Birder of the Year: Sunday
We saw and heard lots of great birds, including Northern Parula, Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Black-bellied Whistling-Duck. The latter species amused me and Leigh with the squeaky call, and we saw lots of them, including five perched in the same bare tree.
We also spied Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Couch’s Kingbird, Cave Swallow, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture and Swainson’s Hawk. It was especially cool to see the vultures soaring in kettles and then streaming above us and to enjoy close-up views of both species at the same time. We heard Gray Hawk numerous times but couldn’t track it down.
Next to and on the Rio Grande, we saw Great Egret, Laughing Gull, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Neotropical Cormorant and Double-crested Cormorant. I felt particularly pleased to spy the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher sitting on the cable fence, and the bird gave us long looks at its long tail and salmon-colored feathers under its wings.
On the way out, we spied Black-necked Stilt and Blue-winged Teal. On the way to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Leigh spied her life Harris’s Hawk on a road sign. Very cool to see the distinctive raptor so close to us.
After taking the tram into the park and stepping off at the kingfisher overlook, we saw Anhinga, American Coot and Common Moorhen. A short walk took us to an observation blind, where we watched Red-winged Blackbird monopolize the platform feeder. Ambling toward the Kiskadee Trail, we saw Green Jays (they’re wonderfully colorful!), and on the loop, we watched Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Inca Dove, Altamira Oriole and Black-throated Green Warbler eating a fat green caterpillar.
At a platform feeder, we enjoyed Indigo Bunting, Long-billed Thrasher, Altamira/Audubon’s Oriole hybrid and Great-tailed Grackle. At another observation blind (very nicely designed, by the way), we observed Green Jay, Red-winged Blackbird and a javelina eating refuse from a suspended seed feeder. Then, finally, Leigh saw her life Plain Chachalaca.
Our stomachs had started rumbling audibly in the observation blind. We ended up at Texas Roadhouse (a new-to-me restaurant chain that began in Indiana of all places) and enjoyed yummy fare amid the unique décor, such as this beer-sipping armadillo.
Then we zipped over to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and popped into the visitor center. There we chatted with intern Heidi Trudell, who later joined us along the C trail. We saw Black-crested Titmouse, White-eyed Vireo, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Tricolored Heron, Black-necked Stilt, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Great Egret, American Coot, Great Kiskadee, White-faced Ibis, Northern Shoveler, Least Grebe and Snowy Egret. I particularly enjoyed seeing the spoonbill and two whistling-ducks on the same branch – such vibrant colors.
Heidi (on the right) lead the way to a guaranteed spot for Buff-bellied Hummingbird – a coworker’s trailer. We oozed into the lawn chairs and chatted while waiting for the beautiful bird to visit the sugar-water feeder, which it did about four times. The buff-belly provided a fine finish to a day with more than 25 life birds for Leigh.