This entry won't become a run-down of each species sighted or heard before midnight at various stops. Clay remained behind the wheel, taking us to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park (where I really enjoyed walking in the moon-lit dark and hearing multiple Eastern Screech-Owls) and farther west. We switched places west of La Joya, and I drove to Roma, where the team sleepily ordered taquitos from Whataburger. Next stops: Roma Bluffs and Chapeno, where we again encountered Ben Lizdas' team as well as a youth team, the ABA/Leica Tropicbirds, led by Louise Zemaitis and Michael O'Brien from Cape May, N.J. (As always, click on an image to see a larger version.)
Retracing Highway 83 with Clay in the driver's seat, the Big Van next stopped at Anzalduas County Park, where I resumed driving duties. At a sod farm on 281, the fellows were pleased to find Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper and Baird's Sandpiper among others. While looking through a scope, one guy said, "What the h*ll?" A teammate looked through the scope and said, "Yep, he's got a What-the-h*ll Sandpiper over here."
While moving toward South Padre Island, John directed me to a dirt road on the left side, where the team anticipated finding Botteri's Sparrow. They did find Aplomado Falcon and Cassin's Sparrow while I considered some guidelines for first-time drivers: Practice making quick but smooth moves to the right shoulder at a moment's notice, drive less than 15 miles per hour while the windows are down, remember to turn on the hazard lights while creeping along a highway shoulder while the windows are down.
Along the causeway to South Padre Island, I kept the van at 45 miles per hour in the right lane while the fellows scanned for birds. We stopped briefly at the end of the causeway and saw two American Oystercatcher chicks (miniscule puffballs!) near the adult. A stop at the Sheraton hotel pond didn't reveal the anticipated Redheads, but that disappointment quickly faded when we got to the convention center.
Oh. My. Goodness. Colorful migrants dove into the vegetation. I felt stunned after seeing Magnolia Warbler and Yellow Warbler and Wilson's Warbler (quite dapper with the black cap) and Painted Bunting and Black-throated Green Warbler and and and WOW. The beach also held shorebirds, which the fellows investigated before we drove to Campeche Street for more delights including Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Philadelphia Vireo. A visit to the mayor's yard revealed a nearby Grasshopper Sparrow, prompting Nick to call the Nikon WildBirders and clue them to the species' presence. One of the neat things about the Classic is the teams' ability to share information and help each other (as opposed to the World Series of Birding).
A visit to the jetty increased the Roadside Hawks' count of species and yielded a very amusing find by Nick: a juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird on top of a telephone pole next to a parking lot. Another stop at the Sheraton pond revealed the previously elusive Redheads, and then we returned to the convention center, where we enjoyed Mourning Warbler, a calling Marsh Wren and a beautiful sunset among other other delights.
At a brisk pace, the Big Van drove west on a quest for a couple elusive species. About 9 p.m., I relinquished the driver's seat and crawled onto a rear bench before resting my eyes. The team called it a night about 10 o'clock, and after the fellows double-checked the final checklist, Nick, Clay and I returned to the finish line in McAllen about 11:45 p.m. There, we encountered other teams, still jazzed about their day in south Texas or week along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Next stop: a bed for many consecutive hours of sleeeeep.