as we were told that the local Savannahs look different as several of us got on a Lincoln’s). We then worked towards the former trailer park, which is the closed area. On the way, we stopped for a Red-shouldered Hawk and found a Cinnamon Teal in with the rest of the ducks. The teal was another much-wanted lifer and was a spectacular as I hoped.
At the trailer park, we learned that the Becard had shown very briefly but there had been no sign of the Black-throated Magpie-Jay (an escapee but apparently spectacular) or the Blue Bunting. We sat around for probably 30 minutes but had no luck (other than a very quick White-tailed Kite flyover).
That ended the walk. I was hungry and found a Wendy’s nearby where I planned my next move. I was thinking about Frontera and chasing Crimson-collared Grosbeak and Blue Bunting but decided I’d rather go for a bit of a drive and chase Masked Duck first. The ducks were in Raymondville, probably 40 minutes away, but it was a very easy drive.
As I drove up, there were three people scanning. I hurried over but it turned out that they had not found the birds (and the out-of-state visitor appeared to have no scope). I worked my way down the road slowly and sorted through lots and lots of dabbling ducks but no others.
The other people left fairly quickly and I began a more systematic search. Still no luck with the Masked Duck, but I found more Cinnamon Teal and also had some White Ibis and Wilson’s Snipe in between a couple of the ponds. A Ladder-backed Woodpecker popped up and there were a few butterflies including a very nice Buckeye and some Fiery Skippers.
Eventually, I gave up and headed out (I would later find out that they hadn’t been seen for a couple days and were not seen again). On the way out, a Loggerhead Shrike posed in the open, so I stopped for a second.
I had learned earlier today that the Least Grebe numbers were way up this year, but on the way back I was still surprised by two in what appeared to be an irrigation ditch along the side of the road. Apparently way up is understating it.
I planned on heading to Frontera now, but it was after 3:30 when I arrived and the sign said they closed at 4:00, so I decided to just go back to Estero and wander around on my own. I started with a few minutes getting better shots of the Pauraque (the ones above) and then sat at the Alligator Lake again. This time there was a big turtle with a Spotted Sandpiper right next to it but not much else.
I also spent some time on the Camino de Aves, which is a drier area. It wasn’t particularly birdy, although I did find a couple Harris’s Hawks (and a smaller raptor that got away), a Common Ground-Dove and an Orange-crowned Warbler that put on a show. A Gray Bird Grasshopper, which is one of the giant species hopped up as well.
I then walked around the ponds (and watched the idiot who had come by earlier pishing nonstop and not getting anything beyond a yellowthroat walk right down a closed maintenance road). The light was a bit harsh by now, but the first pond had two cooperative White-faced Ibis and a Vermilion Flycatcher.
At the pond closest to the visitor’s center, I flushed a small flock of Least Sandpiper. One landed on one of the poles along the edge. I grabbed the camera expected a one-of-a-kind shot but it turned out that there was an American Pipit mixed in. Still a neat photo:
I then returned to the car and headed to Mission to find a hotel. One of the first ones I saw was a La Quinta, and since I found the one in Brownsville very nice, I stopped. I ended up with the room right next to the elevator but didn’t hear a thing.
For dinner, I headed to Tony Roma’s. The food (grilled shrimp) was fairly good although the service was fair. There was a large birthday party at the table next to mine, which may have kept the waiter busy. They were taking a bunch of pictures and eventually asked me to take one of everyone. I was handed one of those single-roll cameras and realized I could barely see through the viewfinder. I’m fairly sure I framed it correctly, but if I didn’t, oops. They gave me a piece of cake, which was quite good even if I really didn’t want it.
I got back to the hotel and planned out the next day. I was thinking about Anzalduas County Park and then a quick stop at Bentsen for t-shirts before heading back to San Antonio.