Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival: Thursday

Did you catch the three previous posts? If not, go here, here and here.

Thursday got off to a leisurely start. My roommate and I hadn't signed up for field trips on this day, so we took our time before driving to Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco. We'd heard at Wednesday night's reception about the rarity identified by Jon Dunn -- a Ruddy Ground-Dove -- so the possibility of seeing that bird determined our destination.

When we arrived at the park, we didn't have to wait long before learning the ground-dove's location: to the left of a hanging platform feeder in sight of the visitor center's deck. Of course, we weren't the only birders aiming our binoculars at the Mexican visitor, news of its appearance having been spread far and wide via Texbirds, North American Rare Bird Alert, Facebook, Twitter and blogs with photos.

Turning away from the star performer, we began looking elsewhere and then wandering deeper into the park. This visit to the Rio Grande Valley marked my fifth time to the festival and maybe my 12th to the region, counting WildBird's Birder of the Year trips as well as the Great Texas Birding Classic in which WildBird sponsors a team each year. The great weather -- cool but not cold, breezy but not windy, almost lacking in flying biting insects -- added to a delightful morning.

Along the trail next to Grebe Marsh, we encountered Jim and Cindy Beckman again with friends. They invited us to follow them and see Common Pauraque. We gladly accepted since the species appears nowhere else in the United States.

That species stands out fondly in my memories of a Birder of the Year trip with 17-year-old Leigh Johnson Lindstrom and her mom. We met with Sheridan Coffey and Martin Reid to search for pauraque near our lodging, Alamo Inn. Leigh's mom, a nonbirder, had not planned to bird with us every day, but she opted to join us on this nighttime scavenger hunt -- and she came back bug-bitten but intrigued enough to go birding each day. The search for that species sparked a better understanding of birding and added to Leigh's relationship with her mom, which still makes me smile.

Back at Estero, the trail adjacent to Alligator Lake yielded a cryptically colored nightjar in close proximity to the dirt path. We felt ecstatic to enjoy such great looks at the cleverly camouflaged bird.

My friend Catherine -- also known as Birdspot -- set to creating photos while I enjoyed peering at the bird's incredible plumage. Mother Nature never fails to amaze me, particularly when we got to see the flashy green gorget of a male Buff-bellied Hummingbird as he visited a sugarwater feeder just a foot from us at the visitor center.

Next on our itinerary: Frontera Audubon, also in Weslaco. A hop, skip and jump away from Estero, Frontera offers a more intimate setting to wander trails and watch feeders.

Catherine and I saw few birds along the trails, and a flycatcherlike sprite caused some I.D. questions. When the birding's slow, my point-and-shoot camera focuses on other bits of nature.

We eventually found ourselves at the feeding station and settled into two of the many chairs. There, we enjoyed the Plain Chachalacas, Inca Doves, White-tipped Dove, Black-crested Titmouse and Blue-headed Vireo.

I also enjoyed seeing Father Tom Pincelli again. Four years ago, I had the pleasure of serving as part-time driver for the Swarovski Roadside Hawks in the Great Texas Birding Classic, the team consisting of John Arvin, Nick Block, Father Tom and Clay Taylor. It was a distinct treat to see and watch those knowledgeable birders in action as they tried to I.D. the most species in 24 hours in the competition's lower coast.

The agenda then turned to lunch, followed by ice cream and a visit to the municipal auditorium to roam Birder's Bazaar. For many years, The Raptor Project has brought various birds of prey to the festival, and Catherine delighted in posing with a Crested Caracara while a Burrowing Owl scowled nearby.

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