With the relatively mild winter, and Sue’s new job, we weren’t really planning (and really couldn’t find a good time) to go down south this winter.
I asked Sue if she was interested in joining me on a birding trip to the Rio Grande Valley and she said yes but couldn’t get away for much more than a long weekend.
We left on March 10th from Ottawa and had to fly through Toronto, Chicago and then on to San Antonio (only flight I could find due to March Break).
Easy flights, short hops, should have been but Toronto Airport had other plans. One and a half hours should have been plenty of time but with the crowds and the confusion, we heard our names being called when we were 4 gates away……enough to say “if I can help it, I will never fly through Toronto again”.
We arrived in San Antonio, picked up the car and we were on our way. I drove southwest out towards Kingsville but after an hour I knew I wasn’t going much further. The first motel we saw, we stopped and got a good nights sleep.
In the morning we drove in the direction of Aransas, I planned on stopping in the area of Goose Island to see the Whooping Cranes. At the intersection of 8th Street and Lamar Beach Road, Whooping Cranes can usually be seen in the farm field in the vicinity of the pond. If you get there early enough, you can catch them flying in.
This day the birds were in plain view, Sue and I had great looks….
The rest of the day we meandered the 200 miles to Laguna Atascosa, birdwatching as we went.
We arrived at the Wildlife Refuge after closing time but there were a few people still looking for the Crimson-collared Grosbeak. We spent an hour looking, but the bird had appeared briefly in the morning, hadn’t been seen since.
Driving out of the Refuge we did see a male and female Nilgai but I wasn’t quick enough on the draw.
We headed towards the Drury Hotel in McAllen to check in for our 3 day stay….seeing this lovely sunset on the way, I just had to stop for a photo.
Next morning found us at Frontera Audubon, in Westlaco, searching for the Blue Bunting overwintering there. It had been seen off and on since late January.
Most of the people there were searching for the Bunting, so we all exchanged phone numbers, so if we got on the bird we could let others know. Checking the areas where the bird was seen for 4 plus hours without seeing many birds let alone a blue one, I decided to take a break and head over to Estero Grande (a short 10 minute drive). We needed water.
I was looking to see if Huck was around when my phone rang, wouldn’t you know it the Blue Bunting had been just seen. No use rushing, we headed back to Frontera, grabbed a lawn chair from one of the feeding stations and sat by the water dish with 4 others, hoping the bunting would come back. We were there for at least an hour when a movement caught everyone’s eye but I had the best vantage point when the bird flew in. Lovely bird but not what we were looking for.
At the same time another movement came in quickly from the left, there it was the Blue Bunting.
My 700th ABA photographed bird the – Blue Bunting
There wasn’t much point going anywhere else, so we hung around the feeders for a bit then returned to the hotel and had supper, called it an early night.
Next morning we drove over to the Aplomado Falcon site and were pleased to find 4 birds in the area. The photo below was taken from about 1/2 km away but you can clearly see the female on the nest.
Once again my phone rang and I was told that the Crimson-collared Grosbeak was being see at the moment, needless to say, it didn’t take very long to cover the8 miles to the Laguna Atascosa headquarters. We went straight to the spot and we’re immediately waved over. The Grosbeak was visible but buried in the brush. I took so many photos, hoping to get one sharp image but it was not to be. I was lucky to get the image below.
Another ABA Bird was in the books – Crimson-collared Grosbeak
Here it was 8am, what to do for the rest of the day. We decided to head over to South Padre Island and see what birds we could find at the Convention Centre.
Black-bellied Whistling Duck
White Morph Reddish Egret
As I was leaving the Island I saw this Long-billed Curlew, feeding, oblivious to the traffic.
Next morning we left McAllen for Salineno early, Chris Feeney had told me that he’d seen Red-billed Pigeons at daybreak along the river. Not on this morning though. We walked over to Lois and Merl’s, feeders. It is just a great place to bird watch. Birds were up close and everywhere, you sometimes don’t know where to look, there are so many birds coming to these feeders.
Bathing Orange-crowned Warbler
We had to leave soon but we walked back to the boat launch and walked along the river, trying to find one of the White-collared Seedeater’s frequenting the waters edge. Not a life bird but a great find anywhere in this area.
Ringed Kingfisher Flyby
Just as we were walking along 3 pigeons buzzed over our heads, and even though I got a brief glimpse, I knew they were my lifer Red-billed Pigeons. Unfortunately the disappeared in an instant. We watched the Seedeaters for a few minutes more the decided it was time to leave. As we turned back towards the car, I noticed the same 3 Pigeons coming right back towards us. This time I was ready.
ABA Life Bird and Golden Guide Bird – Red-billed Pigeon
Three life birds in 4 days, that doesn’t happen often these days. It is getting harder and harder as my lifelist get higher to add multiple birds on trips.
We left and headed north via Hwy 16, towards San Antonio. This road was prime, hardly a town or building on the way and birds were everywhere along the route.
Ash-throated Flycatcher (composite image)
The biggest surprise was three African Plains animals on someone’s huge front yard.
Sue and I arrived at our hotel in San Antonio, cleaned up and headed to Riverwalk, for a nice meal, a bottle of wine and sightseeing. It was the least I could do for my lucky charm.
Even in the city, there are always birds….
Another great trip, Thanks Sue…
Ciao for now