Hi again everybody,
If you haven’t already read part one of this post, consider going back and reading it before this one. It can be found here.
When we left off I was at the Birder’s Bazaar at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. It wasn’t long before Dave and Tammy McQuade arrived, two of the top ranked birders in the ABA. We had arranged to go birding in Laredo, our target being the Red-Billed Pigeon. Any “normal person” reading this might laugh at the idea of a rare pigeon, but Red-Billed Pigeons, unlike their feral cousins, are very scarce in the U.S. They can only be found along the Lower Rio Grande River, where they are more numerous during the summer months.
We stopped to bird along the way to Laredo. First up was Estero Llano, where the McQuade’s racked up some easy year birds. Our sighting of Green Kingfisher marked their biggest year ever, and as of December 10th they have a whopping 650 species for 2017. After Estero we drove to Salineño, where I added several species to my Mexico list (we were never actually in Mexico, but several of the birds we saw were across the border). Salineño is a nature preserve on the Rio Grande, and the feeders there host many specialties. It would’ve been nice to spend more time there, but the light faded quickly and we had to go.
The next morning we were out of the hotel and ready to bird before 6 o’clock, motivated by a special pigeon. Other birds we hoped to see at the golf course were Audubon’s Oriole and White-Collared Seedeater. Upon our arrival we went to hole nine, where the course staff said “many people with big cameras go”. The ninth hole area was productive, and we saw my lifer Audubon’s Oriole and heard White-Collared Seedeaters. The oriole gave us excellent views and sang many times, and we got decent photos and audio recordings. From this area we also saw many Rock Pigeons flyover, but were unable to pick out a Red Billed. “Rock, rock, rock, rock red-billed?! nope, rock rock rock? yep, rock” was the endless pattern of our search for the Red-Billed Pigeon. At one point we had two distant pigeon sp. that may have been red-billed, but they were too far to be sure. Searching other areas of the course produced Olive Sparrow, Gray Hawk, and other common birds, but no Red-Billed. We concluded that the lack of red-bills was due to the strong cold front that was moving through. The frigid weather may have prompted a move of any pigeons that were still in the area, as it was very cold for a bird accustomed to warm climates. After the golf course we got some Green Parakeets, and started the drive back.
We were just on our way to Salneño when Dave got a call from Raymond, who had just located the Tamaulipas Crows at the Brownsville dump. There was one problem- we were still two hours away. We skipped Salineño and shortened our stop at the Frontera Audubon Center, where we picked up several White-Tipped Doves and Clay-Colored Thrushes. As the reports flooded in, every red light and traffic jam was agony. We knew that the crows had been very nomadic over the past few weeks, with only sporadic reports across large distances. Nobody knew how long the crows would stay.
Two tantalizing hours later, we arrived at the dump. We found the crowd of birders and they got us on a Crow, which was feasting in a pile of trash along with Great-Tailed Grackles, Cattle Egrets, and a few Franklin’s Gulls. I was able to see the blue/purple sheen on the back through someone’s Swarovski scope, and it was interesting to compare their size with the grackles. It was also fun to try out Tammy’s 500mm lens on the crow, even though the photography conditions weren’t ideal.
Saturday was the last day of the trip, and I was hoping to get a few birds I had missed before. My first stop was South Padre Island, where I added Clapper Rail to my year total and got my state lifer Greater Scaup. After that I headed to Old Port Isabel Road with Dave and Tammy. Here we had a covey of Northern Bobwhites, a Sprague’s Pipit, and an Aplomado Falcon. I had missed the falcon earlier in the week, so it was a relief to find one. After saying by to the McQuades we started the drive north to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was a beautiful place, and the view from the observation tower was incredible. After about ten minutes of scoping from the tower I found my lifer Whooping Crane, my 492nd bird for the year and my last lifer of the trip.
The view from the tower at Aransas NWR
Whooping Crane a mile a way.