Birder of the Year: Tuesday
At Sabal Palm, Pat, Leigh and I set out along the Resaca Loop, where Leigh spotted a singing Carolina Wren. (Carla opted to deprive the mosquitoes and chiggers of sustenance and to nap in the car.) I enjoyed seeing the little bird's tail flick each time it started to sing.
We soon saw Mottled Duck, Lesser Yellowlegs, Blue-winged Teal, Great Kiskadee, Bronzed Cowbird, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Lincoln's Sparrow and Swainson's Hawk. Along the boardwalk, we encountered a group looking for the controversial(?) Gray-crowned Yellowthroat that sings like a Common Yellowthroat. Pat led the group to the bird, which flew onto a branch overhead and began singing. What a pretty bird with its brown cap, gray crown, black lores and yellow belly.
Along the trail, Pat heard a Groove-billed Ani, but we didn't see one. We did, however, see or hear White-eyed Vireo and Olive Sparrow before walking next to the Black Vulture roost. It was cool to get such close looks at them.
From the observation blind at the pond, we saw American Coot, Least Grebe, Common Moorhen, Gadwall, Redhead and Northern Pintail. On the trail back to the visitor center, we encountered two fellows from the earlier group, and Pat mentioned the Aplomado Falcon that was next on our itinerary, making Pat into a pied piper. At the visitor center, we saw Green Jay and White-tipped Dove before setting off to Old Port Isabel Road with a four-car caravan.
Along the gravel road, Pat stopped when he spied the male Aplomado Falcon on a telephone tower. What a gorgeous raptor! (Please forgive the poor quality of the ad-hoc digiscoped picture.) We all soaked him up through the scope, including Carla. Then someone spotted the female falcon on a nearby tree. Very cool.
Before leaving that spot, the group enjoyed Crested Caracara and White-tailed Kite. Farther along, we saw Long-billed Curlew, Horned Lark, Cassin's Sparrow (what an amusing flight) and White-tailed Hawk.
With the caravan winnowed to three cars, we crossed the causeway to South Padre Island and stopped at the entrance to SPI where an American Oystercatcher sat on a nest -- another lifer for Leigh. Pat led us to the island's migratory bird sanctuary, where many birders were enjoying colorful birds. We saw male and female Scarlet Tanagers, male and female Orchard Orioles, Summer Tanager, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Tennessee Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak (which really impressed Carla), Kentucky Warbler and Indigo Bunting.
Pat introduced us to the sanctuary's land steward, Billy Snider. I enjoyed hearing about the sanctuary and especially Billy's description of himself as a "redneck Republican tree-hugger." Yep, it takes all kinds to protect habitat for the birds (c: Billy also serves on the advisory board of The Valley Land Fund, which purchased the lots that make up the sanctuary.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch at South Padre Island Brewing Company before heading to the convention center, which hosted a humongous variety of birds. We saw or heard Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, American Avocet, Blue-winged Teal, Redhead, Laughing Gull, Common Moorhen, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-necked Stilt, Least Tern, Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Black Skimmer, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern and Reddish Egret at the pond and along the shoreline.
Along the boardwalks, we enjoyed the sight or sounds of Sora, Great Blue Heron, Red-breasted Merganser, Greater Scaup, Clapper Rail, Osprey, Cattle Egret, Semipalmated Sandpiper and Snowy Egret. It was cool to see Sora (right) in the open and apparently oblivious to us voyeurs. Before climbing into our cars, we saw Red-eyed Vireo, White-tailed Kite and Scarlet Tanager.
We cooled off at La Tropicana Ice Cream Factory -- such cold creamy goodness on a humid afternoon. Then we drove off-island toward San Benito in search of Upland Sandpipers on the sod farms along 800. Pat spied the five birds next to the road, giving Leigh the last lifers of the trip. She was stoked.
And that was the end of our Birder of the Year excursion in south Texas. Many thanks to Keith Hackland at Alamo Inn, Sheridan Coffey and Martin Reid, Charlie and Lana Vieh of Vieh's Bed & Breakfast, Pat Wade and Bushnell Performance Optics for giving Leigh a fantastic introduction to birding in the lower Rio Grande Valley.